My Meandering Mind
by Carol Purroy
Blog 3: The Majesty of Kathmandu: Nepal Memories: Last week’s news of the earthquake in Nepal was horrific and tragic. In addition to the loss of life, the cataclysmic loss of homes and livelihoods, the destruction of centuries-old temples is heart-breaking. My memories of Nepal and its people are among my most treasured.
In 1985, my (then) husband Wayne and I visited Nepal, on a year-long ’round the world trip. I was turning 50 and my heart’s wish was to celebrate the half-century mark by trekking in the Himalayas — not climbing Mt. Everest, just trekking in the world’s highest mountains. After a torturous few days during which (1.) planes were delayed and connections missed; (2) we were held prisoner in the New Delhi airport under armed guard; (3) we tried sleeping on wood chairs shoved together to avoid the rats on the floor; (4) after a sleepless night we finally took off for Kathmandu. Below are some of my Nepal memories:
As we rose into the sky the morning of my 50th birthday, my spirits lifted.
Sans reservations, as usual, we spent part of the day finding and getting settled in a hotel — The Snow Lion.
That night we treated ourselves to the best offerings of an upscale Chinese restaurant near our hotel. Soft lights from filigreed lanterns enhanced its red and gold interior, heady aromas of pungent spices and tantalizing flavors quickened our hunger pangs. A pot of steaming tea materialized almost instantly; we sipped delicate jasmine tea while perusing the menu.
When our soup arrived it was like nothing we’d ever tasted. It warmed, soothed, and stimulated the senses. One dish after another of my amazing birthday dinner was presented, each more delicious than the last.
“We made it!” said Wayne. “We’re in Nepal for your Big Five-O.”
The chill mountain air revitalized us on our stroll back to the hotel. The full moon hung low, an incandescent globe. In the magic of moonlight, the mountains looming over the city lent enchantment. Grateful for this perfect gift, we wended our way back to the hotel and climbed the three flights to our room.
The spiritual vibrations in Kathmandu were palpable. I thought it must be due to the altitude, but then learned that it’s only 4,600′, about the same as Reno, Nevada. I suppose it could be because it’s in a bowl surrounded by 28,000′ mountains and resonates with their force field. In any case, it’s the most uplifting, energizing, inspiring energy I’ve ever felt in any location. Majestic and Magic! My entire being pulsated with it. It must have had a powerful impact on the people who’ve lived there through the millennia, hence all the temples and shrines and the ubiquitous practice of spirituality. (More on that in Blog 4.)
Trekking companies were plentiful. Treks of all sorts were available: three-days to two-months, bare-bones-basic to luxurious. We set up a nine-day trek; starting November 4.
I couldn’t remember being this excited, ever. The rest of the trip had been in preparation for this. I was in better shape than ever. Over the past four months since leaving home, I’d hiked 10 – 20 miles nearly every day, frequently lugging a 35-pound pack. (This was before some genius put wheels on baggage.) I was lean and mean and ready for anything.
We sent postcards bragging about our upcoming Himalayan trek to everyone we knew. It would be the high point of the whole trip, both literally and figuratively. Having lugged our camera equipment everywhere we went over the last four months, we decided to leave it in the hotel and be footloose and fancy-free for a few days. We’d spend four or five days in Kathmandu after the trek, plenty of time to get the photos we wanted.
This was the start of the exotic portion of our trip. The streets of Kathmandu teemed with people, temples, open-air curio shops, rugs, orange-dyed goat heads in outdoor meat markets, tee shirts and trinkets, rickshaws, motorbikes, et cetera. Cows wandered the streets freely. When a Nepalese person was near one, he or she would reach out and stroke its forehead for luck. Street entrepreneurs, including children, conversant in several languages, dealt with tourists of every description. Their ingenuity was impressive. One adolescent boy offered, for a few rupees, to clean the wax out of our ears.
A younger boy, one of many shoeshine kids, had a special offering as well. “I give you shoeshine, lady,” after passing over Wayne, who wore Bïrkenstocks.
I shook my head. “No thanks.” I continued on, my once-white leather sneakers kicking up dust on the unpaved street.
He walked alongside, cute as could be. “Where you from?”
“California,” I answered.
“Oh California. Disneyland!”
He walked beside us. “I give you very nice shoeshine.”
“No. I don’t need one.”
He didn’t agree. We tramped on. His face lit up and he announced, “Hey! I got a great idea!”
“Okay, let’s hear it,” I bit. “What’s your great idea?”
“I’ll use white shoe polish!”
I laughed. “That is a great idea.” Who could resist?
Shopping in Kathmandu
Most of the commerce done in Kathmandu (and all of Nepal) seemed to happen not in shops with walls and doors and windows, but in open air stalls, or simply with merchandise laid out on the street. All manner of items were offered, from tee shirts and touristy trinkets, to fine jewelry and cashmere shawls. All at bargain prices.
Although we’d promised ourselves, and each other, that this was not going to be a shopping trip. The less we spent on non-essentials the longer we could stretch the trip out. However, we were celebrating my 50th birthday, so our self-imposed rule was broken.
My present was a set of Tibetan chimes. It is one of my most treasured possessions. Every time I look at it or ring it, it evokes memories of Kathmandu. (I think mine are brass, but historically, they were made of 7 levels of precious and semi-precious metals for royalty and high priests. The 7 levels correspond to the 7 chakras (energy centers in the body). Ringing the chimes clears the chakras, allowing for the free flow of energy.) One of my favorite Nepal Memories.
One thing we learned about shopping in Kathmandu: if you see something you want, buy it immediately, because you’ll never find that shop again. The streets are laid out in such a way as to guarantee chaos and confusion. It was obviously organic in design; with no thought to traffic patterns or automobiles. Many of the small ancient temples were set in a hub from which several streets radiated. We’d follow one street only to come upon another temple or shrine, and another hub. Several times, when we attempted to return to a vendor or restaurant, the location of which we were sure we knew, it wasn’t there. We were lost. Again.
Nepalese are small, dark and beautiful, with delicate features.
The women wear graceful, flowing sarees (the plural of sari), black kohl around their eyes, and a red dot over the “third eye” in the center of their foreheads. (In Kathmandu, most wore a plastic peel-off, stick-on dot.)
The men wear sarongs with tees or button-front shirts. Both males and females sprinkle yellow or orange marigold petals over their obsidian hair. Many also wore flower leis.
When we were there — late October/early November — most were barefoot.
Spirituality is a constant, essential element in their lives. Buddhism and Hinduism co-exist in this part of the world. You see holy men and women everywhere.
The night before our trek, we attended a meeting held by a Hindu sadhu (holy man). He sat cross-legged on a platform, wearing garments of white. Many who attended brought a lei, placing it over his shoulders in respect, reverence and adoration, then bowed low, with hands together fingers touching forehead. Namasté. By the time the meeting started the leis were so thick they covered most of his upper body and head. Before beginning, he adjusted them so he could breathe…and speak. On one arm, over a terrycloth wristband, he wore a gold Rolex — a gift from one of his followers, no doubt. A good bit of the meeting was taken up with a meditation. It put us in the proper frame of mind for our Himalayan adventure trek.
To be continued in Blog 4: Nepal Memories • Part II. Coming in Blog 4: Temples and Shrines; Freak Street; Himalayan Adventure.
Video: Kathmandu • The Most Beautiful City in the World, by TheDeepeshShow:
Note: These are not my photos. Read Blog 4: Nepal Memories • Part II to learn why.
If you’d like to read more of Carol Purroy’s memoirs: http://tinyurl.com/thatslife
Note: These Memories of Nepal are from 30 years ago. This was written shortly after our return in 1986. Kathmandu is one of my favorite places on earth; I’m heartbroken at the ravages of the earthquake.