We get up this morning- and all I can think about is Taking the next flight. But I try to ignore it while we go for breakfast and meet our driver for the transfer to the airport. The weather is beautiful today, sunny and the usual hotter then the hinges of hell at 7 am. So we shouldn’t have any trouble right? Try telling my nervous stomach that. As if curry wasn’t enough to keep me a saved seat in the ladies. About here I decide that we live in India now- we should just go house shopping.
The Delhi airport is absolutely amazing now that we have time to look around- and we will be flying back here after our time in Nepal- so we scout out all the places we plan to shop-picking up some KFC to enjoy at our gate. I’m so nervous that I spill my entire Pepsi over myself and those seated in the first 3 rows.
Our flight is smooth as flights go, but I’m in tears the entire time- freaking out. I look over and see that Nicole is the same- which just Amps me up even further. The only break in the tension coming when the stewardess asks if I’d like some nuts and I say yes- so she hands me a box of mixed nuts with “nut case” written on them. Chris near dies laughing. Jerk.
As we’re starting to descend into Nepal we start to see the mountains- green and lush, with a beautiful blue sky. The pilot comes on and tells us the time in Nepal- 15 mins later then India, and tells us the temperature in Kathmandu- sweet relief- its only 29 degrees. THAT I can handle.
After getting our Nepali visas and clearing customs we step out to meet our contact here- and guess what. 29 feels no different from 42. It’s still hot enough to melt human ambition, and it’s only 11am.
Ill take a moment here to tell you of the Bragging Nicole and Chris did as we landed in Nepal….they survived India. Neither of them needing to take the antibiotics that we brought with us. Gary and I…well….Gary was sick within approximately 4 minutes of landing in Delhi on the first night. Me? 2 days. both on the antibiotics within hours of arrival. I have bug bites on my legs that I was worried were going to get me thrown into the Ganges with a rock-more akin to leprosy then bug nibbles- Gary getting just as bitten as me (Nicole and Chris have no bites at all). infected scratches, headaches, I won’t tell you which of us has Hemorrhoids…My ankles are so swollen that I can barely bend them-got my new ankle bracelet so embedded in there I almost had to get the jaws of life to get it off. Gary’s shoulder is falling off. I have a cold and cough so hard in the night I pee the bed. Not to mention that we both have to do bathroom checks every time we sneeze or cough-or laugh. or blink. Gary can’t hear anything. Hes afraid to eat, convinced the food here is poisonous —suffice it to say- India tried its best to Kill both Gary and I. And we’re still standing -a little off center, one of us with polysporin on their bums, swollen but limping over the finish line, Gary saying WHAT every time I cough. Nicole and Chris….absolutely fine. Yes, they made it through India. But it does make me feel better to know that they will have to deal with, “do you have any klenex?” or “where’s the afterbite” or my favorite “can you come look at this? I don’t think this is normal…” coming from the bathroom a least twice a day.
We meet our driver for the week- Harry- or as we come come to call him-Hurry, as he always seems to be in one. He’s a lovely guy- same kind eyes as we’ve become accustomed to and easy laugh to boot. He sees our luggage and he looks worried. But we fit it all in just fine-playing travel Jenga- something we’ve become quite good at. Step back Hurry. We got this.
We arrive at our hotel and it is stunning. Very 1930’s British ornate and sparse at the same time- impossibly high ceilings and “lift” signs for the elevators. We dump our luggage and have our bathing suits on within seconds. Meeting at the pool for “Everest” beers. It seems like this must be the preferred hotel for guests making the trek to Everest and Everest base camp- we meet many Canadian and British in way better shape then us. But we don’t let that foolishness stop us- we drink beers and lounge the rest of the afternoon away. Opting for dinner at the hotel- which is amazing. Chris and Gary have- wait for it- BEEF TENDERLOIN- Chris doesn’t speak for the whole 30 minutes he’s eating. Savoring that meaty goodness… although beef- its Ox- but has no different taste- and it’s cooked to perfection. Nicole and I go with Szechwan meals- something we never thought we’d have authentically again- but here we are in Asia- eating our nooders and putting them in our mouses. Happy as clams.
After dinner is the mama Mia video debut- I worked on it on the first flight to Switzerland if you remember- and gary squeals with delight. He’s only been waiting 5 years for me to finish it- what’s the big deal? And it doesn’t disappoint- gary and Chris in drag, Greece as the venue. I will share it when I get home. Don’t eat before watching.
Off to bed, we have a tour of Kathmandu tomorrow and based on these mountains I have a feeling there will be stairs.
The next day we are met by David, our guide for the city tour, and he seems really nice- and has lived here his whole life- so he knows everything and anything about the area. As we drive along we notice that this is a more civilized city. There are tuk tuks and people, just not as many- Kathmandu having a population of roughly 6-7 million as opposed to Delhi’s 22-25. And it seems much cleaner here- probably just for that reason… less people means less waste. The buildings are Better kept and taller. Streets dusty but not as congested with livestock.
We reach our first destination- the old city Hindu temple but there isn’t much left to it. There was a devastating Earthquake here in 2015 and most of the structures around the city were distorted. David tells us about how he was at his parents when it happened. His mother on the second floor- because in Nepali houses that is typically where the kitchen is. And he was on the first with his father- and they started to feel it- the house swaying- and they ran outside after getting his mom- then they watched as their house fell down in front of them. Many were killed, most of his family safe. Nearly 10,000 people dead by the end. The second worst earthquake in Nepal history.
So he sadly tells us the rebuilding work has begun, he and his parents renting an apartment because building a house is too expensive just yet. Home insurance isn’t a thing here- so imagine that…your emotional devastation , and then the financial one. But the temples are getting rebuilt with the help of all of Nepal’s allies- the Chinese, British and US embassy’s all sponsoring one rebuilding effort or another.
He takes us to “Freak street”- a street that became famous when the Beatles became obsessed with Nepal in the 70’s. And then Kathmandu and particularly this street where they stayed became a haven for hippies and drugs-Nepal being known as having some of the best marijuana in the world.
We walk around the palaces and temples, stopping to watch the monk standing at attention with a bowl-serenely feeding the massive amount of pigeons that are in one particular area, dressed all in orange robes and black pants, shaved head. I take his picture and give him a bow and a “Namaste”- and he sets the bowl aside and gives me one back, smile on his face.
He tells us of the massacre of the royal family in 2001 that took place just down the road at what used to be the palace. The Kings son was drunk and out of control and shot and killed his father, mother and entire family and then shot himself. But he tells us there are many who believe this government account of what happened isn’t true- sighting that when the son shot himself he did so in his right temple- and he was left handed. So many here believe it was actually the Kings youngest brother who had them all killed- as his entire family were away from the palace when it happened- leaving only him to take the throne. And he did. For 7 years. This caused so much civil unrest that civil war broke out in the country- and one side played dirty- even our tour guide David himself was kidnapped for 2 weeks- he’s was only 16 and and they were looking for soldiers. He was one among many who faced hardships from the civil war. All cleared up now, we can certainly still tell that it still effects David.
Then he tells the fascinating story of the Kumari (pronounced Q-mar-ee). These are the living goddesses of Nepal. The Hindu believe in the story that the 17th century king told.
I’ll do my best here; apparently this king had powers, and was able to see gods and goddesses sent by Shiva. And at some point during his reign he began to see one particular goddess over and over. She would visit him at night and they would chat and play games- pass time with him. However she said that if she was ever seen by a woman she would not be able to take human form and visit again. One night, that very thing happened, when the King’s wife saw her in his bedroom. She got angry and accused him of infidelity- to which he replied that although sexually attracted to her- he hasn’t done anything wrong. Upon hearing this was the way the king felt, and upon realizing she had been spotted by the queen, the goddess fled, stating she would never allow the King to see her in the flesh again. However she continued to appear to him in his dreams to tell him his punishment- from that day on he would have to keep an earthly representative of her in the palace at all times. And he would have to search the entire country for that little princess- the living goddess- the kumari.
So search they have ever since- carefully finding and retaining the Kumari. She is chosen from a certain family line at 5 years of age and has to possess 32 perfections- on that list are things like
No pimples or moles on body, Clear voice like a duck, Hair straight, black without artificial coloring of any kind. Eye lashes long like cow, No marks or blemishes, Legs like dear, Neck like bird, Body from head to toe like banyon tree. And brave like a lion determined by keeping the young 5 year old in a haunted house for the night-with the slaughtered head of animals- many are nominated to be the kumari, but the true kumari reveals herself during that test- most little girls running and screaming to their parents- the true goddess is calm and brave- having power over such demons and knowing she will be safe. Once all the criteria is met- the kumari is chosen- and taken from her parents to come live at the palace we are visiting today- this portion still in tact from the earthquake. The only part that survived. Here she is Worshiped by Hindu and Buddhist. She is Never permitted speak to the public or laugh in their presence. Her parents do not live here- but they can come visit. She is taken care of by the priests and care givers. From the age of 5 to approximately 12- having to leave before menstruation. Then she
Can live how ever she wants for the rest of her life- the goddess having moved into another kumari to replace her. The kicker- she is never allowed to leave the palace except 13 days a year during a festival in her honor. And even then must be carried no matter what age- her goddess feet never allowed to touch the ground. And every day, around 10 am- she comes and appears in a window for the people to see her. So we await her in her courtyard and are there when she appears. A tiny perfect little girl looking out over the 50 or so people standing around. She looks Nicole and I up and down. (Probably wondering why were dressed like it’s winter GARY) the Steps back from the window and walks away. Appearing for only 15 seconds.
And you thought public cremation was weird.
Interestingly David tells us that if she does laugh in public- this is very bad luck. The kumari in 2001 famously laughed when in the presence of the king, and days later he and his whole family were dead. Again in 2015 the kumari laughed and days later there was a devastating earthquake. So it is known that although she doesn’t cause bad to happen- she can be a sign of trouble to come. Perhaps she heard a real knee slapper just before our flight to Delhi?
After this we are taken to the Monkey Temple! We have all- okay maybe not Chris- been looking forward to this! We are told that we can walk to the temple but there are a lot of steps. 380+. OR we can take “plan B” which is a longer walk- but only 160 steps. The others eagerly chose plan B- while I’m wondering if we can have plan E- elevator. Or plan M- monkey line where they pass me along monkey to monkey till I’m safely at the top. But nope. I guess I’m taking the stairs. Before we get the walk started we are each given 3 coins by David. He says that if we make a wish and get our coins in buddhas pot our wish will come true. Said pot is in the middle of a roped off fountain. So we all try our hand at Buddhist washer toss. All failing miserably- so he hands us one more each. And Chris gets one in- only to have it jump out again- not sure what that means— Nicole gets one in Buddha’s hand- we consider this a on the side shot- the highest scoring shot. I get nothing- too distracted by the prospect of all those stairs. And Gary- gets his perfectly in the pot! We all excitedly ask him what he wished for! He said he wished to get it in the pot. Sigh. I guess his wish came through. But I really should have passed that monkey / human chain thing by him before we let him take the shot.
We do the stairs and reach the top- all the monkeys stopping to watch us, wondering why they brought this large leaking white woman to the top of this temple to die. David tells us all about the history of the temple Yadda yadda yadda. But we hear none of it. MONKEYS!!!!!! They are everywhere! Bouncing and eating treats, mommies and babies. Frolicking around and getting into mischief. Part of the worship of the Hindu and Buddhist is to give gifts of food when they come to the temple, so the monkeys see the people with the foods, and chase them from idol to idol- stealing the gifts. “Thank you very much I’ll be taking that” style. We watch as they lean in and get the treats-looking like they’re bowing-but really they’re just being little thieves. We watch a mom and baby together. The baby sticking close by the mama- begging her for the treat she was able to find. But no no. That’s moms- and they bicker and fight for a few minutes- baby pushing her luck and trying over and over again to get some of that sweet treat.
So bathroom breaks have become a whole thing ever since the rest stop incident-There’s a security check at the door that Nicole does to make sure you aren’t carrying any snakes in your hand luggage. Then she makes you go in and slam the toilet seat down to scare away any snakes. If there’s a window, thorough pat down of said window is done. Then she asks the bathroom attendant to frisk her in the way out. Sometimes she pre-clears bathroom security by having me go in with my phone flashlight before hand. Not that she believes me- I still get interrogated as to how thoroughly I checked…but it saves a Little time…..So the monkey temple is no exception. 35 minute bathroom beak done, we are ready to move in to our next stop.
Next is Little Tibet. The real name of this area is Boufhanath and houses the displaced Tibetan people-at war with China – and without passports to leave the area, they are here permanently, but they don’t seem to mind. Built sometime around 600 AD it has an impressive Stupa (dome structure used in Buddhist worship) and looks exactly like the old cities in China we visited a few years back. It feels homey to us for this reason and we all really enjoy our time here. First we go to lunch-a roof top bar suggested by the guide, and we are not disappointed- and they have super cold beer and chicken wings along with the traditional Nepali food….so we order a bit of both. Wings and momos! Momos are just like chinese dumplings-but have a more savory sauce instead of the sweet sauce from China. and we have been killing 15-20 of these with each meal….they are my favorite food from the entire trip. The best of both worlds-inside with just a hint of curry, but mostly like our traditional potsticker.
After Lunch we have a nice walk all around Little Tibet. Buying small trinkets and t-shirts. I tell David that I want to buy a healing or singing bowl-and he says he has just the place where I can try one out and dicker on prices. So we do just that. We are all piled into a room with walls lined with hundreds of bowls. The owner of the shop asks if anyone would like to try one-and I hop us-as does Gary. We sit and are directed to close our eyes, and sit straight. done….then he placed the bowl inverted on my head, and bangs it with a gong. The noise and vibration drown out everything else in the room-all I can hear is the bowl, and it immediately relaxes me. I liken it to that feeling you get when you snorkel? You can only hear your own breathing and it instantly relaxes you? After a few minutes with this bowl on my head, he takes it off and starts placing it on my neck and down my back, gonging it over and over-letting the vibration relax my tired muscles. Thing is all I can hear is Gary giggling while they do the same to him, trying to calm his aching shoulder. I. am. all. in. I’ll take it home, wrap it up. Shut up and take my money. So, after looking through about 10 bowls, I find the right one- one that makes the right noise and is the right color and shape. And I throw my credit card at them while Chris throws looks at me…..He is convinced this will be a $200 candle holder or Mixed Nut bowl by the next of next week. Oh well, we’ll have really balanced nuts then. (in reality I mostly bought it because when you fill it with water and trail the stick around the top, it vibrates and makes the water jump all around. Its like a little vegas show.)
From here, 15 lb bowl in tow, we walk around a little more, seeing the same sight of a Monk in robes feeding the birds. I find this visual so stunning-so crazy cool. They are stone faces, meditating, just standing there with a bowl.
After this we are done for the day with the guide. He wishes us a safe journey home and sets us on our own….us asking to be dropped off at the market that is about 25 minute walk from our hotel. And it is on. Nothing makes me happier then Nicole and I buying the exact same things at a market in another country. We fight if not. We run from store to store asking to see their finest tzotchkies. Shop keepers scrambling and bringing out $1 keychains and $5 scarfs, like the discount version of pretty woman. We are in our glory-and we buy everything we see. well, two of everything we see. By the time were done, the boys are weighed down and we are broke….having just enough left for a few bottles of wine and some mango juice. Then we trudge this all back to the hotel-Chris basically crying the whole way-in fairness he is carrying about 60 lbs in mixed nut bowls and keychains….
Then we see the hotel and notice that the gift shop there is open…..and we have visa’s for a reason…so we send the sherpa’s up to the room to drop the stuff, and Nicole and I set to work-ending up with authentic baby yaks wool blankets and 100% cashmere scarfs and sweaters. I see a few really cute Everest winter hat, and I know just who I want to buy it for….but it seems a little small? I ask the shop keep if he has any bigger ones…he says no, just this one…tells me to try it on…I do, and it fits me fine…but I’m buying it for a man-a large man- so I really size it up. He says it fits me fine! and I explain its not for me but for a friend, and he has a big head. Wide eyed, the keep looks at me and says-“bigger then yours???? WOW….” Okay. thats my cue to place the visa back in the purse. I buy the damn hat, because as the keep pointed out, it fit me and my Indian elephant sized head, so surely it will fit any living man.
We off to the pool, sitting for a well deserved Everest beer, Nicole and I excitedly talking about our purchases and all Muppets talking about the day. Tomorrow we leave this beautiful city and make a 5 hour drive into and over the mountains, into the Chitwan National Park- to a reserve for some time in the jungle exploring and spending time with ELEPHANTS!!! I can’t wait. Chris is a little leery-but I think this is mostly because we have convinced him we are staying in tents. Chris Keddy don’t camp. And I KNOW jungle camping is firmly on his list of “hates”……but he wants to see the animals (from a distance)….so he’s willing to stay in a tent…..thing is in reality Nicole and I also upgraded this stay-and we have our own little houses- air conditioned and modern. The temp hits about 40 in the jungle-humid heat-so AC will be welcomed. But for some reason I both love and hate my husband enough to make this little tidbit a surprise. And I have a surprise also…..I brought washer toss. We’re getting the Muppet Olympic washer toss team back together-After devastating defeats in Spain. And the others have no idea that I have been lugging around this travel washertoss game in my suitcase all over India and half of Nepal…just to play a few games on our last 3 days here. Its the Muppet way.