Kathmandu is joyfully hectic!
We stepped out of Kathmandu International with the optimistic aim of catching one of the ringroad buses from the airport to Patan. The buses were bursting, not an inviting sight whilst wearing our massive backpacks, and as we were having trouble identifying the right bus anyway we decided to throw ourselves straight in to haggling for a taxi ride. In our naivety we asked to be dropped off outside Patan Museum. You only need to spend a few days in Patan to know this is a crime- the tiny old alleyways are overrun with motorbikes and scooters, weaving in and out of pedestrians and fruit sellers, hooting their way past eachother on whichever side of the road offers the slightest gap. Adding a taxi to this chaos not only takes up the whole road width offensively, but also adds to the damage of the old road surfaces. The expression I feel appearing on my face when I have to flatten myself against the wall to let a taxi past, is the same expression I saw on every face on that first taxi ride.
Anyway, I must not give you the idea that I am not absolutely mesmerised by Patan and all of Kathmandu. Every minute throws a new aesthetic bomb your way; in beautiful Patan, fondly also known as Lalitpur 'city of beauty' there is an abundance of intricate skillful bronze craft, woodwork and stone carving. Window frames on the most humble buildings and even the support beams for the lovely tiered roofs are decorated with depictions of hindu and buddhist gods, patterns and symbols. Shrines and temples are countless, worshipped within, and honoured from 5am every day. There is a bizarre entanglement of ancient traditions with new technology; of authentic clothing with western sports brands. Every second is intense. Crossing the larger roads involves playing chicken with speeding vehicles. Today I saw at least two taxis with a goat in the boot! Their fates are of sacrafice this week. Today is the first official day of Dashain, the biggest festival in Nepal. Everyone stops work for a whole week, and there is a mass exodus of about 70% of Kathmandu's population out of the city. This festival, celebrating the battle of good and evil, has had a run up of dramatic parades every evening, the clashing notes of ceremonial trumpets announcing the colourful dancers along the streets. Oh and the kite fighting! More and more home-made kites have been appearing miles above the rooftops since we arrived. I first noticed the kites in India, as our plane rose up off the runway at Mumbai. Behind, the gleaming, indulgent and perfectly spotless aerport. Then a tiny fence. Then the collossal sprawl of slums, shack upon shack, so dense that it is hard to imagine a person squeezing between the buildings let alone living there. My first glimpse of movement was a scrap of paper fluttering in a spiral, caught by the wind. As I continued to gaze, I noticed more of these dancing scraps of paper, and their movements became too rythmic for the breeze, making me realise and simultaneously observe that small children were masters of these paper kites. We flew up above the clouds, my thoughts remaining on the ground with the simple games in the slums.
So back to Kathmandu. I have since learnt that the strings of the kites are coated in fine glass powder, so that the kites can join in battle high above, swooping towards each other and spiralling away in defense, the aim to cut loose the opponents kite. Girls are no where to be seen, the kite fights considered the game of boys, their battle challenges cried out across the world of the rooftops. We bought a kite and our landlord kindly showed us how it should be tied. The string comes on huge wooden spindles, which can be topped up with more string, as fight by fight it depletes. I can report that flying these kites is a lot harder than it looks; we haven't yet flown ours high enough or long enough to engage in a duel.
Next blog entry is already waiting impatiently to be written, I need to tell you about all of the wonderful people and incredible artisans I have met so far.