Largest stupa in the world. Two minutes from my house.
Scaffolding – Nepali Style
After a much needed break from classroom-learning, we made our way south to Lumbini, the historic birthplace of the Buddha. The plane ride was nerve wracking for me, and even more so considering the kind of plane we took…But, the view was spectacular and it only took us 45min to arrive safely. Once we landed we drove about an hour to our guest house at a monastery just minutes from the Sacred Garden of Lumbini. For the last 40 years or so there has been development in Lumbini to make the entire site more interesting for tourists and pilgrims alike. However, this development has brought about a great deal of change and displacement for the local community. From what we saw, it looks more like a sad Disney World for Buddhists than it does a beautiful pilgrimage site. At the Sacred Garden, where it is said that the Buddha was born, there is a large white building, called the Maya Devi temple after Buddha’s mother, surrounding the archaeological remains of the site. Just next to the building is an Ashoka pillar, placed there by Emperor Ashoka, the first Buddhist ruler, with an inscription stating that the Buddha was in fact born at this site.
After spending a few days in this area, conducting research for a small project and speaking to a number of renowned intellects on the topic of Buddhism and the archaeological sites, we departed for Chitwan. Chitwan is a natural reserve in south-central Nepal devoted to the preservation of the natural wildlife of the Tarai region. Here we took a quick boat ride down stream, hiked through the forest, and then the next day hopped on the backs of 6 very generous pachyderms. Although the ethics behind elephant riding are complicated, we all had a blast and the view was amazing. Unfortunately no rhinos or tigers were seen, but they are there. I promise.
But alas, “vacation” as we knew it is over. Today we boarded our luxurious tour bus and rode 7 hours back north to the Kathmandu Valley. It’s back to tourist cafes, ginger tea (yum…) and one beautifully large stupa (near my house that is). Class will start up again tomorrow, but in only 2 weeks or so we will be boarding another plane for Bhutan.
I hope this has been both informative and entertaining. Be sure to check out the pictures. I’ll try to post more, this time without any writing, later this week. As always, thanks for reading!
Looking over Pharping from the top of a monastery
So after about a week of no internet, I can say to everyone reading that I am here, I am still alive, and I am very happy. It has been quite the adventure thus far. Cold nights and warm days. Good food and lots of tea. Our first 4 or 5 days were spent in a town south of Kathmandu (the capital city) called Pharping (pronounced par-ping). Our first home was a beautiful little resort on a hill, the rooms of which are pictured above, as well as one of our “classrooms.” Our schedules here consisted of breakfast at 7:30, Tibetan language from 8:30 to 10:45, then other discussions and little lectures throughout the afternoon, punctuated by lunch and tea. Dinner was the last thing on each day, followed very closely by bedtime for all of us.
Now I have gone to my home stay family and commute from their apartment in Bodha to the SIT Yantra house, otherwise known as the program center. At the Yantra house we have class every day unless we do something in town or on excursion. Usually we have two hours of Tibetan, some preliminary meetings concerning our well-being, lectures and free time.
I am slowly getting over my first stretch of what is, at least I hope, traveler’s sickness. The headaches come and go, and as for the rest, suffice it to say that I’m very grateful for a western toilet that flushes….The food is very good, and my family loves giving me more. My mother (amala), doesn’t speak much English, but my older brother (who’s name is Kelsang), has a pretty firm grasp of the language, so that has made things easier. I also have an older sister and brother-in-law who speak English well. The apartment is small, but I have my own room and I am quite comfortable.
Bottom line: After one week, I love Nepal (despite my anxieties, sickness, and fears), my home stay is great, the Bodha (my temporary home) is wonderful, and I am beginning to feel much more comfortable. As I continue to learn the language and the area around me, I will become more confident in my studies and hopefully more adventurous overall. I should be able to update my blog more frequently from here on out, but keep up as you are able 🙂
I am off to Kathmandu, and what a beautiful day! It is snowing here in Prague, but no matter. I take off at 1:15 local time for Munich, then 2:55 from Munich for Qatar, and finally 4:30am local time from Qatar to Kathmandu, arriving at 11:30am Tuesday, January 28th. Wish me luck as I do not particularly like traveling, and I will speak to you soon.
Tomorrow I depart Philadelphia for Prague. This is the first leg of my journey. Consider it a way to ease my way into studying abroad and being in a foreign country. After a week of exploring Prague I will leave for Kathmandu, stopping by Qatar along the way to switch planes. I will begin posting more at that point, and hope to continue as much as possible for the rest of the semester. Hope you get a chance to read!