I arrived in Nepal Sunday and have been settling into a new but similar country. My Nepalese friends suggested I do India first and it was a good choice as I was ready to appreciate the contrast more.
In short, Nepal is softer than India and cleaner. It is a blend of so much. I had heard that, read that, but being here I see it for real. It is here between India and China- massive countries and powers- and below Tibet. These are just things we use to categorize, but really India is many worlds in and of itself as I suppose China is as Tibet is as parts of Nepal are. Does this make any sense?
What I am trying to say is that I see people who look Tibetan, Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and more. I don’t know what Nepalese is exactly, except for my friends who I have known for 10 years almost. They are Newari to be specific- the native people of the Kathmandu valley. They speak Newari, Nepali, Hindi, and English as well as other languages they may pick up when traveling or interacting with foreigners. They are a blend of Hindu and Buddhist. There are strict Hindus here, probably from Indian origin. There are strict Buddhists here, probably from Tibet. They are definitively both.
Going to the temples and shrines, like India is casual and common place. Perhaps even more so as the shrines are everywhere here- a type of fashion statement put in place by the Malla kings who ruled here over 200 years ago. There are deities I have never heard of, or have heard of but they are slightly altered here. There is a deity or shrine for everything and it is not superstition. All people use these shrines as they move to and from places in a highly chaotic, ancient urban jumble.
People may use a temple regularly- like Prabina, my hostess who goes to the next door Ganesha temple every morning for Puja. Two large, shallow baskets of golden marigolds are on the floor in the kitchen. She buys them in bulk and will use them up day by day for the puja each morning. She sprinkles them with water and keeps them on the roof to keep them fresh.
People may use shrines casually, like Nabin, my host who has walked me around and drove me around in numerous directions- acknowledging some shrines simply through a gesture and chant and others through the lighting of candles and the red mark of a ticka on the forehead. The other night he took me to a white Avaloketishvara shrine that was breathtaking. I can’t describe it in any way to give it justice. The street is crazy, we take a turn off of it towards the temple and it gets quieter, we see her/him from a distance and already he/she glows. The temple has layers that are open that lead you towards the central chamber where the image is sheltered. There are certain steps people take, not always the same to approach the center, once there you can pay a few rupees for “butter light candles” which you light from a burning candle, circle three times clockwise in front of your face and the statue as you perhaps pray, an attendant, not necessarily a priest then takes it and offers it directly to the statue, then returns it to a platter. You then wave your hands over the flame and bring it to your eyes, crown, heart, whatever, and then take a ticka or a few flower petals and leave the front to make way for someone else. In this case the shrine was quite empty and felt very intimate and alive. We may have spun prayer wheels as we circumambulate the central chamber and then reached up to strike a bell as we exited. Then we are back onto the chaotic street in route to something mundane.
A funny side note to this story is as we approached the central chamber, Nabin got a phone call, answered it, stood in front of the shrine and talked for a few moments, then signed off and proceeded. For me this is a big deal, for him it is life, no disrespect to the great Avaloketeshvara.
There is more and more of course- a few more notes and then goodnight.
I have decided that the sound of Asia so far, is a honking horn. That and a man “hacking”- clearing his chest and throat, then spitting up and out what is willing to go. this is sad of course- an indication of modernization/westernization coming too fast for peoples good.
In India and here men are very affectionate with each other. They wrap their arms around each other, interlace arms and hands, stand back to front, I have even seen men standing front to front. these are not gay men, this is the culture.
Dogs have it a bit better here than in India I think.still roaming freely, but not as mangy looking. The fact that our dogs and cats live with us is pretty odd to most of them.
People work really hard here-in India and Nepal, I have taken many pictures of people carrying heavy, heavy loads on their heads or shoulders or backs. they are walking as cars and trucks wiz buy. There must be an easier way, but meanwhile they are strong and do what they need to to get paid or get their materials to market.
To wear a pollution mask is an enlightened thing to do here. Earplugs wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I can enjoy these things for awhile but to live in it would be treacherous. But then again they are strong,right? Right.
Load Setting- I think that is what it is called. Kathmandu areas/zones lose power at scheduled intervals every day. For 45 hours a week total. This means that the power goes out and everyone in that zone must make due for a few hours- 3 or 4. Some people have generators but most either go dark or light candles. Tonight, it goes out as Nabin and I are walking down a busy street. There is a collective gasp. Everyone knows it is coming, but it still is a bit of a shock. Now only the motorbike lights illuminate the street. Again, small generator lamps go on in some shops and candles in most. It is actually quite interesting for me to experience and gives the town a slower and softer quality that I appreciate.
I am slow by nature, but can dodge bikes, rickshaws, motorbikes and cars as well as anyone native. It is a simple matter of survival instinct and no thinking, meditation background helps with that.
I used to not like crowds but now feel fine in them. You become anonymous and yet have your intention to get somewhere. It is like a big video game, virtual reality of sorts. It will feel lonely to be back in the USA with all that space and relative calm and quiet.
Goodnight for now. Blessings, Natasha
Natasha Korshak is a long-time teacher and trainer of yoga, meditation, mindfulness and MBSR, and has been working in the field of integrative health and wellness her entire professional career. She is a graduate of the Interfaith Theological Seminary and an ordained Interfaith Minister specializing in contemplative practice, grief processing, and spiritual direction. Her study and training of mind/body/spirit methods is extensive and she has learned from many of the pioneers in their discipline. As the founder and director of the Sol Center she is well regarded for her depth, warmth, authenticity, and the smile in her voice.