This morning I woke up to the sound of gongs and chants from the nearby monasteries. It's a peaceful, hypnotic sound, and I fell back asleep feeling strangely comfortable in this new, completely foreign place.
I'm in Bhouda, or Boudhanath, a holy site in Kathmandu. At the center of the area is a stupa, a kind of circular religious shrine where pilgrims come to pray and meditate. It's customary to only walk in a clockwise direction around the stupa, so as not to disturb the positive flow of energy - even if the place you want to get to is only a few meters in the other direction, you should go with the flow all the way around. There are prayer wheels all the way around that you spin as you walk past.
Coming from the beach all I really have with me is long shorts and a t-shirt - and I've never been so acutely aware of how inappropriate knees are. I felt positively like a harlot. My first plan is to buy some more appropriate attire.
The stupa is surrounded by zillions of little stalls and shops selling religious paraphernalia
- incense, statues, mandala paintings, etc - as well as clothes, food, and everything else you can imagine. The air here, away from the main streets, is fresh and smells of sweet incense. Nepali music - so cheerful, peaceful, absolutely beautiful - wafts through the streets. I know, I'm waxing poetic, but you
try not to do that here.
The streets for the most part are remarkably clean - until you venture away from the Stupa into more central Kathmandu. There the actual streets are pretty litter-free, except that every few blocks there is a massive pile of trash, normally clumped around a lamppost or telephone pole.
Near the lane to my guesthouse is a small cordoned off area with two large plastic birdbaths. People throw seeds into the center, and hundreds of pigeons gather in the ring. It's a strange sight when you come from somewhere like San Francisco, where pigeons are basically flying rats. But here, even the stray dogs are fat and happy.
My Russian roommate told me I'd be surprised by the kindness and generosity of Nepalis, but I really wasn't prepared. I've never met so many
smiling, helpful people. I bought some postcards and the shopkeeper spent 20 minutes detailing and writing down for me where I should visit. There weren't any single rooms left at my guesthouse, so when Liseanna left they just gave me the double room at the single room price.
Everywhere you go they smile and say Namaste.
I never had a problem haggling over prices in Thailand - they laugh at your price, you laugh at theirs, you both play along - but here they're so soft and unassuming I just want to give them what they ask.
The children here are so beautiful, and I can't get over the sight of the young monks in their wine red robes, grinning, holding hands, playing ball.
And the food! Oh my gosh. I ate vegetable momos
for breakfast - a traditional Nepali dumpling - and fell completely in love. Nepal is the center of the vegetarian universe, so there's no reason to eat meat when every other dish is this amazing. I also had my first *real* coffee in five weeks - 3 cups of it, because, let's face it, we all know
I have a problem. Now that I have real coffee, I really see no reason to leave. I did wonder a bit about the milk - after my second cup - but eh, what's a little unpasteurized dairy ever done to anyone. .
Tomorrow I think I will venture to the tourist epicenter, Thamel, and probably to Freak Street which used to be the hippy center in the 60s and 70s. Freak Street is also where Ben and Regina, a couple I met in Bangkok who lived in Nepal for 19 years, told me I should visit. They have friends who run a guesthouse, and told me that if I mention their names I'll be treated like family.
The only problem I can see is that none of the roads are named, except maybe the larger ones, they all look the same, and run in complex spirals and knots of alleys and corners. Getting lost is probably an unavoidable situation.
It rains a little bit off and on, but the temperature is perfect. In fact, the sun has just come out so I'm going to do a little more exploring.
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