10/2015 - Himalayan Kingdoms Part 2
On to the second part of our Himalayan Kingdom journey...Nepal. (Links to Part 1 & Part 3 are below).
The flight from Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal was a very brief one, providing us with a quick glimpse of the Himalayan mountain range. Ever since the earthquake last April, trekkers & tourists alike have been reluctant to return to the area. We arrived just after the rainy season ended, so not much had progressed in the way of repairs to any buildings. We found the vendors throughout the Kathmandu Valley to be quite desperate for business. The Valley has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many of which were damaged by the quake & are waiting for approval of special UNESCO funding to rebuild & repair them. The sites include the Durbar Square in Kathmandu, in Patan & in Bhaktapur, as well as religious areas of Swayambhunath, Bodhnath, Pashupatinath & Changunarayan. We were able to visit the first six of these sites.
The city of Katmandhu has a rich history, spanning nearly 2000 years. It is Nepal's capital & largest city; we found it to be a crowded, noisy, bustling, colorful place. Its Durbar Square (meaning place of palaces) held numerous temples, shrines & courtyards. Sadly, it was badly damaged in the earthquake. Piles of rubble, large beams propping up walls & huge cracks in buildings that were still standing illustrated some of the damage. Many temples had posters mounted alongside the rubble showing the pre-quake undamaged structure for comparison. About 1 million people live in the city & 80% are Hindu while about 9% are Buddhist, all peacefully co-existing. The Buddhist stupa (a structure containing relics & remains of monks & nuns, used as a place of meditation) of Bodhnath is the largest in the world & is at the center of the Buddhist community in Kathmandu. Many monasteries have been built around it due to the large influx of Tibetan refugees. The damage to it & to Swayambhunath (the Monkey Temple) was significant. One afternoon we visited a crematorium along the sacred Basmati River, behind Pashupatinath, which is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal & one of the holiest Shiva temples in South Asia. We watched as mourners prepared & washed their dead loved ones, lit the funeral pyres & finally washed away the ashes into the flowing water. It was quite a personal & moving experience. While we were in Nepal there was a fuel shortage going on due to an economic blockade along the border with India. It did not affect our touring but it had a profound effect on daily living for the residents. We saw many lines of cars waiting for gas & lines of people with empty canisters waiting for propane. We also passed many over-crowded buses with overflow riders sitting on the roof of the bus.
Patan is the city known for its craftsmen & artists who preserve their traditions. At the Patan Museum we saw incredible ancient art & religious items. We also got an audience with one of the three "Kumaris" (Living Goddesses) living in Kathmandu Valley. They are young girls who are singled out as having special prescient & healing powers. They are revered, carried around so their feet don't touch the ground & treated like goddesses until the first time they bleed... The child we saw in Patan was a 7 year-old living a lonely & isolated life. If you want to learn more about this custom click here for a National Geographic article. Later we visited a place that used healing bowls' vibrations & tones to heal both physically & spiritually.
In Bhaktapur, the Valley's most medieval city, we saw examples of intricate craftsmanship illustrating the city's character & identity. It had the best preserved palace courtyards & old city center. Intact temples now stand alongside piles of rubble. Many shops & homes experienced ruin as well.
We felt fortunate to visit all of these sacred locations but saddened to see the havoc nature has wrought upon them. We hope the rebuilding starts soon & the country can recover some of the heritage it has lost. Namaste.