• Kathmandu: A Homecoming. Part 2

    After the first 24 hours in Kathmandu, I was sure of one thing. I would be staying here longer than the ten days  originally planned. Being back at the “Suwal Mansion” and reconnecting with people who had been so far away, but were now so close and welcoming made this choice an easy one. One morning, Swayambhu brought out his guitar and wanted to play a few songs. We were both a little more than hungover, and I honestly just wanted to sip my tea. Once I heard him playing though… I was absolutely astounded. Here is what we recorded on that morning. If you pay close attention, you can see me getting rather emotional in the reflection of the window. This kid can play!

    Awakening to warm tea and smiles became a routine I easily fell into. And the hecitic day to day pace of Kathmandu was easily thwarted with escapes to Barat’s shop in Thamel. Even though Thamel is a bustling tourist/backpacker area, Barat’s shop was tucked away in a quiet arcade square, and provided a perfect respite.

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     During the day Swayambhu and I would sip tea, while debating whether tonight would be a Whiskey night or a Beer night. The days slowly drifted by in the way they only can when one is at peace with their surroundings. On the quieter evenings we would head up to Swayambhu temple (For which my brother received his name) in the hills over Kathmandu. Barat is one of the major benefactors of this ancient temple, and was responsible for overseeing much of the renovation in the past years.

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    Not only has Barat named his son after this beautiful Temple, but he has been arriving every evening without fail for the past 8 years to play devotional Buddhist music with his group of friends . Barat plays the Tambla drums. Sitting and listening to their otherworldly rhythms while observing the slow pace of the Kora (circumambulation of the temple) was simultaneously invigorating and meditative.

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    That’s Barat on the left.

    The slow moving days sped, as they often do, as the end of my visit grew nearer. I was delighted when Carrie, the lovely Chinese girl I had met in Pokhara contacted me and told me she was now in Kathmandu. She had been on my mind, and apparently I on hers. She asked if I knew a nice place to meet in Kathmandu… 

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    Carrie contemplating Kathmandu

    The next few days were a mix of happiness and the sad realization that I was leaving, and Carrie would be headed back to her small hometown in China soon. Anyone who has done a fair amount of traveling will surely become familiar with the inherently shortlived relationships which develop. I knew that I would soon be parting ways with the city i loved, and the girl i was only getting to know.

    There was one thing I needed to do before I left Kathmandu, and that was to arrange a recconnection with the “kids”, now all adults, who my mom had sponsored since they were young refugees from Tibet. I had spent much time with Pasang, Dawa, and Dawa Lhamo when I was living in Kathmandu around 2002. We had been relatively out of touch since then, aside from the occasional facebook like. I was amazed to hear Pasang’s voice on the phone, as last time we had seen each other, she was quite shy and rarely spoke. Now she was a nurse, taking a respite from the rigors of New Delhi to volunteer her time and skills to assist her kinfolk of Nubri, Tibet, at a hospital on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We all met for dinner, the eight of us quickly bridged the temporal, geographical, and least of all to my surprise, linguistic bridges that had separated us for so long. Smiles, stories, and rememberences were shared. Most of these stories and rememberences centered around my Mom, and her all encompassing love, which we all agreed had brought us to this table tonight. To see the true gratitude and happiness which she has introduced into our lives made us all smile contentedly. “Auntie Janet” was crowned the hero of the night.

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    From top clockwise: Pasang Bhuti, Barat Suwal, Dawa Gyalsten Lama, Basker Suwal, Me, Carrie, Dawa Lhamo (Not pictured: Swayambhu the photographer)

    We all left, full of both food and love. I have no idea why or how I am blessed to know such compassionate and happy people. I only know that when one has the chance to be surrounded by such a group, the opportunity to enjoy it should not go unheeded. I think the smile on my face says it all. While this was not my last night in Kathmandu, it was by far the most important and uplifting. My love for this place and the people that send that love back will outlast any struggles and difficulties I might face. Kathmandu will always be home in my heart.

  • Kathmandu: A Homecoming. Part 1

    The  wingtips tilted and straightened as we descended into the sprawling valley. For many this was a destination, but for me it seemed more of a homecoming. The view from the window brought on a flood of memories. The city had most definitely grown, but the sprawling cubelike houses remained. The nearest buildings provided a prismatic palette of varying colors, interspersed by the remaining few fluorescent rice paddies. The farther I looked down the valley, the more the colors merged into a hazy brown representation of urban sprawl.

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     The wheels touched down, and I breathed the increasingly familiar sigh of relief that anyone with a fear of flying can relate to. Tribhuvan Airport had not changed in the 13 years since I had been here. It retained it’s rusty, red brick facade, and decommissioned planes sat idly on the side of the terminal, attracting the ever-present Kathmandu dust. A series of signs espousing the unique natural and cultural aspects of Nepal lined the hallways leading to immigration. As I turned the last corner, a bolder sign read “Things move at a different speed in Nepal, slow down and relax.”. This was the perfect sentiment, as the line I faced for immigration was both snakelike and stationary. I heeded the sign’s advice and wore a somber smile of acceptance.

    After an hour I finally received the blue and yellow sticker in my nearly full passport. I quickly snatched my bag from the luggage carousel and made my way outside. I was greeted by a person I had missed and thought of for years. My little brother Swayambhu was now a grown man, but the smile and soft eyes that greeted me remained the same. We exchanged hugs and greetings and I graciously received the ubiquitous welcome gift of a Kata  (A billowing white cloth  placed around the neck as a sign of welcome and respect). Having not seen eachother in so many years, we were both a bit unsure of what to talk about first. Questions of family and life in our respective countries were discussed, and we were soon making plans to go out and party that night. My brother!

    I had heard that the traffic in Kathmandu had grown exponentially worse. What was previously chaotic, was still chaotic with a few more cars thrown in for good measure. We soon reached our destination in the Sanepa area of Kathmandu. Without delving too much into family history, I’ll suffice to say I received the most sincere and heartfelt welcome to a home I had been absent from for so many years. Barat Suwal, my godfather, how I had missed him. I was quickly ushered to the 5th floor patio, site of so many past Pujas and celebrations. Small talk remained small, and large questions of philosophy and happiness soon dominated our conversation. We both came to the conclusion that our families had been blessed by some unspoken force, and the fact we were again sitting face to face was the best thing that could be occurring at this very moment. The tea let off it’s steam, and while we waited for it to cool, our conversation drifted into a content silence. I was home again, and no words were necessary to affirm this fact.

    Swayambhu came upstairs and asked if I was hungry. I already knew this was code for “let’s go out on the town”. I was tired after the day of travel, but readily agreed. We headed into Thamel, which is the tourist, nightlife hub of Kathmandu. Getting out of the taxi, I immediately remembered my time spent here, and had no trouble finding my sense of direction. Home again. My brother led me up a narrow staircase, into a psychedelic space with huge mural of Jimi Hendrix surrounded by pot leaves. I stopped for a moment to appreciate that this was the exact type of place i would have been hanging out in at 22. The night progressed quickly. Tequila and amazing  live music amplified our already happy mood. I’ll let this picture speak for itself.

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    I awoke blurry eyed to an extremely loud rainstorm. My cognitive senses took a few seconds to register the sunlight beaming onto the carpet below the foot of my bed. The sound of rain was extremely loud, and I was now thoroughly confused. I neandered outside of the 5th floor bedroom door and noticed the sound was confined to a few square meters of rooftop directly above my head. I ascended the next flight of stairs to see Barat feeding hundreds of pigeons on the fiberglass awning above my bedroom. The sound of rain was in fact the pigeons feet on the thin fiberglass. Barat handed me the bowl of dry rice and I began tossing it to the happy pigeons. “I’ve been doing this every morning for many years, now they come from all over the city for breakfast.” As I soon came to learn, the pigeons would gather on the rooftop and wait for Barat’s arrival every morning. 

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    Apologies to my followers for the long gap between updates. For all the magic and enjoyment Kathmandu provided, it proved nigh on impossible to update the site due to very slow internet speeds. That being said 

  • Monuments To World Peace And Secret Underground Waterfalls

    After the harrowing scooter adventure from Kathmandu to Pokhara, we spent 2 exhausted hours trying to find a decent hotel for the night. After that ride I was willing to go a step above standard guesthouse. After a few misguided attempts ($260 a night?!?! you have to be joking) we settled on a spacious and comfy room in the heart of the tourist strip for about $35. We had a few celebratory beers to celebrate still being alive and slept like two very sore logs. 

    I was sure to be up at the crack of dawn, as I wanted to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas which Pokhara is so famous for. Unfortunately it was extremely foggy, and even the hilltops around town were obscured. I was still determined to get some decent shots, and so hired a taxi to shuttle me around for a few hours to some scenic spots.

    Still being extremely tired from the ride the day before, I was tempted to go back to the hotel and get some more sleep. I decided against it knowing my time here would be limited. I sat down for breakfast at a welcoming looking restaurant and noticed a lone girl trying to take photos of a heart shaped cardboard sign with Chinese characters written across it. I asked if I could help, and she explained it was her wedding gift to her friends back home. She had been taking pictures of it all across her 42 day bicycle journey from Chengdu to Tibet. She had hitch-hiked from  Lhasa in Tibet to Pokhara. I was smitten, any girl that could do that solo deserves some serious respect. We made plans to meet that evening, and parted ways for the day. 

    I went back to the hotel to wake my still sleeping comrade. His father had suggested we go to the mountaintop World Peace Stupa (temple), which we could see from our hotel window. It was perched on top of a very steep mountain. Yet another worthy challenge for Black Stallion! The roads were steep, and you could just sense the scooter being pushed to it’s absolute limit. We made it to the parking area, where we then walked the remaining distance to the top. The World Peace Stupa is a relatively new structure, having been built in 1972 by the generous donation of Japanese Buddhists. It offered an extremely serene and amazing view of all of Pokhara city and the surrounding Phewa Lake.

    One thing I had not expected off Pokhara was the heat. I had packed a bunch of cold weather gear, and now realized it was just more burden on poor Black Stallion. We descended back into town, and to our next destination, Devis Falls. This waterfall is unlike any I have ever seen, and probably unlike any other on earth. The reason for this is the fact that it falls not from above, but actually from ground level down into an underground cavern. Most tourists know only of the main entrance from where you get some amazing views of the torrent as it cascades into the dark cavern below.

    The real magic of this place, and I am still unsure why it is not more readily signposted or talked about, is that you can actually go into one of the largest caves in South Asia and get a few hundred feet from the base of the waterfall. I will let the pictures do the talking, but suffice to say that it is a place on Earth completely unique unto itself. There is no other like it, and if you ever make it here, it will stay with you forever.

  • Travel Plan Update! Time To Get Chilly!

    Will be leaving Kathmandu, with great remorse may I add, on Nov. 15th for New Delhi, where I will spend a few days. Then off to Leh, in Jammu Kashmir state, India on the 19th. I have read many accounts of extreme cold and altitude sickness. I hope the old adage that great risks are met with greater rewards rings true here, and if i see even one vista like this, it surely will

     

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    Looks like something out of a fantasy novel.

      Click the left arrow to bactrack my previous destinations so far.