Where our last post left off, we were enjoying the first few days in Kathmandu and adjusting to a culture simultaneously similar and disparate to our own at home.
After leaving the Monumental Paradise, our hostel in downtown Kathmandu, we visited two temples on the way to Kopan, a suburb where our first home stay took place.
The first temple, Pashupatinath, is a sacred Hindu site that sits alongside the Bagmati river.
It is common – a daily occurrence – for funerals to take place at the temple, and bodies are cremated in the open air on pyres lining the river. In our short visit we witnessed an ambulance rushing in a body wrapped in cloth, and the subsequent placement on the pyre, various blessings and ceremonies, and the lighting of the fire beneath the deceased. Several more followed, and at some points several fires were burning at once.
An initially shocking and overall very powerful experience, the colorful, crowded, and public nature of death on the banks of the Bagmati brings into question our traditional western attitudes toward death – or rather our pretense that death is taboo, unnatural, and ought not to be accepted or talked about.
The next place we visited was Boudhanath Stupa, a massive mandala-shaped Buddhist temple (one of the largest both in Nepal and in the world). Similar to the Monkey Temple, prayer flags stretch across the sky above the Stupa. Shops and cafes form a circle around the temple, and we had a snack on a rooftop with a beautiful view of the golden peak and the hundreds of prayer flags.
We arrived in Kopan that evening, just in time to have dinner with our host families; Will and I stayed with Binita, a teacher at the local school where we worked, and her two parents, her brother, and her brothers wife. They showed us immense kindness, welcoming us into their home, showing us around the village, and making sure we always had PLENTY to eat – it’s customary in Nepal to keep heaping more and more food onto your plate until you feel like you’re going to pop. As our local guide, program facilitator, and friend Gokul likes to say, “In Nepal too much is just enough”. Gokul has accompanied us on a number of adventures, and we owe him immeasurable gratitude for helping us facilitate our home stays and our projects at the school. He will also be helping lead our trek to Annapurna base camp. In these photos, Gokul challenged me to a tickle fight, only to find out the hard way that I am the ultimate tickle fighter. Let that be known.
We spent our days at the local school, working on various projects – we painted several walls with a clean coat of yellow paint, hauled rocks for use in a retaining wall, and painted a mural of a world map on the side of the meeting hall.
The community at the school was remarkably warm and kind, welcoming us with a program in their meeting hall and blessing us with tikka (red marks on the forehead) and scarves. When we left, they held another program, and a number of students prepared songs and dances which they performed for us. We sang Lean On Me in return, and afterward, they played music and everyone danced together for almost an hour.
One morning we visited the Kopan Monastery, one of the oldest in the area, and essentially the origin of western Buddhism as we know it – in the mid to late 20th century, Kathmandu was a breeding ground for hippie culture and the monks at Kopan Monastery began to teach classes and workshops on Buddhism to westerners – many of whom took these ideas back to the States or to other countries.
On Saturday, we had a free day with our host families. Will and I went back to Boudhanath Stupa and traveled to a nearby national park for a hike; other families went out for meals, walked to various monasteries, went to concerts in town, and more.
Overall, I think that I speak for most of the group when I say that the home stays were great learning experiences, and many in the group formed strong bonds with their host families. It was hard to leave, but we’re looking forward to the trek!
In addition to forming bonds with our families, the group has been getting closer and closer, and already feels like a family in itself.
A few of us were sitting on the road one afternoon in Kopan sipping mango juice after a long day at the school, and I remarked to Marco how it seemed that the past two and a half weeks had passed unbelievably quickly. He gave me a weird look and told me we had only been in Nepal for 7 or 8 days, which it took me an embarrassingly long time to believe; I think that both the nature of the group and the nature of such intense travel has made it feel like we’ve known each other forever. I can’t imagine a better group, and I think most of us share the sentiment.
I’ve attached photos of everyone in the group with their host families, as well as some miscellaneous moments. We miss you all but are so very happy to be here 🙂