The Neighbors

Like all guest houses I have ever stayed at in Nepal, this one is run by the family that owns it. The matriarch of the family and strongest personality is the granny. I hear her gravelly voice over all the other human sounds of the area. She seems to be very sweet and very strong. She and her husband come from Muktinath in Mustang province, an area I visited when I went trekking in 1980. It's a magical, barren spot, high on the backside of the Annapurna Massif, where there is a spring where fire and water both come out of the earth into the air.

Her husband seems to be not very mobile. I see him sitting on the porch of their living quarters at the back of the guest house most of the time, prayer wheel steadily turning. Whenever I arrive back here, I greet them with a "Toshi Dili" ("Good Fortune" - the modern Tibetan greeting).

Her son actually runs the guest house. Or more accurately, his wife actually runs the guest house with the help of their children. There's a daughter, who has a darling 2 year old of her own, who is busy in the kitchen with her mom at meal times. The older son is the one who brings me my "bed tea" each morning around 6:45. The youngest son, who had just been born when I trekked up to Muktinath, is the waiter in the dining room. He's very sharp - currently he's reading "The Tao of Physics" - and is obviously understanding it from the conversations we have. He would like to get a student visa to study more in Japan, but so far no luck. We in the west are so very fortunate with our educational opportunities - even if college does cost a king's ransom these days, it is possible.

The window of my room faces out on an empty overgrown lot - very green and not remarkable, except for maybe an occasional passing sacred cow. But it affords me an excellent view of my neighbors. The house next door does not have running water in all the apartments. There is a pump out back with a huge amount of activity there all day long. It's not your standard Western pump that you see in the cowboy movies; no, this is low to the ground and has a metal handle that you pull with both arms like you were starting a lawn mower. In the early morning there is a steady stream of neighbors pumping their water for the day into buckets and jugs, and washing their faces and brushing their teeth. Men, women and little kids have a wash, maybe even soap up their hair, all as best as modesty will allow, in the brisk air with that cold water.

Later in the day, I see women washing dishes and doing laundry, which they hang on the clothes lines on the rooftop - rushing up again later to retrieve it when the afternoon rain blows in. The rooftops of buildings in Kathmandu is where it's at. In contrast to the dirty, noisy, crowded streets, the rooftops provide a clean, quite place to hang out. I see the 2 beautiful young ladies next door drying their hair in the sunshine on the roof. The kids go up there to play and to fly their kites. Kite flying is extremely popular in Kathmandu and several are always visible anytime I make a journey up to my rooftop.

The next house over seems to be a tiny bit more upscale, tho it too has mold creeping up the whitewash. Some of the windows in that house have screens, in contrast to none of the windows of the house next door. That house's most remarkable occupants are the young woman with her infant. I see them at the window exactly opposite mine every morning. I see her with her baby up on their roof - hanging up clothes or just taking in the air. Her husband appears at the window occasionally, but he's about the only other person from that house I ever see.

Beyond that house is Khentse Monastery with my neighbors, the monks. I see them on their rooftops after breakfast studying their books. Or if it's rainy in the early morning, I see them scurrying to breakfast with their big metal plates held over their their shaved heads as makeshift umbrellas. There are always some on the roofs of the various buildings of the sprawling complex whenever the weather is nice. The back of the cookhouse for the monastery is within my view, as well. There is a water pump there too, with its share of interesting activity. There are 2 women I see everyday - one always dressed in bright purple, the other often in yellow - their flashy colors a sharp contrast to the more subdued colors of the monastery. I see other workers at that water pump, but very seldom see any monks there - they have obviously other business and they are looked after quite well.

These are the neighbors I see from my window - from my rooftop even more neighbors come into view. The top floor of the house next door has a very nice apartment. Half of that floor is the apartment - the rest is a even better than average rooftop, with both sunny and shady spots and nice cushions to hangout on. I can see Tony's house two doors down and lots of other rooftops with their occasional assorted inhabitants.

Across the street is a large complex that is a carpet factory. There's loads of activity there in the yard - carpets being carried and unrolled and rolled up and loaded onto trucks, etc, etc. There are 100's of huge, multicolored skeens of yarn drying in the sun on the roofs of all the buildings - which are again rushed off when the rains come. There's housing for many of the workers there plus a very posh palace for the owner at the back of the complex. I see him coming and going past the guard at his gates in his green Toyota Land Crusier.

Further afield, on my jaunts to the Stupa, I encounter more of my neighbors. There's always lots of guys hanging out in the street in front and they are joined by a handful or two of monks down towards the monastery. There's a bunch of kids who sing out "Hello" whenever I pass their house down around the corner. There are Tibetans coming and going from their circumambulations of the Stupa. There are men dress in non-descript western style clothes and women almost always dressed in traditional style - the bright colors of the Nepali women contrasting with the warm, rich colors of the Tibetan women. In the afternoons there are hordes of school kids in their uniforms.

When I reach the market area just before the Stupa, it get really crowded. There's some of everybody I've described. Plus young ladies dressed in modern jeans and t-shirts. Plus street urchins in ragged dingy shorts. Plus beggars in their one set of hand me down clothes. Plus tourists in their shorts and cameras. It's a crowded, colorful, mind boggling scene that completely defies description. It can only be drunk in person. You can immerse yourself in it as you make your rounds of the Stupa. You can go up on the Stupa and look down upon it and be boggled from a distance. But the intensity, the beauty, the ugliness, the sounds, the smells, the happiness, the sadness, the hopes, the dreams and the awesome otherworldly atmosphere can only be experienced - not described. Kathmandu works its magic and you go away from here changed forever.

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 26 July 12