Kathmandu Easter Sunday
Traveling far across the planet by plane is tedious. With a six year old, it’s entertaining. Scottie, the most seasoned of travellers appeared positively joyous to be journeying with his son. Our LA to Bangkok flight stopped to refuel in Seoul. Obie called it “coal town, Korea.” I craned to see a manicured-looking land with some tiny cut ski areas visible in the hazily setting sun. I also caught up on years of movies. Life of pi and Cloud Atlas both measured up in my opinion. Both books were so difficult to imagine as movies, yet were fascinating renditions of the original stories.
Asia is not a huge journey from New Zealand. From Salt Lake City, it is 4 flights to Kathmandu and approximately 24 hours of actual flying time. We spent a relaxed 10 hours in the Bangkok transit rooms and toured the airport to both Obie’s and my fascination. Scottie knew all the cool spots – where to find (consumers, I know) and the Buddhist dragon train. We began to see evidence of mountaineers – fellow mountain guides from nz and trekking types. It’s funny being a guide myself, yet in the role of mother travelling with Obie to nepal and coaxing him up a trekking route. Perhaps not so different.
Our arrival in Kathmandu revolved around Scott’s summons to aerial shoot in the Khumbu for film maker, David Breshears and his ongoing Glacier Works project photographing Himalayan glaciers. www.glacierworks.org He headed back to the airport within 18 hours of our arrival, flew to lukla and got to work shooting from a helicopter at 22000 feet. Obie and I went to find the Adventure Consultants group and catch up with Guy, Suze, Lydia, Dean and Mike Roberts. Obie took the constant honking, the dust and grime and busy-ness of Kathmandu completely in stride. Holding my hand tightly as we played dodgems to cross the streets, Obie would shout things like “there’s a kitty” and “bicycle rickshaw!” His jet lag has been worse than mine this time around with some fearsomely early starts and liberal use of the iPad on my part.
I’ve always been a bit of a budget traveler but on this trip we are staying in the salubrious and “raj-like” (if you can make such references in Nepal) Yak and Yeti hotel. With it’s saluting doormen, superb gardens and pool, we are definitely in an oasis of luxury. A guide and driver came to pick us up for the city tour on Saturday. The Pashupati (Monkey) temple, assured me that Nepal is indeed spiritually intact and that several religions, notably Buddhism and Hinduism, live in complete harmony in this land, even sharing places of worship (hardly surprising given mutual beginnings). The monkeys scampered over the stupas to Obie’s fascination. Bunches of prayer flags cut the hazy sky and people lined up to pay respect to the deities and be blessed.
The Ghats beside the Bagmati River revealed several cremations in full swing. It feels uncomfortably voyeuristic to watch the funerals of others, yet in Hinduism and Buddhism, death is not to be feared but is a chance to escape human suffering and seek a better incarnation in the next life. The rituals around the cremations were slow, crowded and deliberate. Smoke curled from the pyres. I hesitated, wondering what to tell Obie. It seemed he had an innate handle on the proceedings and asked sensible questions: “why is the body so close to the river? Why are they waving that branch over the body?” and “why is everyone washing their feet?”. He scampered around like the monkeys as people reached to touch his hair and stroke his face. Small blond kids are obviously rare.
Arjun, our guide, took us through a government-sponsored rest home near the Ghats. A toothless old lady with a beaming smile delighted in Obie and chased us to touch and hug him. He was generous and hugged her back. Another woman weaving called him over to give him a lolly. The place was clean, tidy and a haven of calm after the bustle of the ghats. I am glad I got to visit.
The boudhanath stupa gleams with whitewash looming above the stacked streets surrounding it. Hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims and western tourists strolled clockwise as the benevolent eyes of the stupa looked out in all four directions. Strains of the Buddhist chant “om, mani, padre, om” filtered from the numerous stalls selling Buddhist relics. Obie enthusiastically took to spinning prayer wheels and caught up with other kids hooning around the larger wheels, treating them like merry-go-rounds and simultaneously setting themselves up with good karma. By then the heat and dust and Obie’s alpine start had us a tad thrashed. We retreated back to the Yak and Yeti pool.