Rickshaw drivers in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Outside Lhasa, Tibet we visited the Phabonkha monastery home of the Sky Burial – the preferred burial by Tibetan Buddhists. Here, the deceased are delivered early in the morning by a carefully chosen undertaker to be dismembered, meat separated from the bones and placed out for the vultures to eat. You are considered to have good Karma if all that remains are the bones which have been picked clean. The remaining bones are then crushed with large homemade sledge hammers and mixed with tsamba (a mixture of barley, sugar, salt and butter tea – consumed daily by Tibetans) and offered again to the vultures. (We did not witness this burial.)
In Kaathmandu on the banks of the Bagmati River, which flows into the sacred Ganges River, we witnessed cremations at Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu Shrine in Nepal. In a city of 4,000,000 the Shrine is busy 24 hours a day with families saying goodbye to loved ones as they are cremated. Cows and monkeys waded in the river unaware while painted, hippy Hindu Holy Men sat at the Stupas on the shore hoping for quick cash in exchange for a photo, priests handed out blessings and family members picnicked on the steps.
Separate concrete platforms line the Bagmati – each family occupying a space. The local bodies are not embalmed and can be cremated within 3 hours of dying. Our guide’s mother died at 12:30 am and was cremated at 3:30 am. A coffin also was present, most likely flown in from Malaysia.
The deceased is carried clock wise around the stack of logs 3 times then placed upon the stacked logs. The sons step down to the river to perhaps sip the river water, cleanse their hands, place water upon their heads and return with handfuls of water to be placed on their father’s head.
The eldest son sets fire to the mouth first as they believe that the spirit of the deceased leaves the body from the mouth. The undertaker steps in to place river-soaked straw on the body to ensure the proper amount of smoke and keep the fire hot.
A body can take 2 to 5 hours to burn. Birth records and citizen documents are burned with the body (no need for this in the afterlife). Finally all remaining ashes are swept into the river for it is sacred.
It was surreal and serene but inexplicably we felt detached for no one was crying. Apparently that was because the dead were all old. With an unexpected death there is wailing.
The photos are of Phabonkha…
Poor Nepal! The government and the country are in turmoil. They can not decide who should run the country – the Maoists,a democracy or a monarchy, All the while the city is over run by people, cars and trash. Nearly everyone is poorer than they were 20 years ago. Although things are similar in Tibet, there is no underpinning of excitement, intrigue or eastern mystique here. It just seems dirty, hot, poor and crowded.
India light – just preparing us for next month.
The people however, are quick with a smile even though they are caught between a rock and a hard place – some wanting the opportunity to change but most mired in the past unable to escape. The recent civil war may be over and people freely move around only to be caught in a system where the only way anything gets done is with a bribe.
Hindu and Buddhist come together in Kathmandu. Since I have just completed Buddhist 101, the Hindu religion is a welcome subject. It is all so fascinating.
We visited the Swayambhunath Lotus Temple (Monkey Temple) early in the morning to mingle the worshippers, both Hindu and Buddhist. We walked a few rounds of the Kora, as the incense and candle smoke swirled in the air. Hindu Priests and Buddhist Monks were handing out blessings, prayer wheels spun and all the while humorous wild monkeys played in the back ground chasing each other around like hyper children on a playground.
We drove down a fog filled windy turny narrow paved road from Nyalum, Tibet toward Nepal – 6:30 am and dark. It had rained the night before so the road was wet coupled by many water falls cascading across the road, Perhaps Buddha was protecting me from seeing the 6,000 plus feet drop off . Our slow steady driver for the past 9 days suddenly became a barn horse – hoping to drop us off early anticipating his 17 hour drive back to Lhasa.
I longed for a flat level progressive city with a modern hotel.
The last several miles before the Tibetan border hundreds of transport trucks were lined up waiting to pick up goods from the Nepalese. Our one lane road now narrower.
We said our goodbyes to Bing Bing (our guide) and Tashi (our driver) and walked across a rainy border from Tibet to Nepal known as the Friendship Bridge – high above the raging river – stunning.
Our new driver’s destination was the Namabuddha (mountain top) Resort. We had no idea where it was only that our itinerary stated “unusual comfort”.
Our road was similar to the one in Tibet. However, now is was a dirt mud soaked one lane road bordering the same deep gorge – our 2 wheel drive van slid in the foot deep mud.
I tried to breathe, steer the van from the back seat and wonder what the hell was I doing here – occasionally reminding myself of the explorers before me, to get my “do do” together and marvel at the stunning vistas.
The tour company obviously tried to reward us after the past 5 nights of mediocre accommodations by booking a night at a fabulous organic, vegetarian (whoopie), you’ll have hot water, a toilet, shower, clean sheets and power (well… part of the day) place not knowing the monsoons would come early.
Our driver dropped us off saying “If our vehicle can not make it here to pick you up tomorrow we will arrange for a 4 wheeler to bring you down off the mountain.” This was reassuring! How about a helicopter? Or a paved 2 lane road with guard rails?
The small resort has been owned by an expat German couple for many years. The interior and exterior doors of the main rooms and cottages are about 5 feet high. But with the exception of a few bumped heads we had great fun with the German, Dutch and British vagabonders staying there. We learned that the reason for the short door openings is to make people bow upon entering a room.
Needless to say, the vegis were fabulous (you can make anything taste good with enough spices), the French wine a complete surprise and the rooms very much appreciated.
Now that I made it through the self made fiasco – I will say it was worth the drive.
That night the Karma Gods cleared the weather, dried the roads and the trip to Kathmandu the following day went perfect.
You have nothing to fear but fear itself….