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.
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.
Cristo de la Concordia – Christ of Peace
Our son, Hunter, has a fascination with the musical Jesus Christ Superstar that boarders on obsession. So, yesterday we climbed up to the Cristo de la Concordia to visit the monument and appreciate the panoramic views it offers of the entire valley of Cochabamba. I first visited the Cristo in 1994 before it was completed, and we go up to the monument every time we visit Bolivia. At the top of the mountain you will see tourists from all over the globe visiting so they can include the tallest, most massive (2,000 tons+) and highest elevated (≈2,800 meters) Christ monument in the world to their bucket lists.
*The fair people of Poland (and others) will argue that their “Christ the King” monument is the tallest in the world, but the defenders of the faith in Bolivia will argue that the three meter crown placed upon the head of the Polish Cristo shouldn’t count because Christ only worn a crown of thorns. It is akin to counting communication towers as the height of a building. some say. See “The Tallest Statues of Jesus Christ” for more details.
A few days ago, we awoke to the sight of the northern peaks that surround Cochabamba covered in an alabaster blanket. I captured the above photo from the balcony of the house in the morning. The week after we arrived in Cochabamba, cold moist air from the south pushed its way over the Andes. By “south” I mean the antarctic. These winds bring frigid weather to southern Argentina and Chile but don’t often make it up and over the southern peaks of the Andes into the Valley of Cochabamba. When they do the results can be seen here. These peaks are normally free of snow, and it’s a special treat to see the beautiful contrasts the snow creates on the mountain peaks among Cerro Tunari. The peaks seen here range in elevations from about 13,000 to 15,000 feet. Living below them is a comforting and humbling experience. The photo below was taken later in the same day from a different part of the valley.
When we travel to Bolivia, the first stop is Aeropuerto El Alto. Flights from the U.S. land in the early morning and during the winter one can expect the temperature to be about freezing; if you arrive in the summer, expect temperatures to be about freezing. The airport sits at an altitude of just over 4,000 meters (13,000ft+). That places travelers at an altitude just about 1,000 feet lower than the highest mountains in the continental US. Altitude sickness (soroche) is common and visitors from sea level can be identified by their pale faces and bluish lips. But, after you get through customs, there are the mountains of the Cordillera Real range to greet you rising to over 6,000 meters, Illimani has a greater elevation than any mountain in North America at over 21,000 feet.
We arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia yesterday, and it is wonderful to back in the protective cradle of the valle alto de los Andes surrounded on all sides by majestic peaks and mountain ridges. Yesterday was the winter solstice celebrated by ritual festivals and the burning of fires on what is called “the coldest night of the year” e.i. the longest night. We’ve already been catching up on enjoying some of the unique culinary delights that are typical to Cochabamba. Today Hunter discovered that he is also fond of one of my favorite dishes, pinchon (pigeon) and he dug into it like an old pro after his first taste. It’s a dark meated foul with a gamey taste that requires a good deal of work for little bites.