Blog,  Nepal

Why beautiful Nepal can be unsettling

Alarm at 5:15 am. Why should my last day on this journey start any different from the ones before? I have never slept longer than 6 to 7 hours a night. But I do not want to leave Pokhara without having seen the sunrise from a supposedly stunning viewing point on the top of a hill, half an hour away from our hotel. When we reach the Sarangkot viewpoint we are greeted by souvenir vendors and groups of Asian tourists. They are already gathered on one of the two platforms, taking selfies and videos, climbing on chairs to have a better view, although there is nothing fantastic in sight yet – besides the mountain panorama of course.

The sky is cloudy this morning and when the sun gradually starts to work its way up we are awarded with the most beautiful reddish paint that a sunrise can offer. The light touches the top of the mountain range and dips it in yellow first, then in a light red. Marie and I take our snapshots and are ready to go. B.K. hold us back: „But the sun has not come up yet!“ We are exposed as nature idiots and smile about it. A few minutes later a red fireball is appearing at the horizon. Before the Asian tourist bus passengers realize this fact I have reserved my first row spot on platform 2 and take a video, with Chinese subtitles though.

Some hours later we catch a flight to Kathmandu. I help myself to an A-seat at the window facing the Himalayas. Half an hour time to say „goodbye“ to those beauties.

My final afternoon in Kathmandu deserves the label „disturbing“. But I would not want to miss that experience. We treat ourselves to 20 minutes rest at the hotel and then take a taxi to the cremation temple Pashupatinah. Hindus believe in reincarnation and express this in a very special funeral ceremony. They burn their dead loved ones and throw them into the river that flows into the holiest of rivers: the Ganges. Thus the lost ones are able to step into their next life. Family and friends must not cry and drop tears during the ceremony – this is regarded as bad luck and an obstacle to reincarnation. Up to 60 people are burned next to the Pashupatinah temple every day. The process lasts several hours. The bodies are burned completely so that everything can be given to the Bagmati river. 

There are two sections at the river: One for the ordinary population, one for richer people and royals. Tourists may cross the river to go onto the side where the fires are lit, but we abstain from that. It is already intense enough. We walk over to an ongoing ceremony and watch it from the opposite riverside. The dead person is wrapped into a scarf covered with marigold flowers, people are surrounding the death bed. It is usual that the oldest son must dress in white and light the fire. Nowadays also daughters are allowed to do that if there is no son around.

I am actually watching people burn. For real. I have to inhale the smoky air. And I have my camera ready, afraid it might drop into the dirty river. This whole situation is disturbing, in an way. But on the other hand, it is not. The dead ones‘ relatives are taking pictures with their smartphone. Nobody cries, people wear colorful clothes. They all seem very concentrated on the procedure itself. Monkeys are jumping around, vendors sell water and pineapples. Many spectators stare at the death bed. Once the fire is lit we have seen enough. We walk to the exit, silent, and drink a lemonade. As if nothing had happened.

Our next destination is Kathmandu Durbar Square – where Nepali kings have been crowned and where beautiful temples, shrines and palaces were built. We take the only taxi that is standing in front of the Pashupatinah area and hope for the best. The driver claims to know where we want to go – after 20 minutes it is obvious: He does not. Danielle confirms with her GPS map that we are not getting any nearer to Durbar Square so we make him stop the car and walk. Through a busy street that reminds me of Old Delhi. It is so crowded that I have to jump away several times to avoid rolling a motorbike over my feet. We also pass a rally of the democratic party – the speaker is shouting, seems to be close to a heart attack.

If we do not arrive soon, we might collapse too. But Danielle’s map saves us. We find the square that is officially called „Hanuman-dhoka Durbar Square“ – that is probably why the driver did not understand what we wanted. Many buildings, hundreds of years in age, have suffered from the 2015 earthquake and are still under construction, financed by UN programs.

 

We are heading to a three story temple where the „living goddess“ resides – the Kumari. She is an infant of three years, chosen to be a goddess, caged in a room in the temple and guarded 24/7. There is not only a Kumari in Kathmandu but also in some other major cities. She may not leave the room – if she does, she is carried so that she does not touch the floor. Nepali citizens may get an audience with her and for others, she shows up at her window twice a day – in the morning and in the afternoon. We hope to see her – and wait under her window, together with other tourists. We hear her voice and a dog barking upstairs, then a man with a wool cap suddenly appears at the open window. Guides remind the crowd to not take photos of the goddess before she shows up at 4 pm. She appears for not more than one or two minutes. People shout „Namaste“ up to her. The girl, dressed in red, looks down at us, points twice with her finger in what seems to be our direction (probably every visitor thinks that way) and is pulled back inside. „Kumari“ means virgin. The girls are chosen as toddlers and have to be „brave“. They may not cry when they see the slaughter of a buffalo. Once their first menstruation comes they have to „retire“ and get a pension of roundabout 25 dollars per month. So, with about 12 years these girls are released into freedom – without ever having seen or talked to other children or been in the real world and without much of an education. A stolen childhood – what a cruel practice. This is worse than seeing dead people burn.

„Are you excited to go home“, Danielle asks me on the evening before my departure. „I am not sure“, I answer. It is a „yes“ and and a „no“. I am looking forward to familiar faces, my bathroom, traffic lights, safe water, salad, privacy. I am not looking forward to going back to usual. I’d rather be in the „great wide open“. As soon as that happens again, I let you know.

Oh, and, one random fact I learned and forgot to tell: Hindus have discovered the „zero“ (and thus the binary system). Interpretation is up to you.

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