2nd part of ‘Two Chinese Girls in Kathmandu’
Having seen off Sun Yang (Emily) on Saturday, Jin Jin was back early in the office the next day. She was pretty perked up, but did have a look of some concern on her bright face; she was probably wondering how fruitful her 10-day extension in Kathmandu would be. Well, as it turned out, it went on to become perhaps the busiest 10-days of her young life, and certainly one of the most interesting. I am glad that I had a big role to play in that.
We planned on visiting some of the Valley’s most accomplished proponents of traditional art and craft. This was something I had to do anyway, since I was working on a book about them for an organization. Jin Jin—as smart as they come, and not one to waste a good opportunity when she sees one—was ever-ready and willing to go wherever and whenever with me. However, before starting on our traditional art and craft odyssey, she wanted to visit the famous Hotel Shanker, a result of her reading some of my articles extolling its many virtues.
The next morning found us driving down the hotel’s long driveway, and then after parking my bike, we carried on to the magnificent Kailash Hall where some NGO program was about to begin. As was her bent, Jin Jin wanted to meet the organizers and ask some questions, which she did. I had to drag her away to meet the hotel manager, Mr. Bijay Krishna Shrestha, in the adjoining banquet area, which also served as a restaurant. He invited us to partake of the munificent breakfast buffet set out on a dozen long tables.
I should point out here that Hotel Shanker offers complimentary breakfast to all its guests. The genial head chef, Mr. Keshav, joined us, and asserted “Our hotel’s breakfast fare is the best among all hotels here; I take special care to ensure that there’s a lot of variety.” After having tasty morsels of a range of delicacies, we were given a tour of the hotel; some repair works were being undertaken in some parts. However, there was plenty to see, and Jin Jin was enchanted. A stroll in its expansive garden ended our tour of the day in the famous hotel. (We came back later, on a nice evening, to have a great dinner of Chinese cuisine; Jin Jin was doing a review feature of Chinese food in Kathmandu’s hotels for the Chinese edition of ECS NEPAL. More on this later.)
That evening onwards, we visited the homes and workshops of some of Kathmandu Valley’s greatest artists and craftspeople. We met paubha: painters, repousse artists, stone and metal sculptors, and teachers of traditional art. We spent plenty of time with each, for they were after all the masters of their crafts. Jin Jin never stopped asking questions—Why? How? What? Where?—with Why? being her favorite. So much so, that I started calling her Jin Jin Why? She took careful notes in her exquisite handwriting (Chinese and English), and photos of each and everything. Not only is she one smart cookie, she is a meticulous one, too!
Here are some of the masters we visited:
Stone sculptor Dharma Raj Shakya, maker of the famous Dharma Raj Shakya lions guarding Basantpur Durbar Square, at his establishment, Arnico Stone Carving, in Patan Industrial Estate.
Repousse artist, metal sculptor, and trainer of traditional art, Mr. Prachanda Shakya, at his school, Nepal Traditional Handicrafts Training Center, located just below Akheswor Mahavihar in Pulchowk.
Paubha: painter Lok Chitrakar, whose unbelievably intricate paubhas: are a source of joy here and around the world, at his studio/school, Simrik Atelier in Patan Dhoka.
Silver repousse artist and trophy-maker Chinikaji Tamrakar, who designed the country’s highest award, Nepal Ratna, at his home/workshop in Maru right behind Kasthmandap.
Bust and statue maker Bal Krishna Tuladhar, who with his father made the busts of the four martyrs and King Tribhuvan installed at Shahid Gate, in his home cum workshop in Bafal Chowk, Tahachal.
Metal sculptor Kalu Kumale, who is renowned for his wrathful deity figures, especially Megh Sambhar, at his spacious home cum workshop in Haatiban.
What’s more, at the invitation of the chairperson of Handicraft Design and Development Center (HANDECEN), Mr. Dharma Raj Shakya, Jin Jin and I also attended a meeting at the organization’s office in Thapathali, where many celebrated artists and craftspeople were present.
Well, Jin Jin certainly can now claim to be more proficient in Nepal’s traditional art and craft, having spent so many hours with some of the leading lights of the country. Hope she will use her newfound knowledge to promote Nepal’s amazing art and craft in her own country. Let me add that she was most Jin Jin ‘How?’ at Mr. Kalu Kumale’s workshop, where she wanted to know all the how’s of making metal statues through the lost wax method that’s used by most metal sculptors in the valley.
You are probably thinking that, indeed, it seems to have been a busy 10 days, but really, there’s much more we managed to do during this time. For instance, we visited the oldest mari (Newari bread) shops in Maru, where Jin Jin tasted genuine Newari sweetmeats; we sat in Snowman’s Café in Freak Street, digging into its fantastic apple pies and chocolate banana cakes (still exactly same as in those glory days when it was one of the most popular hangouts of hippies high on hashish and marijuana); and yes, we went around town to review the Chinese cuisine at different hotels. You’ll read about it in the next blog. Huítóu jiàn! Zài jiàn! One of them got be right—I meant to say, “See you again, soon”. Maybe I’ll ask Jin Jin.