Kathmandu

Namaste!

After over 30 hours of traveling, we arrived in Kathmandu at 11am local time to an immediate eruption of chaos in the airport. Obtaining a 30-day tourist visa required 3 separate steps, none of which were made clear. Oh the joys of traveling! It was long, hot and stuffy.

But the universe put us in touch with a human who made our “ordeal” seem like a cakewalk. The caretaker of the Airbnb is named Thupten, a 36-year-old man who escaped oppressive Chinese rule in Tibet at the age of 13, leaving behind everyone he knew besides his brother. They crossed the border on the back of a yak and successfully made the dangerous journey to Kathmandu seeking a better life.

For 10 years following their escape, they could not even call home. Only recently, in 2005, could they connect with their family, and even that is monitored. The Chinese keep a careful eye (and ear) on all communications into and out of Tibet, heavily limiting what topics Thupten and his family can discuss.

We were humbled both by our new friend’s experience and by our lack of knowledge regarding how the Chinese have treated the people of Tibet.

After spending time with Thupten, we decided to start exploring our new neighborhood for the next 3 days, Boudha. This is in the northeast side of Kathmandu, short on tourists and filled with locals; just the way we like it! We were a 10 minute walk from one of the most famous stupas in the city, Boudhanatha Stupa, which was incredible, especially during the Dashain festivities.

Dashain is a very important Hindu and Buddhist holiday in Nepal that lasts for over two weeks, drawing visitors from all around the region to the temples and other important religious symbols in the area. It has been fascinating to witness the collision of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal, and the fact that almost the entire population is practicing some sort of religion, young or old, a striking difference from the US.

Incredible colors, the sounds of people chanting, and the smells of incense, food and diesel surrounded us night and day.

The Buddha’s eyes gazing down

Colorful prayer flags adorn the stupa near sunset

Prayer wheels

Momos, a staple of the diet in Nepal

Chowmein, also a popular dish and a perfect example of the mixture of cultures in this country

On our second day, we ventured to Thamel, a neighborhood in the center of the city housing many of the tourists. Colorful shops lined every street, filled with fake North Face and Marmot gear. It has been hard not to spend all my money on these impressive fakes!

We met up with Jonathan and Raquel, and decided to walk to the Monkey Temple, another famous stupa on the west side of the city. It is believed that this structure arose as a lotus flower from an ancient lake, and it is easy to picture this as the temple stands atop a heavily forested hill looking down on the sprawling city.

Monkeys were crawling everywhere, some with fruit, some with babies on their backs, all eyeing our water bottles and other gear they would try and snatch.

We climbed the steep steps with the throngs of other tourists, getting a bit sweaty in the heat. We reached the top and circumambulated clockwise around the stupa, which we are getting pretty good at! We stopped to take a few pictures, enjoyed the view of the city, then headed down to go find a cold beer to help stave off the afternoon heat.

Even though we decided pretty much all light beers in any country taste the same, Everest wasn’t too bad. After lunch, the three of us headed back to our Airbnb and quickly passed out. It’s been a bit tough getting used to the 12 hour leap in time, essentially flipping night and day, but the copious amount of sunshine definitely has helped.

Burning incense, a very common sight during Dashain

Prayer flags in Thamel

View of Kathmandu from the Monkey Temple

Resident of the temple enjoying a banana

Always good to have a buddy to pick your gnats

Baby monkey

After sleeping for a solid 13 hours, I felt refreshed and ready for another full day of exploring the city.

We decided to go back to our favorite breakfast place, Himalayan Java Cafe, a clearly Western-style coffee house with great brews and simple breakfasts.

With much of the day ahead of us, we grabbed a taxi to Patan, a neighborhood in the south of Kathmandu housing the famed Durbar Square, a sprawling network of temples and monuments that has stood for over a thousand years.

We arrived before the fee collectors, which was nice to save a couple dollars. Many of the temples were badly damaged in the 2015 earthquake, so quite a bit of restoration work was in progress as we made our way through the site.

It was quite impressive to see the intricate stonework and the sheer size of some of the temples.

After researching a bit in a coffee house, we discovered that a living goddess was residing only a few meters down the road. Yes, in the Hindu religion, a prepubescent girl serves as the body for one of their goddesses. Once she menstruates, the goddess leaves her body in search of a new one.

The current kumari of Patan was chosen this year and is only 5 years old. We were incredibly intrigued and decided instantly to seek her out and possibly gain her blessing. Please research more on this subject, as I have found it a fascinating glimpse into the Hindu religion and the culture of the local people.

After asking a local man for directions, we made our way to the monastery she was housed in. We rang the doorbell and were ushered inside by a man who seemed to be a family member, removing our shoes and making our way upstairs to a humble apartment.

We were brought into a small room lined with carpets and headed by a very small velvet chair surrounded by offerings. Through a pair of small wooden doors, a man (appearing to be the girl’s father) carried in the kumari, a girl who appeared even younger than 5 dressed in regal garb with her face painted.

Once she was set on her chair and began sipping on a juice box (even young goddesses still need their juice!), I approached and kneeled. She quickly painted a tika (red paste made from vermilion) on my forehead as a welcome gesture. I placed my offering of several rupees on her platter and then retreated to the back of the room, watching Taylor and Sarah repeat the ceremony.

We thanked the kumari and her father and exited the room, still in shock and awe about what had just occurred. It was an incredible cultural experience while also challenging some of our Western beliefs in terms of child worship and putting the girl in that position. It is considered an honor for the family to have their daughter chosen, but they also are expected to give up their entire lives to come live with their daughter in the monastery until she comes of age.

This experience is so fresh that I still haven’t quite digested it, but I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts in the days to come!

We made our way back down the road, nimbly side stepping motorcycles and cars as they rapidly tore down the small road.

We visited several more temples, marveling at the construction and small details, such as a sculpture of Buddha in each brick, that seemed to never end. After a delicious lunch of Indian curry and a Nepali beer, we hailed another harrowing taxi ride back to Boudha.

Delicious coffee at Himalayan Java

Marigolds are a prominent component of Tihar, the next Nepali holiday on the calendar

5 year olds around the world still need their juice boxes, goddess or not

Offering burning at the temple

Exploring Patan

Literally #blessed

Happy Halloween from Kathmandu-brought to you by Taylor

You have now caught up to us! We are finishing up packing for the trek, which starts tomorrow with the world’s most dangerous 30 minute flight into Lukla at 6am. Thankfully, we were upgraded to the first flight which is highly sought after, as the weather tends to deteriorate further into the day and risks jeopardizing your ability to fly into the mountains safely.

I will probably be very limited on the grid for the next 3 weeks, but rest assured I will reconnect with some incredible pictures, videos and stories of trekking in the Himalayas.

See you soon and dhanyabad for reading!

6 Comments

  1. Wow, a few days it already seems like u have done so much. Love the story about the goddess, the monkey temple, and all the temples. Not to mention the food porn. Haha. Have a beautiful safe slight and enjoy the next three weeks. All the best. Troy.

  2. Kendall and Taylor, deep thank you for sharing your experiences and sights on this blog for friends to see! Sitting here in Fremont, Seattle, I feel lucky to learn about your journey and travels. Sending you lots of good thoughts and energy for all steps of your journey!

Leave a Reply