“I think I’m going to Kathmandu.” -Bob Seger
WESTERN SENSES IN AN EASTERN LAND
The traffic in Kathmandu has a colossal impact on the senses. Cars move fast. Dirt flies high. Dogs, cows and monkeys are everywhere. There are no stoplights, no traffic lines, no crosswalks, no observable rules for driving or crossing any street anywhere. Honking horns substitutes for turn signals. Cars are old and banged up but nimble. Dirt floors in houses and an absence of internet access is normal, as are dirty fingernails, torn shoes and very happy faces.
Smiles are everywhere. “Namaste!” is the universal greeting around every corner from friends and strangers alike. No one looks put upon. No one seems troubled. Walking the streets is a complex mixture of friendliness, bartering for taxi fares and jockeying for position in the street. It is exciting, glorious, dirty and exhausting.
You eat the air. You feel the sounds. You smell daily life. To see is to be visually overwhelmed by color, speed, mass and volume. Bleating goats, howling dogs, chattering monkeys and monastery gongs are a daily symphony. The days are sunlit and radiant, and the nights have an icy bite. Human touch becomes a solid form of reassurance amidst the chacophany. Thus, there is always a hug upon meeting any acquaintance or friend.
To live on the grounds of a monastery (that’s where I stayed while in Kathmandu) is insightful. Even though it is a short walk to some major Kathmandu streets, it is a quiet, world apart from the daily pandemonium of people, cars, scooters and animals. One only hears children being happy, the morning kung fu/calisthenics practice, monastery bells and gongs. The smells are of breakfast and incense. Because it is independent of city living, hot water, electrical power and many facets of daily living have to be conserved. It’s not a matter of rationing, but rather of being considerate. What you take (hot water) might mean someone else doesn’t get any. Thus, showers are short and personal preparations are minimal. Each day was about being with others and seeing the sights.
There was a new adventure accompanying each exotic destination. I can now say that I have watched dead bodies prepared for the funeral pyre, sat with tantric sadhus (spiritual practitioners) who covered themselves in the ashes of human remains, watched a spiritually enlightened being smoke a cigarette while discussing kundalini awakening, crashed an asana class on the peak of a mountain top, witnessed the marvelous fabrication of buddha statues from nothing, seen the inside of a free-yogi’s Himalayan cave, and been to a tantric initiation ceremony. I can also testify to the outrage of temples being used as places where tricksters swindle well-meaning tourists, and to the sadness of abandoned animals searching for food and shelter.
Travel Tips for the Soul-Minded:
Throughout my Nepalese travels, I was learning. I was learning about myself, what matters, watching how not-to-behave and what lessons I will take home with me from this wild experience on the other side of the planet. Here are the top 10 things I will tell my kids if they should ever decide to go on an adventure like mine:
(a.k.a. the lessons from Kathmandu):
1. Life is too short to waste on worrying about what your hair looks like.
2. Being kind makes everyone look beautiful.
3. Always wear good shoes and be prepared to walk in any direction, especially up.
4. Give away what you don’t really need. It makes your suitcase and your heart feel lighter.
5. Speak less, listen more. You will be misunderstood less often that way.
6. Always bring baby wipes everywhere you go, even if you don’t have a baby.
7. Don’t expect to be picked up at the airport. Independence weaves confidence into your character.
8. Never be too busy to spend time with others, no matter what.
9. It is rude to refuse a soda, even if you are not thirsty. Just say “thank you” and drink.
10. Never be surprised by the unrestrained generosity of the people around you. Just try to be like them.
Blog Image Note from Soul Flower: While Mara wasn’t in Nepal for the recent earthquake, its people are still dealing with aftershocks, and are now having to face the long and daunting task of rebuilding Kathmandu and surrounding cities/villages. As global citizens, when one group hurts, the world hurts. If you’d like to donate, we recommend checking out these vetted and approved organizations.
Mara wore the A Thousand Petals Ebb & Flow Top