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Sharon McRae
India and Nepal 1998 (with kids)



Monuments and Mystics

Arriving in Kathmandu again seemed like coming home. We grabbed a rickshaw and headed for a hotel we had arranged in Thamel. The driver had a hard time finding the place, but we eventually got settled with two rooms for the price of one. A change out of our bathing suits and a quick bite at Helena’s and off to bed.

We wandered down to Durbar Square, getting gleefully lost enroute. We had postponed breakfast so as to enjoy early morning in the square, but as soon as we found a teashop, Roddy got hit with Delhi-Belly. I consider this amazing, as we’ve been on the road for nearly a month, and have really not been very careful with the food, so we head back to the hotel. Don decides he’ll grab a nap while keeping tabs on Roddy and the bucket, so Liam and I head out to wander.

On the way to Durbar square we pass "Shivering Goat Corner", which we named on our last trip, as every day the bunch of goats reduced in number by one and the pile of meat seemed ever-present. The last goat definitely looked nervous. Liam took an instant aversion to the way they tack the head of whatever animal is on today’s menu to the wall, I guess sign-making is not a forte of the Nepalese! Liam and I spent a few hours sitting atop Kasthamandap temple, playing with the telephoto lens and chatting with kids. We ran into the couple who had been on our bus from India (the companionable couple of "Boner Boy" fame), and also our pal from Hamilton...Durbar Square is definitely the place to see and be seen. The square is full of temples dating back to the 12th century. Durbar means Royal, and the square has a decidedly surreal feeling to it with its thirty-odd pagoda-like temples scattered around the ancient palace. Back at the homestead, Roddy is still a little under the weather, so Liam and Don head for supper as I bunk down with Rod for the night.

Roddy awoke the next day feeling fit as a fiddle and as hungry as a bear so, playing cautious, we headed to a bakery for fresh breads and tea. Our Canadian friend was here, packing a knapsack before heading out on bike to a neighboring village.

The weather today is clear and so we decide to walk to Bodnath and Pushnupatinath. We begin our walk by ambling by the new Royal Palace towards the Bagmati River. The palace is opulent and closely guarded; however, the most interesting sight is the thousands of bats which hang in the trees around the palace. The "palace bats" are found only in these trees and are very large and so numerous that the trees seem to be in a state of perpetual motion. The kids are quite impressed. We have to ask directions a number of times, but it is not long before we are crossing the holy river, which feeds the mighty Ganges. The Bagmati is to Nepal what the Ganges is to India, and Pushnupatinath is Nepal’s Varanassi.

Pushnupatinath is swarming with pilgrims (on their last journey) and Saddhus. The Saddhus (holy men) are basically aesthetics who have chosen to give up their "material" lives and basically "go walkabout" meditating and searching for inner peace. The Saddhus are quite unique, although a little unsavory. Most holy men shun bathing, rub ashes over their bodies and perform a myriad of self-mutilating feats as they wander barefoot over the country on pilgrimage. We sit on the steps lining the banks of the Bagmati to watch a funeral ritual, and are soon approached by a Saddhu. Unbeknownst to me, the man has offered to show Don his particular feat, the lifting of a twenty-kilo stone. Now, this may not seem too impressive, but he’s added a twist. This Saddhu can apparently lift this stone with his penis! I will never understand why Don did not agree to watch this display of mental and physical prowess ... perhaps it’s something to do with the male ego; I for one would have paid a few rupees for such a sight! The funerals here are performed a few feet from the onlookers and, although gruesome, are very educational. There are many rituals associated with the funeral. The bodies are wrapped in white fabric, water from the holy river is poured into the mouths, coins are placed around the body, butter is used to start the fire and marigolds figure prominently. Like our western rites, the ceremony is complex and very touching. The clothes of the deceased are thrown into the river. However, in today’s economic climate, the poorest people soon reclaim the garments from the waters. I’ll never shop in a used clothing store here!

We leave Pushnupatinath and walk a kilometer or so to Bodnath, a Buddhist site. The stupa at Bodha is the largest and most important outside of China, drawing Buddhists from the World over. The chanting of monks can be heard reverberating around the site, adding to the feeling of peacefulness that permeates the place. We grab a lunch at the Stupa View cafe, the eyes of Buddha watching our every bite. There are quite a few "gompas" or monasteries here, and upon entering one you feel as if you have stepped back in time a few centuries… well almost. As I stood amidst a hundred or so monks cross-legged at low tables, listening to the sounds of their deep monotone chanting interspersed with the haunting tones of brass gongs, I was hard pressed to feel connected with the outside world. The arrival of young monks bearing trays laden with orange Fanta complete with straws for chanting horde seemed grotesquely out of place. I guess even Buddhists monks enjoy a few modern pleasures.

Boudha is a favorite of mine. The structure itself, although impressive, is not what fascinates me but the calm, spiritual people who throng to this site. Leaving Boudha I get an overwhelming sensation of re-emerging into the harsh twentieth century from a short respite in a gentler time and a sense of sadness and loss envelops me.

Back in Kathmandu, we stop at the famous Kathmandu Guest House for a cold drink. The lovely garden peopled by travelers from the world over is an interesting place to while away a sunny afternoon. Over drinks we decide we’ll head to the ancient city of Bhaktapur tomorrow, probably our last jaunt of our time in Nepal.

Bhaktapur, "City of the Devotees" is a timeless town, its roots in the 14th century, and is enhanced by the absence of vehicles within its walls. Within the walls of the town over thirty temples await the visitor. The temples are scattered throughout the town, reached by ambling down winding lanes and through cobbled squares. Although the town’s historic importance is preserved, life within its walls is vibrant; artisans are at work around every turn and hordes of children scamper through the streets. We lunch on a rooftop overlooking Nyatapola Temple, whose five_tiered pagoda roofs rise thirty meters against the backdrop of the Himalayas...magnificent. Every temple and structure in the town is intricately carved and adorned with statues, dazzling to the senses and providing what are surely some of the world’s most unique playground structures for the local children. Nepal rarely puts its treasures behind bars. The temples are an integral part of daily life, and the living, human and animal, are welcome. The Gods, however, are not with us today as the clouds roll in and the rain forces us to abandon the ancient city in search of modern comforts

Whitewater Rafting
  Sharon McRae - Bio and Journals
  India and Nepal 1998 (with kids) - Intro Average Rating of 10 Viewers
Chapters of India and Nepal 1998 (with kids)
  And we're off...
  Into India
  To Pushkar
  The Taj, Reptiles and Cows
  Train to Varanassi
  Border Crossings
  Nepal/ Pokhara
  Trekking the Himalaya
  Whitewater Rafting
  Back to Delhi & Home( the end...alas)


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