Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kathmandu tranquility and chaos

The small crowded streets of kathmandu have been overwhelming for me; throngs of people with motorbikes and blaring horns weaving through, dogs, cows and people picking through not so neat piles of roadside rubbish, bare tangles of electricity wiring overhead, shops, vendors and tourist touts piled on top of oneanother, and overlaying all this, the heavy smog and fumes infiltrating up your nose and mouth.

But somehow it feels relaxed too; safer on the whole than south america, less calling out by the men, quiet dawntimes with only a cacophony of birds and the occasional barking dog, and with all the hindu shrines and buddhist temples/stupas, i have found many moments of quiet reflection.

Yesterday i visited the Boudha, a huge stupa just outside of Kathmandu that is surrounded by monasteries. Legend is that a woman was granted as much land as she could cover with the skin of a water buffalo, and she cleverly cut it up into thin strips and joined them together to create a massive circumference

You walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction and you can climb up towards the piercing blue eyes of Buddha and 13 gold steps to nirvana. You can join the monks who are dotted around the edge to meditate too, or give offerings for prayers.

I had a nice time walking around the stupa, stopping here and there, walking around the maze of streets to find various monasteries and enjoying some ginger tea.

Boudha Stupa

It's an interesting mix, you have the normal mess of dirty streets around the pristine white and colourful flagged Boudha, but then soaring mansions and immaculate gardens of the monastery compounds complete with barbed wire fencing. Buddhism is big business here - for both locals and the plethora of foreigners who are either living here or visiting for instruction.

I mean i get it, the appeal of both introspective work and doing it in a place like Nepal. You really can feel it am g everything else, and i myself am being drawn to more meditation practice and have more interest to visit religious sites, like the place Buddha was born to meditate there. But i also have a bit of cynicism too...not to the practice, but the way we as westerners seem to flock in droves with our pre-determined ideas. And i've not met many foreigners who speak Nepali.

I'm struggling with that, not being able to easily converse with locals about things, and funnily enough i don't think they are understanding my automatic spanish responses!

One more rant on us visitors, i was reminded disembarking the plane how we swoop in with our gore tex, high tech hiking gear, over prepared and under relaxed for our planned treks. It sort of feels like overkill, or at least we are some sort of dressed up comedy act ready to perform in the mountains.

Back to the monastaries...i can highly recommend staying in one instead of the tourist throng in kathmandu. Cost wise it's the same, and you get to enjoy hilltop serenity under beautiful stupas and dine with the monks and nuns. And of course meditate and receive instruction. When i come back to kathmandu that's where i'm headed. (Kopan Monastery)

Today i'm on the 'tourist' bus (aka sans chickens and rice bags) to Pokhara. I've been feeling a little overwhelmed with everything here, and frankly i'm just over and tired or traveling, so i'm off to find me some Himalayan mountains to wander through.

Oddly the bus trip is pretty similar; narrow mountainside highways (though for the most part paved) with dangerous passing trucks, and even in the hillside theres inca like terraces carved out.

Oh and the other good thing? Tasty food and hot chai/chiya in the morning!

Cows feasting in central Kathmandu

Durbar Square, central Kathmandu

Shrine at intersection near Thamel, central Kathmandu at 5.45am 

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