Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kathmandu & The Garden of Dreams

Nepalis love formal gardens. Give them a small courtyard and they will turn it into a tiny, Italianate paradise, with repeating shapes, clipped hedges, and rows of identical potted plants. This pic is the front yard of Trek-o-tel in Pokhara where I sipped tea on many afternoons, but could be nearly anywhere...Two weeks ago, we finally left Pokhara to travel to Zadar Croatia for the winter and stopped en route in Kathmandu. Despite the romantic-sounding name, Kathmandu is overwhelmingly smelly, polluted, dirty, poor... many people wear face masks outside because you just don't want your naked nose to smell that air. After a long morning in shopping for last-minute gifts and souvenirs in the Thamel District where it feels like the game of Cheat the Stupid Rich Tourist is Nepal's national pursuit (fake goods, insane overpricing, and people tugging at you and calling at you from every direction) my husband suggested we visit Kathmandu's Garden of Dreams.

Turns out in the 1920s a young man won an astonishing sum when gambling one night with top government officials. Thrilled, he immediately dedicated the entire sum to the creation of a his "Garden of Dreams" which is now known as one of the top 10 most beautiful in all of Asia. It fell into disrepair for decades, but in the 90s, the Austrian government mounted a rescue operation costing millions of Euros.

Just re-opened in the spring of 2007, the Garden of Dreams is an astonishing oasis of calm beauty, behind tall walls in downtown Kathmandu. (You pay a few rupees to enter.) It's been featured in the US's Landscape Architecture Magazine, and various upscale Western travel mags. I had no idea it existed, however, so the shock was an incredible delight for me. Here are a few of our pics...This is only a small fraction of the beauty and features packed into the fairly small space -- perhaps two city blocks large. We walked and walked around, and then wound up lazing on a sunny hillside overlooking the best features. Beside us, a group of two young, ineffably elegant Italian families played charades with their children on the lawn. They must be diplomats I imagined, far too dressy for trekkers. Then when I got up and ambled over to view some rather nice water plantings, a native Nepali zipped into my place on the lawn by my husband's side and began gently interrogating him about his opinions of Kosovo and the Moaists of Nepal. "I've just been questioned by a government spy" my husband told me when we got up to leave a few minutes later. I agreed.

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