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Festival Day in Gorkha

Map picture
On the way to Kathmandu from Pokhara, Katrin and I decided to spend part of a day in Gorkha, which was once the capital of the Nepali empire.  One of the things that made it clear this was a good choice was the approval of all the Nepali we ran into who were asking where we were going - something seemed to light up in their eyes and their smiles would get wider as they would excitedly tell us about Gorkha.  It’s clearly still a culturally important place to them.

Pokhara let us go with a fine send-off, a beautiful sunny lazy day for last minute shopping followed by a wonderful evening with a huge bright moon and only a few clouds.  We had dinner at Newari Kitchen (where I spent quite a bit of time during my stay thanks to the great food, ambience, and wifi!) on the balcony street-side with a huge moon staring down at us, excited about leaving and heading somewhere different but also sad that this really relaxed and accommodating city would be left behind us.

P1100523 (2) An early morning start had us on a taxi to the bus stop due to all of our bags (each of us had expanded our arsenal from a trekking load of one pack to a tourist load of one pack plus a big duffel bag), then on a local bus to Gorkha.  One of the cool things about the local buses is that they aren’t “direct” with no stops – instead they randomly stop wherever someone flags them down and they will let people off randomly along the route.  As a result the number of people on the bus fluctuate constantly and it can be an interesting insight into smaller town Nepali culture.  When the bus started off it was quite empty, so Katrin and I sat opposite each other on separate seats to stretch our legs a bit.

I found it hilarious that as people got on and off, someone would constantly sit next to Katrin but no one ever sat next me.  I can’t decide if it’s because she’s an attractive blonde or just because she’s female or if I’m just frickin’ scary looking or what – my sensitive side was so hurt... (hah!)  One of the people she met was a young teenager girl who had apparently grown up in the UK, but was sent home a couple years ago to live with her grandparents because her parents felt she was losing touch with her culture and becoming too British.  I couldn’t decide if this was cool or sad.

P1100518 (2) As we drove up the final hill into Gorkha around noon, I saw a neat looking hotel (Gurkha Inn) on the side of a valley and made a note of it.  Upon arrival at the bus station, we walked back down to the Gurkha Inn and while it was the priciest place I’ve stayed in almost the entire time in Nepal at 1000rs/night, it was really quite nice and had a fantastic ambience and garden.  After a bit of relaxation to recover from the bus ride, we got ready to hit the town and find the old palaces we had heard all about.

Two things immediately became apparent – first, this town is definitely not used to Westerners.  We drew quite a lot of stares walking around, to the point where Katrin was feeling a little uncomfortable about it at times.  The second, and much more positive thing, was that this town is a stunningly beautiful old town, full of old buildings and small cobblestone streets.  It really seems like it could be any old medieval town in Europe, the same vibe and style to it.  As we climbed higher and higher towards the palace on the hill we took stone footpaths through people’s yards and up garden terraces, sweating profusely in the tropical heat of the valley.  

P1100487 (2) We kept getting nods confirming we were heading in the right direction when we converged onto a main path that had a lot of foot traffic heading up the hill.  At first this seemed like a bad thing, as a number of groups of teenage boys were fascinated by Katrin and clustered around her until I started telling tall tales to distract them about how she was my guide and had lived in Nepal for many years and stuff like that – oddly this drew less attention to her and they left us alone finally.  One smaller kid did throw a rock at her umbrella in the manner of boys everywhere, though he was promptly chewed out by an old Nepali lady.

P1100495 (2) As we continued to climb, taking frequent breaks for such idle activity as petting baby goats and talking with happy children, we began to notice music in the background and colors increasing.  Like many times on the trek, we rounded a corner to be suddenly overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of people dressed in bright colors clustered together at the top of a hill dancing and singing!  Here the feeling was completely different, as we walked up everyone was so happy and seemed incredibly welcoming – we were still stared at by everyone and caused ripples of attention through the crowd as apparently the only foreigners for miles around walked into them, but all the stares were accompanied by huge grins and happy waving.

P1100506 (2) After watching for a little while, Katrin was jumped by a group of young women who insisted that she dance – gamely she handed me her stuff and went to give it a try, but was unfortunately abandoned almost immediately!  Some young men pulled her up and started to dance with her and it was obvious from where I was that she was not at all comfortable, but eventually a couple girls noticed and took over.  She danced a bit longer until it was clear she was a bit overwhelmed, but I think everyone enjoyed that she gave it a try and it was quite impressive the way she overcame her apprehension.

Next we walked up to the main area in the palace, still full of people.  The palace was really amazing, with incredible brick and woodwork and an effective defensive design on the hill.  Inside were a bunch more people clustered around a series of large incense fires and a big line to go inside a temple of some sort.  We walked around back and enjoyed the scene at another shrine before finally deciding to take the scenic “long way” back towards home.

P1100517 (2) This involved climbing down through a series of terraced gardens which abruptly ended and required a final drop of about six feet back onto the trail (parkour dismount - spin, drop to cat hang, kick off and spin! wee!).  It was really quite beautiful and peaceful, with great views of the city and the valleys around us.  After a couple hours of wandering and exploring, we eventually went back to the bus stop for an early dinner and retired to the hotel for a couple beers and a slow end to the day.

In the morning, we woke up early to catch the bus to Kathmandu.  We carried our bags up the hill and started asking for the bus to Kathmandu and were shocked to be told by the first people we ran into that no buses were heading to Kathmandu due to a bandha (strike)!  Augh!  We thought all the Maoist drama had been worked out, but apparently not…  (we later found out it wasn’t actually a bandha in Kathmandu but rather a town on the main road along the way and it wasn’t the Maoists, but a group protesting against the Maoists because of a kidnapped doctor – ah, politics, I guess anyone who gets pissed off here just calls a bandha and shuts down road traffic)

We talked for awhile with our hotel guy who made a bunch of calls and recommended a taxi at 5PM as the best option to get to Kathmandu.  It would be really pricey, but an acceptable cost at this point (and only pricey in Nepali terms).  We took it as a sign to go explore the local museum which had been closed for the holiday yesterday and found it a but underwhelming but still enjoyable.  Around 11AM while wandering the gardens we were both feeling lazy and ended up taking a nap in a little pagoda on wood benches.  After our nap we went down to the bus stop for food (challapati and curry), at which point we found out that there would be a bus to Kathmandu after all.  “No more bandha!” we were told.

P1100526 (2) Back at the hotel we asked to cancel the taxi ride as we grabbed our bags for the bus, but the hotel guy said the bandha was still on and actually the buses were just running for a couple hours, then they would stop and wait in a line for the bandha to stop, which could cause us to arrive in Kathmandu as late as 11PM or midnight…  Ugh!  We went back to the bus station and after much arguing they finally confirmed this was the case (initially denying it) and refunding our money, then went back to the hotel to nap until our taxi came.

P1100529 (2) We ended up with an entire minivan to ourselves for the five hour trip to Kathmandu, but it was comfortable and relaxed and they dropped us off nearly at the door to our hotel in pouring rain at night.  We both agreed it was worth the extra money to avoid the hassle of late night navigation of Kathmandu from the bus station and in spite of all the napping had to force ourselves to find some late night food before crashing out. 

An oddly stressful day, in spite of all the relaxation.


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