Introduction to Awe: Nepal, April 2017

If there’s is a major theme or learning I have taken from all my travels so far, it is that people are generally good, and that humans have a stunning capacity for variety and creativity. We truly contain multitudes. If Tibet was all asceticism, thin crisp air, serenity, and mind over body discipline; then Nepal is the opposite. It’s grounding. Physical. Deep back into your skin and into the body and earth. Rather than quieting the mind and letting go of the self, Nepal assaults the senses and pushes in deep.

The air is clogged with dust, the temples thrust up to the sky under heavy, blunt, stone or bright gold pinnacles. Bright, saturated color immerses crowds and fabrics and prayer flags flutter across roofs, temples and trees. Drum beats pound down the alleyways from small festival gatherings. Massive chariots with heavy wooden wheels taller than myself wait for the procession. Soon they will creak and heavily turn over uneven brick streets.

Women in Bhaktapur City, Nepal

Bhaktapur City, Nepal

Preparation for New Year celebration. Bhaktapur City, Nepal.

Pagodas stretch out over squares like ancient trees with thick limbs, both delicate and sturdy, entwined with intricate wooden carvings of animals, and flowers, and sex. Step wells with fearsome mouths hold pools of dark, murky water barely touched by bright sunlight.

And these are the quieter corners. In the main roads motorbikes, bicycles, buses, and cars jostle each other down the torn roads. New “no horn” laws put into effect 12 hours ago are trying the patience and testing the discipline of most drivers. Monkeys flit across the roofs and walls. A funeral and cremation begins outside in an open temple area, visible from the main road traffic. Meanwhile children play tag 50 meters downstream in the river. The 7-Eleven owners are futilely trying to clean layers of dust off their packaged goods which blows in from the street with every customer. I am forced to used my scarf to cover my mouth and nose while I walk down the street or risk choking on every breath.

Nepalese funeral at Pashupati Holy Site, Kathmandu, Nepal

Funeral preparation at Pashupati. Kathmandu, Nepal.

Funeral progression at Pashupati, Kathmandu, Nepal

Funeral Progression at Pashupati. Kathmandu, Nepal.

Nepal is vibrant, creative, earthy and feels so very much alive. It’s like walking into the heart of an old, dense forest where you can almost feel the trees growing. Except this isn’t quiet. Here life comes pounding at me in a dozen different sensory directions. And yet my reaction is the same as it would be in that forest, it’s only the experience that changes. I hush my instincts to fight against it, resist the desire to stay contained solely within my own experience and instead of a dark green growing heart, blooms a colorful explosion of life. To resist would be to fight and stress against the intensity. Instead, I take a lesson from Tibet and let go. Instead of overwhelming sensations, I am momentarily stunned by the beautiful kaleidoscope of life.

Nepalese woman working near Nagarkot, Nepal

Woman works in the fields in Nagarkot, Nepal.

Back in my hotel I contrast this experience with Tibet, where I began this morning. After hours of trying to hold onto that kaleidoscopic vision I retreat to the hotel to rest. I’m 6 stories above the street, perched with dozens of cooing pigeons on the rooftop above and the ledge below, set to photograph the watchful eyes of Buddha on the Boudhanath Temple.

Night at Boudhanath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

My primary impression of this trip is one of awe. But not only awe of the landscapes, or the intricate religions, or even that small taste of “I can’t believe I’m actually here” but awe of people. Of us as a human race.

It’s comforting to know that people are so similar. That we have so many of the same core feelings and desires around the world. But it’s also humbling and a bit intimidating to begin to grasp the vast breadth of variety and creativity of which we are capable.

 

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