Kathmandu Valley and Eastern Nepal.
Just wanted to send a quick update with some photos of the Kathmandu valley.
We spent a few days in Kathmandu, and Tanya (who had been there before) showed me around a bit. The old stone buildings with their hidden courtyards and beautiful little crusty alleyways just forced me to stand and gasp. The ancient temples were scattered everywhere and really had a magical feeling -- you could see and feel the thousands of hands that had built and since touched these places.
From Kathmandu we took a local bus to Bhaktapur (meaning City of Devotes) which was packed which much more of what I loved about Kathmandu. Despite the tourists that sometimes came through on day trips, this medieval city had a really good feeling about it and was a lot less crowded and hectic than Kathmandu.
Stayed in a great hotel on Taumadhi square. At night it was alive with singing and music and old men sat drinking tea while these huge pagoda like temples loomed overhead. Early in the morning a small vegetable market would spring up here. The whole place just had a great "vibe" with processions coming through for holiday's, marriages, etc. Everyone I met professed to be both Hindu and Buddhist (there is a lot of overlap in the gods, philosophies of Karma, etc here).
Tanya met a man named Deepak that ended up taking us on a day hike to a 4th century temple outside the town and then to his village where we had lunch. Totally nice guy that refused anything in return. We also got to join a young man (Krishna) during his Tabla lesson -- was really beautiful to hear the music and be able to see the technique!
All over Bhaktapur were tiny shrines, some worshiped for more than a thousand years. Many had been touched so many timed that they were now just a stump of rock, but they were still adored and offered rice, flowers and this red powder.
While wandering alone down the maze of alleys, I met a boy who just started walking alongside me silently. I invited him to have a Nepali donut (she-elle) and tea (chia) with me and got to practice a little Nepali with him. As we wandered around, he showed me all kinds of cool hidden courtyards, walled ponds, etc.. I found out that his family painted traditional paintings known as Thangas (pronounced "Tongas"). I was invited back to their tiny apartment (5 foot ceilings!) and got to meet the family and friends. One room was just the studio and guys sat around calmly painting little bits of these incredibly detailed pictures, usually depicting significat parts of the Buddhist philosophy in a carefully constructed graphics and gold leaf. I found out that the family was actually Temang and did not consider themselves Nepali. This is a picture of the boy's sister as she danced around the painting studio.
Tanya had been researching places in Nepal to volunteer and planted the idea in my head. While I was here, I was able to meet with two men (Ravindra and Sures) who ran a local computer school. Their eyes lit up when I mentioned possibly volunteering sometime in the future. There was just so much enthusiasm! We exchanged contact info and I said I'd let them know before I came.
So Tanya and I went on to another old town just south of Kathmandu called Patan. It was pretty underwhelming after Bhaktapur, but we did meet a really kind old shopkeeper, had tea and spent several hours learning about local jewelry and metalwork (and bought some beautifull things).
From there we went back to Kathmandu and Tanya took off on an epic bus/train/tuk tuk journey back to Delhi (and then Sri Lanka). I shipped a bunch of paintings and the things I had bought in Patan back to the US.
By this point it was December 1st, the last day of the Maoists ceasefire with the Royal Army. I was nervous about staying, but decided it was worth it to just go back to Bhaktapur for a week. Had a crazy time getting out of Kathmandu -- the king made an emergency return due to international pressure, there were pro-democracy protests across the city, the anti-imperialists threw rocks at the prince's car and all traffic stopped for hours -- hope and fear permiated the city. Finally got to Bhaktapur late at night after the most crowded bus ride of my life.
Well, I finally said goodbye and that I might come back sometime in the future to actually teach a course at the institute. From Bhaktapur I went back to Kathmandu and caught a bus to the eastern border with India -- completing my west-to-east journey across the entire kingdom of Nepal.
I crossed back into India and managed to share a 4wd with 10 others up to Darjeeling. Although I was sad to leave Nepal, I was excited to find that everyone here in Darjeeling seems to still consider themselves Nepali! This whole area used to be part of Nepal and the language/food is a blend of Indian and Nepali -- best of both worlds!
Really having a nice time here even though it is more crowded than I had hoped. Staying in a wonderful little guesthouse run by a 70-something Tibetan woman that is just overflowing with charm and character. We sit in her living room and drink tea for hours. Also met a cool German guy who is a tea connoisseur and is providing a tasting of Darjeeling's finest this afternoon! He has mountains of great travel experience to share, is a bio physicists and is into all this far out stuff like lucid dreaming, Tantric meditation and all kinds of other interesting things.
From here I expect to head north to Sikkim to see what I can get into before Christmas.