Today I had a mediocre breakfast at the hotel cafe, then went to The Garden of Dreams, conveniently next door to my hotel. The garden was established by a wealthy Nepali in the early 20th century but had fallen into disrepair until an Austrian organization provided the funds to restore it. There was a very overpriced restaurant on site, which I avoided, but I enjoyed strolling through the well manicured garden while taking a few photos. It was a reasonably clear day so I got some good shots. I viewed a small indoor exhibit that explained the origins and history of the garden along with “before and after” photos documenting the restoration.
After sitting outside on a bench for a while I got a little bored so I decided to walk to Swayambunath. It took me about a half hour to get there, and despite the aforementioned traffic challenges I was happy to get out of the touristy areas and witness the more mundane aspects of Nepali life. On my way there was a terrible bottleneck where a street was blocked off, apparently due to a recent fire.
Swayambunath is on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. It has a large stupa, some architecturally interesting small buildings, and the usual souvenir shops and restaurants. After strolling around the stupa and taking a few photos I had a glass of papaya juice at a rooftop restaurant. There was little else to do there so I made my way back to Thamel.
Once back in Thamel I picked up a Nepali SIM card. The young lady at the NCell counter spoke very fluent English, but somehow managed to confuse me at times. She pointed out the basic plan of 500 minutes of local network voice, 500 minutes international long-distance, and 500 MB of data. Then she said, “Do you want only voice or data too?” I asked if there were a plan for just voice (since I could probably just use WiFi for data most of the time), and she said, “No, you have to purchase the whole package.” After completing some documentation and taking a copy of my passport, she again asked, “Do you need data or just voice?”; I said, “You told me I had to buy the whole package, right?”; And she said, “That is correct.” (The only explanation I could surmise for her inquiries about voice only or voice + data, was that once the SIM card was installed, she had to go into the Android settings to add an IP address so that the data plan would be operational).
Before dinner I continued to read in an e-book that I had checked out from the Brooklyn Public Library, The Springs of Namje: A Ten-Year Journey From the Villages of Nepal to the Halls of Congress, by a young returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer named Rajeev Goyal. While the book did recount the recent political history of Nepal, I mostly found it to be an introspective reflection on the social and cultural implications of small-scale development projects and other economic factors. He explores the latter in his evaluation of the work of large, well-intentioned international development organizations with little knowledge of grass-roots issues affecting the rural, agrarian Nepalis, as well as the interference caused by land speculators focused on short-term personal economic gain at the expense of long-term sustainability.
At the Revolution Cafe yesterday, the young waiter told me about their live “fusion” music performances every Friday evening. I decided to stop by to check it out, and I was not disappointed. The group consisted of a dexterous guitar player, a very rhythmically talented tabla player, and a flutist (playing a wooden Nepali-style flute). They were young but extremely talented and technically skilled, and they were cohesive yet fluid in their interactions as a group. The music was melodious, meandering at times into improvisational tangents, and there was one tabla-driven interlude that I thought was particularly impressive.