Last week we finally visited Swayambhu, the famous monkey temple. It is another of the World Heritage Sites that Nepal boasts. The Kathmandu Valley can boast having more World Heritage Sites than any other location in the world! When people we work with learned a couple weeks ago that we had not yet been to Swayambhu, we were confronted with incredulous expressions of doubt, especially since it is so close it can be seen from our school. Apparently, it is one of the first destinations all visitors head to, but since we live here, and we don’t consider ourselves tourists, we were not in a rush to see it. That said, it was well worth the visit and we’ll be going back to visit again. The site is charged with an energy that is palpable from the moment one begins the climb up to the stupa. There are centuries of visitors and devotees that have left behind their collective impression. And, of course, there are all the simians to watch. The area is amok in monkeys, and the big difference between them and other monkeys around the city is the monkeys at Swayambhu are relatively docile. We witnessed several who have become adept at stealing food, but in other areas of the city, monkeys are to be avoided as potentially dangerous and unpredictable.
This past weekend we took the quick trip to Bhaktapur Nepal. It lies just a little way east of Kathmandu. This was the week of Dashain in Nepal which is a holiday of such importance it makes all that we are accustomed to pale in comparison. If children do not return to their families to pay their respects during this week, they run the risk of being disowned from their families. It is also punctuated with a great deal of traditional sacrificing of animals, primarily goats. When we arrived in Bhaktapur, this stage of the festival was winding down, but there was blood everywhere in the streets from the rituals and tractors, cars, trucks. motorcycles and even bikes were adorned with marigold flowers, blood and in some cases the innards of animals as blessings to bring good fortune for the coming year.
This past weekend we went on a little retreat away from the city to a place called Namo Buddha Resort. It is named for the famous Buddhist stupa and monastery that lies a couple kilometers away. We took the hike over to the temple a couple times. As one walks through the forest towards the stupa, you can see the monastery and the prayer flags that adorn the top of the hill it sits upon. Prayer flags also line the path along the walk so its hard to make a wrong turn. Upon arrival you enter through a gate inscribed with the words,
“HERE THE PRINCE GAVE HIS BODY TO A HUNGRY TIGER”
This is a reference to one of the Buddha’s incarnations as a female tiger who sacrificed her life and body to sustain the lives of her starving cubs. The temple is surrounded by hundreds of prayer wheels and at the stupa below is found the largest prayer wheel I have ever come across. The stupa above the monastery is adorned with hundreds of prayer flags that can be seen from miles away.
One of the many things I’ve been impressed by is the variety of insect life that is new to me here in Nepal. The abundance of butterflies has been dumbfounding at times. I came across all these particular critters within one hour in an area the size of a few acres on a walk out in the countryside a little while back
A couple weeks back we went out to the country side with some friends from the school we work at to visit a little get away “resort” in Balthali Village. We were dropped off by van and hiked in a couple miles to get to the lodging. Unfortunately, it w as still monsoon season, so we didn’t get to see any of the wondrous views of the big mountains that this end of the valley boasts, but there was still a great deal for the eyes to soak in. There were a couple of burma style bridges to cross, first there was the big one. The image can’t convey the roughly 250 meter drop that it spans. The second smaller bridge emptied out in a little valley lush with rice crops.
We also came across some beautiful elders along the way that seemed very happy to see us climbing up to the village.
The view looking down from one of the “hills” down onto the location of the lodging where we spend the weekend on top of another hill, along with an image of the paths and terracing of the rice fields below the “resort” where we stayed. Hunter and I had great fun “adventuring” on the trails around the lodge.
We finally had some time to get out into the city to do some sightseeing this past weekend. Our time has been consumed with settling in and getting started with a new school year in a new school. “Durbar Square” is a somewhat generic term for the plaza across from a palace where temples, shrines and idols are found in concentration. This Durbar Square is in the center of Kathmandu. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley which boasts the greatest concentration of recognized world heritage sites on the planet at seven total. With time, we’ll get to them all, and I’ll post images as we cross them off our list. We went on a Sunday, which is not a day of rest in Nepal. Everything closes on Saturdays here, and the week starts on Sunday. The streets (alleys) were packed with throngs of humanity in the form of tourists, merchants and devotees paying homage to the temples and their gods.
Tonight we had the honor of being invited to a Nepali Wedding Reception. The wedding ceremony was held a few weeks ago, but this was the formal presentation of the bride and groom as a married couple to the public. There were people dressed in traditional Nepali clothing, particularly the women, and others in “western” style clothing. Like any wedding, the most inspiring sight was the bride and her maid of honor. There was an abundance of food and drink, but unlike wedding receptions I’m accustmed to, there were no annoying drunk attendees tapping their glasses with flatware expecting grotesque displays of affection between the newly wed couple. It was an elegant and dignified event in every respect.
It’s been a week since we arrived in Nepal, and it has felt like we entered into a time warp. At some moments, it feels like we’ve just been here a day and at others it feels like it has been much longer than seven days. When we arrived, it was overcast and it remained that way all week with periodic deluges from the heavens. We did after all arrive in the midst of monsoon season, but this is how our day ended:
The view above is from the apartment rooftop of one of our colleagues at the Lincoln School where we will be teaching. We were only offered brief glimpses of the blue sky throughout the week. Most hours were dominated by the low hanging clouds that obscured even the foothills around the city. It will be weeks before the weather clears and we will be able to see the high peaks of the Himalaya from the valley. Our week was spent settling in and taking care of the mundane tasks of unpacking our personal effects and purchasing the essential items we needed that constitute a basically functioning household. Every excursion to procure what we needed has been an adventure in itself. Traffic here is almost beyond description, and I’ll devote time to explaining that later, when I understand how to describe it, for now:
We are enamored with Nepal after a week. There is much that we have to adjust to, but that process has begun. The people are wonderful. Although the traffic appears insanely chaotic, drivers and pedestrians are remarkably civil, smiling at one another as they take turns circumventing the holy bovines that wander the streets of the city and choose to nap in the middle of bridges, more to come on that theme.