Published: November 12th 2011November 9th 2011
According to the World Bank, the richest fifth of the world - that's us folks - has more than three quarters of global income at their disposal, whereas the poorest fifth has pitiful 1,5 percent to make ends meet. To comprehend what that means in practice, one has to go beyond statistics. Enter Nepal, sandwiched between rising superpowers of China and India, a mystical kingdom up until recently, ravaged by a decade long civil war only ended a few years ago, as well as being one of the poorest countries in the world, and you are on a crash course in destitute. The course begins immediately after getting off the plane in Kathmandu. Arrivals and immigration, the former dilapidated, the latter antiquated, all processing done manually without computers, by serious looking men. Nastya gets a déjà vu of her home country's not so distant past. Then there's the taxi ride from the airport of yesteryear to the capital Kathmandu, the taxi being one of the sorriest excuses for a car since Trabant, an Indian made Suzuki Maruti with no suspension to speak of, and the highway being a dirt road dotted with massive bumps. While trying not to hit our heads
against the ceiling of the cab, we observe a hybrid landscape of poor quality housing that look unfinished, impromptu shacks and countless temples. Welcome to the Third World.
With a new morning, the sensory onslaught continues. There are holy cows roaming freely on narrow streets and endless squares, eating rotting carbage dumbed everywhere. The worst is traffic though, a non-stop flow of motorcycles and Suzuki Marutis competing for the same space with pedestrians and holy cows. The inevitable chaos is accompanied with ear-breaking cacophony of horns being continuously blasted in every vehicle in motion. The omnipresent eyes of Buddha silently witnessing the antithesis of serenity. Indeed, life is suffering.
After we recover from the initial sensory shock, we start slowly to appreciate the beauty of Nepal and Nepalese culture hidden behind the mask of chaos. We are helped by a Nepalese friend who takes us to a number of beautiful sites around Katmandu. We visit Boudhanath and are jaw-dropped by its huge Buddhist stupa, dominating the skyline. We join the pilgrims doing their daily circumnavigation of the dome. Suddenly, our life seems to have a purpose again. The next day we are taken to Pashupatinath, the oldest Hindu
temple in Kathmandu and one of the most revered sites for lord Shiva in the world. Located on the banks of sacred river of Bagmati, the temple complex is bustling with worshippers as our visit coincides with Chhath festival. The river bank south of the temple is used for performing the last rites on deceased Hindus. The bodies are wrapped in shrouds, their feet washed in the river, then cremated on funeral pyres. We witness an emotional scene of a small child's funeral proceedings, a truly heartbreaking sight, that makes us stop to contemplate the fragility, if not futility, of life.
After the contemplative pause, we follow the river to a place where thousands of the pilgrims celebrating the Chhath festival congregate. There are lot of women in resplendent dresses offering prayers and presents to the setting sun along the sacred river of Bagmati. The voluptuousness of colors at display is absolutely stunning. On our way out, we get a lesson on failed crowd control. The only entrance as well as the only exit to the bank of river where the festival is taking place is a narrow bridge, which happens to be all but blocked by a car
on the middle of the bridge. Simultaneously there are hundreds of people on both sides of the bridge,trying either to enter or leave. A stampede waiting to happen. We get sucked into the human flow and it is rather interesting to observe of having hardly any control of our own movement as the pressure generated by the crow pushes us forward. Fortunately we are saved by two female traffic cops, who are doing their utmost to prevent the festival from turning into a tragedy.
Having survived the mass hysteria, we reckon our karmic precautions are paying off. After four days in Kathmandu, it's time to leave the city of thousand temples for the serenity of the mountains. We have definitely gained quite a few valuables insights into realities of Nepal and the Third World and have been thoroughly impressed by friendliness and hospitality of Nepalese people who show such a remarkable joie de vivre
in face of adversity.
There are more photos below