Aaron Martina is an Florida based programmer and an international man of mystery. Well, he's not all that mysterious but he does travel the world now and then taking photos, eating interesting foods and diving the depths.

Himalayan Photography Trip - Kathmandu & Patan

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke around 5am. I don't recall anything waking me up other than my body telling me that I had enough sleep. I wanted to disagree but I was awake and my body didn't listen. I stayed in bed and wasted the time away. I think I listened to music but I'm not certain. Anyway, about an hour or so passed and Damion, my roommate, also stirred. Around 7 we decided to go downstairs and get breakfast at the hotel's restaurant. In Kathmandu, and most likely all over Nepal, breakfast is included as part of the stay at the hotel. My first breakfast in Nepal was this...

IMG 0033

Everything seemed recognizable but it was slightly different than what I'm used too. It all tasted just fine and filled me up. Other members of the group started to filter into the restaurant and go through the buffet line. We ate, chatted, and generally got ready for the day ahead. At some point I was asked to go into the lobby and provide a passport photo and some information to Depen who was working on our trekking visa/permit for Tibet. This process was relatively painless but I didn't completely understand what the purpose for all of the information that was being asked. As the group started to finish up breakfast and break up I went into the garden of the hotel where there was a small aviary. There were some interesting birds...

bird corning another bird showing its feathers

The colorful bird (assumed to be male) seemed to be attempting to corral the duller birds (assumed to be females). He had these feathers around the back of head that he could display as a sort of fan to cover or enlarge his face. It was pretty interesting.

I took all of these photos with my iPhone because I couldn't use my DSLR. The reason I couldn't use my DSLR was because I didn't have a battery for it. My batteries were in my checked luggage that had gotten lost. Therefore I basically had a useless camera.

I checked with the front desk and I still had not received my luggage. As there had been approximately 3 flights from Doha that landed in Kathmandu so there should have been no reason that my bag hadn't arrived yet. I was not happy.

The group got together for the first workshop. The first topic that Chris covered was the Marquardt Scale. The Marquardt Scale is a really easy way to be honest about a basic biological function that will help your fellow trekkers determine your status and health without going into gory details. After we got out of that topic then Chris took us through a presentation on compositions. As that is one of my weak points in photography I was really interested in the topic and learned quite a bit. This workshop lasted a good hour or two.

Chris then described what were going to do for the rest of the day. We were going to go to lunch and then we would leave from lunch to Durbar Square in Patan. He also gave us two assignments. The first assignment was to compose a picture with a clear subject and the subject cannot not be a human or human form. The second assignment was to take a picture of a stranger after getting permission.

I needed a camera for the Patan trip. Not only were my batteries in my checked bag but so was my backup camera (a point-and-shoot). Luckily Thilo had a point-and-shoot that I was able to use. It was extremely nice that he allowed me to use it for the day trip.

We all went to New Orleans Cafe for lunch. Frankly I don't remember what I ate. We all took advantage of the free wifi and the smart phones took up a lot of attention. We are a bunch of geeks.

After lunch we all piled into bus and headed to Patan. The ride through the city was interesting. We saw a side of Kathmandu that I wasn't quite prepared for. In particular we crossed a river, Bagmati River, which I'll refer to as the river of stench. Basically, it seems that this river is used for all sewage as well as the garbage dump. The smell hit me at least a half a mile before we could see the river and it followed us for a bit afterward. Both animals (dogs, cows, chickens) and people were rooting through the trash picking out either food or useful items. This was a real eye-opener even though it was very difficult to concentrate on anything with the overwhelming odor.

Shortly after crossing the river we came to the outer edge of Durbur Square. The bus driver parked the bus in a very cramped parking lot and we unloaded. After a short discussion with the driver about when we would return, the group ambled over to the ticket booth for the square. Chris purchased entrance for each of us which included a sticker that we had to wear.

Patan Sticker

And a cloth-like ticket

Patan Ticket

Our first stop was Mul Chowk

Mul Chowk entrance

[Those rope-like things hanging above the entrance are water buffalo intestines]

Ornate carving

Carvings on supports for the overhang

Lion outside of Mul Chowk

Elephant guard

The locals seem to hang out in and around the temples like Americans do at malls. Just hanging out and watching the others (mostly tourists).

At this point Chris suggested that we break off into smaller groups and go explore the area. Chris and I stuck together as we walked around Durbur Square. It was really good to get his insight into the area. We proceeded north of Durbur Square.

Decorated goat skullBuddhist Stupa

Then Chris suggested that we enter a particular doorway that to me didn't seem to stand out. Well, it happened to be the entrance to a Buddhist monastery called Kwa Bahal (Golden Temple). Chris paid the admission but I got a ticket stub

Golden Temple ticket

I was so very happy to see this kind of culture. It was hidden off the street but was amazing inside. The statues, prayer wheels, wood carvings, and then the ceremony. As Chris and I were exploring we started hearing a banging of wood against wood. A woman pantomimed to me that I had to stay still so I froze in place. I watched as a boy in monk's clothes, probably about 8 years of age, was banging two pieces of wood together in front of a shrine. The ceremony seemed to last about 5-10 seconds and after the banging stopped everyone began to move again. The boy left the shrine but a handful of women of various ages entered shortly afterward. It was definitely an experience. I saw the boy later scampering around the temple and giggling.

Statue in the Golden Temple Closeup of previous statueSmall shrine

I really thought the following chalkboard was neat.

Some sort of calculation probably a calendarAnother small shrine

Monkey statue with a jackfruit. Also examples of the many prayer wheels around the railing surrounding the courtyard.

Monkey statue with jackfruit

Upper floor of the monastery with a larger prayer wheel.

large prayer wheel

This kalachakra mandala was in the ceiling before the doorway back out to the street.

Kalachakra Mandala

Chris and I continued to explore Patan. At one point we walked into what was definitely a residential building structure where many families had "apartments" that all opened into a courtyard. As we figured this was basically a dead end we backtracked a little. We were propositioned by a group of small children, probably aged around 6 years old, for us to take a picture of them (for a price no doubt). We saw many stray dogs just laying about in the street. Once we got back into the the touristy area around Durbur Square we started to get harassed by the various vendors selling trinkets for a "good price".

Playerless chess gamesmall stupa at the end of an alley

This goat was just inside the entrance to another temple.

A goat inside of a templeSleep boy with a cast

This gated area was attached to the outside of a temple. There was a Snoopy clock was a red light above it. It just seemed so out of place.

Snoopy clock out a placeStatue along the road

I just happened to catch this doorway which was a little ways down a very narrow alley. I would have gotten more in the frame but I couldn't back up due to it being too narrow.

Very ornate door

This is a statue of Hanuman (the monkey god) but there is so much orange paint plastered onto the statue that there are no more distinguishing features.

Hanuman statue

Our gang regrouped and we collectively decided that we had had enough. That last picture was near the entrance/exit as we were leaving. I probably could have spent more time especially if I had my guide book with me and it wasn't so blasted hot and sunny.

We got back on the bus, crossed the river of stench, and returned to the hotel. To my great surprise and elation my bag had finally arrived. I was so very happy. I quickly found out the plans for dinner and then I snagged my bag and made a beeline for my room. After a shower and a change of clothes I felt like a new man. I decided to go to the currency exchange office which wasn't even a block away from the hotel. I changed out some money and as I walked back I swear every vendor in a little shop came out to greet me. It was like they could smell the newly exchanged money. I got back to the hotel and retrieved a battery for my camera and then I headed back down to the hotel lobby. Chris tried out my camera and took the following shot which I kind of like.

blurry man

We had some time to kill before we went to eat and the sun had just gone down so someone suggested that I go up to the roof and take some pictures. So I did.

from Manaslu roof at duskdusk in Kathmandu

I also went into the hotel garden to capture a shot of a shrine/stupa there (I need to process this image some more).

stupa in the garden

We putted around the lobby for a little bit longer then headed to dinner. Jon came in and gathered us for an impromptu meeting. Apparently there was an incident at one of the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. In reaction to this incident the Chinese government closed the border between Nepal and Tibet(China) to all foreigners. Also, more than likely they would deny all trekking permits. Therefore Jon working with Babu and the rest of the Mountain Tribes staff worked out a plan for us to trek to the Annapurna Base Camp in Western Nepal. It wasn't what we signed up for but it was better than nothing. I was impressed that they were able to organize another trip that quickly.

While this news was still percolating in our minds our stomachs told us it was time to eat. We decided to change it up and try out Fire & Ice which is a pizza and ice cream restaurant. Mostly catering to the foreigners we had reservations but we still had to squeeze in to fit.

Fire and Ice

I had a pizza with olives, artichokes, and ham. It was pretty good.

my pizza

It was rather late when we left but I was able to get an interesting shot of a temple just outside of Fire and Ice that was lit by the neon lights from the restaurant and had the bright moon behind it. But the shot was a little shaky. I still think it's neat.

temple and moon

We got back to the hotel and dispersed to our rooms. It had been a long day and it didn't take much before I was asleep. Around midnight there was a knocking at the door. I got up and threw my pants on and answered the door. It was Depen with Damion's bag. Damion, although barely awake, thanked me for getting the door. I assume he was just as happy as I was to finally have his bag. I quickly got back into bed and back to sleep.

Himalayan Photography Trip - Kathmandu to Pokhara

Himalayan Photography Trip - Day 3 continued