Monday, July 6, 2009
Hello and goodbye to the Indira Ghandi International Airport! What a pain in the ass! Thank god I had plenty of time – though that was in no way due to my good planning. Um – my driver — assured me that I had to be at the airport by 6:00 am for my 8:30 am flight. I actually argued with him about this. For Pete’s sake…you would have thought that by now I would know to listen to those who know more than I do and keep my mouth shut. Well, I did have time to get through the nightmare that was security – I was practically strip searched and they removed and examined each and every item in my purse and backpack . I made it onto my flight to Kathmandu…by the skin of my teeth…and thank you Um!!!
I arrived at the Kathmandu airport and was met by another man wearing a medical mask (like in the Mumbai airport) handing out cards to us wanting to know if we had been experiencing any flu-like symptoms. He was also wielding a thermometer “gun” that he pushed onto my forehead for a moment to take my temperature. Whooo…they’re serious. In Mumbai, the list of countries they were concerned about had been six or seven…here they had a list of at least twenty “countries of concern”. I passed the forehead test and was sent to a table to fill out the health form. Then I moved along to another table to fill out a visa form. Then I moved along to a small photo booth for a visa photo…paid 150 rupees for two of them and took my handful of stuff to the next counter to fill out another form and pay for my Nepal visa. The entire process took about 30 minutes…but it was very well organized and all of us tourists were lead smoothly through each phase and out the door without issue.
The company contact person was just outside the door with a big sign that had my name on it – I waved and smiled – he waved and smiled back – a successful pick up – we’re both happy. We get to the vehicle and we’re on our way. At some point, I asked to have the air conditioning put on…and my contact person said that he didn’t think that I had paid for air conditioning in my package. I informed him that he was mistaken and that tomorrow we would have a different vehicle. That was the moment when I thought to myself that things might be a little different in Nepal then they were in India.
We were at a standstill for most of the three mile drive to the hotel and after a while…I asked why the traffic was so bad. He told me that there were demonstrations in the streets. He says that things are very uncertain in Kathmandu right now – there are problems with the government and the police and the army – people have been rioting and there is much “disturbance throughout Kathmandu”. Really? Maybe I should have been watching more of the news on TV instead of writing this blog every night… It seems that there was a big upset with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) 6 weeks ago and there is now “much unrest and uncertainty throughout the country as well as a general atmosphere of fear and intimidation”. Not my most favorite phrase to date.
The Hotel Dwarika is a beautiful and historical old hotel as you can see by the pictures. It is one of eight World Heritage sites in Nepal.
Everything about my room was stunning…except the beds. Hard as rock twin beds…one step up from the floor. And the air-conditioner didn’t work. So, beautiful as it was, my first night was sleepless in Kathmandu!. By the next night, they had put cushions on the bed, fixed the air I found my cache of sleeping pills…so all was well.
** It’s three days later as I’m editing this for the blog and I have to laugh and look back fondly at the Hotel Dwarika…it was luxurious compared to what was to come…
The next morning at 9 am I met my guide Mono and we headed out to tour Kathmandu City. It’s the capital and the largest metropolitan city of Nepal. The city stands at 1400 meters (4300 ft) and is inhabited by about 2 million people. It is also considered to have the most advanced infrastructure in Nepal.
In the distance — my first stop of the day…the Monkey Temple.
One of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to — located on a hill in the Kathmandu valley — it was a short 10 minute drive from the hotel. Home to hundreds of free-range monkeys.
Legend has it the monkeys were formed from the head lice of the “Manjusree Bodhisattva” who in Buddhism represents the embodiment of wisdom and, according to folk tradition, raised the hill upon which the Monkey Temple stands.
The words legend and head lice in the same sentence…I can’t make this stuff up.
The story goes that when this “Manjusree Bodhisattva” was building the temple, the lice jumped off his head and became monkeys before they hit the ground.
To reach the top of the temple, I climbed 365 steps. Just one more reason why I have no guilt over a big breakfast every morning 🙂
“This is a workout, wildlife excursion, and spiritual escape all wrapped into one. Be prepared to huff and puff your way up 365 steep steps to meet some furry friends at this Nepali Buddhist site.” Atlas Obscura
The staircase is presided over by three painted Buddha statues from the 17th century near the base (women perform prostrations before them in the early morning); another group further up are from the early 20th century.
The Nepalese people have been coming to this shrine since the 5th century and while today they come to see the monkeys, for most of its history, people came to pray at the bottom of the domed stupa and to fly prayer flags.
On virtually every stupa (Buddhist shrine) in Nepal, there are giant pairs of eyes staring out from the four sides of the main tower.
These are Buddha Eyes (also known as Wisdom Eyes), and they look out in the four directions to symbolize the omniscience (all-seeing) of a Buddha.
The Buddha eyes are so prevalent throughout the country that they have become a symbol of Nepal itself.
Between the Buddha’s eyes where the nose would be is a curly symbol that looks like question mark.
This is the Nepali character for the number 1, which symbolizes unity of all the things as well as the one way to reach enlightenment—through the Buddha’s teachings.
Above this is a third eye, symbolizing the all-seeing wisdom of the Buddha.
And then here are the prayer flags…
Traditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five: one in each of five colors.
The five colors are arranged from left to right in a specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow and represent the five elements. Different colors – different traditions – different purposes.
Blue: Sky and Space Green: Water
White: Air and Wind Yellow: Water
Some pictures of the inner areas of the temple…
Above are two variations of Lord Buddha – the first is seated upright (red) the second (in gold) is covered with wax and red dust and I’m sure other stuff. It’s all about getting up close and personal. Buddha’s are not walled off and there are no signs that say “Don’t Touch”. They are there to be worshipped and touched and given gifts.
And of course…opportunities to shop
Leaving the temple, I walked down the east side of hill and at the bottom was a huge Tibetan prayer wheel – almost 12 ft high. It takes two people to turn it and a bell sounds each time it goes around a full rotation.
Prayer wheels are used primarily by the Buddhist’s of Tibet and Nepal. According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. The prayer wheel is also useful for illiterate members of the lay Buddhist community since they can “read” the prayer by turning the wheel.
Next was a small building containing yak butter candles – very aromatic – and not in the Bed, Bath and Beyond type of candle.
Candles are a traditional part of Buddhist ritual observations. They’re lit and placed before images of the Buddha as a show of respect.
It was about 200 degrees inside – there had to be thousands of candles burning – whew!
They may also be accompanied by offerings of food and drink. The light of the candles is described as representing the light of the Buddha’s teachings.