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Journeys : Feb March 2012
just taken place, as devotees are clearing away debris. I travel through the busy tourist mecca of Thamel on the way to Swayambhu Temple. Dogs loll in the doorways of houses and small shops. Motorbikes zoom past honking hor ns. The air is thick with choking dust f licked up from the roads by passing vehicles. The temple is crowded with mischievous monkeys and festooned with prayer f lags. Next stop is Patan Durbar Square, an ancient complex of palaces and pagoda temples, w ith a perpetually-flowing fountain used as a water source. The following day I meet my fellow retreatees and we drive up the narrow winding road to hilly Nagarkot. Buses reverse and manoeuv re to allow other vehicles to pass, while scores of motorbike riders quickly jam up and fill all available passing space. The solitar y male in our group calls our attention to the wide variety of beers advertised on large billboards. Small cafes w ith intriguing names such as Peace Home, Nirvana, Chill Out and Sunr ise perch precar iously on the outside edges of steep mountain bends. We pass signs to the Hotel at the End of the Universe. We are staying at the Fort Resort, astride the top of the hill, with cloud-covered views to the Himalayas. A snowy peak pokes its head out of the clouds and promises more to come. Next morning a cheeky bird calls me clearly from outside my window, so I stumble out of bed and look out. I see that dawn will gift me with a rare clear view of the mountains – I’m rewarded with the sight of the sun’s red orb r ising on the snow-capped Himalayas. The eastern faces of the slopes catch the first rays and glow bright white. By degrees the shapes of the mountains become clearer. I sit mesmerised, watching the scene unfold in the cold dawn for one and a half hours, until calls to the daily yoga class break my reverie. Our day tr ip to the ancient city of Bhaktapur takes us through narrow alleyways to large public squares filled with temples, tourists and bazaars. I bargain for pashminas, a striped yak blanket, brightly patterned woollen caps and a little brass spoon. We lunch at a rooftop restaurant with a commanding view over Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Vegetarian pakodas dipped in chilli sauce accompanied by spicy milky Nepali tea hit the spot. Some of our party are reluctant to eat their yoghurt, hav ing seen the yoghurt-making process nearby, where it is fer mented in shallow terracotta bowls nestled in straw in a warm hut. We are fortunate to be here during the five-day festival of Tihar where crows, dogs, cows, oxen and brothers and sisters are celebrated on separate days. The dogs sport marigold necklaces and red dots on their foreheads. Groups of children sing and dance in the hotel forecourt and women dress in red saris. We watch a young girl paint a circle with cow dung and red mud outside her front door, connecting the circle to a wide line into the house and family altar. She painstakingly decorates the circle with marigolds. All too soon our retreat draws to a close and we head our separate ways back to our normal lives. The memories of friendliness, flowers, noise, confusion, laughing children, roar ing traffic, dust, dogs, prayer flags and prayer wheels, temples, curries, cold Everest beer and warm milky tea will linger with me. But the sight of the snow-capped Himalayas greeting the daw n has sliced my life in two – the before and the after of having the privilege to w itness the awesome hand of nature. Opposite p ag e: Dawn on the Himalayas, B oudhanath Stupa Clockwise this page: Kath mandu International Airport, Bhaktapur Du rbar Square, the mon keys of Swayambhu Temple Destinations February / March 2012 19
Apr May 2012