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.

Kids are the Same, Everywhere

I made some new friends at a lovely park in Mirik. They showed me their day’s catch from the creek (reminded me of when we were kids – I guess playing in a creek and catching “critters” is a universal kid thing) and taught me how to play a game with moss stamen: you do a sort of sword fight with them, and whoever loses the top of the stamen first loses the fight. It was fun,      and I actually won a few rounds. India has some beautiful green places!    DSCN5141DSCN5126DSCN5130DSCN5131 DSCN5132 DSCN5137 DSCN5138DSCN5146

Tea Time!

When one grows weary of the hussle and bussle of India that is in the capital region around Delhi, there’s a more easy pace of life to be found in the northern Indian hills of the lower Himalayas. Mirik, Darjeeling, and Gangtok are highly recommended! Here I learned the secrets of finding the right tea leaves and turning them into that magical brew that the British love so much. That basket was heavy!  It’s a good thing that I had my early training in a tobacco field. Sorry I can’t take you inside the factory – their process is secret, so they wouldn’t allow photos.

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I’m Sari…………….So Sari……….

Question: Why do Indian women have such great posture and move with such grace?
Answer: To keep their clothes on!

 

Yay, I did it! I finally got the guts to wear my first sari, and I wasn’t sorry, lol. I had some expert help in the wrapping from my friend and neighbor, Renu. Getting in and out of the car was a bit of a trick, but otherwise everything stayed nicely in place, folded and tucked where it was supposed to be.
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I chose a special family occasion to take the plunge. This is a wedding reception for the daughter of Nissan’s cousin, Remini. The wedding actually took place last week down south in Kerala, and they came back to Delhi to have another reception here for friends and family who couldn’t attend the wedding.

Another beautiful princess, Pranita will be moving to the UK next week with her new handsome husband Tom, where he is working. We will be SURE to visit.
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We all stood in line to take our turn to present our gifts and our blessings to the new bride and groom and have our photos taken with them on a fabulously decorated and lit stage. We then were treated to a lovely dinner where Nissan was able to catch up with some old childhood friends. Wonderful evening!

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What’s In a Blouse?

In the US my idea of a blouse was a loose fitting (therefore “blousy”) shirt that either buttoned down the front or perhaps had some loose ruffle, that one wears with slacks or a skirt.

Here in India, a blouse is quite a different animal. It’s one of those really cute crop tops that you wear under a sari or with a skirt and wrap.

Today I’m giving the “Friend of the Week” award to my friend and neighbor, Roohi. Well maybe of the month. I don’t know…..maybe the year, even.

So It’s wedding season in India, which means we’ll have a few events to go to, and I still don’t have a sari. Many people have been willing to help me shop for them, or even to loan one to me, but to do that I would still need to have a blouse of my own, that fits me.

A sari is just a 5 to 9 yards long piece of fabric that is draped around a petticoat and a blouse, so I could easily borrow one from a friend if I had a blouse to match. So my friend Roohi took me shopping. Said she knew just the place. After about an hour of driving, we landed somewhere in South Delhi. Big shopping area. But no blouse shop in sight. After some walking we ducked into a doorway and went up a couple of dark and narrow flights of stairs. I thought maybe I’d made her mad and she was taking me somewhere to have me whacked.

But then we opened the magic door and were in an AMAZING place! I wish I had pictures, but listen people, I don’t want to look like a stupid tourist taking pictures EVERYWHERE I go. There were “ready-made” blouses hanging all over the place, ready to be adjusted to fit just right. Four guys were sitting at old-fashioned sewing machines, stitching away, making and adjusting these beautiful little things. Alterations while-you-wait!

I had no idea how many different styles, colors, fabrics, were possible in ONE piece of clothing! We’re talking some serious bling, too!! I had to keep telling myself that NO, I didn’t need one of each. Just one silver and one gold…..to match a bunch of different saris/skirts.

With Roohi running point, sending people to fetch this or that and bringing me yet another one she’d found, I tried on about a million of them. We finally settled on two, and then she gave me one from her own collection that I could have altered to fit me as well. AND a sari for this weekend’s upcoming wedding reception AND some awesome accessories.

Thank you buddy!!!!!

Photo: What's In A Blouse? In the US my idea of a blouse was a loose fitting (therefore "blousy") shirt that either buttoned down the front or perhaps had some loose ruffle, that one wears with slacks or a skirt.  Here in India, a blouse is quite a different animal. It's one of those really cute crop tops that you wear under a sari or with a skirt and wrap. Today I'm giving the "Friend of the Week" award to my friend and neighbor, Roohi ( Harveen Salaria). Well maybe of the month. I don't know.....maybe the year, even. So It's wedding season in India, which means we'll have a few events to go to, and I still don't have a sari. Many people have been willing to help me shop for them, or even to loan one to me, but to do that I would still need to have a blouse of my own, that fits me.  A sari is just a 5 to 9 yards long piece of fabric that is draped around a petticoat and a blouse, so I could easily borrow one from a friend if I had a blouse to match. So my friend Roohi took me shopping. Said she knew just the place. After about an hour of driving, we landed somewhere in South Delhi. Big shopping area. But no blouse shop in sight. After some walking we ducked into a doorway and went up a couple of dark and narrow flights of stairs. I thought maybe I'd made her mad and she was taking me somewhere to have me whacked.  But then we opened the magic door and were in an AMAZING place!  I wish I had pictures, but listen people, I don't want to look like a stupid tourist taking pictures EVERYWHERE I go.  There were "ready-made" blouses hanging all over the place, ready to be adjusted to fit just right. Four guys were sitting at old-fashioned sewing machines, stitching away, making and adjusting these beautiful little things. Alterations while-you-wait! I had no idea how many different styles, colors, fabrics, were possible in ONE piece of clothing!  We're talking some serious bling, too!!  I had to keep telling myself that NO, I didn't need one of each.  Just one silver and one gold.....to match a bunch of different saris/skirts. With Roohi running point, sending people to fetch this or that and bringing me yet another one she'd found,  I tried on about a million of them. We finally settled on two, and then she gave me one from her own collection that I could have altered to fit me as well.  AND a sari for this weekend's upcoming wedding reception AND some awesome accessories. Thank you buddy!!!!!   :)

 

A Complicated Engagement

This beautiful Indian princess got engaged to be married this past weekend, and we were honored to be invited to their ceremony/party. It was quite the production, I must say!

The fiancee-to-be waited patiently upstairs in the bridal room while the guests watched her parents and the groom and his family “seal the deal” with an engagement ceremony. Her brother then escorted her down to meet with her beau and exchange rings. Traditionally, this is when the union of families is solemnized, and the bride and groom-to-be are introduced to each others’ families. There is exchange of gifts and blessings, and much celebration and dancing.

The center of activity looked like a Bollywood movie setup and Vanshika looked like a Bollywood princess! So lovely!

Wedding in two weeks. I can hardly wait. Stay tuned!

Baby got a little gas…….

This is how we get our gas for cooking in our neighborhood in Gurgaon. A truck comes in full of these tanks and swaps out full ones for empty ones. Each little tank is hooked up to the line that brings gas to all the kitchens in our complex. Interesting process.

                                                                                                          

Of course there’s a little fire station, in case of emergency.

Denise Burchette's photo.

One of my neighbors who saw my pictures said “Seriously! Is that safe?”

I’ve stopped asking myself such silly questions anymore.

 

Ganga

Ganga

Meet my new friend Ganga.

This sweet little thing is the new temple elephant at a Buddhist temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
We met when I was visiting there last week. I happened to be there on the day of the lunar new year, and therefore had access to areas of that temple that are only open for this one week every year.

Many temples own an elephant. They play important roles in religious ceremonies and festivals. Having an elephant at a temple is meant to bring fortune and good luck. It is also used to draw tourists and locals, who bring money.

Living in a temple doesn’t bring fortune and good luck to the poor elephant, though. They stand for long periods of time on concrete surfaces, chained in one place (notice the chain around both one hind leg and one fore leg) with limited movement. Ganga doesn’t get to run around with other little baby elephants and I’m sure he misses his family. Elephants are very social and emotional creatures, so temple life is very lonely and stressful for them.

See this page about temple elephants on Elemotion’s website for more information.
http://www.elemotion.org/elephant-tourism/temple-elephants/
Elemotion recommends that you not tip the Mahout (the elephant’s caretaker) to feed, be blessed by, or to take a picture with the elephant (but expect them to be unhappy about that – Ganga’s Mahout wasn’t happy about that at all).

The next time we go to Sri Lanka, I will plan to visit the elephant orphanage at Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe National Park. I’m guessing that the baby elephants are a little happier there. You can see a video clip here and see that little Orphan Vibhi can run and play, and splash in water, unlike poor little Ganga:
http://www.elemotion.org/our-programs/vibhishana/