bhaktapur: taumadhi tol

Tuesday, January 22:  Taumadhi Tol is the center of Newari culture in Bhaktapur.  It’s a lively square that contains two of Bhaktapur’s most distinctive pagodas.

The graceful, five-tiered Nyatapola is Nepal’s tallest and most classically proportioned pagoda, and it dominates Bhaktapur.  Since the pagoda was completed in 1702, all but priests have been barred from the sanctuary.  Apparently, this is because its tantric goddess, Siddhi Lakshmi, is so obscure, that she has no devotees.  Rather than being named for its goddess, it’s named for its architectural shape:  in Newari, nyata means “five-stepped” and pola means “roof.”  On the steep stairs going up the pagoda are five pairs of guardians: Malla wrestlers, elephants, lions, griffins and two minor goddesses.  Each pair is supposed to be ten times as strong as the pair below (Lonely Planet Nepal).

the five-tiered Nyatapola

the five-tiered Nyatapola

one of the pair of elephant guardians

one of the pair of elephant guardians

one of the lion guardians

one of the lion guardians

the view to the west side of the square

the view to the west side of the square

I climb up the steep and narrow-depth stairs, and the view from the top is dizzying.  Coming back down is quite scary as the stairway is precipitous and has no handrails.  I look down on the square below and see the more squat pagoda: Bhairabnath Mandir.

Bhairabnath Mandir from the top of Nyatapola

Bhairabnath Mandir from the top of Nyatapola

me after climbing down from Nyatapola

me after climbing down from Nyatapola

The other pagoda on the east side of the square is the thick-set Bhairabnath Mandir.  Leaning against its north wall are stacked solid wood wheels used on chariots during the Nepali New Year’s celebration called Bisket Jatra.  According to Highland Asia Travel: Nepali New Year and Bisket Jatra, the legend goes that every man who married the Bhaktapur Princess died the night of the honeymoon, so no one dared to marry the Bhaktapur Princess again. Finally, there was a brave prince who vowed to solved the mystery. He married the princess and he stayed awake the night of their honeymoon.  As the princess fell asleep, two giant serpents crawled out of the two nostrils of the princess. The prince quickly took out his sword and chopped the snake heads off. The next morning, the two serpents were publicly displayed on a pole.  Even today, in the traditional ceremony of Bisket Jatra, serpents are carried in the form of long ribbons.

Bhairabnath Mandir

Bhairabnath Mandir

chariot wheels used in the Bisket New Year celebration

chariot wheels used in the Bisket New Year celebration

 

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bhaktapur: a mysterious courtyard & auspiciously-placed prayer wheels

Tuesday, January 22:  Batu takes me to a courtyard that I later write in my notes is a Buddhist monastery, home to the Bhaktapur Kumari. Apparently, the Kumari of Bhaktapur has greater freedom than her cohorts in Kathmandu and Patan.  She can leave the house, play with friends, and visit school with other children.   A Kumari is believed to be the goddess Taleju incarnate until she menstruates, at which time the goddess is believed to leave her body.  Kumari means “virgin” in Sanskrit (Wikipedia).

Is this the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives???

Is this the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives???

According to , Wikipedia: Kumari (children), eligible girls are Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste (Buddha’s clan of origin) of silver and goldsmiths. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess. Some of these are poetically listed as such:

  • A neck like a conch shell
  • A body like a banyan tree
  • Eyelashes like a cow
  • Thighs like a deer
  • Chest like a lion
  • Voice soft and clear as a duck’s

In addition to this, her hair and eyes should be very black, she should have dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs and a set of twenty teeth.

The girl is also observed for signs of serenity and fearlessness (after all, she is to be the vessel of the fierce goddess Durga) and her horoscope is examined to ensure that it is complementary to the King’s. It is important that there not be any conflicts as she must confirm the King’s legitimacy each year of her divinity. Her family is also scrutinized to ensure its piety and devotion to the King.

However, as the king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, was stripped of his title and duties in 2008, I’m not sure how they determine compatibility with “the King.” (!)

inside the temple

inside the temple

After I return home, when I try to identify exactly what the name of this courtyard/temple is,  I’m not sure after all that this place is really the Kumari’s home.   I can’t find information or pictures anywhere online or elsewhere to verify this.   So.  I will say this:  I think this MIGHT be the place where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives. I never see the girl here, as I did in Kathmandu, so I have no proof.  Oh well.  At least I love the red prayer wheel, and the other little prayer wheels lined up along the exit corridor.

Here is the mystery place, unidentified and open to your imaginative interpretation.

a large red prayer wheel in a corner

a large red prayer wheel in a corner

other prayer wheels in the exit corridor

other prayer wheels in the exit corridor

In the courtyard, some TV celebrity (also unidentified) is being filmed by a man who looks like a professional camera-man.  The celebrity, wearing traditional Nepali costume, tells us he is doing a special for Nepali television.  However, I don’t write down what he says, so I forget now what the program was about.  Oh well.  Here he is, whoever he is and whatever he is doing.

a Nepali TV celebrity

a Nepali TV celebrity

bhaktapur: durbar square

Tuesday, January 22:  Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square has two claims to fame: 1) It was listed a World Heritage Site in 1979 and 2) it was used in the filming of ancient flashback scenes in the 1995 film Little Buddha.  It lacks the architectural harmony of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square due to a 1934 earthquake that destroyed several of its temples.  It also has never served as a commercial or social focal point to Bhaktapur, according to Rough Guide to Nepal.  However, it is the main square of the city and is a mixture of stone art, metal art, wood carving, and terracotta art and architectural showpieces, according to Bhaktapur Municipality.

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

The Royal Palace is said to have once had 99 chowks (courtyards), but since the 1934 earthquake and resulting demotions and renovations, it now has only five. This palace was built during the reign of King Yakshay Malla in AD 1427 and was subsequently remodeled by King Bhupatindra Malla in the late seventeenth century, when the eastern wing, known as  Panchapanna Jhyale Durbar (“Palace of Fifty-Five Windows”), was built.  It was home to royalty until 1769.

entrance to the Royal Palace

entrance to the Royal Palace & The National Art Museum

The Palace of 55 Windows

The Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

The Golden Gate, or Sun Dhoka, is said to be the most beautiful and richly molded specimen of gilt copper repoussé in the entire world. Repoussé  is a metalworking technique in which a malleable metal is shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief (Wikipedia).   The door is embellished with monsters and mythical creatures of amazing intricacy. The Golden Gate was erected by King Ranjit Malla and is the entrance to the main courtyard of the Palace of Fifty-Five windows.

The Golden Gate ~ 1754 AD

The Golden Gate ~ 1754 AD

Turning back from the Golden Gate a doorway on the left leads through to Naga Pokhari, or “Snake Pond.”  This is an early 16th century royal bathing tank.  The waterspout is covered in thirsty animals in gilt copper, overlooked by two gilt nag figures standing clear of the water.

the door to Naga Pokhari

the door to Naga Pokhari

Naga Pokhari

Naga Pokhari

gilt waterspouts writhing with thirsty animals

gilt waterspouts writhing with thirsty animals

a nag figure looking over the bathing tank at Naga Pokhari

a nag figure looking over the bathing tank at Naga Pokhari

The 15th century Pashupati Mandir is the oldest structure in the square.  The temple holds a copy of the Pashupatinath linga, a complex symbol of Hinduism associated with Shiva, representing energy and strength.  Its roof is embellished with wildly erotic carvings.

Erotic carvings on Pashupati Mandir

Erotic carvings on Pashupati Mandir

Door on Pashupati Mandir

Door on Pashupati Mandir

Next door stands the 18th century shikhara-style stone Vatsala Durga was built by King Jagat Prakash Malla in 1672.  Shikhara refers to a rising-tower Hindu architectural style, which translates literally to, and resembles, a “mountain peak.” (Wikipedia/Lonely Planet Nepal).

Vatsala Durga

Vatsala Durga

Vatsala Durga

Vatsala Durga

The Chyasin Mandap, erected in 1990 to replace an 18th century temple destroyed in the earthquake, is known as the Pavilion of the Eight Corners.

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

The Pavilion of 8 Corners with the behind

The Pavilion of 8 Corners with the Vatsala Durga set back to the left

the Pavilion of the Eight Corners with the Palace of 55 Windows behind

the Pavilion of the Eight Corners with the Palace of 55 Windows behind

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

On the west side of the square, we see a school group clustered on the steps of an unnamed building.

A school group on a tour

A school group on a tour

And then we wander around and check out other interesting things in the square.

Entryway

Entryway

interesting door

interesting door

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Silu Mahadev

Silu Mahadev

Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir

Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir

We leave Durbar Square and go in search of the Kumari’s house.

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a little hidden temple in bhaktapur

Tuesday, January 22:  Straightaway upon entering Bhaktapur, Batu takes me to a small temple hidden away in a small square.  Since it takes me awhile to get used to his thick Nepali accent, and even when I do get used to it I can still barely understand much of what he says, whatever he tells me about this little hidden temple is lost.  Usually after returning home I can somehow piece together the names of the places I saw, either by looking at a map or matching a description in a guidebook with what I saw.  In this case, I know nothing.  But.  Here it is anyway. 🙂

an alcove near the hidden temple

an alcove near the hidden temple

the temple

the temple

a prayer wheel in the temple

a prayer wheel in the temple

holy statues

holy statues

We leave the temple and proceed down narrow winding lanes to Durbar Square….

bhaktapur, nepal: harkening back to medieval times

Tuesday, January 22: This morning I bundle up and eat a breakfast of omelet masala, potatoes, chicken sausage, pancakes, broiled tomato and coffee on a wobbly table at the Kathmandu Guest House outdoor dining area.  I have packed a few things into the new backpack I bought in Pokhara for the trip I will take today.  With a driver, I will go to the town of Bhaktapur to explore.  From there, we will drive to the mountaintop of Nagarkot, where I will see a sunset and sunrise view of the Himalayas.  This time I will have a view of the Langtang Range, the western portion of a complex of mountains which also includes the Jugal Himal, home of Shisha Pangma, the fourteenth highest mountain in the world at 8,013 meters.  After spending the night in Nagarkot, I will hike down to Changu Narayan, about a 4-5 hour hike, carrying my backpack.  I try to pack light, since I will have to carry my pack.

my guide in Bhaktapur: Batu

my guide in Bhaktapur: Batu

We take off through the perpetual haze of Kathmandu, bumping heartily over potholed roads.  I see ragged and faded Bollywood movie posters on walls, and businesses that look like they’ve seen better days: Rainbow Travels & Tours, the Titanic Dance Bar, Obsession, Everest Pizza, Royal Kawaliwy Food.  I see lime-colored buildings, black-helmeted Nepalis on motorbikes, the Civil Mall, a local market with blue tarps for roofs. I see the gate to the Parliament and Supreme Court. I see too many poor people to count, all dressed in brightly colored, but mismatched clothes.  If nothing else, Kathmandu is a colorful and energetic place.

a Nepali man relaxing at a little shrine

a Nepali man relaxing at a little shrine

We arrive in Bhaktapur after about an hour.  Now that we’re escaping Kathmandu, the haze is lifting slightly and I can see a touch of blue in the sky.  My driver, Raju, asks if I would like a guide through Bhaktapur.  He has a friend he can call.  I say sure, since I don’t know anything about Bhaktapur and I only have a couple of hours.

the herringbone-paved streets of Bhaktapur

the herringbone-paved streets of Bhaktapur

We meet Raju’s friend, whose name is Batu.  After we are introduced we begin our walk through the town, which is mostly pedestrianized, except for the motorbikes that manage to sneak in.  Right away, Batu takes to calling me Catty-mam (I think!), which sounds almost like Catty-man.  I am startled every time he calls me this, but I never say anything.  Usually, whenever anyone calls me “mam,” I tell them right away to please not call me that.  I HATE it!!  However, since it sounds like he’s calling me either “Catty-man,” or some other unintelligible thing, I never say anything. 🙂

Actually, I have trouble understanding half of what Batu tells me during our whole tour.  I find myself wishing he would just point me in the right direction and leave a wide berth between us.  Plus, I love to take my time and take a lot of photos, and I can tell he’s irritated by this and wants me to hurry along.  I am so happy to be rid of him after my tour is over.

colorful shops

colorful shops

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Coca-Cola doors

Coca-Cola doors

brightly colored goods for sale

brightly colored goods for sale

vegetables, anyone?

vegetables, anyone?

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bright red shoes

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colorful masks

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wood carvings

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more wood carving products!

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vegetables for sale!

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fun-loving puppets 🙂

Bhaktapur is known as the “City of Devotees” and was likely founded in the early 8th century.  From the 12th to the 15th century, it was the capital city of all of Nepal.  The inhabitants of the city protected it with a wall and city gates; these remained through the 18th century, thus preserving the city’s heritage and preventing it from turning into another sprawling city like Kathmandu.  Shaped like a flying pigeon, the city spreads over an area of 6.88 square km and lies at 1401 meters above sea level.

a Newar is known by the way he carries things, with a stick with two buckets attached

a Newar is known by the way he carries things, with a stick with two buckets attached

The city is home to over 100,000 inhabitants, most of whom are peasants, according to the pamphlet put out by Bhaktapur Municipality.  Other residents are businessmen, handicraft producers and public employees.  The city is known for yogurt (juju dhau), black caps (bhadgaule topi), black saris with red borders (haku patasi), pottery and handicrafts. Inhabitants are either Hindus or Buddhists.

inhabitants waiting for water, which only comes a couple of hours in a day

inhabitants waiting for water, which only comes a couple of hours in a day

women wash their babies every day for the first 6 months

women wash & massage their babies every day for the first 6 months

some friendly inhabitants of the city

some friendly inhabitants of the city

Bhaktapur is a “Living Museum,” according to the municipality, displaying the vibrant Newar culture. Anthropologists believe the Newars are descended from the Kirats, a legendary clan who ruled the Kathmandu Valley between the 7th century BC and the 2nd century AD.  It has become a melting pot over time, as immigrants, overlords, & traders have mingled into the culture.  They have many shared traits and a common language (Newari) and their religion is a complex mix of Buddhism and Hinduism (Rough Guide to Nepal).

reflections

reflections

cotton drying

cotton drying

Bhaktapur’s Newari architecture, with its terracotta-colored brick buildings and dark brown intricately carved wood doors and windows, harkens back to the medieval.  Women wash in public taps, men in traditional dress lounge in covered loggias, and peasants sell baskets of vegetables.  The Germans have instigated a long-term sanitation program and funded a long-term restoration of the town.

mustard hung out to dry

mustard hung out to dry

I wander with Batu through the town.  I’m attracted to the shops with brightly colored merchandise and the narrow alleys with their herringbone-paved streets.  In this post are some street scenes of the town.  I will show the historical parts of Bhaktapur in another post.

Click on any photos below for a full-sized slide show.

farewell to pokhara & back to kathmandu

Monday, January 21: After seeing the sunrise at Sarangkot, we head back to the hotel where I have some hot coffee and an omelet.  I’m tired from waking up so early, so I take a hot bath, since ~ surprise, surprise! ~ there is hot water this morning.  Sadly, I’m still not able to wash my hair because there’s no electricity for the blow-dryer!  On my balcony, I admire my last stunning, and unclouded, views of the Himalayas.   I put my pajamas back on and climb back into bed.  I read What I Loved for a good long time and then nap for a bit longer.

one last view of the Himalayas from my balcony in Pokhara

one last view of the Himalayas from my balcony in Pokhara

When I get up again, I go out into town to continue the shopping spree I started yesterday.  I buy a necklace of silver, coral, turquoise and shell, some silver rectangular earrings with inlaid turquoise and coral, an amazing wooden Nepali mask to hang on a wall, and a book of short stories by Nepali writers.   I also buy a backpack for the hike I will do the day after tomorrow from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan.

last views... :-)

last views… 🙂

I go back to my favorite restaurant, Love Kush, and order the same sizzling grilled fish I had for dinner last night.  Some things are just that good.  Then I walk back to the hotel to pack up all my newly purchased goods so I can fly back to Kathmandu.

lunch at Love Kush

lunch at Love Kush

inside Love Kush

inside Love Kush

sizzling grilled fish... delicious. :-)

sizzling grilled fish… delicious. 🙂

I’m scheduled for a flight on Yeti Airlines at 1:15, but there is not a single airplane in evidence at the airport.  They tell us the flight is delayed and they’re not sure when it will arrive.  They do make the wait quite comfortable, as they invite passengers to go to the outdoor rooftop cafe for a snack.  I’m still engrossed in my book, so I take a seat, order an orange Fanta, and read my book in the warm sun while I wait patiently for the plane to arrive.

the deserted Pokhara airport.  Where's the plane?  Any plane will do.

the deserted Pokhara airport. Where’s the plane? Any plane will do.

Travel can sometimes be a daunting challenge.  In my early days of traveling,  I used to get upset if things didn’t go exactly as planned.  However, I have learned the slow and hard way that I must just LET GO!!  I have to just shrug off inconveniences, otherwise I will ruin my vacation!  Once my peace of mind is thrown off kilter, I may as well write off an experience.  I think the biggest endurance test for me was my 3-week trip to India in March of 2011.  My friend Jayne and I encountered so many hardships and irritations and problems, that we found ourselves wishing we were in Europe, Italy in particular, sitting at outdoor cafes and enjoying the easy life.  We were NOT enamored of India and its trials and challenges, though we found the country and the culture fascinating on many levels.

the rooftop cafe at the airport

the rooftop cafe at the airport

In Nepal, I’ve often been cold, especially at night, with little reprieve,  no place to go to warm up.  I’ve endured no electricity, bad roads, lack of internet services, and flight delays.  Either Nepal is not the hardship that India was, OR I’m just getting used to these inconveniences.  I think that’s a good thing if I am learning to shrug things off and not get too upset by them.

The plane finally arrives at 1:45, at which time everyone piles into the aircraft.  This time I make sure I’m one of the first onboard because I want a left seat, so I can see the Himalayas from the air this time.  I find one and I get some great views, although the mountains are hugged by puffy clouds at this time of day.

airplane view of the Himalayas

airplane view of the Himalayas

When I arrive back to Kathmandu Guest House, the first thing I do is take a long hot bath, wash my hair, and read my book again.   Later, I go out to dinner at New Orleans restaurant.  This restaurant, like all others I’ve encountered in Nepal, has an outdoor courtyard dining area.  In addition it has a heated room, partially open to the courtyard but with space heaters.  I sit inside by the heater.  I just have a light snack and an Everest beer, and then go back into my room, where I get warm under the covers and dive back into my book.  I have an early day tomorrow, as I’m going to Bhaktapur and then up to Nagarkot to spend the night.

the "warm room" at New Orleans Cafe in Kathmandu

the “warm room” at New Orleans Cafe in Kathmandu

sunrise in sarangkot

Monday, January 21:  Last night, the hotel clerk told me that someone would knock on my door at 5 a.m. this morning.  This unknown person was to wake me up so I could head with a driver up to Sarangkot, the ridge north of Phewa Tal, to see the sunrise.   At 1590 meters, it’s the most popular of the mountain viewpoints around Pokhara.  The mountains appear closer than from the World Peace Pagoda, at 1113 meters, but not as many of them are visible.

Annapurna Himal & Machhupuchhre before sunrise

Annapurna Himal & Machhupuchhre before sunrise

the peak of Fish-Tailed to the right.

the peak of Fish-Tailed to the right.

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Luckily I set my alarm.  Had I depended on the hotel staff to wake me up, I would have missed the sunrise.  I wake up, toss on some clothes, and go downstairs, where the reception area is dark and a person is snoozing in a sleeping bag on the floor.  It turns out that I wake him up!!  He hops up, rushes around and makes phone calls to the driver, who has seemingly forgotten his commitment.

Machhupuchhre, commonly known as Fish-Tailed

Machhupuchhre, commonly known as Fish-Tailed

the first powdering of sunlight on the peak

the first powdering of sunlight on the peak

blushing mountain peaks

blushing mountain peaks

When he arrives, we drive quite a long way up the mountain in the dark and then walk up to a terrace with tables and chairs for viewing, along with lots of other tourists.  I order a cup of coffee and try to get in a good position.  I figure out shortly that there is no one perfect position.  One spot looks north, out over Pokhara Valley and the Himalayas.  The other looks east, toward where the sun will rise.  To the south is Phewa Tal and the town of Pokhara.  To get a good view, I have to keep moving around, to wherever the best views are in the different light.

the rose hue slides further down the mountain

the rose hue slides further down the mountain

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We stay for quite a long time, enjoying each moment of the sunrise.  Before sunrise, we can see the white peaks of the Annapurna Himal and Machhapuchhre, glowing and hovering above the pinpricks of light from the town in the valley below.  As the sun rises, the snow-covered peaks gleam like a smile.  Once the sun peeks over the horizon, a rose-colored hue settles like a blush over the peaks.  Breathtaking.

the sun breaks over the horizon

the sun breaks over the horizon

...and colors the sky

…and colors the sky

mountains

mountains

breaking out

breaking out

Himalayas

Himalayas

me & the mountains :-)

me & the mountains 🙂

a new day

a new day

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?  ~ E.M. Forster

sunrise over Phewa Tal

sunrise over Phewa Tal

pokhara & the valley: devi’s fall, tashiling & the world peace pagoda

Sunday, January 20:  We start our trip to the World Peace Pagoda by making a stop at Devi’s Fall.  This is the spot where the Pardi Khola, the stream that drains Phewa Tal, flows into a channel and sinks underground.  The sinkhole’s name is based on the name of a Swiss woman named Devin who drowned in 1961 while skinny-dipping with her boyfriend.  The name Devi usually means “goddess,” so the name of the falls may be due to the Nepali’s tendency to deify everything.  According to Rough Guide to Nepal, this may have been a story fabricated to warn Nepalis to “shun promiscuous Western ways.”  Anyway, I’m under-impressed.

Devi's Fall

Devi’s Fall

Next stop: the Tibetan settlement of Tashiling which has about 750 residents.  I see a demonstration of some women making yarn and weaving carpets, then I’m shown around a showroom where someone is hoping I’ll buy a carpet.  I don’t, much to their disappointment.

a Tibetan woman in Tashiling

a Tibetan woman in Tashiling

Tibetan woman in Tashiling

Tibetan women in Tashiling

On our drive up to the World Peace Pagoda, I ask our driver to stop numerous times so I can take pictures of the valley and the agricultural terraces.  I’m sure the terraces are much prettier in spring, when everything is abloom, but I think mustard is about the only thing growing now.

the valley

the valley

terraces of mustard

terraces of mustard

the golden mustard plants

the golden mustard plants

me in front of the terraces :-)

me in front of the terraces 🙂

beautiful terraces, again.

beautiful terraces, again.

The World Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa built to inspire peace.  It’s designed to provide a focus for people of all races and creeds, and to help unite them in their search for world peace.  A Japanese Buddhist organization, Nipponzan Myohoji, funded the monument and has a monastery nearby.

approaching the World Peace Pagoda

approaching the World Peace Pagoda

the World Peace Pagoda

the World Peace Pagoda

Here are some photos of what is in the four niches of the Peace Pagoda.  Click on any image to see a full-sized slide show.

The view from the 1113 meter ridge where this stupa sits is a wonderful wide-angle panorama of the Himalayas with Phewa Tal and Pokhara in the foreground.  At the far left is Dhaulagiri, in the middle is the Annapurna Himal and the pyramid of Machhapuchhre, and to the right are Manaslu, Himalchuli and Baudha.

the view of the Himalayas, with Phewa Tal and Pokhara in front, from the World Peace Pagoda

the view of the Himalayas, with Phewa Tal and Pokhara in front, from the World Peace Pagoda

Pokhara and the Himalayas

Pokhara and the Himalayas

Pokhara from the Peace Pagoda

Pokhara from the Peace Pagoda

the view from above

the view from above

parting shot of the Peace Pagoda with poinsettia plants

parting shot of the Peace Pagoda with poinsettia plants

After we walk all around the World Peace Pagoda, we take a long walk down the mountain through chestnut forests to the lake below.   We come across a little pond with what I think might be water hyacinths.  Four adults are sitting on the ground nearby playing a game that looks like Parcheesi, but I don’t have the nerve to ask them for a photo.

water hyacinths?

water hyacinths?

the view over the water hyacinth pond

the view over the water hyacinth pond

We take a rowboat back to the Pokhara lakeside.  After this, my guide and I part ways, and I go back to the hotel to check again on the electricity.  Now I’m really yearning for a shower.  However, the electricity is still off.

boats to take us back across the lake

boats to take us back across the lake

my guide in the rowboat

my guide in the rowboat

I decide I will go get a massage at Seeing Hands, a massage place that employs blind therapists.  I get a lovely massage for an hour.  By the time I finish my massage, it is dark and as there is no electricity and no hot water, I take a cold shower in the dark.  Kind of negates the whole warm fuzzy relaxing feeling I got from the massage!

me having a leisurely ride :-)

me having a leisurely ride 🙂

looks like a party boat full of friendly folks

looks like a party boat full of friendly folks

Phewa Tal

Phewa Tal

I return to the hotel, where the generator is now running. I take a hot bath and dry my hair and manage to feel human again.  Then I take off for lunch at the Love Kush Restaurant, where all the patrons are huddled around a fireplace in the center of the room.  I speak some though dinner to a Greek man, but he really doesn’t have much to say.  Then I speak to a nurse from Hawaii, about my age,  who just left Thailand, and her 29-year-old Thai lover, behind.  She said he was feeling depressed and sorry for himself and all he wanted to do was sit around moping, so she broke up with him.  She was a lively lady and I enjoyed our chat, even if briefly.  She was getting ready to go trekking tomorrow in the Annapurna range.

our colorful rowboat

our colorful rowboat

I go back to the hotel, where once again, I hunker down under the covers and read my Kindle story, What I Loved, by the light of the book light.  Luckily I sleep better tonight since tomorrow morning, I will get up at 5 a.m. to go see the sunrise at Sarangkot, which supposedly has an astounding view of the Himalayas.

back to Lakeside....

back to Lakeside….

pokhara: the electricity dilemma, a stroll around town, & a little shopping spree

Sunday, January 20:  This morning I wake up to a room that feels like a walk-in refrigerator.  On top of that, there is no electricity in the Pokhara View Garden Hotel.  I walk out on the balcony, where the sun is shining and it’s actually a lot warmer than in my room.  There, in front of me, are the gorgeous Himalayas: the Annapurna & Manaslu Ranges and one fin of the double-finned Machhapuchhre, nicknamed “Fishtailed.”  There are no clouds or pollution obscuring this morning’s view. The snow-capped peaks loom in the distance, a sharp contrast to the tropical valley of Pokhara, with its colorful buildings and its abundance of bright red poinsettia and orange trumpet vines.

One fin of the double-finned 6997 meter summit of Machhapuchhre ("Fishtailed")

One fin of the double-finned 6997 meter summit of Machhapuchhre (“Fishtailed”)

After admiring the view for a bit, I throw on some clothes and go down to the front desk to inquire about the electricity.  The guy who is always at reception tells me there won’t be any electricity for a while, probably until around 1:00 this afternoon.   I’m flabbergasted.  What?  Why not?

the 8,000 meter + Annapurna and Manaslu Ranges

the 8,000 meter + Annapurna and Manaslu Ranges

He explains patiently that there’s a schedule put out by the Nepal Electricity Authority, but the hotel doesn’t have the current schedule so he can’t tell me for sure when the electricity will be back on.  Apparently the NEA does what is called load shedding: cutting off the electric current on certain lines when the demand becomes greater than the supply.   Rumor has it that this load shedding occurs throughout the country in a rolling fashion for about 14 hours a day every day!! (I’m not sure about the number of hours because I hear different things from different people.)

the amazing Himalayas

the amazing Himalayas

I find this so odd, because in Kathmandu Airport, there are signs spaced equidistant along the Arrivals corridor spelling out little-known facts about Nepal.   One of the facts I distinctly remember goes something like this: Nepal is second only to Brazil for its water resources. Isn’t that great for hydroelectricity?  Later, after I google this, I find Nepal is not even on the top-9 list of water-rich countries.  Brazil is in fact #1, but the Russian Federation is second.  Canada is #3, the U.S. is #7 and India is #9 (FAO: Water-rich countries).

I guess I didn’t notice this electricity problem in Kathmandu because at Kathmandu Guest House they have a generator, and most businesses in the tourist area of Thamel must have generators too.  Obviously, Pokhara View Garden Hotel is more of a budget operation, and there is no electricity to be had.  They have a generator, but they only turn it on at certain times of day.  The guy at reception assures me I can take a shower because there is hot water (I guess that must be heated by generator), but I tell him I can’t wash my hair unless I can use a hair dryer.   Believe me, no one wants to see my hair when it air-dries!   He tells me maybe I should try back at around 1:00.

an omelet for breakfast at the Pokhara View Garden Hotel

an omelet for breakfast at the Pokhara View Garden Hotel

I figure I will go ahead and eat my breakfast and go for a walk around the town.  Maybe I’ll do some shopping.  I am supposed to go the World Peace Pagoda after 1:00 with a guide, so I have the morning just to wander.  I do just that.  I walk around the town taking pictures and enjoying the views of the Annapurna Range and “Fishtailed” and Phewa Lake and the colorful, funky shops.   I buy a few totally unnecessary things: a pretty embroidered bag, some hiking pants, a bunch of books, a necklace and a top, all for about 9,000 Nepali Rupees, or over $100!! I always say when I travel I am not going to buy ANYTHING, yet here I go again!  There are so many cool things to buy in Nepal’s enticing shops, I can’t help myself.

colorful houses and gardens with the World Peace Pagoda in the background

colorful houses and gardens with the World Peace Pagoda in the background

peeks at the Himalayas as I walk around town

peeks at the Himalayas as I walk around town

a Nepali boy looking like a dragon :-)

a Nepali boy looking like a dragon 🙂

shops along the way

shops along the way

love the bright colors in Pokhara

love the bright colors in Pokhara

Nepali woman sitting along the roadside

Nepali woman sitting along the roadside

bicycles

bicycles

vegetables for sale

vegetables for sale

the streets of Pokhara

the streets of Pokhara

brights for sale

brights for sale

lanterns in a restaurant

lanterns in a restaurant

I go back to the hotel to check on the electricity and to drop off my purchases, but still there is no power. When I look at the Himalayas off the balcony again, I see them in a different light.

the Himalayas in a different light

the Himalayas in a different light

the Annapurna and Manaslu Ranges

the Annapurna and Manaslu Ranges

So I walk back to town, where I find the Love Kush Restaurant, which advertises pumpkin soup.  A bowl of hot soup sounds very good, so I enjoy that along with some garlic toast.

pumpkin soup & garlic toast

pumpkin soup & garlic toast

Love Kush Restaurant

Love Kush Restaurant

Everywhere I go, I greet Nepalis with “Namaste.”  I also learned the word for “Thank you” today: “Danyaybat.”  I keep getting tongue-tied and forget the syllables every time I try to say it.  I’m terrible with languages.  Isn’t that sad for someone who teaches second languages to people?

inside Love Kush

inside Love Kush

After lunch I return to the hotel to find the power is now on, but my guide has arrived and it’s time to go to the World Peace Pagoda.  I guess there will be no shower for me until tonight. 😦

bicycles along the lake

bicycles along the lake

pokhaha: a stroll around phewa tal & seeking shelter (& warmth) at moondance

Saturday, January 19:  This afternoon, I meet a young guide named Krishna who takes me on a stroll through part of the town and along the shore of Phewa Tal (Phewa Lake).

colorful lodging along the way

colorful lodging along the way

covered in marigolds

a balcony covered in Flame Vine, or orange trumpet vine

The legend of the lake is that it covers what was once a prosperous valley.  A beggar woman was scorned by most of the inhabitants, except for one sympathetic woman.  The beggar warned the woman of an impending flood, and as the woman and her family climbed to higher ground, torrents of water poured into the valley and submerged it.  The beggar happened to be the goddess Barahi Bhagwati.  The woman’s descendents settled along the new lake and built an island shrine to the goddess called Tal Barahi.

boats on Phewa Tal

boats on Phewa Tal

Phewa Tal

Phewa Tal

Of course, there is a geological story behind the lake too.  The entire Pokhara Valley was submerged about 200,000 years ago when the fast-rising Mahabharat Ridge dammed up the Seti River.  Eventually a deeper outlet was eroded by the Seti River, leaving Phewa Tal and several smaller lakes. The Pardi Dam was built in 1967, providing irrigation and electricity (sometimes) to the valley (Rough Guide to Nepal).

another colorful restaurant

another colorful restaurant

waterlogged water hyacinths

waterlogged water hyacinths

bikes :-)

bikes 🙂

Krishna is an amiable & easy-going young man who tells me he’s neither Buddhist nor Hindu, but Christian, a minority in Nepal.  He points out birds along the way, and when we get to the lake, we walk silently, watching the paragliders ride the wind down to the lakeshore from Sarangkot.  We see ox and water buffalo and white egrets amongst the waterlogged water hyacinths.

water buffalo and egrets

water buffalo and egrets

the lakeshore

the lakeshore

water buffalo

water buffalo

Because the watershed is steep and fast changing, large amounts of sediment are carried down into the lake, which settle out, forming a delta that covers the western third of the lake. Water hyacinths started appearing along the lake edge a decade ago and keep spreading.  Locals organize clean-up sessions in order to keep the water hyacinths from taking over.

wetlands

wetlands

wetlands along Phewa Tal lakeshore

wetlands along Phewa Tal lakeshore

lakeshore wetlands

lakeshore wetlands

We come across a Nepali movie being filmed.  It’s called Kale and is scheduled to be released in January 2014, about a year from now.  A skimpily-clad man sits in a canoe on the lake being filmed.  He reminds me of Daniel Day-Lewis in Braveheart, from what I can see from a small cliff above the shore.

the shoot of a Nepali film

the shoot of a Nepali film

We meet a famous Nepali actor hanging out on his motorcycle at the top of a small cliff; with a large grin he asks jokingly if I think he’s handsome.  I’m taken aback and smile.  “Oh yes! Of course!” I say, though he’s certainly NOT handsome.  He’s actually a little scary-looking.  He says he plays a fighter in the movie. His name is Sagar Ansari and he has been in other movies, including Kalapani, which he says I can buy in a DVD shop.  Then he agrees to pose with me in front of the movie poster glued to the hood of their filming truck.

The movie poster for Kale

The movie poster for Kale

Kale

Kale

me with Sagar Ansari

me with Sagar Ansari

As we continue walking back toward the center of town, we see a beautiful girl has joined the Braveheart actor.  She’s dressed in a bright pink dress and strikes a romantic pose in the bow of the boat. Krishna tells me the girl is Miss Nepal.  I’m not really sure who that is, as Wikipedia says there are currently three Miss Nepals. The Current Hidden Treasure Miss Nepal titleholders are: Shristi Shrestha as Miss Nepal World 2012, Nagma Shrestha as Miss Nepal Earth 2012, and Subeksha Khadka as Miss Nepal International 2012.

fishermen in the lake

fishermen in the lake

Devi, my guide for today

Krishna, my guide for today

more wetlands

more wetlands

wetlands

wetlands

more wetlands

more wetlands

paragliders coming in for a landing

paragliders coming in for a landing

a restaurant along the lake

a restaurant along the lake

ominous skies

ominous skies

boats on the lake

boats on the lake

bikes

bikes

boats on Phewa Tal

boats on Phewa Tal

After that bit of excitement, we leisurely stroll back toward town as the sky grows increasingly ominous.  As we approach town, we hear thunder and raindrops start dropping around us like prickly needles.  I tell Krishna I will see him tomorrow for another walk, and I dash into Moondance for a drink and a light dinner.   It’s Happy Hour, so I get a free slice of pizza with a reduced-price Everest Beer.  Santana’s 1970 rendition of “Oye Como Va” plays on the sound system, while outdoors, cows moo at full decibel as they leisurely saunter by.  A motorcycle pulls another motorcycle by rope past the restaurant as torrents of rain pour from a sky smudged with charcoal.

Moondance ~ where I come in out of the rain

Moondance ~ where I come in out of the rain

flowers in a bowl outside of Moondance

flowers in a bowl outside of Moondance

the bar at Moondance

the bar at Moondance

I sit next to a fireplace where the staff is trying to get a fire going, but it isn’t really taking and isn’t putting out much heat.  I decide to linger longer, in hopes of getting warmer, and order some delicious bruschetta with feta on top.

bruschetta with feta and Everest Beer

bruschetta with feta and Everest Beer

I sit in the restaurant until the storm passes, and then I walk back to the hotel, where I try to get comfortable in my room, which has no heat.  Luckily there are extra blankets in the cupboard, which I pile on top of myself.  I feel like I’m sleeping under a heavy coat of armor; I can hardly move because of the weight of all the blankets.  I don’t even want to get out of bed to use the bathroom or brush my teeth, it’s so cold.

I poke my head out from under the covers just enough to read my book, What I Loved, on my Kindle.  The story is becoming increasingly disturbing as Bill & Violet’s son, Mark, compulsively lies about everything in his life, yet is so charming, everyone believes everything he says.  Mark, who was the friend of Leo & Erica’s son Matthew before he died, not only lies, but gets involved with an artist named Teddy Grimes, who creates horribly violent art filled with maiming and mayhem, as a statement about pop culture’s fascination with horror films.  What’s doubly disturbing is this artist’s creation of a myth about himself as a violent murderer in order to get publicity for himself and his art.  Reality and myth and art are getting all tangled up in this book, which I find very unsettling.

When I can’t take more of this story, I turn on the TV and watch episode after episode of the American TV series I’ve heard a lot about: Homeland, but have never seen. I get caught up in several episodes and in the midst of the second one, at about 1 a.m., the electricity goes out and I have to face a long night ahead trying to sleep in the ice-cold room.