Friday, April 30, 2010

Road Trip, Nepal

Tania and I packed our belongings Saturday evening and bought sleeping bags, water, and breakfast bars for our trip north of Kathmandu toward the Rasuwa District. We were up and checked out of our hotel a little too early to have breakfast.

I count six people on top of the minivan.

We had hired a driver to take Tania, Belief (one of my adopted nephews) and his father, TN, and myself up to the village school. An old white Toyota Land Cruiser with an experienced driver that TN knew picked us up around 6 am. Even early in the morning the streets of Kathmandu were bustling and it took a long time to get out of the city. Eventually, we began our climb up out of the valley and soon it looked less like a mish mash of shops and houses and more like small villages and terraced fields.

On the road we saw many young children and I always wondered where the grown-ups were.

All kinds of work can be seen at the side of the road, farming of course, carpentry and human porters carrying heavy loads of anything you could imagine. Often, the only available water for a village is from a spigot that comes from the side of the mountain at the side of the road. Here a woman is washing her clothes.

Click to see the woman in the background washing clothes.
I was going to take another picture of a woman washing her clothes at a different spigot, but I got distracted by these cute kids.

TN, who is in the back, was able to convince the children to pose for me.

At about 10 am we stopped for some milk tea and a bathroom break where I took these photos. Most of the time it was too bumpy on the road for me to take pictures.

Many of the children whom we passed on the road ran toward the moving vehicles to sell red flowers that are both beautiful and believed to have medicinal value.

Finally, above the smog of the city we could see the beautiful Himalayas.

It took about 5 hours to drive to the path that led to the village school. From there we had to hike.
(All of the pictures are better when you click on them.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pashupatinath Temple; a sacred place to die

Pashupatinath, or Pashupati, is a Hindu temple dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals). It attracts thousands of pilgrims each year. The temple itself is not open to non-Hindus, but anyone can wander around the area. Tania and I went there late in the evening with my 'adopted nephew,' Belief, and that was the only time that I have ever been there when there wasn't a crushing crowd.

I remember my first trip to Pashupati 18 years ago was very disturbing. There were maimed beggars and people who looked like they were dying lying on the ground. A vendor called me over and tried to sell me a highly decorated real human skull that was hidden behind a curtain. Then there was a strange green-eyed woman with a shaved head who stared at me and followed me around.

The place looked very different this time. I saw one holy baba asking for money, but that was probably because of the time of day. The vendors had been moved away from the temple, and the maimed people were gone. (If you will look closely at the top of the first photo, you will see a glowing mystery orb. These orbs were in all of the night photos I took in Nepal. My best guess is the camera flash reflected off of some dust.)

The fire on the steps is a cremation

My Nepali nephew had been there only a few weeks earlier with his family to preform the funeral ceremony for his grandfather. He explained what we witnessed. First the feet of the deceased are dipped into the Bagmati river at the bottom of the temple stairs and washed. Then the body is carried around and laid with flowers on the ghat, which is the pyre platform. Finally, the fire is lit. After the cremation, we saw some people wading in and sifting through the water collecting items that didn't burn.

This is all very public. Although non-Hindus can not be where the grieving families are. They can watch and take pictures from the bridge and the other side of the river. I asked my nephew if he found it disturbing or scary to be at Pashupatinath, because that was what I was feeling. But no, he felt that it was a safe place. For him it was a place of protection where you could understand that we would all be welcomed back to Shiva in the end. In fact, it is considered an auspicious place to die.

The temple complex included one tall building with a golden roof. For the first time, I saw inside the doors leading to the tall building when we walked around to the back side of the temple. Through wide open doors I could hear the powerful throbbing drum music coming from within. Inside was a massive golden bull, the steed of Shiva. It looked to me to be at least 15 feet tall surrounded by devotees. The sounds and sights were very exciting though a little spooky.

The last place that we stopped on Saturday, was Boudanath Stupa. I thought that it would be all lit up and beautiful. But the power was out, as usual. We ate vegetable momos at a restaurant that overlooked the stupa. Sitting by the window, we watched the pilgrims circumambulate and rotate their prayer wheels by the light of the offering candles.


The next day, we had to get up very early. We were leaving the valley, by jeep, for the mountain school.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Art as Meditation and Worship

While wandering the top of Swayambhu, I became distracted by the consumables, tourist knick-knacks and material kitsch. Objects of desire are all around us, I surprise myself with how much I can want a beautiful statue of Buddha or his mother Mayadevi. (Click to look closer.)

Even the monks look a little distracted.
Lost in the meditation of Guru Rimpoche / Padmasambhava, he chisels.
The artist is only 18. His parents taught him the art of carving slate.
It is both prayer and livelihood.
The symbols are of energetic power, wisdom and compassion.
In the end, both Buddha and Mayadevi came home with me. Depicted here, the birth of Buddha.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath, sight seeing part three

There is a meditation in every moment.

Here are some focal points for today's meditation.

Buddhist Monks at Swayambhu.

The deer above the door are symbols of Buddha's first teaching

Stupa or Chorten at Swayambhu

Dipankar Buddha 7th Century, carved from a single stone

Protection and Charity

Ringing the Bell at Swayambhu.

Dragons are Symbols of Sacred Wisdom.

Stupa or Chorten, a holy reliquary.


Offerings for Prayers

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath, sight seeing part two

Above, the reason they call it the Monkey Temple.

Monkeys are all over this area.

Look at my story, The One-Eyed Monkey of Swayambhu,

for the history of the Monkey Temple.

Prayer Wheels inscribed with 'Om ma ni pad me hum,' which means

'a jewel in a lotus.'

It is the prayer for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Buddhists are praying for our enlightenment constantly.

These wheels are filled with scrolls of prayers

which repeat the mantra thousands of times.

Guruda (looks like a bird)

Nag Kanya (snake women with snakes on her head)

Buddhas of compassion, medicine and meditation.

These are a few of the aspects of Buddha.

Tourists and worshipers circumambulate the stupa

praying and rotating prayer wheels.

The wheels rotate clockwise,

the pedestrians circle clockwise,

a conch shell spirals in on itself clockwise;

it is the divine direction

and symbolizes the blessedness of turning to the right.

Do the right thing!

The stupa at the top of Swayambhunath is having a face lift.

These are the compassionate eyes of Buddha. In a moment of triumph you might take your prayer flags to a high and holy place and share prayers for peace and enlightenment with the world.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sight Seeing in Kathmandu Nepal, Part one

After breakfast we had a long discussion about our travel plans for the following day. My friends the Neupane's came from a small mountain village in the Rasuwa district. Some of you might recognize them from my stories, 'Dream a World of Good.' I had a plan to donate some books to their village school on this trip and they wanted to treat me to an extra excursion to Tatopani which they told me may be the highest elevation for natural hot springs in the world.

After planning, their son, Belief, showed us all over the Kathmandu valley beginning with a Shrine right next to their home. There are little shrines all over the valley. I have been told that less than 50 years ago there were more shrines than people in the valley.

When I lived in Japan there was a clear distinction between Temples and Shrines, Temples/Buddhist, Shrines/Shinto. Here in Nepal, there seems to be a great sharing of beliefs and it is difficult to tease one religion from the other. To say 'shrine' implies that something is being enshrined. Often I find what is being enshrined are the holy relics of the Buddhist tradition in their stupas.

Don't forget to click on these photos and really explore the detail in the artwork.

Below is Saraswati, the goddess of learning, music and poetry, revered by Brahmans and Buddhists alike.

Winged Lion Guardian

Temple Door, Cheppu, the disembodied head, is both brave and truthful. He guards the doors to shrines. Around the door are dragons, symbols of sacred wisdom, and crocodiles, water deities.
To the right of the door on the wall is Nag Kanya, rain givers and guardians of water. You might remember that 'nag' means snake.

Making an offering

View from the temple

Playing at the temple on a Saturday.

Images of the different aspects of Buddha with and offering in front. Bells are rung to get the deities attention for worship.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What's For Breakfast Nepali Style?

My spectacularly delicious breakfast!
(You have to click on the photos to see the whole pictures.)

Saturdays in Nepal are the day of rest. So on our third day in Nepal we were invited to breakfast at the home of good friends followed by a day of leisurely sightseeing.

I showed this photo of my breakfast to an American woman who rolled her eyes and pronounced that she would never eat anything like this for breakfast! Wow, perhaps that is part of the reason so many people in the US are horrifically over weight. What do we usually consume for breakfast in the US? Cereal, bread, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, muffins, orange juice and coffee. I would guess that covers at least 80% of American breakfasts. Where are the fruits and vegetables? In most of the places that I have been in Asia , breakfasts are more like the other meals of the day, savory rather than sweet, except that there might be more fresh fruit served.

Normally, in Nepal, people wake up and they may only have a cup of milk tea for the first couple of hours. The 'breakfast' is more of a brunch. It would almost definitely include rice, dahl, which is a kind of lentil soup, vegetable curry, and then, if you are being very well treated, some other vegetable dishes. Above you see a spinach dish, cauliflower dish and a carrots and cabbage dish. We were treated very well! There was even a yummy sweet dessert that tasted like rice pudding and yogurt. Meat dishes are also often served, but sparingly. Tania and I both are sensitive about eating a lot of meat so our hosts were very accommodating.

The metal plate being used is what I see most commonly in Nepal. We were also served a glass of bottled water and milk tea.

Below you see our hosts listening carefully to our discussion. Everyone has there shoes off in the home.

Thank you Neupane Family!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Visiting a Jewelry Workshop in Nepal

Nilofur, is one of our suppliers. She has many customers both in the US and throughout Europe. She graciously invited us to see her workshop our second morning in Nepal.

The finished product.
This pendant measures 7 cm in diameter. They like large jewelry in Nepal.
The Conch (shankha), which is used as a horn, it symbolizes the deep, far reaching and melodious sound of Buddhist teachings. This sound awakens sentient beings from the slumber of ignorance and encourages compassion.

Here the craftsman is hand chasing the different designs of the 8 Auspicious Tibetan symbols , Astamangala, into the pendants. Notice that there is no pattern for him to follow. Although the workmanship is so precise that it looks like it was molded or stamped out, it is actually made one piece at a time.

Nilofur and Jennifer Gerard

Here we are comparing the silver pendant before inserting stones in the finished product.

Sorry about the fuzzy photos. I wanted you to see that every small jump ring and tiny little decoration is hand pulled, curled and soldered.

He is measuring and making rings on a mandrel.

Craftsmen and women working together.

They have just returned from their lunch break. There is a kitchen next to the work area where they can get tea and food but I think that most of them went home.

Most people remove their shoes when they enter rooms in Nepal. In the work room, I see both bare feet and sandals.

There are windows all along the wall which provide light for the craftsmen to work by. Electricity in the dry season can be as little as 2 hours a day so they have to make the best use of their light hours.

This man is making beads. The work is tiny and precise so he is working out on the porch with lots of light.

I sell thousands of pieces of hand made beads and finished jewelry every year. I am often asked if I make all of the jewelry that I sell myself. Most people don't realize the hours of work that go into the collection of jewelry that I sell. Nilofur is one of several people supplying us with finished products. Even though my business is actually a very small business, it provides work for dozens of people.