Tag Archives: kathmandu

Namaste Nepal

8 Nov

From mountains to lakes to the jungle – Nepal seems to have it all.  What an amazing country.  I found the people, for the most part, kind and helpful.  They wanted to help – and not just to, you know, ‘help’.  For instance, one morning, while running, I saw a guy hit a dog on his motorcycle — down he went and skidded down the road (the dog ran away).  People ran from all over to help him pick up his bike and his shoe and move to the side of the road to make sure he was ok.

Yes, I solicited stares a lot of the time – but I think that happens anywhere where you are different (amazing to think what a homogenous country it is – especially as compared to the US) and when you travel in a place where women have, for the most part, a very specific role.  And the stares seemed more curious than mean or harsh.

Kathmandu is big and dusty and dirty and polluted, but people helped out when I needed directions – or smiled when I smiled at them.  Children seemed well cared for and I loved seeing them with their parents – both mom and dad seem to have lots of love for them!

But, that is not to say that it is a Shangri-La.  The day before I left, there were police in riot gear everywhere and then that evening there seemed to be a street fight breaking out near where Lisa and I bought our veggies (and right near where Katherine and I stayed when we first arrived in Kathmandu).  There definitely seemed to be an undertone of something more – perhaps as it is a country that is just coming out of civil unrest and still does not have a constitution?

But all told, it was a great two months and I would for sure go back — there are still so many places to climb and trek and areas that were unexplored!  Thanks Nepal — what a great way to start my journey!

Tihar

30 Oct

As I mentioned (in my Pokhara post), it is Tihar, the festival of lights and the Nepali new year.  Tihar, also known as Diwali, is one of the most important Hindu holidays, second only to Dasain (here in Nepal) — which was celebrated in October (remember the slaughters while trekking?  yeah, that was Dasain).  This festival starts with honoring crows (they are messengers of death), dogs (they guide souls in death), cows and then siblings.

My last night in Pokhara was beautiful — with colorful mandalas made in front of all the stores and restaurants.  As the sun set, candles were placed out front, lights were strung up on all store, bar and restaurnat fronts accompnaied by garlands of marigolds.  Kids were making their way from place to place chanting and singing.

Mandalas and the pathway for Lakshmi

The first night is when the girls are suppose to go around singing, chanting and dancing – though in Pokhara I saw both — girls going to store fronts and doing traditional dances.  But the strangest was in the middle of the street – a large group had gathered.  There was a Nepali/Hindi ballad playing and a guy, dressed in a Michael Jackson-esque style, was dancing, in a Michael Jackson-esque way.  It didn’t quite fit in…

The lights, music, chanting and singing went late into the night – groups of kids visiting every household – getting a bit of a handout at each place.

On the trip back to Kathmandu, we could tell people were getting ready for the big Deepawali (festival of lights) as there were slaughters of water buffalo, flowers out in front of their houses, paths from the mandala into the house (so Lakshmi – goddess of wealth – can know which way to go) and lights being strung up in front of the houses.  Then, back in Kathmandu – most of the store fronts were closed – but the side streets were PACKED with people buying items from street vendors.  It is kind of like the day before Christmas and all the last minute purchases!

On the Bhai Tika day, the 5th day of Tihar, siblings meet and place tikas on one another and there is a big meal with families.  We joined Lisa’s family for this — we all got a multicolored tika and sat down for a delicious meal with lots of sweets (I could not tell you what most of the food was – but there was dal and rice and curried veg and fried fish and chicken and lots of other dishes as part of it.  the sweets were a mix of Nepali and Indian sweets — all delicious – many of the fried items I have seen on the street and have wanted to try, but haven’t!).

Just like thanksgiving, the aunties were there trying to get me to eat more food!  Everyone sits around and eats a lot of food, then some more and then everyone sits around in a food coma.  Just like thanksgiving!  It was great!

Here is the Tika process:

all the ‘ingredients’ for the tikas

the grandmaster of tikas

applying the tika

the last stage – giving food and water

final tika product

Bhaktapur

20 Oct

Yesterday, I visited Bhaktapur, a medieval city outside of Kathmandu.  It is a beautiful old city surrounded by rice fields with 3 main squares.  There were lots of narrow cobblestone streets to wander through, finding small statues and temples along the way.

I got a ride there with one of my friend’s co-workers – who dropped me off and told me to head straight to the gate (you have to pay $15 to enter — which is pretty steep — but the main part of the city is protected and they do  maintain/restore the buildings with the fee). I wandered in among red-brick houses until i reached a square–over a cup of milk tea, I was able to figure out where I was. From that point, I ambled for close to 3 hours — following a walking tour suggested by lonely planet which provided me with a great overview of the old city.

As I mentioned, there are three main squares — each with great sculptures and temples.  But wandering the alleyways and back streets, where I rarely saw another tourist, was a real treat.  I wandered into one temple courtyard – which was being used by a spinner, a wood-whittler who was making miniature rocking horses, and several women winnowing rice (shaking the rice out onto tarps – i don’t know what winnowing means exactly).  An old man who was sitting in the shade invited me to have a seat, which I did — glad to be out of the sun.  I sat there for twenty minutes or so, sharing the silence and observing the quiet action.

From there, I wandered on  — in another spot near the river, I found a couple working with the rice — he was hitting the rice stalks and she was spreading the rice out onto the tarps.  He invited me to help winnow the rice (I think) and so I tried — doing it all wrong, she corrected me — but then told me that there were bugs (or something itchy in there) and so I might not want to.  Or so…. I think, maybe she told me.  Damn, wish i could communicate!

winnowing rice

rice fields

I had lunch in a former temple — the view of the Nyatapola temple made up for the high prices and the so-so food.  But it was fun to sit and people watch.  A woman from the Ukraine shared my table with me — she and her husband are in Nepal (Kathmandu and Bakhtapur) for 3 days and then onto Bhutan for 4 days — she told me that would be enough time to see Bhutan. (?!)

But all of these temples and such are great….  but what Bhaktapur is _really_ known for is it’s CURD!  (translation for many of you:  yogurt!)  You might be thinking – whatever — how good is yogurt, really?  Well, let me tell you — it is AMAZING!  I stopped in one place to have a bowl — and it was good.  it was really good.  But, then I read in the book that you should get it on the street at one of the hole-in-the-wall places — so I did.  I got another bowl of curd (for half the price as the other one) in a little earthenware bowl (sorry – no picture of this one!) and ate that bowl up too.  It really is so rich and creamy and almost sweet and kind of tart and really, just amazing.  i  wish i could have that every day for breakfast… and for dessert!

And then, it was time to go home…  it was my first time figuring out transportation all by myself on this trip!!  Katherine had always been with me the other times (on this trip) to figure out transportation.  So, taking a deep breath and reading (and rereading) my guidebook and studying the map, off I went in search of the bus station.  Following several sets of directions which I half understood “just go straight and then wait harpumph…”.  Finally, many people questioned later — I found it!  Or at least, the buddy on the bus (each bus driver has a buddy — a guy who collects the money and rides in the doorway and shouts indistinguishable words that might mean cities or… something) told me it was.  So off we went.  Fortunately, I recognized a lot of the journey – so at least I knew I was headed in the right direction!  I wasn’t sure where to get off — so I kept waiting for buddy to give me the signal.  I thought to myself that this is great practice in trust – in truly believing in people’s best intentions – and that they will look out for me.

We arrived in a bustling bus yard – taxis, buses, people, bikes, motos, carts with fruits and veggies, trash, stray dogs. Buddy gave me a  vague point to Patan and off I wandered.  I asked someone for the zoo (which is a great landmark since there is only one!) – but here in Nepal, you need to be judicious about who you ask for directions — as people will respond, even if they don’t know, as they do not want to be rude.

Heading down the street – I gradually started to recognize where I was and was able to arrive ‘home’.  And how great that was — to come back to a space that feels comfortable and warm and safe.  I realize how much I like having a home – a place to come back to.  Which, of course, begs the question — why would i give up my home for this year of travel?  Or what makes a home for me?  I suppose that answer is something I need to discover about myself this year.

To finish off, here are some little glimpses of my past days:

  • Roof top yoga, sun salutations with the rising sun
  • Three sheep and a lamb running down the street near my friend’s house (she lives in the city which begs the question – where did they come from?!)
  • early morning runs – seeing people playing badminton, basketball and out walking and running; kids heading to school, women preparing for their days.

I think that I am going to go to Jazzmandu tomorrow night — and then probably go to Pokhara next week for a visit (I was going to work on a farm but the timing is off for it to be really meaningful as I would only be there about 3 days there with transportation time and all…) and then Lisa and I will do something next weekend — so it looks like I will be making a move out of Nepal around the first of the month (probably head to Chitwan to see some elephants and maybe rhinos and tigers (!!!) and then down to Varanasi, India from there).  Part of me wants to just stay here – I love catching up with an old friend and spending time together – but it is hard to believe that it will be November soon!  Time to push myself and head into India – I know part of my reluctance has to do with heading out on my own and fear in the unknown.  I guess all the more reason to push myself into it!

Hope that you are all well!  I love hearing from you!

Take care — love  – aurora

A day in the life….

16 Oct

here are some snippets from my life the past few days…..

  • Going out to the best japanese restaurant in Kathmandu with my friend and some of her friends (one who works for the UN).  While eating sushi, the UN man points out the acting ambassador to Nepal who is sitting down the bar from us.  We drink Japanese liquor as we close the place and then try and go dancing – trying out several of the clubs and fancy bars in kathmandu (we could have been in NYC).  Then, unable to find a good place to go dancing, we head back to the UN official’s house for an impromptu dance party.  His house is beautiful – filled with rugs from Afghanistan, art from ecuador, wine from chile, books on war zones and diplomacy.  I could have spent hours exploring and asking questions!
  • Riding on the back of Yogatara’s moped out to  a beautiful monastery outside of Kathmandu – passing rice paddies, houses with thatched roofs, goats and cows in the road (remember, this is just outside of kathmandu) and beautiful monasteries.  We were hoping to meet with a lama who, from what I understood (trying to follow the conversation in french between Yogatara and her friend Fred) is the lama of compassion.  When we arrived at the monastery, we were greeted by little monklets who opened the gate — one was wearing a spiderman mask and pretended, with the correct hand movements, to send webs up to the walls.

sweet ride…..

  • Visiting another monastery, we climbed up to the top of the hill and bought prayer flags from young boys and they hung them up on the hill for our prayers to be picked up by the wind.
me with the cheesy grin – up where our prayer flags are going
  • spending lots of time with an old friend, catching up on life, learning about how we have grown and changed over the last 15 years, reminiscing about old times and having fun adventures now.

I feel tremendously lucky that YT has taken me in and sharing her space with me.  It is wonderful to be with an old friend and to be learning about her world here (after getting emails over the past 15 years!)  It also is giving me the space to figure out what comes next and recharge for adventuring on my own for the next two+ months.

Hope everyone is well — i miss the fall and apples and leaves and all of the rest of new england falls.

Much love — aurora

Holy Sites

14 Oct

It’s been a few days since I have posted.  Katherine left yesterday and I moved over to my friend Lisa’s place.  She is a good friend of mine since my freshman year at Vassar and has lived in Nepal for over 15 years.  In other words, I am in a great place!  It is so relaxing being at her house, sitting at her kitchen table now, working on her computer and listening to the birds in the garden around her house (and an occasional unknown animal sound since she lives right near the only zoo in Kathmandu).  But that is not the purpose of my post….The other day we visited Pashupatinath, which is a Hindu holy site with a temple on the Bagmati River where cremations happen (on the level of Varanasi for India).  We made an adventue out of it and took the public bus there.  We studied the map and then figured we could take one of the buses on the ring road – because worst case scenario – we would go in a BIG circle!  but people here are so nice, we knew they would help us out!

When we got there, all the non-Hindi are directed to the shores of the Bagmati – since we are not allowed in the temple.  It was quite a scene….

you cross a bridge to get to the other side, which is essentially the viewing side.  When we got there, there were several bodies burning on one side – though at that point they were in the final stages of burning – so it was mostly just wood.  But on the other side, in front of the temple, there was a large group preparing a body for cremation.  It was difficult to see what was happening exactly, but the body was being shrouded in orange coverings/scarfs, there were marigolds being placed in the water and on the body and other steps of the ritual.  Then, they carried the body to the other side (to the cremation ‘stands’ – ghats) – as only the royal family can be cremated in the front of the temple.

in front of the temple, where the body was prepared for cremation

Once the body was brought to the other side, they started to prepare it for cremation — it was set on the wood and straw was placed over the shrouded body.  The family has a specific role within this ritual and we could see different men doing different jobs.  Then, the fire is started – near the head.  Soon, the air was filled with smoke from the burning body.

you can see the raised areas, that is where the cremation happens.

It was a really interesting experience….  both because this tends to be such a private experience in the US and because of everything else that was going on!  There were people in the water looking for money/things, there were people down the way doing laundry, there were people hawking jewelery and musical instruments to the tourists, there were tourists filiming and talking pictures of the cremations (really?!), there were  sadhus wandering around.  All the while, people are going through their rituals and practices of grief and mourning and saying goodbye.  Fascinating.

From there, we walked to a holy Buddhist site – the Bodhnath – a very large stupa set in a larget courtyard with a monastery, shops, restaurants and guesthouses all around it.  This was an amazing stupa – you could walk around it spinning all the prayer wheels (I did) and you could climb the steps and walk around the first level (we did).

spinning all the prayer wheels

When we were there, we realized that they were preparing the stupa for the full moon – putting up lights and putting something on the upper part of the stupa (some sort of colored paint/dye) – and that we needed to be there when the sun set.  So – we had lunch, consulted the guide book and decided to walk to Gokarna Mahadev temple which has a wide variety of statues of Hindi deities.

Just  getting there was quite an adventure because we decided to walk there.  Following a number of directions from people, we made it there — but it involved walking on a very dusty road with taxis, motos, trucks and buses passing us and kicking up dust (I am still battling a sore throat!).  It was a long walk — and the temple was pretty small – but the statues were pretty cool.  Here are a few of them:

I wish i knew which deity this was….

After spending some time at the Hindi holy site, we decided to head back to Buddhism – so we made the long walk back to the stupa.  We got there about an hour before twilight – as people had started to walk around the stupa (as they do every evening and morning).  We found a rooftop cafe with a beautiful view and had some snakes and a beer and were rewarded with these views:

sunset on the Bodhnath

Full moon rising (very faint)

Twilight

In the moonlight, we came down to a full courtyard of people walking around the stupa (always clockwise).  When we reached the monastery, there were monks chanting with drums and conch shells and horns (not sure if they are actually called horns) and there were huge piles of offerings — crackers, popcorn, bisquits, cookies that the monks were putting into plastic bags for other monks.  It was a pretty amazing scene.

Not sure where I will be headed next — some possibilities include volunteering at a farm near Pokhara, trekking in the Annapurna area again (different trek), traveling to Chitwan on my way to India, hanging here in Kathmandu and/or some combination of all of those things.  I am sure I will have it figured out soon enough.

Hope everyone is well — keep commenting and sending me emails — i love hearing from you!

Take care – love – aurora

Monkey Temple

10 Oct

Monkey at Swayambhunath overlooking Kathmandu

Yesterday Katherine and I explored Kathmandu – Dubar Square, Thamel and Swayambhunath.  Swayambhu, or the monkey temple, was definitely the highlight of our day.

Heading to swayambhu is a great destination because from the top you can overlook the whole city.  We were amazed at how big it truly is — as our visit has been limited to so few places (Patan, two different bus station, more Patan, and Thamel (the touristy section of Kathmandu)).  Once you climb up all the stairs to the stupa, you have this amazing view of the whole city — it really is impressive.

Swayambhu is cool for a number of reasons.  One is the view, the other is the stupa and the third is the monkeys!  The stupa, in the center, is truly amazing!

What was really cool about this Buddhist holy place is that it is not just a tourist destination.   Sure, there are plenty of tourists there, but there are also lots of Nepalis who come there to either check it out or to worshop (if that is the correct terminology….)

There is also a monastery on site that you can go into.  When we viited, there were several monks meditating which involved chanting, drums and the traditional ‘horn’ (again, for lack of a better word).  There were several monklets in there (ok, apologies — they are real monks, just young).  It reminded me of the monastery that Sarah, Lindsay and I visited in Ladakh with all the young monks running around!

But, what we really loved were the monkeys!  It was hard not to take a gazillion pictures.  They made us laugh (and scared us a little when they came a little close) – though they did not seem to be bothered at all by us humans!  One of the highlights was watching the baby monkeys playing on the prayer flags that were hanging down – they would jump out, grab on, swing for a bit until another one jumped on, knocking the other one off!

Here are some of our pictures:

yoga monkey (this one is for you, smak!)

Oh monkeys…

The evening was topped off with Mexican food….  sure, in Nepal.  It  wasn’t amazing by any standards, but it was pretty good….  I’d go back.  Though the feeding frenzy can now come to a close — I feel back to normal from the trek….

Today is just a rest day — we both woke up feeling a bit lazy and no real need to go see more temples today (although there is one on the docket for tomorrow).  So – it has been a slow day – coffee, cafe, some shopping, lazy lunch with a salad and a beer….  feels like a vacation!    which is nice to do once in awhile.  The monsoon rains are over, though it is still quite warm during the day.  Today, we could see the mountains in the distance!

Hard to believe that it has been about 6 weeks already….

Ok.  peace out.  I am going to go enjoy some cafe time and look for a book to read!

love – AK

Kathmandu

1 Sep

what a welcome sight to see Yogatara (my college housemate) waiting for me at the airport when I arrived this morning!  After so many years of hearing about nepal, it is good to finally be here!

She took me to the guest house where katherine and I are staying — it was great to have Katherine walk out to greet me — two of my favorite people in the world — right there to meet me on my first day in country.  Then we walked to breakfast (brunch?  lunch?) and got oriented and made a plan for the day – change some money, go get permits, take a nap, take a shower, take another nap….  🙂

Yogatara left us and went to work – we came back to our guest house and prepared ourselves to venture out alone.  we had our map and knew where we wanted to go, though we weren’t totally sure how to get back (there are no real addresses here).  Katherine suggested taking a bus — but that seemed a little overwhelming since we cannot read sanskrit and did not know where the buses were going….  so we grabbed a cab, negotiated the price and headed to the Tourisum building.  There we had to get our trekking permit and our annapurna permit.  of course you need a gazillion passport pictures (which is two more than we had) – so we have to go back tomorrow to get the rest of the permits (we need one for each trek we are doing — each costs a little over 20$).  then we will get our bus tickets and hopefully head out on our first trek on saturday — we are going to do the first half of the annapurna circuit (which has valleys and mountain passes and views of annapurna — should not suck!) .  that trek will take us about 10 days and then back here before we fly to the everest region for our second trek (3 passes).

I think, having been to india before, kathmandu is not as overhwlming as it could be….  we are not in kathmandu proper, but in Patan,  a suburub of Kathmandu.  the streets are busy and noisy and smelly — but nothing like delhi.   sure, there is a lot of honking and mopeds and bikes and people walking in the streets or on the streets or next to the streets — but there are not cows and dogs and auto-rickshaws and all the rest of the craziness of india….  this feels relatively calm.

tomorrow, our goal is to see a little more of the city — there is a walking tour that we read about in the guide book that we are going to check out.  of course, that is after we visit the tourism agency _again_ and give them lots of money!

as of right now, though, this tired girl needs to go to sleep….  it’s been a long time….

peace friends.