Archive for July, 2010
This is my last email about our Tibet/Kathmandu adventure. It seems as if it has taken longer to write about it than to actually live it. And it has only been the last week that when I wake up in the middle of the night I don’t have to figure out where I am. I really miss both Tibet and Nepal, but am getting back in tune with Puteri. Threre are quite a few cruisers here we like and we have started biking everyday when it’s not raining. When I shopt at my favorite vegetable stand at the Tuesday Night market, the owner calls me "sister" now. And thankfully, the man at the fried chicken stand now knows we want the breast so last night I didn’t have to illustrate. Randal usually points to his chest when he’s there, but he skipped the trip last night. We’ll soon move the boat to Sebana Cove where it will stay while we go home to the US. The man who had recovered our boat cushions is there and Randal has another project for him. We like to bike around that area too. And there are monkeys, amonitor lizards, and an occassional wild pig for entertainment. The development frenzy around Puteri has leveled most of the forest so there’s not much to see or do right here at the marina. One day there will be with all of the plans for this area, but we’ll be long gone into the Med and who knows where.
Kathmandu – part 3…….The End
We ate breakfast here every day, lunch and dinner many days.
They had wifi, good salads, wraps and large portions of food and were located next door to our hotel. We chatted often with one young waiter who always seemed to be there when we were no matter what time of day. One day he came to our table and invited us to go to his home and attend the wedding of his friend. Randal said sure (which surprised me) and asked where he lived. He said that we would have to fly there but that we would stay with him for a few days! We made sure that we understood his Nepalese English and indeed he did live a good distance from Kathmandu. We thanked him but said that we were leaving in a day so really didn’t have the time. He was quite disappointed. He was a very sweet young man and very capable. Randal gave him some money and asked if he would use it to buy a wedding gift for his friend. I wish I had a photo to show you. We wish him well.
“Our seats” where we ate, used the wifi and just sat and read.
This sign was over the cash register where you paid. Great idea!
You know you’re not in Kansas when the bank’s named Siddhartha.
No one knows MLB but they do know FIFA.
Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
Thamel was a colorful jumble of everything packed into a small area referred to as the “tourist ghetto.”
Narrow streets full of shop keepers inviting you in “just to look.”
It was a great place to buy heavy wool sweaters and professional level trekking gear neither of which we need. But it was fun to look.
Lots of great used book shops though the prices weren’t as good as Singapore’s Brash Basha.
Who are the Gurkhas?
"Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years, but who are these fearsome Nepalese fighters?
"Better to die than be a coward" is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army.
They still carry into battle their traditional weapon - an 18-inch long curved knife known as the kukri.
In times past, it was said that once a kukri was drawn in battle, it had to "taste blood" - if not, its owner had to cut himself before returning it to its sheath.
Now, the Gurkhas say, it is used mainly for cooking.
The potential of these warriors was first realised by the British at the height of their empire-building in the last century.
The Victorians identified them as a "martial race", perceiving in them particularly masculine qualities of toughness.
After suffering heavy casualties in the invasion of Nepal, the British East India Company signed a hasty peace deal in 1815, which also allowed it to recruit from the ranks of the former enemy.
Following the partition of India in 1947, an agreement between Nepal, India and Britain meant four Gurkha regiments from the Indian army were transferred to the British Army, eventually becoming the Gurkha Brigade.
Since then, the Gurkhas have loyally fought for the British all over the world, receiving 13 Victoria Crosses between them.
More than 200,000 fought in the two world wars and in the past 50 years, they have served in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo and now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They serve in a variety of roles, mainly in the infantry but with significant numbers of engineers, logisticians and signals specialists.
The name "Gurkha" comes from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded.
The ranks have always been dominated by four ethnic groups, the Gurungs and Magars from central Nepal, the Rais and Limbus from the east, who live in hill villages of impoverished hill farmers.
They keep to their Nepalese customs and beliefs, and the brigade follows religious festivals such as Dashain, in which - in Nepal, not the UK - goats and buffaloes are sacrificed.
But their numbers have been sharply reduced from a World War II peak of 112,000 men, and now stand at about 3,500.
During the two World Wars 43,000 young men lost their lives.
The Gurkhas are now based at Shorncliffe near Folkestone, Kent - but they do not become British citizens.
The soldiers are still selected from young men living in the hills of Nepal - with about 28,000 youths tackling the selection procedure for just over 200 places each year.
“ If there was a minute’s silence for every Gurkha casualty from World War II alone, we would have to keep quiet for two weeks ”
Gurkha Welfare Trust
The selection process has been described as one of the toughest in the world and is fiercely contested.
Young hopefuls have to run uphill for 40 minutes carrying a wicker basket on their back filled with rocks weighing 70lbs.
Prince Harry lived with a Gurkha battalion during his 10 weeks in Afghanistan.
There is said to be a cultural affinity between Gurkhas and the Afghan people which is beneficial to the British Army effort there.
Historian Tony Gould said Gurkhas have brought an excellent combination of qualities from a military point of view.
He said: "They are tough, they are brave, they are durable, they are amenable to discipline.
"They have another quality which you could say some British regiments had in the past, but it’s doubtful that they have now, that is a strong family tradition.
"So that within each battalion there were usually very, very close family links, so when they were fighting, they were not so much fighting for their officers or the cause but for their friends and family."
After the Gurkhas have served their time in the Army - a maximum of 30 years, and a minimum of 15 to secure a pension - they are discharged back in Nepal.
Historically, they received a much smaller pension - at least six times less - than British soldiers, on the grounds that the cost of living is much lower in Nepal.
But with more choosing to settle permanently in the UK with their families, campaigners said this left them suffering considerable economic hardship.
They won a partial victory in March 2007, when Defence Minister Derek Twigg announced that all those who retired after July 1997 would get the same pension as the rest of the Army."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/03/18 16:32:24 GMT
Ram Kumar Khatri; a pretty interesting fellow.
Early one morning Randal and I were strolling through Thamel and were approached by Mr. Khatri. You know how that goes; you think “what’s he selling?” But he wasn’t selling anything unless you count the copy of Quarterly Development Review that we bought for $5. Mr. Khatri is the founder, editor and publisher of this journal as part of his quest to “contribute towards the Development of Women and Children, Environment and Tourism in Nepal.” According to his bio in the journal, Mr. Khatri was born January 1, 1945 in Kathmandu. He spent most of his working life at the Agricultural Development Bank retiring as Division Chief in December of 2002. He is currently enrolled as a PhD student in the Department of Economics, Tribhuvan University.
Randal makes a contribution
The journal includes a section to help promote tourism. Mr. Khatri asks visitors what they like most and least about Nepal. The comments are aimed at officials who can make changes, not at other tourists. He asked us about our goals for life too. Randal and I both commented on how friendly people seemed but how poor the country was and wondered what would change that. My goal was to get up in the morning and know I was the only one controlling my day! After we’d been chatting for a while he told us about the school he was building and invited us, not only to visit but to stay there for a while. Our second invitation in the same day! Again we had to say no because we were leaving the next day.
Another sign in the Thamel area.
During our day walking around Thamel we passed the same middle-aged begging woman about 5 times. The last time I passed her I was tired from walking around for fun. I thought of how she must have been feeling walking around all that time having to ask for money. She looked tired and discouraged and her skin looked a bit ravaged. I can’t remember what I gave her, more than a few bucks but not a great deal of money. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Hopefully Mr. Khatri can make a difference.
I was surprised that the $US was the first on the list and not the Euro.
This little boy was sitting outback behind his parents fruit stand eating up the profits!
And that’s about it. I think we short changed Nepal by only spending such a short time and that was my fault. Flights sort of dictated that we stay 4 days or 7 days and I thought 7 would be too many since we didn’t plan on doing any trekking. Friends who spent more time there seeing the countryside and trekking the mountain areas said they were beautiful. But so it goes….
No Comments »
We ate lunch at one of the many restaurants in the Boudhanath plaza and then drove through more dusty traffic to the Pashupati Development Area. I instantly felt like I was in a scene from the BBC production The Jewel in the Crown. The complex was huge and unlike any other place I have ever visited. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashupatinath_Temple gives you the basics but David and Ronnie on their website http://www.project-7.se/?m=201007 give a really humanistic description of the place and Kathmandu in general. You have to scroll down the page to find the entry about Nepal, but their combination Swedish/French/English is charming and humorous. Interestingly, these guys who had no qualms about cutting into lines at Tibetan monasteries and the Taj Mahal felt it wrong to take photos of the cremation. By the way, their latest entry is about swimming with great white sharks in South Africa where they are now. They left Nepal, went to India and then on to Africa, the last continent of their 7 continent adventure.
It’s actually a whole complex of buildings most in some form of decay which gives the place a rather compelling attraction. The smoke is from a cremation. The river that runs through the complex is the Baghmati. It runs into the Ganges and then into the Indian Ocean.
We noticed smoke and our guide said that it was a cremation ceremony.
“A shamshan ghat or cremation ground is a platform designed for the cremation of bodies by members of the Hindu faith; Sikhs also use shamshan ghats. Typically, a shamshan ghat is located next to a river, so that the ashes can be cast out and floated away in accordance with Hindu tradition”
The body is covered with straw and then burned.
Our guide said it was acceptable to take photos so I did, though only from across the river. I used my zoom and cropped the photo to focus. Actually, the Pashupati brochure talks about capturing everything in photos and mentions the possibility of viewing a funeral. But our guide couldn’t tell us much about the actual ceremony. While trying to learn a bit to tell you, I came across this article from a faculty member of the University of California-Chico. Amazingly it was a story about her visit to this very same place and she explains the cremation that she saw. The words are hers, the photos are mine.
A Hindu Cremation in Nepal http://www.csuchico.edu/pub/inside/archive/99_02_11/top_story2.html
Editor’s Note: Anthropologist Carolyn Brown Heinz was in Nepal during the last week of a research trip to northern India, where she was researching the lives of women ascetics, when she and her husband, Donald Heinz, dean of HFA, experienced a ritual cremation. She generously agreed to share her story of the event, rare for a Western visitor.
The corpse was wrapped in a white cotton cloth overlaid in an ochre one. A garland of small white flowers stretched along the length of the body. It had been deposited at the top of the steps leading down to the Baghmati River, as if abandoned. No one seemed to be tending to it, no one sat beside it grieving, passers-by did not glance at it. A few yards away women were shampooing their hair and washing pots in the river, indifferent to its presence.
Don and I, however, were electrified. We were to leave Katmandu later in the day, and had come here several times for an opportunity to witness a cremation, but without success. There was almost always a body burning, but we never arrived in time for the ritual itself, when the chief mourner, usually the son, touches the torch to the wood as his supreme and final filial act.
We had spent the previous six weeks down on the plains of North India. I had been interviewing women ascetics at Rishikesh, a sacred city on the Ganges where the river emerges from the first range of the Himalayas. Don was finishing his book on death, The Last Passage (just published by Oxford).
Although seeing corpses being carried to cremation grounds on stretchers accompanied by the slightly frantic chant of "Ram Ram satya hai" is a common sight and sound in any town in India, actually witnessing, let alone photographing, a cremation is not easy. For me, a woman anthropologist, there are gender problems; women do not go to the cremation ground. They stay at home while the men take care of this terrible but essential ritual work. Photographing a cremation is yet another problem; at Banaras no one can get anywhere near a cremation ground with a camera. But here in Katmandu we witnessed our first complete cremation, and it remains among the most moving experiences of my life.
We had stopped at Pashupatinath, an ancient temple complex in Katmandu whose principal deities are Shiva and Kali. The long stretch along the Baghmati River is devoted to cremations. A bridge divides the royal site upriver, from the commoner cremation sites downriver. The Baghmati feeds into the Ganges, which spills out into the Indian Ocean, the ultimate point of dissolution and regeneration for king and commoner alike.
It was on the downstream side of the bridge that we encountered the solitary body, wrapped and waiting for its destruction by flames. Before long, the family arrived, including the widow and daughter. The widow, newly robed in white, stood alone in front of her dead husband and wailed a long, mournful cry. Then she and her daughter were led into an alcove where they could watch and cry in private. The only son, dressed in white dhoti and head scarf and struggling to keep emotional control, awaited the task for which he had been born: to light his father’s funeral fire.
The men, kinsmen and friends of the dead man, did almost all of the ritual work. They lifted the body onto a stretcher so they could purify the corpse in Ganges water. They carried it to the bier and laid the body on top, headed downstream. They opened the shroud to expose his face to the sun, also a god. Each man circumambulated the body, adding ghi [clarified butter] and sprinkling a little purifying water on the face of the corpse. The dead man’s brother broke down in sobs and had to be led into the alcove with the wife and daughter. Finally the son was led forward, clutching a bundle of straw, to do pranam to his father’s feet for the last time. This simple, everyday gesture of respect undid his composure. His face wet and distorted with grief, his hand full of straw shaking so badly they had trouble lighting it with the fire they brought from home, the son had to be assisted to put it to the wood. Slowly he was helped to circle the pyre, laying the flame that would burn his father’s body and release his soul.
This stark Hindu funeral and those I have seen since have deeply impressed me. Once I thought this must be a grotesque custom, but I have come to respect Hindu cremation. No body is ever taken to a sterile lab where its fluids are drained by an expert class of morticians and replaced with chemicals, nor does it lie in a commercial parlor tended by businesspeople. Their way of death is an act of family love and powerful religious ritual. The body is burned within the day of death, the soul is released to new life, and the heat by which the gods brought the universe into being is rekindled.
Carolyn Brown Heinz, Anthropology
There was a legend connected to these small shrines where women could learn how many children they would have.
These people look to be cleaning out the grass that had grown over the stone path.
It was impressive but Randal and I were pretty tired out by this time so just followed our “guide” but not learning a whole lot. And I didn’t pay to take photos of the holy men with Rasta hair and white faces.
The whole complex is divided by the river where people swim and wash clothes and where the dead are cleansed before the cremation and their ashes scattered afterwards.
We walked across the bridge an up the hill overlooking the complex.
The temple of Pashupatinath is located on the western bank of the Bagmati but only practicing Hindus and Buddhists are allowed to enter the temple or even take photos from outside.
We went off to our final stop and really should have just skipped it because we were really too hot and tired and should have saved it for another day. The tickets cost about $4 apiece, not much, but I don’t think we even got our money’s worth. Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square sounds really interesting when you read its brochure. However, by the time we got there, the museum was closed so that was out. Randal got surrounded by a group of begging 6 year olds while he was trying to eat his ice cream cone and those kids are lucky to still be alive. Lots of the structures that we saw looked like they were falling down and were surrounded by mounds of rubble. We did see “the living goddess” Kumari Devi. We weren’t allowed to take photos of her either. Our guide was pretty impressed that we got to see her when she came to the window of the house she lives in during her time as the living goddess. I have to say that I was more flabbergasted than amazed. I read that there was a recent high court case in Nepal as to whether she should be allowed to attend public school and the answer was yes though she had been being “home schooled.” http://www.visitnepal.com/nepal_information/kumari.php
The following link to an article from the India Times tells the story.
KATHMANDU: An extraordinary 15-year-old girl, who never went to school after being chosen as a ‘Kumari’ or ‘Living Goddess’ of Nepal revered by thousands of Hindus and Buddhists, has created history by becoming the first goddess to pass the tough school-leaving examination that leaves thousands floundering every year. Chanira Bajracharya, one of the three ‘Kumaris’ of Kathmandu valley, became even more god-like in the eyes of people on Saturday after the results of the dreaded School Leaving Certificate examination were declared and she was announced to have passed with "distinction", having secured over 80 percent marks. Chanira, the Kumari of Lalitpur city, becomes the first reigning living goddess to have passed Nepal’s "Iron Gate" examination. It is an extraordinary feat considering that out of the over 385,000 students who took the examination, only 64.31 percent made the grade. In Chanira’s case it is even more extraordinary considering that she never went to school and wrote her test from her official "sacred" chamber in her intricate official robes. The Kumaris, regarded as the incarnation of a Hindu goddess of power, Taleju Bhavani, are selected from a Buddhist community on the basis of 32 auspicious signs, which in the past included having a horoscope compatible with that of the king of Nepal. The Kumaris were also regarded as the protectors of the royal family and the only living beings before whom the monarch humbled himself by bowing down. Chanira, like her peers and predecessors, lives in her own palace where her movements are restricted. The Kumaris are not allowed to walk on the ground and are either carried or tread on a red carpet. Though the teen was enrolled in the Bhasara Secondary School, she never went there to attend classes. Instead, her teachers came to her palace to coach her. When she took the exam in March, it made news worldwide and images of the goddess, arrayed in red and gold clothes with a third eye painted on her forehead were circulated far and wide. After getting her results, the shining-eyed Kumari said she would now take admission in a private college. She is said to be keen to study computer science and Newari, the language of her clan. In the past, she had said she would like to take up a career in banking. Chanira is nearing the end of her reign, since as per tradition a Kumari is replaced before she starts menstruating. A former Kumari, Rashmila Shakya, became a celebrity after she studied computer science and co-authored a book on her life as a goddess, "From Goddess to Mortal". However, Rashmila went to school only after her reign was over; so did many other Kumaris. The rules were relaxed after 2008 when an advocate challenged the restrictions imposed on the young girls and called them a denial of their fundamental rights. Subsequently, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to allow the Kumaris to attend school. However, the curbs continue to be there and another Kumari, Sajani Shakya, was "sacked" in an unprecedented move by her priests after her family accepted an invitation for her to go to the US to attend a film festival that showed a film featuring her as well as two other living goddesses.
Our goal was the museum located at the complex. Once we found the museum was already closed we decided to just head on back to our hotel. It was about 5 pm and, anyway, time for our guide and driver to go home. If you follow that link at David and Ronnie’s site, Project – 7 you can read about Durbar Square which they seemed to like. We might have too if we had gone early in the morning and just visited there and the museum and skipped the visit to the Monkey Temple.
http://nepal.saarctourism.org/hanuman-dhoka.html will tell you much more than I can.
My photos from Durbar Square
“This huge stone image of Bhairav represents deity Shiva in his destructive manifestation. It is undated, but was set in its present location by King Pratap Malla (mid 1600s) after it was found in a field north of the city. This is the most famous Bhairav and it was used by the government as a place for people to swear the truth. “From our Durbar Square brochure. The chair is there coincidentally…no one is being made to tell the truth.
This photo of “Kathmandu Mutts” is for my sister’s dog Max who wanted a photo of a Tibetan Lhasa Apso. Somehow I managed not to see one when I went looking for the photo.
In China shoulder poles were used to carry heavy loads and in Tibet, a sort of backpack apparatus. But in Nepal people seemed to use this head strap.
July 27, 2010
No Comments »
Our time in Kathmandu was very short, just 3 full days. Our first day we toured some of the nearby Buddhist and Hindu sites. The second and third days we stayed around the small area of Thamel where streets are lined with small shops and restaurants and at least a dozen used book stores all catering to the bunches of western tourists who come there. Our hotel was located there and it was an easy place to spend a few days. The hotel was comfortable but it had no electric kettle and no hot water in the shower until about 7:30 am. And when Randal took a second shower late one afternoon, there also was very little hot water. We had a thermos in our room and when we called the front desk they would get it and fill it with hot water….as long as we wanted it after 7:30 am. We were only paying $40 per day so the fact that it had hot water at all…. Ronnie and David started out at a youth hostel for about $2 per day but only stayed one night; something about too many bugs…
While writing my email I reread David and Ronnie’s page about Nepal. It was a reminder about how colorful, chaotic, energetic and very poor Nepal is. And that Nepal is home to 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world. Lots of people go there to trek and there are zillions of trekking advertisements up and down the streets of Thamel.
Especially after Tibet, Randal and I found Kathmandu very hot and between us had very little need to see any more Buddhist temples. And though our guide was very nice and undoubtedly needed to earn money, his English was really hard to understand so there wasn’t the rapport with him that we’d had with Lobsang in Tibet or our guide Rusli back in Tana Toraja in Indonesia. But, what there is to see fairly close to Kathmandu are Buddhist temples so that’s where we went. And also to a Hindu temple which was quite interesting.
The view from Monkey Temple
Our first stop was “the Monkey Temple” located up on a hill not very far from Thamel. It’s called Monkey Temple because once you saw lots of monkeys there. We saw about a dozen which seems like nothing compared to the gangs of them back at Sebana Cove and Rebak. Swayambhunath is the real name. “Swayambhunath, one of the most important cultural and historical place of Kingdom of Nepal and listed as one of the World Heritage Sites from 1978, is located about 2 km. to the West of Kathmandu. “ http://www.multinepal.com/swayambhu/index.html
There were people praying, but most people had come earlier in the morning before work.
I didn’t see the vibrancy here that I did in Tibet. It was as if the sun had bleached all of the color and energy. Maybe we had just visited enough Buddhist temples in Tibet that we just weren’t interested.
“It is prohibited to Take a Snap Sitting on the Buddha.”
More working women just like the ones in Tibet
We left the Monkey Temple which had few but very well behaved monkeys and drove through the dusty crowded streets of Kathmandu to our next stop, Boudhanath.
The dome of the Boudhanath stupa is 120 ft. in diameter, 107,639 sq. ft. in width, and141 ft. tall.
“The Great Stupa of Boudhanath stands approximately 6 km North East from the centre of Kathmandu valley….It is one of the most important place of pilgrimage for the Buddhist. In the past, when the trade routes to central and western Tibet were fully open, traders, pilgrims and travelers sought blessings at the stupa for safe passage over the mountain passes and gave thanksgiving to it upon arrival in the Kathmandu Valley. Today is towers over a small Tamang village that since the arrival of Tibetan refugees in the 1960s has become the centre of a thriving town of monasteries, craftsmanship and businesses. “
From the brochure we got with our ticket into the area though I’m really not sure how they keep people out with all of the shops lining the area, but we bought tickets.
Looking down from the roof of the temple across the way.
People circumambulate the stupa, many turning the thousands of prayer wheels that are set into the wall lining the walk. Around the outside are shops and restaurants and it’s a very lively area similar to Thamel. It kind of reminded me of the plazas in Italy!
Randal and friend under the watchful eyes of the Buddha.
While he was sitting here, Randal met the group of students and the professor from Virginia Tech who guessed that he was from Bedford.
Supplies for the restaurants and bars that surround the plaza.
You can see the woman in green turning some of the thousands of prayer wheels along the path.
I’m not sure what this is; I just liked the mug used to scoop it out.
We passed a shop and our guide took me in while Randal sat on his bench. The shop was downstairs and the gallery and studio upstairs.
http://www.tibetanpaintings.com/thangka-painting.htm offers a good description and explanation of Thangka. “A thangka may portray the Buddha or some other deity, or a concept in Tibetan cosmology, astrology or medicine. The iconography of the thangka is rich in information about the spiritual practice of Buddhists and the Tibetan worldview. …… A spiritual and religious expression as much as an art form, the process of learning to paint thangkas is rigorous. In the first three years, students learn to sketch the Tibetan Buddhist deities using precise grids dictated by scripture. The two years following are devoted to the techniques of grinding and applying the mineral colours and pure gold used in the paintings. In the sixth year, students study in detail the religious texts and scriptures used for the subject matter of their work. To become an accomplished thangka painter, at least ten years training is required under the constant supervision of a master. After the training process, students still need five to ten years to become experts in the field.”
The owner of this shop took the time to explain some of the aspects of the actual painting process to me. He knew I wasn’t there to buy because I told him right away. Because we had spent so much time in monasteries I couldn’t just look at the Thangka as art and didn’t want to buy it as a religious object. And the really nice ones, once he showed me how to see the differences, were too expensive and not something we’d want to put on a boat or leave rolled up for years. But he was very kind and liked to share his knowledge. He was Chinese so I told him about our Chinese boat and he said that he was on his way to LA for an art show.
No Comments »
Randal and I finally got on our bikes today and rode to Gelan Petah the town about 8 miles from the marina. Our first stop in town was the bike shop. Randal had replaced one tire before our Tibet trip, but was afraid the other needed to be replaced with the spare he had bought at the same time. Luckily our local bike shop guy had been out biking with his friends and their ride ended at the shop shortly after we got there. He kindly changed the tire and refused payment telling Randal that the service came with the purchase of the tire. Randal, of course could have changed the tire himself, but having someone else do it is so nice. Next we went for a snack at the Awana Cafe and while we ate watched lots of other "real bikers" pass through town. On our way back to the marina we heard the sound of squealing tires, thankfully not on our road, but on an impromptu track. There were cars racing around obstacles and Randal stopped to watch for a bit but I kept riding. After a bit Randal caught me and we finished our ride in time for me to follow the Red Sox blow their last game with the Mariners. Poor Sox. These next set of emails are about Kathmandu.
Road to Kathmandu
Just leaving the border about 10:45 am in our hired vehicle. The single lane roads were just wide enough for two cars to carefully pass each other and curvy so you really had to trust the driver you had met 10 minutes before you started and also trust his vehicle. But he was a good driver and patiently stopped when we needed to take photos.
Our vehicle was 4 wheel drive and a good thing because we drove a good way along this dirt road.
Homes and shops came right to the edge of the narrow road where these boys were waiting to go to school. Many Tibetans leave Lhasa to go to school in Nepal where they can learn “British/Indian” English.
The scenery was incredibly lush especially compared to the dry Tibetan landscape.
The homes, built along the ridge road, used stones to hold down the roofs. We passed several tiny communities that actually struck me as more isolated than the nomads in Tibet. At least in Tibet there was so much open space. Here the mountains and forests crowded in. “Too much green.”
This photo could have been taken in Southwest Virginia.
Lots of terraced agriculture.
Animals always have the right-of-way.
Nepal is Hindu so cows are sacred.
We left the lush countryside and began to pass through city sprawl interspersed with lush fields.
Roads seemed to be under construction with buildings crammed together all along either side of the wide space which was the jammed under construction roads.
Kathmandu was the most jam-packed with dust- masked police trying to direct the crazy traffic.
We arrived about 3:30 pm first dropping David and Ronnie at their hostel and then going to our Kathmandu Resort Hotel. We were glad to be out of the chaos of the Nepali roads!
No Comments »
Randal and I did a quick trip to Singapore Thursday and Friday. We needed to add pages to our passports at the Singapore American Embassy. Friday morning I was going with our cruising friend Marie Louise to observe her watercolor class. We had a wonderful time and it all worked out though it might not have. For our passport pages I had checked to see cost, Embassy opening hours, if we needed an appointment; and printed out the form we would need. It never occurred to me to check if the embassy would be open Thursday. Isn’t the government always open? Except maybe July 4th or some other American holiday. Shouldn’t "CLOSED JULY 22, 2010" be in huge letters on its web page and not buried way deep in the site? Well, it was closed Thursday which we found out when we got to the embassy which is no where near any MRT entrance so involves a long bus ride or lots of walking. Thankfully Randal could take our passports back early Friday morning, fill out the new forms because we had the wrong ones directly from the US Embassy website, have them accept my signature from the wrong forms, and have them back to us by 3 pm with no additional cost for the rush job. Everyone was really nice and helpful. While Randal was being a hero and going to the Embassy in the morning (for 2 hours) and then back in the afternoon, I spent the day with Marie Louise! Marie Louise has found a wonderful teacher and he generously allowed me to watch the class, included me in the time he spent with Marie Louise and then showed me his sketchbook/watercolor paintings from Penang and George Town. His name is Seah Kam Chuan http://www.seahkamchuan.com/ and you can see his work on his website. Thursday, to console ourselves, and because it isn’t far from the American Embassy, Randal and I stopped at Kinokuniya bookstore and I bought A Year in Tibet by Sun Shuyun written in 2008 by a Chinese woman married to a Brit. The book came from a BBC documentary she created. I also bought My Journey to Lhasa by Madame Alexandra David-Neel who at age 55 disguised herself as a male pilgrim and journeyed overland to Lhasa. The book was published in 1927!
We heard from our Tibet tourmate David. He and Ronnie are in South Africa. They had just gone swimming with "great white sharks" the day he sent the email. http://www.project-7.se/ is their website if you want to see what they are up to.
Tibet # 18 …… Last few photos on our drive to Zhangmu
Herds of Yak (foreground) and sheep and the last views of snow-capped mountains.
The next story has 4 scenes…..
Where water flows is where people can live or pasture their herds.
Map of Tibet hanging on the restaurant wall where we stopped for our last lunch in Tibet.
The tiny insert up top shows Tibet in Red and China in Greenish. On the big map, Lhasa is in the middle of the very top part of the small purple where it meets the brown. Below the purple is a country called Bhutan. On the left side of the little green thumb is a tiny bit of India. To the left of that is Nepal. Below Bhutan and Nepal is India and Bangladesh….Midway between the green thumb and the far west end of the green where it meets the pink, in Nepal is Kathmandu. (I need to learn paint or PowerPoint and just put arrows!) So you can see that we traveled through only a very tiny bit of Tibet but we did visit its three largest cities, Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse.
We drove along through the mostly treeless geography late into the afternoon (you can only go so fast over bumpy dirt roads.) Then we rejoined the paved highway, went around and then down and then climbed a bit and then around again, all in a fairly short distance and then we were in a whole other eco-system
Drizzle and tree covered mountains and huge waterfalls.
Driving around narrow roads with blind curves, drizzle and fog and lots of signs warning of rock slides.
Zhangmu seems to be one very long road lined with everything crammed into the one possible space level enough to put this road. We arrived, checked in, went to an ATM, ate dinner, went looking for an Internet Café (Internet was down in town,) went back to our hotel and went to sleep. Early the next morning we got up, packed, ate breakfast and drove off to go to the border. There was a traffic jam but luckily some VIP types were in vehicles in back of us so our line of cars got to go first. With cars and trucks parked on the road, it’s practically a one lane road through town.
Our room was a tiny square with 2 twin beds, lots of quilts, an electric kettle that sat on the floor, a toilet/shower /sink combo and very dreary until you looked out the huge window and had this view. We slept with the window open and breathed in that wonderful moist, warm air and slept well.
Leaning out our window to take a photo back where we had driven from earlier in the day.
It would have been a quick trip from Zhangmu to the border, but the road had washed away.
Working to clear the road.
Luckily the VIP types were still in back of us. The Tibet “highway department” actually isn’t in charge here but the Chinese soldiers are. After about 30 minutes the road was cleared and we were sent along first: it was only one-way traffic. In the really rainy seasons, people can be stuck for days waiting for the road to open.
Tibet on the left and Nepal on the right.
It was time to say good-bye to Lobsang and our driver. They were actually going to collect a group of tourist coming from Nepal and “reverse our tour” back to Lhasa! David, Ronnie, Randal and I decided to stay together and share the cost of the “ 4 wheel drive taxi” journey to Kathmandu. Our Tibet tour was officially over but we were all going to Kathmandu and got along well so it was nice to stay together.
No Comments »
Ronnie taking one of the many photos that we all took of Everest.
We kept wanting to stop and take photos because the view of the range was almost more amazing than eventually seeing the peak of Everest at the base camp. And with all of the clouds we worried that by the time we actually got there, the peak would be enclosed by clouds. Lobsang was very cautious about predicting how clear it would be when we finally arrived.
We had turned off the Friendship Highway and onto a dirt road, a long and windy dirt road!
And then there would be a community because water was available; probably run off from the glaciers.
Looking towards Everest
Looking back over road we’d traveled. I just fell in love with the landscape.
So did David and Ronnie.
Here we are posing. It’s bright and sunny and I’m wearing a t-shirt but no sweater because it is quite warm.
We still had a distance to go.
Here drove along the road towards base camp so we could take a bus to the actual spot with the Everest sign and as far as you can go. But, alas, when we arrived, the last bus had already left and we would have to walk a few miles if we really wanted to go. We weren’t allowed to take our own van. Randal didn’t want to walk and I wasn’t sure how I’d do, but David and Ronnie were determined so Lobsang left us in the van and he David and Ronnie walked part of the way. Lobsang left them to take their photos and then returned to the van. After about a half hour’s worth of photos, David and Ronnie came back, very happy, but very windblown and cold. They had wanted to capture the sun setting on Everest. Lobsang said that we would all go again the next morning when the bus would be running. We had gotten to the EBC late for a few reasons. We’d gotten a late start that morning because Lobsang had to go to get our Everest permits and that meant waiting for the “permit office” to open. And then we stayed a while at the monastery while he did that and then we kept stopping for photos. Would we have rushed along if we’d known the time of the last bus? I hope not. It might not have been the best possible planning on the part of Access Tours, but it worked out fine as it was.
We knew that our accommodations at EBC were going to be very basic. “Comfortable class hotel twin-sharing room accommodation in Lhasa, Shigatse, 3 star standard. The best available hotel in EBC area, Sightseeing hotel. (Still very poor due to the remoteness) That’s what it said in the info we received from Access Tours. During the 217 mile drive from Shigatse to EBC, Lobsang began to explain the choices we would have for the night at Everest. He said we could stay in a very basic hotel with no heat and no running water, a family homestay, or a tent right at the base camp. He seemed to say that the homestay would be best because the family would provide a yak dung fire for heat and local interest. The tents would have the best location for viewing Everest. He seemed to imply the hotel was a poor third option. At least that’s the impression I got. Randal had pretty much hated our Indonesian Long-house Homestay. And our friend Lydia had done a Tibet homestay in November of 2004 and said she’d never been so cold. I figured from past experience we wouldn’t be doing the homestay option. And when we felt the wind and cold near the tents while we waited for Ronnie and David, I knew Randal and I weren’t going that route either. I don’t know what David and Ronnie would have chosen under other circumstances. When they came back to the van Lobsang told us that he thought the hotel would be the best choice for all of us since it was so late; by then about 9 pm. We would all be in one location (easier for him to keep track of) and that’s where we could also get dinner. We all agreed and drove back to the hotel. It was basic. There was no heat or running water. But dinner was good and so was breakfast. The views were wonderful. There were plenty of blankets to keep us warm. I did wake up about 2 am and when I came back down from the second floor bathroom I got one of my altitude headaches. No way to take a hot shower so I took 600 mg of ibuprofen and spent a miserable night. If I hadn’t been so tired I would have taken my towel and wet it with the hot water from the huge thermos in our room and then put it on my face. It’s exactly what I did in the morning and it did make me feel better.
Ladies’ toilet and wash room. View from the ladies’ room
I ate noodle soup for dinner and a huge pancake for breakfast. The food was plain but good. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, ate dinner and went to sleep. We ate breakfast about 7 am and then checked out and drove off to go see Everest in the morning. So nothing much to show about the hotel.
Across the dirt road from our hotel was the Rongbuk Monastery.
If our timing had been better, we were to have visited the monastery. But we needed our morning to visit the EBC so the monastery visit didn’t happen.
“Rongbuk Monastery lies by the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier at 5,100 meters (16,700 ft) above sea level, making it the highest religious building, as well as one of the highest-elevation settlements and overall structures ever built and colonized. It is only 200 metres (660 ft) lower than the north side Everest Base Camp of Mount Everest. ….It is accessible by dirt road - a two to three hour drive from the Friendship Highway, soon after kilometer marker 5145. (Those hours seemed to take us forever!)
Climbers must pass through Rongbuk in order to reach the highest peak of Mount Everest via the North Face. It has been described as having some of the most dramatic views in the world, presenting a panorama of the Shishapangma, Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, and Gyachung Kang peaks to visitors
From the distance we saw parts of that cloud shrouded panorama and it was most amazing.
Our view at breakfast!
Next email: Base Camp
July 21, 2010
No Comments »
Friendship Highway was a two lane road through miles and miles of open, mostly uninhabited landscape. I was never bored with it, though the closer we got to Everest the more we all wanted to finally be there. The Friendship Highway splits into two routes at Lhatse and that’s where we stopped for lunch.
Our lunch stop was the place of David’s famous tiny yak burger.
The huge parking lot at this complex was empty except for one other car of tourists. They were also the only other people eating here. Locals ate elsewhere. Good thing my cheese naan and yak chili were filling because it would be 9:30 pm before we ate dinner!
Tingri is both a town and county in Tibet and the highest point on our trip, higher even than Everest Base Camp.
17,217.84776902887 feet above sea level.
Thousands of prayer flags were hung from this sign. I imagine that being so high makes it a holy place ideal for hanging a prayer.
There were folks selling souvenirs or “photos” and probably living in that tent. Notice the little boy in the white hat at the left of the photo.
I just didn’t have the heart to say no so I paid to take a photo and then she asked for more money because there were 2 people in the photo. Then I did say no though they don’t have many other ways to earn money and at least it wasn’t begging. She made an effort to dress for photos with that huge silver belt.
This woman was asking for money.
Most of the time we all just learned to say no. I had bought a bag of candy in Shigatse and did start giving it to the children who asked for money.
Randal looked at the souvenirs but didn’t buy.
I picked this up from the ground at Tingri thinking it was just a broken piece of molded concrete. Ronnie looked at it and he said he thought it was a fossil. Originally the area was underwater until India bumped into Asia and caused the uplift that are now the Himalayas. It might be an ammonite? Or it’s a piece of concrete.
We continued on seeing green fields interspersed among the mostly desert.
Sometimes small communities, not really towns, would be located where there were water sources.
On the left side of the highway you can power lines which seems quite amazing.
We stopped for petrol in this small town where we saw the original form of horse power also refueling.
In many parts of mountainous, unpaved Tibet horses are still the main means of transportation. The towns that do exist are very tiny and you can drive through in about 2 minutes.
We were just about to pass another pony wagon as I took this photo. You can see how rock strewn the ground is and we saw this for miles and miles.
Finally we were able to catch our first glimpse of Everest off in the distance with its summit in the clouds.
Next email lots of Everest photos!
No Comments »
Mount Qomolangma known to us as Mount Everest
This sign is planted at 16,600 feet. The summit of Mount Everest, the highest place on earth, is over 29,000 feet and actually still growing!
I was still cold enough to not be so smiling. I had on a thermal shirt, wool sweater, Red Sox Hoodie, a neck warmer, my heavy weight rain jacket, my B Hoodie hood and jacket hood.
After breakfast we took our packs out to the van and noticed the windows were iced over. That’s actually when we realized that we had no heater in the van which made it colder inside than out. But there was nothing to be done other than get in and drive with the side window opened a bit for the driver to see. It’s about 5 miles from the hotel to where you get the base camp bus. If we’d had all day, it would have been nice to walk from the bus parking area to the actual spot where we took that photo. Instead we got into the freezing cold bus and drove there, about 2 miles or so.
Even here there were bits of something for these yaks to eat. I was tempted to walk up closer, but smart enough not to.
Randal with his biggest smile of the entire adventure.
Randal was pretty cold and still having breathing issues so after these few smiling photos he walked around for a bit and then watched as David and Ronnie and I walked up to the top of that small hill behind Randal’s head. Lobsang said to go slowly and I did. I had to stop a few times when I felt myself getting a bit light-headed. But it was definitely worth it.
All of the water on the left is snow and ice melt from the glaciers.
The view at the top.
I was warmer here than I had been since we arrived at EBC because the sun was so bright!
I might have liked to have gotten closer; but not any higher!
Stone soul houses! I didn’t build one here; just by the lake.
An exuberant David holds up his “Lhasa” hat. He and Ronnie had bought the hats in Lhasa so they would look like the locals. Not a chance.
Everest reflected in the pool of water
We all took about a zillion photos from every angle.
And then, all too soon, it was time to go. We had a long, all day drive to the border town of Zhangmu where we would stay overnight and then cross into Nepal the next day.
July 21, 2010
No Comments »
It was lovely walking through the quiet parts of the monastery.
Empty butter bags left on a window sill.
I love images like this.
I read that how women braid their hair, the number of braids and the style can indicate their family connections or where they live.
Old aunties take a rest.
Placing a bet? Having a fortune told?
The lady in the very center with a dark hair seems to be getting her money ready. The women are all wearing such a variety of hats! Hats indicate local styles and different areas of Tibet have different styles though the white floppy kinds I think are more to keep the sun off than any other reason.
Across the road from the monastery was a small space with some interesting life size sculptures. All showed interactions of local people with visitors. And all of the visitors were made with Caucasian features.
A local man with his sheep talking to a visitor on his bicycle.
He was crying because he wanted to be held by his mom, not sitting on the sheep so his family could take a photo.
A visitor, a local boy and a soccer ball.
Everyone seemed to ignore the statues of the women because there was nothing to sit on or climb on though you could have climbed onto the young girl’s arm. You can see the monastery across the street.
Interestingly, most women tourists I saw didn’t wear anything that short and most had small cameras rather than video cameras.
While Randal and I waited to meet Lobsang, David and Ronnie, we walked past all of the small souvenir stalls and then into a small grocery store where I bought candy to give away and Randal bought candy to eat along the way. It turned out to be a long way so we all ate some of my candy which was kind of like nougat and not too bad.
Then it was back into the car and off for Everest with a stop for lunch along the way.
No Comments »
I took lots of photos at the monastery and the small park just outside of the entrance. It will take a few emails to share them all.
Tibet # 15 Tashilhunpo Monastery
The Tashilhunpo Monastery has a great deal of historical, religious, and modern political importance associated with it and the Panchen Lama. If you just “Google” it you’ll get lots of anti-Chinese opinions and lots of “official” Chinese versions of any event in Tibetan history. Because of that, I’ve broken my rule not to use Wikipedia because “probably” it doesn’t fall into either camp, though no one is really responsible for Wikipedia’s accuracy. If you’re really interested, go to your local library and see what they have about Tibet. At least library books have been edited and reviewed and there are books representing all perspectives though I was disappointed in our online magazine database which seems to include mostly articles written either by the Chinese press or the Tibet government in exile and not what I would call neutral sources.
Lobsang walked up ahead to get our tickets followed by Randal, David Ronnie.
Saying there were lots more visitors here than the Pelkhor Monastery would be a gross understatement and there wasn’t a chance at all of anyone being locked in a room unnoticed.
“It was founded by the first Dalai Lama in 1447 and is the spiritual home of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most important spiritual leader. The monastery houses 900 monks today compared with the 5,000 in 1959. Key buildings are the Maitreya Chapel with a 85 ft gilded bronze Future Buddha statue, the Kelsang Temple, with its grand hall, the Panchen Lama’s Palace and the 115 ft Thangka Wall where giant images of the Buddha are displayed on April 14 of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Photography inside each building costs 75-150 RMB. “ AA Keyguide China 2009 edition p 212
Randal and I didn’t see any of it. The lines were way, way, way too long and after not liking the crowds at the Jokhang in Lhasa I really didn’t protest when Randal said he didn’t want to go into the really crowded buildings. Ronnie and David didn’t take any photos because of the cost. I first thought that they should just raise the price and let everyone take photos. But many people who come are real “pilgrims” who have made great effort to visit what is a place of religion for them and not a photo opportunity. So there is no reason for them to have to pay a high fee. I did take lots of photos of the women working in and walking through the monastery. Lots of photos.
This photo has a lot to say.
I asked permission before taking the photos. The adorable twin girls have shaved heads. The mom has some butter in her had to add as offerings at the butter lamps. The people on the left side of the photo are mostly tourists with cameras. The ones on the right in more traditional Tibetan clothing are there to visit the monastery for religious reasons. The stack of flat yellow bags are bags of butter for sale.
This looked like a bag check where people could buy their butter and leave their backpacks. The man in gray is carrying his prayer wheel as did many people and their long strands for beads. No one was stopped from wearing their backpack.
It seemed the majority of religious visitors were women.
Not serious visitors!
Look at the young woman in the middle. . When I started to work with the picture, the young woman in the middle looked familiar as did her jeans.
I photographed these women at the Pelkhor Monastery the previous day.
Same young woman? What do you think? She certainly is very pretty as are many of the Tibetan women.
I followed this woman for a while just to take a photo of her shoes.
Actually, most of my photos are of the women we saw.
This was only part of the line waiting to see the giant gilded Future Buddha and why Randal and I didn’t see it.
Once inside all of those people are forced into really narrow walkways that are dark and filled with the smoke of butter lamps. We had separated from David and Ronnie and later when we caught up, they sheepishly said they’d cut the line. They were determined to fill their 6 month, 7 continents with everything they could see. Randal saw everything on his bike trip in 2000 so can easily skip stuff now. I never would have cut the line so there really wasn’t so much time because once inside the lines go really slowly as many people actually spend time praying. I don’t remember David or Ronnie saying much other than it cost too much to take photos and if you’re trying to share the story with others, photos are essential or there really isn’t much of a story.
Restoring the damage done during the Cultural Revolution.
I loved the blue aprons first seen worn by the Ani Tsamkhung nuns.
I don’t know what actually prevented me from going up to speak with these women instead of just taking their photos. I was definitely impressed by their strength. The blue aprons are worn lots of different ways. I don’t take it for granted that people speak English and actually assume that most don’t. Many Tibetans, especially those outside the bigger cities, don’t get a chance at many years of school and even if they do, many are required to learn Chinese rather than English.
This woman is carrying what is probably a container of new butter for the lamps.
I did go into one of the smaller chapels and on the way out everyone, including me, jumps up to ring the bell.
A small group of monks sit in a courtyard that was once full of hundreds learning Buddhist philosophy.
No Comments »