Friday, April 10, 2015

Thoughts after 23 days in Nepal

We leave tomorrow on the daily flight to Bangkok at 1:30pm.  The trip has gone well so far.  We came to Nepal with the main goal of trekking through some of the high Himalayas and we returned yesterday to Kathmandu after 15 days of walking and a few recovering in the lakeside town of Pokhara.  I began keeping a Journal while I am here and would like to share some of the thoughts that I have written down.

Nepal was a monarchy until 2008. Seven years ago!  We are taking king ruling by decree, old school monarchy.  The country is very new to democracy and I try to keep that in mind.

This is the poorest place I have ever visited. Something like 60% of Nepalis get by on less than $2 per day. This inequity between myself and the people of this country is a fact that necessarily pervades most of our interactions. Less than half the population is literate and the school attendance is very poor. The children are numerous and always about, and keenly interested in us.... We are sitting on a tiered temple wall in a large temple complex in old Kathmandu, eating slightly sweet white bread cinnamon rolls. What do you do with the poor street child who approaches and asks for some of your food? He motions to his mouth that he is hungry and points to the food you are holding. I tell him no.  He kneels down and presses Anika's feet to his forehead, a traditional sign of respect. He performs this act repeatedly, insistently but politely requesting some of our food. We will him no, as we continue to eat our pastries, I have more than I really even want and the things cost pennies. All the respectable sources I have read tell us not to give to begging street children.  It only makes the lifestyle feasible and more attractive to other children that see their success and seeming independence. Rationally I agree and know the best course is to give some money to organization that get kids off the street or provide education or healthcare. I know this and understand this and agree, and I acted on this foundation. I felt a basic part of my humanity was missing in the interaction and it was hard to come to terms with it that day. That was one of our first days and I am happy/sorry to say it gets easier.

Journal entry from April 7th:
I learned to day that Anika has never, in her memory, ever had a bloody nose! She had her first cavity at the age of like 28.  What the hell?

Also from April 7th entry:
-Nepal, so many people hitting rocks with various sized hammers. Hammer beats rock. Big hammer for big rocks, medium hammers for medium rocks, all the way down. It is a hell of a way to make gravel.
-My nose has been running for the past 20 days. I got a cold right after arriving in Kathmandu and everything cleared up except the runny nose.
-Top traveler tip: don't wear the shirt of the country and city that you are in.  I see a lot of tourists wearing an "I heart Nepal, Kathmandu" T shirt while walking around Kathmandu.
-Top tip Two: don't cut your nose hairs back in Portland the day before you fly to Kathmandu. You will want them to filter the dust and pollution. No joke, I blew it on the one.

Trash Fires!
There is a lot of trash in Kathmandu, and municipal pick up is less than excellent.  Throughout the day, everyone throws their trash on the ground.  Plastic bags, chip bags, paper, cardboard, water bottles, tire shards, you name it. Obviously this is unsightly and takes up a significant amount of space on the crowded streets. Trash fires to the rescue. All the debris is swept into small piles in the gutters, then lit on fire.  These are smokey smoldering fires that have a high plastic content.  Basically a good portion of the time the city smells strongly of burning plastic.

Out in the country, aside from breaking rocks, much of life seems to be moving objects from one place to another. Many of the places we walked through have no road access and a tremendous amount of human effort is expended to bring in all necessities of life. Goods, from bricks to beers are carried on people's backs in woven baskets.  A strap of grain bag material attaches to the bottom of the basket on each side and loops up and across the person's forehead.  All the the weight rests here, no shoulder traps and no waist belt. I asked one man what his load was. He responded with 50Kg (110 pounds). I am unsure how much to discount this figure for pride, if any. Often I see children, eleven or twelve years old maybe, carrying supplies to building sites, in smaller baskets.  Sand and stones all day long, no school.

Books read so far:
Mark Twain's Autobiography
The wondering ramblings of a clever and insightful, if somewhat cynical and crotchety old man. He was in his 70's when he dictated it and his wife and 1 or 2 of his daughter had already died.

Old Times on the Mississippi Mark Twain
His time as a steamboat river pilot provided him with all the material he would ever need for a lifetime as a writer. His memory was honed to safely pilot 1000+ miles of ever changing river in both day and the darkest night. He extended the memory to the events and people he encountered and drew upon it for the next 50 years.  Note: the pilot was the real authority on an old river steamboat. The captain was a mostly ceremonial position with duties mainly while in port.

Bunch of others but running out of time.

Temples
I have seen so many temples on this trip. Rama, Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, various Hindu gods major and minor beyond my count and reckoning. Then we have the Buddha and all his myriad aspects.(Here my journal digresses as I describe the conversation happening at the table next to me) The people next to me at this lakeside bar/cafe are organizing a multi-day immersive course on how to open your various chakras, harmonize your brain waves and heal whatever it is that you need healed. These things look even more like bullshit when you listen to the behind the scenes planning and pitching. People travel here or to India, a certain kind of person, looking for the answers; thinking there is some kind of special spiritual power in this place. You can be sure they will find people willing to sell them a set of answers. They discuss the best way to hit the vibrating bowl, outside in or inside out, and whether move it clockwise or counter clockwise around the persons chakra point, to most effectively harmonize their energy.
(Back to the temples line of thought)
Such complexity in the face of the most perfect simplicity. All is One. All these religions build their castles in the sky. Buddha never claimed to be anything but a man. His whole point was that he was not unique and his path was available to all. He steadfastly refused to discuss the idea of gods or the supernatural. His wishes and words were respected for some time after his death. It took about 500 years after his passing for the first statues to appear.  Now he is deified in 1000's of different forms and places. If a monastery has the means, they have some conical scripture written in real gold leaf. We visited a Buddhist monastery that had been ravaged by a fire two month previous(a bad valve on a propane tank). They were morning the loss of their gold leaf books. I couldn't help but wonder what Buddha would have thought. Life is suffering, especially when you are attached to gold. All the religions seems to turn to it eventually. With enough distance and time the hazy memory of their enlightened founder fades and they find themselves lusting after and attached to that most human and least divine metal. I have seen the cathedrals of Spain where the blood and sorrow of millions in the Americas was transmuted into the silver and gold that coats the walls and anchors their souls. The visit of a free enlightened soul lasts only a moment in the view of history and we are left to build a structure to preserve and share that moment of truth. Invariably we incorporate all our own flaws and end by fucking gilding everything.

Last thoughts
Some of this is pretty negative and judgmental. I have had a wonderful time in Nepal and seen incredibly beautiful things. Much of these entries were written in the last few days. When leaving a country you allow yourself to dwell on the faults you have been accepting of up until this point. It is like breaking up with a woman and saving your heart be convincing yourself she was not that great.

-they have 5 rupee bills that are worth 5 cents.  5 cent bills!
-all the main tourist places have generators as the power works about 50% of the time
-in 2001 the crown prince murdered 9 members of the royal family, including the king and queen and then himself.  Wikipedia it. These were the people ruling the country at the time, not just figure heads, wild stuff.

Talk to you later everyone.

All the Best,

Brad






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