Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 116 - Arrival in Kathmandu and a Live Cremation Ceremony

Things have really gotten better since arriving in Nepal, but one last rant about India! The process of leaving the international airport in Delhi was quick, with a lot less security checkpoints compared to Srinagar. One thing that didn't make sense was exchanging currency at the airport. Apparently, it is illegal to bring 500 and 1,000 Indian rupee notes into Nepal and they could get confiscated upon arrival if they are found. This is due to recent counterfeiting of these Indian Rupee notes in Nepal. But for some reason, if you are travelling to Nepal, you cannot exchange your Indian Rupees to US Dollars, or any other currency for the matter... How does this make any sense? We can't get rid of these notes, but could possibly get them confiscated upon arrival! I ended up just changing my larger Indian Rupee notes to smaller ones to avoid the confiscation...

Upon arrival, I was picked up by a couchsurfer who offered to house me for a couple days. He took me to another couchsurfer's home, a French woman named Sophie, who was so kind and accommodating! We talked a little about her work at an NGO, and some of her experiences traveling the world. She has been living in Nepal for the past two years, and Kathmandu is one of her favorite cities to live in. She lived in Los Angeles for a year, but didn't like it too much.

She took me to Pashupatinath, which is the largest Hindu temple in Nepal. The Bagmati River runs through it and flows to the Ganges River in India. The water was filthy, where people bathed in it, used it as holy water, and also dumped cremated bodies into it. We witnessed a couple of public cremation ceremonies while we were there, with different platforms used for the different castes the deceased were a part of. The whole process was shocking to watch, and I got a little emotional just watching the people mourning. But then again, Sophie and her friend John told me that they sometimes hire mourners for these ceremonies. Sophie also told me that the priest who performs the cremations has to eat a part of the dead body as a part of the process. I didn't get a chance to witness this, although I don't think I would want to. It was also noted by a tour guide that kids 5 years old or younger who have died do not get cremated, but get buried at the bottom of the river because they don't have the opportunity to achieve nirvana because they didn't live long enough in the world...

There was a bull statue is in the middle of the temple as well, and legend has it, that the God Shiva and the bull agreed to have sex with each other, first Shiva would “have sex” with the Bull, and then in return, the Bull would “have sex” with Shiva. When it was time for the Bull to “have sex” with Shiva, the God ran into the temple complex, and now, the Bull waits outside for the God to come out... Interesting how some of these stories come about...

We headed back to Sophie's place, but not before having some delicious Tibetan Momo's (Buffalo Meat Dumplings). They reminded me of Chinese dumplings and I look forward to more of these in my travels through this country.

At the end of the night, John and I headed to Thamel, which is the big backpacker area for some really good sirloin steak! It would be the first time I had a western steak in my entire trip, and every bite was savory and mouthwatering! I already love the food available here too! I ended up walking back to Sophie's place alone and in the dark, and it took about 30 minutes to get there, but was so easy because all the locals were so helpful when I asked how for directions.

Swimming during Cremation Proceedings

Cremations on Platforms for Different Castes

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