November 19, 2018
I spent much of the last few days walking around Thamel and greater Kathmandu. On Friday, I spent over 8 hours on the streets of Thamel bartering and haggling for deals while also trying to dodge scams and rip-offs. If you're not walking away empty-handed sometimes, then you're not bartering hard enough. It seemed to me that I had to come up empty a few times for any one item in order to find the price sweet spot, and even then it was sometimes difficult to get a deal. Of course things are going to be cheaper the further from the tourist district you get, but what you save in dollars, you gain in inconvenience. It's exhausting just being out in Thamel, nevermind trying to browse and shop. Everyone is selling something, and everyone is a fast talker. I'm sure I found some great deals and also got ripped off a few times. Such is the nature of the beast in a place like this. I imagine it all comes out in the wash.
Stopped by the outskirts of Durbar Square. I was tempted to go in but didn't want to spend the money on admission. It looked awesome but also crowded, and I would've probably just been annoyed at having difficulty getting the shots I want. Also went to the Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath Stupa). It was crowded and about what I would've expected of Durbar Square. Very difficult to get photos that weren't full of people. Part of the deal at a hot spot like that. The stupa is up on a hill that overlooks the sprawling neighborhoods of Kathmandu, so the city views were pretty neat. There were tons of monkeys all around the temple, naturally. Not sure what kind or why, but they were everywhere. I hadn't seen any anywhere else in Nepal.
Rode a rickshaw over to Western Tandoori for a late lunch, but found the place closed and shuttered. Not knowing if/when they'd open again, I just walked down the street until I found a little restaurant that wasn't crowded. The rickshaw was an interesting experience, but one that I don't need to repeat. We agreed on a price, but then he hassled me the whole way and tried to get me to pay more than we agreed. I ended up getting off early just to get away from the hassle. Par for the course out here, though. Everybody hustling.
Rob and Elizabeth landed last night. They start their Nepal trekking in the next few days. I was stoked to meet up with friends from Te Araroa earlier this year. Had to take a taxi out to what I thought was our hotel but what ended up being a pile of rubble above Kirtipur. Apparently my good old map app got it wrong. This thing has been equal parts helpful and enraging. Good thing I haggle hard and scored a good deal on the rate, otherwise I would've been even more annoyed. Walked about three miles back to Kirtipur center and asked all over. No one knows the hotel, so I found WiFi and looked it up again. Apparently it's Bkaktiparti, but all of the buses were full, so I couldn't get a ride. Ended up messaging Elizabeth at the airport to have her shuttle swing by and grab me at a local coffee shop. First I figured a major landmark, like the university library, but then I thought it was better to have WiFi. I was pretty skeptical that they'd be able to find me even though I was sharing my location, but I figured we could at least coordinate in real time. I messaged Elizabeth the change in plan, but she must've already left the airport. When I didn't hear back, I just resolved to stay put. That's what you do when you're lost in the jungle; and this is most definitely the jungle. Once I accepted that it would ultimately be fine, however long it took, I was fine. This place, greater Kathmandu, it's another world. It's amazing and also stressful, confusing, and overwhelming more often than not.
One of the things I appreciate most about my experience in Kathmandu is that it has broadened my resilience with ambiguity, chaos, and confusion. The hardest thing we've done in any arena is only the hardest thing until we do something harder. Then the first hard thing isn't so hard anymore. This has been my first foray into a drastically different culture than that which I grew up in. And taking it on all alone has been an incredible personal growth opportunity.
That said, I'm pretty ready for familiarity - loved ones and immersion in a culture where I inherently understand the nuances. It's difficult to always wonder whether people are snickering in my direction, whether they're mocking or judging me, whether I've done something silly or unknowingly offended someone. What an important experience for all of us to have, though. What better way to develop a deep sense of empathy for others when they're lost, whatever the context? And boy do I appreciate home more than ever after having this experience.
I had a great time spending a few days with Rob and Elizabeth. So awesome that our trips overlapped. If we had planned it better, I could've stayed longer and hiked the Annapurna Sanctuary with them. Ah well, I'd rather get back to my love and to our shared life and adventures. Flight tomorrow!