Spoke a bit soon with that write-up of Kathmandu....
Lucky me, I managed to find the tourist ghetto a few hours after arriving, and it is definitely a Nepalese version of south Bali, complete with undesirable, cheesey western homestays and restaurants. Not as awful as Kuta (I don't think that's possible), mind you, but let's just say I've managed to slip in and out for ATM machines only, and have happily and comfortablely stuck to the chaotic streets of outdoor markets, wandering cows and goats, people, people and more people. Still, the rest of the city is completely exotic, undescribable and amazing. It's exactly the kind of place that you'd imagine it would be, and then surpasses all of it. Intriguinging, mysterious, ancient city of a culturally rich Asian empire. You can't even imagine, and its just wonderful.
The past few days I've been exploring the city, including a hike through the Tibetan outskirts of the city up to Swayambhunath, or the "Monkey Temple", a world heritage site and one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the area, as well as the near-forty temples in the historic Durbar Square (over 300 in the valley alone). I'm guessing the reason that Wednesday's Royal Nepal flight was cancelled was due to the annual festival celebrating Kathmandu's own living goddess, Kumari, a several hundred year old tradition stemming from a legend linking the Nepalese king and his fascination with a young girl, and incarnate of the Hindu goddess of Kali. Candidates are selected from the four-year olds in the city and must meet 32 specific criteria, including matching horoscopes with the current king. To test the authenticity of their incarnation as Kali, they are brought to the sacred Kali/Durga temple in Durbar Square one evening to witness a sacrifice of 108 animals, then brought to an inner room within the temple and left by themselves, where the heads are strung about the room. At midnight, the priests move the skulls around, then do their best to terrify the candidate by donning masks, costumes and dancing around to "horrible" music, all to test if the girl will cry out in fear (imposter) or remain unmoved, thus prove she's the goddess incarnate. The living goddess retains her status, living in Durbar Square and parading each year around the city to offer blessing, until she menstruates. After which she returns home to live a "normal" life.
Curiously, compared to the Hindus in Bali, the Nepalese aren't as averse to worshipping and celebrating Kali and do so weekly at the many Kali temples in the area, including Dakshinkali temple, several kilometers from the city proper where a huge animal sacrifice is held on Saturday. CuriousERly, this is a big picnic spot.
People here are absolutely delightful and warm and friendly, most (at least in the city) speaking English. Already people have commented over and over how Nepalese I look (the Chacos are a dead give away, I am sure...). Trying to explain to them my ethnicity is a challenge. ("Native American Indian". "Oh you're from India!" "NO...NOT from India. The other kind. Like the tribes of people who were there before Europeans" "OH! You mean the Americans!" "NO. The native people" "OH. Do you speak Hindi?"). Turns out that 'red people' gets the message across.
I'm here for another day (Nepali primer early in the morning), then off to....?....