Rieko didn't feel well when we woke up. This was her last day in Nepal before she was going home to Japan for three weeks flying out the same evening.
We had thought we'd walk in to Kathmandu early in the morning but instead we took it easy and Rieko packed her bags so she was ready to leave later, and we had a nice breakfast at the guesthouse talking with the other guests. I liked the atmosphoere there a lot, and the dining room has a big window letting you see the square and the morning hustle on the street in front of it.
We walked out and past the petrol station. The line was double as long as it had been the day before and the thought of spending days waiting here in a car seemed completely absurd. After grinding up against strangers on a bus we arrived to Kathmandu which was overall a bit of a letdown. The city felt like a lesser vesion of Patan with a gazillion times more tourists. The templtes and beautiful Nevari buildings I had had to myself in Patan were here surrounded with merchants selling Pasmina scarfs made in China and oversized singing bowls for disproportinate prices. The backpacker area Thamel was particularly disengaging. With every store catering to travellers with clothes, treks and cheap memorabilia, local life had completely died out and gone elsewhere, leaving a void of non-city where all the utility the quarter once had for it's inhabitants had been converted in to one big service stop for needy tourists.
We had a coffee before Rieko went back to lie down. I contacted Bastien, a friend from University whom I knew to be in Kathmandu on a larger sojourn and together we walked along dusty streets to the monkey temple lying on a hilltop north of the city. There were a lot of monkeys there which shouldn't come as a surprise but since I really like monkeys and their thievery ways I was delighted.
Looking out from the temple you can see out over Kathamandu as far as the smog will let you. It's not a pretty size, but it does give a sense of the scale of chaos that rules in a city like this that one million people call home.
We sat down behind the temple by a small pond with a statue of Bhudda standing in the center. In front of him a small cauldron of sorts where positioned and people would try to toss money in the cauldron, probably for good luck we concluded. Next to the pond two women were sitting with piles of coins for sale for for people eager to try their luck. I gave it a shot myself but failed. I don't know if I'll have bad luck for trying.
Bastian wants to do good in this world but wasn't particularly keen on running around begging for money like NGO's and in research so he had come to the conclusion that the best way to really help out would be to earn a bunch of money and then dedicate himself to philantropic work akin to Bill Gates, but possibly at a slightly smaller scale. I find philantropy and NGO's to be a complicated affair. Especially in Nepal where some 30000 NGO's are active each probably doing good, but collectively I can't help but wonder what it means to have so many people who have good intentions but also 'know better' running around. We had a nice discussion and walked around the another part of the temple where a lady invited us to sit down and Bastien got to practice his Nepali. She offered us peanuts and I thanked yes hoping the offer was genuine. Eating the peanuts was tricky though since there was no table about and I was holding some chilly-salt with my left hand which meant I was balancing the peanuts on my leg and trying to get the peanuts out of the shell with my right hand along.
The lady quickly took pity on me and started deshelving my peanuts for me like I was a two year old. It felt a little patronising but fortunately a monkey came to my rescue. When the lady had to walk away for a short moment a bold monkey came over and it didn't take long for both the monkey and myself to see that I had both hands full and was practically defenseless. I remarked on the situation to Bastien and sure enough the monkey knocked all my peanuts down from my leg a moment later and ten monkeys were immidiately around participating in the peanut party.
The lady came running with a stick but it was too late. Exasperated with us stupid tourists she told us we would pay 100 rupees for the peanuts about ten to five times their actual worth. I offered her 30 but she insisted on 100 until I started walking away and she finally took the 30 rupees I offered while shouting at me.
We took a taxi back to Thamel to rejoin Riegko who was awaiting us in a Tibetan restaurant where she had reserved a table and ordered a Tibetan hot pot. We were joined by Bastien's couchsurfer, a russian girl doing some volunteer work and Sudeep, Rieko's boyfriend would join us later.
The hotpot was served in a raised half-donut shaped dish where the base was fille diwth wood-embers. A can of broth was provided so that we could refull wherever the broth levels were low. I ordered a glass of millet-beer which turned out to be a real treat. A big wooden cup filled with fermented seeds was put in front of me and boiling water was provided that I would pour over the seeds and let sit for a bit. Finally I was given a straw that was closed in one end. Instead small holes were poked in the side making it possible to drink the liquid without getting any seeds in my mouth. The flavor was akin to rice beer but hot and soothing and fairly alcoholic as I realised after a few refills of boiling water. I was amused at hot both my dish and drink was refillable creating a seamlessly endless meal. Sudeep joined us shortly after Bastien and his couchsurfers departure and we talked for a bit before I left them to head back to Patan. It was a little sad to say goodbye to Rieko. The trip had been very different if I had just traveled around on my own and having her to bounce impressions against helped me understand the country a little better.