I’ve had time to kill in Kathmandu as I await my unplanned exit to Germany to visit my brother. And I’ve killed it, every minute of it (so far), like a champ. But because I’m on a bit of an emergency budget now, I had to rule out all the cool stuff — like rafting, canyoning, caving, yoga retreats, meditation classes, oil massages, ninja school — and instead I’ve just been drinking a lot of coffee, eating, and drinking the occasional beer(s).
I justify this by walking around (between every cafe, restaurant, bar and street stand) carrying my camera and notepad. And even though I don’t always use them, I still feel like I accomplished something, especially if it was a good meal.
But I did luck out on the timing of this downtime.
I’m in the midst of Diwali, and it’s loud, and happy and lights abound, which is probably why it’s called the festival of lights.
As an outsider that just happened to stumble unwittingly into one of the biggest holiday seasons of the year, I was excited to see the changes that overtook the city and its people almost overnight.
Lights and prayer flags were strung above the streets; little clay bowls used as oil lamps lined the stairwells and brightly drawn mandalas; children running about hand-in-hand from business to business sang for gifts and money; people cleaned out their houses, brushing all the debris on to the streets; and my guesthouse manager even gave me some treats, including (2) fried sweetened cornmeal rings, (1) banana, and (3) miscellaneous doughy balls. Unfortunately these treats came right after devouring the Nepali “Large set” which came on a pizza-sized tray and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t able to appreciate the doughy nature of these treats as much as I could have in better, more famished times.
At night firecrackers go off intermittently causing a chorus of barking from the gangs of street dogs, and always, always! there are the unceasing honks and squeaks of motorbikes, cabs and rickshaws.
Throughout all this organized chaos, I’ve become quite familiar with the streets and outlying areas of Thamel — I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve developed my inevitable routine.
I’ve quickly established my favorite coffeeshop (Himalaya Java), my favorite bakery (Hot Breads), my favorite place to grab a Gorkha (Metro), and my favorite bar (Sam’s Pub). I mix it up, of course, but these are my standbys when I find myself wandering about aimlessly and need a place to land.
When I wake up in the morning, I stand for a full minute in my hallway with my hand on the doorknob, staring down the third-story hall which opens up into a backyard courtyard where our neighbors hang their clothes on their concrete French-style terrace. The morning light strikes it perfectly, creating a hazy glow impregnated with the moving color of their clothes and the beauty of the daily milieu of local life.
That peaceful moment before the chaos of the streets is invaluably refreshing. Especially after getting hit by a car trying to edge past me without honking the night before (the one time I actually PREFER they honk!).
I’ve become quite fond of the local fare as well. Their buffalo sukuti, which is a dried meat marinated in all sorts of spices is a great snack to munch on as I drink the local brew. And now that I have no trek to worry about, I’ve been hitting the street food pretty hard. Samosas, fried breads, fried meats with spicy sauce, fried tofu — you probably see the theme here, they like their fried foods, and so do I.
Though its not all food and drinks for me, I have penciled in the mandatory cultural explorations, and I think I’ve seen more UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the past week than I’ve seen in the past year of traveling.
Beyond the everyday minutiae, I’ve learned to slow down, breathe deep and accept the fact that just because I’m not doing one of the activities listed in the Lonely Planet, doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything worthwhile.