Date: 16 May
Location: waiting for my turn to paraglide, the second highest peak above the Kathmandu Valley
Notable sightings: the Himalayas
We so like to snicker at all the hippies in Kathmandu but it dawned on us as we sat down to dinner last night that we should really stop. This place has an irresistible pull – a siren song cloaked in paisley print and a haze of incense – and it's turning us into them. We took stock of the trespasses against good taste and rationality that sat around our very own table: Babysitters' Club had her hair in two plaits that wound around her head and wore multiple anklets but no shoes; The Honey Twins were both sweeping around in lurid maxi skirts with bells and beads; Roomate was in tie-dye with clashing harem pants and a giant Ganesh ring; Miss California – alternative at the best of times – wore her bindi and kohl with pride and was bedecked with new Nepali silver trinkets and a Sherpa-style hat. I was guilty of sporting a green crystal around my neck to 'open my throat chakra' and of my hands being spiderwebbed with henna.
The Lady Bogans persist with Lorna Jane leggings and pink Asics.
Today our group scatters in different directions: to Tibet, to Everest, to do humanitarian work in Northern Nepal, home to Brazil. I have a few more days in and around Kathmandu, then probably to Pohkara for yoga and a trek.
Anyway, Nepal certainly has a soundtrack. There's this slow mournful chant, 'om mane padme hum' and the exact same recording plays on repeat in every store. At first it's eerily magical, very mysticism in the mountain, to hear the chorus of chants as you wander from vendor to vendor outside the temple, or through the thrumming streets of Thamel. Then it's just funny. Then you start hearing it echo through your head even when there's pure silence. Ommm mane padme hummm; omm mane padme hummmm.
Yesterday we did the temple tour of Kathmandu and took in Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupas (temples). We also ducked into a Thanka art school to watch the students paint those crazy kaleidoscopic Buddhist works. One of the teachers was kind enough to give us a crash course in Thanka, and on Buddhism while he was at it.
- One famous style of Thanka is the mandala. Previously, I could have picked a mandala out of a lineup but that's about it. Turns out a mandala is actually a lot cleverer than I'd thought. First you need to know that a Buddhist temple is laid out in concentric courtyards, with the outer courtyard representing the body, and the inner courtyards representing speech, mind and spirit. You can enter each courtyard as you attain a level of purity: purity of body, mind, spirit etc. In this way the Buddhist temple is an instruction manual on how to achieve nirvana. A mandala is a depiction of one of these temples — from the air. A decorative, pictorial How To Guide if you like.
- The other classic Thanka is the wheel of life. Life, they say, is birth, suffering then death. All of us endure this time and time and time again and this is the samsara. In the centre of the wheel of life three 'negative emotions' are depicted in animal form: the pig of greed, the rooster of lust and the cow of ignorance. Break free from the three negative emotions and perhaps escape samsara and reach nirvava.
It was clearly the day for Asian Religion 101 and we continued our education on all things Hindu at Pashupatinath, one of the most important Shiva temples in the world, on the banks of the Bagmati River. There were several cremations in progress and, without all the mess of a Varanasi, it seemed a great deal more sad. A riverside funeral pyre is the way most Hindus choose to go, but some do ask to be buried. In the mountains, where the people live above the tree line upon frozen ground, neither is possible. There, your body is for the sky burial: left in the rocks up high, for vultures to take.
And from sky burials to hopefully not a sky burial: it's my turn to strap on a harness and launch myself our in the general direction of the Himalayas. As the paragliding pilots run you off the cliff they yell 'welcome to sky!'
Update: Done. Would now like a beer.