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Losing Our Way Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing. --------------------------------------------------------- Arundhati Roy (Indian author, advocate, activist)

Kathmandu and its strange, bewildering time (ive)

NEPAL | Sunday, 22 November 2009 | Views [2569] | Comments [3]

The Krishna Mandir Temple, Durbar Square, Patan.

The Krishna Mandir Temple, Durbar Square, Patan.

I have wanted to visit Nepal for a very long time. It started when I was in high school and college, learning about and becoming inspired by the simultaneous social justice and spiritual movements of the 1960s. (This is why I always proudly declare myself 'A Child of the Sixties,' having been alive for the last two days of them!) I read books about Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Kent State, Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, and the questioning of unjust authority. I first began to read books about Eastern spirituality, especially Taoism. And I first read about the scores of Westerners who, during the 60s, traveled the great Silk Road overland, with a final destination of the great Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. At the time, Nepal had just been opened up to tourism after decades of isolation and was considered pretty exotic. With the stories of those journeys in mind, with a growing attraction to the mountains (odd for a New York City boy), and a healthy dose of the Cat Stevens song “Kathmandu,” I knew by college-age that I wanted to get there someday.

That someday was finally supposed to be in 2005. Having had no opportunities to get out of the United States since visiting Peru in 2000 and antsy to do some kind of international volunteer work, I decided I would go volunteer in Nepal for a month or two. But then the political scene in Nepal shifted. Feeling that the civil government could not effectively manage the insurgency of Maoist communism, the King dissolved the parliament, declared martial law, detained political leaders, and cut Nepal's communication ties with the outside world. I had gotten on the plane to Peru one day after government buildings in Lima were burned by political protesters and the possibility of a coup was at least in discussion – but after consulting with some people who knew Nepal well, it became clear that going to Nepal at this point would be another brand of unwise. Anyway, the program I was going to volunteer with abruptly suspended operations with the political news. So, I changed my plans to volunteering in the Himalaya in Ladakh, India. Incidentally, that trip fell through and a follow-up trip to the Himalaya in Sikkim, India and the Kingdom of Bhutan also fell through, leaving me wondering if I would ever get to see the Great Himalaya. Five years and an unpredictable array of causes and conditions later, my dream was finally realized when I spent this past August volunteering in Ladakh. Yet, still, Nepal held an appeal that I felt like had been in my bones for a very long time. So I was very excited when Miral and I and my parents boarded the plane in Varanasi, India with a destination of Kathmandu.

No doubt the first thing we all noticed as our post-plane taxi took us to the resort outside of Kathmandu that my parents had booked for us was, “We're not in India any more.” The roads were busy, but not utter chaos. The streets were not spotless, but lacked the overt garbage we'd become accustomed to. There were no cows in the street. And they weren't jockeying with bicycle rickshaws for position. There were only motorized vehicles on the road. There were sidewalks. There were Western style storefronts. And more than anything, there was the pulse of a sane oragnization underlying the life we could see through the windows. No, we weren't in India any more. And as much as each one of us, probably in different ways and for different reasons, loved India, there was a palpable sense of relief in the car. It didn't hurt, as well, that Miral and I were trading in ten months of hostels and volunteer quarters for a week at a resort. The daily breakfast buffet was cause enough for celebration – but the grounds were truly beautiful, nestled up in the hills just north of Kathmandu.

When we weren't enjoying the resort facilities, the four of us spent most of our time exploring the three Durbar Squares of the area – Patan, Bhaktapur, and Kathmandu. “Durbar” means palace, and each of the squares houses a kingdom palace – but, more interestingly, an array of temples and other buildings of spectacular traditional architecture of the Newars - the dominant ethnicity in the Khatmandu Valley.

First Patan – just across the Bagmati River from Kathmandu and the second-largest town in the Kathmandu Valley. Lonely Planet recommended tracking down a locally published booklet offering a walking tour of Patan, which we found at a sandwich shop, and we were off on a self-guided morning of wandering the narrow streets and alleys and courtyards, past small and large shrines and temples, and having our first tastes of the unique Nepali friendliness – mainly when showing them pictures we had taken. As we soaked in the culture, I think each of us quickly realized we were in a very magical country. We eventually wound our way to Patan's Durbar Square – an incredibly densely packed array of temples from around the 1600s. Scattered one after another, these buildings with multiple tiered roofs or stone domes or intricately crafted wooden rafters or statues of 'guardians' on the steps were nothing less than visually stunning. We spent a good part of the afternoon taking in a vast collection of bronze and copper statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities at the unusually informative Patan Musuem, itself a refined renovation of a former residence of Nepal's Malla kings. We finished the day at the ornate but warm Kwa Bahal (Golden Temple), a 12th century courtyard monestary.

We spent a similar day exploring the streets and the Durbar Square of Bhaktapur, the third major town in the Khatmandu Valley. In addition to more of the stunning Newari architecture, Bhaktapur is home to incredible traditional craftsmen, including potters, weavers, paper-makers, and their famous wood-carvers. Our day included a stop to gawk in amazement at the “peacock window,” a 15th-century wood carving that is supposed to be the finest example of Bhaktapur wood-carving ever created, and ended with us admiring the Nyatapola Temple, which at five stories and more than 100 feet in height is the highest temple in Nepal – as well as arguably its best example of Newari architecture. A few days later, we also wandered through the Durbar Square of Khatmandu itself – but the usually hectic Square (unlike Patan and Bhaktapur) was teeming with people busily attending to needs for the eve before Diwali – a traditional five-day Festival of Lights that marks the mythical return of Lord Raama to his kingdom after defeating a demon king, signaling the eternal triumph of good over evil. We were not sure what all of the errands are that need to be completed before Diwali begins, but we are pretty certain that all of Kathmandu waited until the last minute to do them. We were swallowed up and eventually gave up our fight through the crowd with an appreciation that it was better to swim with the tide. Eventually we found our way to motor traffic and quickly grabbed a taxi out.

The capper on the great week exploring Nepal with my parents was an overnight stay in Nagarkhot, a resort village on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley that offers great views of the mighty Himalaya. With an unseasonable haziness, we hadn't seen much of the REAL mountains yet – and certainly no visit to Nepal would be complete without a chance to view them. So, we enjoyed a great dinner together at a Nagarkot hotel and then went to sleep in preparation of the 5am wake-up to watch the sunrise to take in the mountain views in the clear skies of the morning. The hotel rooms all have a deck on the eastern side and the morning sunrise ritual is what everyone does in Nagarkot. With bleary eyes and with each tourist drowning out the others' oohs and aahs, we got to see a huge expanse of the Himalaya range – all the way from the mighty Dhaulagiri (26, 795 ft) in the west to the equally breathtaking Kanchenjunga (28, 169) in the east. They say that even Everest is visible as a dot from there, too, but we never seemed able to find it. Still, it was a morning to remember.

In fact, it was a week to remember. With the chaos of India behind us, Miral and my parents and I were even more able to relax in one another's company, share stories from each of our journeys leading up to Nepal, more deeply catch up with what was happening in life for one another, and share many more than a few laughs along the way. (Well, except for the Diwali crowd in Kathmandu -- I think only Miral and I were laughing about that one!) After a visit to the serene and beautiful British-inspired Garden of Dreams, we had an early celebration of my 40th-birthday at an old-house-turned-gourmet-restaurant – complete with appetizers on a bridge overlooking a lily-pond and a dinner mood set by the ever-present Khatmandu power-outage candlelight – that epitomized the really sweet time we had spent all week. As my parents got into their taxi to head to the airport and back to the States, I felt taken by a deep appreciation for them, having journeyed so far and through so much to be with us and having given us so much of their love in so many ways over our two weeks traveling together. I can only say, mom and dad, thank you.




Hey guys,
I had a little time tonight to read the story above!! Every time I read one of your stories I feel like I'm along for the journey and not back home in chilly Long Island. Happy Thanksgiving to both of you!! You both sure do have a lot(especially each other, to be thankful for!!!
Love you both,
Hildi and the guys

  hildi Nov 25, 2009 10:58 AM


Hey ivan_miral,

We really like your story and have decided to feature it this week so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Dec 14, 2009 8:34 AM


I had a wonderful dream last night. You guys came home and we had a big party in a treehouse. I met some very interesting people and the food was great!

  Chris Roberts Dec 30, 2009 7:35 AM

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