Namaste Kathmandu!

Since I start flying I developed some kind of strange attraction for Nepal not only for its amazing location in the famous Himalayas mountain but also for its rich mix of culture and the harmony between the two religions practiced by locals: Hinduism and Buddhism.

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Beside that, regardless of their believes or social status most of the Nepalese are initiated in the art of meditation, are experts in reading the palm lines and capable of recharging the people around them with positive energy, without expecting anything in return.
The benefical energy felt in this region it’s probably one of the biggest reasons which attract million tourists all over the world to this far away place of Asia. But not only…

 

Dreaming to climb the Everest

British, French, Spanish, Germans and many other nationalities, equipped with big backpacks and heavy boots are heading to Kathmandu to accomplish their life dream…climbing the Everest and purifying their mind and body through meditation.
However the number of the tourists decreased tremendous after the strong earthquake which hit Nepal this year (April 2015).

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The natural calamity left behind a huge gap not only in the country’s economy, structure of the buildings and the aspects of the streets but most of all, in the Nepalese people souls. Some of them have lost their famillies, others ended up without a house but one thing couldn’t be taken away…their kindness. Nepali still have the power to smile and greet every foreign face with NAMASTE, always willing to help even if their english is poor and their resources are limited.

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After few failed attempts of visting Kathmandu (the capital city of Nepal), finally here I am, landing safe on one of the most difficult runway of the world. Surrounded by the stuning Himalayas mountains with its inevitable strong winds and currents, the pilots require a special training to get the clearance of flying at Tribhuvan airport.

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A foggy day between the mountains

Together with few others colleagues we are picked up from the hotel by our tour guide, early in the morning, cramped like the sardines in the back seats of an uncomfortable old car. Destination: Himalayas valley, where we are promissed to have a great look over the highest mountains of the world followed by a visit to a nepalese village and a traditional lunch.
Initially I was planning a totally different activity: flying over the Himalayas, but the incrased number of local plane crashes from the last period made me reconsider my options, choosing something less adventurous but definitely more safe.
Even here far away from the crowded and noisy streets of the capital city the trace of the earthquake are obvious: crashed buildings, cracked roads, fallen trees. Opposite of the infrastructure which seems to colapse day by day  stands the nature with its great self regenerating power, reborning more green and beautiful than ever before.

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After a morning “workout” in the nature, climbing hundred stairs in a failed attempted of watching the grandious Himalayas, our tour guide suggest that we should start the day with a traditional breakfast: Nepalese bread with honey and masala tea waiting for the capricious weather to remove its veil of fog.
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The terace is located on a hight hell and during the serene days it offers a 360 stunning view over the valley and the mountains. Unfortunately its not the case today.
But we can not complain though…

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Delighted with the mystical atmosphere and the delicious choice of meal, we could spend the entire day up here if the driver would not insist to show us more around.
We continue our journey through the valley, inhaling the fresh air of the morning and admiring the green surrounding. Everything arround us seems a scene of the Twilight movie: nasty fog, crooked roads, steep valleys with dense pine trees…silence.
Few kids are coming back from school, enthusiastic, wearing same uniform and an innocent smile on their faces, hoping for a better future than their parents had. They look at us with curiosity, probably seeing for the first time faces so different and unfamiliar, wandering their small village.

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The local markets display a wide variety of home made “jewellery” and Saris (traditional women clothing) with pastel colors and shining embroidery and I m making a short stop over, while my colleagues continue their walk, uninterested of the fancy asian fashion, leaving me behind.

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The blonde girl wearing sari 

All the habitants of the small village are watching me with admiration once I leave the shop, wearing with pride my first Sari. I am calling my colleagues to wait for me but they look at me surprised: “Who is this girl?” It takes them few minutes to recognize me, while I am running to them, wraped from down to the top in a red traditional dress of nepalesse region.
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The driver adviced that we shouldnt miss the beautiful walk through the valley but not before of warning us that we have to be fit for this trip and well equipped, my outfit being totally out of the list. Stubborn I totally disagree to remove my Sari but after few hundred meters under the burning sun and steep ramps I have to make a choice: eighter to continue the way back home or to be again left behind by my group, this time in the middle of nowhere.

 

Beyond description…

I am a little bit dissapointed of how the day is going so far, feeling that I am losing the whole day without having the opportunity of being in contact with the people, learning more about their culture and tradition and I promiss myself that next time I will choose my trip wisely. My colleagues are amazed of the beautiful walk through the nature, so much missed in the desert, while I keep complaining, being a pain in the ass for them all.
The poverty of this place gives me though a slight idea about the hard conditions that nepali has to face day by day: no current water, improvised bathrooms, damaged houses and ripped clothes hanged by the fences. People are watching us with sweet “envy” while we are passing next by their homes but nobody ever dare to ask for money or any material things.
Everyone instead, is greeting us with the famous Namaste, unable to hide the surprise of seeing foreigners interested in their humble village.

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The last stop its a local market with crafted products, where beautiful hand made Hindu and Budhist statues made of wood and lot of work are sold for few rupees, together with soft cashmeer scarfs and other goods highly apreciated on the international markets. The vendors are ready to bargain even if every coin means a lot to them, the incomes dramatically decresing after the eartquake.
They struggle to survive…day by day.

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Impressed by the poverty of the place, we return to the hotel with a helplessness feeling in our hearts but also with a huge gratitude and appreciation for what the life had offered us so far.

 

Part II

 

Back to Kathmandu

One week after my first visit in Kathmandu, I am back, just how I promised to myself.  This time I am more interested to experience the city with its noise and agitated life style.
The first stop is the Durbar square, the heart of the old town and the most important touristic and historical area of Kathmandu. Almost totally destroyed by the earthquake,  the locals are trying hard to stabilize the remaining temples which alongside with hundred tourists are hosting an impressive number of pigeons.

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Once again I come in contact with the warmth of Nepali people when few street vendors, notifying that I m struggling to walk in a traditional beautiful Sari, stop their activity pulling me aside in an atempt to fix my clothes right.
The curious eyes of the locals but also the tourists are watching with amusement this funny moment and I cant feel other than happy when, in the end, they ask for a souvenir picture with the blonde girl with blue eyes wearing a turquoise Sari on Kathmandu streets.

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The area is filled with people of any kind, from curious tourists in search of unknown, believers looking for God, baggers asking for mercy to comerciants of souveniers and kids playing around. Colors and harmony all around, that’s the charm of Nepal!!!

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Meeting my “guru”

Checking with my driver about other famous places, he takes me to Thamel street, the shopping area of the city. Selling their traditional products such as cashmere scarfes, singing bowels, magnets or Nepalese meditation music, the street vendors are trying desperate to attract me with the best offers.
Despite of the unsafe look of the Thamel area, people impress me again with their open heart always smiling and greeting me in their own language. I feel comfortable, I feel like home.

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Unfortunately I am not interested in shopping today, looking forward to discover more and more about the nepalesse culture and lifestyle, having a huge list of objectives and such a short time so I m leaving the markets behind quickly.
Heading to the car parking I am passing in front of a gemstone store and my eyes are caught by a big pink pyramid which is glowing in the show-window.  I am asking the driver to stop for a moment and I run back to the shop, looking for a small pink quartz which is known as the stone of the heart, a crystal of unconditional pure love.
Its following a full hour of esoteric conversation with the seller who turnes out to be a master of meditation and crystal therapy. Hmmm…so exciting and unexpected.
Slowly, he turns my left hand and start reading me like an open book: “A deep woman, always seeking for knowledge but afraid to open her beautiful wings”. Acording to him I belong to this region and my east asian soul mate is lost somewhere here, searching for me.

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I am leaving the shop with my desired pink quartz, with a relief in my soul and fully charged with positive energy. Beside that my new friend offers me, as proof of our friendship, a beautiful moonstone, which he says it will balance my thoughts and feelings.
This beautiful stone is considered to be a sacred gem in India, where can be worn only safely wapped in a yellow cloth. The beauy of my new stone is stunning and its said to get magical powers during the nights with full moon. What I didnt know yet…the moonstone broke once I reached home but contacting my “guru” immediately he assured me that the stone succesfully completed its mission and I shouldnt be worried or sad about the lost.
Beside that, I could come back anytime for a new one.

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Celebrity on Kathmandu streets

Pressed by the time I am walking through the car but not before of saluting the squad of “fans” gathered in front of the shop, pointing at the famous “Lean on” videoclip, asking if is me in there. As much as I like the song and the girl I have to destroy their dream (and mine as well), totally denying my implication in the video. While I am passing through, they throw me a suspicious look, probably thinking that I am one of those “nose up” VIP but perseverent they dont let me go without a quick sesion of selfies…just in case I was the one.

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Even the driver eyes looks more shinny but I wont realize until I get home that he actualy start falling in love with me, probably encouraged by my open attitude towards his culture. Unfortunately for Dinesh, his “imaginary” love story finished way too soon, even before it started…. Love can be so cruel sometimes!!!

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The temple of death

The new destination on my list is Pashupatinath, a hindu temple which is nothing else than a crematorium, allowing the tourists to witness live the death processions. It’s the most bizarre and creppy place that I ever been, the smell of the burning bodies are penetrating deep your sense organs and you can’t feel other than small and helpless in the encounter with the death.
The  whole process is happening right in front of me, from the preparation of the bodies, the sacred washing in the Bagmati  river, wrapping in the orange towel and covering with chains of flowers until their complete burn. It’s a spiritual place and you have to be really prepared to experience this face to face encounter with the Death.

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The mourners are wating quiet to collect the ash of their loved ones, which on the fourth day after creamtion, will be disperse in the river water or other place significant for the deceased person.
According to the hindu religion the death apply only for the physical body, the soul is a spirit that a sword cannot pierce, the fire cannot burn, the water cannot melt, and the air cannot dry. The soul is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect.

Blessings in hindu style

The creppy athmosphere besides the river is completed by the hindu monks, which are praying in their small temples, singing mantras and asking money from every tourist who wish to phonograph the holy ritual.
With orange clothes, strange paintings on their body and long untidy hair, they are highly respected in Hindu society due to their ability to detach from the normal world and live a life of simplicity, celibacy and contemplation of God.

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After we bargain the price, I am invited to sit next to the monks for a picture while they are reciting mantras in a scary tone and drawing the red Bindi dot on my forehead, even before I can react against it.
The dot is a very commun practice worn especially in South Asia by the hindus and buddhists and represent the third eye, the point at which creation begins,  the gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness.
Few monkeys are watching indifferent the funerals, so accustomed with amount of mourners and tourists, waiting any oportunity to steal some food.

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Nightmare

A beggar is pulling my Sari asking for money, the vendors are chasing me with hand made necklaces, a mental unstable person is shouting some incomprehensible words, the whole enviroment become unbearably and I decide that its time to leave.
Once arrived in the hotel I dispose the Sari in a plastic bag, jumping straight in the shower, in a desperate attempt to remove the heavy smell of death printed on my skin and hair. After all the efforts the smell still remains, deep rooted not only on my body but also in my memory, long time after my visit.
Nightmares night after night…maybe I wasn’t truly ready for this experience.

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