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Published: October 26th 2017
This is our first full day in Kathmandu. For this trip I'm travelling with Odysseys Unlimited, seeing how they compare with OAT and Road Scholar. The flights here were long, very long, and while award winning Qatar Airways provides adequate food and copious wine, it still took me from Monday morning until almost 5PM on Wednesday to move from central Maine to Kathmandu's airport. Being cooped up in any plane for that long a time is never comfortable no matter how many movies one watches, nor how many glasses of wine are consumed. But then finally, yesterday, I arrived in Nepal.
Kathmandu is poor, very dirty, and hugely congested. Drivers scatter anywhere they wish, causing enormous traffic jams. People scuttle in and out of traffic, compounding an already horrendous mess. Most of the streets are unpaved, with giant potholes, large and small rocks, frequent puddles, mud in places, and are filled with cars, trucks, busses, scooters. This is Kathmandu, home to four million people who have very little or no money. Bill asked if we could live here. No.
On our first true day in Kathmandu we visited the iconic sites: the UNESCO site of Patan Durbar, Durbar Square itself, and the well known and easily identified Swayambhunath Buddhist temple built around 500 CE. Climbing up hundreds of steps brings you to the sacred UNESCO stupa, with its iconic Buddha eyes and solid white dome. Not since living in Thailand have I circled clockwise around such a temple, rotating prayer wheels as I walked around, saying OM MANI PADME HUM as I went. It felt so comfortable and familiar to me. I have missed Thailand.
In addition to seeing Buddhist monuments and Hindu temples, we also were honored to be able to visit the Kumari of Patan. Kumaris are Nepal's living goddesses. Chosen at age 4 or 5, these little girls continue their work until they reach puberty, at which time they are released to live "normal" lives, and another little girl is chosen as Kumari. But who we saw today was a very sad looking child, picking at the gold threads in her skirt. This Kumari is 9 years old, having served as Patan's living goddess for four years already. All of us who are mothers saw only the unhappy child, and not a goddess, enclosed in a Ghar, a sacred house, away from her family, friends, and normal society. Our guide Suresh, who was born in Kathmandu, explained that the Nepalese people debated this issue, but chose to continue the ancient Kumari tradition for once they begin to change parts of their culture, their cultural identity will be lost, forever. Thus the Kumari tradition continues. We Westerners find this concept of a living goddess who is replaced at puberty difficult to understand, for all we see is the loss of childhood for these little girls. Each family is honored to have its daughter chosen, but the girl we saw today looked small, pale, bored, and very sad. I wonder how many former Kumaris lead happy adult lives? How can they live any kind of normal life after so many formative years of being goddesses, in seclusion, without their mothers, families, and friends, excluded from normal Nepalese society? This visit was more disturbing than enlightening; I came away wanting to free her from her prison.
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