Nepal: Resilience at its Finest

IMG_1733.jpegMy family may be finding out about these adventures now, through this very blog, and I do want to apologize for not mentioning it —  as cliché as it may sound, due to the spirituality of these places, I really wanted my trip to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet to be focused internally — on using travel as a visceral way to journey both outside and inside of me.

I’m not a Buddha, and I’m far from being at peace with many things in life, but what I’ve come out of this trip acknowledging is that that is OK — that the very feeling of peace and happiness is impermanent, and that it’s all about perspective. These are things I thought I knew, but boy is it easy to forget.

Anyhow, without further ado, I want to introduce a brief photo journal of my journey, which I, unlike many of my travels, decided to embark on through a travel company. This, in many ways, reduced the stresses that come with planning and logistics.

26 March 2018: Arrival in Kathmandu

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Upon arrival in Kathmandu airport, meet guide and transfer to hotel.  

*First impression: nice, clean air  – later found out that Kathmandu is one of the most polluted places on earth, especially after being devastated by an earthquake in 2015, but that did not take away from its beauty.

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Bread-making in Kathmandu

01 April 2018: Paro-Kathmandu

 

Transfer to airport for flight to Kathmandu and visit two World Heritage listed religious sites – the Pashupatinath Temple-the holiest Hindu Temple on the bank of the holy Basmati Rivera and the giant Boudhanath stupa. See devotees taking ritual dips in the holy Bagmati River. Afternoon travel up to Swayambhunath stupa set high on a hill with commanding views of the Kathmandu valley.   

*Returning from Bhutan, I was stuck by the larger amount of “Western” clothing, the human traffic lights, the symbiotic integration of Hindus and Buddhists, and the strong culture around cremation.

It takes an entire hour to cremate a body — some travel far begging to die and be cremated at the Basmati River, where up to 200 cremations happen a day: 10 bodies can be burned at once, stopping at midnight. The rest are cremated electrically. Family members should cut their hair and wear only white for an entire year.

When someone VIP dies, they have the cremation area ready for them. During a natural disaster, they cremate in piles – 15-20 at a time. It is religion and art at the same time.

I was struck by the sense of solidarity: blind people sit outside of temples to sing songs and chat in the afternoons.

02 April 2018: Patan-Bhaktapur-Dhulikhel

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Heeding the suggestion by the counsel general, I took a mountain flight and saw Mount Everest  — it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, including a visit to the cock pit of the plane for more beautiful mountain views ❤ 

Check out after breakast and commence the day with a tour of Patan city, the city of fine arts and one of the three queen cities of the valley. Visit Durbar Square, Krishna Mandir and Mahavihar-Golden Temple of Lord Buddha built in the 12th century. Then visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, the third major town in the valley. Enjoy the cobblestone streets free of traffic andvisit Lion Gate, the five-storied Nyatopolo Temple and the Palace of 55 Windows. After lunch at Bhaktapur drive to the hill resort of Dhulikhel which lies 32 kms east of Kathmandu on the Araniko Highway that leads to Tibet. In old days, Dhulikhel flourished as a trading center handling commerce between Kathmandu and Lhasa. Today it delights visitors with its enchanting cultural and stunning Himalayan views. Overnight in Dhulikhel 

Newar people – indigenous – half Buddhist & half Hindu; no real conflict among them. Different architecture, language, etc. — I love their yoghurt!

Heavy reconstruction effort throughout all of Nepal after the earthquake: Men, women, children all remarkably engaged in reconstruction efforts.

03 April 2018: Dhulikhel to Nagarkot via Telkot hike.

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Morning drive to Changunarayan Temple visit the temple and hike 2 hrs to Telkot passing through the local houses by watching their daily activities and terrace farming field one side and great Himalayan views on other side. We meet our car at Telkot and drive to Nagarkot for beautiful sunset views. Overnight in Nagarkot.

*Changunarayan Temple where the history of Nepal started in the 2nd century

Road to Lhasa from Nepal was destroyed by the earthquake, and along with it, trade, travel, and commerce

08 April 2018: Lhasa-Kathmandu.

Morning we fly back to Kathmandu and visit Narayanhiti Palace Museum and Durbar Square and Ashan and Indrachock. Overnight in Kathmandu at Holy Himalaya.

*Lovely museum visit! Loved seeing the old palace, etc.

Money exchange

Massage : Blind center training massage — helping hands

09 April 2018: Departure

Transfer to airport for flight to home. Service ends.

Interesting facts about Nepal:  

  • Was part of the Silk Road
  • Was never colonized
  • 8/10 of the world’s tallest mountains are there
  • Constitution just adopted in 2017
  • Primarily Hindu
  • Buddha is from Nepal (contested — border with Nepal and India)
  • No death penalty
  • LGBTQ community can marry, have a passport as a third gender, and have equal rights
  • Babies wear black eyeliner for beautification purposes
  • Agriculture accounts for 75% of GDP
  • People living below the poverty like has halved in the last 7 years
  • 38% of all households don’t have a toilet 
  • Hinduism and Buddhism were never truly separate religions in the western sense – used same/similar temples
  • Nepali flag is the only one that is not rectangular in the whole world
  • Must try foods: dal bhat; with takari (boiled vegetables) or chutni; momo – steamed dumpling

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Tibet

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These three regions, especially Tibet and Bhutan are resounding with a common theme of a pungent smell of butter lamps and incense, sometimes concurrently.

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It’s what I will forever associate with them. Other non-olfactoric things include: handmade paper, “Buddhist-ware” – prayer wheels, beads, singing bowls etc. These cultural elements are what I tried to focus on while I was in Tibet, where it was honestly quite challenging to deny the political elements existing in the region – some comparisons to Israel and Palestine/Gaza certainly make it a prime place to focus on the challenges, and it is certainly difficult to deny or negate it. But the beauty and power of the region has surpassed conflict and politics.
The positive experience I had is outstanding:

04 April 2018: Flight in to Lhasa

Altitude: 3650/11,972ft

IMG_1785The only way I survived the oxygen — inhaling oxygen!

We transfer you to airport for flight to Lhasa. On your arrival at Lhasa airport, you will be met by your local guide and transferred to your hotel in Lhasa city (75km/47 miles, 1 hr). Check in hotel and take rest for acclimatization. You may experience some mild symptoms of altitude sicknessthat includes light headedness,disorientation, headache etc. Drink plenty of water and take enough rest. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • I was lucky enough to get my visa that morning. Most of the people on my flight did not get it, so most of the seats remained empty
  • China continues to change its rules related to the visa
  • It only opens in April to tourists, and I was one of the first to go that year
  • Lots of solar powered lamps
  • Put 7 water offerings on a Buddhist altar – lucky numbers – depending on the size of the altar

05 April 2018: Lhasa City, Potala Place and Barkhor Street

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In the morning we visit the Chokran temple. In the afternoon, Sera Monastery—It was one of the “three great” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1419. The highlight is the Monks debate at around 3 – 5 in the afternoon. Overnight in Lhasa at Gang Gyen hotel. Then continue to Jokhang Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a spiritual center for Buddhists in Tibet. Next to the temple there is Bakhor Street, filled with pilgrims and street vendors, selling traditional Tibetan items such as prayer wheels and jewelry. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • Chokran Temple – founded in the middle of 7th Century
  • First time seeing sleeve-wearing people on mopeds
  • Incense burner — outside
  • 5 colors of prayer flags reflects the five different colors of the elements: earth, wind, fire, water, sun
  • Guide is not to talk anything related to politics – if anything was taken down etc.
  • Monks in China get $ from the government if they’re part of a monastery
  • Monks typically look down because if they  see nice things, it will increase desire
  • Sky and river burials – returning people back to where we came from – from nature. Let birds and fish eat the bodies
  • Buddhists in some places like Nepal and India do not eat beef
  • Believe that killing one animal is like killing one soul, so they prefer to kill a large animal to feed more people
  • Yak meat on the run! vvv
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  • They have a lot more Tibetan officers than Chinese in Tibet, only work 5 hours, only for 5 months and are paid $60,000, to stay quiet
  • Monks debate philosophy – slap one side of hand if agree and the other, top side, if they don’t agree
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  • 150 monks living in Chokran
  • 500 monks living in Sera – prior to the Revolution more than 6000 lived there

06 April 2018: Monasteries in Lhasa, Drepung and Sera

In the morning, tourists are going to visit Drepung monastery, which was one of the “three greet” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1416. Ganden palace is used as Dalai Lama’s palace in the Drepung before moving to the Potala palace. Then we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site – Potala Palace, which is also the winter palace of Dalai Lama. It’s situated at 12,139 feet above sea level. It’s a 13-story high building that contains over 1,000 rooms, various statues, stupas, murals and artifacts.

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  • So many car brands I’ve never seen before in China – nice looking cars!
  • Before the Cultural Revolution, 10k monks living here –  the Draping “rice heap” – Monastery – now has 600 living there
  • The Assembly Hall is the main area of the monastery
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  • In Tibet – they use pillars to measure the home — i.e this monastery has 108 pillars.
  • Buddha – God of Compassion – manifested 1000 arms and legs – in order to help more people
  • Before 1959 — it was a place for political and religious leaders
  • Holds the tombs of past Dalai Lamas – worth billions of dollars in Gold!
  • White part of the building is – political; Red – religious; Yellow – Dalai Lama portion of the building

IMG_2277With my new friend from Thailand, Pauline

07 April 2018: Yamdrok Lake

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This yak didn’t like me very much.

Today, we have to drive from Lhasa to Gyantse. On the way, the group will pass over the Gampala pass (4790 m),and tourists will have a glimpse of Yamdrok-tso Lake (4400m).

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The Lake is surrounded by many snow-capped mountain and in the distance you have spectacular views of Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar (7191m), the highest mountain near Lhasa. Then drive back to Lhasa. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • In this village, and in many places in Tibet, if you have 2-3-4 brothers, you can share a wife; older man gets to be called the father of all of the children
  • Don’t want foreigners – mainly marketing to the Chinese
  • **More complicated than this, but someone mentioned the similarities between the Vatican City and Lhasa, Tibet similarities: own military parade (albeit one is not from the predominant religious group), religion/religious institution at the center, City-State/City within the context of a larger country

 

 

 

 

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Tibetan Mastiffs!

Interesting facts about Tibet:

  • Highest region on earth – also home to Mount Everest like Nepal
  • Tibetans allowed to have businesses, but unlike the Chinese, can’t market it to the outside world – only use internet
  • Economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture
  • Longstanding fight for independence against China. Lost a battle in 1951 when China took over
  • Tibetan language is closest to Burmese – a mix of Indian and Chinese cultures
  • Have a Bon religion: similar to Tibetan Buddhism — and also Muslim and Christian minorities
  • Tibetan empire extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma…Pakistan, etc! Where in many parts they still speak the Tibetan language
  • A Tibetan revolution during the cultural revolution had 6,000 monasteries destroyed and between 200k and 1 million people were killed
  • Only opened for tourism starting in April
  • 14th Dalai lama – is seen as a governmental and political leader and established a government externally
  • Not much arable lands leads to cultivation of yaks and the like – livestock
  • 10-20% of all males in Tibet are monks
  • Barley is the most famous crop — noodles or dumplings (momo)
  • Guthuk – barley noodle soup is common for the new year
  • Tibetan style momo is famed
  • Butter tea: Butter tea perfectly fits the needs of the human body in these high altitudes as it contains butter (protein and fat), milk (protein, fat and calcium), salt and tea.
  • Tibetan cuisine is traditionally served with bamboo chopsticks, in contrast to other Himalayan cuisines which are eaten by hand.
  • Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. There many other types of balep bread and fried pies.
  • Well prepared yogurt is considered a luxury
  • The word Nangma derives from the Persian word نغمه Naghma meaning melody. Both a band and a nightclub have been named after it. “Nangma” is the name of a four-person, traditional Tibetan band dedicated to these two styles of music. “Nangma” is also the name of a nightclub in Lhasa which plays this traditional music.
  • Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a blouse, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signals that she is married.
  • Alcoholic beverages include:
  • Chang, a beer usually made from barley
  • Raksi, a rice wine
  • Polygamy and polyandry is a common practice, often to stop a family’s fortune from being dispersed
  • Lhasa Apso — dog orginiating in Tibet!
  • Yak racing is popular in Tibet!
  • Liked: House of Shamble, Tibetan Kitchen, Lhasa Kitchen, and the many tea houses there!

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Cultural Dance Show at the Hotel!