Monday, 17 April 2017

#18 The slutty burqa and getting lost in 2074

Despite being physically exhausted we returned to Pokhara with high spirits.

The next morning Sanju, Razu, CGAG and I caught the bus back to Kathmandu as the Dutch girls were staying on in Pokhara.

I don't know if it was the good conversation with CGAG or the fact that I've taken much worse busses in the past, this bus journey went very fast despite the fact it was delayed quite a few hours. Kathmandu traffic is very bad at the moment due to major works on the road. And the dust. Oh the dust.

Later that night I returned to the Quest volunteer head quarters and went out for dinner with Sanju's other friends and volunteers. It was so nice to meet such a big group of lovely people and most of them I'd met briefly before. Most of them were dutch but it was such a treat to feel part of a group when you are so far away from everything familiar.

Sanju and his fiance kindly invited CGAG and I to come to their wedding at the end of April. We were both so touched and accepted immediately of course. A Nepali wedding is not something to miss if you get the chance...

So of course the next day we went Saree shopping. I bought the first one I tried on. Sometimes when you know you know. I wish it was that easy to make other more important decisions in life.

That evening it was Nepali New Years eve so CGAG and I explored the streets of Thamel. There was a huge techno concert in the street which wasn't really our scene so we moved to a quieter wine bar with more traditional live music.

At some stage during the night we saw a girl wearing what can only be described as a slutty burqa. Her head, face, arms and body were covered but the fabric stopped just passed her waist. It really was the most confronting political statement although she probably didn't realise it. Was it empowering, degrading or a perfect representation of the struggle between patriachy and feminism?

Later that night I met up with two of the other Quest volunteers who had the only key to the head quarters and CGAG and I headed for home. Unfortunately my taxi driver couldn't find the head quarters or understand the little map we had been provided with and we spent what seemed like hours driving around the city with me anxiously peering out the window looking for anything familiar that could direct me back home. We were unsuccessful and by this stage the other two volunteers were wanting to go home.

My phone decided this would be an ideal time to go flat so I frantically power walked around Thamel dodging drunken backpackers and Nepali teenagers looking for a cafe with a samsung charger so I could call the others and meet them.

Unfortunately or fortunately they had already woken up our host at the head quarters and she was coming to get me on her scooter at 2am. I felt so, so terrible but was just relieved to finally be home.

It was my first time being really lost in a foreign country with no idea how to direct the driver to my accomodation. It would have been fine if we hadn't been strongly advised not to walk home on New Years eve which in the end probably would have been safer, easier and much less confusing.

But all is well that ends well and I woke up early the next morning to meet CGAG and Sanju's volunteers to catch the bus to Bhaktapur for the REAL Nepali New Year Festival!

The ancient chariot of the Bisket Jatra festival that is pulled across town 
 CGAG, a dutch guy (there are so many Dutch, German and French people traveling everywhere!) and I, took the local bus from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur which cost us a whopping 25c to travel for 45 minutes out of Katmandu.

To enter Bhaktapur you must pay 1500 rupees which goes towards preserving the historic buildings so we sorted this out and then met the rest of Sanjus' volunteer group and proceeded to wander the streets admiring everything Bhaktapur had to offer.

It's a beautifully ancient place steeped in culture and history. We tried the famous King Curd first which is a yoghurt specialty and I can report it was delicious. Just the right amount of sweetness and usually served in a clay dish.

It was difficult to adjust to doing things as a group especially as we were all used to travelling alone but I made the most of it because these things come and go. One minute you'll be with too many people and the next you'll be wishing you had even just one companion.

The rest of the group left that afternoon and only CGAG and I stayed the night. We were so glad we did because the chariot pulling festival that happened in the evening was one of the most amazing experiences I've had so far.

Every Nepali New Year - it's 2074 now by the way - all the young men get together and have a tug of war where they vie to pull an ancient chariot across town which they call Bisket Jatra. I was dissapointed to learn there were no biscuits involved.

The crowds were huge. I'd never been in a crowd so big except for Holi and for the first time I understood how mob mentality worked. Thankfully everyone was well behaved and the Nepal Police force were on stand-by with their riot shields incase anything went wrong.

The crowd was mostly made up of men, a few women and very few travellers. Most tourists watched from rooftop resturants but CGAG and I opted to be part of the action. Where is the thrill in watching safely from a roof?

So we elbowed our way through the crowds and spent a happy couple of hours filming and photographing the spectacle.

I also had my first near pick pocketing experience. Luckily I noticed a sneaky hand unzipping my bag before they had time to snatch anything. That taught me a lesson. Don't take ANYTHING into a big crowd. Lock it all in your room!

Finally the chariot came to a standstill. By this time we were starving and had had our fill of being pushed and shoved by smelly men so retired to our room before heading out with a French guy CGAG had met at lunch for some street food followed by a meal in a touristy resturant and then bed. We were both so tired after such an eventful few days and the mattresses in our hotel room were so comfortable. We slept like babies until late the next day.

On our second day in Bhaktapur we began a walking tour of the city. We soon realised we had no idea what we were looking at so caved in to the offers of a very eager guide who had been pursuing us since the moment we arrived at the main gates of Bhaktapur. CGAG wanted to visit a local family she had met on the plane to Nepal who happened to live in Bhaktapurthat afternoon so we had a quick guided tour before heading to her friends place in Thimi. We spent a few hours with this lovely family who had been living in Germany for two years and were back visiting their family before moving to Toronto.

It was fascinating for CGAG but I had already had a pretty good taste of ordinary Nepali life so it wasn't so interesting for me. However they really were a nice family and it was a pleasant experience.

We then attempted to see the remains of a colour festival in Thimi but it was all over by the time we finished at the local friends so we took another local bus back to Bhaktapur, ate more street food and then went straight to bed to dream about biscuits and burqas and all the other crazy things we had seen so far.

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