Dawa meets us at the airport with white garlands and ‘namaste’ handshakes and smiles
He and the driver take our bags and beep the horn a lot out to take us to Thamel. Past shops of spices and pashminas we bounce along potholed roads
Families sit over tin cans on fire on the street side and police men whistle and try to direct traffic which largely ignores him
We whizz by the Royal palace. American embassy. Garden of Dreams. Kaiser library. Into Thamel, tourist and trekker Centre.
Dawa has been on the trekking trails for 32 years. He began as a porter, then a cook, then took his guide exams he is kind and gentle in the swirling madness of this city.
KTH is a sensory overload incessant incense smells dust people prayer-wheels temples poverty friendliness trek touts
We walk amongst the mopeds and smog to Durbar Square which is a sprawling kerplunk of temples and scaffolding after the earthquake. Though teeming the whole city is still reeling and being rebuilt. Wizened women sell salt fish smoked fish dried chillies and pink Himalayan rock salt in potato sized lumps. Others sit on the floor and sell bird seed. Others beg. Some sing.
Pigeons flap everywhere
Wrinkled men offer musical instruments I’ve never seen, crowds gather around a painter with no hands. Guides offer to show us around show us the Kumari (8year old living goddess) for a an hour for a plate of dumplings RS200, £1.40,
Street children sit on the floor next to skinny dogs and play with orange peels and laugh
School children in pristine uniforms take selfies and pout
A gang of lads spin and run around a prayer wheel
A holy man talks to us about the earthquake, two men spot my Philophibia t shirt and I tell them about the local music scene in Wakefield, they say they have played music in a bar for 30years they ask if we live in Leicester and how they love Def Leppard
We edge through the narrow streets around Assan Tole market more pashminas fruit spices money changers bowl makers and we feel the life pulsing through here. The smoky smells rise and we buy face masks to breathe
A man convinces us to visit an Art school where intricate Buddhist murals are painted on cotton. We learn about the wheel of life and the middle way
Everyone says Namaste and smiles –
Namaste the Nepali greeting means ‘I salute the god in you’ and I do salute the people in Kathmandu; they are living hard here but seem a kind of happy. For people who live on less that £1 a day to still leave left over rice on the street for the dogs there must be some god in them.
At Swaybhunath Temple we walk the long stone staircase past bright painted buddhas and palm readers prayer flags always fluttering and red kites soaring; monkeys rule though here and are revered and fed and covered in red powder paint
The pristine white giant cue ball stupa sits atop the hill with eyes that look over across Kathmandu. Monks in orange robes play football I feel like the eyes are watching me and judging how I react to the poverty – can I be as selfless as the street people we meet? Do I live in the middle way?
I buy coconut pieces from a man and throw some coins into the peace pond, pondering.