There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first is excellent, the second good, and the third useless.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Nepal - Day 8

A down note. The Maoists have demanded a general strike today. Apparently this means that everyone has to just stay at home and vegetate, bollocks. It’s like a dead zone outside. Usually the sound of horns blaring, people shouting and the general noise of traffic is over whelming. Today it’s just quite, quite and still, almost eerie.

We decided to check out just what a Nepalese strike looks like and walked into Thamel (the main shopping district that is usually HEAVING) it’s really quite shocking that the Maoists have so much support, however I’m not sure if the support is for their anti monarchy standpoint, or through simple fear. One thing I know for certain though, the people don’t look happy.

a normal day

Another normal street scene

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Nepal - Day 7 Dealing with Poverty.

We are now in the outland area of Kathmandu and I can only agree with what the FCO suggested, be very careful travelling outside of the main city, it’s pretty damned scary. The Maoists have taken to asking travellers for ‘donations’ in the presence of armed men and as a result not many foreigners travel out this far. Still I feel relatively safe with Sharma, he knows his stuff. His daughter is gorgeous and I do mean gorgeous. Yet I look at her and I look outside and I can understand Sharma’s point, he doesn’t’ want this life for his child.

So here we are, face to face with poverty. You’ve been exposed to it your whole life, it’s rammed down your throats on the news, it’s plastered all over the collection tins at supermarket kiosks, but just how much do you care? Me personally? Not at all, not until I see it.
I dealt with the poverty in India very well, but for some reason this hit me harder. From the moment I got out the truck I was accosted by an old lady carrying her emaciated granddaughter. She spoke in broken English, he accent thick and heavy. All the time she kept telling me that her family had no money, that her son was a sherpa and forced to work away, that her children were starving. Usually you’ll get someone holding out their hand and just asking for food, or trying to sell you something completely useless like a rock (happened in Tibet a lot) but this was hard. This was a complete assault on my senses as the little girl was small and dirty, her haunted eyes reverted, as if looking at something only she could see. There was no joy in her face.
What would you do? Would you empty your pockets or would you walk away? It’s difficult because when you see people starving on the television they aren’t human, they are a league away from you in distance and culture and you can’t relate to them. When you meet someone who is genuinely poor and starving that distance isn’t there, everything is real and the detail is sickening. You make eye contact with them and you cease to see the exterior, you only see the very real and very human pain of suffering and it kills something in you, it robs you of the bliss that comes with ignorance. To think I’m going to go home and forget about this woman and her plight, I’m going to go back to my life of luxury and indulgence. I’m a bitch. That’s how it made me feel.
In a way I feel worse because I’ve used these people. I feel like a celebrity who has come here to take back a story and make a point for the masses. I’ve only witnessed such poverty in an attempt to deepen the understanding that I have of myself and that’s wrong. I did no good, I changed nothing in the long term, so why did I need to se it? I feel like I’ve made them dirty, like I’ve taken something personal from them and twisted it to fit my western thoughts and needs. This isn’t about, politics internal conflict and the distribution of wealth, it’s about me.
I end up buying something stupid off her for a stupid amount of money that the stupid item isn’t worth and then she leaves. For a while I just sit on the road side and watch the filthy children play in the dust. Did I do the right thing? Should I have bought something or not? Did me doing that actually help her? Eventually the old woman appears again, this time carrying a bowl of dhal which she lays in front of me. It’s old that much is obvious as a thick coarse skin has formed on the top and a few fly’s scrawl around the edges. It’s a thank you I suppose but for what I’m not sure, for listening? For buying something off her when so many pass her by? Either way the simple generosity hit me right in the fucking chest.
I spend the next half an hour sharing the hard bread and dhal with two kids, all things considered, it tasted surprisingly good, but then my taste buds might have been over ruled by my brain.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nepal - Day 6 and Pashupatinath temple.

Upon visiting this temple I was given a free booklet, neat, on the inside of the booklet was many a badly phrased English verse, possibly the best one being ;
“He can pack golden monkey’s jumping playfully about into his movie roll”
what? GOLDEN monkey’s? No they have that wrong. There are only big scabby monkeys covered with fleas with big red arse’s roaming around here, none of which are getting into my movie, bastard monkeys.
Anyway this temple complex is huge and I do mean huge, and it is also dedicated to loard shiva and his many incarnations. In fact the minute you walk in you are confronted with the giant bull Nandi, lord Shiva’s trusty steed. Stinky but tame.

This is a temple of contradictions, it is full of both the beauty of life and the pain of death. Near the far end of the temple you can climb a series of steps that lead you up into a small area filled with shrines. It’s quiet, peaceful and the views are stunning. From the stone benches you can see the whole of the temple, I’m not sure but I think the area is called the Gorakhnath complex.
Possibly the most moving part of the temple complex is the area that surrounds the Bagmati river – a tributary of the Ganges no less – which is where the cremations are held. Death is quite an open thing in Nepal, the cremations are done in plain view of everyone, and the bodies are not hidden away. As soon as a person dies they are taken from their house and the ceremony is started. I was lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to witness a cremation this time, last time I waited for hours to see one but nothing. The key to surviving in a place like Nepal is having the ability to detach yourself from your western perceptions, I’m usually quite good at it but not this time, this was a trial.

The woman was bought out -fully clothed, face uncovered, feet and arms crossed- and placed upon the pyre by the attendants. Rather sadly, a member of her family snuck forward and stole a brief moment of personal sorrow by reaching out to caress her face and feet before slowly stepping away. I couldn’t tell what the relationship was, I was too far away to make out the details, but she might have been his mother, maybe even grandmother.
In order to help with the burning thin slices of ghee were forced between the wood. Once this was done some kind of liquid was poured into her mouth. Then, unceremoniously, the pyre was lit firstly from a taper placed in the corner of her mouth and then from underneath. It’s very unsettling to watch a human body slowly burn away, to witness the darkening of skin, to smell the air when it’s coloured with the scent of burning flesh. All my instincts told me to look away, to be mindful of their sorrow, to have some respect for the dead and give them their moment of peace with their loved one. But everyone else was watching, then I remember, death is not private here, it is shared and embraced by all. If that is not a truly foreign concept I don’t know what is.

A lot of this temple is off out of bounds to non Hindu’s because it is so sacred, but fortunately my free booklet explains a lot of stuff. Apparently, and I quote;
“In the sanctum of the temple stands a Jyotirlinga –believed to have self appeared – the likes of which is not found in existence anywhere else in the world. It is a phallic idol, the symbol of Pashupatinath which has four images carved on its four sides.”
According to Sharma this Jyotirlinga or shivalinga is ten foot high. I am missing out on seeing a ten foot high carved penis… life just isn’t fair sometimes.

Nepal - Day 5

It’s Monday right? I don’t know. I have a copy of the Himalayan times delivered to my door every morning so I really should be more aware of important things like the date. Ate breakfast late today because the copious amounts of beer I drank last night have hit me really hard, that and having to get up and eat curry for breakfast with your fingers… dodgy stomach later me thinks.

I made a trip back to Durbar square today because the Namaste (hello) cyber café is smack bang in the middle of it, flanked by a series of pagodas and a very high ranking school. I hoped to get on line and check my email but seriously, the connection was so slow I thought it would be easier to send any messages to England via carrier pigeon.

I spent some time on my own today while Jo went off shopping for big knifes, he always buys a big knife, his house is full of them. Anyway I was sat on a bench in the square, enjoying the peace when I noticed there was a young girl in dirty clothes and carrying an umbrella stood opposite me, staring at me for some reason. After a few minutes she came over and sat down next to me. To my surprise she introduced herself in very good English and preceded to ask me if I was Australian ( a lot of Nepalese people seem to get my accent confused with Australian for some reason) after much persuasion I eventually convinced her I was English and she started talking about my house. Eventually I pulled out my much loved and abused lonely planet guide to Nepal and showed her some pictures. She joyfully pointed out where she had been and indicated some places she hadn’t been but would really like to ‘witness’. She was poor, that much was obvious, but she was clever, damned clever and couldn’t have been any more than fourteen maybe? In the end I bought her an aero for 45 rupees (around 33 pence) and went on my way, but not before she’d managed to take off her bracelet and force it into my hand. Sweet.

Odd that it’s an astamangala bracelet.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Nepal - Day 4

We met Sharma in Patan, Durbar square and had lunch in one of the tourist cafes that over looked the pagodas. The scenery was as stunning as ever and the way the mist clings to the mountains in the morning never ceases to install a feeling of peace. Yet my sense of well being was slowly eroded by the troubles that Sharma was talking about. He just simply wasn’t happy anymore, he couldn’t find a job that paid well and he no longer felt safe in his home land. At the moment Kathmandu reminds me of key lime pie, a layer of sweetness hiding a layer of sour.

There is so much to see in Durbar square that it’s hard to know where to start. The one thing that always fascinates me in the pagodas, a very Chinese design in the middle of an Indian country, a blending of cultures and a blending of religion, I only wish more of the world could have the spirit of the local people of Nepal. I seemed to spend a lot of time wondering around talking to people, one man I spoke to took great joy in talking me through the intricate carvings that adorned the shrine of Shiva. Most of which showed men and women involved in various positions from the karma sutra and other tantric poses. Can people actually bend like that?

What really made me laugh though was just opposite the Shiva temple there was a wall adorned with various idols and right smack bang in front of the lewd carvings was a statue covered with some orange cloth. When I asked the man why it was covered over he just smiled at me and said that the statue was a carving of Hanuman, the greatest devotee of Rama and a noble warrior (the monkey god) and that his eyes were hidden so that he did not become offended by the site of the sexual poses in front of him.

Excuse the quality of the picture, I actually didn’t realise I’d gotten a shot of the covered statue until I noticed it on the edge of another picture.

I spent the whole afternoon on the rooftops of Kathmandu, drinking san Miguel from the Everest brewery, eating momo’s and inhaling the smoke from the over enthusiastic hippie’s spliffs. Highlight of the day was watching the sun set over the half finished buildings (most the buildings in Nepal are only half finished because by not completing them they avoid some kind of building tax) and catching sight of a flock of wild parakeets attempting to find a place to roost for the night. The sight of a massive flock of bright green birds, chirruping musically was just amazing. Beats seagulls any day of the week.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Nepal - Day 3

Briefly toured Kathmandu today. My god, it’s all changed so much. I met Jo in the lobby of the hotel and spent sometime securing our gear before we headed out onto the streets. First noticeable difference, lack of tourists. Usually the whole of Kathmandu is heaving with trekkers at this time of year as it’s the end of the monsoon season and the treks are massively over grown, meaning much fun to be had in cutting your way through neck high tropical plants… right.

Second most notable thing, increase in poverty, HUGE increase in poverty. We crossed Bagmati river via one of the smaller foot bridges and I could smell something rank and I mean really rank. So me being me leant over the wall of the bridge and was greeted by a very up close and personal view of a rotting cow carcass. Heat + Humidity = not good environment for decaying corpses. It was complete with maggots in eye sockets and everything. To think, I probably washed my face in water from that river but two hours ago.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Nepal - Day 2

Arrived yesterday and decided that the weather is a bitch, so feckin hot and humid you wouldn’t believe it, but the smell hasn’t changed. I woke up this morning, opened the door to my balcony and was greeted by the site of a filthy great monkey raiding next door neighbours underpants off her line. Needless to say I shut the door and ran in very quickly, but not before I’d caught that smell. A smell of dirty water and dust mingled with the scent of curry and spice. I love it. The air is still at this time in the morning, heavy and calm, just waiting for the men in their rickshaws to break out and spoil the tranquillity. I could picture myself living here sometimes.

Time difference is ok really, 5hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT, easy.

Oh and to my surprise Ravi –the managing director of the amadablam adventure group which is based in the blue star- still rembers me! in fact he has given me so much free stuff you wouldn’t believe it. Anything to help drum up much needed business I think.