From the restaurant rooftop in Durbar Square, I could see Swayambhunath Stupa as it was up on a hill to the west. I grabbed a taxi for yet another kamikaze ride through narrow streets filled with buzzing motorcycles and pedestrians.
For most of my taxi rides around the city and valley, I've paid about 150-200 rupees ($2-3), which is probably 30% more than the locals. I've found the best strategy for landing a lower rate is to ask Nepali shopkeepers for their estimation, be confident with your negotiation, and make an agreement before getting in the taxi (I learned that last one in Bali).
Sometimes I hit the target, and sometimes I can't be bothered about an extra dollar. There's a fuel shortage right now and the taxi drivers are keen to point out the gas lines as you drive around. At any rate, I've always gotten where I've needed to go, alive.
To climb up the monkey temple, you walk past a steady stream of stupas and religious statues. Where there are tourists, there are locals selling souvenirs. It was a perfect gauntlet. As I approached the top, a few teenagers started chatting with me which is always a sign that you're about to solicited for money, food, or a tour. I was up front with them about not giving any money even if they walked around with me. I don't think they got the message, as an hour passed with them slowly guiding me around before they asked for cash. Unlike the adult tour guides, they were rather relaxed and low key, so I gave them $1.50 for their time.
There was much more to the hilltop then I expected – a monastery, trees draped with prayer flags, restaurants, souvenir shops, and a fantastic view of the Kathmandu Valley. In addition to a bunch of monkeys running around, I saw a pair of snakes about two meters long slither through some dry grass on the way down to Buddha Park (a new park of Buddha statues…duh!).
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