Archive | July, 2012

Namaste!

22 Jul

Our trip to Nepal is one that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.  Though we tried, our words and pictures do not do it justice.  However, I am thankful for them because I know that for years to come, we will be able to relive this adventure through these stories we have shared.  And we hope that you too have gained something through them.  We want to thank everyone for taking this journey with us, sharing with us in the tears and the laughter that we experienced along the way.  It was a difficult road, in many ways, but it was made easier by the support and encouragement of our loved ones at home.  I want to thank my mom and dad for letting me tag along, always having to request a roll-away in the hotel room and squeeze in a little closer in the tiny taxis.  I am so grateful I was able to share these experiences with them.  And finally, we would like to thank the people of Nepal, without whom these stories would not have their characters, their humor, their sadness and their reality.  We were truly touched by the warmth and kindness of the Nepali people, and we hope to imbue in others their principles in life.

 

Namaste!

At Bhaktapur, an ancient Newar town in Kathmandu

A view of the Kathmandu Valley from Swayambhunath

Namaste from Nepal

 

 

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Lessons Learned

20 Jul

We arrived back in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, but our time in Nepal has stuck with us more than we could have imagined.  When I set out on this journey, I was hoping to add a few details to my Master’s thesis, but what I found was that as much as I tried, I could not escape the hold that the country had on me.  Though it is difficult to express all the things I have learned from my journey, I have had some time to reflect, and have compiled a list of things I learned.

 

  1. Learn to squat.  While most restaurants in the big cities have “Western toilets,” asking for one promises to get you strange looks.
  2. There is always room.  There is a great movie in theaters right now, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which takes place in India.  However, almost everything about it can be applied to my experiences in Nepal.  As one character says while trying to squeeze into a bus full of people, “There is always room.”  This can be said about most things in Nepal—the busses, extra guests at a local’s home, even your belly when your host fills your plate with daal bhat for the third time.
  3. Don’t eat that—but don’t be afraid to try the local food either.  Every single person we met (tourists, trekkers, aid workers) spent at least an entire day sick.  Somehow, none of us did.  We were very careful about we ate, making sure that everything was cooked before we tried it.  Thankfully, most Nepali food is cooked, and the tea is boiled.  But after a week of filling ourselves with rice and lentils, we had to force ourselves not to order salads.  With that in mind, is would be an injustice to travel to Nepal and deprive yourself of the Nepali cuisine.  Even after we came home I still craved momos, a Nepali-style dumpling, and Chicken Sekuwa, grilled spicy meat.
  4. Look up!  Yes, you will step on spit and cow dung, that part is almost inescapable.  But fussing over and side-stepping an on-coming luggie will only make you miss the beautiful scenery.  Even in the streets of Kathmandu where the mountains aren’t visible above the colorful handing garlands, the bright marigold wreaths and beads around brown necks are only the surface of the onslaught of the attack on your senses.  At every turn, a new sight, smell, feeling awaits.
  5. Don’t refuse an invitation.  If someone offers you tea, accept.  We must have insulted many people trying to rush off to make the bus get to a meeting on time.
  6. On that note- don’t expect the locals to follow the same timetable as you.  The local busses are rarely on time, and it is best not to let yourself get too frustrated.  I cant count how many times we were told, “Don’t worry about it! There’s nothing you can do.”
  7. Bring an umbrella.  I finally understand why people carry umbrellas when its not raining.  The temperatures got up to 100 degrees with little shade or wind for relief.  Almost every day we wished had brought an umbrella with us.
  8. Watch out for others’ umbrellas.  It seems that on the crowded streets of Kathmandu, you are more likely to be poked in the eye by an umbrella than mugged like most tourists in other cities.
  9. Old dogs can learn new tricks.  (Thank you Marigold Hotel, again)  Three weeks in Nepal taught me that most of the Western comforts I took for granted weren’t actually a necessity and our habits were born out of complacency and were ready to be shaken.  We got used to brushing our teeth using our sterilized water.  When we first arrived in Kathmandu, just crossing the street without crossing signals seemed a sure death wish.  We followed closely behind the locals, as my mom screamed at my dad for almost getting us run over.  After just a few days though, we learned to navigate the busy streets on our own with just a few Nepali words shouted at us that we were probably better off not understanding.
  10. The world is big, the world is small.  When I was little, there were two places in the world that I considered to be the most different, exotic and unlike anything in my own world: Kathmandu and Timbuktu.  The names just oozed adventure.  Never did I expect to actually visit one of these places.  And being there exceeded every expectation that I had accumulated in preparation.  It is a world different from my own in every way imaginable.  And yet, at its root, it is exactly the same.

 

A monkey stealing some food

Young monks

Prayer Wheels

 

 

 

Circle of Life

18 Jul

It is fitting that we ended our trip to Nepal with a visit to the holy crematorium at Pashupatinath.  On the banks of the holiest of holies, the Bagmati River, Pashupatinath represents the place of endings and beginnings to the Nepali.  It was there that we were forced to think deeply about life.  Its beginning, its end, and its purpose.  At first, to our Western sensitivities, Pashupatinath makes you hold your nose and avert your eyes.  The spectacle, the odors, the emotions of mass cremations is very difficult to accept. Yet, as with life, you learn to ponder deeper meanings.  The end merging into the beginning – the transitory emerging from the permanent.  The ceremony is most delicate.  The body is prepared, purified, presented, cremated, and then offered to the river.  The family members gather not only to attend the ceremony, but also to become participants in the act.  They wait—thinking, chatting & discussing the deceased’s life while they watch the body burn.  The sight of the flames, the smell of the ash, the heat of the fire, the taste of the rice and the sound of the mantras all become part of the family’s substance. As the ashes settle on the banks of the Bagmati and return to the earth, the four elements of life are recreated: the Earth that collects the ashes, the Wind that carries the smoke, the Fire that purifies the flesh, and the Waters of the Bagmati.  Life is renewed. Transient, yet immutable.

-Post by RPS

Note: Please be warned that some of the following images are a little graphic.  I have decided to post pictures of the cremation ceremonies because it is what this sacred place is about.  It was a beautiful and moving experience for us, and while it might be shocking to many readers from Western cultures (as it was to us at first), that is a large part of why it affected us so much.

Three monkeys silhouetted like statues at dusk in Pashupatinath

The banks of the Bagmati where the ashes meet the water

Cremation Ceremony

A colorful reminder of life in the midst of this humbling, yet sacred place