The Garden Of Dreams

An oasis of calm amongst the chaos of Kathmandu

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Space is at a premium in the busy streets of Kathmandu but I managed to find a haven of calm amidst the chaos.

I would never have known it was there if someone hadn’t recommended it to me as we were chatting over breakfast at the hotel.

It was a hot, dusty day and I’d spent a couple of hours wandering around Thamel, I’d walked there from the hotel and decided to walk back and, remembering the advice I was given, I checked my map for the Garden of Dreams. I’d walked past it on my way into Thamel but hadn’t noticed it, if I hadn’t particularly looked for it I would have missed it on my way back as well.

The Garden of Dreams is hidden behind a high wall only metres from a very busy intersection and what an oasis it is. You pay a couple of dollars entrance fee but it’s well worth it. It’s a neo classical garden created as a private garden by Field Marshall Kaiser Sumsher Rana in the early 1920s which was restored and opened to the public in 2007.

The ivy clad walls of adjoining buildings create a cooling atmosphere while the meandering footpaths, the green lawns and the lily pond provide a tranquil spot for locals on their lunch break and tourists wanting a bit of a breather. The Kaiser café provides light lunches and I certainly took advantage, the cold Heineken went down well too.

So, if after surviving an exhausting morning in the chaotic streets of Thamel you’re in need of reviving make sure you find that door in the wall that will take you into this amazing Garden of Dreams.

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Pashupatinath Temple – a cultural jolt.

Pashupatinath Hindu temple in Kathmandu, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a contradiction and a challenge to western sensibilities.

The temple, open only to those born into the Hindu faith, is set on the banks of the Bagmati River and is one of the major tourist attractions in Kathmandu, but along with a visit to the most sacred temple of Hindu Lord Shiva in the world comes a cultural  jolt.

The two main roofs of the temple are embellished with gold, the four main doors are adorned with silver and the temple houses the sacred phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. It is not the history of this temple, that dates back to 400AD, nor the awe inspiring architecture, that holds the focus of most tour groups though, but rather the cremations taking place in front of the temple.

In Hindu religion fire is seen as a sacred gateway to the spiritual world and, although there are indoor crematoriums in most cities, there are still areas where the Hindus cremate their dead in the open air.

Raised concrete slabs by the Bagmati River in front of the PashupatinathTemple is one such area. The bodies are cremated and the ashes then brushed into the river.

These cremations are undertaken in full view of the gawking tourists with cameras at the ready.

Personally I was more intrigued than upset. Mortuary archaeology of Roman Britain was the topic of my PhD thesis, so I was able to relate this custom to very similar ancient customs, but understandably it can be quite disconcerting and even upsetting for some people.

Around the area you also have the inevitable sellers of jewellery and trinkets, constantly pushing for a sale and the Sadhus, holy men or wandering monks who have renounced everyday concerns to live a life on the edges of society.

One cannot help but be sceptical though when those who have renounced society require payment before a photo of them is taken.

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple

A Sadhu

A Sadhu

And another

And another

The hillside where the Sadhus reportedly live.

The hillside where the Sadhus reportedly live.

Playing about with my camera settings

Playing about with my camera settings

A row of small temples

A row of small temples

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I have given serious consideration to as to whether I should include the following photo of a cremation pyre. I decided it should be included as this ritual is part of the culture of the place I visited. If you don’t wish to see it please stop here.

A Hindu cremation taking place at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

A Hindu cremation taking place at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu

This post, over on a lifetime of lessons, just spoke to me and I wanted to share it with you all.

a lifetime of lessons

Do you ever get the feeling you are exactly where you are meant to be? That feeling filled me up the minute I fell into the chaos of Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu. Sweet, disorganised chaos.

I smiled my way through. It’s my way. And when I really like a place, it seems to be the kind of place where smiles work. They work almost like an unspoken currency – the people love it, I love them and suddenly they are happy, and I am happy. I haven’t wiped the smile off my face since I arrived.

But I know this place is going to tear me down. I know it’s going to break me, before it makes me. This place holds a challenge I have set that is unprecedented for me. A challenge that reflects new beginnings, a way forward and the notion that the hard work, will be worth…

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Heading into the Ss – Travels from Sixty to Seventy!

I don’t like to say it out loud but really, I have to face it – I’ll be turning 60 in the middle of this year. I know, I can here you all screaming ‘no way, she can’t possibly be nearly 60, she only looks 59.’ But, it’s true, that big number is creeping up on me.

It takes some getting used to because I actually feel younger now than I did twenty years ago, strange but true, and more motivated too. So, to soften the blow and in an attempt to find the positives here, I’ve compiled a little list for myself.

It’s a list of the adventures I’d like to have in the next ten years, between sixty and seventy.

Notice what I’m doing here? If I say the number enough times I’m figuring I may just forget that it’s any different to any other number that I’ve come upon, say 30 or 40 or 50.

Anyway, in no particular order, this is where I’m thinking I’d like to go. Some are more achievable than others but you have to dream big.

vEverest 60th anniversary trek – May 2013

vMorocco

vCinque Terre

vHouse swap – Canada!!

vParis – live in an apartment for a few weeks and do the Australian Writers’ Centre Memoir course held there each Autumn

vPeru – Hike the Inca Trail and explore the ruins of Machu Pichu

vCoast to Coast walk – UK

vMilford Sound – New Zealand

vAntarctic Cruise

vCappodocia – Turkey

v Istanbul

What do you think? Where will you be going in the next ten years?

Abandoning my comfort zone!

Have you ever had one of those ‘wow’ moments? You know the ones, where you suddenly go ‘yes! This is me, this is what I should be doing.’ Not the run of the mill ‘this would be a good idea’ type moment or even the ‘this would be a great idea’ type moment, but the ‘wow, I have to do this’ type moment, even if it means stepping way outside your comfort zone. I’ve experienced it once before, in my 40th year, when I read an article in the newspaper that started me studying again and set me on the road (a long road I must admit), to getting my PhD. Well, it happened again a couple of weeks ago and consequently my travel plans have taken an interesting twist.

Now, any of you that have been around my blog for a few months will know that I have been deliberating for some time on my next destination. There have been a few options but I really haven’t been able to settle on anything, which is unusual for me, I generally get by planning my next holiday. Obviously there was a reason which, as I say, has just become abundantly clear.

I was browsing the internet one evening, as you do, when I came upon the website for World Expeditions. Delving a little further this is what I found:

Everest 60th

Anniversary Trek

A classic short trek combining Sherpa culture with views of

Everest and a special black tie dinner to celebrate the 60th

Anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest

So, guess who’s going trekking in the Himalayas next May? Now, I need to put this in perspective and explain why it jumped out at me. Well, 1953 was rather an eventful year, it saw not only the ascent of this great mountain in May but also the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II a few days later in early June and, most importantly to complete the hat trick, I was born in the July. So it was a triple whammy and I can’t think of a better way to prove to myself in my 60th year, that I can step outside my comfort zone, push my boundaries and step lightly in at least some of Hillary’s footsteps.

Now, I don’t intend to be silly about this, I know my limitations, but I have almost a year and a lot can be achieved in a year when you set your mind to it. I’ve chosen the easiest of five treks that will meet up in the grounds of the Thyangboche Monastery, nearly 4000 m above sea level, on 29th May 2013 for a special celebratory evening within sight of Everest.

This is something that I have never even thought about doing before, I have a long ‘to do’ list as far as travel destinations are concerned and this has never been on it, let alone anywhere near the top. Paris (again), Italy (again), New Zealand, even Turkey and Machu Pichu, they’re all there, but Nepal? The Himalayas?

But hey, I’ve booked, the deposit’s paid, the training has begun.

Stay with me, it could get interesting.

Tasty Travel – Eating in Ubud

Casa Luna, Ubud

It wasn’t only the markets that had me hooked in Ubud, the real surprise was in the number and variety of amazing places to eat. I could have spent the whole seven days that I was there eating. What I did discover though is that Bali does not do iced coffee. Now I know that when we travel to places foreign we should be prepared to eat and drink the local food, not expect them to pamper to our sometimes outlandish requests. But iced coffee – come on, just one indulgence. The first time I ordered it, at a resort in Kuta, I was given a glass of cold black coffee with a small jug of sugar syrup, so I was reluctant to try again. It was the photo on the menu card at Bar Luna in Ubud though that convinced me that ordering an iced coffee was worth another try, and this time I wasn’t disappointed. Tucked away behind the market, on Jalan Gootama, in Ubud, Bar Luna is one of three eateries in Ubud owned by Australian Janet De Neefe. As its website http://www.casalunabali.com/ announces, this is ‘the local hot spot for literary musing, tasty tapas, cocktails and more’. For the best iced coffee in Ubud, and possibly the whole of Bali, you can’t go past it.

 

The view from Indus

Another of Janet De Neefe’s creations, at the other end of the scale, is Indus, a well known restaurant, just a few minutes from the centre of Ubud. With stunning views over the Tjampuhan River this reataurant offers a mix of Indonesian and Western dishes. You can relax on Balinese lounges, heaped with colourful cushions, positioned around low tables or choose a table on the deck overhanging the river gorge. A Margareta in hand, a Balinese sunset and a breathtaking view, what more could you ask for?

Interior of Indus

 

Mmmmm - dessert at Indus

Ubud does views well, and if you can sip on a cold drink while you take in the view all the better. Within walking distance of the Ubud market, if you’re not too footsore after the shopping, Bridges, a terraced restaurant overlooking the lush green of the river bank, offers casual fine dining and another one of those views (http://bridgesbali.com/). Whatever you are after in the way of food or drink, this place can do it. Not only breakfast, lunch and dinner but nibbles, cocktails, afternoon tea, even ice cream is available at any time of the day. What struck me about Bridges was their willingness to accommodate. Fourteen of us turned up there at around 9.00pm with no booking. We walked in anticipating a few issues. Some of us wanted dinner, others just dessert, some wanted coffee and cake while others were looking forward to a glass of wine or

Dinner at Bridges

possibly a cocktail. The first question, did they have room for a party that large, was answered in minutes. The French manager was summoned from somewhere, under his direction tables were pushed together on the terrace and, hey presto, we were seated. No fuss. Next question, could we have separate bills? Again, not a problem, they simply took each of our names with our orders. The manager himself took many of the orders and they arrived promptly and with a smile and friendly conversation. Nothing was too much trouble for these friendly, smiling staff. Young Australian chef Nicolas Lazzaroni presides over the kitchen and, on our second visit for a farewell dinner, even made the time to come out and say hello. 

More dessert - this time at Bridges

Other eateries well worth a visit in Ubud would be Casa Luna, also a Janet De Neefe establishment, the Lotus Café ( http://cafelotusubud.com/), upmarket Mozaic ( http://www.mozaic-bali.com/)  and Minami, if you’re after Japanese ( http://www.minami-bali.com/entrance/entreetest.html)

Lotus pond at Cafe Lotus

This list comes nowhere near being an indication of the variety and choice available when it comes to eating in Ubud. There are only so many meals you can eat on one visit though so take the time to look around, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Added snippet of information:

For those interested in everything literary, Bar Luna will be hosting the 9th annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival from 3rd – 7th October 2012. This international festival holds book launches, workshops and performances, with writers and readers attending from around the world. For further information check out http://www.ubudwritersfestival.com/

 

 

 

 

Ubud market – a new experience

Confused scents jostled with each other. Only inches away, in front of me, to my left, to my right, orange, yellow, green, blue, red, gold, silver, competed for ascendency. I gaped, I know I did. Sarongs, statues – of wood and stone, jewellery, bags and belts, watches, paintings, incense. Everything they believed a tourist could possibly want was there, crammed together.

It seemed too much and I felt the urge to turn, to retreat back the way I had come. The incessant swerving of the scooters and the tooting of the car horns in the street outside, which until a moment ago I had wanted to escape from, suddenly seemed the preferable option.

But I held my ground, I could do this. I slid tentatively into the maze. I avoided eye contact and donned my ‘just looking’ attitude. “You try, you like” ricocheted around me, but I maintained my resolve. It survived only a matter of minutes before the “you like, what colour, how many you want?” infiltrated my defences. I lingered just a moment too long over the cushion covers, my fingers actually touched the fabric. “What colour you like?” I answered – green.

Black, brown, orange and red were pushed aside as she unearthed bright green, olive green and pale green cushion covers. Again I fingered them, “that one I think.” “How many you like?” Again I answered, “two.” She named her price. Now I had to do what was expected of me. Oh god. I was the one who always walked away when others began to barter. I had been to Bali before and to theVictoria markets in Melbourne, both times with a friend. She was an avid barterer. She would focus, she would get her price or she would walk away. I always left her to it feigning a sudden interest in men’s shirts or children’s toys on the neighbouring stalls. But I knew the principle. I took a quiet breath, halved the price. Her expression did an about turn. How could I? Had I done it wrong? I wondered. She came back at me with another figure but I managed to counter once again with my own. Again her eyes widened and a gasp escaped. She held her ground, but so did I. I shook my head in a ‘no’, my feet did a 90 degree turn. They didn’t get as far as 180 degrees. Her shoulders sagged, she sighed, her boss wouldn’t like it she told me, but I got my price.

I know I had a silly grin on my face. I was hooked. From there it was not so much a slide as a skid into the world of bartering. When I found myself on the street again over an hour later juggling the black plastic bags as evidence, I realised – there were things I had forgotten to buy. I was already planning my next visit.