16 Dec 2013 Exploring Bhaktapur, Nepal
The people of the village-like-city Bhaktapur are splendid actors in the fabulous setting of the place. Cap saddled elders sit in groups of 4 to 5 members, every few meters, atop a wooden carved stage. Etched-wrinkled women keep busy cotton weaving with a historic looking spindle. Children of all ages play chase, hide-‘n-seek and run around colorful temples, gigantic lion and elephant sculptures and spectacular wooden structures. Seems as though the place is a time capsule to how things were hundreds of years ago. Dilapidated red brick walls; Tens of stone statues are worn to the point of undistinguishable impressions of the former animal carved out of them in the first place. One more gust and all this history will topple like a house of cards. The realization that no restoration or renovation work was done in this ancient city (apart for a few sporadic buildings)captivated us.
In the supplied tourist pamphlet we read that most of the town’s inhabitants’ livelihood comes from farming or husbandry. Even if in reality we are talking about only 50% of the inhabitants, it is still a remarkable data. Goats grazing beside a temple, bales of hay stacked between houses and chickens pecking at Shiva’s, or Buddha’s, offerings (depends on whose side you are on…) are a few of the supporting arguments.
We continue to wonder the streets and from time to time reach alleys that converge to a small dead-end plaza, surrounded by 3-4 stories high sooty residential buildings, or rather open into a big square that leads us into another decorated temple or pool, a vital gathering place.
Bhaktapur served as the Nepalese capital between the 12th to 15th centuries. Apparently, in an area of only 7 square kilometers here lies a royal palace (hope we won’t be late to catch a glimpse at it…) and the impressive original city gates. Our eyes are drawn especially to the exquisite wood carving works, so beautiful that it’s hard to imagine just how they were prepared here in the 8th century AD. Countless signs of “Curd”, juju dhau in local dialect, or simply yoghurt, raise expectations for a refreshing break in one of the many “Curd shops”. Huge steaming pots assure us our lunch break will include, of course, Momo, yet our feet lead us to a small building, which can hardly be called a restaurant, but the flavors manage to fill four hungry diners’ tables. We stand by and watch one client after the other come in and order while we try to estimate the unwritten menu and clearly do not understand what the fuss is all about.
A young man in his early 20’s is running around taking orders, heating fries and serving customers. His beautiful wife is sitting on a 20 cm high stool, barely lifting her eyes to the counter, too busy folding Momo in an incredibly agile manner. The couple’s 3 year old daughter conducts a vocal concert to the restaurant’s guests: she repeats in song all the orders and sometimes “gets stuck” on a word or two and sings it for 10 minutes straight. She also mimics Oran when he orders our meal: one of everything offered on the counter; she starts singing: “One! One! One!” constantly. We get the local tempura-like-coated cauliflower and potatoes served in bowls made up of leaves. The role of a knife and fork is played by two toothpicks.
After nearly a year’s trip in East Asia we’re not surprised how delicious everything is in this tiny diner. We order another round of everything and the mother decides it is excellent timing to test our babysitting skills, so she seats her little one in front of us at the table, with her own lunch serving and wishes us Good Luck! with only a hint of a smile. Then she hurries towards the reservation counter at the entrance, where on a bench against the wall apparently lies their new born baby and she lies down to breastfeed him.
About the Authors– Oran and Lihi: We are an enthusiastic Israeli couple bitten by the travel bug. After previous individual travels to many countries, we set out together last spring to a yearlong adventure in Asia. Please visit our travel blog, lihiandoran, for many more stories, pictures and helpful info for visiting China, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Thank you!