Thursday, 12 April 2012

Nepal (April 3-12, 2012) leaving for my retreat tomorrow to volunteer!

Hey everyone!

I leave tomorrow to volunteer on the Vipassana retreat, so I won't see you again until April 25th :) Prepare for this drive-by shooting of a blog post!

On April 3rd Peter, Nora and I went to the Cinema to see Mirror Mirror. It's an adaptation of Snow White with Julia Roberts as the evil queen. It was really cute, and it definitely ended with a Bollywood dance number (which seemed extremely fitting for Nepal). That evening there was a torrential downpour and after soaking my shoes I decided I needed to buy sandals. I went to a little stall down the street from my guesthouse and got totally hustled by the shop owner's 9 year old son. He was ruthless, I'm pretty sure I got ripped off. But I love my sandals!

The next 9 days pass by in a blur of food, so let's give you the rundown of that. I have tried the fruit salad at at least 10 different places, cardamom chai tea, 2kg of grapes from a slightly seedy street lady, mint lemonade (i.e. lemonade with actual mint leaves ground in), Nepali tea with milk of questionable expiry (at the highest rooftop terrace in Thamel), rice pudding with dried fruit, delicious buttery palau, kashmiri palau (palau with fresh fruit!), epic banana splits, iced peach tea, battered deep fried tofu (that was an accident) and veggie platters from an Israeli restaurant, Italian restaurant and Thai restaurant (boiled vegetables get me excited). I won't tell you how many Cadbury chocolate bars I've had, because that's a secret (my pants know the answer). Two more volunteers, Mariah and Shane, have arrived in Kathmandu, so my dinner date group keeps growing. Mariah is going to participate in the Vipassana retreat, so we're going to have to try very hard not to communicate with one another! It's going to be nice to have a familiar face around (even if I can't look at it, lol).

April 5th and 6th were the only days I can say I actually did something touristy. On April 5th I woke up really early with a huge coughing fit (the perpetual Nepali sickness), so I decided to get out and go for a walk. I ended up running into Peter who said "here, I want to show you something!" We wandered down some back alleys past all the Nepali vendors selling their food and trinckets from blankets on the ground, got lost, then eventually came to this little opening in the wall that lead to a courtyard with the most beautiful temple! It turned out to be the Seto (White) Machhendranath temple, dedicated to the Hindu god, but because he is considered by Buddhists to be the incarnation of Avolkitsevara (the Bodhisattva of compassion), the temple is a great mix of both Hindu and Buddhist sculptures and carvings. The whole temple is encased in a giant brass cage, and the courtyard is filled with so many pigeons that you can actually feel the beat of their wings on your face. Everywhere there are ladies selling offerings of rice and colourful flowers and the smell of butter lamps fills the air (that and pigeon poop, if we're being honest). This so far has been my favourite temple and I've been back a number of times.

The next morning I got up early and left for Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple (can you guess why?!). There was a large Buddhist festival here this day, so the place was packed with thousands of Nepalis. Everywhere there will little groups of people huddled around Buddhist statues, praying and offering food and butter lamps to the gods (which is funny, because the only place the food actually goes is into the hands of waiting monkeys). After a slow and crowded climb to the top, I made my way clockwise around the Swayambhunath stupa. The legend goes that the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake, and the stupa grew out of the water as a large lotus flower. It's a very important site for Tibetan Buddhists. Against all odds I actually ran into Nora and Peter amid the sea of colourful saris and it was fun to spend the rest of the time exploring the small shrines around the stupa with them.

Boudhnath and Bhaktapur are still on the list of things I need to see, but they will have to wait until after the retreat! Wish me luck!

Love from Kathmandu,

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