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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Nepal - Day 15

Does this count as a day? Since it’s a whole day of flying I don’t think it should, I’m looking forward to seeing Abu Dhabi airport again… I have spent many an hour staring at its luminous green cylindrical thingy ma bob.

Good holiday, god friends, good food, good break, bad end. Shitty end actually, my parents will bitch at me for going to Nepal now, they moaned at me for going to Tibet because it was dangerous, now I’ll never hear the end of it. It was worth it though, it was SO worth it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Nepal - Day 14

Strike, another bloody strike. I actually thought that in such a remote area, strikes wouldn’t have that much of an effect, obviously I’m a twat. We couldn’t get the flight back to Kathmandu because they were grounded, we couldn’t get on a bus because none of the Nepalese people would drive them due to fear of what the Maoists would do if they were caught. Even Sharma refused to break the strike. We were bloody stranded and the flight home was early the next day, bloody great [I must add that this is copied across straight from my note book, and things looked more dramatic at the time] Sharma understood that we must get back and suggested that we talk to a group of German tourists who appeared to be in a similar situation to ourselves.

German tourists. Oh such fun. I get the impression that god is mocking me. After an hour or so of hair pulling , much stress and the complete exhaustion of my German vocabularily (which extends to the words bratwurst and guten tag) we managed to secure ourselves a helicopter flight back to Kathmandu at what I would consider a HUGE expense, but we didn’t have a choice. Apparently the guys were really putting their necks on the line for us because they were in effect breaking strike conditions in order to airlift us out, as a result the military had to be called in to ensure our safe passage. However, I didn’t feel any safer once I saw them. The word 'cowboys' sprung to mind. They were by no means the regular army, in fact I think they were just local villagers with big guns, which made the situation a little bit more alarming.

This was taken when they were very far off.

More of the cowboy military

Anyway I took a seat on the floor overlooking the big expanse of concrete that would serve as the landing pad and settled in for a long wait. After a few minutes the guy with a gun sat off to my left started sniffing cocaine quite openly, WTF? I began to get a little worried. After a few hours a small helicopter arrived and the gun men took their places (for a minute I thought they were going to shoot the thing down!) a few mad tourists scramble on and the little thing took off. The make shift military start laughing and joking, swinging their guns round without so much as a thought to the crowd of small children that had gathered to watch the helicopter.

Bloody strikes. After 8 hours of bum numbing waiting our helicopter finally arrived, and man, German tourists take no prisoners!! As soon as the thing landed they were on, running like a stamped of yaks, trampling over anyone who got in their way. For a minute I thought someone had shouted ‘free towels!’ Needless to say me and Jo got poked at the back with the luggage rammed up our arse. Never been in a helicopter before though, didn’t realise how loud they were inside REALLY loud, so loud in fact, they give you free cotton wool for your ears, and peanuts (to eat, not for your ears)

The landing pad
Our helicopter approaching
View from inside the helicopter
Oh this is one that Jo took
He doesn't use a digital camera so excuse the crapness of the shot. You can just see me in my hat at the corner of the picture looking very relaxed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Nepal - Day 13

Fuck it. When offered the choice to sepnd 6 hours driving to Pokhara or 40 minutes flying what would you do? Fly, I can afford it, plus I’ve done the drive before and despite the scenery I threw up twice. This time I’m going in style.

There are no words to describe just how beautiful Pokhara is, last time I was here I trekked the annapurnas ha! Not this time! Still the threat of acute mountain sickness looms over you and when you catch sight of the mountains that surround you – namely the annapurna and Machhapuchere – you can understand why. Sharma drives us to Sarangkot (only 5223 feet above sea level but you can feel it!) and we spend the late morning just watching the mountains reflected in Phewalake.

This is one of Sharma’s favourite places and he happily sits there and points out the peaks of Mt Dhaulagiri, Annapurna IV, AnnapurnaIII and Machhapuchere. Since I’m in love with this place, and we don’t have to be back in Kathmandutill late tomorrow, we have decided to take a room here for the night, a basic one though because that's half the fun.

More Mountains
The greatest picnic spot in the world
Basic accomodation

Monday, April 04, 2005

Nepal - Day 12

Came across a huge Maoist protest today near Jyatha, close to the royal palace, Lots of black and white flags were being waved and the military were swarming. Since we got here we have had to observe a lot of unofficial and official curfews, this is why. Everywhere you go there is a police or army check point, travelling anywhere today is going to be a night mare, and we were supposed to be making a trip out towards the mountains for the next few days as well. The districts of Banke, Dang, Syangja, Surkhet, Rukum, Kalikot, Jajarkot, Rolpa, Salyan and Gorkha are considered especially dangerous at the moment.

Nepal - Day 11

The living goddess. One of those cultural things that you come across that simply blows you away. The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in a building known as the Kumari Ghar which is right at the very heart of Durbar Square.
It’s very hard to explain just what the living goddess is, but the title should be pretty self explanatory. The first settlers of
Nepal were the Newars and they were firm, absolute believers in the existence of the living goddess. Over time it has become a religious tradition that has grounding in not just Hinduism but Buddhism as well. Basically it is believed that a spiritual form of the goddess Durga inhabits a child within Nepal. The child is always female, always prepubescent and always perfect. The spirit of the goddess remains in the child until she passes her first monthly blood, upon which moment the power leaves her and she becomes a normal child again.

It’s the selection of the goddess that fascinates me though. It is a highly elaborate tantric ritual made up of layer upon layer of tests. After the preliminary test that questions the young girls 32 attributes of perfection - including the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth, the sound of her voice and her horoscope. The 4 to 7 year old girls from the Sakya (the tribe to which the Buddha was born) community are made to confront a goddess in a darkened room. The sight of the Buffalo heads scattered around, the demon like masked dancers and the terrifying noises they encounter scare some of the innocent and younger girls, but the real goddess is unlikely to be frightened. So the one who is calm and collected throughout the tests is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor. From that point on the living goddess is more or less confined to the Kumari Ghar, only coming out for religious occasions. She is coddled and nursed for the next few years for any bloodshed, even a minor scratch can make her unsuitable for worship. Once she starts her periods she is essentially discarded and married off. Problem is it is incredibly unlucky to marry an ex-kumari and Sharma informs me the even to this day, no man who has married one has lived longer than five years into the marital period. Weird.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed in the inner shrine of the Kumari Ghar but we were allowed into the gorgeous gardens at the back. We also weren’t allowed to photograph the goddess herself although I did see her. It was odd really, she was leant on the edge of the first floor banister just watching the world go by and she looked so calm and tranquil. When she notice me staring at her she just gave me a dismissive wave and carried on surveying the gardens. Is she a goddess incarnate? Hell I don’t know, but there was definitely something about her, something not quite normal, something calm and wise about the way she looked at things, about the way she looked at me. Even after those brief few seconds of eye contact, I wouldn’t have said she was an eight year old girl, but maybe that’s just my imagination.

This is the Kumari Ghar from the outside

Inside the door of the Kumari Ghar

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Nepal - Day 10

The strike is over and everything is back to normal. Thank god. Managed to get in a good day of touristy stuff today so that's a bonus. I think I could spend a year in Kathmandu and still not see all the temples and pagodas that I want to. Last time I was here I got to make a flying trip to the monkey temple, this time I spent the whole day there! Nepal itself is an odd blending of religion and I love it, you have Muslim, Hinduism and Buddhism all side by side with no trouble what so ever. The country itself is the only Hindu kingdom in the world and religious tolerance is practiced all over.

Swayambhunath is one of the holiest Buddhist spots in Nepal and probably one of it’s most memorable sights. The great white stupa adorned with the watchful eyes of the Buddha stands out from between the trees on a great hill that over looks the valley. It’s a holy place for the monks that have been pushed from their homelands and forced to make a home in Nepal. It’s beautiful. It’s also the source of an ancient legend, the story goes that an enlightened being (excuse me if I can’t remember the name) saw the valley filled with water and drained it for the people of Nepal. The great hill that the stupa rests on was the lotus flower that crowned the valley and the stupa itself was a holy light inside the flower that was transformed into a holy temple.

Not many monkey’s this year (had my camera stolen from here last year!!) apparently they are dying because the river water is so polluted. I did have a good chuckle at the few tourists I saw walking up the steps towards the stupa though, don’t they know there is a back way in that’s a lot easier??

The stupa..

Steps to the temple
A very old Buddha
The temple complex