Pay the Toll, Keep Moving

I discover on my second day in Bhaktapur that I’m really tired. All the excitement and effort of the last week, combined with a head cold, has caught up with me and I need to rest. Not only that but a local temple bell started ringing around 4 a.m., leading me to wonder if a special ritual was going on. Not so. That’s the time some locals start their morning, and on a Saturday it is time to visit the temple and make offerings.

I learn all this later. The blue skies of yesterday are now leaden grey, so I’m not inspired to go outside until the afternoon. When I do, I have on my new down jacket (from Max) and windbreaker, long underwear, double-socks, and manage to do a single circle…although I do discover a very cool courtyard-to-courtyard path that originates in a corner of Durbar Square and ends up a block away. The only way to convey its surprises is with a video….but alas, this will have to wait till I can upload easily.

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Five tiers of pure pagoda, wood and brick stand strong after three centuries of Bhaktapur climate, politics, culture. Every exposed piece has carvings of deities or mythical figures, informing the viewer that the gods control and influence lives.  Every evening, a group of older men gather to sing hymns and chant, accompanied by a drum and little percussion instruments.  They seem well accustomed to tourists taking photos, although I do it without using a flash.  The soundtrack is missing, but the richness of the scene is easily conveyed.

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The last morning, I ask for a tutorial at the local Durga shrine of the noisy bells, and young Mahindra is my teacher. She says people offer rice, water, fruit, flowers, a candle-wick, a piece of string, and so on, creating quite a pile that pigeons during the day (and rats at night) then take care of. No sooner does she finish explaining than 3 women come with their offering plates heaped high. I’m told this is a birthday puja, and that they will circulate among all the 8 temples of the city.

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My taxi diver back to KTM has an assortment of gods protecting his source of revenue and livelihood. He’s got his hair back in a short pony-tail, wears a leather jacket, and has knock-off Ray Bans to complete that particular “look.” Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshimi, Saraswati are the main four plastered to ceiling, doors, and in images on the dash.

I decide to try a new place, albeit with misgivings, located in the shadow of the Hyatt Regency’s 500 room palace. Max and I visited on the evening of our grand tour, mostly because he’s a connoisseur of ritzy hotels due to the MC work he does for various events. Anyway, upon entering my 3rd floor room w/ a view of the stupa, I note immediately the room is next to a metal workshop where heavy hammering is going on. The front desk says it will stop at 5 pm, but I don’t believe them. I ask for a room on the street-side of the hotel, facing the Hyatt, choosing to endure motorcycle and pedestrian noises instead of the hammering. One afternoon and night at this place and I’m ready to go back to Hotel Shambaling, which I do for the final night.

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