After that first day of shopping, we decided to get out of the city, so we set up a outdoor trek with a man named Rambo. Yes.
So, it wasn't as rough-and-tumble a hike as you'd expect from a man named Rambo. In fact, Rambo didn't go with us, Suresh (rhymes with letch, it certainly does) did. It was an arduous walk, especially for those of us, ahem, who for instance haven’t exercised for months. We went from Sandhu to Nagarkot, where, so say some sources, we could have seen a speck on the horizon if it were a really clear day, and that speck would have been Everest. Not a big loss—the view was otherwise spectacular. The hike was bracing, and the air got cooler as we went, which was a blessing. We stopped for a Pepsi halfway there, at this crazy shack in the middle of nowhere that had Pepsis (every Nowhere in India similarly has at least Coke, Pepsi and Limeca). I apparently left my camera bag there, and it was picked up by our guide, who as a joke pretended not to have it. But luckily he really did and I didn’t have to go back. No words to describe the relief! He was an oddly jokey guy.
That evening we went to a restaurant called New Orleans, which is apparently a chain. The food was wonderful! We haven’t had bad food this whole time, and lately, it’s even been not making us sick. This place even reminded me of a French Quarter courtyard a little bit, tucked in the middle of the Thamel part of Kathmandu. Who would have guessed? We had veg. jambalaya (we’re all vegetarians, another great facet of our group dynamic), a few other things, and then decided to rent a DVD player. We were able to from the hotel, and we watched a heavily pirated DVD of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Long-Ass Name. It was such poor quality, we decided to return it the next day, and instead I got all 7 seasons of Sex and the City.
I like this show OK, but I mostly got it because I’m a girl and all girls are supposed to have and to like it. But as he was showing a few random spots of the DVD to prove to me it wasn’t a horrific pirating job, he stopped on a few choice conversations and I thought “It’s like they’re talking about ME!” So now I’m glad I have them to watch again.
The next day we went on a driving tour with Hera, my favorite driver/guide. He didn’t speak great English, but he seemed honest and genuinely helpful, which was more common in Nepal than in India, but still not the norm in the tourist industry, where white people just become giant money signs to most. He took us to a few stupa (shriney places with bits of the Buddha and other Buddhist junk buried up in there). It’s hard to describe them (obviously, for me at least; see previous parenthetical notation), but the first one we went to we loved. It was covered in prayer flags, and we wanted solemnly to circle the entire stupa and spin every prayer wheel, but Hera wanted to make sure we didn’t miss any of the side-project shrines along the pathway. All of these places, even the holiest shrines, are littered with people selling, selling, selling. Which seems a little out of place, but whatever. It’s not like it’s surprising.
We then went to a place where there are supposedly burnings (cremations), but they weren’t doing them that day, so we paid about $5 as, in Sarah’s words, a donation to renovate the place. It wasn’t in great shape, and there really wasn’t much to do but see the stone (done), get lost (very done), go accidentally into the Hindu-only section which looked way more interesting (yup), and be terrified of the monkeys. We were in fact scared of some of the monkeys that were blocking our path at one point, but they scattered as we came up, and in fact, one stayed behind to open the door the rest of the way, cautiously making eye contact as it did so, until it was all the way open, and the monkey went away. It was so polite! So the monkeys are OK, even though we saw them steal a bunch of junk from people. It was all in good fun!
Then we went to the largest stupa in the world, where supposedly a speck of the Buddha himself (though Sarah thinks this is true of all stupa, so it bears more research) is said to remain. It was so big, even we got sick of spinning the prayer wheels in the amazing throng of people circling clockwise. Finally we got out of it and had some chai masala, as we waited for Josh, a boy that Mari had met in Delhi, originally from Washington state, now studying Buddhism. His yearly expenses, including tuition, come to about $10,000 (just an interesting side note for those of you interested in studying in Nepal).
He turned out to be really nice. We ate at a nice rooftop restaurant near the stupa (Three Sisters restaurant), until it started raining, and we went for some chang (chung), the local Nepali rice beer. It’s white and tastes almost like a wine. But also, almost like a wet rag, as this is how it is made: you soak the rice, and then squeeze it out of the wet rag in a bucket, from which is it also served. Naturally, when one hears “wet rag” one pictures the dingiest, most threadbare and ancient rag they’ve ever seen in their lifetime. So there was a little getting over that, but in the end, we all liked the chang pretty well, and it was of course cheap. The rain precluded a visit back to Pashupati, and the full moon concert/celebration.
We had a terrifying taxi ride home—it started with him hitting a pedestrian, continued with nearly hitting a few cars, and then actually tapping a car, and then ended with zooming through the rainy, narrow streets of Thamel, towards our hotel. I really thought I was going to die, and was very sad, but glad that my last day had been in Kathmandu.
I’m now ready to join the summer program at the Buddhist academy next summer. There are Nepali and Tibetan language courses as well, which also appeal, but I don’t think they’d be as much use as the course on Buddhism. I’ve had so many close-to-spiritual experiences here, I feel this might be my foot in the door of theism (or whatever the opposite of atheism is). Sarah and I both really have our hearts set on it, if finances allow. And I have my heart set on my brother coming with me, too, for the six weeks. He’s never really spent time abroad, and Kathmandu seems like it might be his kind of place. Or at least the Buddhist part of it. I don’t know. I just know I loved it, and I want everyone to be able to love it as much as I do.