Kathmandu – 3.25-28.2012

After the scenic flight of Everest and the great Himalayas, we visited Kathmandu’s Durbar Square.  We were fortunate enough to see Kumari, no photos allowed, the living Goddess and bodily incarnation of Taleju.  We enjoyed our time here and received a blessing at a temple of Kali, a “terrible” form of Shiva who destroys evil and acts as a protector.  We also visited Ashok Binayak, one of the most important temples of Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, where we made an offering of garlands.  We then visited Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple.  This is one of the most sacred Buddhist temples and has an amazing view overlooking the whole of the Kathmandu valley.

The following day, we hiked to the top of Champa Devi (7,472′), which is the highest peak of the Chandragiri ridge southwest of Kathmandu and is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists alike.  It sometimes has incredible views of the Himalayas, but unfortunately it was extremely smoggy and our views were very limited on our visit to the top of this important local peak.

We spent a day in Patan City as well, which is one of the three main kingdoms comprising ancient Kathmandu.  We saw many important Hindu and Buddhist temples and received blessings for a safe journey.  After some nice meals at the Rum Doodle and our hotel, the incredibly memorable, action-packed, and special first phase of the trip came to a close.  I dropped off Carla at the airport this afternoon with promises of a safe return home in six to eight weeks.  Now on to Phase II of the trip…

…at first sight – 3.25.2012

We did a scenic flight of Everest on Sunday morning and for the first time I laid eyes directly on my objective for the past many months and years.  It was a surreal feeling.  Hard to describe… reverence, awe, terror, excitement, thankfulness, hope, inspiration.  All of these at once and more.  It certainly looks huge, even from 23,000′ in an airplane.  The iconic plume of snow trailing from the wind-swept summit like the many Buddhist prayer flags in Nepal reminded me that it is time to put all of the preparation and training to work and go “eat the elephant one bite at a time.”  Bistari, bistari…

Kathmandu – 3.24.2012

Today, we visited Bhaktapur, one of the ancient cities in the Kathmandu Valley and the most well-preserved.  The intricately detailed, centuries-old, hand-carved woodwork was remarkable.  We could feel the age and authenticity of the place instantly and were seemingly transported back to medieval times.

From there we went to Bodhnath (believed to have been built in the 5th century), which is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world (if not the largest), which historically served as an important staging post on the trade route between Lhasa and Kathmandu where Tibetan traders would pray before their treacherous journey home over the high passes of the Himalaya.  The area is vibrant and represents one of the few places left in the world where Tibetan Buddhist culture exists undisturbed.  Most of the Tibetans living near the stupa today are refugees from the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, and it is amazing to witness how seamlessly the Hindus (~80% of Nepalese) and Buddhists co-exist even understanding the considerable overlap between the two religions.  We circum-ambulated the stupa clockwise, per the custom, while spinning the prayer wheels for good fortune and blessings.  We also visited the local monastery and received a blessing from a Buddhist monk.  Very unique and enriching experiences.

We concluded our day at Pashupatinath, Nepal’s most significant Hindu temple, which stands on the banks of the holy Bagmati river.  Being non-Hindus, we weren’t allowed inside this sacred temple, but the exterior, grounds and surrounding temples were all beautiful.  We witnessed cremations taking place on the banks of the Bagmati as well.  Finally, after a long day, we enjoyed dinner at the famous Rum Doodle in Kathmandu, where all Everest summiters returning to Kathmandu after their successful climbs sign the wall.  Names like Sir Edmund Hillary, Reinhold Messner, and Chris Bonington can be found among those on the wall.  I hope to place mine there soon as well.

Leaving India – 3.23.2012

After returning to Delhi from Varanasi, we visited Chandni Chowk, which means “moonlit square” and serves as the main market in Old Delhi.  It is a maze of sights, sounds, smells, people, cows, dogs, narrow pathways and runaway rickshaws.  Vibrant to say the least.  We primarily visited for the spices and somehow located a store among all the madness that was recommended to us.  Apparently, our friends that recommended the store have great taste as Christine Lagarde, the new IMF President, shopped there the day before us and while we were there the daughters of the Saudi Royal family came in to shop.  Glad to know they have great taste as well…

On Friday we packed-up our belongings, headed to the airport and said goodbye to India.  What an incredible place.  We successfully managed all of my Everest expedition bags as well as the nearly 200 lbs in donated goods through the airport and on to Kathmandu.  Fortunately, we were picked-up at the airport by Ang Jangbu, who is the leader of our team’s logistics here in Nepal, and taken to our hotel, the Yak & Yeti.  The expedition suddenly became very real and tangible for me at that point, and only became more so when we stumbled into Conrad Anker and Cory Richards in the lobby of the Yak & Yeti and had the chance to chat a while about our respective plans.  They will be camped near us at Everest base camp, as they attempt the formidable West Ridge of Everest this season, so we will likely have the opportunity to catch-up more down the trail.  Meeting iconic climbers like Conrad and Cory immediately upon arrival in Kathmandu can only mean one thing… it’s nearly time to climb…

Varanasi – 3.21.2012

Yesterday, we flew to Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and arrived just in time for the evening ceremonies on the mighty Ganges River.  This is a daily occurrence in this holiest of cities on the holiest of rivers for Hindus who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and facilitates liberation from the cycle of life and death.  We rented a boat and watched the ceremonies from the water while providing our offerings of flower petals and candles as well as flower garlands to Ganga (the personified Goddess of the river).  We also witnessed the cremations that take place here around the clock as it is custom for Hindus to consign the ashes of a loved one to the Ganges upon their death.  A truly magnificent place that feels as ancient, historic and authentic as any place that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit in my travels.

Today, we walked through old Varanasi after our sunrise boat trip and dodged the cows (as well as the “souvenirs” they were kind enough to drop along the way) roaming the ancient, narrow pathways, while stopping occasionally at the exceptional spice and silk shops.  We visited a Shiva temple and received a blessing from the priest, a rare occurrence at this particular temple for westerners, for which we felt fortunate to experience.  Today was the true essence of India experienced in one amazing day.  Some terrific pictures available by clicking the photo above.

Taj Mahal – 3.19.2012

We made it to the Taj Mahal yesterday despite the 4+ hour drive to Agra each way from Delhi in the craziest traffic I’ve witnessed.  These drivers are all insane.  We saw a woman completely take out a motorcyclist with her car and then get hit herself, a family of FIVE on one moped, trained monkeys doing flips for money at busy intersections, among many other colorful scenes.  Quite a drive.  Fortunately, the Taj Mahal did not disappoint and was worth the exciting journey down India’s “highways.”  We went to Akbar’s tomb, who was the grandfather of Shah Jahan, who in turn built the Taj for his beloved third wife after she died giving birth to their 14th child.  Later Shah Jahan was overthrown by one of his sons from this fruitful marriage and was jailed at Red Fort where he stared across the river at the Taj Mahal mourning his long-past wife for the rest of his days.  Tough family… we visited Red Fort as well as the Taj during our time in Agra.  More pictures available by clicking the one above.  The highlight of the day, though, may have been when a nice Indian girl asked if she could have her picture taken with me because I look like Tom Cruise.  I guess all us white guys look alike over here.  Tom Cruise though?  Couldn’t I at least get a Matt Damon or Brad Pitt.  Something in the ballpark.  Carla received an Angelina Jolie though, so I think she was pretty content with that…

Delhi, India – 3.18.2012

We arrived in India late on Saturday night after a long but mostly uneventful travel day, although the screaming child on the Newark to New Delhi flight was nearly record-breaking.  Who knew a child could actually scream for 13+ hours straight?!?  I certainly remained contentedly naive to this fact until yesterday.  Live and learn as they say.  After a sound night of sleep, we spent today touring Delhi and seeing the sights.  It is a beautiful, humble, receptive, inviting, delicious, warm, fragrant, humid, friendly, crowded place.  So far, it meets or even exceeds expectations.  Tomorrow we are off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, which was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his 3rd wife who died giving birth to her 14th child.  So, this mausoleum from the mid-1600s was certainly well-deserved.  More pictures from our day in Delhi available by clicking the picture above.  Namaste.