Bhaktapur: Nepal’s Other Half, and That’s a Rap…

IMG_0705Bhaktapur is like remembering that first time twenty years ago when you landed in the middle of chaotic Kathmandu and the Bible, taking days to find your way around, exploring streets and alleys with no names only landmarks, and populated by peoples in little street-side cubby-holes doing things unmentionable, unsure of whether it’s a sacrificial altar or low-budget boucherie, blood splashed helter-skelter just like in the Bible or the Beatles…

And finally learning ropes and making mental maps and expanding radii to include other ‘hoods and larger circles, people congregating wherever two roads cross, chowks and bazaars and people riding in little pedaled cars, but mostly on foot forging a way through life and the city, somehow making it all work, where logic would dictate otherwise, where geometry should have long surrendered to gravity…

IMG_0716That world is mostly gone now, replaced by a few skyscrapers, but mostly slums, and the algebra of need. But you can still find it in Bhaktapur, out in the KTM suburbs. If Pokhara plays LA to Kathmandu’s New York, then Bhaktapur is like DC, or maybe Boston or Philadelphia, the repository of culture and tradition, a reminder of who we were and what we did way back then when no one was looking…

My search for authenticity is exhausting, with ever-diminishing returns, but it usually pays off. That initial rush of existential vertigo that came with landing in Kathmandu twenty years ago without a clue, just getting lost and loving every minute of it, is hard to do these days, what with the city more and more just a concrete jungle and the old parts withering away without being replaced…

That’s why it’s such a trip to be in Bhaktapur. There is no distinct Chinese admixture in the gene pool here, like Pokhara, and few Chinese tourists, either, or local boys wanting to increase that gene pool percentage by nihao-ing up the cute Chinese girls with naked abandon and obvious pleasure. Here the local women seem reproductive enough already, not like Filipinas with a gaggle of baby geese forming a triangle behind where they walk, but still always one or two kids at hand for the normal rituals…

IMG_0709Nepal in general is a toss-up. I’ll reconsider once they get the power back on. That’s not a pretty club to be in. They’re hurting, after the quake. In Nepal every tourist gets his own resto, one bar, and one bus, one beggar and one banker. All the buses have Wi-Fi, but only run half-filled, all to ensure minimal profit for the poor country where superstructure leads infrastructure by miles…

Nepal is to India as Laos is to Thailand as Guatemala is to Mexico: little brother, better brother. But I don’t know how the traffic moves at all in Kathmandu, swimming upstream against the stream, swimming right through my living room, prices twice where tourists gather in high-rise rentals, but the kitchens still all look the same…

Milk tea has almost run its course with me, but it’s good protein for a semi-vegetarian, I suppose…but I fear milky wet dreams and pyramid schemes…never order milk coffee in India or Nepal unless you really like milk…and BTW pork is NOT the other white meat…Nepal has everything but the lights…and like Thailand, there are five people for every job…

Did I mention that Bhaktapur is the real deal: with cobblestones and muddy streets, jugglers and clowns, musicians and townspeople all gathered in daily celebration, in worship to all gods, deities and governmental authorities alike, where chaos rains supreme, especially in the reigny season, the chaos of fuzzy logic and faulty reason, post hoc ergo propter hoc, begging questions and begging for dollars from unsuspecting tourists?

IMG_0717Or maybe that was just me. Of course, there are some drawbacks in the Old World, of course, like surly servants and sullen service, laconic life supports and lackadaisical listings, higher prices for rooms and frequent overcharging of foreigners for their food. The food in local eateries is largely limited to chow mein and momos, anyway, starchy stuff and spicy buff…

You did want authenticity, right? You got it. Pidgin English sounds like the truncated hum of small birds chirping…now I look for good English, but a month more and I’d be looking for none…once you learn the alphabet, then every billboard is a Rosetta Stone. All in all, it’s probably still worth it. I’ll be back…

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