This was the first full day in Nepal. The trip was organized by Evelyn Rysdyk and Allie Knowlton, of Spirit Passages and led by Bhola Banstola, a multi-generational Nepalese shaman.
Today we went to the Monkey Temple, a stupa on the hill near us in the Kathmandu Valley. Hindu & Buddhist influences co-existing in one place. There are 350 steps up one way & 125 steps the other. At the entrance of the stuppa, there are hundreds of Buddhist prayer flags. These strings of flags are hung on the dark of the moon, as one is looking towards the light. Each new moon, a new strand of flags is hung, but the old ones are left in place. The result is a collage of weathered and different aged prayer flags, creating quite an atmosphere of reverence and intent.
Monkeys abound - one even was carrying around a water bottle and another had stolen a bag from someone, and was carrying the bag around. The monkey with the water bottle repeatedly dropped the bottle until it broke open, then the monkey scooped up the water to drink. They said not to let the monkeys get too close, as they scratch people and transmit many diseases, including rabies and cousins to HIV. If the monkeys take something from a person, one is to let them have it due to the risk of scratches and disease.
The monkey stupa has skirting hung from it, using funds raised through the year for the festivals. There are five Buddhas involved. There is a statue dating to the 700's of a rare standing Buddha carved from a single slab of stone. The monks chant prayers there every morning. There are rows of prayer wheels around the base of the stupa. The people using the prayer wheels walk clockwise and the visitors not using the prayer wheels walk counter clockwise. Most places allowed photos, but a few statues one could not photograph full on. In those circumstances, there were guards to remind visitors before they took full on shots.
I had not been aware during my youth when I was a foreign exchange (AFS) student in India, of the overlap between Hinduism, Buddhism and shamanism. I had never heard of shamanism at that point in my life, and knew precious little of Buddhism. While the family with whom I lived was born Hindu, they were non-practicing. They did introduce me to the essential characters and deities, but I did not comprehend at that time of the overlap with Buddhism, nor the iconography of the deities.
The wiring in Nepal is precarious -tangles of wires knotted and tangled, with loops of excess line all over. Little wonder there are power outages all the time. Our hotel had some solar power and a generator for backup power between 7 pm and MN. Our rooms had candle sconces in the bathrooms as well as the desk as contingency plans for the outages. Everywhere I looked there were amazing tangles of wiring that would never exist in the USA...
Nepal ousted their monarchy four years ago, but they still don't have a permanent constitution. A water project to divert water from the other side of the mountain, a twenty seven mile project, has completed 5.5 miles in 22 years. They tore down buildings for reclamation projects but left the rubble in place. Trash sometimes is picked up daily & other times gets left for a week without being collected. Residents buy water by the tankful. Most places use at least partial solar power, and the water tanks on roofs are painted black for passive water heating. There is no infrastructure, or city planning. Some areas of Kathmandu, people are living in structures 800-900 years old, that have never had plumbing installed. Those residents use chamber pots, and throw plastic bags of human excrement out their windows to dispose of it. For the pedestrians below, it is imperative to use an umbrella to keep these bags of excrement off one.
The streets have no shoulder, and there are no sidewalks. Roads were built before cars, and no forethought has been put into the issue. Small children in school uniforms walk along with cars, buses, motorcycles and bicycles to get to school. The rivers are drying up in the valley, and there are 3.5 million people now in the Kathmandu area. Entire families of two children and both parents ride on scooters. We saw goats being transported on motorcycles between the driver and the passenger. Once we even saw a goat tethered to the luggage rack of a city bus...
The Nepalese do not use toilet paper. They wash after using the bathroom, using their left hand. It is therefore considered impolite to hand something to another using one's left hand. The hotel rations toilet paper to guests, so my roommate and others are stealing it from unoccupied rooms now.
With our meals, there is no water served. One has to buy bottled water separately. Hot tea and coffee are served after. The travel nurse said beer and soda are safe to drink as well. One has to be certain to break the seal on the water bottles themselves, as there are slight-of-hand maneuvers wait staff do to make it appear they have unsealed a bottle at the table while actually serving tap water. The rule of thumb here, as in many third world countries, is that one shouldn't eat anything that isn't hot or peelable. In the hotel, bottled water (750 ml) was 100 Rupees ($1.25) but across the street at the little store, it was 20 Rupees ($0.25)....
Tomorrow, we venture on to the road ourselves to buy three eggs, three limes and a half kilo of rice each. These are gifts interested parties offer to the"egg shaman" for healings. The eggs are used for extractions if necessary, the lime for purification and the rice is for offerings. Wednesday is when we start to visit indigenous shaman, so there will be more about that later. During our trip, which is centered around Nepalese shamanism, we will visit three different shamans, each of whom works by different means, with different tools.