Munching on a special bhel near the Lumbini bus stand, I was irked by the strong taste of mustard oil in it and was also preparing myself to travel in a jam-packed bus to Kathmandu. And at the back of my mind, I was praying God to send a lady passenger in the next seat so that I can have a peaceful sleep without much worry. Though, Nepal is quite safe when it comes to solo female travel no matter which country you are from, what you are wearing.
“ I arranged girl sit with girl sit, ok mam?” a person in charge informed us in ‘his’ English and did this without even asking for it ! (God really listens? Hahah)
A crazy selfie with Julie at the square…
“ Hey.. I am Julie”… she introduced herself and after a not so formal conversation, we started the discussion about her 2 months travel and solo trekking in Nepal and my solo travelling in India. Did I want anything more than a likeminded crazy partner in my journey? We tried to sleep in between our chirping but the bus stopped at almost every few minutes. And the exchange of the horrible and the amazing travel experiences continued. And we didn’t realise when the colour of our surrounding turned hazy grey from jade black.
It was the time to bid goodbye.. wait, NO. The moment I shared my plan of exploring Kathmandu on a bike, Julie had already planned to join me. Now, 2 girls who met just a night before were getting ready at a hostel in Thamel. It was she who had booked the hostel. I was on money-saving mode, I just got fresh and had a bath in the hostel. And soon after that, we were binging on some brownie and dark Nepali coffee before starting our adventure.
Dealing with the bike without my passport was another story, but in search of a cheap bike, we had already roamed around the colourful markets of Thamel. Somewhere in the streets of Thamel, the ladies cooked hot jalebis in the tiny rooms while many other prepared some steaming hot tea.
Leaving behind the streets for a while we got on our horse scooter, straight we rode to Pashupatinath Temple before it turned too crowded.
The temple looked quite ordinary when observed from outside. I didn’t really have to be in the queue (sometimes just a smile works, you see ???? ) and what I saw on entering the temple was like a scene from some artificial set of a South Indian Movie. Finely carved and embossed designed on faded silver idols, huge statues of guards and the huge ‘yagya Kund’ created a perfectly divine scenery. While standing right at the entrance, I was more engrossed in staring at the figures carved on the doorway. I could hardly recognise any except the ‘Nandi’, Vishnu and a few other Gods. The shivling of Pashupatinath is four headed and blesses the devotees from all the four of the doors of the main temple. I really felt the need for the camera right now. But, forget the camera not even an umbrella was allowed in.
Moving further is a temple of ‘Nagraaj’ , it is also a unique feature of this temple, which is never seen in any other Shiv temples. Further, the temples of Ganga and Vishnu are also interesting. The complex is spread in a huge area housing many small temples with Pashupatinath at its centre. Moving further, I saw a few shivling lying among the debris. And the nearby building had also collapsed. The pandit in the temple intimated me about the destruction caused by the earthquake. But the astonishing fact is that it didn’t affect the main shrine at all !
Moving further at the backside of the temple, the river Bagmati flows leisurely, carrying all the auspicious flowers and ashes of the rituals. The monks sitting on the banks and the fuming ‘yagya kund’ makes a perfect picture for any photographers.
Passing by the palatial building with fine wooden carving, we didn’t realise when we reached Patan completing a long journey on a sunny day. The cultural capital of Nepal, Patan is a hub for culture lovers. If you have any interest in fine architecture, metal craft and painting then you must head to Patan.
The craftsmen’s market, curious stares of the travellers at the dilapidated but stunning structures, Nepali teens chilling around sitting on the platforms of the temples and the 4 pm rush at the Kumari house… This describes the Darbar Square in Kathmandu perfectly. Moving through the rush in the markets, you would reach an open area dotted with only Nepali style wooden structures. The main building includes the Palace of the Kings of Nepal, Kumari Niwas and the temples of Hindu Gods.
Have Glimpse of the Living Goddess
If you are confused who and what ‘Kumari’ is, then you can be surprised to know that Nepal has the tradition of worshipping a Living Goddess. Every few years, a girl is chosen from the royal region of Nepal who has a lioness like chest, deer-like legs and sharp eyes. The girl is then, through a ritual, declared the Goddess of Nepal. The current Kumari is just a 4 years old kid.
Waiting for just one glimpse of her, our eyes were fixed on an intricate balcony from where the Goddess was supposed to give ‘darshan’ to the people who had come from all over the world.
It was sharp 4 pm, the sun was about to set and the tinkling anklets indicated the playful presence of the Kumari inside the impressive heritage building. All were instructed to stand up in order to respect the Goddess and the guides turned quite vigilant to ensure that nobody clicked her pictures.
We kept gazing, waiting for the curtain to open. And then I could hear an overextended ‘Awww’ of the visitors. We could see a little girl who wore sharp eyeliner making her deer-like eyes look fiercer. Her bun was tied too tight creating unusual stretching of hair root and forming a design around her innocent face. Wearing the bangles, a colourful attire and a bindi, she might have thought it to be a game where she gets to have a glimpse of the world that existed outside her fancy building. Certainly, the cuteness of the little girl left everyone in awe.
The Kumari of Nepal might develop a desire to roam around and mingle with the school friends or play a game with the kids of her age, but alas! She was vested upon a title that she had to grace. She had to follow her responsibility of being a Goddess who doesn’t step out of the house till she reaches puberty. She has the power of being a goddess but she has to sacrifice her childhood. Wait, would she even know what childhood and the fun of childhood is? A series of such thoughts of concern about a child’s right ran through my mind. I saw Julie and other people staring blankly at the kid, probably they had the same thoughts as I had. And then suddenly, there was a chuckle in the crowd. Apparently, the goddess was waving back at the tourists and the childlike act of her made them laugh at her innocence.
She was constantly being guided by a caretaker who seemed to be training her to act as a Goddess. In a few minutes, the Goddess was again put behind the bars curtains. And again, the Kumari Niwas was left deserted by the tourists.
We moved out and clicked the pictures of the row of ancient temples and buildings at the temple, and suddenly a guard asked us if we had the entry ticket (?). We had entered in the area clicking the pictures of the market as there was no one at the counter. We either had to move out or Julie had to pay 1000 NR and I had to pay 250 NR, but we were high on craziness. We just mislead him, jumped off a platform behind the temple and again entered the area. Yes, we barged in without the tickets ???? And had also had the glimpse of the goddess that certainly required the same ticket.
This time, the eye-catching scene was of a giant idol of Kaal Bhairva who was being worshipped at the square. Then came the temples of Taleju Goddess, Indrapur and Lord Shiva. I really could not focus on any of the Gods but the pyramid-shaped towers of the temple that seemed to be reaching for the clouds.
The square looked less touristy now and more like a hangout place for the teens of Nepal. And there we were, successfully moving out without being caught again and we had a great laugh at our insane act.
We hadn’t had proper sleep the last night, but still, our enthusiasm to explore wasn’t affected even a bit, the craziness continued as I made her eat some Dahi puri and bhel in a local shop in Kathmandu. And she liked it so much that we ordered almost all the chaats on the list.
And she dropped me at the bus stop again bidding a farewell but with a promise to meet again, and the next time at her place.
This is what solo travelling does to you. It makes you trust the strangers and even gives you a friend for a lifetime.
Did you ever have such experience while travelling solo? Share it in the comment…..
The easiest way to travel around is by renting a bike. Your passport has to be submitted for renting any kind of bike.
The bike rates range from 600 NR to 1200 NR depending on the condition and type of the two-wheeler.
If you are a backpacker, the hostels at Paknajol Street in Thamel area is the right place for you.
Kathmandu can be reached in an overnight journey from Pokhra and even from Lumbini.
You may be lucky to get some clothes at a cheaper price. But there is no point. Most of the garments are costly as the taxes are added on their import from India and Thailand.