8:00 this morning and we are aboard our charter filght as a twin engine Beechwood turbo-prop takes us up close and personal for a couple of fly-bys of Mount Everest. An out of body, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this’ moment. More on this later. Lets get back to yesterday.
The flight out of Doha was fairly uneventful save for an intro to our traveling companion across the aisle. Reuben del Prado is an ex-pat from Suriname who holds a high level post with UNAIDS. He has been here several years and has assembled a coterie of individuals who prevent life from being dull. He picked us out as being of the faith, as was he. Ron also surmised that Reuben was gay, a fact rapidly confirmed as we stepped through the threshold of his beautifully appointed home, respecting the dinner invite that was forthcoming prior to hitting the ground in Nepal. We were introduced, in short order to his partner, Itkhy, a boy 13 years Reuben’s junior, hailing originally from Guyana. Mea was then presented to us. She was Thai and three days away from finishing her stint with the UN. Kyle was the lone American. He was a journalist, author, political reporter and part time employee of the UN, arranged by Reuben to allow Kyle to retain his working papers. There were 3 Jews, 3 North Americans, 3 gays, 3 straights, a Buddhist, a Presbetyrian, and Muslim in attendance. Theoretically, there should have been no topics open for discussion, but that was far from the case. Over a sumptuous feast of Nepalese/Asian food, buoyed by Johnny Walker Black and ice wine, we covered how to use the UN for fun and profit- these guys were jet setting weekly to Europe, the USA, Asia, etc. We reviewed the sheer futility of UN imposed programmes, doomed to failure as a result of local population. The vagaries of Nepalese pronunciation was next as Kyle regaled us with this story that I will share with all of you. The locals have trouble pronouncing English Z’s and X’s (which likely renders them lousy Scrabble players). Both letters are pronounced by Nepalis as J. A Nepalese diplomat had encountered a US statesmen and the two of them were making small talk. The American asked if there were monkeys in Nepal and was replied to in the affirmative. Returning the question, the Nepalese was surprised to hear that there were, indeed, no monkeys in the US. “That’s not possible”, opined the Nepali. “What about the Jews?” and that’s how wars start.
Prior to dinner, yesterday was Katmandu kulture day. Our guide, Dev (not Dave, not a restaurant) picked us up at 9 and we were off to visit a number of Katmandu’s major stupas. Not what I anticipated. These were large mounds, originally covered with grass and festooned with particularly placed shrines that embodied many of the deities that formed an essential and fundamental part of the lives of the Hindu, who make up the majority of the population.
The numerous temples which were visited were made of wood and stone, the quality of carving of which were generally of museum quality.
The most difficult part of the day was trying to follow Dev’s explanation of how Shiva, Lokshemi, Brahma, et al. fit together in a narrative, which featured changing names, personifications, and roles. The most interesting element that I have encountered with Hinduism concerns the relationship between man and gods. Their deities are perceived as fallible, with the same types of peccadillos which challenge mankind. While reverence has its place, the conversation is a ‘me and you’ discussion rather than an ‘I and Thou’ as we are taught.
Final stop of the day was a Buddhist Monastary situated high on the hill overlooking Katmandu. We had a choice between the pilgrim route up 360 stone stairs or the regular (sinner’s?) route featuring 60. Not a long discussion. There we had the good fortune to sit in on a prayer session and to see temples and stupas in the setting sunlight. So pretty and inspiring, it could make an atheist cry. It was surrounded by the usual brunt of tourists and wild animals.
|See No Evil|
|Hear No Evil|
Temples out we headed back and joined the del Prado entourage.
The aforementioned one hour of flying time to see the highest point on the planet was not on my bucket list so no need to cross it off. Suffice to say that unanticipated experience such as these are the bonus points and free games in the pinball world of global travel. The funniest part was hearing how the airport shut down until all the Everest flights returned, delaying regular commercial departures. It seems that the revenues generated from tourist use of the planes trumps regular commercial traffic. So anybody with a crucial business meeting in Delhi or carrying a heart on ice for transplant in Doha will just have to wait until we’ve all got out perfect shot.
More temples, more gods, but a visit to the charming town of Bhaktapour, with its five level world heritage temple and almost European like scenery and calm made for a break.
Next stop was the Mecca equivalent to Buddhists. Apparently Buddha spent some time contemplating his navel here and pilgrims flock like turkey’s to the river bank. There is a series of ghats, which are a nice word for funeral pyres lined up alongside the river. To get within site range, one must cross through a gauntlet of holy aescetics who, like Scarlett O’Hara, rely on the kindness of others. A few rupiah and a cigarette later, they posed in ways that would put Cheryl Tiegs to shame.
Getting ringside seats at a cremation is something I’d recommend – once. The rituals include washing the body’s feet, covering the shroud with vermillion and flowers, and then having a child of the deceased encircle the corpse three times holding a burning torch and then placing the torch on the head and face of the deceased parent while the other professional mourners build up the logs and hay around, under and over the body as the three hour burn down commences. At the end, the residue ashes are swept into the river and the reincarnation process begins. Seeing this ceremony certainly had the effect of bringing the day all home and back into perspective for Ron and I.
Reperspectified, we returned to the hotel to discuss tomorrow’s plans. We are scheduled to leave for the south but there may be a monkey wrench or two headed our way. A national election has been called for the 19th of this month. The list of characters are The Maoist Party, The splinter group break away Maoist Party 2, the Communist Party, the Marxist Leninist Party, etc. All that is missing is a tall skinny bearded guy in a ratty army jacket hawking copies of the McGill Daily. Meantime, Mao 2 is calling for a general countrywide strike to last the week in order to put the kibosh on the election. Tourist vehicles have green license plates and generally are immune. Problem is our driver has to get to our hotel with no tourists in the car. Our plan is to get outta Dodge around sunrise and skedaddle to the nature reserve and take our chances amongst the rhinos. More to follow.