arresting god in kathmandu

Monday, January 28:  Arresting God in Kathmandu is an insightful book of short stories by Kathmandu native Samrat Upadhyay, who has lived in the United States since he was 21.  Having traveled to Nepal in January of 2013, I was captivated by his portrayal of the ordinary lives of Nepalis and their search for spiritual solutions to their problems.

In the first story, “The Good Shopkeeper,”  Pramod loses his prestigious job at a finance company, and after soothing his wife Radhika’s despair, he makes the rounds of the Pashupatinath Temple to pray for Lord Shiva’s blessing.  He finds himself having to ingratiate himself to a distant cousin of his wife’s, only to be put off time and time again.  As they go through their life savings to pay the next two months’ rent, they become increasingly desperate.   In Pramod’s aimlessness, he begins an affair with a housemaid.  Finally, with no prospects in sight, he tells his wife they should start a shop.  He tells her, “I will have to grow a mustache.”  He then imagines himself as such an important shopkeeper that if the distant cousin came in, he would pretend he wasn’t there.  And, if the housemaid came, “he would seat her on a stool, and perhaps Radhika would make tea for her.  This last thought appealed to him tremendously.”

I can imagine this story and its setting: pilgrims circling the Pashupatinath Temple; the struggle to make ends meet which is so evident everywhere in Nepal; the pipe dreams of Nepalis who have no easy solution to their employment and financial woes.   I love reading a book like this after I travel to a place, and recognizing the deep truth of the stories.

In the story, “Deepak Misra’s Secretary,” Deepak makes the mistake of kissing his “unattractive secretary” Bandana-ji when he hears his ex-wife Jill is back in Kathmandu. He had gotten involved with this Cleveland native after he met her at a party:

Deepak had found her charming, although she was like many of the Nepal-crazy foreigners he knew, people who lived in the country in a romantic haze, love-struck by the mountain beauty and simple charms of the people, but grossly naive about their suffering.

Deepak hopes to renew his relationship with Jill, but finds she has no interest in him. Slowly, he develops an attraction for Bandana-ji, but he denies this attraction, still thinking of his ex-wife.   Finally he asks his secretary to submit her resignation.  She leaves, but Deepak cannot get her, or the sensation of bliss he felt with her, out of his mind.

Having lived abroad for the last three years, I know of these love-struck foreigners, who see only the beauty and fascinating parts of a culture, ignoring the problems and struggles of the locals, or the troublesome aspects of the culture.

There are many more wonderful stories in this collection, stories in which the author explores the effects of modernization on love and family.  Husbands and wives bound together by arranged marriages are driven elsewhere by a strong desire for connection.  Constrained by family and society, people find themselves propelled to transcend their difficult circumstances and escape into a world that is diametrically opposed to the one in which they live.

travel theme: walls

Saturday, January 26:  Ailsa’s travel theme for this week is Walls (See Where’s my backpack?).

Here are some walls from South Asia.

a wall in Bhaktapur, Nepal

a wall in Bhaktapur, Nepal

a wall around a garden of mustard in Bhaktapur, Nepal.

a wall around a garden of mustard in Bhaktapur, Nepal.

a wall in Bhaktapur, Nepal with letters from Nepal's Devanāgarī alphabet

a wall in Bhaktapur, Nepal with letters from Nepal’s Devanāgarī alphabet

inside the Amber Fort outside of Jaipur, India

inside the Amber Fort outside of Jaipur, India

walls in the Amber Fort near Jaipur, India

walls in the Amber Fort near Jaipur, India

last day in kathmandu

Thursday, January 24:  On this, my last day in Kathmandu, I decide I will just wander around the streets of Thamel and do some shopping, have a nice lunch, check out the bookstore, take pictures, and top the day off with a traditional dinner and entertainment.

First I start with a meditative moment in the courtyard of Kathmandu Guest House.

the meditative Buddha in the courtyard of Kathmandu Guest House

the meditative Buddha in the courtyard of Kathmandu Guest House

As I walk out to the street from Kathmandu Guest House, I meet this kind young man who wants me to hire his rickshaw for a little tour.  I tell him I will meet him here in about two hours.

My rickshaw driver

My rickshaw driver

I can do a lot of damage shopping for 2 hours.  I buy a couple of beautiful necklaces, two yak wool blankets, a paper lantern, a colorful embroidered bag, and a bunch of books including Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (which the Indian guy I met last night highly recommended to me), The Guru of Love, Royal Ghosts and Arresting God in Kathmandu, all by Samrat Upadhyay, and a Buddhist Chanting CD.  Luckily I bought that backpack in Pokhara so I can carry all this loot home. 🙂

I do some more wandering around before the designated meeting time for the rickshaw tour.  This is what I see.

Ohm.

Ohm.

Streets of Thamel

Streets of Thamel

Colorful shops in Thamel

Colorful shops in Thamel

Balloons anyone?

Balloons anyone?

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colorful yarns

colorful yarns

old wood carvings

old wood carvings

busy streets

busy streets

paper lanterns

paper lanterns

Finally I meet my rickshaw driver and he takes me outside of Thamel to where the real Nepalis live and work.  Thamel is quite “done up” compared to the rest of Kathmandu because it’s a tourist area.  The rest of Kathmandu is more chaotic and quite a bit more ratty.

colorful rickshaw

colorful rickshaw

a little temple hidden away

a little temple hidden away

a lady and her bedding

a lady and her bedding

colorful bedding and doors

colorful bedding and doors

hangin' out waiting for a fare

hangin’ out waiting for a fare

Ohm.

Ohm.

the red monkey god

the red monkey god

another hidden temple with bright yellow doors

another hidden temple with bright yellow doors

temple

temple

me in the rickshaw

me in the rickshaw

fruits for sale

fruits for sale

a temple with guard dogs

a temple with guard dogs

After our little tour, I grab a lunch of momos and fresh banana juice at The Roadhouse Cafe.

Ohm.

Ohm.

Momos for lunch

Momos for lunch

my lunch spot

my lunch spot

Finally I go back to my room and take a rest for a bit.  I have now started reading Arresting God in Kathmandu, a book of short stories by Nepali writer Samrat Upadhyay.  This is more appropriate for Nepal than the other book I’ve been occupied with this entire trip, What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.   I finished this book yesterday evening.

another colorful rickshaw

another colorful rickshaw

I decide to go out to Thamel House, an old townhouse with a covered patio garden that serves traditional Nepali and Newari food.  I order the full course vegetarian set.  The fixed price meal includes the following:

ENTRY:
Alu Tareko (Potato fried and prepared in traditional way)
Momo (steamed dumpling with minced vegetables)
Suruwa (soup ~ typical Nepali soup)

MAIN COURSE:
Sada Bhuja (plain boiled Basmati rice)
Kalo Dal (lentil prepared in iron pot with heated purified butter, garnished with herbs)
Mis Mas Tarkari (seasonal mixed vegetables cooked in local style)
Alu Tama Bodi (fermented bamboo shoot, beans & potato unique flavored and sourly in taste)
Paneer ko Tarkari (cottage cheese cooked in a special way)
Chyau ko Tarkari (mushroom curry cooked in a traditional way)
Saag (Seasonal fresh green leaves boiled and sautéed with spices)

DESSERT
Shikarni (Thick yogurt whipped and mixed with dry nuts and cinnamon powder)

Traditional Nepali food

Traditional Nepali food

While I savor each and every morsel of this delectable meal, I watch some Nepali ladies do a song and dance routine.

Entertainment at Thamel House Restaurant

Entertainment at Thamel House Restaurant

Finally, I return to Kathmandu Guest House where I pack up my things for an early flight tomorrow back to Muscat.  Goodbye, Nepal.  I don’t know when, or if, I’ll see you again. 🙂

good night and farewell to Thamel

good night and farewell to Kathmandu

changu narayan & return to kathmandu

Wednesday, January 23:  At the end of our 4 hour hike, we finally reach the ancient pilgrimage site of Changu Narayan in Kathmandu Valley.   All morning I have been wearing a new pair of hiking shoes that I haven’t quite broken in, and my feet are killing me!  I am happy to see Changu Narayan because it means I will be able to sit in the car for the drive back to Kathmandu.

We take a main street along the top of the ridge to the temple.  Souvenir shops are plentiful and colorful.

colorful souvenir shops along the street to Changu Narayan

colorful souvenir shops along the street to Changu Narayan

Changu Narayan is one of seven World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley; it’s been listed by UNESCO since 1979. This beautiful painted temple is where Lord Vishnu is worshiped by Hindus as Narayan and by Buddhists as Hari Hari Hari Vahan Lokeshwor.

The temple sits in a quiet square of rest houses and pilgrims’ shelters.  According to Lonely Planet Nepal, it is the valley’s oldest Vaishnava site, with a documented history going back to the 5th century A.D.   The temple is said to have been reconstructed in 1700.   The temple has some fine repousse work and carved painted struts supporting the roof.  Most of the statues in the courtyard are related to Lord Vishnu.

the temple of Changu Narayan

the temple of Changu Narayan

the incarnations of Vishnu on the struts to the temple

the incarnations of Vishnu on the struts to the temple

a smaller temple in the courtyard

my guide, Prakash Bhattarai of Gurka Encounters, in front of a smaller temple in the courtyard

incarnations of Vishnu

incarnations of Vishnu

The four entrances to Changu Narayan Temple are guarded by life-size pairs of animals such as lions, sarabhas, griffins and elephants on each side of the entrances.  The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the other idols are carved in the struts supporting the roof.

griffins guard the entrances to the temple

griffins guard the entrances to the temple

closer up to the struts with the 10 incarnations of Vishnu

closer up to the struts with the 10 incarnations of Vishnu

the struts of Changu Narayan

the struts of Changu Narayan

We don’t stay very long at this temple, despite its beauty.   I’m tired and hungry and ready to return to Kathmandu for one more day of exploration.  My guide Prakesh, our driver Raju and I ride back through Bhaktapur and then through Kathmandu’s chaotic traffic mishmash of motorbikes, rickshaws, and honking trucks with flowers in their windshields.

Back at Kathmandu Guest House, I eat a late lunch of Egg Chow Mein, which I polish off in its entirety because I’m famished after that long hike from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan!  When I check into my room, though it’s a nice room with a balcony, I find it doesn’t have a bathtub.  I have been looking forward to a long hot soak, so I ask for a change of rooms.   I enjoy the hot bath, put on my pajamas and continue reading my novel, What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.  I don’t get up again until I finish the book.   After, I get dressed to go out, but the novel’s disturbing story about a sociopath boy, Mark, and his murderous friend, Teddy Giles weighs heavy on me.

I head for dinner at New Orleans Cafe, where I sit next to a warm fire and drink an Everest Beer.  Because of eating that huge plate of Egg Chow Mein for a late lunch, I’m not very hungry, so I order a “small plate” of mashed potatoes.  The plate is actually huge and heaped with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.  It’s delicious and filling, especially as, again, I eat every bite.

a warm fire at New Orleans Cafe

a warm fire at New Orleans Cafe

While enjoying my beer after demolishing my “small plate,” some live traditional music begins on stage and a stocky Indian guy named Jay Krishna, who is sitting at an adjacent table, asks if he can join me.  He’s wearing a red fleece jacket and a wool hat pulled down to his eyebrows.  A software engineer doing some work in Nepal, he returns to Bangalore tomorrow.

Everest Beer at New Orleans Cafe

Everest Beer at New Orleans Cafe

Even though he’s Hindu, he believes in Jesus too, especially based on arguments in a book he highly recommends,  Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahanoa Yogananda.  We talk and talk, and he tells me I should buy this book tomorrow in the bookstore across the street.  When he tells me he’s from Bangalore,  I tell him about my trip to India and about the small-framed 25-old-Indian guy Tao, who I met on Facebook, and who took the train all the way from Bangalore to Delhi to meet me.  I laugh and say I couldn’t understand why a guy that young and small could have been attracted to me.  Jay says, “Why not?  I find you attractive.”  I thank him and change the subject.

warmth

warmth

He buys himself a beer but says he can’t buy me one; I tell him I can’t buy him one either.  As I prepare to leave, he tells me he’d like to spend more time with me, but as he’s leaving Kathmandu tomorrow and I’m leaving on Friday morning, and as I’m incredibly tired, I say I don’t really have the energy.  I say goodnight and head back to Kathmandu Guest House, where, exhausted, I fall asleep.

a hike from nagarkot to changu narayan

Wednesday, January 23:  After breakfast and a shower at Hotel View Point, I meet my guide for the day, Prakash Bhattarai of Gurka Encounters.  We begin our hike from Nagarkot, at 1950 meters, at 9 a.m.

Beginning our hike: terraced hills

Beginning our hike: terraced hills

"God is at home.  It's we who have gone out for a walk." ~ Meister Eckhart

“God is at home. It’s we who have gone out for a walk.” ~ Meister Eckhart

Nepali schoolchildren

Nepali schoolchildren

We first walk downhill for a couple of hours to Tellkot, passing terraces planted with mustard and wheat.  Some terraces are simply brown dirt where farmers will plant potatoes and millet in the warmer seasons.

terraces

terraces

terraces and the Himalayas

terraces and the Himalayas

more terraced hills

more terraced hills

terraces & greenhouses

terraces & greenhouses

At some points along the route, we can see views of the Himalayas, snow-capped like some apparition, with the terraced Central Hills in the foreground.  There is a bit of haze in the air, so the view isn’t perfect, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

view of the Himalayas

view of the Himalayas

the snow-capped Himalayas

the snow-capped Himalayas

the Himalayas rise like an apparition over the Central Hills

the Himalayas rise like an apparition over the Central Hills

We walk through the front yards of colorful painted houses with Nepalis squatting on their front stoops, doors open, cleanly swept dirt floors inside.  These homes seem surprisingly tidy, swept clean both inside and out.  Goats and cows are tied to posts, dogs are barking, and chickens and roosters are crowing.  The air is crisp and cool — a perfect day for hiking.

goats and washline

goats and clothes on the wash line

livestock, terraces and the Himalayas

livestock, terraces and the Himalayas

goats & mountains

goats & mountains

"The home should be the treasure chest of living." ~ Le Corbusier

“The home should be the treasure chest of living.” ~ Le Corbusier

cock-a-doodle-doo!

cock-a-doodle-doo!

farmyard animals

farmyard animals

"Home is where the heart is." ~ Pliny the Elder

“Home is where the heart is.” ~ Pliny the Elder

better homes & gardens

better homes & gardens

I have a small pack, the size of a purse, and a larger backpack holding my overnight stuff.  Lucky for me, Prakash offers to carry it for me through the whole hike.  I should have insisted on carrying it myself; if I ever want to do the Camino de Santiago, I’m going to have to get used to carrying my own stuff!  Admittedly, it’s quite pleasant for me not to have to carry my pack.  🙂  I determine to tip him well for his hard work, which I do when we return to Kathmandu.

the Central Hills and Himalayas of Nepal

the Central Hills and Himalayas of Nepal

hills & mountains

hills & mountains

It’s lovely walking in companionable silence with Prakesh.   I so enjoy a walk out in nature without having someone constantly chattering.  We pass one small Hindu temple that seems quite off the beaten track.

a little Hindu temple in the hills

a little Hindu temple in the hills

haystacks and hills

haystacks and hills

hill country

hill country

more terraces

more terraces

"Be grateful for the home you have, knowing at this moment, all you have is all you need." ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

“Be grateful for the home you have, knowing at this moment, all you have is all you need.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

At the end of our hike, around 1:00, we can see Changu Narayan, an ancient temple complex, perched on a 1541 meter ridge ahead of us.  Our destination is in sight!  Prakash tells me we’ve walked about 15 km, although Rough Guide to Nepal says this hike, all the way to Bhaktapur, is about 10 km.

me with my destination, Changu Narayan, on the hilltop behind

me with my destination, Changu Narayan, on the hilltop behind

Changu Narayan on the hilltop ahead

Changu Narayan on the hilltop ahead

fields of mustard with Changu Narayan on the hill in the background

fields of mustard with Changu Narayan on the hill in the background

my last views of Kathmandu Valley before we get to the temple

my last views of Kathmandu Valley before we get to the temple

This was one of my favorite days in Nepal, close on the heels of my lovely lake walk in Pokhara.

More on Changu Narayan to follow….

sunrise in nagarkot

Wednesday, January 23:   Someone is pounding on my door and yelling,  “Sunrise!  Sunrise!”  Although I had no intention of getting up at sunrise this morning, I am now wide awake in my dark icy room.  I know I won’t be able to go back to sleep since I’m suddenly feeling the cold in my bones, so I figure I may as well get up and see what all the fuss is about.  The way I see it is that I already saw sunrise over the Annapurna Range in Pokhara, and then I saw sunset over the Langtang Range here last night.  It’s my vacation, after all, and I would really just love to sleep.

But, I drag myself out of bed, grabbing all the warm clothes I can find, and climb to the top tower of Hotel View Point with the scores of Chinese.  I find myself jostling with them for the perfect view of the Himalayas.  I am pleasantly surprised that the mountains are not draped in clouds as they were last night, so we have a clear view of the snow-covered peaks.

Here’s what I can see when I can push my way in front of the hordes of Chinese.

Sunrise at Nagarkot

Sunrise at Nagarkot

sunrise on the Langtang Range

sunrise on the Langtang Range

sunrise!

sunrise!

Langtang sunrise

Langtang sunrise

early risers on a lower platform

early risers on a lower platform

sunlight on the mountaintops

sunlight on the mountaintops

getting brighter

getting brighter

breakfast time!

breakfast time!

the mountains in full daylight  :-)

the mountains in full daylight 🙂

the hotel and the mountains

the hotel and the mountains

Hotel View Point

Hotel View Point

Terrace on Hotel View Point

Terrace on Hotel View Point

the balcony outside of my room

the balcony outside of my room

After breakfast, I pack up my backpack and head out for a 10 km hike down to Changu Narayan. 🙂

arrival in nagarkot & sunset views of the langtang range

Tuesday, January 22: After our time in Bhaktapur, we drive up winding mountain roads for about an hour until we reach Hotel View Point in Nagarkot (Hotel Viewpoint).  As we drive up, I can see undulating hills indented with terraces.  Many of the terraces are brown or bare because it’s winter, but some are covered in yellow-flowering mustard.  I am enamored by these terraces, which are so all-encompassing that they cover nearly every slope in the valley.

the view during the drive up to Nagarkot

the view during the drive up to Nagarkot

Nagarkot is not really much of a village.  The primary reason for its existence is the views it offers of the Himalayas, most notably the panorama of the Langtang Range.  The standard activity is this: enjoying the sunset and the sunrise over the mountains.

a map of the Langtang Range found on the hotel balcony

a map of the Langtang Range found on the hotel balcony

According to Wikipedia, Langtang Lirung is the highest peak of the Langtang Himal, which is a subrange of the Nepalese Himalayas, southwest of the Eight-thousander Shisha Pangma.  Though not high by the standards of major Himalayan peaks, Langtang Lirung is notable for its large vertical relief above local terrain. For example, it rises 5500m above the Trisuli Gandaki to the west in only 16 km. It has a large South Face which long resisted climbing attempts. The list of the world’s highest 100 mountains puts it at number 99 (Wikipedia: Langtang Lirung).

Hotel View Point and the Langtang Range

Hotel View Point and the Langtang Range

the Langtang Range from the hotel

the Langtang Range from the hotel

a view from the balcony of the hotel to the gardens below

a view from the balcony of the hotel to the gardens below

Hotel View Point balconies

Hotel View Point balconies

When I arrive at the hotel, since I didn’t eat lunch in Bhaktapur, I have a wonderful lunch of Nepalese Vegetarian food: basmati rice, black lentils, vegetable curry, spinach green curry, pickle, papad (some kind of mushroom curry?), salad and curd.  I top this amazing lunch off with a banana lassi.

Nepali vegetarian food

Nepali vegetarian food

After lunch, since it’s still a while before sunset, I take a walk down into the village, where I see some interesting little shops and cafes.

Chill out

Chill out

Chill Out Restaurant and Nepali writing on the blackboard

Chill Out Restaurant and Nepali writing on the blackboard

funky business in town

funky business in town

I also see, coming out of a wooded area, several women with huge bundles of sticks on their backs.  They are being propelled forward at high-speed down the mountain by their heavy burdens.  I try to run to catch up and pass them, so I can take a picture of them from the front, but I can’t catch them, they are moving so fast.  So all I get is a rear view of their bundles and their rapidly moving feet.

Ladies carrying bundles of wood

Ladies carrying bundles of wood

scurry, scurry

scurry, scurry

I pass one shop that sells those droop-bottom pantaloons, or whatever you call them, that all the Western hippies wear in Nepal.  It always looks to me like they’re carrying a load in their britches.

pantaloons with droopy crotches

pantaloons with droopy crotches

After my walk, I treat myself to an Everest beer on the terrace and then I get cozy in my room for a while before dinner, where I continue reading What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.  The book is so good now, I can hardly put it down; I read it every chance I get.

an Everest beer before sunset

an Everest beer before sunset

the Langtang Range view enjoyed with an Everest beer

the Langtang Range view enjoyed with an Everest beer

my room at Hotel View Point

my room at Hotel View Point

Finally, when I think it’s about time for the sun to go down, I climb to Hotel View Point’s highest tower, accompanied by about 25 Chinese tourists.  I am the only non-Asian person in sight.  All the Chinese are wrangling for the best view with their fancy cameras.  We all take pictures and I position myself at different spots around the hotel balconies, of which there are many, and take various shots, some of which are posted here.  It’s freezing cold!!

Sunset

Sunset

sunset at Nagarkot

sunset at Nagarkot

sunset at Nagarkot, looking away from the Langtang Range

sunset at Nagarkot, looking away from the Langtang Range

sunset over the Langtang Range

sunset over the Langtang Range

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the sun sets over the Himalayas with Nagarkot in the foreground

Sunset amidst the trees

Sunset amidst the trees

the sun sets over the Langtang Range

the sun sets over the Langtang Range

After the sun goes down, a buffet dinner is served in the chilly dining room.  I eat small pieces of fried chicken, lukewarm spinach, cold steamed cauliflower, broccoli and carrots, noodle soup in brass bowls (the only warm thing!), and some limp oily French fries.  Believe me, it’s not even worth taking a picture of this meal.

the dining room at Hotel View Point

the dining room at Hotel View Point

By the time dinner is over, I’m so tired of listening to the Chinese, and I’m so cold, that I go to my room and burrow under as many blankets as I can pile on the bed from the cupboards in the room.  Brrrrr.   I plan to pass on sunrise in the morning because I already saw the amazing sunrise in Pokhara and one is just fine by me, thank you very much.

Looking out over the hotel grounds to the Himalayas

Looking out over the hotel grounds to the Himalayas

bhaktapur: potter’s square

Tuesday, January 22:  At the Potter’s Square, or Kumale Tol, we find potters giving shape and size to lumps of clay.   They make earthenware ranging from such household goods as pots, jars, stovepipes and disposable yogurt pots to cheap souvenirs such as animals and birds. As pottery in Bhaktapur is a family job, we can see entire families contributing to the work.  Because this square caters to tourists, the potters have the incentive to continue to work with traditional methods, using hand-powered wheels or forming clay by hand.

a shop selling pottery made at Potter's Square

a shop selling pottery made at Potter’s Square

families working at Potter's Square

families working at Potter’s Square

Pottery at Potter's Square

Pottery at Potter’s Square

Potter's Square

Potter’s Square

Potter's Square in Bhaktapur

Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur

a potter using the traditional hand-powered wheel

a potter using the traditional hand-powered wheel

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

 

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