A Travellerspoint blog

Pashupatinath, Kathmandu

Religion and Death

sunny 22 °C

Religions are everywhere in Kathmandu and Nepal. Hinduism , Buddhism, Christianity,Islam and every other religion you can name, can probably be found somewhere in Kathmandu. However, central to most is Hinduism.

Temple's are everywhere, and shrines are as numerous as corner shops. We decided to visit the Holy Shrine of Pashupatinath which is a World Heritage Site on the banks of the Bagmati River. This is the most sacred place for Nepalese Hindu's to bring their dead for burning. It is open to the public for the princely sum of 1,000 rupees each (about £6) and if you are really lucky, a man will latch onto you, and act as your unofficial (and unrequested) guide. He was worth every rupee though, as he explained the whole process to us and took us to the best vantage points.
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To many, and to be fair, to us too, going to see bodies cremated is perhaps not top of everyone's itinery. But, to Nepalese Hindhu's, death is a public affair. They have no objection to people watching the cremation or to photographs being taken. Within hours of death, cremation takes place. Family gather at the river side, a pyre is built and a Priest sought to guide the family through the process. First the body is taken to the river, stripped and washed by the son's or family. It is then taken to the funeral pyre where it takes around 6 hours for the body to be consumed, while the family stay in attendance. At the end of that time, the ashes are pushed into the river and what remains, is buried on the bankside for the monsoon to wash away to the holy River Ganges.
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Death is seen as part of a cycle. If people have led a good life they may reunite with Brahman , if not, they will be reincarnated and start out on the circle again. Cremation takes place to allow the soul to escape. The only one's not cremated are children under three years and Sadhus.

Sadhus are holy men (and a few women) who devote their life to following the God Shiva. They have no possessions, are not allowed to beg, marry, have sex or have homes. Here in Kathmandu many live in caves on the river bank next to the Shrine. They are consulted by many Hindu's, as perhaps we would consult counsellors.
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So it was, Mrs G and I stood on the banks and watched cremations taking place and bodies being washed. In our western eyes, a strange experience, especially when shared with fifty or sixty others, including curious Nepalese from other castes, eager to see how it's done. It is not to be missed, especially with a guide. Without him I think we might have felt like voyeurs instead of curious westerners eager to see and experience Nepalese life, and death.

Posted by Mick G 03:53 Archived in Nepal Tagged churches people motorcycle tourist_sites educational Comments (1)

Kathmandu

OMG

sunny 25 °C

Kathmandu is one of those cities that quite literally, takes your breath away. Every aspect of life,as well as death,is contained within this relatively small city. With 1.7 million people living here, it is by far the biggest concentration of the population. Nepalese from all over the country are attracted here to make their fortune, or not, as the case may be. Tragically, it also includes at least 1500 children,abandoned by their parents, who make their way here to live on the streets of the city.
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It's easy to see why they come. The city is busy, it bustles with traffic and the movement of people, all finding some way of making a living. Selling, buying, making,,praying and begging can all be found within a few meters of each other. God's are everywhere. Temples of every shape and size mingle with multitudes of shops,crammed together.
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To walk the streets, is an overwhelming experience. Car horns blare, human noise ,in surround sound with the volume turned up. Smells of waste and spices, joss sticks burning brighter than in the sixties and seventies. Bicycle taxis, thread their way down narrow streets avoiding cars,dogs and people in their thousands. Human delivery "trucks" with ridiculous loads piled high on their backs. It is exhausting and exciting at the same time.
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Part of the experience can be shocking to our western eyes. There is no safety net for the poor or sick. They are left to beg. Women and children, as in many parts of the world,are the hardest hit. Widows, the orphaned or abandoned, without family support have no where to turn but the streets. To give to everyone would take more money than we have and in any case all the advice states that this is not the solution. Give to organisations that support, rather than to individuals. Still, it is very difficult to ignore those so desperately in need. Certainly, our western definition of poor does not apply here.

Above all else, our best experience so far,has been the people. Despite the hectic city there is a sense of calm and gentleness in people. They have a quiet and serene way of going about their business, whatever that might be. It seems to be infectious with every minute we are here. Perhaps it's karma.

Posted by Mick G 06:06 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains buildings people children trains air_travel Comments (2)

Flight to Kathmandu

Following the Old Hippie Trail

sunny 25 °C

In the sixties and seventies Kathmandu was a popular destination for the Hippies in search of free love and drugs (and not necessarily in that order). The overland trail led through Europe, Turkey, to India before ending at the drugs dens of Freak Street in Kathmandu. We followed the same route,but thankfully at 39,000 feet above it. The overland route took weeks. Our journey was 24 hours.

Although easier than the trek endured by those early Hippies, I had forgotten how tiring long haul flights are. Especially when combined with a four hour wait at Heathrow and a six hour wait at Delhi Airport. 61CE131C2219AC6817C7A5C883AF8024.jpg

Delhi Airport is modern, spacious, clean and an excellent illustration of India's upward climb on the international economic tree. However, I've got to say after six hours it does get a bit boring.No matter how much people watching there is to do. So it was, we took our leave and caught our one and a half hour flight to Nepal.
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A smooth flight over Northern India until descending over the border we caught our first views of Nepal and the Himalaya.
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As we approached Kathmandu we caught great views of the foothills and then the capital itself.
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We nearly caught more of a view of the city than we bargained for ,as the pilot nearly overshot the runway and was forced to do a U Turn on the landing strip, to get to the parking area ! I hope he remembered to check in his mirrors that nothing was following us down.

You need a visa to enter Nepal. This isn't a problem as long as you have a spare passport photo and forty dollars. A long queue results, but unlike some other countries where the officials seem to misinterpret this word to mean officious, in Nepal one official decided to have a bit of fun at the expense of his colleagues by quietly swapping a broken stapler for a working one. Five minutes later a lot of Nepalese banter and laughter, and not one officious look !

After an interesting and hair raising ride through the city rush hour,Mrs G and I are safely in our luxurious hotel called the Hotel Shanker. Tired and sleepy, I think we might have to save the delights of Freak Street until tomorrow.

Posted by Mick G 08:52 Archived in Nepal Tagged landscapes mountains people planes trains motorcycle tourist_sites air_travel Comments (3)

Preparations

Ready for the off

Well here we are, all our bags are packed we're ready to go. ( sounds like a song coming on). Tomorrow we will be on our way to Nepal. Heathrow, Delhi to Katmandu. It's quite a conundrum, packing for motorcycling and walking. Equipment takes up so much space: two helmets, two motorcycle jackets, two pairs of trousers, boots,motorcycle gloves, walking poles, waterproofs,rucksacks,water bottles, sleeping bags,the list goes on. Lucky for me Mrs G is an expert packer. She is one of the few people that can repack anything from clothing to flat packed furniture. Consequently, everything is in three bags and not one of them is anywhere near the maximum weight allowance. Sheer genius !

Posted by Mick G 11:54 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged motorcycle air_travel Comments (1)

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