Days 1 and 2: The Tibet 2010 trip starts with travel to get there; lots of travel to get there. We arrived at the Cincinnati airport for a very early departure (6:15 am). Our first stop was Newark, New Jersey, where we had a 12 hour layover. The consensus vote was to take the train into New York city for a bit of site seeing. So we did just that. We had lunch, then pretty much just wandered around town, spending the majority of our time in Central Park. In Central park we stopped at the boathouse where we drank beer and ate more food. It turns out that it was pretty hot and humid in the city that day. If we didn’t have to carry our daypacks, I think that it would have been much more enjoyable. After we’d gotten our fill of the city, we headed back to the airport for our 8:30 pm flight to New Delhi, India.
The flight to new Delhi was 14 hours. For me, the flight consisted of eating, sleeping and watching movies on my iPad and the airplane TV. At this point I should mention that one of our crew didn’t make the India Flight. Barb’s first leg flight to New Jersey was canceled. She tried to drive from Rhode Island to Newark, and made it to the airport right around 8:00, not enough time to check bags and make the flight. Barb eventually catches up with us in Kathmandu, but more about that later.
We arrived in New Delhi, and quickly were moved into a waiting area to stay over night. We arrived in new Delhi around 8:30 pm. Our short flight to Kathmandu wasn’t until 6:15 the next morning. So, we hung out, sitting, and sometimes sleeping in very uncomfortable chairs.
The flight to Kathmandu was short, and a couple of us on the left side of the aircraft tried our hardest to spot Everest and some of the other high Himalayas. We saw big peaks above the clouds, but can’t be sure exactly what they were. As we stepped off the plane in Kathmandu, it was hot and humid; pretty much the same as what we left in New York, and Cincinnati. We got our paperwork complete, got our Nepali visa and got through customs no problem. We met our guide for the week – Sunil – outside the airport. After everyone got a chance to get some Nepali money from the ATM, we headed to the hotel. The bus ride to the hotel was our first chance to see Kathmandu, and also our first chance to experience driving in Kathmandu. Both were unique. Kathmandu is a relatively small city in area, but a very dense population. There is a lot of people jammed into a very small area. Most of the buildings and houses are 3-4 stories high and every inch of land
had something on it. The poverty in Nepal was clear. Our guide mentioned that the unemployment rate was something around 50%. Although there was a lot of poverty, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of people living in the streets. They seemed to find a way to make it work.
Day 3: On our first day in Kathmandu we took it pretty easy. After checking into the hotel, we took a walk to check out the area and get a bite to eat. The shopping was all market-style with very small booths. Some items were interesting and unique, other items looked like garage-sale items and others looked like cheap Chinese tourist trinkets. We just a little bit of shopping the first day with mostly just post cards and stuff like that.
Day 4: Our second day in Kathmandu was more interesting. We visited several Hindu and Buddist worship sites. Our first visit was to Swayambhunath. At Swayambhunath is a Buddhist Stupa that is suppose to be 2,000 years old. A stupa is best described as a large stone structure, composed of a solid hemisphere of brick and earth supporting a lofty conical spire capped by a pinnacle of copper gilt. Painted on the four-sided base of the spire are the all-seeing eyes of Buddha. Our visit to Swayambhunath also gave us our first sampling of climbing lots of steps. The entrance to Swayambhunath was pretty much at the bottom of the hill. Just inside the entrance were some fountains and a fenced off area, where there were dozens of monkeys playing, including several very small baby monkeys. The monkeys were very tame, and were free to roam where ever they wanted to. After taking plenty of pictures of the monkeys, our crew labored up the steps to see the
stupa and also to see the various temples.
During our drive to Swayambhunath we were again witness to the poverty in Kathmandu. Along the drive we noticed that trash was pretty much everywhere; in the streets, in the rivers, on the sidewalks, and in the empty lots. We also observed more than once someone urinating pretty much anywhere they pleased. Later in the day we saw a lady dumping a whole basket of trash into the river. We asked our guide why she would be doing that. And, the guide told us, “because nobody has told them not to.” Seems very simple, but if you aren’t taught the values of cleanliness and conservation, then why would you know any better.
Also, along the drive to Swayambhunath we were able to experience the true thrill of driving in Kathmandu. It was aggressive driving at its finest. Our bus driver would stop for almost nothing. And, the other vehicles on the road applied the same strategy. There were very few street lights or signs. So, the drivers actions were based more on predicting what the other guy was going to do rather than any stationary guide posts. I actually found it very amazing that such chaos could exist without having many accidents. But, it was very clear that there was a particular skill in observing the other guys intentions, then reacting on them. I actually felt that this was much more efficient – albeit more stressful – than the western style of vehicle navigation. Needless to say it was stressful for the passengers if you allowed yourself to watch out the windows too much.
The second place that we visited was a Hindu populated area. Here we visited Durbar Square, where several hindu celebrations and ceremonies seemed to be going on. We also visited the temple of the Living Goddess. Although I missed the majority of the story of this Goddess, the basic gist is that a young Buddhist girl is chosen at a very young age. Notice that this is a Buddhist girl to serve a Hindu role. This girl must meet 32 very specific physical characteristics, such as soft light skin, small feet and have a body with the shape of a banyun tree. This girl lives essentially in isolation until she reaches womanhood, but at times she acknowledges the greetings of the devotees from the balcony of her temple residence. In addition, we saw several Hindu temples, and also the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, the ancient residence of the Nepalese Royalty. One of the more interesting, but a bit creepy, parts of this particular stop was the many Hindu holy men
that were in the area of the square. They were bizarre looking to say the least, with long grey beards, and wearing strange colored beads and other things in their hair and beards. They also were primarily dressed in orange. The creepy thing about them is that their primary job was begging for money. One of their main sources of money it seems was getting tourists to pay them for allowing them to take pictures of them. If you aimed your camera anywhere near one of these characters, you would surely have him walk up to you with a big smile asking if you wanted to pay to take his picture. Holy men?… I wonder.
The next place that we visited was Boudhanath. This was a huge Buddhist stupa, one of the biggest in the world. Around the perimeter of the Stupa was a nice shopping area, probably one of the cleanest areas that we had visited in Kathmandu yet. We ate lunch in this square, and also visited a very nice artist studio, where the artists specialized in Buddhist Thanka paintings. Several of our group bought beautiful Buddhist paintings ranging from $20 to over $1,000. We also did the requisite clockwise walk around the Stupa. I’ll mention here that Buddhists always travel clockwise when walking around a monastery, stupa or other religious location. So, we did so also. By far one of the neatest things that we did was sit in on a Buddhist monk chant. Right after we ate lunch, our guide led us down into what was essentially a small apartment off of the square. In this room, there was a group of about a dozen monks chanting. Our guide arranged for us
to sit in on this for about 10 minutes. It was totally awesome and the rhythm of the chant, following the beat of the drum, was just beautiful. Such a simple and very basic ceremony for them I’m sure, but for us, it was a very unique experience.
The last place that we visited for the day was another Hindu location; Pashupatinath. Pashupatinath temple is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. We weren’t actually allowed to go into the temple this time. It was for Hindu only. The temple is located along the banks of the Bagmati River. After viewing the entrance to the temple, our guide took us around back to the bank of the river. This is were the people of the temple performed ceremonies for their deceased. We didn’t view full ceremonies but we did see several parts, including placing of the deceased on a platform near the river, and the finale which is full cremation. For the cremation, the deceased were cremated on stone platforms right along the river bank. After the body was fully burned, the ashes and remains were swept into the river. This was interesting and slightly disturbing to us, but we recognized that it was a ritual that had probably been around for
hundreds or thousands of years..
Tomorrow we head to Tibet…