The weather was perfect as we took off on the Buddha Air mountain flight at 6.30am; on a sunny Christmas Eve the stage was set for my first sighting of Mount Everest. As I approached the cock pit about 15 minutes into the flight a perfect pyramid came into view, surrounded by its slightly inferior mountain family.
Over the next half an hour or so I enjoyed views over the Himalayas but it was hard to shake that first view from my memory! The mountain stands proud above all others across the Earth and seeing it gave me both an incredible respect for those who have stood on its summit and a complete lack of understanding about why many have tried knowing the chances of failure are so high, and of course, life threatening.
I took many photos, but the image of that peak is ingrained in my mind. It looked big and dangerous and bleak. There did not seem to be much snow, and although this is the dry season, this is yet another symbol of global climate change. That evening I spoke to Suhail in Sam’s Bar in Thamel, and he was telling me that it is much warmer at this time of year now than it was in the past.
Monkey Temple was incredible! What a beautiful place to visit on a bright Christmas morning. Nepal is populated with both Buddhists and Hindus, but so many have wished us a Happy Christmas as we embark on a tour of holy sites around Kathmandu.
Approaching the temple the prayer flags flutter in the breeze taking with them the blessings of the sky and space, air and wind, fire, water and earth, represented by the colours of blue, white, red, green and yellow respectively.
We threw coins into a wishing pot and walked around somewhat mesmerised at the grandeur of the temple complex. There was still some evidence of earthquake damage, but work was being done on repairs – temples have often been prioritised over the needs of people, which means that we passed aid camps still populated with people unfortunate enough to lose their homes.
On the approach to the Hindu temple that was to be our second stop of the day we came upon a sight that I found completely fascinating. The river bank is lined on one side by pyres on which bodies are lain for an open cremation ceremony on the day of death. There were many stages in progress today, and at times it felt uncomfortable to be there as the air was filled with the whaling grief of wives and mothers through the pre-cremation phases of the ceremonies. I often felt like I shouldn’t be there, but there was something bewitching about the whole scene and it was hard to break my gaze from the events unfolding in front of me.
We saw bodies, wrapped in cloths of white and orange awaiting cremation. As one rested peacefully on bed of bamboo family members covered the orange cloth with strips of yellow and orange flowers to adorn the body with colour. Further along the river there were bodies at different stages of cremation, and though this may sound morbid, it was a dignified process that seems to enable all members of the community to offer support and friendship as the deceased are laid to rest.
The river joins the holy waters in Varanasi – an area I will learn and share much more about later in the trip as I make my way into India.
We met Sadhu, Hindu monks, with their gloriously painted faces in bright yellow, red and white. Delicate dots and flowers adorned their faces as they posed for photographs (at a cost, of course!).
Finally, to conclude a day of spellbinding new experiences for me, having not previously visited Hindu or Buddhist sites, we went to another Buddhist temple. We ate lunch in the ‘Best View Restaurant’ overlooking a Peace Ceremony taking place over the Christian festive period, where monks prayed as people circled the outside of the temple spinning the prayer wheels as they completed their odd number of circuits.
We were invited into the monastery where monks chanted – their song providing a calming accompaniment to the beautiful room in which they sat. A large Buddha could only be seen once up close if standing, the ceiling covering much of him at a distance. Ornate gold patterns conflicting with the simplicity of the monks in worship.
I certainly have a lot to learn about both Hinduism and Buddhism, but seeing the temples and experiencing some of the worship rituals has been incredible. Our guide told us myths about lotus flowers and monkeys, as well as facts and information in quantities too big to recall.
This was a memorable Christmas Day concluded with traditional Nepali food, wine and new friends. I cannot wait to see more of Nepal, though it is sad to leave Kathmandu so soon. I will certainly return as I am sure there is much more to see…and Base Camp is still on my bucket list!