The Garden Of Dreams

An oasis of calm amongst the chaos of Kathmandu

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Countdown to Kathmandu: A Break in Transmission

The time has come ….

2-everest-base-campIn a little over 24 hours I’ll be heading off into the great unknown on my way to Everst Base Camp and I’ve been deliberating and cogitating and mulling over a dilemma that I have.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

Do some blog posts while I’m trekking in the Himalayas that is.

Several of you have asked if I will. There are internet cafes in Kathmandu and even some half way up the trail at Namche Bazaar, or so I’ve heard, so it should be possible to get something onto this blog.

In a way I feel I owe it to all of you out there who have been diligently following my preparations and encouraging me every step of the way, it’s been great to have you behind me. And those of you who’ve very kindly responded to my pleas and donated to the Because I’m a Girl campaign, again I feel that I should at least keep you updated as I go along.

But!

This is a journey that I initially planned simply for myself. It wasn’t something that I was doing so that I would have something to put on the blog, it wasn’t something that I needed anyone else to understand. It was just for me.

I know why I’m doing it and yet it’s something that I find very hard to articulate. How do I explain why, in my 60th year, I want to head for a country that I’ve never before been interested in visiting, fly into one of the most dangerous airports in the world in a tiny plane and walk in an uphill direction for ten days, sleeping in tents with no regular toilets, risking exhaustion and altitude sickness just to reach a remote, cold place at 5500 metres above sea level, and then turn around and walk back again?

I don’t think family and friends really understand why I’ve made such a madcap decision, why, at my age I don’t stick to the comfort of hotels and resorts, some came out and said as much, others humoured me and possibly didn’t think I’d go through with it.

Anyway, I’m on this trek to breathe in the experience and to wonder at the majesty of the landscape, so …

I’ve made the decision not to do any blog posts while I’m away. I don’t want to get stressed out feeling that I have to write something or struggle with technology in far flung places (technology is not my strong point at the best of times). I want to be able to relax and reflect and just take in my surroundings. Time for sharing with everyone else when I get back.

But you will all be with me, there on that mountain.

My grandchildren will be there, in my heart, as will my daughters and my dad and I’m sure mum will be watching over me. Friends I’ve made recently, both on line and in real life, friends I’m no longer in touch with and those that I’ve known for many years, anyone who has touched my life and got me to where I am today, will be right there with me.

Thanks for all your good wishes and encouragement and I’ll see you when I get back 🙂 xx

 

 

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…

View original post 269 more words

Countdown to Kathmandu: 59 days!

kathmandu-city-bOnce again I must comment on the propensity of time to take flight and disappear, leaving in its wake a confused population wondering where it’s gone. With barely any warning, except the fact that it happens every year, the first three months of 2013 are almost at an end.

And you know what that means don’t you?

Kathmandu and Everest Base Camp are now only two months away! That’s 8 weeks on Monday!! That’s 59 days!!! I’m down to counting the days.

I’ve made the final payment, I’ve got the E tickets, I’ve got the accommodation vouchers, I’ve got most of the gear, I’ve even got bright orange bag tags from World Expeditions making it easier for their representative to spot me at Kathmandu airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFriends ask if I’m getting excited and I am. The thought of the amazing scenery that I’m going to be seeing, the iconic Himalayan mountain range with its snow capped peaks, the exciting but ever so scary flight into Lukla and my ultimate destination, Everest Base Camp where sixty years ago Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay prepared for their ascent on the summit. Yes, I’m excited.

But I’m also heading into the unknown, an unknown culture, and that worries me a little. Will I be able to cope?  Until last year the Indian sub continent had always been on my list of places I didn’t want to visit. The thought of the less than sanitary conditions, the strange food and the chaos and the confusion, the ‘foreignness’, all so alien to my western upbringing and sensibilities, had always sent me in the totally opposite travel direction.

But there Mt Everest sits, with one foot in Nepal and one in Tibet, daring me to approach and that approach takes me through Kathmandu.

Kathmandu is going to throw the lot at me – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the dirt, the dust, the lack of western sanitation. It’s going to challenge me like I’ve never been challenged before. I know this so I guess I’m going in forearmed and, as I’ve just been reminded by Steve over at Around The World With Steve, all of those things may be out of my control but I have total control over my attitude. Let’s see if I can utilize that control.

Countdown to Kathmandu – getting closer!

kathmandu

Where on earth did the second half of 2012 go?

All of you loyal followers who’ve been with me since I made my madcap decision, think back to my original Countdown to Kathmandu post. For those of you who may have inadvertantly stumbled upon my blog more recently (maybe even today) have a look and acquaint yourself with my upcoming trek to Everest Base Camp in May.

When I did that post there was 10 months and 1 week to go.

Cliche or not, time has flown, in a matter of hours we’ll be in 2013!

I was under the assumption that once Christmas and the New Year were out of the way I’d have just over 5 months to knuckle down, increase the training and get all the necessaries organised. You know, stuff like buying thermals, checking out the need for innoculations, trying to get my head around packing as little as possible while still taking everything I’ll need.

Somewhere between the accountancy course I took several years ago and now though my maths seems to have become a little unstable. If New Year is in January and the trek is in May it would seem that I only have 4 months not the 5 I was relying on.

So, that’s the thing, 4 months to go before I leap out of my comfort zone and where am I at?

030

Training – going well. I’m at the point that I can go up those steps 20 times, a couple of times a week and do a hike with pack on the weekend. I’m feeling pretty happy with myself and the intention is to pick up the pace in the final few months.

The training is on temporary hold this week though as the temperature is hovering around 40 – 42 degrees for most of the week. Would be a form of suicide to attempt anything out there at the moment.

Bells Rapids Trail waterfall

Gear – Of the main stuff I’ll need I’ve got the boots, the pack and the waterproof/windproof jacket and I’ve picked up a few bits when they were on sale during the last few months.

This week I’m hoping to buy the hiking poles at the sales and then I need to make a list of everything I still need to buy to make sure I’ve got all bases covered.

Thyangboche Monastery

Thyangboche Monastery

Research – When I do anything or go anywhere I like to get all the information I can. To this end I’ve been reading anything I can get my hands on about Everest and trekking to Base Camp. If anyone’s got any suggestions please let me know.

I’ve read some excellent biographies of mountaineers, including Sir Edmund Hillary and accounts from people who’ve spent time in Nepal and the Everest region.

Blogs have also been an great source of valuable information from people who have recently done the trek and are able to give me tips on what to take, what not to take, what to do and what not to do.

Because I am a Girl

Fund Raising – Raising money for the Because I’m a Girl Campaign is proving to be a very rewarding enterprise. People have been very generous and there have been donations from friends and family and from total strangers. This is a very worthwhile cause and you can read about it here.

There is still plenty of time to donate and help me reach my target before I leave for Nepal.

SO ….

4 months and 13 days to go!

Sea to summit – well, almost

Kathmandu

Assuming everything goes according to plan, next year’s trek will see me climbing out of my comfort zone and reaching Everest base camp, after a 15 day trek from Kathmandu, and several people have asked me exactly how high this is. Originally I was going as far as Thyangboche Monastery but, as you all know by now, I had second thoughts and decided to opt out of the safe option and go those few extra miles, well, a couple of thousand metres actually.

I think now might be a good time to put this extra couple of thousand metres in perspective for you. So listen carefully.

Everest Base Camp sits at an altitude of 5,364 metres, difficult to imagine, so let me put it this way. I live on the coastal plain of Western Australia, barely a hill in site, let’s call that 0 metres.

Burns Beach near Perth, Western Australia

The Darling Scarp butts up against this coastal plain but, even then, the highest point on the Darling Ranges is Mount Cooke at 582m.

Lukla

I will be flying in to Kathmandu which sits at 1,400m, so I’ll already be almost three times higher than the highest point in my area. Let’s take Australia as a whole – the highest point on mainland Australia is Mount Kosciuszko at 2,228 metres. After a short (apparently exhilarating) fight from Kathmandu to Lukla at 2,860 metres I’ll actually begin the trek. So, I’ll start trekking at a point higher than the summit of Mt Kosciusko!

Thyangboche Monastery

Five days later I’ll reach Thyangboche at 3,867 metres. This is where I was going to stop but, no, I decided to extend the agony thrill, for another few days and those extra couple of thousand metres.

Everest Base Camp and the tents of the summiteers

On the tenth day of the trek I’ll make it to Base Camp (in what condition I’m not sure, but I will be there) at 5,364 metres. May, when I’ll be there, is traditionally when many of the summit ascents take place so it could be a pretty busy place with the summit groups making their preparations.

A strenuous couple of hours will take us up to the summit of Kala Pattar, the highest point on the trek at 5,545 metres that gives us the famous views of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. When you think that Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, is 5,895 metres suddenly I realize how high I’m going.

Most of the amazing photos of Everest that you find in books and on-line are taken from Kalar Pattar, it’s a hard slog of between one and two hours depending on your level of fitness, up what looks like a brown hump of dirt.

The track heading up Kala Pattar

It’s a big hump though with the ascent of this final leg made acutely difficult due to the lack of oxygen in the lungs at this height. I’ve read several accounts of the ascent of this final hurdle before you get to witness the spectacular views that it affords. Without exception these accounts reveal the difficulty, the hurt and the struggle, and highlight the sheer determination needed to reach the summit. If the photos are anything to go by though the rewarding views are worth it.

View from Kala Pattar

I aim to take some of those amazing photos. In approx 6 months time these photos will be replaced by those that I have taken myself!

Remember, you can support me and my efforts by donating to the ‘Because I’m a Girl Campaign.’ Just go to the Donate page up there on my header or read all about it on the Challenge for the girls page.

For the Love of Kathmandu

If you’re anything like me, when you’re going away on holiday, you tend to do a bit of research first. These days it’s not just a matter of getting travel brochures from the travel agent to drool over or maybe taking a trip to the local library to borrow one of those coffee table books with the glossy pictures in. That’s what we did way back in 1979 when we took our first European trip.

Now though we have the amazingly helpful tool that is Google.

Sometimes a good thing (beautiful pictures and helpful information), sometimes not so good (as in, you’ll be landing at the most dangerous airport in the world – why not u – tube it?).

So it was, while researching all things remotely connected to my upcoming destination, that I came across a lady synonymous with Kathmandu and mountaineering in the region.

Elizabeth Hawley is an 89 year old American renowned for her meticulously researched and comprehensive database on all expeditions that leave from Kathmandu.

If you’re in to biographies this one is fascinating and I must admit to buying yet another book. Born in 1923 in Chicago, Elizabeth enrolled in the University of Michigan in 1941 and went on to gain a Masters degree in history before starting work for Fortune magazine as an editorial researcher.

This position saw her travelling through the Americas and Canada and sparked in Elizabeth a lust for travel that would eventually see her embark on a round the world journey. She was one of the pioneers of solo travel for women and in the late 1950s travelled through Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, South East Asia and Japan by train, bus and boat.

It was on this journey that she visited Kathmandu and fell in love with the place, although she returned to America to put her affairs in order, Kathmandu was to be her home to this day.

Her initial work here during the early years involved being a correspondent for Time-Life and Reuters, reporting on politics and culture. During this time she became part of the Kathmandu scene, meeting Nepalese royalty, politicians, adventurers and mountaineers and it was from association with the mountaineering community that the database began.

Elizabeth’s attention to detail and determination to acquire all of the facts has resulted in the most detailed information being collected and compiled on every expedition since the early 1960s. She was a close friend of Sir Edmund Hillary and is the Executive Officer of his Himalayan Trust.

She still meets with every expedition leader and is constantly adding to the database and, with her old blue VW Beetle as her means of transport, she’s a well known figure in Kathmandu.

Mountains, Mist and …. ooh, one little plane

Remind me again why I’m doing this.

I think I’ve just made my first mistake in planning this trip. I read the Wikipedia site on the airport at Lukla. Not a good idea as it turns out. Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop, because then I made my second mistake, I watched U Tube footage of a plane taking off from the airport. Google maps showing the terrain really didn’t help either. Lukla is the starting point of the trek and to get there requires a short flight from Kathmandu in a Twin Otter aircraft. World Expeditions, in their blurb, describe it as ‘a memorable flight with amazing views’.

I don’t doubt it for one minute.

Notice the mountains in the picture? Well the pilot, of a tiny aircraft, needs to navigate his way around those mountains, banking and descending through several layers of cloud and mist, apparently without the help of landing aids, using just his own keen sense of sight (one would hope that it’s keen anyway). Then he has to pull the aircraft to a halt within 460 metres – hopefully with a bit of room to spare. And then, to get out of there he has to gun his engines and race back down the 12 degree gradient hoping like hell to take off before reaching the 700 metre drop at the end of the runway.

Does it help that only the most experienced pilots in Nepal fly to Lukla? Probably, just a bit.

Lukla is the highest airport with scheduled flights in the world and acknowledged as one of the most dangerous, and I’m going visiting.

But, on a positive note, considering there are around 50 flights a day in and out of Lukla in the high season and accidents are rare, it’s probably no more dangerous than driving to work.

Enough said! Let’s move on!