Vibrant city full of energy

Trip Start Dec 15, 2012
Trip End Dec 27, 2012

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Where I stayed
Kathmandu Grand Hotel
Read my review - 3/5 stars
What I did
Boudhanath Kathmandu
Read my review - 4/5 stars
Durbar Square Kathmandu
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Nepal  ,
Monday, December 24, 2012

    Arriving to Kathmandu from Bhutan was like going back to Delhi-a city full of smog, noise, and people.  The drive from the Kathmandu airport to the hotel would just be the beginning of probably the worst driving scene I have ever scene.  The hotel we stayed at was nowhere near as comfortable as any of the accommodations we had experienced in Bhutan or even India, for that matter.  It was cold and noisy, but the staff was very kind and friendly.  Unlike Bhutan and India, this was the scene for people who want to party.  Thamel, where we stayed at, was a town full of young backpackers.  It was a step above India given the fact that we felt safe going out for dinner, and there were plenty of shops and restaurants to sit down and eat a nice meal without being gawked at.  It felt safer than India but not entirely safe as Bhutan.  I did feel a bit in danger at night time while walking back to the hotel and on occasion when the electricity went out.  I wrote this before, but Nepal does not have a good supply of electricity, despite its rich river resources, the legacy of political disagreement left this generation with no hydroelectricity generation to be self-sufficient.  Thus, it suffers from scheduled power outages, and many vendors purchase their own generators to keep electricity going. 
    The country was a kingdom not too long ago, but the story goes a new king was not allowed to marry the woman he loved, so he drunkenly murdered his entire family, and himself, with a gun.  His uncle ended up taking the throne, and there is a conspiracy theory involving the uncle, but I would rather not be blacklisted by powerful Nepalese royalty.  The public became disgruntled with the uncle's rule and then seized the throne to create a democracy.  Perhaps not a perfect democracy quite yet, as there seems to be instances of corruption and misconduct, but the nation seems to be doing very well with tourists.  Most visit the nation to go trekking on the Himalayas as well as feel the adrenaline rush of zip-lining, skydiving, river rafting, and jungle safari'ing, all on a budget.  The Nepalese currency is cheaper than that of India, and there are tons of travel agencies offering such exciting adventures at rates unimaginable in places like America.    
    The top source of income in the Nepalese economy is remittance. I read that fun fact on a series of similar signs at the Kathmandu airport.  I thought to myself "I guess tourists really enjoy this country and return frequently," but that was nowhere near what remittance actually meant.  The Nepalese go abroad to countries such as Qatar, U.A.E., India, America, etc. to work in industries there and send money back to their families.  Our first driver was telling us how Nepal itself doesn't have any factories, so there isn't much work besides tourism, leaving many to go abroad to find work. 
    We toured Pashupatinath, which was interesting, as it was a very crowded temple by the Bagmati River where families gather to cremate their dead.  There were several Indian tourists at this site; they stood out by their makeshift coldwear since they have no reason for such in the warmer climates of India.  People could actually see dead bodies being wrapped and set on fire while following traditional Hindu rituals.  It was a little beyond my comfort zone and I did not feel very good there.  It was interesting to see sadhus, who are men that have supposedly given their lives to the Gods.  I didn't fully understand the concept, as I wondered at the men taking pictures with tourists for tips they keep for themselves how exactly they lived sacrificially.     
Boudhanath was a more peaceful and relaxing area where you could watch and meditate with Buddhist monks surrounding a giant stupa. 
    The nation of Nepal is dominantly Hindu, but does have a good percentage of Buddhists.  The two group of believers get along and end up worshiping each others' deities.  I was told the majority of the Buddhist population originates from Tibetan refugees that settled here.  Therefore, there seemed to be no single "Nepalese" look but rather ethnic diversity.     
    We visited Durbar Square, a fun mixture of markets and various temples.  The entrance fee will allow admission into the royal palace museum where the royal family resided before their tragic deaths.  Its a rather large museum with displays ranging from portraits to furniture to jewelry and shotguns that can make one feel connected to the royal family.  The power went out during our tour of this museum, so we went to the residence of the Living Goddess, or Kumari, who is a young girl possessing a divine spirit. 
    The legend, told by my trusty tour guide, goes an old Nepalese king used to play dice with a Goddess every night.  One day, he found her sexually tempting and she noticed his lust.  She ragingly left and promised to reincarnate in the form of a prepubescent girl so he could no longer desire her.  That is when he began his quest for a young girl that seemed to be a fit vehicle for the spirit of a Goddess.
     The Kumari is chosen as a toddler girl.  There is a group of ministerial men who search for this girl using the criteria of "32 positive qualities" which include "eyelashes like a cow" and "body like a tree."  She disqualifies if she has shed blood or has lost any teeth.  Once the candidates are narrowed, they are put through a fear test with a gauntlet of fresh heads of dead animals while men dance with masks on, and the little girl will pass if she remains calm and does not cry.  Once she is chosen, she will be taken to live in her temple with certain caretakers and be expected to perform ceremonies and rituals, including blessing the public and the president every year.  We were not allowed to take any pictures, but she wears heavy makeup, including thick eyeliner with the outer tips pointed very far, nearly to her ears.  She also has a third eye drawn on her forehead, and her clothes look satiny and colorful.  She is not allowed to talk to anyone except for a selected few, and she is carried whenever outside the temple.  They say the divine spirit leaves her body if she sheds blood, either through an accident or her first menstrual period.  Then the search for the next Kumari begins again...
     If you're lucky enough, she will glance out her window and bless you,
which happened to us.  It was very interesting; as soon as a couple of
foreigners were gathered in her courtyard, she peeked her head out,
looked to her left, looked to her right, maybe looked at the pigeons flying around, and closed her eyes for a bit before disappearing below her window.  Her appearance lasted perhaps five to seven seconds,
but the audience (including myself) gasped in surprise and put their hands together in
namaste, a physical salutation which we were told to do beforehand.  After I made my donation in her box, my mind must have wandered because I hit my head pretty hard on the low-hanging ceiling on my way out.  My tour guide says it is good luck.
    Bhutanese King and Queen plus the Nepalese Living Goddess...we really lucked out on this trip! 
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