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Nepal – Week 1: June 15th-21st

Nepal – Week 1: June 15th-21st

June 21, 2009

I had the best flight experience coming in on Singapore Airlines. The vegetarian meals were delicious, the service was great and the layover wasn’t so bad. The Singapore airport was big and clean and I got a foot massage for the first time =)

Tribhuvan International Airport of Nepal

Tribhuvan International Airport of Nepal

I arrived in Kathmandu on time but apparently there was a big strike that day. I was a little confused as to why no cars were approaching the the airport to receive any arriving passengers. I guess some important member or leader of the Maoist party had been found dead the night before…or something like that from what little I gathered later. My first conversation with a person upon arriving was in Hindi, so that was a good sign to know that I would be able to converse in my native tongue of Urdu. I could pretend to be Indian..hehehe. Though it wasn’t long before I walked away laughing at this cab driver who was trying to con me into a ride where I was headed for $100! “Kia bukwas ker rahey ho, hum toh Emreeka mein bhi $100 dollar nahi they te taxi kay liyae!” I said to him and walked away. (which translates to something like “what nonsense , we don’t even pay a $100 for a cab ride in America.”)

Shechen Guest House

Shechen Guest House

I decided to walk down and away from the airport into the city of Kathmandu by foot like most other people were doing. I was looking for any place to access my email and get the number for the student services coordinator for the school–I had misplaced his number and couldn’t turn on my laptop because the battery had died. To my surprise ALL stores were shut at 12:30pm, with their owners and workers standing outside watching the strike on the streets. I was feeling not so hopeful about logging into my email since no cyber cafes were open until I finally found some random hole-in-the-wall travel agency place that had a computer and I asked the person if I could use it for 5 minutes. I got the number called Gerry, from Rangjung Yeshe Institute, and he told me the person picking up the students would find me if I just stayed put where I was. And a few minutes later, Tracy, one of the work-study students at the school approached me along with the driver and another summer session student, Jamie, who is enrolled in the Sanskrit language class. I was dropped off at my hotel, Shechen Guest House, and I was very impressed with the place. Free breakfast is served daily from the vegetarian garden cafe, which is part of the the hotel.

Boudha Stupa

Boudha Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

As jet lagged as I was , I felt too stimulated to not walk around and explore the new environment. So Jamie and I walked around Boudhanath, a Buddhist village inside of Kathmandu. This little town, a religious center for Nepal’s considerable population of Tibetan exiles, is centered around one of the largest stupas in the world–Boudha Stupa–built some time around 600AD. Apart from the local Tibetans and Nepalis there is also a sizable community of foreign Buddhist students. There are probably over 30 Buddhist monasteries in this town–Shechen Gompa being one of them, which is adjacent to where I am staying. All of the gompas (Tibetan term for monastery) are unique and beautifully rich with primary colors and Buddhist iconography and murals on the walls.

my room :)

my room :)

After walking around and figuring out some land marks close to my guest house, I went to sleep dead beat before sunset and the next morning I woke up with a roach in my pants! ahhhh…so I quickly grabbed the little critter, whom I had probably been scratching for the last 10 minutes before realizing it wasn’t an itch, and ran for the bathroom and then I hit my head on the wall above the door because the door way is too short for my height. I think the average Nepali height must be 5′ 4″ or something. After that lil scene was over, I was happy to be up at 7 o’clock in the morning waking up to the bells from the monastery next door. Having slept for over 12 hours I felt fresh and I explored this day on my own, trying to find wi-fi cafes and local shops. I picked up small little things I needed along the way…a pair of sunglasses, a calculator and an alarm clock. I also bought some iodized salt to gargle with warm water because I thought I felt something in my throat and I might be getting sick but my throat just had mucus built up from all the pollution and dust every where. I keep hearing that Kathmandu is the one of the most polluted cities in the world next to Mexico City. I don’t know if its a fact but I did decided to buy one of those surgical masks to cover my face. Even the locals wear it and I thought it was a good idea to have one around for whenever need be.

I got a hair cut the next day for .50 cents! I ended up tipping the guy two dollars anyway for the head and shoulder massage along with buzzing my hair so nice and clean. He refused to use the clippers and preferred the scissors to cut off all my hair which I thought was interesting preference. I think he was just as entertained by our conversation in Hindi and he wouldn’t believe me that I was not Indian. He was a nice guy and I might go back to him for a massage again. Then I bought a nice back pack because the one I brought is too heavy and its also black and my back gets too hot and sweaty. I came home and took my first shower in Nepal…it felt wonderful. I met up with Jamie and another student, Nikki, (who has been traveling all over Asia, and most recently India) and they had set up a yoga class with a local instructor! For the first time I did yoga in South Asia with a brown instructor! LOL…he was a good teacher and very funny. I think he might have incorporated every style of yoga possible to impress us…even laughing yoga! hahaha

Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Centre for Buddhist Studies

Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Centre for Buddhist Studies

Thursday was orientation at the school and everyone got to meet all the faculty and other students in the summer program. There are probably over 80 some students and they have come from all parts of the world. Canadians, Europeans, Latin Americans, and surprisingly a good amount from Colorado..hehe. I met one other person from California and she is from Santa Monica! Some of the people are PhD or M.A. students, some are undergrad like me and some just here because this is what they wanted to do. Majority are here for the Tibetan language class, which includes a stay with a Tibetan host family. In my Buddhist studies class there are probably no more than a dozen of us and we have a nice translator from Harvard. There are a few others doing the Sanskrit class and thats the smallest group out of the three courses offered.

Pagoda in Patan (Lalitpur)

Pagoda in Patan (Lalitpur)

The next day the school had set up a little field trip for the whole group–two big buses full of us–to the old historic town of Patan (also known in Sanskrit as Lalitpur “city of beauty”). We had a great tour guide and saw wonderful architecture of pagodas and stupas and statues from various periods of Kathmandu history. Patan has a long Buddhist history and the four corners of the city are marked by stupas said to have been erected by the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka around 250 BC.

Saturday was health orientation..and it was as helpful as it was fear provoking. Just talking about cyclospora from fecal contaminated water and rabies from stray dogs and monkeys and other animals is scary! Other precautions about water and food safety were mentioned and I think most of the students preferred not attending because it just scares people when the administrator tells you “its not a matter of if you are going to get sick, but when and how bad.” Yikes! I think most students have just accepted that everyone will get sick once and the time to recover will follow naturally. No big deal.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche

After all that we attended a talk, or “teaching” from the Rinpoche (term for head master at the monastery that is part of the school) on the topic of practicing the Dharma and on the concept of dependent origination (aka interdependence). It was a great talk, and the main shrine hall was filled with over a 100 some westerners in the audience.

Today we are having a pool party in a park! I’m excited =) And tomorrow classes begin.

I have been having a great time with no regard to the fact that Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world. There are no street signs and people drive as and where they wish, much like in Pakistan. The electricity goes out a few times a day..even during the shower I took last night tonight. To be in a foreign yet familiar land is a strange feeling. I can relate to the culture yet so many things invoke a mystic sense of awe. Sometimes it reminds me of my time in Dhaka but with a Buddhist theme. People are friendly and treat you with even more respect if they can understand Hindi. They are always surprised to know I am from Pakistan and studying at this school of Buddhism. The locals have probably met more foreigners from US or Europe than any Pakistani. There have been moments every day so far when I have almost had tears come to my eyes when just observing the humbleness of the locals and their hard working ethic and also their strive to modernize… especially the times when any imitation of the west is present. Walking around allies I hear desi songs on the radio or bollywood movies from TV sets which reminds me of Lahore. I am just as much fascinated being among the foreigners and students from abroad and their ways of acclimating to the South Asian culture. For instance, having to explain the use of the “lota” in the bathroom. The people of Kathmandu are very understanding of foreigners and probably used to their ways as well. Its only been a week and I am so grateful for having made all the time and effort in coming out here. No cell phone, no facebook, no drama. I feel like myself after a long time.

With love from Nepal,
Zain

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Ryan July 7, 2009 at 2:28 am

it’s easy to sense your tone of joy and adventure while reading this. great to hear you’re enjoying yourself and making the most of your trip!

i’m sorry it took me so long to find this blog, but now i’m not going anywhere. very inspirational writings friend! keep the posts coming.

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