Sunday, March 26th
We woke up 10 minutes before the wakeup call came, still confused about what time it was. My phone is stuck on Seattle time, Erin’s was stuck on Guangzhou time and neither of us could figure out how to add 12 hours and 45 minutes to my clock, because math is hard when you are excited and sleep deprived.
We went downstairs to an amazing buffet that included food that catered to a variety of national tastes. Still timid to get too adventurous, we stuck with what was familiar in effort to not upset our stomachs.
Jiban joined us for breakfast to talk about the plan for the day. It was such a delight to finally meet him after months of correspondence and planning. Talking with Jiban put any anxieties at ease. He is a pro, has been doing this for years and runs a very efficient and dialed in operation. Not only that, he is connected with some of the most incredible mountaineers, snowboarders and climbers in the industry and I had a little bit of a fan-girl moment when he mentioned he had dinner with Renan Ozturk last night. (If you haven’t seen Meru, please go watch it. You’re welcome!)
The plan for today was to leave around 8:15 for a tour. We had a personal tour guide and a car to take us to three historic and culturally relevant sites in Kathmandu. After the tour, we would have some down time before meeting with our guide for the Trek to go over gear, maps, logistics and planning. We are heading out to the Annapurna region tomorrow morning, and Erin and I welcomed a day of touring and learning about the rich culture and religious practices here.
We met our tour guide (I’ll call him Mr. B because I don’t want to butcher the spelling) walked out of the hotel and we were welcomed by a custom sign for Erin and I. I was floored and thought it was incredibly thoughtful and awesome. (Also, my mom has a thing for banners and signs, so she is probably just beside herself reading this). We snapped a few pictures and headed off to the first site.
Kathmandu reminds me so much of Iquitos, Peru. The rules of the road are just stick to the side you’re supposed to be on and everything else is fair game. Tons of mopeds, motorcycles, cyclist, pot holes, etc. Driving these roads would be impossible for me (I tend to drive like a grandma), but as a passenger it’s kind of fun and feels like a ride at an amusement park. There are approximately 3 million people that live in the 19 square miles of Kathmandu. For comparison, Seattle is 83.78 square miles and has 660,000 people. The streets were crowded, but we were out and about before rush hour. The work week here starts on Sunday and is typically 10:00am-5:00pm. We also learned that it is currently December 13th 2073 according to the Nepali calendar. This is the future people.
We visited the Swayambhu Stupa (also referred to as the Monkey stupa) first. We learned a lot about the architecture and symbolism of the Buddha. The prayer flags were stunning and devotion of the people was admirable. I was amazed, or distracted, by all the macaque monkeys everywhere.
On a clear day, you can see across the whole Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayas. It was very smoggy today though, so the valley was socked in.
We then ventured to the Great Boudha Stupa which is one of the largest and most significant monuments in the world (yes, that’s how it is spelled). The streets of Kathmandu are chaotic, but once you pass through the ally and enter the Stupa, there was a calming peace in the midst of a busy city. We ducked into a small doorway to a room covered in beautiful mandala tapestries. We climbed up the narrow stairs to find artists creating these beautiful mandalas. Artists will sit for 10 hours or more, cross legged, and work on these pieces. I admire their patience and focus on detail. I honestly cannot wrap my brain around it. We politely declined the pressure sale and made our way out to the next location.
We then went to the Pashupatinath Temple. This is one of the largest Hindu temples in the world and people travel from all over to see it. There are bulls and goats and sheep wandering all over this area, and being that Erin loves goats, this made for an exciting bonus to the trip. We were not allowed inside temple, as we are not Hindu, but we were able to circle the outside. Approximately 90% of Nepalese people are Hindu or Buddhist, so seeing these sites was a fantastic cultural experience.
Just outside the temple along the river, we observed two Hindu cremations. This was fascinating. Mr. B explained to us that they perform public cremations usually within 2 hours of the death of the person. They bring them to designated sites along the river and perform a ceremony before the cremation. This is all done in public, and it was surprisingly beautiful. Erin and I talked about this a lot this evening and how much this differs in our culture. In the US, when someone dies we keep it private. Erin works at a nursing home and explained to me that often times in the industry, they try their best keep it quiet someone passes away. They close the doors and try not to tell anyone. Typically a patient enters the front door and leaves through the back. This realization floored me. (Side note, Erin is trying to change this mentality in our culture and I really admire the work she does with the elderly).
We hush death here for various reasons in the US, but I realized our process with death in America is more about catering to those still living than those who have passed. Here, they gather together and publically honor the individual in a timely fashion as they transition out of this life. Often in the US, we hold on to people too long to satisfy our own emotional needs. Accepting death as a part of life is hard to come to grips with, especially in a culture that fights and hides the natural process. I am not saying either way is right or wrong, I just value the perspective and reflection it has given me.
A busy day and more to say, but will need to save it for part 2. 🙂
(Photos will be uploaded later when I can)