Pokhara

What a fun city!  Unlike Kathmandu, you can actually walk alone along the streets of Pokhara  without fear of never finding your way back to your hotel.

What to do during our three nights there?

Of course there were temples to visit.  This poor rooster seemed to know his minutes were numbered. Yes, Hindus still do animal sacrifices.  But maybe he’ll get lucky and be reincarnated as a cow.

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When this guy saw my camera, he insisted that I photograph him and the rooster.

The next temple could only be reached by boat.

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What made this visit special were the sweet boys collecting money for the Red Cross.

“50 rupees, madam?”

“Okay”, and as I’m reaching for my money I hear, “100 rupees, madam?”

“But you said 50”

“Okay madam, 50”.

He had such a sweet smile, I gave him 1,000 rupees, the equivalent of $10.  THAT guaranteed me a photo shoot with the entire group, who then insisted upon taking MY picture.  My sweet negotiator is the one in the middle.

The one in the middle was my salesman
The one in the middle was my salesman

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Next up, a visit to the Parakhawking Project.  Please do a YouTube search to learn more  about the vulture and hawk rescue project.

Believe  it or not,  this beautiful creature is a vulture, who, if you decide to leap off a mountain, will fly  with you, locating the  updrafts, thereby  guaranteeing you’ll have a spectacular flight..

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Unfortunately, he was molting, so he has been grounded for the next few months.   What a disappointment– I was SO ready to sign up!  So since parasailing was not an option, what else could I do with my free afternoon?   Oh so many options…how to choose?
Who could resist this menu of services?  Certainly not I!

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As tempting as it was to come home with dreadlocks, I decided to be a little less adventurous and settled for a manicure. It WAS an interesting experience.  I’d never had my cuticles pushed back with a coin before.    And the choice of polish was greatly simplified when there are only three  colors, all with sparkles.

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It sorta made me wonder what my hair would have looked like if I’d chosen a dye job.

The  best part was my manicurist dried my nails by waving a magazine back and forth over my fingers.  Again, I thought of my hair…and what might have been.

After a round of shopping, it was clearly time for music.  Initially, we thought the Bollywood Dance Club had potential, until we gave their sign a more thorough inspection.  Let’s put it this way. Although we didn’t go inside to verify, we suspected the club might have fit right in with New York’s pre-Guliani Times Square or Boston’s combat zone.

Instead, we opted for Emon’s Rooftop Cafe.  We ended up being the sole (but enthusiastic) customers here.

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Sitting on the balcony overlooking the street, sucking down a local beer, we enjoyed a rendition of “I want to hold your hand”, Nepalese style.   It doesn’t get much better than that!

Three Days in Kathmandu

Kathmandu assaults your senses.  It is dusty, dirty, noisy, chaotic, crowded.  Take a deep breath and you will get a lungful of incense, enough to keep you coughing for a few minutes.

We toured the three major cities of the ancient Malla kingdom: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.  (That’s what happened when you had three sons–you split up your kingdom so they could each have a place to rule. )

We saw the impact of the earthquake everywhere.  It is heartbreaking  to see that one year later, people are still living in makeshift shelters.

Home for a family
Home for a family
Boudhanath Stupa
Boudhanath Stupa
Timber supporting Kathmandu buildings
Timber supporting Kathmandu buildings
Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur
Rebuilding by hand
Rebuilding by hand

Still, there are parts of the cities that were not damaged, allowing you to experience their grandeur and the beauty.

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Plaza in Bhaktapur as seen from the balcony of the New Cafe Nuatapola, where we had a delicious lunch
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The Five Level Temple
The royal family's bathtub
The royal family’s bathtub
Complete with snake sculptures
Complete with snake sculptures

While preparing for this trip, I read about the living goddesses, known as the Kumari.  (The post  “Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Part Two has more information about the goddess.)

After our visit, all of the women in our group felt so sorry for this sad looking little girl, who was chosen when she was three years old.  I couldn’t help but compare her to my happy, active nieces.  Of course, we don’t know what other options were available to her.  Maybe sitting on a “throne” placing tikkas on the foreheads of gawkers was the better alternative.

The Kumari is not allowed to walk
The Kumari is not allowed to walk
Peter is receiving her blessing.
Peter is receiving her blessing.

Despite the hardships they have endured, the Nepali people’s beautiful spirit shines through.

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The hawkers are everywhere.  The problem is if you buy from one, you are mobbed by many others.  Still, I couldn’t resist this woman’s sweet  smile, especially after she told me if  I wanted to buy more than one, there would be no problem.

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Okay, so I bought more than one.  Sisters, cousins, nieces, friends…you know the drill…gifts are coming your way, but you may have to earn them.  There may be a quiz!

This next one was more of a hard sell.  “Madam, blessings for you, blessings for me”, chanted continuously while she walked beside me for the equivalent of five city blocks.

imageOkay, so I got blessed.  I now own the necklace the lady on the right is holding.  I expect those blessings to be coming my way!

Six Days In Happy Land

We are now in Nepal; quirky Internet connectivity made it difficult to do justice to beautiful Bhutan, so this post will be a quick collection of photos and memories of Happy Land.

THIMPHU

A few years ago, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer was chosen as one of the seven new wonders of the world.  Thimphu’s gigantic Buddha didn’t exist at that time.  If it had, I’m convinced Buddha would be giving Rio’s statue some serious competition.

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Buddha sits atop a mountain overlooking Thimphu

The base of the statue contains a temple, filled with hundreds of thousands of smaller Buddhas, butter lamps and butter sculptures. Yes, you read that right–sculptures are made of colored butter!

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Just the artwork on the base would get MY vote

Dedicated to teaching Bhutanese arts and crafts, this school focuses on 18 traditional crafts including painting, woodcarving, metal work and embroidery.

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Whenever I visit a country, particularly one whose economy is dependent on the tourist trade, I like to drop some dollars by buying gifts, so a stop in the school’s small shop was a definite requirement.

Handmade paper is another traditional Bhutanese craft.  We watched the entire process: the raw materials being delivered, heated, compressed, made into sheets and dried.

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Notice how hard these young women are working?  They were all smiling as they were lifting those heavy bundles!  And yes, I most certainly did make a purchase at their tiny gift shop.

The modern world is rapidly creeping into Bhutan.  Construction is everywhere.  But it isn’t just new buildings and new technology.  Since the introduction of television in 1999, the western world has slowly been influencing Bhutan’s youth.

Thimphu’s clock tower plaza, right beside our hotel was the site of what looked like an  auto exhibit, but it was a whole lot more.image

Young Bhutanese shed their traditional clothes, donning jeans and tee shirts to dance to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”.   Unfortunately, my camera’s software is incompatible with my iPad, so you won’t be able to see the beautiful young girls I videoed dancing, but with any luck, I’ll be able to link a YouTube video of the boys doing their hip hop routine when I get back home.
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You may be wondering what kind of audience the entertainment drew. Well, wonder no more, because when my personal paparazzi used his long lens to capture me unawares, he also photographed the crowd.

A bit sparse, no?

PUNAKHA

Much of the road between Thimphu and Punakha is under construction, making travel slooooow and very dusty.  We stopped at the Dochula Pass on the way to and from Punakha.

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108 Stupas of the Dochula Pass

The Dochula Pass memorial honors the 15 Bhutanese that were killed fighting the Indian separatists from Assam.  The separatists were creeping across the Bhutanese border, creating training camps.  The fourth king actually led his troops into battle and was victorious.  No wonder he is so beloved!

The pass is 10,000 feet above sea level, so Tashi thought it would be good practice for the Tiger’s Nest if we took a hike in the Royal Botanical Park that adjoins the memorial.

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The rhododendron were in bloom–they weren’t bushes, they were trees.

The jacaranda were also in bloom, outside the Palace of Great Happiness.

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Notice the covered wooden bridge in the distance.

This is the entrance to the Palace’s temple.  Inside Tashi gave us a fantastic lecture about Buddhism, using the artwork that covered the temple walls as an ancient Power Point Presentation.image

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I was so glad to see these monks, enjoying themselves by the river bank outside the Palace of Great Happiness.

We also visited a nunnery located atop a mountain, where I purchased some bracelets from this sweet 21 year old nun, who spoke perfect English.

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Marilynn from San Francisco on the right, bracelets on the window sill on the left.

No visit to Punakha would be complete without a stop at the Chhimi Lhakhang Monastery.  To get there you need to hike through rice fields, a village and up a hill.

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The shingles on roofs are held down with stones instead of nails.
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These sweet villagers were happy to pose for me
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Christmas presents for everyone!

imageThis monastery was founded by Drupka Kinley, the Divine Madman, whose “Thunderbolt of Wisdom”, also known as his “Flaming Thunderbolt” , brought his own special form of enlightenment to local women.  Infertile couples visit the monastery where the woman is doinked on the head with a huge wooden “thunderbolt”.  Could that be the Bhutanese version of IVF?

The Divine Madman is the inspiration behind the artwork that festoons the area’s houses.

Although not part of the “official” itinerary, our wonderful guide thought we might enjoy a visit to the 17th century village of Rinchen Gong.  These villagers are definitely not used to having visitors!  Our arrival was quite an occasion, especially for the children, who chased our van up the steep dirt road.

Like me, Jim enjoys photographing the locals
Like me, Jim enjoys photographing the locals
These boys loved seeing their pictures
These boys loved seeing their pictures
Shy at first, they warmed up when they saw the shots.
Shy at first, they warmed up when they saw the shots.

Our last stop was in Paro, where we climbed to the Tiger’s Nest and visited Bhutan’s  very first temple.  It was built in the 7th century by Tibet’s great ruler, Songtsen Gampo, and it is where he pinned the left foot of an ogress who once covered all of Bhutan and part of Tibet.

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Jim, spinning the prayer wheel outside the sacred Kyichu Lakhang