Monthly Archives: September 2010
Ok folks, the one y’all been waiting for.
Mary Ann and I were touring the Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square. That is a mouthful, but everything in Nepal is.
Our guide walked us up to a shrine. I noticed a nice lady making an offering. Photo 1 in the slide show. Then I looked at the shrine. Photo 2.
He explained this was a shrine to the Hindu god that brought the Kama Sutra to Nepal, from where it spread to India. India might think it went the other way, but I prefer to think I was at the source!
I found myself wondering what the offering was for. Thanks for a good night or a prayer for good nights to come. Far be it from me to inquire.
Then the guide pointed at a temple which was dedicated to the practice of the Kama Sutra. He said there were “erotic” carvings all around it. Well, I left Mary Ann to hear more history and legends, and made an immediate trip over to the shrine to get these photos to share with my faithful readers.
This is not pornography, this is religion. At least some of the people in the carvings look like they are having a religious experience.
To make my point about the practices of Hinduism and Buddhism still being practiced, I have another story to relate. I was in a bookstore looking for postcards to send the Luddite friends I have, when I noticed a rather beautiful girl, maybe 20 wander in. She was wearing a bright red sari. She went straight for a section of books near me. She picked a couple up and was studying them pretty closely. I checked out what she was looking at, and behold…she was studying Kama Sutra positions in the books. If I was not so happily married I would have offered to help her with her research. When she left I wandered over and found Kama Sutra books with paintings, line drawings, B/W photos and full color depictions. I also found a deck of playing cards with the positions on them. I started imagining a poker game.
“I’ll see your _______position and raise you one ______ position”.
Then I noticed the most amazing and fun book of all. It was a cut out book of Origami worksheets, so you can fold your characters into the positions and play with them.
This was not the only temple in Kathmandu that had Kama Sutra stuff. You will notice photos from a couple others, one at Bhaktapur and another at Patan. These were competing cities in ancient history, and I guess they all needed to remind their people how to reproduce.
Everyone should see Nepal.
My bonafides for saying that are simple. I have done my share of traveling (not enough yet mind you) and a lot of that has been in back water bizarre places. I have been all over the Altiplanos of Peru and Bolivia. I have been on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times. I’ve been so far south in Chile I can almost say I have been in Antarctica. I have walked in the Atacama Desert in a place with zero rainfall ever. I have walked on the Chilean/ Argentine border at 18,000 feet in what I learned afterwards was a mine field. I have been deep in the Amazon jungle, where I swam with pink dolphins and fished for piranhas. I have driven through all of Central America. I spent a year in the Arctic and seen herds of caribou that took hours to walk past me. I lived on a tropical island for four years with hundreds of species of birds. I have hiked where there are no trails and fished where no white man ever did before me. I have been to an Eskimo village and have seen Polar Bears in the wild. I once drove a truck over a bridge on a major river before it was open for business. I have walked on the Hopi Mesas. I have taken a train ride across an Asian country and driven across America. I have even lived in Los Angeles. To top it off I now live in the Arabian Desert.
I say you must see Nepal because it is somehow more intriguing than any of that.
It is not the poverty you’ll find if you look, that is everywhere. It is certainly not the desire to separate a tourist from his money, which is a survival tactic which I admire. It is not the lack of essential services that leave garbage in the streets and cause random blackouts. It is not even the multitude of sacred cows wandering the streets like lost souls.
It isn’t the colorful garb of the people; most people here want to dress like westerners, except for women on ceremonial days and those sensible enough to wear Saris. It is not the maroon robes of the Buddhist monks that sparkle in the city streets and the countryside like so many Thanksgiving mums. It is not the preponderance of Holy Men drifting to and fro with their faces painted and wearing bright yellow silk.
Don’t come here just to relate with Tibetan refugees chased out of their homeland by the Chinese communists, and now doing beautiful weavings and rugs to survive. By the way, the Chicoms will be reincarnated as cockroaches. FREE TIBET!
It isn’t even the thousands of ancient temples of two religions, or the fact that, as old as they are, they are maintained and used for daily worship. It is not that the result of this hetero religious society leaves a wake of tranquility and contentment, no matter a Nepalese’ station in life.
You should not come here just to see the most magnificent mountain range in the world.
But you should make a pilgrimage here for all those reasons. I count my blessings that I am married to a woman who made Nepal possible.
The origin of name Nepal is disputable, and I do not possess enough knowledge to claim I know. Kathmandu is a word derived from “Temple from one tree”. Kathmandu was a stop on the trade routes from India to Tibet and China. The people in this valley traded with the Tibetans for salt mostly. They then traded with the Chinese for what they had. When they began to get prosperous, the King built a giant temple from one Thal tree. It still stands today.
Fast forward to today. Nepal was never colonized. However, being India’s neighbor, as well as China’s the Brits, big in both, decided that a presence in Nepal would be a good idea and opened a type of embassy there in maybe 1850. There is a bit of the colonial influence left over. For instance, they drink tea and drive on the wrong side of the road. The good thing is that English is the second language of Nepal, which is great for tourists.
Nepal has many different regional identities, each with its own culture and style of dress. They have fought each other in the past for domination. They have been united and separated more than a few times. There remains only one Kingdom inside the territorial boundaries of Nepal, a place called Mustang. Mustang sits at the base of the Himal, in the central to western part of the country. There are no roads or air travel to Mustang. You have to walk it. It is not that big on the trekkers list of places to go. You need special permits and Mustangese guides. I have seen photos of the village of Mustang and I could see myself getting into shape, breaking in a pair of hiking boots, and going there someday. But maybe not.
Back to Kathmandu. The area our hotel is in is called Themal. I have mentioned before that it is the trekkers Disneyland. You would only stay in a hotel outside Themal if you were a businessman staying at the Hyatt. The Hyatt is convenient to the airport, and nothing else.
Walking the streets of Themal (not the sidewalks, there are not any sidewalks in Themal) requires a constant effort to not get hit by a motorcycle or a rickshaw. You must do this while sidestepping Tiger balm vendors, flute vendors and little women selling little purses. It is a waste of time to be nice. You just learn to walk down the street muttering no,No,NO even when you are not being approached by a hawker. Learning to walk this gauntlet of cultural capitalism is an art form. Once you have perfected it in Themal, it will serve you in the rest of the world. Every once in a while you might see something in a store window or on a table in the street. If you stop to look at it, boy are you in trouble. The owner of the store will be upon you like a tiger on a lamb. Pick it up and admire it and the owner will consider it sold. The only thing left to do is negotiate the price. DO NOT start doing this unless you really want to buy it. Make that an unwritten rule to follow faithfully. There are no fixed prices, even if there is a price tag on it, which is rare. The vendor will start with “very good price.”
You reply “oh yeah, how much?”
He says, for instance “1000 Rupees.”
You are now into a negotiation which culturally means a sale. You both lose face unless a transaction is completed. You lose face if you pay 1000 Rupees. You should first look surprised, aghast or even insulted by his asking price. Start to put the object down on the table and walk away. This is expected. He will follow you and say a variation of “How much is good price?”
You counter with ½. “500 Rupees”.
This of course will result in him giving you the same look you gave him when he said 1000. He will counter, you will counter, and before you know it you are at 750 Rupees. A sale has been made. Well, not quite. You pull out a 1000 Rupee note and he will invariably claim he has no change. He is counting on you or your partner having to get on your way to dinner, or to answer the call of Yeti’s revenge. You insist. You put the article back. He runs down the street and returns with change. All is well. When you get home you will have a souvenir and a memory. The memory will serve you well, the souvenir maybe not.
One thing you could do in Kathmandu, if so inclined, is to become a Bollywood fan. Bollywood makes movies in India that are immensely popular. Even at a few rupees admission fee they take in more money than most Hollywood productions. We get them on TV here in the UAE because of all the laborers from the sub-continent. In Kathmandu, they are playing in the theatres instead of the latest Hollywood cop movie. They are about 4 hours long. They are not subtitled. They really do not need to be. They are very graphic. Every few minutes, no matter what the plotline, they break into a huge song and dance number. Imagine watching this;
The movie opens with a man and woman obviously falling in love, and singing and dancing about it. They are co-workers and they sing and dance about that. But the woman is engaged to the boss, as revealed by song and dance. The boss is a crook, song and dance. The company is building a dam on the river going thru their town. The boss, instead of paying for concrete is using bat guano building the dam. Sing and dance. There is nothing our young heroes can do about their love or the corruption, so they sing and dance. Then the boss man falls into the cement mixer and becomes part of the damn, and our heroes get together, big song and dance. Then the heroin has a disfiguring accident, sad song and dance. The hero drops her. Sadder song and dance. The heroine disguises herself. The hero falls in love with her again, she then reveals herself and tells him to fuck off while singing and dancing. About this time the monsoons hit and torrential rain is falling. The river is rising and everyone is singing and dancing. Then the bat guano dam breaks, somehow everyone is singing and dancing as they get swept away by the river, but our two heroes hold on to the top of a Stupa and survive and sing and dance happily ever after.
That is Bollywood, the most popular form of entertainment in Kathmandu. Maybe the hash helps, I would not know.
In conclusion, I want to say that Nepal is the most intriguing place I have ever visited. I just began to scratch the top of the culture and religion that is so deep and old. There is really nothing else like it on earth. Nowhere has cultural and religious practices survived as long as they have in Nepal I am looking at opportunities to go back as more than a tourist. One is to go teach young monks to speak English. Live in a monastery and sing and dance the days away. Maybe.
Or maybe I will sell Yeti Tours. My guides and porters will take you deep into the Himal where Yeti sightings have happened, or at least Yeti footprints found. I will guarantee, 100% that you will NOT see a Yeti, even a footprint. If you do, your tour price is refunded.
No I have not been smoking hash.
Note: I am having technical difficulties making a proper presentation of the Kama Sutra post, but I promise it will come. Soon.
I am typing away in the airport restaurant. This is the only place in Nepal where the prices were at all western. Even the cigs in the “duty free” were twice as much as they are in the streets of Kathmandu. They have slot machines here, but my last Rupees are going into the Red Cross Nepal donation box.
We took our last walk through Themal this morning. I will miss the place. Especially now that all the Tiger Balm and flute vendors know my mantra, no No NO! I did buy two things I wanted from Nepal. One is a game that is found only in Nepal. It is called Bagha Chal. It resembles chess or checkers. The pieces are tigers and goats. Four tigers and and twenty goats. The player with the goats is on the defensive against the player with the tigers. Duh. You can Google it and actually play on-line. I hope to find someone willing to play it with me.
I also bought myself a turquoise ring. Turquoise is found in the Himal, in abundance. It is as good looking as turquoise from Arizona. The stone is set in a nice Nepali design.
Mary Ann bought teas and spices, as usual, her purchase were wiser than mine.
Then we set off for the airport. The Kathmandu International airport serves many airlines. You can fly direct to India (of course) Tibet, Bhutan (two places I reserve the right to visit someday) Thailand, all over Europe and of course, the Middle East. The flights to everywhere other than the ME are for tourism. The flights to the ME are mostly for laborers. On the flight over we were in the plane with a couple hundred Nepalese all happy and animated. Going back it was a sad contingent of people not looking forward to the next year. I know how they feel. When I worked in the Arctic it was the same thing. Flying south the planes were party zoos. Going north was like that Air Force One November ’63 flight out of Dallas must have been.
Nepalese security makes TSA look really lame. When you enter the airport in Nepal, before you even check in, your checked baggage is sent thru an x-ray machine, your carry on is searched, and then men and women are sent to different lines for a serious pat-down. Then you go to the counter for your boarding pass and to check your bags. The bags are x-rayed again. You proceed to a pre-boarding waiting area with restaurants, duty free and slot machines. Before you can get into that area, your carry on is checked, again, and you are patted down, again. These are not light pat downs. These guys have a fetish.
Then, when your flight is called, they get serious. I stood in line behind an older gentleman from Chile. He was traveling with a group of Chileans. We had chosen the most gung-ho checker in the history of flight security. He made the Chilean empty his carry-on knapsack. He then proceeded to open the toiletries bags and do things like sniff the deodorant and the cologne. Then he reached a clearly labeled plastic bottle with a white cream inside, he asked the man “What is this?”
“Face cream” said the man.
“Put some on” said the guard.
He squeezed a glob on his palm and rubbed it onto his face. This pleased the security guard. He went back to work. He pulled out a bag of nuts.
“What are these? He asked.
The Chilean, by now a bit flabbergasted, and almost late for his flight to Paris, replied like the General in charge of the 101st at Bastogne, NUTS!
The guard opened the baggies and took a few out, handed them to the man and said “Eat these”.
The Chilean was a well behaved man and obviously well travelled. He knew better than to argue, and munched down. I truly doubt they were hashish made to look like nuts. If they were, this old man had a great fight to Paris!
They went back and forth for a few more minutes. I was in no hurry and had nothing to hide so I just watched. When the guard escorted the man to the next pat-down, I stepped up to the table and completely emptied my bag. Laptop, laptop battery, camera, video camera, extra batteries, various electrical chords and chargers, a couple of pens, a pad of paper, and my sunglasses. Yeah, I travel light, ok? I took absolutely everything out of individual cases, even my sunglasses. The only thing I thought would be confiscated was the tiniest pair of scissors ever made, so I put them over on the side away from my passable items.
First he picked up my knapsack and felt every seam and inspected every side pocket.
Then he picked up my lap top battery which resembles a pipe-bomb.
“What is this?”
He watched as I attached it to my laptop.
“See, battery, makes laptop go zoom zoom”
He inspected all my other electronics like a cave man would inspect a mirror. Then he spotted my tiny little scissors.
“Ahhh, this no good. This no go” he said with a triumphant air.
“OK” I said. “No good, no go” and he was done. He had won. He had found something.
I carefully packed up my bag. Then I looked over at the woman’s line. The Chilean women were getting agitated at the guards inspecting their toiletries and showing it. I found Mary Ann. Sure enough; they found her diabetes medicines and syringes. Oh Boy, this should be good. Mary Ann carries a letter from her doctor about the medicines, and she never carries on more than she should need for a flight. She handed the letter to the inspector. The inspector had to go get a supervisor. I was all ready to intervene, but the inspector came over and poked his fingers with the needles (really a dumb move if you ask me) and then let her go.
We went to the boarding area. Before we got on the bus that takes you across the tarmac to the plane, you guessed it, one more pat down.
All clear, and on our way. At last.
Only one reader has asked for the post on the Kama Sutra. I would expect him too, the old Randy guy he is ;-). So unless more of you ask to see it, along with the story I have written about it, I will just email it to him. You want it? Ask for it!
Remember when you were a kid (if you are my age) and your parents would drag you along to visit a neighbor who invited them over to see the slides of his trip to Akron, Ohio?
His narrative would go like this.
“This is the Best Western motel where I stayed, see how big the parking lot is?”
All you want to do at this point is go home a read a comic book.
Well folks, that is how I am starting to feel about blogging. I feel like the the intolerable neighbor. My readership has dropped like a Yak over a cliff. I will finish the Nepal posts, and then maybe throw away my slide projector, I dunno. So those of you still reading, thank you.
Back to Nepal
This is Nepal’s only true resort town. It sits on a beautiful lake. In the distance behind the lake the Annapurna section of Himal dominates the skyline.
Getting here was a six hour ride in an automobile. Our driver was young, and fearless. The road, the Pavatti highway, is congested with 70% cargo trucks belching diesel exhaust, 25% busses full to (and on) the roofs with Nepalis and thousands of motorcycles, and only a few automobiles. The road is narrow, and most of it has deep drop-offs into a rather wild river called the Trisuli.
It passes through numerous small towns. The towns are all bustling. Everyone seems to be out buying food. Nepal is not destitute, although it is one of the poorest nations on earth. There are no fights over care packages here.
Beside the road are many goats, buffalo and dogs And oh yeah, sacred cows.
The road is mountainous, up and down, up and down, and very twisty. If our driver did not nerves of steel, it would have been a 10 hour drive. We have decided to fly Buddha air back to Kathmandu. Once was plenty enough.
Our hotel is called The Base Camp. It is on the edge of the tourist area of Pokhara.
Today we set out to be tourists, visiting stuff we found in the Lonely Planet guide. We will see at least one Tibetan village, a museum dedicated to mountain climbers, and a waterfall that drops into a sink hole, never to be seen again.
We’re back. It is cloudy and overcast and the Annapurna range cannot be seen. I am truly glad we did the mountain flight on Buddha air or we would have left Nepal without seeing any mountains. Imagine going to Bocas and never seeing any water.
First we went to the International Mountain Museum. It is a large modern museum actually quite well done.
The restroom signs were a bit confusing. Yeah, I know I always post weird restroom signs. So what?
There was an excellent demonstration of how the continent of India collided with the continent of Asia and forced the Himal to pop up in between them. In geologic time this was a violent and fast collision. It only took 40 million years or so to form the mountains. It also explains to me why the Tibetans had conch shells to carve and to use for calling across valleys. The entirety of the Himal was under water in geologic pre history. I have passed on the carved conch shells when I see them, now I am considering buying one.
The museum paid due homage to Hillary, but hardly mentioned Mallory. To me, besides the tribute to the Yeti, the most memorable room was a display of the garbage brought back down of off Chomolungma. Climbing Chomolungma has become an industry now. Hundreds each year try and 100 or so summit. Every year. A Japanese climber who failed 3 times before he finally made it decided to spend the rest of his life raising funds and recruiting people to pick up the garbage left behind by the climbers. In the first season they took ten tons off the mountain.
Next stop was Davis falls. Like I said, this is a waterfall to nowhere. The water is simply swallowed up by the earth. This is a true class six rapid!
Lastly we went to a Tibetan refugee village where they are doing their industrious best. We bought three more rugs. Mary Ann tied a few knots in a rug,
Leaving Pokhara, which is pronounced by combining the k and the h like a German would, we decided to take a 1 P.M. flight instead of driving back on the diesel highway. We loaded our guide on an early bus and went to breakfast.
AT the café, we ran into a person Mary Ann had met the day before He is an American from Colorado who runs the Himalayan Healing center, basically a spa where she had a great massage. He originally came here as a Peace Corp volunteer. I will write his story for publication on other web sites. It is fascinating. He left the Peace Corp and came back to Nepal and now runs a healing center which trains women from the untouchable caste, to touch you all over. He was full of stories and I was sad to leave, but we had to catch our plane.
I am sitting with Mary Ann in the Pokhara airport restaurant. We were early, the flight is delayed. It is once again time to take it as it comes.
We are flying Buddha Air again. A Yeti Air plane just came and left. They have a cooler logo on the tail, a big Yeti footprint.
The airport, while not exactly modern, is large and comfortable. The restaurant even has Diet Coke, not something you can find everywhere in Nepal. It costs twice what a regular coke costs, because it has to be imported, from the UAE of all places. They have last minute souvenirs available, we have no space for anything. When we get back to Sharjah I am considering turning our apartment into a souvenir store. We must have a thousand chaztkas (sp?) from everywhere from the Amazon to now the Himal. It is practically embarrassing. When we went out for coffee this morning we both said “we aint buying no more shit”. Wrong. Fridge magnets and coolies (beer can holders) made from grass. JUNK, more JUNK.
“But it’s cool junk baby!”
“Where are we going to put it?”
“We can replace the Inca Sun God statue with it”
And so it goes.
Our flight left three hours late due to “technical difficulties”. That even makes me nervous. It was a ½ hour flight compared to a 7 hour bus ride. We really could not complain. Of course our driver was no longer at the airport, so we hired a taxi sponsored by the official tourist agency. The taxi was of indiscernible make, model age, or even color. It was small. The driver had someone with him, and they argued with each other half the way back to the hotel. Then, the car just died. It died on a busy narrow street. Mary Ann and I sat there for about a half hour while they frantically tried things to get it started, with horns blasting at us. When the driver reached into his ash tray and pulled out a fuse and some bubble gum, we decided to just get out and flag down any cab. So I did. About then a traffic cop showed up and chased my cab away. He recruited a couple of locals to try to push our cab UP HIL to get it started. I flagged down another cab. The cop told him to move on. I was starting to get pissed off. Finally I convinced the cop that the cab I had was “no good, no go” and he let me flag down another.
We got back to our now familiar hotel and the desk clerk said “you late”. I was afraid he was going to say our room was gone, but when I looked at him and said “Airplane broke down, taxi broke down, room broke down too?” He laughed and gave us a nice room where we collapsed.
It is what it is.
That’s it for today folks. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the Kama Sutra post. I would appreciate it if you make a quick comment so I know who still tolerates the intolerable neighbor and his dumb slide shows.
I have officially become a temple free zone. As I said in a previous post, our guide claims there are 1.3 billion gods in Hinduism. I think I have seen a temple for every one of them. They are all different, in a way, but after about a billion of them you really have to look hard to see the differences. They are all quite old. Most of them are very big and substantially built. By quite old I mean built in the 13th 14th, 16th centuries. Old.
I could spend hours of my time and bore you silly with explanations of these temples, but I won’t. You can thank me later.
My favorite temple so far? Easy. The temple dedicated to the practice of the Kama Sutra. I keep teasing you that I will share my photos of all the “erotic” carvings carved into this temple. I just might hold out on you unless you ask me for it by commenting on this post.
The most impressive thing about each and every temple we have visited is that they are still in use. All the god statues have offerings around them. Everything from butter candles, to colored rice, to flowers rubbed onto them.
I’ll give you one more teaser for the next post. The god that started Kama Sutra has his own statue, and of course he is naked, and his impressive groin region is worshipped by rubbing flowers on it. I actually have a photo of a woman doing just that. So read my next post.
This country is about evenly split between Buddhists and Hindu. Always has been. Some of the temples have Buddhist stuff on top and Hindu on the bottom and some vice-versa. Because living in peace and harmony and accepting that things are just the way they are, they live together nicely.
Over 100 thousand Tibetan Buddhists escaped Tibet when the Chinese decided Tibet was really China. They destroyed temples and monasteries in an attempt to destroy the religion. Many came here, and many went to India. The one’s here have survived and thrived.
The only people causing trouble here are the Maoists. They have actually gone to war with the government and are still in the hills. You even see the hammer and sickle painted as graffiti and I took this shot in a city. I guess the phrase “godless commies” should be used here, eh?
The government of Nepal practically does not exist right now. They had an election a while back, but no one got a majority and they cannot name a President. No one seems to care. It is what it is.
First, sorry for the lapse in time since my last post. Internet in Nepal is slow, plus I did not bring the mouse for my lap top. Combining the two meant too much trouble and time to keep up the blog. We are back in Sharjah now, so expect a bunch of posts in a short while.
It is about two hours and a hundred years outside of Kathmandu. It sits at 2100 meters. The reason to come here is the views of the Langtang portion of the Himal. Himal, that is what the mountain climbers call the Himalaya. I’m becoming a local. I even bought a pair of used mountaineering glasses which supposedly went up to Everest. No boots though. I’m just pretending.
Nagarkot is a place the guidebooks say is a must see, but they say there is no use staying here for more than one night. Once you have seen the view, that’s it. Me? So far I think I would like to live here. It is very reminiscent of one of my favorite places on earth, Big Sur. No ocean, but it is very quiet and cool. Pine trees, hawks, and a lot of birds.
The hotel we are in sits on top of everything. Down below us are a couple other hotels, one of which has a big old hippy bus parked next to it. Right now, as I sit on the deck, it is cloudy. No view. But I can feel the sun trying to burn it off so we get the views. Word is that the 6 a.m. sunrise over the Himal is absolutely incredible, so we will get up early and have hope. I figure I have been good to all the Holy Men I have met so far, respectful in all the temples, so I might have some Karma in the bank. I have my fingers crossed.
OK so it is 6 A. M. and no mountains, bummer. I hear this even happens to people who trek for six or seven days to Everest base camp, only to have the entire mountain clouded over. Weather is a big factor in life everywhere, so just get Buddhist about it and take things as they come.
OK so it is 7 A. M. For a few minutes a part of the range made an appearance. I took a few photos, excuse me that they are not so good. I took a photo of a large poster they have here which shows what I should be looking at.
It is now time for some coffee and a good book. Our driver will show up when he shows up. Then we are going to take a short tour of the town called Nagarkot. In Nepal’s history there were a lot of warring city-states that dominated areas, 3 or 4 of them in the Kathmandu valley. Nagarkot was one of these. When it was powerful the local potentate commissioned some amazing architecture and that is what we will see.
Meanwhile I am reading a novel called Escape From Kathmandu. It was written in 1989 by a guy named Kim Stanley Robinson who obviously spent some time in Nepal. It is my style of writing, irreverent and goofy. So far the protagonists (a couple of space cadet yanks who are trekking guides and their sidekick who happens to be 500 years old) have captured a Yeti on his way to the zoo and set him free. Then they kept a group of people from bringing George Mallory’s body off of Everest and gave him a fitting burial where he died. A little history here. Mallory may well be the first person to summit Everest but not only didn’t he live to tell about it, he left nothing behind, like his camera or anything on the summit to prove it. If this novel is correct, Mallory was also the guy who said “because it is there”, and not Hillary. Now these guys are trying to save Shambala, otherwise known as Shangri-la from the encroaching development of 20th century do gooders. A fun read. And by the way, Everest was the name of the chief British cartographer back in the day when they still needed to name things. The real name of the mountain is Chomolungma. That means, in a Tibetan language, Mother Earth Goddess. Sounds a lot better than the name of some bureaucrat.
Ahhh, the coffee shop just opened. Gotta go feed the habit.
Now some photos of Nagarkot
Welcome back faithful readers.
I was amazed when our guide took us to the sacred river where they deposit the cremains of Hindus who die. What I did not expect to see was the entire process of the cremation, from the blessing of the body to the actual funeral fire. Grieving family members stood by. Women cried while men took turns using sacred water that flows out of a spring in a temple above the river and then flows through the remains of a god ( not sure which, the Hindus have 1.3 billion of them according to our guide) and is then mixed with sacred cow milk and sprinkle it on his head. I was moved. Even though these ceremonies are open to public viewing, I still felt privileged to there.
I have given Mary Ann strict instructions that I am to be cremated. Ideally I want her to pile me on top of a half cord of Redwood, and then spread my ashes under the Golden Gate Bridge. I would not mind having my body covered with flowers and wrapped in silk first, but I won’t be around to insist. Also, sacred river or not, the water in SF Bay seems a lot cleaner than this river. One little detail. They put gold coins on the body before it is cremated. The gold melts, and is then swept into the river with the ashes. There are little boys whose livelihood is to dive into the river and recover the ingots, which then get melted and recast into the ceremonial coins. OK fine, melt some gold with my body and let’s see if anyone will dive into SF bay to get it!
Internet here in the capital city, at least our hotel, is incredibly slow, when it is available at all. That makes it tough to update my blog, so the posts tend to lag.
Welcome back folks.
Nepal is getting more amazing as time goes by. My two immediate goals, buying a rug and seeing Everest up close have been accomplished. We now have something like twelve days to see what we can see. Like I already told you we have a guide. He is very thorough, thoughtful and attentive. He planned out the rest of our day after Everest. It turned out to be a long day that went by quickly. Every time we saw something, it was more amazing than the last thing we saw. Except of course for Everest. Maybe if I see a Yeti, maybe that would be more incredible.
Everest is something I expected to be incredible. The rest of the day was all new and all exciting. The internet, YouTube, other people’s blogs and the guidebooks did little if anything to prepare me for the surprises of the rest of this day. I feel like I could just post pictures and let you go ooh and ahh, but you know me better than that.
Ravi turned us over to a guide named Ari. Ari’s entire family is in the tourist business in one way or another. Ari ran a hotel on “Freak Street” back when Hippies drove here from Europe in VW buses and rented rooms for a buck a night and bought hash for 2 bucks an ounce. It was a kinder, gentler time. George Harrison found his mantra here. Cat Stevens hung out here before he converted. From what Ari told me, the area around Freak Street was all about sex, drugs and Rock ‘n roll. I’m sorry I missed it. I paid my pilgrimage even though it is like visiting the Haight these days.
It was an easy place to visit because it is one of the streets that runs of Dubar square. Dubar square is a spiritual center for Hinduism. It was on our agenda as the first stop. The square has many temples, all of them quite old. It also has the old Imperial palace. The old-old imperial palace is quite old.(When you call something old in Nepal, well, it is REALLY old. Every building on this square was in use before 1600.) Then, one of Nepal’s kings went to England. He came home and built a big English style palace connected to the old one. It looks like a turd on a wedding cake.
Directly in front of it is an old temple surrounded by levels where people can sit. This, according to Ari, was always populated with hippies smoking hash in the good old days.
This photo shows the entrance to Nasal Chaw. Neither word is pronounced the way you just pronounced it. A Chaw in Nepal is a special courtyard or square, or maybe just an intersection. This Chaw is where all the coronations took place since the Royals took over from the Gods, until 2001 when the last king was coronated. He lived in that ugly building in a previous photo until he was dethroned in 2007. He now lives in a modest home in the suburbs. Inside this nasal place is a statue of the God of Justice.
I said a little prayer for justice for all, and this guard guy laughed at me. I hope I made his day.
Then it was time to see a (the only) living goddess. This is a big deal in Nepal. The whole scene plays out like this. The goddess is chosen from a very large Nepali, Buddhist family. Not only does the bloodline need to be pure, but there are 35 other physical characteristics that must be met. Eyes must be just right, dimensions of nose bone to cheek bones, stuff like that. She is normally chosen as a pre-toddler and serves until her first menstrual period. All that time she lives in a palace in Dubar Square where she is unbelievably pampered. So much so that she cannot be touched by anyone other than her immediate family, and her feet can never touch the ground. This girl does not take her first steps until she has her first period at which time she is cast out of the ranks of the holy and turns into a normal person. I have read that is a tough transition. A little rougher than getting laid off from GM I would think. People pay homage to her in many ways. People like Mary Ann and I drop a hundred Rupees into a box. The goddess’ family gathers what it may for twelve years or so, and then they are on their own. Until recent times she never married and stayed a virgin her whole life because it was believed that if a man had sex with a goddess, even an ex-goddess, at climax he would explode like a firecracker. Hmmm… Anyway nowadays she can get married. Also in modern times she receives an education, which they never did before. I saw an interview with an ex who is now about 20, and going to University in London. A very beautiful and bright woman, but I imagine that the men-folk, even at Cambridge, would be just a bit intimidated. I can see it now;
“Hiya baby. Hey I am eighth Earl of Naughtyham. Wanna dance?”
“Hello sir, I am the 8000th Goddess of Nepal. Wanna carry me around the dance floor?”
Anyway back to my narrative. We went to her palace where she makes a quick appearance in a second floor window most days at about noon. There were about twenty German tourists there, and us. A rule is plainly posted on the wall. You CANNOT photograph the Goddess because if you do your memory stick will explode like a firecracker. Then one of her handlers, maybe daddy Goddess, come to the window and states the rule, if not the consequences, plainly to everyone. She made an appearance. She is a beautiful little girl. She probably had 5 pounds of make-up on and twenty pounds of silk. Nepali legend says that if she looks you in the eyes, your entire life will be blessed with luck, fortune, and your climaxes will only seem like you exploded. I tried to catch her eye. I did everything other than dance the funky chicken. No luck. Then touring Hans raised his huge friggen Nikon with a sports photographer sized telephoto lens, and snapped a picture. End of the show, and I was just getting started on my attention grabbing scheme. Bummer. Anyway, it is not every day you get to see a living Goddess.
Then we started wandering around the rest of the square. Temple after temple after temple. Because this is a must see place for tourists, vendor after vendor after vendor. I got my mantra here just like George Harrison. I don’t know what his is, but mine became, No, no, no, fuck NO! One guy was selling flutes. They were beautiful rosewood flutes. I told him I was not a musician. Didn’t work. I told him I could never learn to play a flute. Didn’t work. Then I stopped and told him the gods of music denied me the ability to make any music. He handed me the flute. I blew into it and such a horrific sound came out the end of it that he agreed with me and hurried off to find some other old hippie that wanted to be George Harrison. Then I met up with some Holy Men. There were a few of them around. Now I really do not know if these were really Holy Men anymore than the staff characters at Disneyland are really ducks or mice. But they were so cool looking that I had to pose with them.
Then a Holy Man called Mary Ann over to him. I love this shot.
- From Dubar square we made our way over to the Monkey Temple. Fact is, you see monkeys all over Kathmandu, but at the Monkey Temple they rule the roost.
- The Monkey Temple is the home of a very large Stupa.
- The eyes are the eyes of Buddha. They adorn every Stupa. This reminds me of life in the ME where you can always hear the call to prayer. Here, Buddha can always see you. You better live right.
- Then I was amazed when the guide took us to the sacred river where they deposit the cremains of Hindus who die. What I did not expect to see was the entire process of the cremation, from the blessing of the body to the actual funeral fire. You will have to read my next post to see this cultural experience of the end of life.
- The post after that will be, as promised, the Kama Sutra, complete with all the erotic carvings from the temple where it all started.
- Stay tuned!
Everest. One word, wow. It was a beautiful clear day. Our Budha Air flight was on a 17 seat Beechcraft. This aircraft is a small tubular unit with one seat on each side of the aisle. A six foot tall person cannot stand erect in the aisle. Mary Ann dislikes small planes and she was uncomfortable at first. Once we got to the mountains, her demeanor changed.
We flew out of the domestic airport. Other airlines serving it had names like Yeti Air. They take security more serious than any airport I have ever been in. We got frisked three times between entering the airport and getting on the plane. They found both my lighters. At least two other airlines run “mountain flights”. This is a major tourist attraction, and we found out why.
We left at 6:30 in the morning and were back in the hotel by 9:00.
It took about ten minutes to reach the Himalaya range. They gave each passenger a map which named every peak along the way. We went West to East skirting the range at about 30,000 feet. That let us see the mountains up close and personal.
This range is very different than the Andes, which I have flown over and through dozens of times. Not just because they are higher, but because they are much more “ragged”. The Himalaya are a set of very sharp peaks and deep valleys, with many rivers and even a couple of large ice lakes. They are a brilliant white, and you can see giant ice flows with well defined patterns. It left me with an even more impressed reputation of all those (especially the early ones) who have done on foot what I was doing in the air.)
And then we flew over the top of the world, the third pole. Everyone has seen photos of Everest and is familiar with the shape of this amazing mountain. When you get so close you feel like reaching out and touching her, it is moving and thrilling . It was a once in a lifetime experience. It was a bucket list item.
As we started flying back and descending in altitude, all I could think of was, “It’s all downhill from here.”
I’ll probably never stop talking about it, but for now I’ll post some photos in an effort to share this thrilling experience with you.
Yes, they let me into the cockpit. Which was a good thing because my window was dirty and over the wing, so most photos kinda suck.
My next post will cover the rest of an amazing day which included watching an ancient rite of cremation of bodies along a river on the outskirts of town. If you can handle it, I have photos. I also will share with you the origin of the Kama Sutra with some “adults only” photos. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned, subscribe if you have not already, and tell a friend.
We started the day with breakfast in the garden of the hotel. The only sounds other than our conversation were all the birds. It was quite peaceful.
Ravi showed up right on time and discussed our plans for the day. I had written him before we left and told him I wanted to visit the jail and give a care package to some bloke dumb enough to get busted on holiday. Then I wanted to go to a Tibetan “refugee camp” because that is where I wanted to buy a carpet. These were not the normal things his clients ask for, but he accommodated us. In fact, I think he likes us.
So the day started with me calling the US Embassy to try to get a name of an American rotting in a cell in Kathmandu. After being switched from one embassy employee to another I was finally told they could not give me a name because of “the privacy act”. I never heard of that, have you? So we just went to the jail. We never got in because we did not follow procedures, which we had no idea existed. We might try again next week. The jail, as you might expect is not in the best part of town. We got a lot of strange looks from the jailhouse staff as we waited for permission to enter. One definitely gets the idea that inside this place is not a way to pass the next half dozen years. I am not sure why I want to make this visit, but maybe because I am in a place where Karma was invented, I might as well get some, eh?
The next stop was a place where Tibetan refugees have built a nice capitalist existence after being kicked out of their home lands by the communist Chinese. They brought along their religion, a sect of Buhdism, and their skills. One of these skills is making high grade carpets. There are really only a handful of cultures that do this, Persians, Native Americans and Tibetans. The Tibetans have always had their own colors and styles, and still do. Nowadays they also make carpets with Persian and South Western styles, but not that many, at least that we saw.
Where we went does an export business. I Googled Tibetan carpets and found their work for sale in the US at outrageous prices. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices at the factory. It was a joy watching the women weave them. They work amazingly fast, the fastest I have ever seen anyone other than a pick pocket use their hands. They knit 100 knots per Sq inch. The rugs using traditional styles and dyes are just beautiful. I wanted one, we bought three. Getting them back to Dubai will be no problem because of the way they “bagged” them for us. I am afraid when I get home and cut the cord holding them together they will explode like a confetti bomb. They will add a lot of color to our apartment.
We continue to eat Nepali and Tibetan food, in clean inexpensive restaurants. Ravi knows where they all are, and everywhere we go he helps us choose tasty foods. We are hooked on Momos. They are like dumplings with different fillings. Tonight I had momos filled with Buffalo. Tasty
In the morning, very early, we are off on Buddha Air to fly over the roof of the world, Mount Everest. It is a small 17 person plane, and Mary Ann is nervous. I actually wanted to go on a helicopter, but that was so expensive I just dropped the idea.
Sorry, no photos today, technical difficulties. But stay tuned I have a few choice photos of the Himalaya for you in the next post. I’ll give you a teaser here.