Nepal April 2005




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Kirtipur Flâneur

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 else's shit.