Palace Squares and Ancient Prayers
Part 2 of 90 Days in Nepal
At long last, we step foot into the Kathmandu Valley. But how to describe it? Sure its chaotic and dusty, but it's equally intricate and mysterious.
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By Kevin McFarland
Visited from April through June, 2018
We walked northwest down a small hill where the main street intersects with the airport. Hundreds of busses depart from this area to different parts of Kathmandu and beyond. We were beyond ourselves trying to find the right bus. “Thamel, Thamel” I meekly shouted, not even sure if my pronunciation were correct. Thamel is the tourist center of Kathmandu, the likely first stop for any visitor. Busses zoomed past so quickly that I had no chance to ask where they were headed. We stood there several minutes looking likely confused and lost to the local populace. Sure it would have been easier to jump in the taxi waiting outside the gate, but what would be the fun in that? Probably out of pity, a young man came to our aid and asked in broken English where we wanted to go. “Thamel” I replied. He gave a blank stare. “Thamel” I tried again, in a slightly different pronunciation. His face turned to more confusion. A different man seated near us overheard our awkward exchange and exclaimed - “Thamel!” The young man’s expression widened and quickly found us the right bus. Apparently, I hadn’t been saying it correctly, but it was a mistake I never made again for ‘Thamel.’ However, I made it repeatedly for almost all other Nepali words.
The bus being packed was an understatement. There was not an inch of open space as we leaned sideways across strangers all the while trying to avoid smashing their innocent feet. To add to the misery, we have four backpacks smacking our neighbors with every jolt of the bus. That same young man, now halfway across the bus, beckoned us to attempt to give him our backpacks as there was space in the upper compartments near him. We somehow succeeded in that feat and felt relieved to have, quite literally, that burden off our backs. And here we are in hour one of 90 days in Nepal, and we are already in debt to the kindness of a stranger.
After reaching our stop and clambering ungracefully out of the bus, we found ourselves in the heart of the Capitol of Nepal – Kathmandu. How to describe this chaotic concoction of a city? My initial thoughts and senses were in overdrive. In one arms reach there can be wealthy Nepali adorned in gold, children in school uniforms, and lame beggars. Cows sleep on the jam-packed streets, monkeys jump on our backs, and dogs awake from their slumber by day and take over the streets at night. No paved road lasts a week, causing endless dust to pollute the air. Power outages are a daily occurrence. Transportation involves cramming thirty adults into a minivan. Yet despite Kathmandu’s hectic nature, a clearer picture of this nation emerges – one of faith.
THE FIRST WEEK
The first few days we orientated ourselves to this country as most of travelers as we wandered countless temples, shrines, stupas and palaces that have stood for centuries, some even a millennium. They have stood the test of time during the Silk Road, observed the brutal civil war that brought the nation from a monarchy to a democracy, and most recently stood firm in the 2015 earthquake that brought destruction to the country. The valley’s palace squares show remarkable craftsmanship, artistry, and reverence that unites the nation and stands as a symbol of resiliency. But it’s through religion where these ancient treasures serve an even greater purpose.
Hinduism and Buddhism dominates daily life here, permeating every nook and cranny. Incense fills the atmosphere with aroma and competes with the dusty air. Sacrificial food lies scattered on temple floors. Prayer wheels are spun clockwise continuously. Trees are treated with reference and cows are worshipped. The people that walk the palace squares and make offerings to the carven temples transform this city into a breathing symphony of ancient prayers. But do those prayers answer?
On Thursday morning of the first week. we piled into a minivan to transport us to Patan, Kathmandu’s sister city, to walk the ancient, royal streets. 27 Nepali’s and the two of us were crammed beyond belief in the van - pop music playing and dust coming in. Within 30 minutes, we arrived in Patan and forked over 30 rupees to the maniac driver. Little did we know these local ‘buses’ would be our daily adrenaline rush. Patan, beyond its dirtiness and pollution, was a beautiful historical city. We retreated to a local coffee shop with excellent views of its palace square, joined by a few other Nepali students. A familiar English song played in the background, leading to a conversation with a young student. The conversation turned personal and turned once again towards faith. But this time was different.
A series of events, some remarkable and most average, led us back into the tourist center of Kathmandu - Thamel - but this time in a tiny, second floor room hidden above a dumpling shop. A small gathering of Nepali’s met weekly in this simple room to share their faith in a country increasingly hostile to something different. Simple believers in Jesus, but by no means a finished product. Everyone of us in that room had a story, some with Everest sized problems. A young Nepali woman introduced herself and, without hesitating, invited us to her simple apartment. As we departed, we followed her to her abode - a small living area in a local part of town. She graciously treated us with freshly cooked chicken and vegetables while we talked about life in this nation. Her childhood story was haunting and dark, but there was a light in her that was no match for the darkness. Life may have dealt her a thorn in the flesh, but she was bound to overcome it. We left that apartment with a sense of satisfaction to experience real local life and gain our first Nepali friend. However, little did we know this relationship would drastically change the landscape of our 90 days in Nepal.
But first, the mountains were calling…
- This is Part 2 of a 4-Part Weekly Series "90 Days in Nepal."
- Read Part 3 below. Subscribe to not miss it!