Gateway to the Himalayas
7.10.10 - 7.13.10 80 °F
I’ve read a lot about Nepal, mostly about the Himalayas. Whether it’s a story outlining someone’s inability to summit, a memoir of a fallen friend, or a personal recount of what it felt like to be on top of the world, one thing remains constant…. People come to Nepal for the mountains, and return for the people.
So far, Galen and I haven’t seen any mountains, but we have encountered numerous friendly people… mostly children.
It’s almost as if all children are handed out a script in their classes of what to say to westerners they encounter. Children run up excitedly, put their palms together, bow their heads, and politely and shyly utter “Namaste” – the Nepali greeting. As soon as we respond, their heads rise, their eyes brighten, and they exclaim “Helllooo!” And each conversation, without fail, goes like this:
L and G: Hi! Hello!
Child: Where are you from?
L and G: USA
Child: Oooooh. What is your name?
Child: (giggling) Oooh. And what is your name?
Child: Oooh (giggling)
And then they run off, as if they suddenly remembered they have more important and fun things to do then talk to two blond haired people with funny names carrying backpacks.
Third in notability behind the mountains and the people is, sadly, the pollution. I’m reading a book right now called, The Waiting Land: A Spell in Nepal, by Dervla Murphy. When describing the pollution in Kathmandu, she quotes a British doctor who said, “from a sanitary point of view Kathmandu may be said to be built on a dunghill in the middle of latrines.” She also felt “that he was being charitable when he stated that ‘this is one of the filthiest cities in the world.’” Unfortunately, these descriptions could not be more accurate. Trashcans are a rarity, and stray dogs rummaging through piles of trash on the streets are common… as are men urinating on roadsides.
Our first few days in Nepal were filled with language courses (mero naam Laura ho.) and sightseeing. The big tourist attractions in Kathmandu are Thamel, Durbar Square, and Boudhanath Stupa. Thamel is where all of the backpackers stay, and the trekkers book their journeys. It’s great for shopping, people watching, and coffee drinking. We have done our fair share of shopping, and learned that the most powerful thing you can do when bargaining is simply walking away. As soon as you even make a half step towards the door, the vendors will agree to almost any price. Awesome!
At Durbar Square, we saw “The Kumari,” also known as the living goddess. An important icon to the Hindu religion, the Kumari is chosen as a young girl through a somewhat barbaric selection process. She is kept inside (with the exception of festivals), not allowed to touch the ground outside, and appears through a small window every day at 4pm for about 5 seconds. It’s apparently good luck to see her, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the young girl, who rarely gets to see the sky, or feel the sun on her face.
Boudhanath Stupa, a typical symbol of Nepal, was incredible. It’s sacred among Tibetan Buddhists, and beautifully decorated with hundreds of prayer flags. Monks wander around the stupa, feeding the pigeons, and muttering prayers while local vendors sell postcards, prayer beads, and mini Buddha statues.
Kathmandu as a whole is the most hectic and crowded city I have ever seen – cars drive as if there are no lanes, and 25 people often cram themselves into “buses” the size of vans. Some people even have to ride on the roof! Sacred cows roam the streets, and take naps in the roads. When it rains, it pours, and there is a seemingly endless gray cloud covering the surrounding valley. But, the people, as promised, are incredible – friendly and always smiling, and the culture is rich and vibrant. Each morning around 6 am, I have woken up the sound of laughter. “Laughing Therapy,” as it’s called, involves people gathering in circles, embracing each other, and bellowing out their deepest laughs for ten minutes. What a great way to start the day!