Sat 7/23, day 38
Finally on Saturday (July 23), five days after we landed, we headed down to the heavily damage Durbar Square, on our own. A former royal palace and home of one of the Kumaris (pre-pubescent girls who are living Hindu goddesses). Before we got to the square, we actually had to get there. On our own (did I mention that?). We headed for ring road and the taxi queue. There’s a website that calculates taxi fares so you don’t get taken advantaged of as a tourist (or local), so we knew that it should be about 150-200 rupees. I let Nate do the talking. The first guy we went up said nothing below 500 rupees. No, 200. Okay, okay 400. No, 200. We walk away. Next guy: 350. No, 200. Okay, 300. 200. We begin to walk away. Okay, okay, 250? Sold! Not sure that we got the local price, but Nate was triumphant at his first foray into taxi bidding.
There are three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley. Each with a special history and its own Kumari. This one in Kathmandu is actually a UNESCO world heritage site, but was heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquake. They raised the price to 1000 rupees (~$10) entry to try and help with the rebuilding, though we’re pretty sure that it is more of a tourist tax and that locals don’t have to pay. We tried to walk in, but a police officer and ticket-taker stopped us. We looked like the most cliche tourists.
It was confusing trying to find our way into the square, which is confusing in and of itself because squares usually are pretty straight forward. It turns out that Durbar Square isn’t just one square, but is the name given to the multiple squares in this area. As we tried to get our bearings, a nice downpour started. We ran like everyone else to get cover and found a nice spot under the eaves of a mini-police station.
I had my recording equipment ready to go and since I had nothing else to do, I started recording and hoped that someone would ask me a question. A group of young Nepali guys asked me if I was an American. Yes. I then asked them if they were Nepali. Yes. Would you mind answering a few questions? Sure. For the next few minutes during the rain, ask I asked a few 18-22 year-olds about American and Nepali politics. First, no they had not heard there was an upcoming election in the United States. What for? To become president. I guess if you don’t know about the election, you probably don’t know the candidates? Right, we know and care only about Nepali politics, just like in the US you only care about US politics.
An interesting part for my interviews is asking people who they would vote for or any advice they have for American voters. Overwhelmingly people have been hesitant. A sort of humility that says, “I am not from your country so I won’t presume to tell you how to run it.” Which is really different from my mentality, possibly because as an American I assume (wrongly perhaps) that if I know enough about your country, I can share input that will help fix it. Nevermind my lack of overall knowledge and cultural context may severely limit my ability to say something useful. People seemed genuinely suprised that I would ask them questions about American politics. From my perspective, I think US politics is relevant to the world because of our vast arsenal of weapons alone. The presidency matters for many reasons: a president is the Commander in Chief, but is also the Head of State, who is the chief diplomat on the world stage. The tone of the president can ice relationships or warm-up frosty decades-long spats. So though the president is limited to the powers granted in Article II of the Constiutution, this position has increased in importance and power since George Washington left office at the end of the 18th century. And now since nearly the mid-20th century, the president has had the nuclear option; going from directing generals into battle to dictating the obliteration of a city by just one bomb. And the president has access to thousands of nukes; that’s a lot of power.
I however, did not explain all of this to the young Nepalis, who explained that American culture is influential to them, but they don’t care at all about our elections. They did decide to play ball of sorts with me though. Okay, so who is running in your election? Obama? No, he can’t run again. Have you heard of Donald Trump? No. Big, yellow hair, businessman, older, on TV. You’re fired! Okay, who else. Oh yes, okay. Clinton. Clinton? Again. No, his wife Hillary. These are the least popular candidates ever, ever. Oh, best of luck to you. Who should I vote for? We can vote? No, I don’t know who to vote for? Awkward pause.
I ask what my students should know about and they start to talk about the Kumari. They said they were a little bit scared of her. Then we tried to explain where we were going in Nepal, but they thought it was funny that we don’t know Nepali. Understandably that was a sticking point. And like that the rainstorm was finished and they were gone.
We headed to go get some coffee to re-strengthen our resolve of what we were actually even doing in Durbar Square. People watching. Buy an umbrella (there are a million easier places we could have gotten an umbrella). Scout some souvenirs. Work up the nerve for more interviews.
There were interesting Hindu temples and worshippers. Tour guides abounding: 500 rupee, 300 rupee. No thanks. Hawkers selling their wares. Any time you would pause to take in the view, it seemed like it was license to offer something. We would get surrounded by guys selling who knows what. We wandered about for about 45 minutes and then called it quits. We headed to a taxi line and started the bidding war again. It was almost an exact replay of ring road. Another 250 rupees and we were back home.
The easiest marker to tell people is Buddha Park adjacant to the Monkey Temple. It has three giant golden Buddhas and a few monkeys too. It’s interesting looking at religous symbols from other faiths besides Christianity. All over Europe there are giant and beautiful cathedrals; we’ve been in so many I’ve lost count. But you look up at the stained glass with incredible Biblical scenes and it makes you think about a bigger, greater world. Pointing toward the heavens. In Buddha Park there isn’t a giant cross, but you still have to look up and it is spectacular to see the gleaming gold against a blue and white puffy sky. It may not be my place of worship, but it is a place where I could worship my own way.
Leaving Buddha Park we had our last major challenge of the day: crossing the ring road. Earlier I’ve tried to explain the ring road. A mass of vehicles, pedestrians, dogs, and cows and no traffic lights, crosswalk, or signage. That is what we were going to cross. PJ & Lizzy’s advice: just be confident and keep going, and try and follow someone already crossing the road, strength in numbers. Okay, we got this. And actually we did. We looked right before left. We tried to cross with other people and still had to mostly go on our own. But we made it to the other side and it was easy.