Thursday, 16 April 2015

Acknowledgements and Thanks

When I was only 7 years old, my much loved and very missed Mum bought me a set of encyclopaedias, The Waverley Books of Knowledge. One of the things that captured my imagination was the description of the highest mountain on earth and how it had only just been conquered - remember this was only 4 years after Hillary and Tenzing. My fascination with all things Everest had begun, thank you Mum.

In the '80's a business friend, Jack Culley, told me about his treks in the Himalayas guided by Sherpas. His stories told of the beauty and tranquility of the people and country. Thank you Jack, you lit the fire of my ambition. 

In 2006 the UK Foreign Office took Nepal off their 'do not visit' list and I took this as a sign to make my first trip to Nepal. My love affair with this country had started.
Thank you to the wonderful Nepali people, whose smiles light up our lives. You see more smiles in an hour than you do in a week in the West. As a Nation they have the least, but in their lives and hearts, they have the most.

Lastly a huge thank you to my wife, Beverley. Without your support and blessings I would't have made my visits to Nepal and the Himalayas. You always encourage my madcap ideas and I love you even more for this.

Sightseeing in Kathmandu: Swayambhunath

It was our last full day in Kathmandu before flying back to the UK.
Unfortunately it was the first day of a 3 day strike and there would be no transport. It was hard to understand why that a strike called by the minority Maoist party would be supported. The official line was that the police and army would ensure the strike was enforced and unofficially people were going to wait and see if it had any support!
Mo and I had planned to visit Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple, which is about 4 miles from our hotel. Once we walked outside our hotel it was obvious that we would have to walk there, which would be nothing to the intrepid trekkers! 
The day before the streets had been full of cars, tuk tuks, motor bikes, bicycles, lorries etc, all jostling for position and not necessarily on the right side of the road. Today it was completely deserted, just groups of people hanging around chatting, or ambling down the street. So we set off walking down the middle of the road. It was terrific opportunity to walk through all the different neighbourhoods. We walked through some really poor areas with a very high profile  presence of police and soldiers, despite this because of the gentle nature of the Nepali people we never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe. In fact we got lots of smiles, which is so typical.
The walk was well worth it and as soon as we arrived at the foot of Swayambhunath hill we were greeted by the Rhesus Macaques monkeys.

 The temples were are the top of the hill, so once again were were tackling a very steep ascent!

 Once at the top it was a jumble of the most amazing collection of temples, statues and stoopas. 
 The central and largest stoopa is surrounded by prayer wheels, so we had a quick chant of "Om Mani Padme Hum" along with the other pilgrims! The white dome is said to represent the earth and the 13 tiered structure symbolises the 13 stages that humans have to go through to reach Nirvana - I think I've got a long way to go.

 The stalls all around the temples are loaded with trinkets of every kind. Fortunately you don't get the high pressure selling as in many Asian countries. A smile with 'just looking' and you are mostly left alone - another thing I love about Nepal.

 Masses of butter lamps everywhere

 The views over Kathmandu are extensive and very impressive.

After a couple of hours it was time go back down into the city and luckily we found a rickshaw to take us part way back to our hotel.
All that was left for us to do was have one final Nepali meal and several Gorkha beers

Sightseeing in Kathmandu: Bodhnath Stoopa

Originally built around 600AD and then rebuilt after destruction by the Mughals in 14C, Bodhnath is Asia's largest stoopa and is visited by thousands of pilgrims every day. Beneath the eyes of Buddha they circle the stoopa turning the prayer wheels and hanging prayer flags. It's a terrific sight. 

 Mad dogs and Englishmen…….

 The stoopa is surrounded by shops selling Thankas, beads, prayer flags, yak butter, Tibetan drums, ceremonial horns, in addition to all the souvenirs you could possibly want (or not)
 The payer wheels are all the way round the stoopa.

 Buddhist monks discussing the meaning of life…. It's enough to make you scratch your head!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Sightseeing in Kathmandu: Dhurbar Square

In the mountains the air is clean, there are no sounds of motorised vehicles (except for the occasional helicopter), in fact there are no vehicles at all. There is an overall sense of calmness and tranquility; it couldn't be more different in Kathmandu! The air is dusty, the noise of traffic is LOUD, people are rushing everywhere and it feels chaotic; however I find it absolutely exhilarating and intoxicating. Arriving back at the hotel by 7:30am I couldn't wait to get out and experience the city in all it's manic idiosyncrasy.
Our rooms were not ready, so we organised our inclusive 1/2 day tour asap and took a taxi into the centre.
First stop was Dhubar (Royal) Square. There are dozens of temples, mainly Hindu, and in varying stages of repair. The photos mostly speak for themselves:

This is a good example of the intricate window carvings you see all around the town.

Below is the Monkey God - not very attractive!

A palace guard - the yellow socks really are an authentic part of the uniform!!

This should have a PG rating

While we were in the palace grounds the ex Crowned Prince, Paras Shah, came out to meet the crowds. He had just returned to Nepal after 3 years in Indonesia - it's the guy with the sunglasses right in the middle of the melee! Apparently he is a bit of a playboy constantly getting into trouble with drugs and generally having a good time!

This stone carving of Kala Bhairab is cut from one single stone. It is said that telling a lie in front of the statue will result in instant death - honestly!
We visited a Thanka school and watched them paint thankas (what else?) this one is a Mandala which represents looking down on a Buddhist stoopa.
This mandala is made from coloured sand, an incredible work of art.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Lukla to Kathmandu

6:30am and we were ready at the check-in area of the airport and as expected it was chaos. Just because you have a ticket, it doesn't mean you will get on the flight or that it will take off on time. There is almost a sense of hysteria as everyone can see the clouds coming in. Fortunately Prem and Pasang are experts at the shoving & pushing technique and we managed to get on the second flight.
 Lukla rejoices in the reputation of one of the wolds most dangerous runways! The runway is 1,500ft/460m long and at the end it is a sheer drop of 2,000ft/600m. So take off has to be spot on, there is NO room for error, it's much like a ski jump.

I'm not sure being able to see what the pilots are doing is a good thing!

 In the above photos you can see the terraced style of farming. No space is wasted in the mountains.

They are still building the extension to the domestic terminal and as I mentioned on the outward journey, you get a good chance to inspect it as you actually walk through it. Health & Safety - bah.