Part 2, Champa and the Merchant
Our first whole day in Kathmandu after a fitful nights sleep under a mosquito net. Left Chauuni at around 9.30am waiting for a taxi near Swayambhu. Champa had warned me about queuing for things in Nepal …….. You don’t! So when the first one arrived …. Whoosh, it was full before you could blink, so next time Champa showed me how to do it with elbows, grab the door, push, shove, easy really. She’s quite good at it, as I would discover more about later.
The taxi took us into the heart of old Kathmandu (I suppose its all old really) ……… narrow streets, no tarmac but lots of puddles, people selling things on their doorsteps, big baskets of fruits, cows, people walking, cycling, on motorbikes and in cars. Also people begging everywhere you look, meat and fish stalls covered in flies ….. And the smells! Where is Shangri La I wonder? I was warned about this before we came but I wasn’t really prepared for it, remember, this was my FIRST time outside Britain.
We just wandered around aimlessly during the morning, mostly in Ason, before visiting the Royal Nepal Bank to exchange some travellers cheques. What a place; one counter to fill in a form, one counter to present the form and the cheque, another counter to get the money in large denomination notes, another counter to change some of the large notes into smaller denominations. Utter chaos for about an hour, what wonderful kids we have …. no complaints, no whinging, just absorbing everything excitedly especially the rather old man at the door with an old rifle looking like it hadn’t been fired since the battle of Waterloo.
Leaving the bank we went to the post office and bought some stamps to post a dozen or so cards to friends at home, and then on past a place known as The Golden Taps. This is an ancient source of clean water for residents who fill up their pots daily, though when we passed by there were lots of men washing themselves under the taps.
Everyone was now quite hungry so we took an autorickshaw to Kantipath and the RaRa Restaurant, supposedly Japanese where we had a Sukiyaki for the 4 of us cooked beside our table; bean curd, noodles, onions, green beans, chicken and raw eggs stirred into it at the end. Served with bowls of rice, Michael used the chopsticks but Sharon gave up after a few minutes. The whole meal, which included starters and four Cokes cost 148NRs at an exchange rate of about 20NRs/£ (Amazingly today, 2017 the exchange rate is around 130NRs/£).
The next part of the day began with a taxi ride to Basantapur, the very old and original area of the city. Large pagoda buildings dominated the square which was filled with merchants and tradesmen selling crafts and curios of Nepal. Masks, kukhri, Buddhas, coins, rings, necklaces, bangles, musical instruments, flutes, all laid out in neat rows by each seller. I suppose what happened next WAS to be expected ….. A white man, a tourist, in the middle of all this is “fair game” I suppose but it felt like I was a small fish surrounded by circling sharks! “Buy this, buy that, very cheap, I give you good price…” but Champa just waved them away …… speaking English. This only resulted now in them doing the same to Champa, “buy this, buy that missee”, but what now happened was NOT expected. Someone offered a brass statue of the goddess Tara which Champa really liked so she asked, again in English “how much?” to which the reply was 200NRs (at 20NRs/£ remember in 1983). It was suddenly as if something snapped in Champa’s head after a day of noise, dust, pushing, shoving, queues ….. “Taskun hishimaru” she shouted in Newari meaning “DON’T BE SILLY”. The fact that she had spoken in Newari, the language of the original Kathmandu people and not Nepali was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over him and other merchants who were pestering us. Half of them now ran away!!! The kids thought this was brilliant, especially when another merchant now brought us 3 boxes to sit on while speaking to Champa to continue the negotiation with the man with the Tara! It attracted a huge crowd, just like street theatre, pleading, indignation, arm waving, shouting, laughing, all conducted in Newari so we couldn’t understand a word of it, except when Champa grabbed us deciding to walk away. The merchant now looked astonished, but after a few seconds ran after us, dropped his price to 115NRs which Champa accepted. Everybody clapped!
It was later in the day that Madan, Champa’s youngest brother looked at the Tara and declared it to be only worth about 50NRs so who won in the end? The answer is EVERYBODY won. Champa won because she got something she really wanted and liked at a lower price than offered, the merchant won because he got a very good price, the spectators won because it was very funny and entertaining to lots of people. Bargaining is a way of life here so we are setting a family rule for buying things: whatever the merchant asks for as price, half it, then half it again and that is the starting point!
Time for bed.
Do follow us and look out for Part 3, Food is a blessing and a Gift.