Today was our scheduled orientation day for volunteering which was due to commence at 10:15. Did I get to sleep in? Yes, today I woke up at 6am instead of 5am. 😑
I popped down to breakfast and was able to properly meet and speak with three other volunteers. Only one other was teaching English. One volunteer had applied for the NGO program and the other for the medical program. Two were also from Melbourne and one from Puerto Rico, but currently studying in Washington DC.
With time on my hands, I decided to head back to Durbar Square to extend my entry ticket. Yesterday when I visited, I went to a store where incredible paintings were done by the monks and the proceeds from the sale of the paintings was used to help rebuild the temples following the earthquake.
I was told that I could extend my ticket to come back at the end of my trip so I wasn’t carrying everything with me for the next four weeks. I just needed to go to the main office and get my ticket stamped.
It turns out, I needed another passport photo, which I didn’t have, so the man at the counter had kindly stamped it for today to allow me to come back with the photo.
Knowing I needed to be back by 10:15 and with my confidence high, I decided to brave a rickshaw to Durbar Square. That confidence wobbled slightly when the rickshaw pulled over to allow a truck past and I looked down to see the wheel a mere inch from a large ditch where one nudge and I would go flying. I was quite relieved to continue on without further incident.
While I was at the ticket office, a group of Nepali women were celebrating a birthday and offered me a piece of cake and a glass of 7-up. They seemed so delighted when I joined in their celebrations and wished her a happy birthday.
In total, there were nine of us commencing volunteering and like me, none of us had any idea where we were going to be for the next two weeks. We laughed at how blasé we all were.
There were two girls who had requested to go to Pokhara, and the coordinators from Chitwan had also requested volunteers, so this became my destination. I knew instantly that this would be cold showers, but I was excited at the opportunity for a true rural Nepali experience.
10mins later, this changed and I was also heading to Pokhara. The other person coming with me had asked to go to Pokhara due to their travel plans following the program and the coordinator did not want me having to spend the two weeks on my own, even when I tried to explain how much I would be ok.
After a late lunch, we were being taken to Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, but we had a little bit of time beforehand and I wanted to find a graffiti wall I could see from my room. It had proved easier said than done as it was down some little side street that maps could not pick up. After a few wrong turns and with assistance from some shop keepers, I finally found it.
Swayambhunath temple is the most religiously significant temple in Kathmandu.
Dating back to the 5th Centure, legend has it that Bodhisatva Manjushri was meditating and had a vision of a blue lotus in the middle of the lake. He flew over the mountains on his blue lion and saw the hill of Swayambhunath and thought if the lake was drained, it would make it easier for people to come and meditate at the hill. The lake was drained forming the valley of Kathmandu and the lotus rose to become the stupa.
The holy monkeys at the temple were apparently formed after Manjushri, who was supposed to keep his hair short grew it long and got head lice which then turned into monkeys.
To get to monkey temple though, it was an exceedingly steep climb up 368 steps.
And the climb…
At the top is the main stupa with the buddhist eye, four smaller stupas representing earth, wind, fire and water, shrines and prayer wheels.
As is custom, you walk clockwise around the prayer wheels.
We visited a place where they teach the art of painting mandalas and Buddhists wheel of life. It was explained that they are teaching ancient forms of painting that were dying out due to the technicality and we got to see the levels from students to grand masters.
They were stunning and at the top levels, you could shine a light behind the paintings and they turned into a stained glass window. I knew I was not going to need to go back to Durbar Square. After selling a kidney, I walked away with a beautiful Mahakala mantra depicting the wheel of life inside Mahakala, the God of Time that had taken three months to paint.
Swayambhunath has an active Buddhist monastery with teaching occurring on site. We were fortunate to be granted access to a statue inside the monastery, hidden enclosed in a dark temple.
It was extremely peaceful and as I sat in a plaza covered with prayer flags, I sent my own prayer to Bree, thanking her for being the person she was, to give me the courage to be sitting in that very spot in Nepal.
Despite the moniker of Monkey Temple, compared to other places I had been, the monkeys here almost seemed respectful and apart from first entering, you almost forgot they were there.
The day was ending and at our group dinner, you could see the exhaustion setting in on everyone’s faces. Travelling to Pokhara meant having to depart at 6:30am.
On the way back to the hotel, I found a camera shop that allowed me to print a precious photo and then I passed by a hairdresser and thought, I want my hair washed.
I’d heard about the pollution in Kathmandu, but it still doesn’t come close to what the reality is. I didn’t wear a mask today due to the steep climb, but I felt the impact of the pollution in my lungs for the rest of the day. Your eyes feel sore and gritty and your skin feels grimy all the time.
Having to run around to get wet in the shower in my room, I thought this might be a better option.
Not sure about the better option, but certainly an experience. I sat in a chair facing a sink while he turned the kettle on to boil the water. 😳
After what felt like an eternity of boiling, just as he went to grab the kettle, sparks flew out towards us and the power blacked out in our shop and the surrounding shops.
While I wondered how I always manage to get myself into these situations, the little elderly man ran off to presumably flick a switch as the lights came back on. Clearly it was a regular occurrence.
The boiling water was mixed into a bucket of cold water and I had to tip my head foward over the sink while he poured cups of water over my hair while rubbing shampoo in, before rinsing it all out.
Here was me thinking that was the end of it, when he started forcefully massaging my shoulders, arms and calves. At this point, I didn’t care because I realised how stiff I was and it felt divine. All this was done with my hair still wrapped up in a turban!
I finally got back to room, had a shower to wash the rest of the grime off, packed my belongings and climbed into bed at 9pm. I was exhausted and knew I would be asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I learnt today that to the Nepalese, Nepal means Never Ending Peace and Love – Nepal. What a wonderful mindset to finish every day on.
Much love x