25 April 2015

Kathmandu, Nepal. Yes, we have left beautiful, calm and extremely regulated Bhutan to enter into Nepal, an ancient enemy of Bhutan, and a radically different environment.

Exactly four years ago, a major earthquake hit Nepal. You may remember hearing that it killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. It occurred about noon, and it was the worst natural disaster to strike this area since an earthquake in 1934. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 21, making it the deadliest day on the mountain in history.

We flew over the Himalayas early in the morning yesterday, and were lucky enough to be on the Mount Everest side of the plane. I’m sure lots of people were busy working on their ascent, so we waved as we went by on our way to Kathmandu. (I think it’s the big one in the back, but this shot cribbed from the web looks like what we saw and what the pilot indicated. You get the idea.) Imagine being there at all, let alone during an earthquake. (We had a slight quake ourselves this morning, but just thought someone was noisily climbing up the steps to the roof garden and was over our heads.)

Kathmandu was a dream destination for the druggies of the 1960’s and 70’s, and tourism is still the major industry, just with a more diverse flavor, and many many more tourists.

Thanks to Debra for this throwback to that iconic time. We walked down the street where Cat Stevens sat in a tea house and wrote this song, surely influential in bringing in the kids:

Her personal favorite was the Pete Seeger song:

Take your pick.

While we were generally aware of the earthquake, it was very shattering to see such evidence of the damage four years later. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley, and we saw what incredible efforts are being expended to restore some of them. (It’s heartening to know that America took on some major projects and provided a great deal of aid.)

We spent our time in Durbar Square, which was once where the city’s kings were crowned and where they ruled. We met several people – soldiers, guards and even our guide – who were there the day of earthquake and managed to escape. Many others were not so lucky, including many tourists. It will remain their 9/11 – unless something worse occurs.

The area is packed with temples and rebuilding is in full swing. China is taking on a very generous role – for obvious political reasons. In Nepal, Buddhism and Hinduism are confusingly intertwined, so there are several types of temples in the square. The restoration of the beautiful teak carved facings and ornamentation is painstaking. It’s so amazing that there are people with the heart to tackle these immense projects. See what they’re up against…

We were constantly walking under or around braces put up to secure buildings that would fall down otherwise. And like the Indians, whose passion for commerce they certainly have followed, there are shops in every available space, with some fairly aggressive sales techniques we haven’t seen since we left India. I kept running into one man selling flutes who would not be convinced I have no intention of playing a flute. You just have to be hard, even though the flutes were very pretty. It was an odd combination of religious sites, tourist tat, and geopolitical dollars at work.

We also had the honor of seeing the Living Goddess., the Kumari. In Nepal, a Kumari is a prepubescent girl selected from the Shakya caste clan of the Nepalese Newaric community. The Kumari is revered and worshiped by some of the country’s Hindus. While there are several Kumaris, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu and she lives in a palace in the center of the city. The selection process for her is especially rigorous. The current Royal Kumari is Trishna Shakya, aged five, installed in September 2017 by the Maoist government that replaced the monarchy.

We were able to enter the courtyard of her palace and await one of the two appearances she makes every day. NO photos are allowed of a little girl pushed up against a grill to look down on all the tourists for sixty seconds. The images sold to tourists show a smiling young girl, which is not the memory we will have of the experience. Our guide also got us a sneak peek at the golden carriage she rides in during an annual festival. At least she gets out once a year.

Her home was not destroyed by the quake, which is just one more proof of her divinity. Kumaris serve till they hit puberty, and then out they go, with a nice packet of money and what sounds like a very screwed-up future ahead of them. Being a living goddess is evidently not all it’s cracked up to be.

2 thoughts on “25 April 2015

  1. The hawker must have recognized your knack for learning new things and assumed you’d take up playing a flute just like all the other new things you keep learning. 🙂

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