Kathmandu: As Far Away as I’ve Ever Felt

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I’m sitting in bed, cuddled up in a blanket, sipping on some chamomile tea and thinking about all the amazing things that have brought me to this place, right at this very moment. I am so fortunate, so blessed to have had one incredible experience after another this year. Nepal was the favorite. My path crossed with people that I hope will be with me for a long time and I was introduced to a country where I felt so out of place, and yet it still felt like home. It will forever call to my heart and be somewhere that I NEED to visit as often as possible. I fell completely head-over-heels in love with Nepal.

Kathmandu was where my love affair began. The chaos, the noise, the colors, the smells, the textures – the combinations of all these things made it feel like I was living in one of my favorite childhood books, “Wacky Wednesday.” Everything was new and exciting and extraordinary. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. My first full day in Kathmandu seemed like it was comprised of three because of everything we did. How we packed it into one day is beyond me. It started out with an amazing breakfast at our five-star hotel.  Yup. That’s how Anywhere+ rolls. I felt peckish while in Kathmandu, my tummy was always a tad bit upset, but it never affected anything but my appetite and it resolved itself after a few days (and don’t get it twisted, it was bottled water all the way while in the city). The hotel breakfast was delightful nonetheless.

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Our van and local guide first took us to Bakhtapur, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked along the crowded streets between goats, bikes, vendors, children, and buildings. We admired the wood carvings on buildings that were detailed and ornate and saw first hand what the devastation of the 2015 earthquake looked like as the region is still very much in recovery mode. It’s amazing to think that this country is still healing from a natural disaster that happened 2 years ago. Rebuilding after the earthquake in Nepal has been slow going, with much of the relief funds being wrapped up in beaurocratic complications and red tape, so funds have been few an infrequent for the rebuilding of Kathmandu and surrounding villages. Another portion of our costs went to Anywhere’s charity Elevate, which is currently working to restore the Bigu Village secondary school that was hit heavily by the earthquake and serves around 600 students. I’m very excited to share the news that recently, funding goals were met to finish the library portion of the project, so now focus has moved to the school. If you would like to help, I will have information on how you can do just that in a separate post about a GoFundMe page that will be up very soon!!

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Our walk through the area provided us with interesting sights…streets pulsed with vendors, locals, foreigners, chickens, and dogs. People stood in their doorways, or on their balconies looking down as our group passed. We wandered by a group of men cutting up animal parts (they were too far into the job for me to know what it was), setting some aside in bowls or on the concrete on which they were kneeled on. I even caught a few eating the meat which seemed like a bad idea to me. The smell and sanitary conditions were less than favorable, but that was their “normal” so more power to ’em. No matter where we went or what we did, we were greeted with warm, smiling faces. It was contagious. And it wasn’t just because the Nepali people are so nice. It was also because we had a goat. Yes, I said goat. Our guide, Karl, decided we would purchase a goat to SAVE it from being slaughtered for the Dashain festival. There were lots of stares, smiles, and laughter following us the rest of the day. I don’t think the locals often saw westerners with a goat on a leash trailing behind them. We learned from a local pottery maker that if you tied a bell around the goats neck that it ensured safety from anyone who thought sacrifice would be a good idea. It would make him a “made” goat. No one could touch him. We still had much of the day left, so Lucky (the name we chose for our goat) came with us. Our driver was okay with us adding another group member and was also willing to stay with him while we had lunch and visited the Rincheling Thanka Gallery and Art School.

Stepping into the space where works of art were created was such a treat. We walked among the work areas that almost had a mise en place about them. The detail, the colors, and the artist’s ability to be so precise created wonderful pieces that contained important meaning and history. You better believe that I bought a mandala to take home, they were all too beautiful to say no to.

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We then loaded in the van once again to make our way to Pashupatinath Temple (an UNESCO World Heritage Site), the sacred Hindu temple that lies along the Bagmati River. It is also Kathmandu’s most popular cremation site. This is where we learned that Lucky would be safe. Once again, we received many staring eyes, smiles, and some laughter as we were trying to get him to enter the grounds. Our efforts were met with some obstacles, and by obstacles I mean older, more mature, aggressive, and sexually frustrated male goats. They were very large and scary. Poor Lucky did his best to run away, and then started to run in the wrong direction.  With help from a number of on-lookers we were able to herd him in the right direction and keep him from being inappropriately touched by the other goats. Jalena grabbed Lucky before he started heading in the wrong direction again and led him into the temple! Amazing! Not all goats make it INTO the temple, but after that point they are MADE! Lucky will live the rest of his days as a spoiled and kept goat. That was definitely one of my favorite stories from Nepal, and one that our group still refers to when we talk. In Lucky We Trust. What Would Lucky Do?

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As I said before, Pashupatinath Temple is also a site where cremations are done. Typically, they happen on the day of the death, or the following day if that isn’t possible. A service takes place in the temple where only Hindus are allowed. The deceased’s body is then brought to the water where the feet are placed at the river’s edge. Family members then unwrap the head and sprinkle water on the face and the feet to clean them. The body is then taken just over the bridge to the site of cremation where the eldest son lights the flame to insert into the deceased’s mouth. You can tell who the eldest son is because his head has been shaved except for a small piece in the back to symbolize that he is in mourning. It was very strange to be present for such a sad event, something that is very personal and private in the US takes place out in the open where locals and foreigners can see. At the point it had only been a year and a half since my father passed, so this experience flooded me with many difficult memories. The cries, the guttural cries of those mourning, sent me back to my reaction to both my mother’s death and my father’s death. That uncontrollable reaction, as if your limbs had just been cut off. That searing pain that can’t ever be alleviated, maybe dulled, but it will always be with you. Tears streamed down my face until I couldn’t watch anymore and had to walk away.

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I shifted my attention to all of the monkeys wandering around, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, carrying their babies on their back, getting a little too close at times. It was surreal to have monkeys just wandering around, sometimes overwhelming because there were so many of them. It was an amazing and eventful day that came to a close on the rooftop of our hotel with a very entertaining dinner (our guide Karl managed to work in free dessert for all of us, lol).

The next day started very early. We were all down in the lobby at 5 am to visit the temple of all temples called Swayambhunath a.k.a. Monkey Temple. Nepalis go there to perform their prayers and add in their morning workout (365 stairs to the top). I was out of breath and sweaty by the time we got to the top, which sent a jolt of fear into my heart. How was I going to handle trekking if I was tired from climbing stairs??!! What did I get myself into?! Monkeys were everywhere. They whizzed by my camera all too close. I kept my distance as best I could, but sometimes it was hard to avoid being near them. It was a beautiful atmosphere and it was a beautiful thing to watch the sun come up in a setting I never thought I’d find myself in.

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We returned to the hotel for a wonderful breakfast on the terrace and in the sun. We had some down time following that to try and get our duffle and day packs together.  We had a weight restriction for our flight, and being a photog makes it really difficult to keep weight under control. Karl worked with us and allowed a little more than usual (he gets it being a photographer and all, and he once again said it was to make up for being late to pick me up, lol). Gear got checked, lists were made, and then we went shopping to get any remaining items and to rent a few items, too. You can get some of the gear needed for a trek like this cheaper in Kathmandu if you don’t go for the name brand stuff. I am a thrifty shopper and I was definitely okay with that.  Kelly, Dean, and I then decided to go off on our own and look for some slide on sandals.  Seems like an easy task, but was far more difficult than originally thought. No one had them. We were about to go back to the hotel and lick our wounds when we finally found some, but no one was manning the shop. Dean waited while Kelly and I wandered looking for another shop. Eventually the guy showed up, we bargained with him getting a good price!  I think we were all pretty pleased with ourselves, being out on the town without our guide.  We started to walk back to the hotel and were doing well.  Things looked familiar…and then they didn’t. No worries, though. We figured it out and made it back to the hotel for a bit more down time before dinner at Fire and Ice where pizza was the name of the game, and I play that game very well!! I love pizza. A. LOT. I don’t think I’ve shared this yet. But I do. Good or bad pizza, too, ’cause it can’t be that bad if it’s pizza. Am I right??? I am. Dessert happened, too. It always would.

We walked back to the hotel, and were doing last minute preparations for a very early morning the next day to catch the first flight to Lukla and start our trek. Chris was due to arrive anytime and we were all very excited to welcome our last member of the group! Chris had a rough go of getting to Kathmandu. Hurricane Matthew’s landfall delayed things and made for a frustrating situation, but he finally made it and we were so glad he did. Chris is a quiet guy, but once past that he’s really nice to talk with. He’s an avid outdoorsman and a budding photographer. We often talked about camera gear and his adventures on the trail. He’s had a lot of experience with Colorado’s 14’ers (where he resides) and writes about his time on the trails and gear in his blog, My Way North. I even got to do a hike with him while I was in Denver a few weeks after our trek and have a nice lunch with some good beer! Love that we’re both fans of a nice brew!

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That’s about it for this post! Wow, so much to talk about. I’m sure I could spend a month writing and not get through this EPIC trek! I think I will have to summarize and keep some of it to myself so I can move on to the rest of my travels. So much has happened since EBC and I’d like to start writing about traveling solo, traveling internationally for the first time, the camera gear I use, the gear I use on my treks, and being a female in an outdoor world, as well as other things I’ve discovered this year. I am so excited to be sharing this and writing it all down to look back on in the years to come! The next blog will be all about the trek to EVEREST BASE CAMP!!

 

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