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The Meaning of Life

September 16, 2012

Its the first day with the our liftle band complete. Breakfast was much more sensible than yesterday’s, though I did make myself noticed when, while trying to make a significant point about human sacrifice (don’t ask), I gestured grandly knocking the waiter’s arm and ending up with his tray of iced lattes on my lap.

Our plan for the day was to see a few of the holy sights in Kathmandu and then head to Bhanktapur, a UNESCO world heritage site and the one-time capital of the area. We met our guide, who told us his name quickly and then said, but you can call me Raul. He had a bandana, long dreadlocks, and an ever-present smile.

We piled all our gear and ourselves into a small van and headed out to our first stop – the Monkey Temple, so named because of the many, many monkeys wondering freely there. As we approached, Raul cautioned us not to look any of the monkeys in the eyes or it might irritate them. “Oh, its the same as with opera singers,” quipped I to absolutely no response.

As promised, there were monkeys everywhere. Lots and lots of monkeys. We took dozens of photos and began to walk around the site. We learned that you always walk around a temple clockwise as the goddess is meant to always be on your right. Similarly, prayer wheels, which I was itching to spin, are always spun clockwise.

Up a steep set of stone steps and around a corner we came to the main section of the temple. I wasn’t quite prepared for it. The cover of every guidebook on Nepal, and really the stereotypical image is the golden roofed temple, streaming with prayer flags and featuring the eyes of Buddha. And there it was. In person. As we madly photographed the temple and the monkeys around it, Raul told us its history. I don’t know it, because I was so distracted by being there I couldn’t listen. He told us we’d have 20 minutes or so to explore and then we should re-group.

The Monkey Temple is high on a hill (higher than the highest point in Brittian we learned). It is surrounded by patios that looked out over KAthmandu far below and with the mountains in the distance. I wondered around the whole of it taking pictures and just taking it in. Anna leaned over and said “You look like you’re totally in awe.” “I am!” And I was.

We made our way back to the van and headed into town to see the “Living Goddess.” A young girl is selected as the living goddess and may make an sequestered in a palace. She may make an appearance at her window if you ask it of her, but she may not. When the girl begins menstruation “she is no longer a goddess” Raul told us. The next goddess is then selected through a process that includes putting all candidates (infants and toddlers) in a dark room filled with taxidermy animals and loud noises. Children who cannot stay calm are eliminated as choices.

We gathered in the courtyard of her palace. Her guardian appeared at an upper window and told us to wait 10 minutes, but that we could not take photos if she appeared. About that many minutes later a little girl, probably about 8, heavily made up, wearing a colorful sari, and chewing gum appeared at the window. She stayed for a minute or so, turned her head towards some noise from inside and ran off.

It was about this time that my camera stopped working so I am relying on my fellow travelers to upload their photos at some point.

We then traveled to Pashupatinath Temple. This is on the Tiger River and is the site of Hindu cremations. As we arrived on one side of the river, we saw piles of wood on the other side where pyres would be. One was burning and we were told that was a funeral. The wood and ash was swept into the river as it burned. A few feet away, small children were swimming and playing a ball game in the river.

We learned that this site was a tribute to the god Shiva and that his sign was the phallus, the sign of fertility. Raul mentioned this so many times that Fiona finally said, “I think he just likes saying the word.”

The temple was home to several Sadus. Beggers dressed in saffron robes, with floor length dreadlocks, performing incredible feats of yoga. They asked us to pose with them and all in my group said no. As we walked away, I thought, oh come on – that’ll be a great Facebook photo, and I called upon Jamal to take my photo with them. After one leaned in and whispered in my ear. We headed back towards the van and Fiona asked, “what did he say to you, it seemed very intimate.” I smiled at her. He said “That’ll be 500 rupees.”

Back in the van we headed on to Bhanktapur. The gated town was bustling. This is the site of many movies including Little Buddha, The Golden Child, and some scenes from Indian Jones. The narrow streets had a Harry Potter feel to them. We ate lunch in a pagoda-like structure in the middle of town. Emma, Fiona, and I indulged in our favorite Everest beers and everyone was in jolly but tired spirits.

We are resting now and meeting soon for dinner and to talk through tomorrow,

Maybe by then I’ll have sorted out my camera!

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  1. Roberta permalink

    Sounds like you are having a great time.

  2. Photos? not to be greedy.

  3. posted that before reading of your camera woes. BUT STILL.

  4. colleen permalink

    Opera Singer… I get it (hahaha) I would have totally cracked up so I’m doing it now while reading
    xoxoxo C

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