|Smoke rings fill the air
Perfumed by a Nepal night
The Express gets you there….
I caught a flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, spent the night a the glorious KL Airport LCCT Tune Hotel, then flew out early the next morning for Nepal. I landed in Kathmandu, hopped in a taxi and WOW!
I can’t even put it into words - it is like trying to explain an LSD trip! The place is madness on meth. My taxi swerved around other cars, motorbikes, tuk tuks, people, dogs and cows! We eventually entered into Thamel, the backpacker heart of Kathmandu, and it was insanity! These tiny streets with the old and the new all thrown together and shaken and spit out in a jumble of …. well of spectacular beauty.
Now I use the word beauty in a very personal way, for after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And my first impression took a long while to sink in and become my lasting impression. And fortunately I was staying just outside of Thamel in a nice little hotel with a quiet courtyard where I could go and retreat from all of the input that is Kathmandu and reflect on the whole experience in peaceful contemplation. But WOW! Beautiful for sure.
After a day and night of wandering and getting my bearings, and of course then needing a good nights sleep, I set out to soak in the city and the surrounding valley.
My first stop was Pashupatinath (Pashupati), a Hindu Temple and holy spot for cremations or Funeral Ghats. I was mesmerized by the life and death going on all around me. There were people everywhere, and in the middle of it all there were many families cremating their loved ones and ushering them out of this life and into the next. As I wandered past the Sadhus (Hindu Holy Men?) all painted in white, and climbed the hillside I couldn’t help but notice how different the death ritual here is from what I have grown up knowing. The families, if they can, bring their loved ones to the Hospice just outside the Temple for the last 24 hours or so of their life. (it is believed that the closer you die to the Temple the easier the passage into the next life). Then immediately after the death they bring the bodies out and down to the river and cleanse the corpse. Then they perform all sorts of ceremonies - dropping of flowers, colorful cloth’s, etc… - and eventually wrap the body and take it to a nearby platform where they light a huge fire and burn it. Fascinating.
From there I made my way to Bodnath or Boudha, Asia’s Largest Stupa and joyfully watched the masses circumnavigating, chanting and spinning prayer wheels. I joined in for a few laps and then broke off to go meet up with my friend Carrie. I had met Carrie a few years back while traveling in Thailand and she had said if I was ever in the area? So there I was with her and her husband Roger and the three of us set off to go see a good family friend of theirs, the Lama Dezhung Rinpoche or as he is more affectionately know, Tulku la.
Now this to me was a treat, not only did I get to hang out with a friend and her husband but I got to spend a bit of my afternoon hanging out with and chatting with a really cool Lama. It turns out that Tulku la is a living example of the “Little Buddha”. He was 4 years old and living in Seattle, Washington when it was determined that he is the reincarnation of a famous Lama - Dezhung Rinpoche. Now I could go on and on about how this whole scenario fascinates me and I had a gazillion questions bursting in me that I wanted to ask, but what went down was so real and so relaxed that I instantly forgot about all of my questions and we all just spent the afternoon sipping tea and chatting away. About what? Family - his Mom was coming to visit soon. School - he was on his Summer Holiday. Movies - he loves Star Wars. Life - everyday life. Don’t know what I was expecting, maybe all kinds of philosophical back and forth? but this was way more fun.
The following day I set out on a walking tour of Kathmandu. This is no small feat by the way, you have to not only try very hard not to get lost and to try to be able to find your way back, but you also have to try not to get killed by the crazy drivers speeding down the narrow streets. And all of this while gawking with my head on a swivel at ALL that is going on around me. Whew!
I eventually made my way down to Hanuman-dhoka (Kathmandu) Durbar Square where I took in the sights. There are all kinds of cool things to check out, but what I was most interested in was going to see the “Living Goddess”.
Oaky so the Kumari, or Living Goddess is a real live young girl (has to be from a certain caste and fit very strict and numerous amount of criteria) that is picked and declared the Living Goddess. She is then given the Kumari-ghar (palace) to live in and is treated with all the ceremony and awe one would treat a Living Goddess with. Then after she has her first menstruation she is no longer the Goddess and is sent back to live an everyday average life and they start the whole process all over again of picking a new Kumari. Very strange. But, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Kumari as she peaked out from her 3rd story balcony. We made eye contact (supposed to be a very good blessing) and then she was gone. I hung around and just as she was going to poke her head out again some old dude in the next window started shouting something at me??? I had no idea what he was saying as he wasn’t speaking english? Then one of the random guides next to me told me I had to leave? Why? It turns out you are only allowed to see the Kumari once and my moment had already come and gone. Oh well, a glimpse and some eye contact will have to do.
I then wandered the square and took in the Hanuman Statue - Kneeling Monkey, Kal Bhairav - Shiva in a destructive manifestation and all sorts of wondrous things old and new and eventually found myself down on Freak Street - the old Hippie hangout form back in the 60’s. It’s a lot different today, no hippies to be found anywhere, but still a fun neighborhood to explore.
The next day found me doing more walking and more touring. The next place to explore was Patan and the Patan Durbar Square. I stopped in at many Temples and was fascinated by the rituals and life going on around me. At Kumbeshwor I watched as families lit fires and made intricate designs with colored sand. I found myself in Varna Mahavihar or Golden Temple, where I was when an incredible rain storm came through. I stood and smiled as the raindrops cascaded off the roof all around me and glistened in the afternoon light as it reflected off of the temple. When the rain subsided I made my way south and after the Minnath Temple I crossed the street and went down an alley where I entered the Rato (Red) Machhendranath Temple. There it started to rain again, then pour, then thunder and lightening - wow - I was the only one around and took cover under a small overhang and just watched and listened! Later I found out that this is the temple dedicated to the God of Rain and Plenty!
To keep a theme going, I also spent a day in Bhaktapur and yes, toured around the Bhaktapur Durbar Square! (they all have one!) The really cool thing about Bhaktapur though was that it was a jumble of tiny streets and alleys with a bunch of little squares throughout. The squares were beautiful and I did enjoy the Golden Gate and the Golden Spout, Yakshewar Temple, Taumadhi Square and Dattatraya Square. I found the Peacock Window, and Peacock Printing where they still make paper to this day. But the best part was just taking in the locals as they went about their daily life. Absolutely amazing.
Okay, so this may sound really strange, but after all of that input and all of that new and wondrous stuff to take in and process, the highlight of my time in Nepal was meeting up with my good friends Beth (whom I met in New Zealand so many moons ago) and her husband Devon. The two of them were out traveling and as luck would have it we were all in Kathmandu for the same 24 hour period. So my last day was spent with them. We spent the entire day wandering from coffee shop to coffee shop and chatting and chatting away. It was wonderful. They had just come from Bhutan, me I was on my way there….