Lumbini, Nepal (not much here…)

Lumbini, Nepal
December 17th 2010

I was on the fence about visiting Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. But after a 9-hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Bhairawa, I decided to make an extra 1-hour journey to Lumbini. Stayed the night there before going to check out the temple the next morning, which had a greenish stone encased in bulletproof glass marking the spot where Buddha was born. Kushinagar, in India, near Gorakphur, was where he died and was cremated but I doubt I’ll be making a stop there.

(The exact spot where Buddha was born. Don’t believe me?)

(I told you…)

Gorakphur, India
December 18th 2010

After getting to the Nepal-India border and crossing it, I took a 2-hour sardine-jeep ride to Gorakphur. Stayed the night there to wait for my early morning train the next day.

Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal
December 14th – 16th 2010

Power-cuts are part of everyday life in Nepal, I found out. The hotel had a schedule showing what times the power would be cut each day, usually 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours at night. Incidentally, those are also the times most people are still in their rooms. The timing is terrible. I would wander outside during the day, come back at night and hope to watch a little TV but the power would shut off in the middle of a terrific chick flick *cough cough* I mean, action movie. Anyway, I didn’t like the power-cuts but it is what it is.

Thamel, the area where I (and most foreigners) tend to stay at, was littered with shops selling trekking gear, Buddhist items, and clothing. There were also a large number of travel agencies there. The one nice thing was the variety of places to eat. I got to eat some Korean and Japanese in addition to my favorite, local Nepali ‘dhal bhaat’, which is rice, dhal, curry, vegetables and pieces of chicken or mutton.

Spent a day checking out the magnificent Old City (or ‘Kathmandu Durbar Square’). I got there thinking I would independently guide myself through the entire place but a guide there was very persistent in trying to get my business and I decided to let him guide me, which turned out to be a very good decision as he was a terrific guide, sharing a ton of interesting information I wouldn’t have gotten myself. I wanted to see the Living Goddess Kumari appear in her window but I didn’t want to wait an hour for it.

(Part of Kathmandu Durbar Square. It’s a lot bigger but I couldn’t get a nice wide-angle shot of the entire square.)

(The Slaughterhouse Temple, in the back, where the new Kumari is selected when the old one “expires”.)

(A pair of lovebirds sitting under the “Karma sutra” temple. All the carvings are of the erotic nature.)

(The King of Nepal was looking for an intellectual equal in the city. He wrote down phrases in 15 different languages on this wall and whoever could read them all, was an equal.)

What’s interesting about the selection of this living goddess is that the priests have a special ceremony once the current goddess reaches puberty and is ‘retired’ and these priests have a ritual to select a new goddess. They will sacrifice 50 goats and 50 buffalo at a special temple which is only opened once a year (and also one of the most beautiful temples in the Old City), and spill the blood of the animals everywhere. They will choose a little girl from who-knows-where and as she walks up the temple, if she isn’t fazed at all by the slaughter and blood everywhere, she is acknowledged at the next Living Goddess. And thank goodness they send the girl to school in addition to her duties as Living Goddess. It would be sad if they used her for religious purposes and leave her helpless when her tenure ends.

Another cool item within the Old City is a statue of the Hindu God of Death. Legend has it that people are afraid to tell a lie in front of the statue for fear of vomiting their guts and brains out if they do. Hence, the place was used as a confessional of sorts. The local police even have their headquarters set up right beside the statue and threaten criminals with it.

(Do not tell a lie in front of this statue or you will vomit your guts out and die. But look at him, he looks so friendly…)

I also spent a separate day walking to and checking out the Swayambuth Temple, a magnificent golden Buddhist temple at the top of a steep hill. As with any temple, the steps and area surrounding it is littered with souvenir stalls and beggars. There were monkeys everywhere. I liked the giant pair of Buddha eyes painted on the stupa, representing the all-seeing Buddha. There was a good view of Kathmandu from the top but instead of a beautiful city against a beautiful Himalayan background, it was more of an ugly, polluted, smog-filled city against a hidden cloud-and-smog-covered Himalayan background.

(A common image in Buddhist culture, the “Eyes of Buddha” are omniscient. He looks suspicious.)

(Walking around the golden Swayambuth Temple.)

I had to apply for my re-entry permit to India on my last day there. I had left quite late that morning, not knowing the visa center’s hours. I got there a few minutes past noon, which is when the visa center closes. I pleaded with the guard to let me in and when he found out I was originally from Malaysia, we got into a Bahasa Malaysia conversation. (There are a lot of Nepalis who are currently working or used to work in Malaysia. He worked there for 7 years.) He told me that I could offer him a small bribe and he would let me in. I had no choice so I offered 50 rupees ($1, I got away cheap) and I was allowed to go in and apply. It was fortunate because I found out the visa center was closed the next day for an Indian holiday and the weekend followed so it would also be closed then, meaning I would have had to stay 4 additional nights in Kathmandu had the guard refused my entry.

(Improvised ping-pong table.)

When I returned that evening to collect my passport, I ran into the ‘weed guys’ at the visa center as well. They were doing some of their own applications to get into India so we said hello, talked a bit, then said goodbye, probably for good. I had booked a tourist bus back to Siddhartha Nagar for early the next morning so everything worked out in the end.

More Kathmandu Pics.

Bandipur & Manakamana, Nepal

Bandipur, Nepal
December 13th 2010

I caught a local bus to Dumre, the town at the base of Bandipur before taking a crowded jeep ride (sitting on top of the jeep) on the windy road to the top. Bandipur seemed different from the other towns. The buildings were old and many were made of wood. I saw many kids in school uniforms so it’s good to know education is important even in a small place like this. I couldn’t see the Himalayas (the main reason I stopped by) because of the mist but it was an enjoyable stop nonetheless.


More Bandipur Pics

Manakamana, Nepal
December 14th 2010

The next morning, I took a bus back down to Dumre with plans to catch the next bus to Manakamana, where a famous Nepali wishing temple was located. It was a place most Nepalis try to visit at least once in their lives, bringing goats to be sacrificed for good measure. On the bus, I sat beside an Italian guy who surprisingly spoke a little Bahasa Indonesia, which is very similar to Bahasa Malaysia. He was traveling with 4 other guys, one was his friend, the rest he met trekking in Annapurna (one Indian, one Israeli, and one Belgian). I found out they were also making their way to Manakamana so I joined in temporarily. At Dumre, we took a 1-hour open-air jeep ride and enjoyed a great view. I also found out these guys really like weed. They were lighting up at the back of the jeep and I found it amusing. We had to take a 2.8 km cable car ride up to the wishing temple (and it cost $15!) so these guys decided to roll a few joints before we got in line and as we crowded into the small cable car with all our bags and rode up, they lit up. The whole car was smoked out. It was quite amusing to watch. And we laughed at the thought of the next group of people who had to take our car and what they would think.

(The Wishing Temple.)

(Hand-picked for the slaughter.)

(Sadhus (holy men) blessing Hindus.)

(Sheer mass chaos.)

(A couple offering incense and then ringing the bell to have their wishes heard.)

(Simple Nepali ‘dhal baat’.)

The guys were staying overnight while I only wanted to stop by for a short while before heading to Kathmandu that same afternoon so we parted ways at the top. The wishing temple was crowded with people, goats, and chickens. I wanted to stand in line with them but it was too long and I had all my stuff with me and didn’t have a place to store them so I decided to observe instead. The area even had goat stables where people could buy goats to sacrifice if they didn’t bring one of their own. I later found out I missed seeing the place where the actual slaughter took place.

After spending about an hour there, I took the cable car down and caught a bus to Kathmandu. It’s so easy to catch buses because all these towns are connected by the same highway, the Prithvi Highway. It was only another 3-4 hours to Kathmandu so it was no sweat. Got there pretty late and with the help of a Nepali local, managed to secure a taxi ride to a hotel where I would spend the next 3 nights.

More Manakamana Pics


Pokhara, Nepal
December 11th-12th 2010

So after getting to Gorakphur, taking a 3-hour bus to Sonauli, checking out with Indian immigration and crossing the border to Nepal ($25 15-day visa, not doing any trekking so no need any longer this time around), and taking a short bus ride to Siddharta Nagar (and staying a night there because it was late), then taking a 9-hour bus ride, I finally got to the first major city in Nepal, Pokhara.

(9 hours on this wonderful bus.)

(A musician who hopped on the bus and then performed. Pretty good music.)

Pokhara is a popular tourist location because it’s a great jump-off point for many popular treks and other activities including paragliding and rafting (it was cool to see the paragliders in the skies near the mountains). The city was located beside the beautiful Phewa Lake which had the mountains as its backdrop although I could barely see the Annapurna range peaks from where I was at. For several weeks beforehand, I debated on whether or not to go on a short 7-10 day trek on the Annapurna circuit because it was “the thing to do” according to guidebooks and many folks who like the trek. But I realized I’m not much of a trekker to begin with. I don’t have a proper sleeping bag (I’ve read buying the fake stuff being sold all over Pokhara is a bad move because they don’t keep you warm especially at high altitudes), I don’t have proper cold weather clothes, and I am lugging too much crap needed for my travels but not for treks. I decided that someday, I’d like to come back to Nepal solely for trekking, maybe with a friend or two. I would be better prepared because I would pack (and packed right) specifically for a single purpose. Porters or not, I will be light, agile, warm, mentally (and physically) ready and will probably enjoy myself more. For now, my time in Nepal is mainly to get a flavor of the country.

(A local Nepali meal. Just kidding. It’s hand-made spinach pasta.)

(You can see the Annapurna range way in the back, behind the clouds.)

(Fish farm.)

(The view from the Newari restaurant.)

(A Newari meal. And since I can’t remember the names of the items…)

(Locals doing chores by Phewa Lake.)

I walked around the lake, took a short boat ride to the temple in the middle of the lake, enjoyed the views, ate a mix of continental and Nepali (Newari to be exact, an ethnic group in Nepal), drank hot drinks, ate some cheesecake, ate ice-cream, read, used the web, checked out books, listened to Mandarin music played on loudspeakers outside a Chinese restaurant, had a Nepali beer while watching some soccer at a bar one night, people-watched, and generally just took it easy. Probably not as exciting as trekking in the Himalayas but it’s what I wanted to do. Decided my next move was to go to Bandipur, a small hill-town about 3 hours away.