Leaving Nepal now, destination Shanghai – financial engine for the East! 10 days in Kathmandu was too long, wish I’d been able to go on a trek. Insh’Allah!

Sera and Drepung. The Drepung Monastery was once the largest religious monastery in the world with over 10,000 monks in residence. Now it seems sadly quiet with only around 300 and China strictly vets who else may apply for entry. The place is close to Lhasa and houses some nice relics as well as CCTV cameras, even in the chapels. The toilets are rooted firmly in the Middle Ages, simple holes in the ground falling a story and where the monks use it for manure.

The Sera Monastery is famed for its debating monks. It consists of a fascinating hand slapping and gesturing whenever a point is made to the seated recipient and is loud, boisterous and fun. They debate such philosophical questions such as INSERT. Juxtaposed with this charming picture is the zoo of photographing tourists surrounding the novices. The scene made me think of Schrodinger’s Cat or how merely observing a phenomenon changes. Fulfilling Beijing’s wish that every religious institutions is reduced to a tourist destination where Disney actors play in a model monastery.

Namsto Lake. This holy lake is north of Lhasa and on the way we stopped at a local fair/horse and yak riding festival. No horses but I did see quoits being played for prizes, got shot at by a Tibetan boy with a BB gun and saw a riotous display of clothing worn by various Tibetan minorities. Namsto at 4700m altitude is enormous, actually the second largest lake in China and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a holy lake for Buddhists and there are many prayer flags and scarves draped around some sacred rocks. Pilgrims wander along the lake past photogenic yaks and on the opposite shore a chain of hills underlie the tallest mountain in the region at 7117m. The lake disappears at one end into the horizon and the atmosphere is calm and contemplative. No swimming unfortunately – my dipping of toes was sternly told off. Not so cold through, Lake Tarawera-esque.

Everest Base Camp. Spectacular. A long drive to get here through rugged, arid country dotted with oases of We stayed in the ‘Mont Blanc’ a yak tent hotel with our beds arrayed around a yak dung powered stove, togged up against the cold. The tent city is nestled between the arid valley walls, once the path of a large glacier, and now channeling a small steam gently moseying down from Mount Qomolangma – the local name for Everest. Hot damn! The sight was inspiring and beautiful and to me a personal highlight of my trip so far. I’ll let you into a secret – at this altitude colour appear more vivid, crisper, brighter and somehow  … just more colourful. The pinky orange glow of the sun setting like a scarf around Everest, the blue, blue, blue and white of the cloudy sky, the innumerable shades of brown, burnt russet – remnants of ancient rocks slowly crumbling into the valleys. The drive to Nepal was awesome – amazing how the landscape changes so much. The road was pretty dodgy and the potholes bounding us all over the places with sheer precipices on one side and imminent landslides threatening constantly.

Nepal. Poor, unfortunate and corrupt but with a wealth of resources, chiefly in its abundant water for generating hydro power. Subsequently of course, it’s a pawn in the regional great game between China and India both desirous of possessing it as a client state. Nepal of course happy to stay as a buffer and play them off against each other. Hilarious (but deadly serious) headline in the latest Nepali English-language newspaper – Nepali PM promises Chinese Politburo visitor to crack down on anti-China activities in Nepal e.g. Tibetan activists. Lots to see – Kathmandu is old and has a fascinating history in its own right.

Durbar Square chock-a-block with  Buddhist and Hindu temples, naff souvenir shops and erotic carvings. We were there for Indra Jatra, a Hindu festival, worshipping Lord Indra, the god of rain and the king of heaven. Went to the main event where the PM and all the ambassadors were and a few thousand Nepalis all going spare to snatch a sight of the Kumari – a living goddess who gets carted around for an hour in a golden chariot thing hauled by dozens of people. Oh and she is only 4 years old and only stays priestess until she reaches puberty and then she’s booted out with her family from the palace she lives in.

Former Royal Palace in Kathmandu. For those of you unfamiliar with Nepali politics – the king is dead, long live republicanism! The former king’s palace in central Kathmandu is now a museum. The previous king being somewhat unpopular. The lawn is uncut, the ground unkempt and the building itself slowly moldering away under a Government keen to expunge royal from all participation in today’s chaotic modern Nepal and establish its post-monarchist credentials. Fashionably dated décor and a razed dining outhouse where the royal family were massacred in 2001 thronged with school kids completing their assignments by noting where Prince X and King Y’s bodies where found. Opulent and sad – the family photos of the King and Queen were still at their bedside, the collected works of H.G. Wells and George Orwell in the library (yay!), group photos with Tito,  Ceauşescu and the President of the Maldives line the corridors. All in a good political student’s day!

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