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Monday, October 12, 2009


As I have mentioned before, I love watching new places wake up in the morning, the ritual of it all as people go about their daily routines. Sadly, however, Kathmandu wakes up a little earlier than I do, or earlier than I used to I should say. The choir of dogs barking does not quite drown out the honking horns of the busses, the bell ringing or the chants being sung by the man who does laps around the neighborhood every morning pushing his bicycle. With the 'when in Rome' mentality, and as an alternative to lying in bed with our pillows over our ears, we have taken to joining in.

Being out and about in the mornings here in Kathmandu is especially interesting. You don’t have to look very far to witness both Hindu and Buddhist rituals being practiced and prayers being offered. From the grand temples where candles are lit and sacrifices are made, to women collecting jasmine blossoms (the sacred flower of the Hindu love God), to the individual early morning worshippers seemingly alone with their prayers at the park where we run, the passion for spirituality is evidenced everywhere. And ofcourse, not just in the mornings.

Last weekend Troy and I visited Pashupatinath, Nepal's most important Hindu temple sitting on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, a popular cremation site. Now I'm not talking about a location for funerals per say, or wakes, or even private moments of reflection here. What I'm talking about is very public burning of bodies (for lack of any more tactful description) on the banks of the river. Sure, there is some ritual involved, but remarkably little ceremony by our standards. Logs are laid, a body is lifted on top, and the fire is lit. Some friends and family do attend but this is in addition to dozens of tourists (most with an embarassingly long zoom lens), tour guides, hawkers, and yes, even cotton candy and balloon animal sellers looking on from the opposite bank.

As we took in the scene, looking in one direction at flames rising up from a platform and ashes being swept into the water, and looking in the other direction at the children jumping from the footbridge into the very same river below as if emphasizing the very open and calm attitude towards death that we have found in so much of the world, it was impossible not to reflect on our own mortality. Contemplating the contrast of life and death playing out before us left us with an uncomfortable sense of intruding on something very personal on one hand and a comfortable peace with the circle of life being accepted so openly on the other.

It was definitely an interesting experience but we made an abrupt exit when we suddenly became keenly aware that the smoke we were inhaling was not exactly from a simple campfire. And in case you're wondering, no, I could not muster an appetite for cotton candy either.

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