The alarm goes off at 5am and I’m not really sure what’s happening. It takes a few seconds to get my bearing and shut it off. We’ve agreed on taking a pre sunrise walk and get dressed and head out.
The streets are near empty this time of day, but there is stirring all around as we slowly walk through the back streets of Kathmandu. That sounded almost ominous but in reality are almost all the streets in Kathmandu to be seen as back streets. They wind through the city with narrow paths and as soon as the people start coming out with crowded frenzy.
We find a bridge over an intersection and stop there to watch the sunrise. Not much to be seen really as the fog and smog(?) is heavy. We walk on and have just the faintest idea where we’re heaeding. But are we glad we did this morning tour.
The streets start to fill with people, cars, motorbikes and bikes. People are setting up their “shops” in the street and are selling everything from sweat pants to carrots. Old and young alike are up and about and the street went from sleepy to busy in a heartbeat with the sun. We also find several small temples along our path. Temples heavily used by passers by who sound a bell or turn a prayer wheel for good fortune.
There are a few beggars, but probably less than should be expected in a city devastated by earthquakes a few years back. Several of the houses are clearly showing the damages from these quakes. Some are just held up by their neighboring buildings while others are held up by support beams. It feels like some of these houses could come crumbling down at any minute.
We seriously consider buying face masks as the dust is floating all around. The ladies brushing the streets are not helping in this regard and we sometimes take another route to avoid walking into a veritable sand storm.
At one point we have to take out a phone and view the map to find our position. We’ve done good and are almost back at the hotel.
The breakfast is just lovely here at Holy Himalaya and I’ve written this first passages of the day while enjoying my third cup of coffee. Yup, they even got a real coffee machine and the staff here makes beautiful morning coffee. It’s now eight o’clock and we’re about to continue our Kathmandu experience. We’ll move hotel later today and head to another part of town. Then we’ll do a temple visit and a sunset walk as start of this weekends yoga festival. Oh, ain’t life grand.
We find a computer in our hotel and get to upload last days post as well as some pictures. It’s not high speed internet but substantially better than the wifi. We spend a little time doing this before packing our bags and checking out.
Into the streets of Kathmandu again, now to look for a few specific items. Before long we’re inside a store selling something we did not know we needed, but hey! that what’s impulses are for. We order a small stone tablet that will be placed outside our front door to go with the Ganesha who’s sitting there already.
We stop by a little cafe that we found on this mornings walk. Katja spend some time hovering over a map of the city she bought on the way here. The part of town we’re in is not so large, but it takes a little time navigating as the traffic is horrendous. We’ve seen a lot of bad traffic in Asia, but this city might top ’em all. Partly because of the cars. In these narrow roads a meet of two cars is a study in slow driving with minimal clearance on either side of the cars. And as soon as there is the slightest sliver of an opening a motorbike or a pedestrian squeeze in to pass.
We get what we’re looking for in a shop down the road from the cafe. A light shirt for me, and a bag for storing our excess luggage while trekking. The shirt is a zip on/off variant I’ve never seen before. But being able to take of the long sleeves will probably come in handy.
We sit down at Green Organic cafe and order lunch. A little while after ordering the waitress comes back and ask if I would like Natural or Fresh apple juice. How do you answer that? I just said “as fresh as possible” and hope it’s not coming out of a carton. Katja is deep into her book about The Bhagavad Gita. The original story of Bhagavad Gita was part of her mandatory reading for the yoga teacher training course, and we both read it. Or I might exaggerate as I probably lost interest somewhere in the middle of it. The story is, in my humble and un-enlighted experience, a story about a god telling a warrior something. The book she reads now might help interpret and shed light on some of the deeper mysteries hidden in that ancient text.
The food and drink are absolutely ok and we enjoy some local tastes. The apple juice is certainly fresh and comes with loads of pulp. Yummy indeed. We now have another hour and a half before we’re to me the others back at the hotel for a change of scenery. More to see, smell, hear and touch.
As we’re walking through the streets we’re looking for a place to file our feet. Stopping by a few places to ask for foot treatment only gets us head shakes. A pommegranat juice later and we find a place that accepts us. Though we need to work on our communication skills as we end with nail filing instead of for rubs. A little discussion later where the element of time is taken into consideration, because everyone know it takes a lot of time to rub feets, right? But we get the message through and get started on the rubbing. And it tickles. A lot. Snickering we’re sitting side by side hoping it will be worth it. Taking care of the feet before a trek is a good choice.
We meet the others back at the hotel and we head off to The Yellow House where we’ll spend the next three nights before the trek. The room we get is on the top floor with a great view of the city. We even get time for a power nap before heading out.
We meet Raj as we go outside, along with the rest of the group from Norway. Raj will be our guide and take care of us during the next days.
We start by going to the Soyambhunath Stupa temple where Raj acts as a guide. It was so cool to have a knowledgeable guide taking us through the site. We learned a lot by listening and especially some of the more political challenging elements.
as we started the tour he told us about the legend that tells of how Kathmandu was created. I won’t do it all here but involves a hermit and a magic sword draining a lake. That said, the lake has been here and have been drained, probably due to earthquakes. He told us Kathmandu was lifted 1 meter and shifted 3 meters to the side on the last quake in 2015. This kind of force would easily slush water around and eventually create a gorge needed to drain the lake back in the old days.
Several of the damages being done by the quake created some interesting challenges. A special holy building was damaged badly and inside there’s a room where only the ordained priest was allowed. He was 91 at the time, still alive and is 93 now. The discussions was heavy around this. Should they send in the experts and break traditions? Could it be solved in any other way?
It turned out that the priest was allowed to let his own family in as they represent him and the coming guardian of the place. So they trained family members in restoration work and avoided breaking traditions.
In other areas there were significant damages to frescos and other ornaments. As the handicraft today is more about making cheap stuff than really masterful pieces there were few craftsmen good enough to take part in the rebuilding. But the shear number of things that needed, and still need, repairs after the quake have given ample opportunities for new masters to evolve.
And then to the political dilemma. Upon reentering the frescos on the outside of the building, when should the story end? Should the new frescos include the last major incidents? Like the slaughter of the royal family in 2001? And the quake in 2015? The former is very politically touchy, the second more a question of restoring originally or keep creating. And it’s kind of cool to think that these kinds of discussions probably have been held every eighty years. The average time between the larger quakes hitting Kathmandu.
Moving towards the stupa itself we got a little teaching in Buddhist iconography. Linking it to the artisans left from Alexander the Great in Kandahar and in a city in India I can’t remember the name of. Building up the 36 statements about Buddha they created iconography to use for spreading the knowledge of the religion. Within this 3y statements are the facts that he had long earlobes, big hands and long face. Fairly common traits in all the statues and paintings we’ve seen of him on our travels.
He also explained the stupa as five layers representing the way to enlightenment. The foundations Rock and represent the solid and tangible. The sphere represent Water, which by itself have no form but takes on the form of every container it is poured into. Then the spear represent Fire. You can see it and feel it, but you can not contain it. Then the pyramid on top represent Wind. You can feel it, but not see it or contain it. And the topmost element represent Ether. Not to be seen, touched or contained but it’s still there and functional.
As a curiosity it’s with mentioning that several families sent their kids over to Bettina from our group to take picture with her. Completely openly they posed their kids along side her and happily took picture after picture. Katja and I was only singled out by one family for the same purpose and are now part of a family memory from the stupa.
Raj gave us 20 minutes to roam and take pictures after ending his tour and we went back down to see if we could find a painting to take home. We did. We got a great meditation picture with the symbol for Omh in the middle and Tibetanian writing. We also learned about the process of making these paintings. They use cotton as base and after stringing it up on a frame they cover it in white clay and yak glue. Yes, you read correctly. Yak glue. There is a law against killing yaks so whenever one dies naturally there’s a expedition to skin it and to gather the parts needed to make the glue. Then they boil it and in a three step process make the glue used as foundation in these pictures.
When the seller asked where we were from and we replied NORWAY, he smiled widely. His son had been the guide of the Norwegian crown princess who visited 5 years back. Small world indeed.
From the temple we drove to the restaurant for the official welcome dinner of the Yoga in the mountains tour. A restored old house with traditional food and entertainment. We got several dishes befor the dalwa came. This is the national dish of Nepal consisting of lentil soup and rice. The locals eat this 2 times a day. Nutrition rich and cheap. I had Gorkha beer with the meal. The third local brew tested so far. Everest, Kathmandu and Gorkha all tastes good. I’ll probably write more about the Gorkha’s later in a post shorter than this.
The entertainment was nice with a little orchestra using local, and what seemed to be partly homemade, instruments and dancers in local costumes. The seating was on chairs with no legs, so we had the “ass to the grass” seating position, but luckily had back support.
Happy and content we drove back to the hotel and did a little briefing on tomorrow’s first day of yoga training at the festival. This is the first yoga festival held in Kathmandu, and probably in the whole of Nepal. I had the pleasure of sharing a smaller car with Stein Michael and Raj on the way back and we got some background on the Nepalese mentality on karma and acceptance. Again, that’s probably a story for a shorter post, but it was a most rewarding conversation.
Getting into bed proved that my size is a number or three larger than the Nepalese average. The bed covers are reaching down to my knees and I have to pull out my sleeping bag to get enough cover. Ajungilak saves the night.
Only few people will understand your grief. The rest just want a story to listen.
– Nepalese proverb