Friday, October 03, 2014


Flying on Air China from Lhasa to Kathmandu, we saw Mt. Everest from the plane window. Everyone on the "wrong" side (that would be the other side) rushed over to our side to take pictures and get a good look. Richard's sunglasses got pranged in the melee and we feared the plane would tip! When you're in this part of the world, seeing Everest is a really big deal. People pay a fortune to come here and unfortunately some fail to even catch a glimpse. Either you're lucky or you're not. We were lucky.

We stayed in luxury at the Hyatt Regency.  We knew there would be much discomfort to endure on this trip but the one thing we could assure was a decent night's sleep and an edible meal if we stayed at over-the-top (for us) hotels. This place was about a bubble in the middle of noisy, colorful, crowded, smelly, wonderful Kathamandu.

Dining room - Hyatt Regency
Everything in Kathmandu seemed more vivid than elsewhere: colors, happiness, sadness, anger, love, religious rhapsody, festivals. As you walk through the markets and the streets you see a little of everything and it's a feast for the senses. When the vendors come at you with necklaces (seems to be a specialty in Kat) they wheedle, they hard-sell and soft-sell, they negotiate; some beg and whine, they argue with you, they do almost anything to start an exchange! Great sales people, they operate at the nitty-gritty level with one clear purpose: to separate you from $5.00. Of course, we bought too much and purchased totally inappropriate things we'll never wear, having been talked to death - talked into submission.
Our guide was excellent and every minute of our time was thoughtfully scheduled. There are few surprises when you travel this way, but we got plenty of stimulation; our days were full of delights and we didn't have to worry about schedules or spend time getting lost, juggling maps or figuring things out. I would not even think about attempting "doing it yourself" in this madhouse of a city. The guide did it all and he would adjust things depending on traffic - a huge consideration in Kathmandu. 

Madhouse electric poles
Some of the highlights:

Monkeys playing in their own swimming pool. These monkeys were absent restraint or fear of any kind, leaping from rocks high above the pool into the water. They'd twist and turn mid-air doing all sorts of fancy dives. Never seen monkey business like this anywhere before.

On the "diving board" working up their nerve.

Walking around the city seeing the markets and various ancient sites dodging the traffic - rickshaws, cars, motorcycles.

Strolling along a village path seeing people at work, doing laundry, working in the fields, waiting for the bus, visiting with neighbors, was a delight. Almost everybody has a marijuana plant in their yard - maybe that's why they all seem so happy. 
Everyone pitches in for weeding. 

A brand spanking new electric crematorium has been installed in the city and was going to start operating the day after we witnessed the old-style cremations, probably the last ones performed this way. Families will have far more privacy with the indoor equipment but much of the human interaction and the earthiness of it all will disappear. They're installing the new equipment because of environmental concerns, not to change the customs.

People are cremated the same day they die in Kathmandu. While we were at the site, three or four cremations were on-going. Crowds of relatives and friends were there, some participating in anointing the body with colors or with flowers; some washing the corpse with holy water; some overcome with grief. Emotions are pretty raw, as people have barely time to comprehend what has happened to their loved one before he or she is ablaze and into the river. I found myself in tears of sympathy for one family; the dead person was very young and looked to have a head injury - probably wiped out on a motorcycle. Driving any kind of vehicle is very dangerous on the over-crowded streets.

Monkeys waiting to move in after the cremation and snatch the offerings, often fruit. People sit in a kind of gallery and watch the proceedings. 
Family, friends getting the fires going under the corpse. 
Debra gets a blessing.

Young dead man, very sad. Being washed and anointed. 
Kids having a swim 30 feet from cremations. 
Life goes on, as shown by the contrast between the cremations of the dead and these super-alive, vigorous kids playing in the water about 30 feet away from the cremations, oblivious to the suffering and sadness.  Or accepting of these emotions as a part of the life cycle. The fake/real holy men (can't really tell them apart) hang around here because the tourists pay the for pictures. Something for everybody!
Holy man at cremations. I've seen his photo in many travel articles about Kathmandu. 

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