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Published: August 24th 2007
My travel partner
Given flowers upon our arrival in Kathmandu
Nepal was unreal. We stayed in Kathmandu which is rather chaotic to say the least. Driving was funny as there were bikes, people, cars, buses, tuk tuks (3 wheeled buses), bike taxies, and cows all competing for narrow road space. It is rough living. We saw people working in rice fields, carrying loads that were more than a burden, and so much more that emphasizes the ease of my own life. There are mounds of dirt and bricks everywhere which barefooted children negotiate around or play on, and women washing dishes on the street. But on the whole everyone appeared to be content and was extremely welcoming to us.
Nepal is in a real slump due to a lack of tourism. People are not traveling there because of the Maoist threat, and this nation depends on tourism. We were pounced on in markets by desperate vendors wanting to make a sell. Among the surprising parts of being in the markets, it shocked me to be some place so foreign and have vendors have some mastery of English, or at least enough to try to make a sell.
I am going to give this next topic a paragraph all to
itself. Food. It was AWESOME! They are vegetarian friendly over there, and I had my fill of veggie curry and chili sauce.
We went one morning to the Pashupatinath, which is a Hindu holy site with a golden temple, which our guide related to Mecca for Muslims. We happened to go at a time where we saw three cremations taking place and all in different stages. It was simultaneously shocking and beautiful. It seemed to me to be so much healthier than the way we deal with our dead in that family and friends have some time to say goodbye and are more involved with the process of dealing with the remains.
Then we walked through the bustling streets of Kathmandu to the Boudhanath and Buddhist stupa. Here a rather prominent Tibetan refugee community lives surrounding the stupa. The structure is covered with prayer flags and the area gave us a hint of what awaited us in Tibet.
We had "friends" in Kathmandu, the man being a Sherpa, which is actually a clan of people, and he and his daughter joined us for tea, which was certainly a highlight for both Mom and me. We learned
a lot about the Maoists and this man’s personal interactions with them on the trails in Nepal, as well as the effects the Maoists have on the education system across Nepal.
Our day trip to Bhaktipur and Patan made Kathmandu look luxurious . There was an art exhibition in Bhaktipur, which was really cool! It was modern installations in ancient surroundings.
We then hoped over the Himalayas to Tibet. The first day proved difficult and I was surprisingly emotional—well, teary. It was hard to see how the Chinese are smoking out the native culture. (This isn’t the place for my preaching “save Tibet”, but I would encourage everyone to see the film “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion” as it is rather informative about the recent history of the crisis.) But once I got past the initial shock, I began to see and appreciate the beauty of the people, their customs, the temples, and the impressive landscape.
The Jokhang Temple is the holiest site in Tibet and was in awe-inspiring place to just be. Here, people circle the holy site either carrying prayer wheels and prayer beads or prostrating the entire circumference. I had read before
we arrived in Tibet that Tibet is a place where religion is actually practiced more than it is preached, and I found this to be true. We then actually entered the Jokhang Temple to listen to and watch the prayers-so peaceful.
The Tibetans are so friendly and warm, not to mention curious! I made many friends in spite of our lack of ability to communicate verbally. Many an interested local wandered my way in markets to touch my hair, point out my eyebrow ring, or compare our skin!
One day in the market, I was carrying a “cow bell” for a friend, which was making an awful lot of noise as I picked my way through the crowed, and I was surely making a scene! People were laughing and coming over to ring the bell. By the time I reached our hotel, my cheeks ached from smiling and laughing so much!
Mom decided one day to try on the local garb and perhaps buy it and she drew a crowd of about 20 Tibetans drawn by the image of a white woman trying on their clothing. Again, it was so joyous and light.
The Potala Palace,
the winter palace of the Dalai Lama, was quite an impressive structure! Covering (and I mean almost every inch!) the interior were vibrant, colorful paintings. The Potala Palace used to have a lake at the bottom of the hill upon which it sits, which is now a large austere plaza with a memorial. Our guide told us it was a memorial to the Chinese soldiers killed in the taking over of Tibet. Certainly this added an element of bizarreness to our experience: standing on a relatively new plaza looking at an incredibly holy site which Tibetans were circling while behind us stood a memorial to the Chinese lives lost. Sigh.
Norblinka, the summer home of the Dalai Lama, and the place he escaped from, enabled me to understand how people can give their lives to when surrounded by such peaceful gardens. Oh! Here we saw roof tampers. They were workers who were flattening out the roof of a newly constructed structure in a garden. There are two groups on the roof top with sticks in their hands with flat bottoms and one group calls out and stamps their feet and their stick (flattening the roof) and then the other
group responds and stamps. So, we sat down to watch. Did I mention we sat down next to a monk sitting cross-legged eating nuts while watching as well?!
We then visited a few monasteries in the Lhasa area. Our fist visit was to the Dreprung Monastery, the largest in Tibet, once housing 10,000 monks, (had 7,700 when occupation began and only 500 now). Again, we saw pilgrims with prayer wheels and lit candles, as well as the beautiful artwork within the buildings.
Sera Monastery which has now faded from my memory except for the amazing experience of seeing 200 or so monks "debating"! “Debating” really means a fervent lesson of their Buddhist teachings; so one monk will be standing up and will ask a question and then will slap his hands and the person sitting responds. Or this was what I understood. We could hear the sounds of the debate from quite a distance away. It was really interesting to see the flurry of activity and the intent faces of the monks deep in their practice.
The Ganden Monastery proved to be beautiful! The monastery was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and has been rebuilt in
the last 15 years, quite a feat considering the size. Mom and I decided to hike around it- starting at 14,000 ft! We started out behind a Tibetan man carrying prayer flags who then climbed higher yet to add his own prayer flags a group at the peak. As we came back to the monastery we met some curious monks- I went into a “bathroom” and they were interested to know what that might be like for a woman I suppose, but Mom quickly realized and stood in the door. We had a good laugh about that.
We then visited the School for the Blind in Lhasa- a touching experience to make a sweeping understatement! The school’s founder Sabriye Tenberken, herself blind, recognized the need for a different treatment of the blind in Tibet and started this school, created a Braille system in Tibetan, and has started Braille Without Borders. The students were independent, mobile, and bright. Many in addition to speaking Tibetan, could speak English, Chinese, and German. We had fun handing out the Play-Dough we brought from the States and just being in the presence of one incredible woman.
After experiencing all of that in and
around Lhasa we headed out by car to return to Nepal! We are in a Land Cruiser with the happiest driver in the world who was a fan of Mandarin disco...it was a long five days!!! The mountain passes we went over were HUGE and the road dirt and bumpy was also twisty and turny. Up mountains, through riverbeds, forged rivers, back and forth in switchbacks, (somehow) through huge mud holes, through desert conditions we picked our way across the magnificent countryside.
We stopped in the town of Shigatse and the next day visited the monastery there, the home of the Pancha Lama (teacher of the Dalai Lama a HUGE controversy presently...see that movie I told you about or ask me for more info) there where we saw a 23-METER tall golden Buddha. It was impressive! Then back on the road, I don't know how we didn't get jostled to death! A yak did however kick me on one of our stops....dang.
Shingre is the next town we slept in (if you blinked you could miss the town it is so small!) The next morning was clear and so we headed off to Mt. EVEREST! I know I
We took an early morning walk our first day in Lhasa and came across this sight.
can't put into words what that was like. Standing at 17,000 ft at the Tibetan base camp---majestic, peaceful, daunting, enlightening, freeing. The sky will never look so blue I fear and the air will never be so clear as what we experienced up there.
Then we went to another school and spent a good deal of time there handing out school supplies, and teaching the students how to play the games we brought.
Then off to Tingre for our last night in Tibet. The nomads and Tibetans in the smaller villages were just as friendly and curious as what we found in Lhasa.
Then off to the Nepal border. The scenery changed 2 hours from the border from dry dessert to lush and green, and full of waterfalls! Katmandu’s pollution-sound and air were striking!
The next day we went to the Monkey Temple and then just wandered about the city. The view from the Monkey Temple was impressive and the many stairs we climbed to reach the temple were worthwhile. The next morning we went to see the animal sacrifices, which was hard but part of our cultural experience. The relation between a man and
the animal he kills for food is more intimate it seemed, and I respected their tradition.
We then headed to Bangkok, where we had spent a few hours before Kathamandu. Neither Mom nor I were really prepared to take on Bangkok after Nepal and Tibet, we were rather overloaded. But, we did wander the streets eating the delicious, fresh, juicy, fruits, as well as took in a cultural event- a show put on by “girly-boys” as our local taxi driver called the men who had sex changes and performed musical numbers in full costume.
We are still rather engrossed in our trip and are digesting our experiences. I know we are both to thankful that we were able to experience that part of the world, meet the people we met, and the effects of this journey will be far reaching, of that I am sure.
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