After a few minutes of typical Indian bureaucratic processing, we loaded up our backpacks and walked about 100 meters to the Nepali border control. The guys there were nice and friendly, spoke perfect English and even offered us chai. We paid the $25 required for a 15 day visa, got it in no time and off we were into the mythical and mystical land of Nepal. We took a deep breath of air - which already felt cleaner than in India - and were excited to start off the next leg of our adventure.
|Self-portrait on the local bus from Lumbini to Pokhara.|
Sadhus are "holy men" of the Hindu religion, who've given up worldly lives to dedicate themselves to meditation, chanting, prayer and asceticism. Sadhus are usually semi-naked men, with huge dreadlocks, face paint, who are begging for money or food and seem high on charas (hashish) most of the time. A charlatan sadhu in Kathmandu was chasing tourists to take photos of himself for 100 rupees/photo. The 3 sadhus riding on top of our bus didn't seem that holy to me either... more like stoned hippies with dreadlocks. I think they might be the reason why the dreadlocked hippie image came into being.
That dude is the money collector, since there are no tickets, just cash offerings, depending on how long each passenger has been on the bus. His job is also to notify the driver when he has to stop or start again, by tapping his hand really hard against the side of the bus. Another duty of this individual is to negotiate narrow passages when there's incoming traffic in the form of a huge truck or another bus. Sometimes, the road is too narrow for two vehicles to pass at the same time, so one of them has to back off until it reaches a section where the road is wide or safe enough for the other vehicle to pass. These drivers are probably some of the best drivers in the world.
Pokhara, located on the banks of the Phewa Tal (tal = lake) with the Annapurna range looming in the distance. Until the end of the 1960s the town was only accessible by foot and it was considered even more a mystical place than Kathmandu. Today, Pokhara is a big tourist hub, as many trekkers come here to hike the Annapurna Circuit or the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) trek. We loved Pokhara so much that we stayed there for about a week, relaxing at our cute Little Tibetan Guesthouse, hiking, eating good food, shopping, taking day trips on our rented motorbikes and hanging out with people we met.
Prayer wheels at the Tibetan monastery. Prayer wheels can be found all over Nepal and Tibet, and in the mountains they are often spun by wind or water. Prayer wheels are cylindrical metal wheels on a spindle. The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written on pieces of paper that are stuffed inside the cylinder. The same mantra is also written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel. The wheels should be spun only in clockwise direction and have the same effect as reciting the mantra. In the mountains, the wheels spun by wind and water supposedly send the prayer into all directions.
Om Mani Padme Hum (YouTube version here) is the most popular Buddhist mantra, dating back from the 11th century. It is present all over Nepal, carved on prayer stones on the side of mountain paths, on colorful Tibetan prayer flags, plastered on souvenirs, such as necklace pendants, earrings and key chains. Om Mani Padme Hum means "The Jewel in the Lotus Flower," and OM is considered the most sacred sound in Buddhism and used to start any prayer or mantra. I am guilty of having chuckled many times when forced to chant OOOOUUUMMM at the beginning or end of a pretentious yoga class, and context makes all the difference on whether you regard something as ridiculous or sacred. In the context of Nepal, and after having had goosebumps form on my skin on hearing chants reverberating in the mountains, I am glad to say I've also felt the sacred in this chant.
Newari architecture, just like it was when the first foreigners came here in the 50s. Fine brickwork and woodcarving are the hallmarks of Newar architecture. The most beautiful examples of Newar architecture are in Kathmandu's Durbar Square.
We also did a two-day hike to the mountain village of Ghandruk, which you can see on the trekking map above. This was the best hike we could do without paying the expensive Annapurna hiking permit of 4000 rupees (about 50 USD). The permit makes sense if you do a long hike, but for the 2-day hike we didn't think it was worth it. It's more expensive than going into any national park in the US, but for a country as poor as Nepal, the money coming from tourist visas and hiking permits will hopefully contribute to improving the lives of local people.
"You never enjoy the world alright, till the Sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world." (P. Matthiessen - The Snow Leopard)
Buddha Purnima (Buddha's birthday). We had no idea about it and could not understand why first the bus, then the cab were so stuck in traffic. The streets were packed with worshipers, school-children, women, every walk of life, all together parading and celebrating one of the biggest holidays of Buddhism. The photos above and below were taken on the streets of Kathmandu during this celebration.
stupa, not the famous one at Bodnath, but a smaller, identical-looking one. The stupa is part of the traditional Newar architecture style. In Sanskrit stupa means heap and it used to be just that: a mound of clay covering the relics of Buddha. In Tibet, the name used for a stupa is that of chorten.
There is wide acceptance of the fact that Newar architects may have been responsible for developing Asia's hallmark multi-tiered pagoda architecture. And I always thought pagodas are Japanese...
my other blog post about Nepal, as it really is the last photo we took in Nepal and Asia, thus marking the end of our 6 month journey, at least the exotic part of it. Nepal has been one of my favorite countries to visit, and one that I strongly feel I will come back to one day.
Monica - April 17, 2012