While the "Jam the Wheels" was still going on in Nepal" during the strike days:
Limited, very limited to where your feet, breath and courage can take you. This is what I was able to do during my Nepali strike days, which is more than most dared to do. MONKEY TEMPLE
: This was actually done the afternoon before the official strike day, but when the protest was already going. I was still in the center of Kathmandu, south of Thamel. etails on my previous blog. BOUDHA/BODHNATH:
That’s where I took refuge, staying at the SheChen Guest House, at the monastery by the same name. It’s a well run place with a good vegetarian restaurant, at the heart town. Boudha is the center of TIBETAN SETTLEMENT in Nepal. Here the population is largely Buddhist and there are several active monasteries. I was interesting to find out that the Dalai Lama has never been here, in order not to interfere with political relations with Nepal… BODHNATH STUPA
is the biggest stupa in Nepal and one of the biggest in the world. It’s also of of the most recognized, with the eyes of the Buddha
and the third eye on its top, staring at you from all directions. The place comes alive, particularly early morning and in the evening, when Tibetan and other Buddhist devotees circumambulate around it while praying, mallas (rosary) in or prayer wheels in hands. KOPAN NUNNERY & MONASTERY:
I hiked to the monastery on the top of a hill, and as it often happens to me around here, it took muuuch longer than expected. The roads/alleys don’t have signs, they twist and turn, and that doesn’t combine very well with my wandering eyes. So I ask, and after I finally get someone who understands me, they point, I follow the way, and get a little lost… well, not really totally lost, as I eventually get “there”. That was the case of Kopan, but I did got to walk through fields, backyards, alleys and to be greeted by dozens of kids with the now very melodious: “Hellooooo”, often accompanied by an attempt at a “What’s you name?” or “Where you comin from?”. They lighten up when I stop and ask their name and try to pronounce them.
I found that most of the foreigners who come to Bouddha
already have a specific agenda and aren’t that interested in engaging much with other travelers, unless from their own group. Among other people, I met a couple of small groups going to Tibet on some sort of excursions; a travel agent from Spain and a Swiss guy independently, on their way to Bhutan; a few people here to renew visas to go back to India; some Canadians, Germans, Swiss, French, not sure exactly what they are doing here. There aren’t many Americans, but there was a great group of dentists and dental hygienists volunteering , although the strike has messed their activities as well, as the kids can’t make it to the clinic or school . Linda was particularly lovely and inspiring to me. PASHUPATINATH
I asked, was told to turn L and than R, and so I did, and again, ended up somehow taking the "non-traditional tourist's way". Nothing knew to me anymore, so here I find myself passing by corn fields , women working the land, kids getting can tops from the piles of garbage, men playing some sort of card game, and a house completely surrounded by armed police. Later I found out
that was the house of the vice-president!!!!
After 1.5 hour walk I see some old structures buy a stream, trees, and tons of monkeys. There were a Holy man (sadhu) and a holy woman. I cautiously approached, as I’m fascinated by monkeys, but I’ve learned to fear the Asian ones, remembering my encounters with them in India. So, I leave soon after and I wasn't far from PASHUPATINATH
is the most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal. The alleys by the main entrance are filled with vendors selling marigolds, incense and other offerings for pujas. The place is filled with sadhus, the wandering ascetic Hindu holy men, and also with “tourist craving beggars and sellers”, many of them kids. THE BURNING/CREMATION GHATS:
The temple is on the banks of the holy river Bagmain, and the ghats right in front of it, making this a very popular site to be cremated, like Varanasi on the river Ganges river in India. I arrived as a ceremony was starting right before a cremation “of a high Lama, or someone very important”, because of the hat of the person who was talking was wearing, the location of the cremation on the
royalty ghats. The ritual included this man talking, than people went around the body, which was covered by wood sticks and marigolds, throwing rice. After that they went inside a room, I could hear chanting. Later, the body was lit on fire. I didn’t get to see people crying. I watched respectfully from quiet a distance, using my zoom for the pictures, as this is a religious ceremony at a time of loss for the family and loved ones, although for as tourists, is indeed, a very peculiar ritual.
I found the place very commercial for the tourist, although I know it's not so for the locals at all. I didn’t mind paying the 500 rupees. I think respectful tourists can consciously witness a cremation, without intruding, if they wish, but the insistent vendors keep making noise and following you around. There were also kids begging specifically for “chocolate-money-picture”, and the fake Sadhus, wanting money for you to pose for pictures with them. From me, all they got was “No thanks”. There were real ones too, and I did give money to some of those, and took some pictures from the distance, without disturbing them.
I did not enjoy
the experience overall, until I walked up the hill, away from the cremation site, and 2 boys approached me, not to sell anything, just interested in my liquid hand sanitizer and in posing for pictures cheerfully, making poses, fooling around. It was just play time for the 3 of us, away from the crowd. MONKEY PEEING ON MY HEAD:
So, on the way back, I walked to the area that on the way to Pashupathinath, was crowded with monkeys. Now, no monkey in sight, and I decided to approach the lovely area. As I passed under a tree, I was showed with drops on my head, than my arms
. I didn't dare to look up as I knew it definitely wasn't rain. Two men watched laughing. I asked: "Bird or Monkey?", fearing the answer. One spoke a little English, and confirmed, firmly: "Monkey". "Holy shit!". I think that's probably the first time I said this out loud (wow... how puritan, right?). But instead of pure panic, my main concern was that it was just pee, not poop. So, I reached for my bag, praying to find a wipe, and halleluiah!!!! I found an "Always clean". Wiped my
arms, which I knew were just peed on, and very fearfully aimed for my head. Thank God, Buddha, Shiva and all saints and Gods. The wipe was clear (see picture. And don't you think "Always should reward me for the advertisement?). I did not run to the hotel (actually, that would probably be dangerous or at least suspicious). I walked my usual slow walk, until I hit the guesthouse.... now, yes, I used all the shampoo I had left.
Now. I was hoping that this had a good "meaning" in a place that everything has a meaning. Later a monk told me it meant "good luck" and a couple of Nepali-Tibetan girls said the same. Well, if nothing else, I got to laugh about it as I told the story to others, what is already a good thing in a gloomy day for most.
I spend a good part of my days in Nepal involved with the Buddhist Child Home
(see a previous blog). It was very rewarding spending time with the kids and worth risking breaking the strike to buy large quantity of food for the orphanage... although it was scary, I confess.
In all, my journey in Nepal was not the typical one experienced by the usual traveler. I didn’t get to go trekking and see the Himalaya from the ground up. I’ve seen from up above a couple of times, but the Maoists interfered with my plans to explore beyond the Nepali Valley, where I got stuck the whole 9 days.
During my many brave walks, I got to pass by numerous temples, big and small, most warned down; too many to name all, but believe me when I say that Hindus have a God for EVERYTHING. Among the most interesting, was an ugly piece of wood with coins nailed into it, which has a deity which supposedly cures tooth ache and the temple of the goddess’ vagina (Guhyeshwari) at Pashupatinath!
Amazing how the people of this nation, one of the poorest in the world, endure yet another political crisis, powerlessly, with fear, obeying demands. Amazing how hard life hasn't wiped the smile from the faces of the Nepali children. I leave with the memories of the kids of at the Buddhist Child Home saying "Namaste Miss" and the street ones saying "Hello".
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