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Kathmandu Valley and Eastern Nepal.
2005-12-11

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to send a quick update with some photos of the Kathmandu valley.

Bhaktapur statue of lion 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.

Bhaktapur - Taumadhi square (where I was staying) 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!

Bhaktapur - statue of Hanuman? 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.

Bhaktapur - Temang girl dancing around the Thanga studio. 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.

Bhaktapur - I and two of the teachers I was teaching web design to. Ravindra (to the left of me) and Maiya with some random guy inbetween us. 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.

I spent the next week teaching the three instructors of the school (Sures, Ravindra and Maiya) everything I could about web design. It was nice, just starting from the basics and working up to more complex stuff. Ravindra had a good grasp of English (and the mind of a chess champion... which he was) and helped me to translate complex things to Sures and Maiya. Each afternoon we would all sit together and quietly drink tea as the days lessons sank in. At night I would go home with Ravindra, eat Dhal Baat with his family and fill his eager mind with HTML and JavaScript till late. He had a great sense of humor and positive attitude and was very quick to grasp new concepts. Such a joy!

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.

Kathmandu temple detail.  Probably the goddess Kali? Finally a detail from my favorite little temple in Kathmandu. This is "just another temple" on a busy road in Kathmandu, not a tourist attraction.

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.
Oh, I'll probably be postponing my trip to Bangladesh because there are lots of problems there at the moment, but we'll see.

Take care,

-Jonathan


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