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Published: November 28th 2007
It had to happen sometime: two-and a half months of near-constant travelling, new places, new people, new experiences are finally catching up with me. Feeling more than a bit worn out and tired, I've been hiding high above Kathmandu valley for the past few days, in a fantastic little cottage called Shivapuri Heights, owned by an Englishman called Steve and staffed by a lovely young Tibetan-Nepali man called Sonam and a fabulous cook called Jaspa. Shivapuri Heights towers on a hill on the edge of the Shivapuri National Park (where you can spot leopards and monkeys, if you're lucky), and near the Nepal Vipassna Centre, and has everything the weary traveller would wish for: a huge garden with colourful flowers and vegetables, little altars and statues everywhere, stunning views, two beautiful big dogs called Honey and Indy, a terrace where you can have your meals, open fires, herbal teas, massages, and most importantly, peace and quiet. From the town of Budhanilkantha, you have to climb up a steep hill path to reach the cottage, which makes it all the more remote.
Journeying into Nepal, again by jeep, this time with a Nepalese driver, after the cold and otherworldlyness of Tibet,
was strange. Suddenly, it was warm and humid. We were surrounded by lush vegetation and jungle-like forests. The road was bumpy, and we passed women feeding babies on their breasts on the roadside, a dog playfully chewing on straw, a girl looking dreamily out of the window of her family's stone hut at the edge of a canyon. We passed chicks, goats, women washing clothes on the street. White water, huge bridges, dust, chaos, warmth. A completely different world, so far removed from the ice and rocks of Tibet.
After a long traffic jam in Kathmandu - demonstrations blocked the streets for hours - we rewarded ourselves with a stay in the very plush Kantipur Temple House Hotel at the edge of Thamel. This is an eco-friendly hotel, with no plastic and free bulk mineral water, a roof terrace, tasteful and quiet garden, wonderful artwork and woodcarvings, and delicious breakfasts. There were toilets! There was hot water! Gosh, they even had heating! It felt as though we had arrived in heaven after travelling in Tibet and some of the places we staid in, in particular as Madame Emilie and I shared the suite on the top floor. To put it all into perspective though, when I opened the curtains of my room on my first morning there, I saw a boy washing himself below in a puddle while a group of street children sat huddled around a fire first thing in the morning.
We spent a few days in Kathmandu, sleeping, chilling out, eating, recuperating. To chill out properly in Kathmandu is hard, however. The city is incredibly polluted, loud, chaotic, with traffic everywhere. On my first day there (Tuesday - Ganesh's day), I met two very nice Nepalese men called Bishal and Rasa outside the Shiva temple near my hotel. I had a cup of tea with them, and for the rest of the day, Bishal showed me Kathmandu. We went to many temples: Ganesh, Shiva, Kali, Vishnu, Durbar Square, the Monkey Temple (where we saw a group of meditating monkeys!). We saw Kama Sutra carvings, tantric images, shrines; I offered flowers to Shiva and Kali, was blessed and received offerings back. Visiting these places with a spiritual Nepali able to explain the differentu Gods and customs to me made a real difference. I really love the Hindu Temples: they speak straight to my heart. I feel them, I connect with them, I understand them. They're luscious and powerful and beautiful, and I can sense the Gods all around me: in particular Shiva (who welcomed me at the first stop at a roadside cafe in Nepal, raising his hand towards me from a big colourful poster) and Shakti.
Through Bishal and Rasa, I also met Angel, a Nepalese man who runs the Angel Walk agency in Kathmandu. Apart from this, he also runs 'Angel's Heaven', a children's orphanage, in his home. Together with his wife, he provides accommodation, food and education for twelve children he rescued from remote villages around Nepal. I visited the home one afternoon last week, and was very touched by the loving environment he provides for the children, and the responsibility he has taken on at the age of 32. He runs the orphanage without any external or governmental support, and donations and support of any kind (monetary, clothes, books, volunteering etc) are very welcome. The address is: Angel's Heaven Nepal, Child at Risk Rescue & Care Foundation, PO Box 8975 EPC-1104, Kathmandu, Nepal. E- mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
After four days in Kathmandu, Emilie and I ventured outwards towards Bakthapur, a traffic-free town (at least in theory) rich in ancient temples, for even more peace and quiet. We moved into the Siddhi Lakshmi guesthouse, right next to an important Vishnu Temple, only to be woken up by the local's morning puja.... at 4 am. At this temple, the locals bring early morning offerings to the Gods, which would be fine, if it wasn't for the constant ringing of BIG bells at the temple... until about 10 am. It's simply impossible to get any sleep from 4 am onwards - the bells are that loud. On the upside, we were able to witness the town's Full Moon puja festival on Saturday night, during which we saw many traditional dances, such as the Kumari (Living Goddess) dance, Lakshmi dance, a dance of two furry animals that was very suggestive, a sherpa dance, and the final Devi dance, which was a mystical sacred drama with lions and shamans, during with the Goddess defeated a demon ritually. Bakthapur is a nice little town, with many traditional Newari elements, and lots of little children that speak very good English and greet you with a cheerful 'hello - one rupee?' or 'hello- chocolate?'
Emilie and I parted ways on Sunday - she went to the South of Nepal to visit Royal Chitwan Park, whereas I retreated to the Shivapuri Hills. I am off to visit the North-West of Nepal on Friday, with Angel: he has offered me to visit his parents for a few days, who live a very rural life in a small village there. It's a five-hour ride on the motorbike, so that should be fun!
Next week, on the 8th December, I have to be in Pakistan. I decided to cave in and fly to Islambad, instead of an arduous overland travel on the bus via Delhi that lasts several days - if I can get a flight, that is. I was solemnly informed by Pakistan airlines today that all flights are booked out for next week (what do they all want in Pakistan at this time?), so I might have to figure out an overland route regardless. I have to say that I have very mixed feelings about journeying to Pakistan at this time: today I checked the FCO advice and they advise pretty much against visiting all of the places that we plan to visit there: Chitral, the North-West frontier, Peshawar, parts of Islamabad. If I get a flight, I have to spend one night in a town in Pakistan I've never heard of, and two nights in Islamabad, until the people I'm meeting from the UK arrive. It feels a bit daunting, admittedly, yet at the same time, I am very excited about celebrating the Winter Solstice festival with the Kalash tribe. Que sera, sera - if I'm meant to be there, I'll get there somehow. The other alternative is to stay here and do a ten day Vipassna retreat in December.
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