Saturday, April 2, 2011


reflection in a teapot.
I began my year in Israel and here I found myself in an Israeli restaurant on the other side of the world. After spending the morning wandering around the Kathmandu Durbar Square, taking in all the sights, and fending off the never-ending stream of wannabe tour guides, OR2K had just the vibe I was looking for.

I happily slipped off my shoes and walked to the mat that was to be my seat – all the while feeling the texture of the uneven, woven rug on my feet. Taking a seat and stretching my legs under the low table, I was very much reminded of the meal I’d had in the Bedouin tents just a few months earlier. I glanced through the menu, and quickly decided on falafel with humus, tahini, a cucumber salad and warm naan.

Facing forward I looked out through a wall of windows flanked by ornately decorated curtains. To my left the “wall’ was open – the tarp that usually covered it was pulled to the side. All around were old and new buildings – people were coming in and out of their apartments, watching us from their balconies and going about their business. From the ceiling hung an empty iron chandelier, a strand of chilies, and two large cloth butterflies – one orange, one blue. Hamsas decorated the wall. The voices of Nora Jones, Tracy Chapman and Colbie Caillat filled the air. Through a glass door to my right I could see the stereo – the bass indicators resembled the iconic Buddha eyes.

As I was enjoying my meal, and watching the people next to me sip pints grass green drinks, the likes of which one usually sees in the form of a shot at Jamba Juice, the San Francisco Bay Blues came on. Feeling content and wanting to prolong my time in this comforting place, I ordered some tea. The weather had been temperamental that morning, so when I’d finished my tea and biscuit and the sun peaked out again, I decided I should be on my way.

Next stop, Boudha. The Boudhanath stupa is one of the largest in the world. The population of the surrounding town consists primarily of Tibetan exiles. Crimson robed monks wander through the small alleyways and seas of tourists.

As I did at the Monkey Temple, I circled this stupa several times and on several different levels. First I scoped out the shops, then I climbed up the stairs and circled the upper level of the stupa, but I was drawn to the beautifully simple flower displays on the lower level and so I did a lap there as well. Eventually my luck with the weather ran out and so when a monk offered me a seat on the monastery steps, I gladly accepted.

The prayer wheels clinked away, bells tolled, and the prayer flags fluttered as I watched an elderly lady go around feeding the stray dogs. Carrying a large can, a bowl and a ladle, she approached each pooch. Carefully scooping food into the bowl, she placed it in front of one dog after another, making sure to gently shoo away anyone who tried to interfere with another’s food. She went so far as to come up the monastery steps and wake the sleeping dog behind me to make sure that he too got his meal.

When the rain intensified, I moved further back onto the porch, where an old lady invited me to sit down. Soon I found myself, with this lady and a monk on one side, and a mother and her two-year old on the other. A wall of legs in front of us, we settled in to wait out the rain.

I don’t speak Nepali and none of my companions spoke English, but we managed to interact via body language and smiles. Wanting to document this moment, I asked - by pointing at my camera, raising my eyebrows, and shrugging my shoulders – whether I could take a photo. Wagging their heads and smiling they agreed. Anisha, the two-year old, was most thrilled by this activity. She’s run to the column, pose for a moment, and run back to see herself on the camera’s screen, thus making it extremely difficult to capture a sharp image.

I wanted a picture of me with my female companions and so I asked the monk to take a photo. I don’t think he’d ever used a camera before. With my gibberish, unhelpful instructions, and the more helpful assistance of the interested crowd around us, he managed to snap a few photos. Yet someone was always missing from the frame. The monk settled back into his spot and I asked a younger member of the crowd to please take our photo.

There was one more destination on my list for the day, so when the rain subsided I decided it was time to move on. Anisha waved and then putting her hands together and bowing her head said goodbye in the more traditional Nepalese way. My simple interaction with this little group of people was the highlight of my week.

Having spent a significant time at a Buddhist temple that afternoon, it was now time to visit one of the world’s largest Hindu temples, Pashupatinath. Hindus believe that the body is made up of four elements – earth, wind, fire, and water. Through cremation these elements are released back into the atmosphere. 40-50 cremations take place at Pashupatinath every day. I arrived at dusk and as I approached the Bagmati River I could see smoke rising. Off to the right smoldering piles could be seen on cement blocks at the river’s edge. A man was sweeping ashes into the river. To my left there was music, dancing, and a festive atmosphere. Following the sound, I crossed the river.

On the opposite bank, a bed of logs had been created, and an elderly woman’s body rested upon it. A white sheet was draped over her. Final preparations were taking place. Ceremoniously the fire was lit and her body was covered with additional wood and dried grasses. The singing and chanting continued on the stage-like area behind me as the smoke rose. The whole ceremony was natural, peaceful, and beautiful.

From the simple - being in Israel then having Israeli food in Nepal, to the more complex - spending time with a young girl so easily amused by the simple pleasures in life to being present as another’s body is returned to the world – it is all part of life’s cycle. With night falling, I left the temple, but the images will stay with me forever.

1 comment:

  1. just beautiful .....thank you for sharing ... Love Mama