April 13, 2019
I have to say that I never get tired of noodles for breakfast!
After breakfast, Sagar and our intrepid driver Zyanu picked us up at the Hyatt. We checked out as we are going to Nagarkot for one night and returning to the Hyatt tomorrow. As he did yesterday, Sagar had a paper prepared and told us the temperature expectations, the sunrise and sunset time and the plan for the day.
Here are some pictures from our trip there.
In case you think this country isn’t tech savvy – look at what they have in some of their buses. Others are very primitive.
A few things we have learned from Sagar – there are 3 types of temples here.
Pagodas, shikharas and stupas. I will highlight each one.
There are 3 important Hindu gods:
Brahma, the creator, Bhisnu/Bishnu, (or Vishnu), the protector and Shiva, the destructor (of bad people)
There are 5 elements of importance in Buddhism – air, water, fire, land and sky (space).
The dorje is the symbol of power. We are standing in front of one in this picture.
The Buddhist chant in Nepal (and we hear it playing in many places) is om ma ne pad me hum which means “I wish, no one has suffering in their life”.
Our first stop was at Bhaktapur. This is the former capital of the valley and was an important city on the trade route to Tibet. It has preserved its character better than the other two cities in the Kathmandu Valley due to its more isolated location. It is about 14 km east of Kathmandu.
We really hit a great time to be here. It is Nepal’s New Year!
We passed through the city gates and the first thing we saw was a goat. Sagar told us that due to the festival that was taking place, this goat was about to be sacrificed. Many activists want animal sacrifice to be banned but that hasn’t happened so far. 108 is considered a sacred number in Hinduism and Buddhism, so for festivals, 54 goats and 54 bulls might be sacrificed. Others sacrifice chickens or ducks. For those who don’t believe in animal sacrifice, they use the coconut water and sometimes eggs for the sacrifice. This woman has that type of sacrifice prepared.
Participants believe that animal sacrifices to the Hindu goddess Gadhimai will end evil and bring prosperity.
Warning: we did take some pictures of this, and I might want to become a vegetarian now (almost there anyway). I was very sad to see it but recognize that it is part of their culture.
We later saw a chicken and a boy holding a duck that was to be sacrificed. Sagar did become a vegetarian after witnessing animal sacrifice.
I cannot imagine that these two boys want their duck to be killed.
Anyway, on a brighter note, this area is known for its yogurt, which is called King Curd. Kids here say it should be called President Curd now since they don’t have a king any more!
There are three main squares here and we visited them all. Durbar Square is the main square of the city and with the festival going on, Sagar took us quickly through to the other two first. We will return later.
At Taumadhi Square, the second most important, there are many stone spouts, and fabulous wood and stone carvings like the ones we saw in Kathmandu yesterday. These are made of solid pieces of stone or wood. This area was hit hard by the 1934 earthquake and the 2015 one. Sagar says that it is predicted that earthquakes come every 80 years here. Most of the destruction in 1934 wasn’t reconstructed since historical significance wasn’t well understood then. Now, tourist entrance fees are collected for preservation of the culture, cleaning the city, and making it one of the best tourist destinations in Nepal.
Today was the festival of Biska Jatra (New Year) and they raise a long pole with tree leaves attached – 90 degrees. This is done with ropes and logs – so amazing to see how they do it. It remains up for three days to a week and when it falls, it symbolizes the destruction of evil. We stayed in this area for almost 2 hours to watch this event. The place was packed with families, and there was a constant drum and cymbal serenade during the raising of the pole. It was like NY Eve in Times Square with the crowds!
When the pole was all the way up, there was a huge cheer from the crowd, including the ones on the building in the distance!
Some of the people and families we saw:
This chariot will be driven around the squares during the festival.
Other sights in the squares included the shops and many temples, some reconstructed, some still in pieces and some that withstood the earthquakes. The history here is just amazing.
We asked about the 6 sided star that looks like the symbol or Judaism, but here it stands for education – 6 stages of wisdom.
The other ones are the om, and the backward swastika, which in Buddhism symbolizes the footprints of the Buddha and nothing to do with Hitler’s use.
This is the traditional dress of the Newari (one of the ethnic groups) women, the red and black sari. People are now wearing them a bit shorter, so this woman has tattoos on her legs below where the sari ends. It is hard to see in this picture, Sagar says it is now common to see.
This temple is guarded by many animals, each one is said to be 10 times stronger than the former.
This young girl was having photos taken. We think she is in contention to be the next living goddess.
The water area was surrounded by cobras, very common to see them as they are valued by Hindus as protective.
This is a lingum, it symbolizes the phallus and vagina as no life would be possible without both. It is a common sight in the temple areas.
This is the gate to the royal palace. The king wanted to have 108 windows but had to settle for 54 as the building wasn’t big enough for 108.
We saw lots of houses that you could see had been divided, not physically but with a different look. Sagar described how sons live with their parents but reach a point where they don’t want to live so close, so parents divide the house to provide a separate space for each son.
Markets are always interesting.
They use mostly mustard oil here for cooking and even for skin (never knew there was such a thing). Before electricity, they used it for oil in their lamps. It is still used at some temples.
The last picture is beaten or flattened rice.
Rice leaves are also used to make these mats.
This is the famous peacock window.
Sagar is vigilant about buying us water and also gives us hand sanitizer all the time. He has amazing energy and it is good that we are in good shape because we are on the go all day. So much to see and learn.
We headed out of Bhaktapur to our next hotel in Nagarkot. They have different license plates here. The green ones are for tourist vehicles which Sagar says have top priority for everything because tourism is such an important part of their economy.
He warned us that the roads would be very bumpy on the way to Nagarkot. That was an understatement to be sure. If we thought they were bad, wow, these were terrible. We went from 3000 feet above sea level to 6886 feet and the roads were dirt, pot holed, windy and dusty. When motorbikes or buses came the other direction, there were times we just avoided a collision. Very exciting to say the least and Zyanu is a great driver.
The pollution is quite bad here, dust is part of that. We couldn’t really see the scenery well. There are lots of wheat fields, and both Bhaktapur and Nagarkot are farming areas.
We saw marijuana plants growing along the road and lots of goats. Bet they are happy!
Every so often there would be a small store, bar, guest house or restaurant.
After about an hour we arrived at our hotel, the Mystic Mountain Hotel in Nagarkot. The hotel is positioned so that you have views of the Himalaya Mountains and Mount Everest.
We were greeted with drinks and made comfortable for about 30 minutes as our room was not yet ready.
When we got to our room, wow, how we wish it was clearer because supposedly the sunrise and sunsets here are quite spectacular. You can see how hazy it is, so no spotting of the Himalaya vista right now. And how this hotel is built right into the hills.
Sagar said if it rains, the air will be clearer and we might have a better view. Well, shortly after we arrived, we had a storm – with lots of hail!
But it didn’t clear enough to see a sunset or much of the mountains. We will hope for a clear morning, when we will go back to the Hyatt in Kathmandu for our final days in Nepal. We had the special New Year’s dinner in the hotel and it was delicious. We were told that there are leopards in this area and the people do not go out at night. So we won’t either.