Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday, July 26th (Nepal Post!)

So, I have been VERY lazy all week about getting my Nepal pictures organized so that I could write my blog post and put some of them up. But finally, here I am. It's Friday afternoon, and I am at Bittersweet, which is a coffee shop near my house. It's my first time coming, and it's nice! It's closer than North End Coffee Roasters, so it's much more convenient. I ordered a cappucino and they even had fancy little foam art:

 So anyway, I've come here to get some speedy internet and finally update everyone on Nepal! It was an amazing trip. I figure I will let it speak for itself for the most part through pictures, but I'll explain them along the way.

So, I know I got up until my first night in Nepal, and my flight there went smoothly. My hotel was absolutely GORGEOUS. The architecture was inspired by traditional Nepali architecture, and like I said last week it was its own little peaceful compound amidst a city. Here are some pictures to give you an idea:

Really beautiful, right? I sat right out at those tables for breakfast my last morning. The weather was absolutely AMAZING in Nepal! Well, some would say it wasn't because Friday it was sort of rainy all day. But it was just sprinkling rain; I am used to hot hot hot weather or POURING rain in Dhaka. This was a little rain here and there and absolutely no humidity. It was cool out on Friday! I could've been wearing a light jacket. It was such an incredible break from the heat. 

So, Friday morning my tour guide came to pick me up to go on a mountain 5:45am. Just a little early. We drove to the domestic terminal of the airport and I headed in. Again, I was shocked by how lax security was. You just threw your bag on a conveyor and then got a quick pat down. I checked in, got my ticket, and went through to wait in the one big room that made up the entire terminal. I was worried I was missing something. There were almost no announcements, people were sort of just milling around and nobody was going anywhere. An hour in, I went to ask what was going on and was told they were going to wait 30 more minutes to see if the weather/clouds would clear up. They didn't. It got cancelled. So, after a nice hour and a half wait I headed back out. Actually rushed out. I needed to get my ticket rescheduled for the next day and luckily was almost first in line to do this. Saturday morning would be take two. I was determined to come Saturday and Sunday if necessary to try and make this flight work. I could sleep back in Dhaka. 

So, we headed back to the hotel and I went back to sleep for a little. Then I headed down for some breakfast (a delicious big buffet that even had peanut butter yum) and then met with my tour guide to head out for a day of sightseeing. 

Our first stop: Bhaktapur. Well to start, my first drive really around Kathmandu was very entertaining. The city has so much character; it's so quaint. A lot of the buildings are colorful and they each have their own look. I guess i didn't even realize until getting out of Dhaka how monotonous and stark it is. I guess when you're dealing with trying to house so many people, efficiency is your priority. The city is mostly tall, cement blocks of buildings going on forever. Kathmandu, though, had buildings of all different colors and sizes and styles. Also, mixed with the hilly terrain and the mountains surrounding the entire city it really is a beautiful city even just to drive through. And people seemed so happy and content walking around. Another thing I guess I didn't really notice about Dhaka until leaving. People aren't really out on the streets enjoying themselves it seems. It's a small observation that I would normally take for granted, but in Kathmandu seeing people walking around, laughing and just enjoying being out and about milling around in the streets and hanging out--people just seemed happier and freer. 

Other observations: SO many less people! And less honking and cars and chaos, etc. My tour guide asked if the traffic was as bad in Dhaka and almost laughed. I wouldn't even consider what we were "stuck" in for like ten minutes traffic. I said it was much, much worse in Dhaka and he was shocked. We also got into talking about the size of Nepal versus Bangladesh. All of Nepal has about 26 million people he said, with Kathmandu around 1.7 million. Well no wonder it seemed quiet compared to Dhaka. Dhaka alone--we're talking the city not the country of Bangladesh--has FIFTY MILLION people in it. It's insane. But anyway, yes, Nepal was a very nice quiet escape even within its biggest city. 

So, after driving for awhile we made it to Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur was the original capital of Nepal and is now considered the cultural capital of the city. The area is very historical and has been preserved as it was centuries ago. It's full of old, beautiful buildings, temples, squares, and narrow winding roads connecting them all together. It really was like stepping back in time. And the roads are too narrow for cars, so it's only motorbikes and walking. It was incredibly entertaining wandering through the streets just taking it all in. We also stopped in a few temples. The architecture, especially the wood carvings on these old buildings (all preserved), is absolutely incredible. Here are some pictures I took wandering through: 

The narrow streets

The doors on the buildings are all very short and narrow. You have to duck to get in. The houses are built narrow and tall. So most of the houses were three stories high of single rooms.

The first temple we went into. 

Some kids playing on a homemade swing. 

We stopped in a paper-making factory and went through and saw the process of making paper with a special type of bark found in Nepal. Here is me on the roof of the factor; it had a great view (which you can't really see through the fog in this picture...)

View from the factory roof. 

Another temple. 

Street view. 

Prayer wheels in one of the temples. Insides are prayers and you spin them; one turn of the wheel is like saying one prayer. 

So, after Bhaktapur, we headed to the Great stupa of Boudhanath, which is a Bhuddist monument. It is one of the largest and most significant Buddhist monuments in the world and it's a very important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The stupa was huge! Surrounding it were little shops and tons of rooftop restaurants you could go up and eat in to get a better view of the stupa and surrounding areas. We stopped in one of them for lunch and I got chicken momo, which is a traditional Nepali dumpling Ariadna and Prabhat had talked about in the office, and I wanted to try. They are DELICIOUS! We hung out up on one of the rooftops and it really was a great view--a nice break. Here are some pictures from the stupa of Boudhanath: 

The stupa from the ground

People walking around the stupa. People walk clockwise around the stupa as a form of worship. 

The view from our rooftop restaurant. 

In a Buddhist temple that was next to the stupa.

The shops lining the stupa. 

So after the stupa we headed to a Hindu temple called Pashupatinath that I actually wasn't allowed in because I'm not Hindu, but we were able to walk the perimeters and go up to an area that overlooked the holy area. It was very beautiful and there were several different buildings within the area. There were also a few cremations going in. This is a very popular spot for cremation. It is a public affair and they were going on right out in the open. The ashes are dumped into the river, which ends in a holy site. Here are pictures from Pashupatinath: 

The entrance. I couldn't walk in past there. 

The view of the temple and other buildings from across the river where I was allowed to go. 

From the other side of the river. 

The river

A cremation ceremony before the cremation had begun. 

Two other cremations happening. 

So, after Pashupatinath, I headed back to the hotel. I was EXHAUSTED. After my 5:15am wake up call and a full day of sightseeing I was really done. I ordered room service and spent the night just hanging out. Like I said in my last post, the hot shower felt incredible. It was so, so nice. I headed to bed early, since I was getting up for the mountain flight once again. 

Saturday morning I got up crazy early again, and this time the weather seemed more promising. It wasn't raining and there weren't as many clouds. My tour guide was optimistic. And sure enough, after getting to the airport and checking in and waiting for a little, we boarded the plane! The views were incredible. I wish the pictures did them justice (they don' all...also the window glass was foggy/dirty). We each got to go up to the cockpit and see Mt. Everest from the front. That was a really incredible view. Here are a couple of pictures: 

The plane!

Right as we were getting started. 

Beautiful view--this one was taken from the cockpit. The left, taller mountain between the two peaks to the right in the picture is Mt. Everest.

Mt. Everest is the one on the left!

A picture of some peaks on our way back. 

So, overall it was an amazing flight! I was so glad the weather held out. Afterward, I headed back to the hotel, took a nap and had some breakfast, and then met up with my tour guide for a morning of  sightseeing. The two places I went on Saturday were Durbar Square and a stupa called Swayambhu. Durbar Square is where the previous king's palace was. The whole square used to be taken up by the palace but after a bad earthquake in the 30's only part of the palace remained. Part of it had been turned into a biographical museum of one of the kings that opened up the country to outsiders. Here are some pictures of Durbar square: 

So this was the inside of a temple where the Kumari lives. The Kumari is a young girl believed to be the reincarnation of a goddess. She is picked when she is two or three and then her family and her move into this building and live here until she is no longer the Kumari--I guess around her early teens. People come worship her and in the past the king had to be blessed by her before being crowned. She is only allowed to leave this house like 12 times a year (for holidays and special occasions) and she isn't allowed to touch the ground so is carried everywhere. Twice a day (we timed it so we were there) she comes and sits at the window for a minute (you're not allowed to take pictures of her). Overall, it was pretty eery and I mostly felt bad for the girl. It was quite the experience. 

Sooo manyyy pigeons. 


The view from the roof of a nine-story tower in the palace (I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the palace/museum)

View from the same roof. 

View from the same roof. 

View from the same roof--that was the stupa we were headed to next!

Part of the palace. 

So, after Durbar square, we headed to the other Stupa (shown above in that picture). It was up on top of a hill and had beautiful views of the city. The whole area it was situated in was gorgeous and very nice to walk around. Here are some pictures: 

People toss coins into that little bucket; it's good luck if you get it in (I didn't...)

Tibetan prayer flags

Me with a Buddha!

The stupa

Views of the city and mountains from around the stupa

In front of the stupa

So after the last of my sightseeing, I headed back to the hotel. I worked out and then got a massage, which was one of the best massages I've ever had. It was amazing! I was then able to relax until I went to meet up with Prabhat for dinner. We met at a coffee shop and hung out for a little and then went to some gardens nearby. They were absolutely beautiful even at night and so peaceful. Then we headed to dinner. We went to a cute little place with outdoor seating (the weather--so nice!) and we sat outside and enjoyed a good meal. The area we were in is called Thamel. It's a popular tourist area and the streets were lined with lots of shops as well as bars and clubs, because I guess it's also a going out area. We walked around a little after dinner and then took a cab back to my hotel. It was a really great dinner and Thamel was fun to explore a little. It was full of energy and had a lot going on. 

The next day I woke up and headed out. I didn't have any problems getting home, which was great. I did struggle to find a CNG from the airport in Dhaka though. A guard took it upon himself to help me find one and walked out to help me. As we walked out he went straight into asking, "Are you married?" to which I said "Yes, yes I am." and he said "You have a husband?" "Yep." It's easier that way....we stopped talking after that, I found a cab and got home. Home sweet home Banani. 

The week has been uneventful. Work has been busy with my trying to wrap up some projects before I leave next week. I can't believe I leave in four days! I'm getting to the point where I am really, really ready to go home, so I'm pretty excited for Tuesday. Tomorrow we are headed to Sonarga--the old capital of Dhaka, which is supposed to be very pretty and historical and a neat place to explore. Then we are having Iftar at someone at the office's house, which will be fun. And Saturday night I'm headed to the field--finally! We are taking the overnight train Saturday, meeting with some people Sunday, and then taking the Sunday over night train back to Dhaka. A pretty busy 48 hours! My fingers are crossed that there will be no problems with hartals or train delays, and I'll get back with no problems for my Tuesday night flight. I will be traveling a lot this next week--sleeping on all sorts of moving vehicles. 

Okay, but there's my update for you. And just as a finishing little touch, here is a picture of one of the cockroaches I caught in my room. Disgusting. They are HUGE. So gross. 

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