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Origins of Zen

Arriving in Kathmandu

NEPAL | Wednesday, 11 December 2013 | Views [2015]

      When I mentioned to a customer that I would begin my travels for the winter in Nepal they told me that Nepal emits a spiritual energy like nowhere else. "When you walk out of the airport, you can sense something mystical and consuming," he said. Unfortunately, my arrival was nothing like that. It would take me a few weeks to finally discover the feeling he was talking about.
     We landed around eleven pm and got through customs with our visas by midnight. Our airport pickup was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the usual taxi tout. The election the day before marked the end of the Maoist dominated government that was responsible for the decade long civil war which ended in 2006. Businesses had yet to open after the polls closed and people stayed off the streets to avoid the heightened political tensions. Confused by the lack of people and taxis, we boarded the only bus (3 USD) and were dropped off on the eerily quiet streets of Thamel- the backpacker district of Kathmandu. There were no street signs, lit up business signs, or the usual men linger in dark corners and smoking cigarettes. After walking for an hour down littered alley knocking on friendly looking doors to borrow a cell phone, we eventually found our guesthouse and slept for what felt like the first time in 48 hours. In the morning those same streets were far from desolate and quiet. The narrow roads were noisy and polluted, swarmed with honking rickshaws, motorbikes, and cars, and teaming with merchants selling cashmere, silk, saris, and beads. The air was heavy with the smell of petrol and that energy I anticipated was nowhere to be found. We planned to escape the city and head to the Pokhara valley as soon as possible and booked our bus tickets through Nepal Air and Travel for 600 rupees (6 USD). It was there that we met Rijen who offered to show us around to some of the sites and get us around paying the tourist prices.
    We took the pilgrim stairs to the top of Swayambhunath, walked clockwise around the stupa, spun the prayer wheels, and looked out over the sprawling city set in front of snow-capped mountains. There was a stark contrast at the city limits, where the cement buildings stopped and the hills and mountains began. We would be there soon enough I thought.  From there we took a taxi to Durbar Square, an area opposite the old royal palace that transports you back in time. I soaked up the sight of Sahdu's dressed in orange with tikka on their foreheads, thinking for a moment that I was somewhere in India. Around four o'clock we ducked into the temple walls to get a look at Kumari, the only living goddess. It's said that when she looks down on you from her balcony you are granted a wish. Rijen said the young girl had to go through a series of tests to prove her divinity, but later our trekking guide said that once she menstruates another girl is chosen as a replacement. When the small wooden doors of the window opened a somber looking Kumari appeared doting heavy black eyeliner and colorful jewels on her neck. It all happened so fast that I got lost in my thoughts of ego and desire, rushed to make a wish like when you see a shooting star or when the birthday candle starts to melt. But who makes the rules about wishes? Surely there is some kind of grace period.
    The bumpy seven hour bus ride took us through towns celebrating the election with dancing and food, the streets lined with cheering men and women in red saris.  Pokhara is a valley town situated serenely along Phew Lake with views of the Annapurna mountain range in the distance. It was a breath of fresh air in comparison to Kathmandu, with wider streets and a slower pace. We took our time exploring the area, hiking to the World Peace Pagoda and the town of Sarangkot.  After having our fair share of relaxing days filled with reading, writing, tea, mo-mo's, and mountain views we saw a sign for a trek that would take us through Gurung villages. The trek would be physically pressing, and give me a sense of accomplishment, but the sublime bonus would be having that 'Ahhhh' moment my customer was talking about. It was when I would recognize how warm my soul is when I feed it, how it can match the celestial bliss of a mid-day sun.

Tags: kathmandu, nepal, spiritual travel, trekking

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