Nepal (part 7: Last days)

The change from the calm atmosphere, beautiful surroundings and clean air in the monastery made Kathmandu look like a mad house. We had two nights booked in a modernish little hotel downtown, where I had my first coffee in weeks!

We arrived in Kathmandu at lunchtime and simply wandered through the old town, took a bit of a ‘guided tour’ for a reckommended walk in our guide book. We had changed so much! We had become confident in crossing the roads, navigating the narrow lanes packed with people, coped with the noise and the dust…! (Photos from that walk in the last post…).

On our last full day, we visited Patan, which appears to be more or less part of Kathmandu these days, as those old small independent city states have grown geographically and have become part of the ‘Kathmandu Valley’. We saw the main sites, the Durbar Square, old palace, old city, bazaar… again – it was devastating to see the earthqake damage. img_8992img_8986

There were artisans working everywhere, welding, painting, beating cotton prior to sewing it into mattresses… img_9046img_9060

Patan must be the place with the highest number of worship sites per square metre in the world! Wherever we looked, there was prayer, incense, offerings.img_9063img_9062img_9028img_8997img_9042

The bazaar was simply stunning…img_9096img_9094img_9091img_9089img_9088img_9054img_9057

In the evening we were taken out by our travel agents. We had a very fun evening in a very noisy restaurant with plenty of food and drink and dance.

We had no plans for our very last day, happy to let things just evolve – and evolve they did! We got picked up by one of the founding members of the travel agency to view the school he had founded. He is an extraordinary man boundless energy, vision, organisational talent and a huge heart!  img_9105

Apart from learning so much about this incredible school, it was amazing to look out from the buildings rooftop and spot the local dairy farm (remember, we are in the CBD of Kathmandu!), kids playing, mothers showering their children with a garden hose…img_9100img_9103img_9101img_9099

After that private tour, he took us to his nearby home and we met his entire family! Parents, siblings, nieces… and had a wonderful long lunch and conversations. What a way to end these amazing three weeks!img_9118 img_9129 img_9131 img_9140

The final goodbyes…, I won’t say anything about those…img_9157

We have been back now for 4 weeks. Whilst I do get carried away with worries and stresses that come with our insanely complex life style, in those moments I try to recall any of those wonderful experiences and imagine what the Buddha would advise me to do… and often I hear him say “this is merely a First World worry…”.img_9097

 

 

Calling mum

Today would be, IS, my mother’s birthday. She died nearly 20 years ago, six weeks after my father – it was an unimaginable tragedy. They were so young, late fifties and early sixties, when they both succumbed to terminal illnesses. My sadness, all our sadnesses were endless for their lost lives, their incompleted lives and it then seemed, this bottomless sadness was never ever going to end. But everybody who has lived through grief knows that humans get through tragedy somehow, receiving scars and bumps and burns. It becomes part of us, makes us who we are, it doesn’t go away.

Grief is an ever changing process. For so many years now, my grief is really all about me, my loss, my children’s loss, our family’s loss. All the love we have missed out on! All the moments of sharing successes or losses, when “you have to ring to tell mum/ granny”. My parents never lived to find out I had two more children…img_9280

Today is also a day of celebration, indeed a day I would desperately want to share with my parents and make that phone call!

It is exactly a year ago that I returned to my first career as theatrical tailor. Last January I made my first tailored coat in nearly 20 years, it was for the character of Jean Valjean for the Manila production of Les Miserables. Today I have finished the same coat, for the same character (different performer), but the Brazil production. This coincidence, finishing this coat on my personal ‘coat making coming out of hiatus anniversary’ and my mother’s birthday so makes me want to ring her and share one of the biggest mysteries of life: you win some, you lose some – we never know what happens next, you just don’t know how things will turn out. Be in the moment, spot opportunities, grab them with both hands, be always guides by your heart.

Happy Birthday, mum.

Nepal (part 6 Chitwan – Pharping)

We sighed upon leaving Lumbini. Despite it’s deep significance in Buddhist terms, it was a dusty, grey and dirty place and the hotel we stayed in was a soulless establishment. The whole place was submerged in fog every morning, until way after lunch – so all inall, it was a confusing and eerie place.

On our way to Chitwan National Park we took a few wrong turns and only realised our errors as we drove through a “Welcome to India” arch! Oops, we took a u- turn quicksmart and continued on our way to Chitwan.

One of the most significant experiences for us in Chitwan, with our hotel right on the river, surrounded by greenery – was the realisation of how much we take GREEN and CLEAN for granted, how much we just feel entitled to have all this clean nature around us!img_8786img_8782

But right after that comes the experience of WILD animals, which was pretty awesome! So, elephants in the street.img_8780

Rhinos bathing in the river at dusk.img_8843

We did an elephant ride into the park and saw rhinos from very close, that was pretty amazing! (No photos).

Crocs everywhere along the riverbank. img_8833 img_8831img_8836

Cheeky monkeys in trees (no photos).

We did a wonderful guided walk through a village adjacent to the park and were privileged to see how people live. These communities were supported by various international Aid projects that provided toilets and biogas in the individual homes.img_8802 img_8810img_8827img_8824img_8806img_8792img_8791img_8788

After 3 nights at Chitwan, we took forever to get back to Kathmandu… 8 hrs for a 100km journey. Here is why it took so long (hint: potholes, road repair, slow trucks, mountains, goats on roads…):img_8847 img_8848 img_8856 img_8868 img_8871 img_8873 img_8874 img_8882

To be exact, we went through Kathmandu to Pharping, where we stayed for 2 nights in a Buddhist monastery. img_8913 img_8915img_8902img_8906img_8903

We joined the monks in prayer / meditation. img_8963 img_8964 img_8967

We also had a private meditation lesson with a Tibetan senior monk. He taught in Tibetan and had an interpreter to translate into English. Again, I loved hovering in the kitchen to observe how our meals were prepared.

One afternoon we took a guided walk with a young monk into the local village and saw more holy sights. And more monks… on bikes, on mobile phones, playing soccer… monks everywhere!img_8948img_8921img_8926img_8936img_8937img_8927img_8954img_8950img_8951img_8953

On our last morning, the monks sat their 3 hour ethics exams in front of the temple. At sunrise. Right after morning prayer.img_8971

It was a short drive to Kathmandu, but as we walked the streets in Kathmandu, we felt that we had traversed the universe – the contrast between the two locations could not have been more dramatic!img_8982img_8981img_8978img_8974

 

 

Nepal (part 5 Tansen – Lumbini)

The drive to Tansen should have only taken 4 hours (80 km or so), but by now we were not surprised to arrive mid-afternoon… driving is simply very slow in Nepal, even along the major national routes! There are so many mountains to climb, trucks to get stuck behind, potholes to dodge, cows to evade…

Whilst the girls recovered from their bug and spent a lot of time resting, I just enjoyed walking the streets.img_8547img_8544img_8588img_8590img_8606img_8591img_8586img_8552img_8558

I came across this small fabric factory, dark and dusty, and I thought it was a miracle how this beautiful traditional cloth can be produced here! The women sit on the dirt, and the looms are on the ground level. The daily wages are 120 rupees / $ 1.50.img_8595img_8596img_8603img_8605

One day we visited Ranigat, an old baroque palace at the bank of the Gandaki river, which is currently being restored.img_8579img_8572img_8561img_8563img_8575img_8577

I loved cooking with the lady of the house every night and learning how to prepare Nepali dishes.img_8613img_8616

After 3 nights we drove to Lumbini, Buddha’s birth place. The dive was very interesting. It got dryer, flatter and dustier the more we moved towards the Indian border. And poorer… the ‘shops’ got smaller, and the humpies more frequent.img_8698 img_8692img_8631

We worked out that Lumbini is a huge place that attracts a lot of poor country folk, and everybody tries to make a living, but not everybody succeeds.img_8623img_8659img_8695img_8696

There was another major site near our hotel, the World Peace Pagoda, which looked very lovely in the afternoon sun.img_8709 img_8712 img_8715img_8711

In the morning we set out to explore the huge Monastic zone, where Buddhists from all over the world have built, or are still in the process of building, monasteries.img_8721 img_8722 img_8723 img_8724 img_8725 img_8726 img_8728 img_8744 img_8745 img_8750 img_8751img_8749img_8755

Buddha’s actual birthplace is housed in the Maya Devi temple. We joined a long queue of mainly Tibetan folk in traditional dress, many were chanting prayers, others were conducting lively conversations on their mobiles! LOL?img_8732 img_8736 img_8731img_8737img_8738

 

Nepal (part 3 Pokhara – Ghorepani)

We stayed in a very plain guesthouse near Pokhara, which eased us into the standard of tea houses on our trek. Yes, there was a power point in the bedroom, but the wifi was patchy and there was no heating in the building. Welcome to Nepal! We just went with the flow.img_8435

We started our trek, the Annapurna Panorama trek, in Nayapul. Very soon there were no more cars/ jeeps, just donkey trains and cows.

img_8446We met primary school kids walking to school for 1 hour, they live through adventures by the time they get to school!img_8463

Small shops still selling snacks and drinks every few metres.img_8442

Stunning scenery. And after many hours of walking, we reached the guesthouse at Tikkedhunga. We all enjoyed the mountain food. I just loved plain garlic soup or boiled local veg or Dhal Bhat. The girls lived on pasta and more Western style foods. img_8452img_8456

Day 2 of the trek did not differ much from day 1. Improved views of the mountains, but apart from that… more puppies, goats, fury cows, guest houses. img_8505 img_8465 img_8469 img_8471

Well, actually, we got to know our Sherpa a bit better, and our two porters! Whilst we are used to carry our own stuff on hikes here in Australia (tents, food AND water!), we did what people do here, and hired two porters. It felt awkward in the beginning, but then we just went with the flow and accepted the ways of this country and felt ok about the arrangement – we were providing vital cash for 3 families!

In the guest houses where we stopped for lunch, or where we stayed the night, we were served by the Sherpa and the porters, which didn’t sit well with us initially. Whilst we had beautiful conversations with them, in broken English, we never shared a meal. It’s just not done. Period.img_8479img_8481img_8488img_8474

At he evening of day 2 we reached Gorepani and stayed in a fairly large guesthouse. The super perk here was that there was a big fireplace in the communal lounge area and the OVEN PIPE went through our bedroom! Huzzah!img_8492

We got up really early, at 5am, and walked (stumbled, rather) in the freezing dark of the night 1,5km up Poon Hill, to watch the sun rise over the entire Annapurna mountain range. It was magic!img_8495 img_8496 img_8498 img_8499

Nepal (part 2 Kathmandu – Pokhara)

I get so exited sometimes that I just cannot sleep, like when I am in the snow or travel… so on day 2 in Kathmandu, I was wired as… when I woke up and HAD to go on a walk through Thamel with Patrick before breakfast. It was exiting to see the shopkeepers setting up their kiosks, dogs stretching their limbs, people sweeping (forever sweeping…), kids walking to school…

After breakfast we visited Pashupatinath, yet another Unesco World Heritage site. This is one of the most revered Hindu pilgrimage sites and cremation ghats situated at the Bagmati river. The place had a very special atmosphere; families praying with holy men for their loved ones in one place, bodies being cremated in other places, and everywhere monkeys and holy men… I was very proud of our girls taking everything in and being so open minded and respectful. img_8305img_8300img_8311

In the afternoon we visited Bhaktapur, one beautiful small town that suffered terrible damage in the earthquake. Sadly, it also suffered severe damage in the 1934 earthquake and international aid enabled the rebuilding of this architectural masterpiece and then 2015 struck and… destroyed all that beauty yet again…img_8340 img_8347 img_8350img_8335img_8336img_8316img_8351

And then it was my birthday! Now I won’t expect this sort of surprise every birthday – because it was just amazing… Patrick took me to MOUNT EVEREST before breakfast in a tiny airplane!!! And as if that was not enough of a treat – our beautiful travel agency arranged for a cake and they all came to sing happy birthday for me and to send us off to our trip to Pokhara and trekking adventure!img_8385img_8375img_8371

The rest of the day we spent in the bus, travelling 200km took us all day – and I did not have a single dull moment looking out of the car window… tailors with their pedling machines mending clothes on the pavement, women washing themselves and their children at the public cold water tap, children playing, men quilting mattresses, lads fixing motorbikes, dogs sleeping, goats nibbling, cows chewing.img_8394 img_8396 img_8398 img_8402 img_8406

i was amazed to arrive in Pokhara – a substantial city – and still see goats and cows treating the roads as their territory, fires being lit on the pavement for groups of people to huddle together to continue conversations after dark, veggie patches institutionalised at every empty space between housing… all in all, just a huge village, really!

On the following day, we spent the day in Pokhara looking at various sites. Temples, museums, the lake… the most impressive two experiences were the Tibetan refugee camp and a boat ride on the lake, where we saw two boat loads of Buddhist monks reinacting the Pirates of the Caribbean thing – it was very funny!img_8417 img_8418 img_8419 img_8421 img_8423 img_8433

Nepal

 

Mid December we embarked on a wonderful journey, we travelled to Nepal with our girls. This trip had been planned for months, and I was so exited to go, I had to keep pinching myself as we finally boarded the plane.

Due to a series of unfortunate events, I was locked out of Facebook and WordPress during our trip, which did not bother me at the time and I was very happy to just take it all in without sharing it at the time. Being back at home now for two weeks, in full swing of work and deck rebuilding, I do have the urge to recount the highlights of this wonderful time, so here we go.

When we arrived in Kathmandu (late at night) we received a very warm welcome and were picked up by our Nepalese travel agent and it felt that we had landed on a new planet. The dust, the hooting, the busyness of the streetscape was just amazing. For the first few days we stayed in a very nice hotel in Thamel, in the heart of Kathmandu.img_8291

img_8284Though the big earthquake, in which 6500 people lost their lives, was 18 months ago, it is evident wherever you look, that rebuilding efforts are being made and will continue for years to come. We saw no machinery being used in the building work, just elbow grease and a few shovels. Many women work on the sites to clear rubble and clean bricks. Often their children play alongside their mothers.img_8297img_8327img_9033img_9036

Whilst taking in all these new sounds, sights and smells we started a bit of sightseeing, which helped us to categorise some of the ‘impression overload’.

We started at Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple, which is situated on a hilltop, towering above the city, but still clouded in its dust and noise. It is a big Buddhist temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site – but rather than being a museum or place of detached reverence, it was a site for picnics, prayer, selling trinkets, begging and more. Dogs and monkeys everywhere. It became quickly evident to us that no religion is practiced in its purist form here, Buddhism and Hinduism borrow iconography and Gods from one another and spirituality is everywhere… wherever you turn a corner in Kathmandu, there will be a big or small shrine with incense, a prayer wheel, offerings, candles…

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In the afternoon we visited Durban Square, which suffered a lot of damage in the earthquake.

Driving through Kathmandu is so exiting. Our driver was very skilful, not only navigating the narrow streets, but dodging cars, motorbikes, pedestrians, dogs, goats and cows! Makeshift temporary accommodation for earthquake victims is part of the streetscape, like behind this pile of rubble.img_8267img_8353img_8279