There’s more than Kathmandu in the valley. Swayambhunath, a.k.a. the monkey temple, sits on top of a hill with a very long stairway leading up to it. Visitors get waylaid by souvenir vendors every 20 steps or so. The main stupa totally looks like a huge birthday cream cake with a candle in the middle. And the usual prayer drums, statues locked away in little shrines, and butter lamps. The temple is clean because they literally throw all garbage over the walls, where lots of monkeys sort through it.

Speaking of garbage – on the way to the monkey temple I crossed Kathmandu’s Vishnumati River, which is so dirty that there is more garbage than water on the surface. I am beginning to like Kathmandu’s chaotic, loud, and crowded Thamel downtown, at least they are taking care of it.

#2 temple of the day is Boudha on the other side of Kathmandu. This one is the mother of all cream cakes (pictured), on top of three huge terraces. It’s surrounded by a circular ring of buildings, most of them souvenir shops of course but there are few visitors. Their style, if not the ornamentation, feels almost mediterranean and is very pleasant to walk. This is a Tibetan community, and it very much feels like Tibet except that you can say “Dharamsala” [the Indian exile of the Dalai Lama] without risking to get arrested.

Back in Kathmandu, I checked out Freak Street, but it’s a tired shadow of its ’60s fame. All the action, piercing and tattoo shops, forlorn-looking rasta youths, and hasheesh hawkers are now in Thamel.

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