It’s my last day in Kathmandu, and I resolve to get out of the city for the day. The Royal Botanical Garden, near Godavari south of the city seems like a promising destination, and I ask at reception where the best place to hire a bicycle might be. Characteristically alert for the opportinity for a quick buck, the receptionist offers me his bicycle, for, oh, let’s say 150 Rs for the day. Well, I can hardly argue. It’s a single speed ‘Hero’, but seems quite new and sturdy.
I bump into Zee again, and then Arnie as I buy some sandwiches for a packed lunch. We arrange to meet for dinner in the evening, and then I set off south, heading for Patan. The traffic is quite light and I soon enter Patan’s maze of narrow streets. After several random navigational decisions, I hit Durbar Square, just as a huge procession of marchers, women carrying lamps, and musicians—drummers, trumpeters, clarinettists—is making its way noisily into the square.
My route across the square is completely blocked, so I stay to watch for a while, and then detour around. I finally stumble upon Patan’s main bus terminal, and then by an amazing fluke find myself leaving along the Godavari road.
The road is quiet and climbs gently, passing through a couple of towns along the way. It is about an hour later that I pass through Godavari and reach the gardens. I overcome the initial hurdle of finding the main entrance, lock the bicycle and buy three tickets from the counter—one for my entrance, one for my camera, and a third for leaving the bicycle.
Inside, the grounds are partly wooded, and not particularly well-tended, with algae-choked lakes and overgrown streams. But it is peaceful. The cactus house seems to be closed, and I can’t find the orchid or fern houses that the Rough Guide recommends. I sit down in a peaceful spot by a fountain and begin eating my sandwich, only to be invaded by a noisy and excited Nepalese extended family. I finish my sandwich and hurry away to a more secluded spot in the woods to continue my lunch.
The park does not detain me much longer. The glass-houses are all closed on account of Diwali. I ride back to the crossroads just a short way from the gardens, and turn right onto a track that circles a side-valley, passing through several small villages. The track soon becomes quite rough, with some steep ups and downs. I’m aiming for Bishanku Narayan, a sacred cave in the hill-side where it is said that anyone who can descend through a narrow fissure will be absolved of all past sins. I’ve no idea how I will recognise it when I get there, but at least it is fairly easy to track my progress around the valley, and when I reach what seems to be a likely spot, I ask an old man sitting on the wall by the side of the road. I don’t fully understand his answer, but get the impression it is not far from here. I continue a short distance, and then, leaving my bicycle, ascend a flight of stone steps past a couple of houses. I have almost given up when I meet a small group of young people, one of whom speaks a little English. I discover that I am less than a minute away, and sure enough, there it is around the next bend.
From the top of the steps leading to the cave, there is a good view of both the valley I have been circling behind me, and the Kathmandu valley on the other side of the hill. The grotto is fairly unremarkable, but I do succeed in squeezing through the fissure.
I return exhausted to the hotel. I should have insisted on getting the saddle raised to a more comfortable height. Never mind. I take a shower and then sit in the roof-top café of a place called ‘Hot Breads’ eating cakes and sipping coffee to restore my energy. Every so often, the sound of fire-crackers destroys what passes for peace here, and nearly makes me spill my coffee.
I meet up with Bengt and Arnie (no sign of Zee) outside Pumpernickels, and we go off for some dinner at a restaurant Bengt found last week at the back of a bookshop. We exchange email addresses before parting.
On the way back to the hotel, I bump into Siling again as I stop off to buy some water at the supermarket. Kathmandu seems to be a bit like that.