I’ve decided to publish this mostly as originally written. Many of these places were destroyed or damaged in the eatrhquake and may never exist again; I’ve written about how lucky I was to leave right before it here.
Throughout the tour, it was very clear how important Buddhism is to every Tibetan that we met, and how much the religious intertwines with every aspect of life.
You can go here to donate to the Nepalese Red Cross in order to support both Nepalis and Tibetans in the wake of the earthquake.
In Pokhara, Nepal, we found Tibetan Encounters, a tour of three of the four Tibetan refugee camps in Pokhara. At first we had some doubts. Would this be like a slum tour? Would it be awkward? Were we indulging in the worst kind of voyerism? But this tour was one of the best things I have ever done, and I’m happy that my money went towards this project.
I’ve divided it into two overarching themes: the spiritual and the political. We’ll start with the political.
Over Tibetan tea – which is traditionally made with yak butter and is very salty – our guide told us about the political background. In 1959, China invaded Tibet and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee. Our guide recommended a book, Buddha’s Warriors, on the subject of the Dalai Lama’s escape, escorted by monks turned guerilla warriors, through the Himalayas and into Nepal. Here is some information about how China has attempted to erase Tibetan culture and assimilate it into China since then. Our guide was born in Mustang, a region in the high Himalayas that is the most common crossing point between Nepal and Tibet, in 1960, a few months after the takeover. This region is ethnically Tibetan, but, according to our guide, in order to bribe the Nepali-Tibetans into securing the border, the Tibetans in that area do not face the same economic oppression as elsewhere in Nepal. Continue reading
As most of you know, I flew out of Kathmandu about twelve hours before the earthquake hit.
Earlier that week, I was in Durbar Square and Bhaktapur, which are now wrecks. I also stayed in Bandipur, mere miles from the epicenter. Continue reading
Monkey Temple, or Swayambhunath
Located 365 steps about the city, Swayambhunath is a Buddhist and Hindu temple that is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal, possibly founded at the beginning of the 5th century CE.
Mythically, the entire Kathmandu Valley was once filled with water. In the center grew a lotus. A holy man named Manjusri had a vision and traveled to the lotus. Seeing that the valley would be good for human settlement, he cut a gorge at Chovar and drained the lake. The lotus was transformed into the hill on which Swayambhunath sits and the flower became the Swayambhunath stupa (a stupa is a rounded structure containing Buddhist relics; the white in the image below is a stupa).
The stupa has Buddha Eyes, or Wisdom Eyes, painted on it. They symbolize the omniscience of Buddha. The curly “nose” is the Nepali character for “1” representing uthe unity of all things as well as the path to enlightenment. The dot represents the third eye, another indicator of wisdom.
The same holy man who drained the lake let his hair grow long, and he developed head lice, which were then transformed into the monkeys that still live at the temple.
I was done having fun. Fun time was over.
Let me explain. We’d booked a full-day trip out of Chiang Mai. It began at 8 in the morning, when the van picked us up from the hotel.
We first went to see some elephants.
I’m sorry for the radio silence. My Dad and my uncle Doug came to visit for two weeeks, and we did so much that my blogging couldn’t possibly keep up. So here’s a round up of what we did, in no particular order.
Bandipur is a little town halfway between Pokhara and Kathmandu. You have to tell the bus driver you want to get off at Dumre, and then you catch the local bus (takes 15 minutes, costs 50 cents) up to Bandipur.
I was initially underwhelmed by Nepali food, which pretty much consists of two foods: momos and dal bhat. Momos are steamed dumplings stuffed with vegetables, pork, chicken or buffalo. I later found out that momos are actually appropriated from Tibetan cuisine.
My tuk-tuk driver picked me up at the hotel at 5 a.m. Sunrise would be at 6 a.m.
We drove through Sieam Reap, joining a steady, silent stream of tuk-tuks. Then we drove through the jungle, dark and mysterious on each side. Occasionally the headlights revealed twisted vines in monstrous shapes; I dreamed of snakes, snakes everywhere, the following night. Mostly, though, I was surrounded by the smell of the jungle: earthy and green, but also surprisingly sweet. Continue reading