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.
We made it to Nepal. We are in Kathmandu. For me, this is a dream come true. I can’t thank my wife enough. We got here three days early because the University gvae mary Ann an extra three days paid leave, because EID started earlier than they thought it would, because the moon did something earlier than it should have. I don’t know nor care. It cost about $2 to change our flight, so we went for it.
We flew here on Air Arabia, or as the pilot pronounced it Air AHHRABEEEEAHH. It is the official airline of Sharjah, in fact it is owned by the Sharjah Government, which means the Ruler. The Ruler pays Mary Ann’s Salary, so it all works out. Air Arabia is the first and largest “low cost” airline in the Middle East. How low? $350 R/T. Wonderful comfortable flight. The airport in Sharjah is brand new and quite efficient. Air Arabia is not the only airline flying in and out of it, but probably the only one I will ever fly. AA flies brand new Airbus 320’s. The other airlines like say, Air Kenya, are pretty sketchy. I went to a couple web sites of the other airlines and they touted their “fleet of six DC9’s”. They sound like a CNN breaking news story waiting to happen.
The Sharjah airport is also a big cargo terminal, bringing in all the toys the Emirates want to spend petrodollars on. Most of the cargo planes are of Russian origin and boy are they ugly.
Our flight arrived right on time. Only thing is, in Nepal time is 45 minutes late. If in the rest of this time zone it is 1:00, in Nepal it is 12:15. No one seems to know why, it just is what it is.
My first impressions? The politically correct people of the world have stopped using the term “3rd world country” in favor of “developing nation.” Sorry folks, this is a 3rd world country, I have not seen anything I would call developing.
Don’t get me wrong. I like it here after one day. It is exciting. Heavy vibes. If that statement is too hippy for you, it is because I think this is where the hippies found their gestalt. Mind you, I am still a hippie at heart, so I am qualified to say that. If a Hollywood costume designer ever wants to find clothes for a crowd scene at a Grateful Dead concert, or a 60’s love-in, just come to Kathmandu. In the tourist area we are staying in, called Themal, every store sells the hippest stuff, a lot of it with peace symbols embroidered on it and great colors. After dinner tonight we took a walk and I was offered Hashish three times. The Haight-Ashbury LIVES! Lonely planet calls Themal the “Hippies Disneyland”.
The other thing you can’t help but find is serious trekking clothes. People set out from here for 7 day hikes to the Mount Everest Base camp. That is 7 days each way. From what I have read and heard, the base camp is a zoo. Hundreds of people go there to actually attempt to summit Everest, but thousands go just to say they have been there. ME? Oh noooo. I am going to take a flight over Everest in a smallish plane in a couple of days, on Buddha Air. That is not a joke.
It is a perfect 25 degrees. The air is fresh. The food we have found so far, including a Yak Cheese pizza has been excellent.
We ate that at the Rum Doodle restaurant where beer is free for the rest of your life if you have stood on top of Everest. And oh yeah, the beer is wonderful!
This is another country where they drive on the wrong side of the road, but that really does not seem to matter because the roads are not so wide that it makes any difference.
Before we left we hooked up with a guide who has set up everything for us. He has worked his way up from being a porter on the treks to the base camp, to being a guide on the treks, and now has his own company catering to people like us. So far he has been a gem. His name is Shankar, and he does not mind me calling him Ravi. You can take the Hippie out of the sixties, but you can’t take the sixties away from the Hippie.
Muchmore to come including our flight over Everest this morning. We saw the top of the world, and it was amazing!