Mountains, Stupas and Funerals.

A very nice bed, warm, comfy and sleep inducing, just what you want after a long flight.

We woke just before 5.30am, dressed hurriedly, threw down a coffee and made our way down the stairs to reception where we were surprised to find our transfer already there. Despite there being considerable traffic with the whole of Kathmandu (seemingly) being on their way to work we made a relatively fast return to the airport.

With boarding passes in hand we made our way through a very disinterested security whose only insistence was that Sue proceeded through one door and I through the one next to it. We emerged into the same room. Our flight was as expected, late, we took off at 7.30am instead of the scheduled 7.00am. On the plus side it did give us an opportunity to see and chat to some of our fellow passengers.

Again passing through separate exits (men on the right, women on the left) we boarded our coach to the small , twin-engined, 16 seater aircraft. There was 14 of us and we apprehensively took our place along the line of single seats  on either side situated conveniently next to a window. The pilot and co-pilot were already in situ and without delay  a rather pretty air hostess checked our seatbelts and served the inflight meal, a toffee!

Take-off was smooth but noisy. Yes. As we climbed through the pollution overhanging Kathmandu and burst through clear air, we could clearly see the toothed and snow topped Himalayas marching from left to right in front of us. Exciting. We had been furnished with a graphic indicating the shape and names of the mountains we were soon to pass along. Useful. After around 20 minutes flying time we reached the line of seriously high mountains and turned to traverse their length. Expectant.  Sue’s side of the aircraft got the advantage of being first to see the trails, water courses and tiny settlements being replaced by severe, inhospitable rock, snow and ice. B****r! As our tiny red metal tube  wafted through the air along the side of these great slabs of granite you couldn’t help but feel rather insignificant. Concerning. I was the second one selected to visit the cockpit and take photographs, unhindered by propeller or wing. Lucky. We started with Annapurna and finished with Everest before we banked sharply round and made our return. At last! Snap, snap, snap video, snap went the camera. Memories. 

A wonderful experience, one that certainly shouldn’t be missed if visiting Nepal. Not for those that are brave/foolhardy enough to attempt to do it the ‘right’ way, but it does gives us lesser mortals just a slight insight into the hardships they have to face. I for one am seriously impressed.

We landed safely through the early morning smog and after a photo from our transfer, yes, he wanted to take our photo for a website, with us holding our certificate of achievement proving that we had conquered Everest!

We manged to hurriedly throw down a bit of breakfast back at the hotel before we joined the rest of our party on the minibus. All rush!

First stop was the largest Buddhist Stupa in the world at Boudhanath. It is of course a UNESCO heritage site and originates from the 15th century. We watched hundreds of the colourful faithful circle the Stupa turning the prayer wheels as they went. Inside one of the temples we stood and listened to the chanting of the orange clad monks who randomly struck up a cacophony of sound with alpine horns, drums and pipes that sounded not unlike a dying haggis. I watched them for quite a while and couldn’t identify the change from rhythmic, soporific chanting of voices to mimicking twenty cats trapped in a metal dustbin. Sue bought herself a smog mask near the exit, a wise move.

Next was the Hindu shrine at Pashupatinath.This had been hit badly by the earthquake, many of the buildings were in a poor condition. We spent a long time here. It was fascinating. It is where Hindus are cremated long side the Bagmati River, as they are in the Ganges. There were several funerals taking place and we sat and watched one. First the shrouded body was washed, then the funeral pyre built. A relative was next stripped to the waist and also washed, after the body was placed on the pyre he walked several times around it. Upsettingly you could see he was visibly upset and broke down several times. Then it was his painful duty to set fire to the corpse, which he did, but couldn’t bear to look as he tossed the torch onto the straw bundles. You felt for him. We watched awhile along with a very large crowd that had also assembled. In contrast we had several disinterested cows laying on the bank in front of us, enjoying the sun and chewing the cud. How surreal.

To the relief of some we moved onto Durbar Square, another UNESCO heritage site. Many of the temples and buildings had been destroyed here and what had not was heavily propped up. We spent half and hour having refreshments in a cafe before visiting the House of the Kumar. A Kumar is a young girl, chosen at the age of 6 yrs to be an earthly goddess. She loses her Kumar status when she reaches puberty and a new one is chosen through a complex number of signs. The present one is 8 yrs old.She is not allowed to leave the house or meet anyone who is not Hindu. She can grant wishes, which she does by appearing briefly at a small window in the courtyard at 10am and again at 4pm each day.  If you are praying in the courtyard at that time, your wish will be received. We were there at 4pm and saw a young, heavily made-up girl appear,  as we put our hands together and wished, we may be in luck.

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We walked further into the complex of destroyed temples and took photos, all containing either piles of rubble or scaffolding. What a shame.

Next stop was another Hindu shrine which also had a Stupa. In Nepal the Hindus worship in Stupas and vice-versa without any friction. The Hindu’s consider Buddha as a prophet. Why can’t Christians and Muslims come to a similar understanding? However, we came here not to see buildings but to see the hundreds of monkeys that inhabit the hilltop complex. It is called the Monkey Temple. It was dark as we left.

Sue and I returned to the hotel to eat in the restaurant as we were tired from our early start, the rest of the group chose to visit a local bar and spend the night on the town. There in spirit but not in body.

Another early start tomorrow as we travel to Pokhara, a 7 hour drive away.

 

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