Episode 004: The City of Bhaktapur
“Down with the U.S. Imperialism.” Lhawang, our head Sherpa, or Sirdar, and Ben’s Everest climbing partner finally arrives. It was great to meet Lhawang after hearing so much about him from Ben. The two were part of a Dhaulagiri expedition just 10 months earlier so this was a great reunion. Earlier, we check out one of Thamel’s seemingly millions of embroidery shops and place an order for the team’s expedition shoulder patch. The shop owner has his work cut out for him as we need 3 days of work completed by tomorrow night!
While Lhawang checks in with family and friends, Major, Ben and I head into the Kathmandu Valley to visit the city of Bhaktapur. Upon arriving at the city’s gate, we meet a 16 year-old student named Kewan who makes it his mission to tell us anything and everything about this “City of Art and Architecture.” This kid is amazing and not even a tiny bit camera shy. The city is in full preparations for Biska Jatra, it’s largest festival. There’s so much going on that Major and I split up, each armed with a camera, and take off in opposite directions. Kewan takes Major to an alter where they perform animal sacrifice while I photograph some of Bhaktapur’s more colorful residents.
Our visit is cut short as thousands of Nepali marchers descend on the Durbar Square to protest U.S. president George Bush’s declaration that Nepal is a country that harbors terrorists. We are absolutely engrossed watching this event unfold when Kewan grabs our arms and urges us to leave. He is concerned for our safety since we’re all, well, Americans. We meet no harm and quietly walk out of the square.
Total Running Time: 29:56
Dispatch 6, April 9, 2003: Kathmandu
A presence of hostility has grown in Nepal. Never have I felt so strongly about the need to get out of the city and into the mountains, not just because I love them, but because they are safer than Kathmandu Our experiences today have indicated we are foreigners.
When we woke this morning two blocks from our hotel window a billowing plume of black smoke rose into the haze. There were no sirens and very little alarm. This morning we had scheduled a puja, or blessing ceremony, with a very important monk in Kathmandu When driving to his location we got stuck in a traffic jam, a rare occurrence in this city, it was caused by protesters who blocked the road and demonstrated. They blew up a gas station as an expression of their sentiments about the war in Iraq. We were advised to head back the same way we came. This is not the Nepal I once knew.
In the early afternoon we ventured to Bhaktapur, a fourteenth century section of Kathmandu, to dig deeper into the fascinating history of Nepal. At the gated entrance we were greeted by a young man named Kewan whose persistent attitude and willingness to educate, reaffirmed my faith in the genuine goodness of Nepalese. Kewan led us through Durbar Square, in and out of temples shaped like large blocky cones called pagodas, and into a main square where the town was preparing for it’s Biska Jatra festival. This festival is a real community builder, children and adults worked together on a chariot the size of a small building, and young people flocked around an alter where a buffalo will be slaughtered shortly. Bhaktapur is a fascinating adventure in it’s own right.
The day ended abruptly, when the afternoon brought a signal to leave. A protest march went right through the very square where we were filming. Signs read: Down With US Imperialism. Like I said…It is time to get to the mountains. I am thankful we leave soon!