Remembering Kathmandu

Although I was excited to visit Nepal, my first impression of its capital city, Kathmandu, was, well, less than spectacular. I actually had the thought that I should re-name it “Krap-mandu”. Nissan also, even before we had completed the distance between the airport and the hotel, said, “Maybe we should have gone somewhere else.” It looked like just another dirty, polluted, over-crowded, poverty-stricken town with terrible roads and chaotically congested traffic. We could have stayed right in the Delhi area and seen plenty of that.

But then we started taking a closer look. And then we started to look further out. And then we started to see. We started to see a lot. We found that there are many strange and interesting things to see and do, if one should visit Kathmandu. Here are a few. Darbur Square. Such an Indo-Chinese juxtaposition of Asian pagodas and ancient Hindu temple architecture.

A cremation in progress at the funeral ghat outside a temple, by a holy river. They disrobe the bodies before cremation and toss the clothing aside, to be cleaned up later. The families can sit in the rooms behind if they want, to watch.

Just upstream a bit from the cremation pyres, one family completes the final pre-cremation rituals by the water while the next family waits patiently for their turn. It was a busy day at the ghat.

See the guy in the white polo shirt in the middle there? That’s my husband, having gone down for a closer look. He could blend in with locals, so he wasn’t disruptive. I had to keep a distance, as it would have been more obvious that I didn’t quite belong there. He said it was really sad watching and hearing the families say their final goodbyes. I could hear one woman wailing from across the river. The circle of life isn’t always a happy one.

An enterprising little boy in Nepal, taking advantage of a school holiday to play priest and hawk his blessings, offering to anoint the foreheads of passersby with red tikka for a small “donation”. C’mon, who wants to be first?! He called (in Nepali- our local guide translated). He was just too cute.

A closer look at a pyre from the other side. If you look closely, you can see the feet hanging out on the right side. This guy was a little too tall for the platform I guess. Nissan has a better picture of that, but I thought better of sharing it with you. It’s a little gross, I think. It would also probably be disrespectful of this guy and his family, so don’t want to be insensitive. We were just so morbidly curious about this tradition,having never seen it before.

Some “holy men” hanging out at the ghat. Don’t miss the ghostly looking one lying down on left. He’s covered in ash.

A little music on the square on a Sunday afternoon. Until recently you would not have seen women playing. Progress. You’ll notice the two women on the left are wearing matching clothes. That outfit is the traditional Nepali dress.

Getting the day’s water from the well. No buckets and pulleys here, just a rope and an old plastic container. Strong people. They take it home and then, for the drinking water, they pour it through a funnel, which has a filter in it, into empty 2 liter plastic soda bottles.

Some old masters playing the ancient game of Tigers and Goats, the national game of Nepal. It’s kind of like an uneven game of checkers, with a little more strategy. Let’s play it sometime!

Spa Day.

A pedicure involves getting your toes painted. Not just the toeNAILS, mind you. The bottoms of the toes, too (see the finished product drying in the background). The older ladies have tattoos (they seem to be all on the lower leg, or at least that was what was visible to me in the ladies on which I spotted them). They believe that when they die, it will be gift for the gods.

These crazy-looking contraptions were everywhere. Even on the main roads. They look like a roto-tiller mated with a wagon. This just makes you say “HUH??”

A miniature stupa, which is what they call a Buddhist temple. They all have these eyes on all four sides. I always felt like I was being watched. Those iconic eyes with the upside-down question mark nose are so prevalent, in fact, that they have become a symbol of Nepal. They are called Buddha eyes, or wisdom eyes. You can read more about them here if you want: http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/buddha_eyes.htm

I remember it being a big deal when my babies started to eat solid food. But it wasn’t THIS big of a deal. Nepalis have a ritual around a baby’s first time eating cereal. The child wears one of these fancy duds for breakfast that day.

A couple of hard working ladies. These girls were collecting cardboard to sell for recycling.

Preparing a giant chariot for next week’s festival.

See the progression of statues from the bottom. Each being represented is said to have 100 X the power of the one before. First man, then elephant, then dragon god, then…I forgot what that other one was.

Pottery Square in Bhaktapur, just outside of Kathmandu. You just have to see it.

Once you get out of Kathmandu to the foothills of the Himalayas, the scenery is amazing. People also come here for birdwatching. I think you could probably spot a “lifer” here.

A close-up view of a stupa. Those eyes again. And you can’t see them well here, but inside each of those little dark recesses around the rim is a prayer wheel. I learned a new word here: circumambulate. It means walk around in a circle. People “circumambulate” around the stupa, reaching in to turn the prayer wheels as they go. We happened to be there at night, on a full moon, during a festival (by accident and without my camera) the first night we arrived. The place was hopping (and spinning).

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I’d heard of little ones being called “a living doll”, but never a “living goddess”. She’s called the Kumari Devi. Chosen by a group of Buddist monks among 3-4 year olds from a certain place, via a complicated set of assessments and rituals, she is said to be the reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga. But only until her first menstruation. Then she returns to a normal mortal life and they have to find a new one. We saw her at her house in Kathmandu, the Kumari Ghar. A group of us was standing in a courtyard underneath a special window waiting to see her appear. She came to the window for about 30 seconds during which she stared at us and we stared back. It was a little awkward. Photos were strictly prohibited, so I couldn’t take a picture. This is a stock photo from the web. She did have on her red clothes and her face paint, as always. Hers is a strange and interesting story.

Amazing view of the Himalayas from a plane we took for that purpose. It seemed easier and faster than trekking it. The farthest peak in the upper right corner is Mt. Everest.

My husband’s idea of mountain climbing.

Should we return, I’m not sure how much of that we would see, unfortunately. Only three weeks after our visit, it changed drastically. Following yesterday’s 7.9 earthquake just outside Kathmandu (we felt significant tremors up to 5.0 all the way down here in the Delhi area), centuries old temples and other ancient structures are crumbled to rubble, more than 1800 people are dead, and base camp at Mt. Everest is severely damaged due to the quake as well as resultant avalanche. A very sad day. I wonder about the fate of the people in my photographs. I will never know how they fared. Prayers and hugs for the lovely people there. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to meet them and to have my pictures by which to remember them and their fascinating city the way it then was.

One thought on “Remembering Kathmandu

  1. Great photos. I have such wonderful memories of Kathmandu as well and am saddened by the loss and devastation that has hit the country. I wish the wonderful people of Nepal a sufficient recovery.

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