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Nepal – A Land After My Own Heart

Welcome to the Land of Everest and Buddha

Part I: Kathmandu

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It is 5am in the morning and the rising sun stretches over the horizon upon Mount Sarangkot. It is my second time in this land, and yet Nepal seems more magical than ever. With every trip I am discovering a new aspect of this sacred land and I fall in love with Nepal more deeply with every sunrise, every temple visit and every cup of masala chai shared in the company of friends.

The Nepali people are of a warm and friendly variety. They insist on addressing you as either ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. In the village, you can call out “Namaste!” to anybody  and they will respond warmly with their hands clasped to their heart. There is no English translation for the word namaste but it means something like “I honor the spirit in you that is also in me”. I think it is truly the most beautiful greeting in the world.

My itinerary for this trip went Kathmandu –> Nagarkot –> Pokhara –> Kathmandu.

So let’s begin with Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal shall we?

I am of two minds about Kathmandu. While I love its wealth of cultural and spiritual abundance, I hate the noisy streets, lack of greenery and tangled electrical wires which threaten to electrocute us all. Not to mention that the airport is ridiculously lacking – one can expect to wait up to 3 hours for your baggage on a busy day.

Everything in Kathmandu is perpetually covered in a layer of grime – shopkeepers must meticulously dust off their wares. It does not help that construction works are going on following the 2015 Earthquake. Piles of rubble sit next to collapsed shrines and the main streets are filled with beggars. The heat and dust becomes overwhelming at times. My heart aches for this land which is so filled with potential but sadly has not realised it.

Yet Kathmandu has its beauty. My first stop in Kathmandu was to the Garden of Dreams which is an oasis of green amidst the dust and grime of the city. The gardens are usually tranquil but today is the Nepali New Year, a rest day, and the lawns are filled with chattering Nepali. I enjoyed a nice evening strolling along the park and drinking in its beauty. The day came to a close and the as sun dipped below the horizon, the gardens were illuminated with golden light.

Another highlight for me was visiting Pashupatinath Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Nepal. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and attracts thousands of devotees every year.

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We arrived in time to watch a traditional Hindu cremation ceremony. At the risk of sounding morbid I would like to share a little more about it.

Hindus believe that the human body consists of 5 elements – earth, water, fire, air and space. The cremation ceremony returns the body to the 5 elements. The body is burnt (fire) which releases the spirit (made out of space/ether) into the atmosphere (air). Subsequently the ashes (earth) are released into the sacred river Bagmati (water) which Hindus believe will carry the soul of the person to heaven.

I believe this ritual is significant as it reminds us that we cannot take anything from the physical world with us when we die. It is an important lesson in detachment for me. Also I think the concept of returning the body to the elements is a very elegant one.

Over at Pashupatinath, I also saw many sadhus, holy ascetics who have given up all material possessions to pursue a live of meditation and contemplation. Prior to their renunciation, sadhus come from all walks of life. Yes many of them were actually doctors and lawyers! In the picture below, I am receiving a blessing from one of them. He told me “No problems in your life now.” A nice sentiment because 2013-2015 were the roughest years in my life thus far. But we shall not dwell on unhappy things, positive vibes only 🙂

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I spent my time in Kathmandu staying in a lovely hotel called Utse. It has a really lovely vibe and it’s run by a very friendly Tibetan couple. Fun fact, the owner used to be the bodyguard of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama has personally blessed the hotel. I really loved the Tibetan breakfast there. The most interesting thing I had was Tibetan Salty Tea which is black tea with salty yak butter. Yes it sounds strange but it tasted really good! Some other favourite Nepalese dishes of mine are momo (dumplings) which you can find in many different varieties and naturally dhal baht (rice with lentil sauce) which is the staple food here.

And of course, one cannot miss out on shopping in Kathmandu. Walking along the streets of Thamel you can find many shops hawking all kinds of wares from t-shirts to singing bowls to crystals. The crystals are lovely and you can get jewelry at a really good price here. Bargain wisely as most of the shopkeepers will overcharge you at first. A must visit for me is the Pilgrims Book Store where you can get spiritual and self-growth books at a really good price.

Another super cool thing I did on this trip was to do a mountain flight over the Himalayan range. The views were stunning. We were so close to the snow-capped mountains it was almost as though you could reach out and touch them. Mother Nature is so beautiful and it makes me sad that many who climb the mountains pollute the surface with their littering.

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Everest (Sagarmatha or Head of the World) is the tallest peak on the left and the pilot is pointing at Lhotse (south peak of Everest)

I sadly did not get the chance to visit Patam Durbur Square (the old palace grounds) this time. But I highly recommend it if you ever make a trip down to Kathmandu. Some of the buildings were destroyed during the earthquake but the architecture is amazing and worth the trip.

So I believe this is all about Kathmandu for now. My next post will be about Nagarkot and Pokhara.

Until then, Namaste!

 

Dachau

Remembering the Holocaust

I said in my last post that I would write about Nagarkot and Pokhara next, but in light of the violence that has happened over the last few days, I would like to talk about something a little more serious.

We live in a world where there is so such hate and intolerance. We think murder and war is an effective solution to rid the world of an opinion that is opposing to ours. Everyday when you open the newspapers, you find some evidence of a hate crime that is happening somewhere in the world. I think it reflects really badly on us as a species that we cannot even live together without wanting to kill each other. In that sense, we’ve become worse than animals.

We remember the Holocaust as one of the most heinous hate crimes to be committed in all of human history. Why I bring the Holocaust up is because we have not learnt our lessons from history. The Holocaust started because of one man’s idea that if he could remove all traces of a certain groups of people from his land, the world would be a better place. Millions of jews, gypsies, gays and people with genetic defects were killed because of this ideology. What’s happening in America right bears echoes of this…

I had the chance to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. It was the singular most depressing place I had ever visited in my life. Dachau was the first concentration camp and more than 40,000 people lost their lives here due to starvation, torture, forced labour, disease and execution. It served as a model for the other concentration camps and as a school of violence for the Nazis.

As one walks along the compound, an eerie vibe permeates the whole place.  There is a trail lined with mass graves. The tourists only talk in hushed whispers. The prison compound is unnaturally cold – walk into a cell and you feel the grim echoes of what terrible thing must have transpired here. Dachau is a horrible place to be in. The sense of uneasiness I felt did not leave until I was a good distance away from the compound.

What I felt upon walking through the gates was a overwhelming sense of sadness and grief. Dachau has not fully healed, and many disturbed souls remain. I don’t have the words to describe the horror of the Holocaust. As a child, I read many novels about the Holocaust but coming face to face with it is a terribly emotional experience.

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Gate with inscription “arbeit macht frei” meaning “work will set you free”. It is a cynical statement considering the Nazi never intended to free any prisoners but rather work them to death

Places like Dachau serve as a reminder of the mistakes our forefathers made and caution us not to repeat them.

Long before the Holocaust there already existed anti Semitic views. Hitler’s ideology only added fuel to the flames and the people became so blinded by hatred that millions of people eventually believed that their fellow human beings were untermenchen, below men and deserved to be exterminated. With the right spark, their passing hatred for their neighbour had become a justification to kill.

Are we not far off from that today?

One of my favourite quotes from the Baha’i writings goes like this:

“When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.” -Abdu’l-Baha

Why do we as a species harbour so much hate for our neighbours in our hearts? I believe the only chance for our survival is to treat fellow human beings with love and celebrate our diversity. We can separate people by culture, religion, skin culture, sexuality, political beliefs etc. We as a species have always tried to come up with different ways to separate ourselves from each other and maybe this is the root of all the problems we face today.

If we do not learn to live together in unity, then we will surely destroy ourselves and the planet. I don’t believe any policy we implement now be it in terms of gun laws or immigration will truly work until we first change our mindsets about each other. You cannot force people to tolerate each other, but perhaps we can remind each other to love.

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The memorial wall at Dachau reads: “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”

I find these words very powerful and I hope you do too.