Pre-dawn- On the way to the Everest Big Day Out
It's 5 AM, the temple bells are ringing and the birds are twittering. We have no schedule today for the first time in 25 days- it's a bit weird, but weird in a good way. Breaky is served in the garden, it is really wholesome food - muslei, yoghurt, toast, preserves, COFFEE. We are overlooking the countryside and Kathmandu is a million miles away. I go for a bit of a walk up the hill after breaky- binoculars and bird book in hand. Gold!!- Scarlet Minivets and Blue Magpies. Sitting on a rock I feel that I am being watched- which I actually am, there are a few kids sitting on a higher rock scrutinising me. One of them, Akash, approaches and very formally asks, "may I practice English with you?", absolutely! - I have NO schedule. I spend about an hour with Akash. He is a devout Hindu and asker of many questions. We cover Australia - population, early history, vegetables, sport, food and religion. Akash listens to the BBC and likes to do good in his village. Spend the rest of the day doing nothing much, it is so very relaxing. Tomorrow is an early start as we are
doing the Everest Scenic Flight (aka Everest Big Day Out). We do a practice run (walk) down the hill to the village- we will have to negotiate it in the dark in the morning. Eat dinner with the Paulines and enjoy learning a little more about them and their venture into the guesthouse business in KTM. We fall a little bit in love with the Paulines. 2 April
Up at 0415 and descend down the hill in absolutely pitch black darkness, the headlamps come in handy yet again. I get completely spooked by a very loud rustling in the bushes about half way down- turns out to be a leaking water pipe, don't quite know what I thought it was - Himalayan Black Bear??? Raju and his faithful taxi are waiting for us, we take off for the airport in the predawn light, people are already up- opening shops, washing at the village water source, going to the temple... It's such a contrast to my life...
Rajit (chief organising guy for Spirit of the Himalayas) is waiting for us at the airport, he has "his man on the inside" organising the "best tickets Maam" for us. We
have 3 security checks and then wait. I have noticed that security checks in Nepal are a lot more up close and personal in terms of patting you down. It is really grey and smoggy in KTM this time (as oppposed to clear skies at the beginning of our trip), I wonder how the visibility will be for the flight. Buddha Air Flight 103 takes us up, up and away at 0800 (I'm really glad I got up at 0415- Not!). There are 16 passengers and 2 pilots and 1 air hostess- she hands out tissues (is it going to be overwhelming???) and lollies. The flight is very well managed actually, the hostess has a seat rotation plan happening and you all get a turn up front at the cockpit. We ascend through the smog and cloud and start to see the Himalayan mountain chain, I get some average shots of Everest, et al and then it's all over. Smooth flight, 0 turbulence- glad I did it but oooooohhhhhh the views on the actual trek were so amazing that this comparatively wasn't all that thrilling.
OK, Bid Day Out Tripping starts in ernest. The plan- Changu Narayan followed by
Bhaktapur followed by Pashupatinath Temple followed by Boudhanath Stoupa followed by.... then we get to go back to Paulines. Changu Narayan (CN)-
I actually enjoy the journey more than the destination sometimes, this is the case for this stop. The city has woken from its sleep and has become chaotic once more, the procession of people, buses, taxis, cars, traffic jams is never ending. Cocooned in Raju's car it's an enjoyable thing. We hit relative countryside; fields of green wheat and vege crops explode out of nowhere, the vegetation is punctuated by enormous chimney stacks from brick works and the fields are dotted with piles of bricks. Grey unfired bricks make way for stack upon stack of red fired ones. It's a good arrangement- the farmers lease out paddock space to the brick companies to use for drying prior to the monsoon= win/win. I also love that each brick manufacturer has its own stamp/imprint on the brick. Photo op- Raju doesn't quite get why. The other unusual sight is the abundance of hen houses- not coops or sheds, but actual full on 2-3 storey houses with chooks sitting in the window sills. More photo ops- Raju doesn't seem
to get that either.
CN is a Hindu Temple, lots of shrines, lots of blood sacrifices, lots of Hindus. We can take in the main temple from the courtyard but not enter, the priests and the 3 inner temple gates are visible, there is an armed guard on the door. Bhaktapur
Ancient city dating back to the 7th century AD. Located 13km east of KTM. Shaped like a conch shell and a significant Newari location. The people are the interesting thing here for me- the elderly seem to congregate in "day care centre" like pavilions to chat together in the warm sunshine. The Newari are a tattooed people, the women wearing shorter saris than other Nepali groups to show off the tattoos on their lower legs and ankles. Many also have tatts on their inner wrists and hands. We see a group of men with newly shaved heads milling around one of the ancient houses- it is the house of their recently deceased relative hence the head shaving. The young boys have all got their hoodies or hats on or up, the littlest boys delight in the feeling of their shaved heads. There are no women in
Bhaktapur city itself is large, the houses are crumbling with age, mildew is climbing the walls. It is divided into distinct areas- the Golden Gate, Durbar Square, Siddi Laxmi Temple, Taumadhi Square, Pottery Square- complete with electric and man driven potters wheels, hay and dirt furnaces and hundreds of pots, and Dattatreya Square which is home to the woodcarvers (and more recent type souveneir sellers)- there are beautifully, intricately carved peacock and lotus windows everywhere. We sit in a cafe above Durbar Square for lunch and watch the crowds go by. In the square are the big old chariots that are being assembled for the chariot race the following week. There are kids climbing all over them and generally having a great time, it's nice to see that they are not being told off and that there are no signs telling them it's dangerous, or to keep off. Coincidentally, sitting behind us is an Irish couple that we met 3 weeks ago in Shona's Shop in Thamel. They have now also finished their trek and in turn have met various characters that we have crossed paths with. They tell us about one guy who has started his journey
with a plastic horse whose plan is to trade up for an item, and another, and another, etc until he has a real horse- interesting idea. They have also met Karina, a German girl that we met in Jomsom, and later still in Pokhara, who is going horse riding in Mongolia. Paula, an artist, has her own blog with some really beautiful ideas and really beautiful photos. Have a look... http://paulahenihan.blogspot.com.au/
Tragedy then strikes- Mary needs to urgently find a loo.... Made of tough stuff though, the big day out trip continues.... Pashupatinath Temple
I am really looking forward to visiting this place, saw a National Geo doco on it before leaving Perth and also a show about death rituals around the world where it featured. The cremation temple is a sprawling complex. There are about 40 cremations/day, 4 pyres are alight when we arrive. It is smoky and ashy and busy with many, many observers. It seems to be a popular pasttime to go watch the cremations- there are lots of Nepali people interspersed with foreigners. The Sadhus and other assorted holy guys are out in force posing for pictures, etc. There is a deer
Crafts for sale- dyeing
park on the rear boundary with benches overflowing with canoodling couples. In amongst it all are monkeys running around and little boys wading through the river (currently a narrow stream) and fossicking amongst the trash, nearly forgot- the cows are in on the act too- fossicking in the trash in the river. Apparently it is a Hindu custom to place a small fragment of gold in the deceased person's mouth before cremation then when the ashy remains are pushed into the river the kids are on it- they have buckets and magnets and are hoping to score some of the gold.
The funeral process is a long one (up to 8hrs); we sit for an hour and watch a shrouded body being delivered, the paperwork being done, the family picking up funeral bundles of 40kg wood and ghee butter packs, the body being carried over to an area where it is dipped in the river with members of the family washing the deceased's feet and face, the body then being taken back over to its pyre where it is carried 3 times around the pyre in a clockwise direction. Finally the eldest son lights the fire after the fuel
has been stoked up on top of the body. It is a role that is usually done only once in a Hindu's life (oldest son lights the fire of the father or the youngest son lights the mother's fire). Children and priests are not cremated due to the fact that they are already pure and without sin. Another interesting fact is that the Hindus can't donate organs as they must remain intact in death, however, the corneas are exempt (there is an onsite cornea bank at the temple, and a palliative care unit next to that!).
Mary goes in search of a toilet....
Tip to tourists- the toilets here are not ideal. Boudhanath Stoupa
Mary goes in search of a toilet....
We arrive at the most significant Buddhist monument in the world. It is breath taking. A UNESCO heritage site, it is teeming with tourists and pilgrims and is home to the Tamang community of Tibetan refugees- it is a purificatory, protective and wish granting site and at 43m in height, 120 feet in diameter and a hectare wide is pretty damn awesome. It is now later in the afternoon and the sun is casting
the most amazing light on the gold dome. We walk around it several times, passing the large prayer wheels and mani wheel walls.
Mary goes in search of a toilet....
And so the big day out is over, back to the Paulines, back to paradise, back to the toilet (poor Mary).
As we arrive at the Paulines the rain arrives, and with it, Stephane. Our best French friend has come to spend our last two nights with us. It is great to see him. It's like we have known each other for ages despite meeting for the first time less than 3 weeks ago, we pick up where we left off... We catch up with the news of his trek from Jomsom, and he with ours, and have a really nice meal together.
Despite the 4am start it is hard to get to sleep, I feel like time is running out.
(Stephane's website if you are interested, it will be the story of his 2 year world tour, he has lots of video of Nepal (you can spot Mary and I in spome of it- NOT looking very glamorous) http://www.thomasstephane.com/ 3 April
Three white throated kingfishers appear at breakfast, it is warm, the woodpeckers and cuckoos are out and about and there is a big hill to be climbed. We set off at a good pace and quickly the vegetation gets all rain forest with waterfalls and ferns, etc. Beautiful. Slippery. The next band of vegetation is pine trees which drop pine needles which are also slippery. Thank god for trees to hang on to. I nearly kill myself again sliding down a big hill. Find some big paw prints (?????!!!!!). Keep going and hit a band of rhododendrons and a patch of forget me not flowers as we get to the top of the hill (I have a confession to make- one of those little blue forget me not flowers has been wedged into my travel diary despite the threat of an AUD $10 000 fine on contravening Australian customs and quarantine regulations. I have momentary visions of appearing on "Border Crossing" and tearfully promising not to do it again on National TV! Hmmm- or will they be more concerned with my rock collection?). Very sweatily reach the top and take some photos, we congratulate ourselves on taking only 50 mins
to get up. Feels good to exercise again.
The descent, we think, will be even quicker. So
not true. We get lost (... I think we get lost, Stephane doesn't), we are off the track and there are MAJOR PRECIPICES with sheer drops down to waterfalls with big rocks at the bottom. I spend most of the time sliding down the hill on my backside whilst grabbing on to vines, tree branches and any other available hand hold. But, it is great fun. The trail is re-found and we arrive back at the Paulines. Mary is up and looking better- lunch in the sun - a warm, lazy afternoon ahead...
The storm clouds come out of nowhere; thunder and rain and lightning. We sit undercover on the verandah for the rest of the afternoon and watch. The sky is yellow, then grey, then black. It is absolutely belting it down and there is a mixture of sheet and forked lightning. Amazing spectacle. We stay up really late. I finish my book, "Sense of an Ending" (the title is apt, don't you think?) by Julian Barnes (very good by the way). Go to bed, it's difficult to
sleep, I don't want Nepal to be over. 4 April
The storm continues sporadically until 3.30, the Hindu Temple wakes up at 5.30. I take one last little walk alone up the hill and around the property, through the bamboo thickets and the rice terraces. Breakfast is a bittersweet affair for me. I absolutely hate goodbyes. We have to leave earlyish for our flight to Bangkok. We say "see you next time" to the Paulines and the menagerie of animals, great place!! Head down the hill to meet Raju and his trusty taxi. Stephane comes out to the airport, the three of us squeeze into the back seat, we meet Dhana just before the airport- he has also comes to say goodbye, the 4 of us squeeze even tighter into the back seat. The airport is heaving. Lots of Nepalis leaving for overseas jobs, lots of red tikka, lots of garlands of flowers and lots of prayer scarves. Dhana presents us with a new prayer scarf (and a bottle of Druks green chilli sauce), it is very touching (I am wondering where in Nepal I will tie this scarf when I come back). We all say our reluctant
and heartfelt goodbyes, and then that's it....the first
trip to Nepal is officially over.....what an incredible, incredible experience.
Actually, words fail me. Postscript
Bangkok was fun; 4 nights in luxury with cocktails, deep baths, hot water and luxury bath products. Great Thai food, a bit of sight seeing, bit of shopping, train ride, boat ride, a Royal Palace, a slum, a cooking class, more great Thai food, general swanning around and re-immersion back into society.
BIG, BIG thanks to my wonderful trekking buddy- Mary- you were awesome! Can we go again? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we?.........
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