30 October 2012

Nepal. A country in the clouds

I ventured to Nepal for the first time three years ago. I keep going back. I can't get enough of it. 

It is one of my favorite places in the world. 

Nepal is the polar opposite to Singapore. 

Perhaps that is the attraction. 

Singapore is affluent. Educated. Opulent. Extravagant. Staid. Opportunity abounds. Money is worshipped. 

Nepal is impoverished. Straightforward. Simple. Spectacularly beautiful. For the majority in Nepal survival is a daily battle. Nothing is taken for granted.

Nepal puts my life into perspective. I often need that jolt. A wake up call. A slap in the face. In one fell swoop it takes the petty out of Peter. I like moments that take my breath away. These are many in Nepal. Flying into Kathmandu you see no less than four peaks burst their way through the clouds. 

It is majestic. 


The temples of Kathmandu were constructed long before Christianity was born. Or invented. They were built to last. They are architecturally splendid. It is a joy to meander the tiny alleyways of Thamel. To get hopelessly lost amongst the Surdu. Hindi holy men who emerge from their caves after years of meditation high in the Himalaya. They are a bit dirty and are very smelly. They are however enlightened.

You need to stoop to get into tiny craftsmen stores where the art of stone and wood carving has not been lost. There are four Durbahs in Kathmandu. These are ancient palaces which were once individual kingdoms ruled by four brothers. They strove to outdo each other in their devotion to Hindi gods and goddesses. 

There were no winners in this game.

Nepal is principally a Hindi population although there are also many Buddhists. A lot of the Buddhists are from Tibet. They fled to Nepal when China occupied their country. The Chinese are invaders. They are intruders. Unwelcome occupiers. They don't belong. Nepal is the only country in the world where Hindis and Buddhists share the same temples. They practice peace. It is divine. In the truest sense of the word.

If you wake early enough in the morning in Kathmandu you will hear the monks chant the mantra "om mani padme hum". It is entrancing. 


It is beautiful.

The lord Buddha was born in Nepal and he died in India. It is said that he was born as a grown child and as he took seven first steps seven lotus flowers bloomed from each of his foot fall. 

I think this is beautiful. 

It is also taught that Buddha once fasted for three months eating only one grain of rice and drinking one drop of water each day. He nearly died of starvation and realized he was both human and fallible. This was one of his steps to enlightenment. 

I think this is beautiful too. 

Humanity and humility personified.

I go to a village called Katunje. It is only 100 kilometers or so from Kathmandu but it takes more than eight hours to get there. The road is only open for a couple of months each year. Don't think road as in bitumen. This is more of a track. It is very windy and wild and rough. The road was only constructed 8 years ago. Before then one had to walk to get to the village. 

Walking is the most common form of transport in Nepal. 

It is a very steep country. 

The Nepalese people are tough. Many of Katunje's residents have never been to Kathmandu. They are sustenance farmers. They eat what they grow. They grow what they eat. 

And so it goes.

Walking into Katunje is like stepping back in time. There are tiered gardens of rice and lentils there and clusters of mango trees. 

Think of Babylon. 

Imagine Shangri La. 

The water and air is sweet. Sweeter than sugar. There is no crime in the village. The village reeks of respect. Dignity. Unfathomable beauty. I am in awe of the simplicity and decency of the place. They are by far the most happy and contented people I have ever met. When I am in Katunge I often just sit. Time passes. I get lost in nothingness. The silence is golden. I gaze at the Annapurna ranges that soar eight thousand meters into the sky. That is nearly three miles high for you non metric types. 


Very big. 


When I leave Katunge I immediately miss it. 

I yearn for it now.

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