The inhabitants of the animal realm are much more obvious in Kathmandu than in most urban areas. And chief among these inhabitants are the dogs. I'm not referring so much to pet dogs - tho there are those. There are 2 shitzu-like ones that share the yard of this house with 2 rabbits. No, I'm referring to the street dogs - the real Kathmandu dogs.

These are mostly around 18" (half a meter) tall at the shoulders with short hair. They come generally in solid colors with brown, gray and black predominating. And they are everywhere. You step out into the street from a building and usually you can see a couple of dogs lying in the road, sleeping; or just wandering slowly around. When I go for my walks to the Stupa, I can count on seeing several dogs at certain spots along the way - I've even come to recognize some of them. And when I reach the Stupa, there are always a half a dozen sleeping on the eastern side and maybe one or two more wandering around, including a very cute 2 month old puppy. The north-western side is the hangout of Mr. Mange - a poor ol' fellow quite decrepit and eaten up with the mange. As you can gather, these dogs have a tough life. The are mostly quite afraid of people - no wonder, considering the way they have rocks thrown at them, get shouted at, and are generally mis-abused. I've only once had one growl at me - and I think I startled him on his home turf down where the road bends around the Khentse Monastery. He continued barking at me until I passed someone else walking towards him. I generally give all the dogs a wide berth and we mutually ignore each other. You do have to be careful because rabies is always a concern.

But the most notable quality of the dogs of Kathmandu is their barking. You hear them during the day, but they really come into their own at night. After dark, you can always hear dogs barking. Not one or two - lots of dogs barking - filling up the background with their yelps, yowls, and plain ol bark, bark, bark, bark.... It goes on and on and on and never stops. Thankfully most of them are far enough away that it isn't a sleep disturber. But every few nights, somebody gets into barking close enough to wake you up - and it can go on and on seemingly forever.

There is a dog who lives fairly near the guest house where I'm staying. Shortly after the monastery bells at 5am, he has his morning bark. It lasts about 20 minutes and has a very loud and distinct tenor to it. Thankfully, he lives on the other side of the guest house from my room, so I've gotten quite used to it. Of course, he can have a go at it anytime during the night as well. The most likely thing to set him (or any of the other dogs off) is the sound of a dog fight someplace nearby. That yelping triggers every dog within earshot and they all fill the night with the most enduring sound of Kathmandu.

If the nights belong to the dogs, the days belong to the crows. There's plenty of bird life here - it's very green and especially lush given all the recent monsoon rains. There's lots of trees and plenty of insects. And the crows predominate. There are flocks of them cawing and perching atop every high spot in sight. They do like the Monastery roof and the prayer flag spires on people's houses. And as the background sound of the night is barking, the background sound of the day is cawing. They especially love the early morning hours - hanging out and filling air with their cries.

I'm working on these Tibetan dictionaries, and like an English dictionary, the first entry is the first letter of the alphabet (K in Tibetan - not A). And the second entry is an animal. Whereas in English we are presented with the aardvark - a creature I've probably never seen; the Tibetans are presented with the crow. The first Tibetan letter's "name" is pronounced "ka". And the word for crow is "ka ka" - which is exactly the sound they make.

I mentioned the pigeons at the Stupa in an earlier email - they frequent not only the Stupa, but also share the early morning rooftop perches with the crows. There's an old brick house out my office window - built when this part of Kathmandu was countryside. And the pigeons love hanging out under the eves of that venerable structure.

There are some small brown birds that like the balcony out my guest house window. I get frequent visits from them as I do my morning yoga. There are lots of other kinds of birds in Kathmandu - the most beautiful ones being the large birds of prey that glide overhead. I don't know what these are - but they are not the griffins that live in the mountains. Now those are indeed magnificent birds.

I've seen only one monkey, so far. I know that there are lots of them living at various temples in the valley. But this quite large fellow was making his way along the rooftops of the buildings that surround the Stupa.

Of course, no discussion of the Kathmandu animal realm would be complete without mentioning the sacred cows. They are just there - wandering slowly down the lane. Or sitting in the road making traffic go around them. Or eating garbage. Or dropping their cow paddies in the middle of the circumambulation path. People pretty much ignore them. They don't bark or caw - they are just there - real sacred cows.

And cats in Kathmandu? Well, I've seen a couple - slinking their way thru the backyards looking for lunch. They are skinny just like the dogs, but they don't have that hangdog look - just wary. One of the cats has made several forays onto the balcony outside the kitchen here - I once caught her raiding the food left on the counter. But, no, Kathmandu is definitely a dog town.

And I can't close this discussion of the inhabitants of the Kathmandu animal realm with out mentioning the porters - the men who earn their livings as beasts of burden. You see them carrying unimaginably heavy loads via a tump line around the top of their heads. I passed two the other day, each carrying a double bed. They carry these obviously very heavy burlap bags of 'stuff'. When I was here in '80, I saw one man carrying a 5 drawer metal filing cabinet. Their standard dress is dingy shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops. It's got to be a very hard life.

Kathmandu is like that - a place full of the most intense contrasts. You're hanging out in the Stupa square and see a porter come thru with his heavy load. He's dodging street dogs and the woman scooping up sacred cow dung with her bare hand to get fuel to cook for her family. And in the background, above the golden roofed monastery where the drums and cymbals are drowning out the crows and dogs, are the most magnificent mountains in the world.

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