Himalayans Featuring Nepal (काठमाडौं, नेपाल ); Tibet ( ल्हासा तिब्बत)

KATHMANDU, NEPAL:

After spending several weeks in India, we took a short flight to Kathmandu to check out the cultural and climate differences.  Located in the Himalayan mountains, this interesting city is a thriving mix of sophistication and rural “old west”.  NOTE: You will need a VISA to enter Nepal.  One may obtained at the airport after you arrive.  Please be sure to have two recent passport photos ready to use along with (of course) your passport, VISA application (provided at airport entry) and $25 cash per VISA.

We stayed at the Hotel Shambala, a brand new contemporary establishment complete with great accommodations, modern luxuries, two restaurants, and even a roof-top infinity pool and bar. I loved Hotel Shambala and would highly recommend it if visiting Kathmandu.

Once you step outside of Shambala, you might find yourself thinking that you have entered a movie set of an old spaghetti western. Although, instead of horses and covered wagons, you will find cows roaming along the thick dusty streets, motors-scooters,  rickshaws and screaming ambulances. It is all extremely exciting! But, be sure to experience the sites outside of the streets of Kathmandu as well .  Make plans to head to the many temples, Buddhist stupas, the gorgeous Himalayans with views of the world famous Mount Everest, and the many outstanding restaurants and wealthy hotels.

PEACE, LOVE, and WHATEVER ELSE COMES

First, a bit of Kathmandu history: For a much broader and thorough history visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Kathmandu 

For my purposes, I’m only going to back to the wild and wacky days of the 1950’s until the mid 1970’s. Apparently, Kathmandu was the great escape for the hippie crowd.  There have even been songs written about this phenomena. Remember the popular song by Three Dog Night, The Road to Shambala. (While staying at the Hotel Shambala, it was difficult to get this particular song out of my head). And, let’s not forget the great Bob Seger’s K-K-K-K-K-K-Kathmandu hit!. The allure of Kathmandu encompassed an inexpensive way to see the world while interacting with customs that were not clearly understood or accepted back home in the Western World.  Hippie Trail

Traveling with a guitar, backpack, and spare change in your pockets with the ability to survive on about a dollar or less a day inspired young people of the Hippie subculture to make this particular pilgrimage. Colorful painted VW vans made for comfortable accommodations if one preferred a more primitive lifestyle and recreational drugs such as LSD, Marijuana, Methamphetamines, and Cocaine were easily assessable and since many of these substances were used by the spiritual communities, such substances were not deemed threatening to the local authorities.  Another appeal was the growing trend of mountain climbing. Being in close proximity to some of the “mountain greats” along China, Pakistan, Nepal, etc. with access to famed beauties like Mount Everest, Chogori K2, Mount Elbrus, Annapurna, and even Mount Khuiten in Mongolia, hippies were given a challenge and purpose to spend extended periods of time in the Nepalese region. Surprisingly, there are still (aging) hippies living in Kathmandu today. Though many are homeless and do not seem to know who or where they are, some have developed thriving restaurants, Inns, shops, and other business establishments.

For more information on the popular mountain climbs of the world, including the Himalayan and Pakistani regions, check out this great book at your local library:

The Boys of Everest

SHIVA, HINDUS, BUDDHIST, & OTHER TEMPLES

Oh, there are SO MANY temples located in Kathmandu and the near-by towns that there is no way I can give an adequate summary of this subject.  I’m going to instead try to give a brief description of the ones that we saw. I will begin with the one that I still think of to this day: the Bagmati River. The temple we visited there was called Pashupatinath and is dedicated to Shiva and considered one of the holiest places by the Hindus and Buddhists alike. I don’t have a great understanding of Shiva and recommend a visit to: http://www.saivism.net/articles/worship.asp for more information on the subject. While visiting this temple, we listened to repetitive uttering of the Siva mantras while witnessing dozens of public cremations. It was cool to see families and friends sharing a spiritual meal on blankets while children played and chased one another, monkeys scrambled in chaos, and cows and goats roamed among it all.

Daylight Cremations
Daylight Public Cremations
Spiritual meals are served near the river
Children play among the cows, monkeys and goats during cremations.
An alter is ready for the ceremony
The higher up in the caste system, the more glorious a cremation. Marigolds signify a high standing in society.
Bagmati River
Local Nappanese locals await cremations of loved ones.
Pashupatinath Temple on Bagmati River, Nepal
Family prepare the fires in preparation for the body of the deceased the arrive.
Bagmati River, Nepal
Worshipers, mourners and spectators witness live cremation.
Bagmati River, Nepal
Domestic animals are viewed at sacred, yet are often sacrificed as an offering to the Gods.
Watchful monkey goes about the day.
Beware of the monkeys on the loose in both Nepal and India. They bite, will attack steal and fight when threatened. Some carry the Rabies Virus. It’s best to photograph from a distance.
Spiritual meals
Spiritual meal taken during live cremations. Many observers wear facial masks to protect their lungs from the harsh cremation smoke and other pollutants.
Nepal Army Band
When the dead was a person high in the Caste System, it is not uncommon to see public officials present or even the army band performing for the ceremony.
Laying of the body
The family lays the body on the alter in preparation for cremation. Fire alone will not destroy the body. The dead is first prepared with various herbs, oils, and ointments in order for the cremation to thoroughly send the body’s soul to rest.
Nepanese Army Solders
Respect is paid to the dead based upon the Caste System.
Curious Monkey hunts for food scraps
Monkeys invade the streets and river
Corpse remains into the river
Remains of the corpse are disposed of into the river, causing concern for environmentalists.

After the Bagmati experience, we headed to the Boudhanath, Bhadgaon and Dhulikhel temples.  The Boudhanath is home to one of the world’s largest Buddhist stupas.  A stupa is a solid pyramid-like structure containing religious relics that is used as a place of meditation. These are seen all over Nepal and even Tibet, which I will talk about later.

A visit to 9th century Bhadgaon features the royal residential quarters of King Bhupatindra Malla and also the Nytapola Temple.

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KUMARI, THE LIVING GODDESS

In Nepal, a Kumari is a young girl selected usually around the age of five from the Shakya caste or Bajracharya clan of the Nepalese Newari community. The Kumari is worshipped by some Hindus as well as Buddhists in Nepal and believed to be a “living goddess”. There are several Kumaris throughout Nepal, but the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu, and she lives in the Kumari Ghar, a palace in the center of the city. The selection process for her is especially rigorous and if a girl is chosen, she only gets limited visits from her natural family.  Private tutors are hired for her lessons and she is carried everywhere when she’s in public, as her “feet are never to touch the ground”.  When I first heard this, I was terribly concerned: Would her young undeveloped leg muscles become weak with atrophy? Would she require physical therapy or another form of rehabilitation from lack of using her legs? Then I later learned that she is able to run and play in her private quarters, as much as any typical child is able to do.

When her first menstruation begins, it is believed that the “goddess” vacates her body. Serious illness or a major loss of blood from injury are also causes for loss of deity. She is then returned to her family to lead a normal life and is replaced by a new Kumari.  (But if this happens, the former Kumari is viewed by all with honor and dignity for the rest of her life.) Although public smiles from the Kumari are considered rare,  legend has it that if the she does smile at a lucky worshiper, that person will be blessed with good luck or great fortune very soon. Below is the reigning Kumari or “Living Goddess” of Nepal:

Kumar-Living Goddess

For more information on this unusual topic, check out the following book:book2 (2)

FLIGHT-SEEING THE HIMALAYAN MOUNTAINS AND STUNNING MOUNT EVEREST

If you have traveled this far, it would be a shame to miss out on the beauty of the Himalayan countryside and visions on beautiful Mount Everest.  Sight-seeing flights can be booked at the Nepal Airport and based upon visibility, operate daily. The 45 minute flight offers an opportunity to visit the cockpit of the airplane and take close-to-perfect photographs of the lovely Everest landscape. If you can swing this excursion, do it!

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PATAN, NEPAL

Our final destination before returning home to America was Patan, also known as Lalitpur or the “City of Beauty”. Filled with Hindu and Buddhist temples (and more monkeys than you can count), you will also find the famous Durbar Square.  The square is home to a cluster of pagoda temples and stone statues.  I will leave the reader with a final impression of this interesting country of Nepal with a kaleidoscope of photos seen above.

“Subha-yatra” and “Feri bhetaula” for now.  As always, SAFE and happy travels to all!

NEXT UP: LHASA, TIBET

Welcome to Tibet ( ल्हासा तिब्बत). This is somewhat of a tricky region to visit as permission for entry must be granted by the local government.  To ensure a successful entry, book your trip through a reputable travel company.  We used GATE1 (Discovery Travel).  A VISA is required, but can only be obtained through the travel company.

We flew from Xian, China to Tibet. Lhasa is 11,000 feet above sea level and going there requires good physical condition and prescription air sickness medication and inhalers (for Asthma). Most hotels will provide humidifiers to keep the air in your room moist and oxygen tanks can be rented as a further precaution.  Neither my husband nor I had any difficulties with this trip, but it is not a suitable climate for everyone.

Upon arrival everyone entering Tibet is greeted with a White Silk Prayer Scarf.  This is true of other places in the Himalayan region. Our first stop was the world famous Potala Palace, the former residence to the Dalai Lama. Climbing to the very top of the Potala Palace will give you the best views of the beautiful Himalayan Mountains. Next, we made our way to the Barkhor Street Bizarre where we witnessed thousands of pilgrims traveling the circled street to the temple to praise and worship their Gods.  Yak is the most popular food in this region and we did get to sample this meat as well as several other Tibetan delicacies.

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The following day, we visited the Jokang Temple and Sera Monastery. Here, enjoy Buddhist monks debate in public about issues both unknown nor understood by most tourist.  Later enjoy some of the local cuisine and an interesting shopping experience.

We stayed at the Lhasa Xin Ding Grand Hotel, Lhasa, Tibet which I highly recommend.

For more information on this very cool destination, please visit : https://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/tibet/lhasa

Jema jay-yong or, So long for now. We LOVED Tibet, but getting to this lovely country is somewhat difficult so it might be our one and only visit.  But, it will remain in our hearts always.