Dogs of Kathmandu
by Brett Horton
There is a clear view of the green Himalayan foothills from my 4th floor window. October blue sky with clouds floating by, low in the background like puffs of smoke from the invisible Hindu gods- invisible, yet represented everywhere. From my rooftop balcony, our rooftop, I have a panoramic view of the multi-colored, dusty, squat, rectangular buildings all varying size, the different levels of life, different levels of rooftops, balconies, porches, streets, that ride and sit on their portion of the wave of the valley. There is a rooftop above and below me.
Wei Lin has just returned with a copy of the Kama Sutra, in Spanish, for the English version was sold out and the Chinese version’s drawings didn’t look as authentic. Too cartoony. We are leaving now, splitting a taxi to Patan Durbar Square with an American who just arrived from D.C.
The golden top of the temple of Suryambhunath, one of the most ancient Hindu sites in the world, atop its hill, points to and touches the sky, directly in front of me. I see it above the red brick and cement rooftops, a little ways across the city, as I face west. Laundry hanging, blowing, striped flags billowing. The rooftop terrace railings are lined with bowling pin-shaped supports. The sky is still blue, the air warm, much warmer than anticipated, with a slight cool breeze that breathes, periodically. There are people, enjoying their breakfast, tea and coffee, on patios below and above me. Large dark birds swoop low through Kathmandu valley, circling and soaring and gliding. They could be hawks or vultures. Pigeons are alighting on rooftops below me. Pigeons perch on crumbly temples.
The Himalayan foothills beckon the wayfarers. Flowers are in bloom all around. A lady waters her rooftop garden slightly below me. The spiral staircase to my left goes to the rooftop above me. That is the highest rooftop of the Family Peace House yet there are only more views of higher rooftops and yet a mightier panorama when it is summitted. Everest and Nuptse and Lhotse and their tall siblings are far off across the foothills and deathly peaks. Everest, the rooftop of the world, we saw from the airplane, rising high above the level of clouds on our flight from Kunming. My camera has a zoom like a pair of powerful binoculars. One almost could mistake the mountain’s white and blue for the white of the clouds and the blue of the sky if one wasn’t paying close attention, but upon a closer inspection, it is unmistakable.
The house cleaning lady, in her red ornate garb, smiles as she walks by, the red blessing dot of the tika smeared on her forehead.
Wei Lin comes up the stairs and asks for the key. Padlock doors.
“Did you buy something?” I inquire.
“Yes. A dress.”
“You have a dress in that tiny bag? How can you fit a dress in that bag?”
“I’m tiny,” she replies and giggles, steps in, steps out and reappears with a black dress of embroidered turquoise and purple flowery design and a light, handmade cashmere scarf. She matches the exotic scenery. She sort of followed me over here, but she’s a likeable companion.
With all these surroundings, words fail me somewhat, but out they come from inward. I could just take a photograph or video, or my fascinations make me want to paint or draw, or I can also record my words as I can speak faster than I write oft times, but no matter, all these mediums and forms of expression are good.
There is a large mural downstairs that reveals, “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.”
We are now on our way to Suryambhunath, the Monkey Temple.
Yesterday, we made our way to Patan-Durbar Square. Needless to say, we walked around, taking pictures and videos, which contain memories and vivid details, so there’s no real need to go overboard with descriptive writing. The long walks are good exercise, but I’d prefer to get up in the foothills where I don’t have to watch out for being clipped by a wayward motorcycle or car- where other dangers lurk.
We are now sitting on the roof terrace of La Bella Café & Acqua Bar in the Thamel district, the traveler’s ghetto, near to where we are temporarily living- just for 10 days, but living, nonetheless. The days have been long and full, as we’re early birds, as Nepal is 2 1/2 hours behind China time. That’s the first time zone by a half-hour that I’ve ever seen.
It’s 4 pm and my Irish coffee has arrived with cream and chocolate on top. Wei Lin has just gotten her third heart in a row upon ordering a cappuccino. The first heart was prepared by me at La Renaissance in Mianyang, my attempt at latte art, for the bizarre and surreal purpose of the movie, a reenactment of ourselves, which had been actually transcribed. The reenacted video was actually filmed before, a video at the same location of spontaneous conversation that was lost. To me, it is slightly unusual that the scene was filmed at all, because I didn’t know if it were likely that Brian and I would be in the same Chinese city together again. And it was transcribed to paper only because I used it as a scene in the script that was typed mainly for approval/permission, and while that drawn-out process has dragged and perhaps even dwindled, a huge portion of part one has been independently made, already. I ducked out of China to nearby Nepal for a visa duration reason and will return late next week.
The whiskey is now flowing through my veins and I feel fairly good, but stuffy in the dust. All the color is dusty. Not too dusty, though. Not Grapes of Wrath dusty, which I am reading lately.
Now, I’m drinking a big bottle of Everest beer, though I prefer Nepal Ice, but it’s sold out. We walked back to our area from Kathmandu’s Durdar Square. We also made it to Boudhanath and Pashupatinath yesterday. Along the Bagmati River, we looked down as the people carried out their Dashain Festival ritual of setting free the painted statues of gods and goddesses down the eternal life flow of the river. Durga was the final goddess to join the float, it seems, and for some reason she didn’t go as easy as the others. We sampled the momo. Wild monkeys ran through the streets between cars and watched and swung from the trees.
At Boudha, we joined the Tibetan monks walking clockwise around the stupa and spun the prayer wheels, then surveyed the view from a café balcony. We were joined with a Japanese American named Ryan who worked as an assistant to a national security advisor to a Democratic senator in Washington, D.C. He’d minorly injured himself before he could execute his plan of trekking to the Everest base camp, so he went to plan B and took off to Chitwan on a jungle safari and to Lumbini, Siddhartha Gautama’s birthplace, the Buddha.
A flute flutters notes up from down somewhere in the alley-street. Hindu and Buddhist temples reside tranquilly next to each other. Monkeys and dogs roam free. It is like walking through a friendly ghetto. Through earthquake rubble. A picturesque and holy trashcan where gods of gilded gold and intricate artworks and relics reside. There are no trashcans to be found. No functioning traffic lights. Slum children on sidewalks learning to live like pigeons. More businesses are opening as the holiday winds down. The whole city is an ancient temple with bars, restaurants, hotels, stores, streets and traffic inside. I am learning more of Hinduism and Buddhism. If it is all superstition, it is still fascinating. The old bearded monks bless me with the red dot of a tika and humbly ask for money. We’ll soon be off for a day into the hinterlands, perhaps near Nagarkot.
Wei Lin pointed out a black cat running along the fence, and it’s about the only cat we’ve seen.
Descending the high steps from the Monkey Temple, we sampled some “poli” (?) from a street vendor, fried balls with something (?) inside, dipped in a spicy lemon sauce. Also, the local dahl bat meal w/ mutton and chicken biryani, naan, masala tea- I am trying to learn a little more, but sometimes it seems I merely push old stuff out the more I push new in. New words in foreign dialects push old English words out. Some days I am just a weary traveler who knows not where he is going in the long run, and I can’t express myself with any eloquence. Though, I still attempt to stack knowledge like Jenga. My head is expanding like a balloon. I feel the need to hone vocabulary, but few things are true needs. Taking a cue from my environment, I could focus on one word. Meditation station. Too many loud mufflers and horns for meditation. There is a constant barrage of information everywhere and little if any time made for recall. Animal blood is spilled and stained on stone temple floors for ancient sacrificial rites. It is all a sight to see, but I am a traveler with not much of a tourist soul, and I get enough of sightseeing quickly, after 2 full days. I prefer to sightsee casually, slowly, at random, if possible. I just aim to balance with grace.
I’m templed out for the moment. Wei Lin finished her cappuccino and went shopping for an hour. I’m not interested in much shopping and just want to mostly lurk in cafes from here on out. In the streets, the shops, I am hassled by salespeople especially because I’m a white male- though, I’ve been remarking that I am peach. As I walk with Asian companions, it is me that the sellers cling on to. Nepali mother after me to buy her child milk. At the top of Suryambhunath, I bought 3 original oil and acrylic landscape paintings on small pieces of canvas that easily roll and fold for transport, for only 4500 rupees. I love to support the local artists and local all sorts, while being international.
Sitting in the Garden of Dreams, it’s like an ancient civilization sprung to life. The high pillars of the café patio rise into the dome’s archway beneath. I ponder the colonnade. Together with the gazebo, elephant statues and circular railings painted a soft yellow- proper descriptions elude me these days- specific English words of detail sometimes are sleeping in the recesses of my searching mind, the more I learn Chinese and Spanish, but it will come to me later, the words are there somewhere. Pretty Nepali girls take each other’s picture next to the fountain and sit in the green grass. The high bamboo swing is taken turns upon. I am tired today so it is almost like dreaming. Children splash their hands in the pool. The only thing missing is a hammock. I could lay there and swing and nap and smile the whole day. Maybe I will stretch out on the grass or go back and take a nap. This is another day when I focus on drinking much water as feeling a little dehydrated. Any anxious feeling will eventually dissipate. I can sleep in a chair. No reason to despair for too long. I am a seeker of the truth of God. There is a river of eternity of God to learn. Lily pads float in the small pool. I once named a woman Lily. I named another Lily in a movie. I wish to be pure, to alleviate pain. A painkiller poet. I’ll take a heart of gold, but moreso I pray for a heart that beats and beats and beats on.
– Black Olives Café, Thamel
Got a cold in Kathmandu or something similar, maybe just a reaction to the surroundings. Hard to tell the difference- may be wearing my black bandanna on the street like a masked bandito, soon, amongst the face masks, silk scarves and shawls. Brian wechats me, “How is Nepal?”
I reply a short summation and ask if he got a designer face mask while on his Beijing jaunt, like so many sport.
Wei Lin has gone shopping, and I certainly don’t want to go along. My white male face gets hustled, though gently, but nonetheless. Serious solicitations, though not as aggressive as some other places I’ve been. Most of my shopping is already complete, my Xmas shopping mostly done in October, an early bird this season. There are deals you can’t find just everywhere, even if they are overcharging me. This is a bargaining land. Basically, you just cut the price in half from what is 1st said. Except in the bars, restaurants, cafes. Ryan of DC said I was a good bargainer, but I am only just checking the other prices 1st. Many don’t give you a chance to browse even the 2nd item before sinking their sales claws into you. Some are chill. I bought a handmade Nepali cashmere scarf, 3 landscape paintings, a bracelet, a shape-shifting toy made of gold semi-ringlets and beads, oblivious to the proper name, as I was latched onto on the busy street and usually I will decline approaches, but this one got me. Also, I found a pair of hiking shoes, one of the only sizes that fit me in the area. They started out at 9000 rupees then went down to 4800- then, I ended up with the same pair for just 4000 rupees at a nearby shop. The trick of bargaining is simply to walk away and return, or not even to return, in many instances.
I’ve relocated now to my rooftop and have washed a pair of socks in the sink and hung them on the clothesline on the rooftop above me to dry. There is a solar panel directly above our room. Now and then, the electricity turns off briefly. There are black hot water tanks on rooftops across the city, heated by the sun. A blue and green one. Gray buildings, red bricks, mint-colored building, blue roofs, aluminum roof below, salmon-colored houses and apartment buildings with white trimmed windows, 7-up signs hanging, a dwelling with a shade of painted blue that is both bright and dark, blush red roof shingles.
I am sniffly. Last night, I bought some nasal spray from a pharmacist whose counter opened directly to the gravelly inner-city street. He recommended Rhinozol, a couple of drops 3 times a day, which is made of the chemical Xylometazoline. I’ve had a couple of snorts, and it is clearing me out with a runny nose, sneezing and some coughing. Blowing my nose over coffee and tea. I’ll be better soon. The side of the decongestant box reads that it is to be prescribed by a registered physician. Maybe the pharmacist is the physician.
Wei Lin now just went downstairs to fill 2 water bottles, 3 flights down and back up, but it really felt like she went down one flight and turned right back around with 2 full bottles, such is the blurring of time in a Hindu land.
We’ve been taxi-hopping then walking through all the areas of ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples. 1st, Patan-Durbar Square- the temples all reside peacefully next to each other. I’m learning some more each day, always. The stupa in Durbar Square is said to be from 250 BC, built with 3 others by King Oshoko, ordered by him. I doubt he lifted a finger. Maybe he was a good king, though, out there stacking and cutting stones with the serfs. Ryan sat in gum- who puts gum on a seat? Later, I felt a little guilty for spitting gum out on the ground, but I did it over in a sidewalk corner among rubble and rocks, in the hopes that dust and debris would cover it before it found its way to somebody’s sole, not thinking it a place where anyone would stand. I never spat gum on the ground before, but there weren’t trashcans anywhere.
We went to Pashupatinath, one of the most sacred temples in Hinduism and took a stroll. Only Hindus are allowed inside the actual temple. The smell of fresh cow dung hung in the air and you had to watch your step. We turned down the entry fee to witness the funeral, where masses of Hindus are cremated along the littered banks of the Bagmati. I’ve already mentioned all these places the other day when I let loose with a sangria, then Nepal Ice, a gin and 7-up and more beer. Not sure how much of my current condition is owing to a 3-day lingering hangover or the dust and polluted air or a legitimate cold or allergies or all of the above. I am sneezing less now only a few hours later.
The day before, we walked to Narayanhiti Palace and went inside. A palace now turned museum. No bags, cameras or cell phones are allowed. Inside, there are stuffed tigers mounted. Not toy stuffed tigers like Hobbes (who is arguably real in Calvin’s world), but real life tigers who were stuffed by a taxidermist and stand on their hind legs, growling in fierce poses. These are like the bears you see in the homes of hunters in America. Rugs, full body with the heads snarling- there was a bear and a tiger. The furniture was in stark contrast to the luxurious, sprawling palace. Sofas and carpet rugs that looked like they were from the 70’s or early 80’s- the long lime-green carpet, for instance, which I did a double take on to make sure it wasn’t shag. The old TV set had been sitting for a long time showing no shows. In the crowning room hung the longest-hanging chandelier that I’ve ever seen, perhaps 40-foot long, like long cylindrical crystals.
The monarchy was dissolved and now Nepal has a president. Prince Dipendra murdered King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, all in all 10 members of the royal family in mysterious circumstances, debatably because he couldn’t marry whom he wanted. There was a sign outdoors that pointed to the “site of the massacre” and a haunted empty building where the shooting took place. The shooting which is typically labeled a “mass murder, massacre, murder-suicide, fratricide, patricide, sororicide, regicide, matricide, avunculicide.” It makes one wonder, if reincarnation were true, what a prince would be reincarnated as. Nothing near as holy as a frog. There is a small, low stone bridge over a stream out back where the Prince was found, dying, and oddly enough, he actually became the King for a few days while in a coma, until he died and his uncle, Gyanendra, became king until the people ran him off and elected Ram Baran Yadav to be president. It had actually been Gyanendra’s 2nd reign. But all this can be read about elsewhere. There are rumors about what really happened, such as it being a framed set-up job by Gyanendra to assume the throne.
In one of the guestrooms, Wei Lin marveled at the huge mirror facing the bed, saying that in China, that is bad luck.
These are the kinds of streets you can move through like a masked outlaw and no one takes a 2nd glance, though they are relatively safe. There is a constant, incessant roar of motorcycles and honking taxi horns, weaving through the flowered rickshaws and occasional bicycles- bicycles, these cities should have stuck with bicycles.
Whistles blowing, loudness~ Wei Lin has just left to the airport in a taxi, and I’m ready to leave. I should be back in about 100 hours. If I lived here, my teenage angst would maybe return and I’d start vandalizing cars- vengeance for driving through what should be pedestrian areas and just being a nuisance, stirring up noise and dust and taking up space and stinking up the air with pollution.
I’ve relocated to a room on the ground floor. It is only 600 rupees a night, still with a private bathroom, but with a twin bed, and I’m smoking it out by burning a mosquito coil.
The crowds blabber, the horns get louder, at night the mongrels bark and bark and howl like they’re wolves. I’m tempted to yell from the rooftops for everyone to shut up. Isn’t this the land of meditation. Of course, I’m in Thamel.
Back here, where I’m staying in the Paknojol area, it’s much quieter. I’ve had someone to talk to all week, so I hadn’t actually noticed the extent of the noise in the daytime cafes. It was more pleasant when we first arrived and most of the businesses were shut down due to the Dashain Festival, which is their #1 Hindu festival. It’s almost like their Xmas. Not too long after is Diwali Festival.
Moving through the streets, the whisperings of smoke & hashish in my ear, one-armed beggar extending his hand. A rat runs by in broad daylight, but it came from an area of potted plants, so it doesn’t seem as repugnant. Let’s not forget there are disgusting human beings, too. A mosquito lands on my arm. I shoo it away. I’m still smoking them out of my room so they don’t wake me in the night- hopefully- there are some cracks in between the bricks and gaps in the wood, so we’ll see. That octagon coil can burn up to 10 hours. The mosquitoes can transfer the Zika virus. About 1 in 5 people will get it, warns the airport sign. It’s like a fever for a week and goes away.
The Buddha teaches that all life is suffering, and I can see that to a considerable degree, as I sit with a runny nose swatting mosquitoes (I just got one with this book) on an uncomfortable seat. All the seats are broken in some way, wobbly or just hard.
I’ve considered upgrading to a different room, but it’s only 3 nights. It’s almost like camping, but a step up, and I’ve camped many times in my life. I like it in some ways and hate other aspects of it. Nature, city and town are all miserable, just in different ways. This is why the world needs those kindred souls who deflect the constant barrage of misery. I am able to enjoy myself more when drinking, but if I don’t check it, I just end up sicker, and checking it can also sometimes be a drag.
The sun is going down, and I will go find a restaurant soon. I have eaten meals in so many restaurants in my life, a superplethora, around the world- I only hold a fraction of the memory of their names. I’ve loved it and sometimes felt guilty about it. I will do a 16-hour fast soon, not 24 hours as not being top of the weather, seeing as how I’m in the land of fasts.
I buy cheap cigarettes, sometimes, out of addiction, smoke some, then throw them away. Like last night’s Surya, on the street, pictures of disease on the box, for 220 rupee. No bargaining when everything was closed and the bars were still going.
The Black Olives Cafe every morning lately. Nepali omelette, Tibetan omelette, Israeli special breakfast, Shakshuma- an Israeli-style meal served w/ masala tea or milk coffee along w/ freshly squeezed papaya juice, a multi-vitamin and a big cold bottle of water. Though it’s much cheaper than most other countries, I could still be even more frugal, if necessary. Drinks and smokes add up anywhere, though most nights I don’t even do that, lately.
I dropped the soap in the toilet this morning and look forward to American bathrooms. I am eager to make money somehow without being someone’s slave and while being legal. Maybe start a business. I have paying music gigs coming up, but maybe should get more. They’re not for a while. If I were lucky, too, I could sell some paintings or writings or this movie. The streets are quiet this morning.
There was visa confusion of a lesser caliber than at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco when I arrived at Kathmandu Tribhuvan Airport, where many people were lining up to get their visas upon arrival. Some of the visa machines were out of order and the other lines were moving slow, until I found out those machines were simply for the passport-size photo, of which I already had one. The visa application papers were actually on a rack further back. Then, I paid the fee and waited in a long line. When I got much closer, I was informed that it was a line for Chinese citizens only and that my line was the next one over, which was not a line because there was no one in it. There was an immigration officer sitting in his booth. He was really polite. If I would’ve known, I could have practically walked on through.
Just ordered a Kahlua, Cream & Coffee in the Jesse James bar, with my black bandanna mask tied around my neck and a feather in my fedora, amongst candlelight. Avoiding exhaust. The streets are a game to walk, though just now as I’ve sat down, they’re not nearly as blaring as before. Need to go pretty easy and get more good sleep and get back to better health. I’ll feel a little better with a dose of alcohol flowing.
Not long ago, we were watching live music, some Nepali flute folk at the New Orleans Bar, a Nepali rock band at the Reggae Bar playing classics by American & English bands: Hendrix, Doors, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Nepali Rock and we saw some others playing real softy, but some Clapton and Rolling Stones.
Now, with the night, the still busy streets but much less honking, fire glow, the bugs not bugging, the BLT and tomato soup (which is superb, and I haven’t had such a thing in ages) I am content to be here some more days, alone. I haven’t been alone in a while, but I can get used to it pretty quick, anytime, these days. I think of past days and days to come. I’ll keep learning is one thing that I feel sure of.
“Namaste,” said the native village children on the hillside, as we were led by Raju, our guide. We hiked from Nagarkot to Changunayaran. Our driver dodged the potholes and oncoming buses and motorbikes coming directly at us as we climbed the ever-narrowing road with no railing and an almighty drop-off, villages or a construct of sort dotting the way. It was a mountain of around 2000 meters but a foothill compared to what would come. The Himalayan foothills were foggy that day so no view of the snow-capped peaks. The trail was littered near the villages and cleaner the higher you got. The walk was only a few hours, pretty mild. Wei Lin almost looked like a native, as we both had a tika on our forehead and she wore a pink silk shawl with sparkles in the sun. The old ladies passed us on the path, carry their dokos on their backs, the weaved basket-backpacks. We each took a turn on the ping, the high bamboo swing, up on a plateau with a panoramic view of the valley. Careful not to step in cow dung or dog poop, which Wei Lin said some Chinese say that is good luck.
We walked amongst mountain cornfields, orange trees, grapefruit trees, millet, which produces the national Nepali wine, potato plants, tobacco and marijuana plants and drove past rice fields and dusty dogs. The hike was about 16 km. Changunayaran is the oldest temple in Nepal, built under changu trees. We were told the legend and how there are millions of Hindu gods. It is vast and complicated mythology. The 3 major ones, you may well know, are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer and all around there are temples dedicated to the various ones, it goes without saying. The Hindu do a prayer gesture similar to Catholics crossing themselves, but they just touch their forehead and heart.
There are, of course, mini souvenirs of all these gods. Many people are a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism. There are Buddha statues all over- skinny, serious, curly-haired Buddha. I’ve seen the fat, bald, laughing Buddha finally in some shops. Ganesh, the elephant head god, Krishna, the flute-playing god, the topless flying goddess who plays the pipa behind her head (inspiration for Jimi?), Chhinnamasta, the naked self-decapitated goddess who stands on a divine copulating couple and holds her severed head in her hand, a scimitar in the other, while 3 jets of blood spurt out from her neck and is drank by two attendants and her beheaded head, but I didn’t see her anywhere.
We saw a clumsy goat tumble and fall down a dirt cliffside then stand up and look blankly at us, a slapstick moment. For lunch, we had the local dhal bhaat: lentil soup w/ rice and chicken curry and more, as sheep came bleating up to our outdoor table and were quickly shepherded away. Raju mixed all the curry sauce and rice and ate with his hands. We washed our hands by pouring cool water from a plastic container.
Now, we’ll see what the next day’s incarnation is and my candle has literally burnt down to the last flicker of the wick, 2 dancing flames, and I’ll finish my Everest, get the bill and go to my room. Now, before its final breath, the flames are kissing and joining into one bigger flame.
Brett Horton was born on the edge of Kansas City and grew up in a small oiltown called Ponca City, Oklahoma and the more metropolitan Wilmington, Delaware. At age 15, he began a music career playing the local venues and bars of Oklahoma and has since traveled and moved extensively. As a teenager, he worked as a paperboy, then later, in the circulation room of the newspaper. He has worked as a gas station clerk, a seasonal cook, a folk musician in an Alaskan vaudeville show, a foreign English teacher, a TV show host, a barista, and a free-lancer of various jobs just to name some. These days, he is making indie movies, playing music, throwing art shows and writing, writing, constantly on the go.
Please check out more of his work at: www.bretthorton.org