Kirtipur was one of the four original Malla city-states
in the Kathmandu valley. It was conquered around
1760 by Prithvi Narayan Shah, who was to become the
first Shah King of what was to become Nepal.
When I passed people in the street or
sitting outside their homes, I would great them with
my palms together, as in prayer, the tips of my
fingers higher than my eyes, my head slightly bent
down, and say "namaste" (na-ma-stay). Namaste
literally means "I bow to you," but in a more spiritual,
Hindu, sense, it means something more like "I honor
the god in you."
I was advised
by more than one Nepali that I shouldn't put my hands so
high; that the higher my hands, the greater my deference
to the other person, and the lower my social
status. But as a guest in a foreign city, I preferred
to be humble. I figured, if I was really going to "honor the god in you,"
humility demonstrates trust. And since I was obviously
the one to be mistrusted (being an outsider), I needed
to make the first offering.
All this talk aside, I observed
that somber, hard faces, of people whose lives were
certainly more difficult than my own, broke
into a welcoming smile, and returned the "namaste",
after I greeted them with respect and deference.
Kirtipur is as close as I'll ever get
what I imagine a medieval European city was like.
Rows of housing line the narrow streets. And one must
carefully choose one's footing lest one step in someone