Nepal

Home – getting back from Ama Dablam

When I made the somewhat difficult call to leave the mountain and get home, I thought I’d make a little video for Jette.

It follows my journey from Camp one on Ama Dablam and continues down through the snowline to Pangboche, Tangboche, Namche Bazaar and Lukla, then on to Kathmandu, Singapore, to Melbourne and then HOME!

At 4:40, due to a cheap upgrade, I was sitting in Business Class, stinking like hell, sipping wine and watching the entire Himalayas slide by.

Nepal slideshow – pre-trek

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Pashupatani

grey PashupataniSitting here in the lobby of the Hotel Marshyangdi, surrounded by fellow westerners all plugged into various high tech gizmos it is astounding how damn disconnected we have become. To get to the hotel lobby I walked less than one kilometer from Fire and Ice, the Pizzeria where the team met to eat dinner and get to know each other.

grey PashupataniOn they way I was Namaste-d by numerous people, sure most wanted to sell me hash or singing bowls, but some genuinely wanted to say, ‘hi’. The young chap who sold me a shirt yesterday said, ‘G’day’ (he knows my nationality) so I sat next to him on the gutter and we had a brief but pleasant chat about the unusual weather. All the time he was connected with a friend by holding hands. In Nepal this is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality. The guard at the hotel gate saluted me with a wide grin before asking how I was and telling me that Thamel will be really busy tomorrow with a festival. Walking inside the hotel to my favourite couch (with the good wifi signal) I automatically said a friendly, ‘Hello‘ to some Swedish men sitting nearby. They looked at me as though I had thrown glitter over them.

grey PashupataniUs westerners have truly become disconnected. Lost in our own personal ecosystems, sheltered from awkward conversations by music players, iPhone fiddling or dark sunglasses. The same goes for death, we desperately hide from it, we hide from it’s ominous march behind age defying skin creams and shiny new sports cars … when the inevitable happens we efficiently deal with death by dressing it in fine clothes, lathering it with makeup, then quickly burying it. We are desperate to hide from the fact that death is something we all have to deal with someday.

Not so the Nepalese.

After visiting Boudhanath, Bish and I went to visit Pashupatinath, a temple by the river in Kathmandu where locals cremate their loved ones. This was incredibly confronting. Not only were we faced with the sight of bodies being cremated, but we were hit with the smell and the sound, along with the uncomfortable thought that we should have skipped this sight. It is after all a very personal time for mourners. The Nepalese do not grey Pashupataniseem to mind the intrusion though. They seem totally at ease living out their most private moments in public, sharing such a small space with 4 million other people will do that. Not only do they seem okay with visitors, but they actively encourage us. Tickets are sold at the entrance, guides are placed around to shunt tourists to the right viewing places and, not surprisingly, touts line the walls.

A cornerstone of the Buddhist faith is the belief in Karma and re-incarnation. When someone dies their soul leaves the body to be reincarnated as another human (or a cockroach depending on how much good karma they have accrued). This is a massively watered down version, but for now it will do. The body becomes an empty vessel which can be invaded by evil spirits, so it is important to destroy the body as soon as practical after death. Fire is the best way achieve this.

grey PashupataniAfter a death the cremation ceremony begins within minutes or hours. The body is shrouded, adorned with money or flowers then taken to the edge of the river. It is dipped three times in the holy river to purify it then placed gently on a pyr of wood. More wood is added, along with straw, before the first born male lights the fire. It is important that the fire start around the mouth as this is where it is believed evil spirits enter. The rest is a matter of time. After a few hours the body is considered cremated enough. The charred body (called an Astu) is taken by the first born son and released into the holy river. A caretaker sweeps the remains into the river so the soul is free from the physical world. It is customary for the son to then wash himself in the river to purify after the ceremony.

We watched a ceremony from the very start, this is a multi-sensory experience to say the least. Bish and I were uncharacteristically solemn while watching. On the drive back to the hotel I was thinking to myself that maybe I need some time alone, with my iPhone plugged in, to rationalise what I have just seen…

Boudhanath – Kathmandu’s most sacred site

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWith a second day to fill in before the rest of the expedition crew arrive, Bish and I met Arnil at 10am with plans to visit Boudhanath, the largest Stupa in Asia. Following another frenetic drive we pull up in a cloud of dust near Boudhanath.

Boudhanath is the largest Stupa in Aisa. When you view Stupas from above the layout is the same as the Mandala paintings (like Bish bought yesterday) that act as a roadmap of reincarnation. Boudhanath is teeming with Monks in orange robes turning prayer wheels as tourists poke telephoto lenses in their faces and touts try to sell hash, paintings or handicrafts. It is Mecca for Buddhists and a town unto itself, monasteries radiate out from the Stupa in all directions.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWe took a short stroll to the biggest monastery which unfortunately was closed for tourists. However, as a consellation prize we were able to climb a stairwell to gain an amazing view over the whole area. Feeling like a sniper through my camera lens I witnessed a tourist shoving his camera right into the monks’ faces whilst the Monk was praying and turning the prayer wheel, later on I saw him walk right in the front of a group of about 40 monks who were chanting to take a photo…clearly he has not read my Travel Guide Book!

After some more poking around and soaking up the atmosphere Bish and I climbed onto the Stupa itself (yes we checked, it is quite okay to do so) fortunately the monks were still praying and we spent a blissful time on the top, listening to the hypnotic chantings and humming of people preparing for an upcoming festival, which sadly we will miss due to climbing commitments.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site  
grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site

 

 

 

Bhaktapur temple in Nepal

grey Bhaktapur temple in NepalWith all our shopping done Bish and I were driving to visit a major tourist attraction near Kathmandu called Bhaktupur in the Kathmandu Valley. I should properly introduce Bish, because we are spending the next 40 days in close proximity he will pop up again. Bish, (Andrew Bishop) and I went to University together, in that we spent a year at the same residential college along with 200 other horny, drunk university students. He has a warped sense of humour, one ‘must-have’ item on extended high altitude sufferings. Bish is a geologist who describes himself as a bipolar.

 

grey Bhaktapur temple in NepalHe takes tours at both the arctic and the antarctic where he explains the geology of the regions to camera toting guests, while stopping them from kicking Penguins. As I alluded to in my last post, Bish is a big guy. At 6 foot 4, he wears size 50 boots that have to be ordered specially and he looks ridiculous folded into the back of a Suzuki swift Thamel-taxi.

Our driver Arnil was happily chatting away while swopping in and around trucks, motorbikes buzzed around our little Suzuki swift like flies. Bish and I were hanging out the window giggling like little school girls and filming the chaos of Nepali traffic.

Pulling into the car park outside Bhaktapur Arnil introduced us to his ‘friend’ Robbie who fortuitously also happened to be a tour guide. I remember this trick from my 2010 visit here. Without much ado, grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepalwe thought ‘bugger it, when in Rome…’ Robbie gave us a wonderful 3 hour tour of Bhaktupur, explaining the significance of each temple and so forth. $5 aus saved us having to refer to Lonely Planet all day and provided us with a very thorough tour.

Bhaktapur is overrun with 300 year old temples covered in exquisitely detailed wood carvings all around the outside which hardly show their age. Clearly our favorite temple was the fertility temple which is covered in erotic carvings which would make Hugh Heffner blush.

grey Bhaktapur temple in NepalDespite the slightly pushy marketers, Bhaktapur is quite an amazing place. Robbie is a local to Bhaktapur as is his father and his father’s father. Taking us away from the  touristy part of town we saw locals drying their chick peas and beans on woven mats in the street. They have shady rest areas where people come to hang out, enjoy the quiet and share a game of cards. I was invited by a potter to try my hand on his wheel, literally a car wheel spun by hand, after attracting the attention of many fellow tourists I managed to make a little bowl which resembled a dropped pie.

Following this, Robbie took us to an art school. The paintings here are so detailed that most are done with one hair brushes. They mainly depict Buddha’s life and Samsara – the road map of reincarnation. Bish was quite taken by one particular painting and, following some half-assed bartering, he is now the proud owner of an authentic student-painted Samsara painting. These paintings are special, it takes between 3 and 30 months to complete one, from the detail in the paintings, you would believe it. The masters use actual melted gold in their painting and one mistake ruins the whole thing, start again!

Leaving Bhaktupur we struck out for the Monkey Temple, a tall Buddhist temple perched in the smog on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. The Monkey temple, in itself would be quite spectacular if you removed all the touts and the tourists sticking their big lenses in the Monk’s faces. Monkeys bounce from Stupa to Pagoda while orange-robed Buddhist monks bang gongs, or just sit and enjoy the view. We didn’t spend long here, just enough to enjoy the view, get sick of touts and become fearful of a rabid monkey attack. Tomorrow we are planning to spend our last free day visiting Boudhna and the cremation place. After this we will be out of civilization, away from showers, non-solar electricity and touts for forty days…and I cannot wait!

grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal
grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal
grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal

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