essays | places
Deorali, Himalayas / Nepal · 2015 infinite dance
It was painless as waking to reincarnate back into the real world in a real country after that velvety intermission in fairytale Europe on my way from Latin America to Asia. And it had all the other elements of waking too, especially that sugary aha-feeling of “that’s right, this is where I left off, good to know that I’m still here.” The circulating currency in Kathmandu was madness, so that was a good place to hit the ground. And the Himalayas were balm. Nature, rural idyll, a direct link to past times. That quintessential dichotomy between craze and calm, today and yesteryear, split open all the information one can find or want or need in this world, all the ones and zeros in a waltz.
passages FROZEN IN DUST | As long as everyone kept moving, it was easy to distinguish the present from the past. But when light and dust conspired to bend one photographer’s finger, time froze. Moment and momentum, motion and emotion, laughs and yawns, all solidified into one landscape of human gestures before the backdrop of the ancient street.
passages OVERLOOKING THE OBVIOUS | Prayer flags, wood carvings, monkey, pigeon – not exactly surprises at Swayambhunath Stupa, to the linguistically challenged foreigner more commonly known as “Monkey Temple.” But with so much going on, it’s easy to overlook the one element that stands out so subtly: the photo clock. Who are the young man and his female companion with the funky shades? And why are they hanging in one of Nepal’s oldest and most sacred religious sites? Riddle me that!
passages HIMALAYAN UPS AND DOWNS | In 1953, when Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made their strenuous way into history by setting first feet on the summit of Mt. Everest, they started their expedition in Jiri. Nowadays, most hikers cut out the first leg of the Everest Base Camp trek by flying into Lukla, an airport built under the supervision of Hillary later on. Even during peak season, the week-long Jiri trail remains deserted, a pristineness that threatens the Sherpa who built a brittle existence on tourism. Intimate cobblestone villages, traced from bygone centuries onto today, mark a trail that snuggles the rice terraces climbing up and down the Himalayan shoulders.
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 setting the prayer wheels in motion.
Dagchu, Himalayas / Nepal · 2015 guesthouse
places / stories
Kathmandu / And Then the Earthquake
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 monkey see
I checked into the cheapest and dingiest place you could find along Thamel Marg, that cosmos of a street with its plethora of shops and flops and restaurants and agencies, all locked in a shrill and loud competition for attention, a bunch of signs protruding from every story of every house into that puny urban canyon. It was a family-owned hole-in-the-wall, and the room was soaked in murky twilight that made the beds with their dark-green blankets look like kelp pastures leaning into a dirty underwater sunset. With nothing cozy holding me back, I jumped headfirst into the current and drifted down Thamel Marg towards the Durbar Square. A homeless man who must have been two hundred years old pulled me out of the stream and through some magic gate into a labyrinth of miniature alleys that connected the oldest plazas in the universe. Then we squeezed into a dollhouse restaurant that had never seen a foreigner and had the foods and beers that were to be had, and it was understood that I would settle the bill and one beer to go for him, and that was fair. When I got back, I was one roommate richer, and a musician at that. He invited me to a gig and I was sure I’d wake up the next morning as part of the local art scene.
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 street canyon
The next morning there was a power outage and the day after a water outage to boot and looking into these unflushed toilet bowls I saw that it was time to move on. I said goodbye to my roommate and the local art scene and moved all the way across the spectrum into the mushiest place – a full on backpacker hostel. I made good friends there though, really good, and to one I spoke last week and to some never since, and it was one of two times in six years that I was happy to hop onto the road more traveled. The air in that place was thick with weed and hash clouds and music and laughter. Nobody cracked me up more than Brent with his stories of the Chinese Kung Fu school he was vacationing from. And I remember the time Abby got back from the Himalayas with an entire trash bag full of free weed, and how we passed it on eventually to the next generation.
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 street cow
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 stupa belly
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 Hinduism & Buddhism
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 towards Nirvana
I learned later that she was worshipped as Kumari, the Living Goddess. But when I happened upon that anachronistic courtyard somewhere deep inside the Durbar Square’s bowels, she was just a little girl shy of her first decade. She was looking out of a window a little more pensively than her age suggested while a large Mickey Mouse leaned against the window next to her. Maybe she was more human than goddess after all.
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 web of flags
Kathmandu / Nepal · 2015 river bank made from trash
Coming back from the Himalayas, Kathmandu had put on another layer of craze and dirt, and, torn, I was drawn in as much as away. Ten days until the earthquake.
Bhaktapur / History’s Bones
Nepal’s Durbar Squares were like showroom caskets where they preserved history’s bones. The temples all looked like beautifully dressed skeletons, the timber so furrowed and in parts so brittle that it didn’t put up much more of a fight against time than the dust that filled the air, and even that dust looked thousands of years old. Fourteen days until the earthquake.
Durbar Square, Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 history's bones
Bhaktapur’s entire Durbar Square was a World Heritage site, so you had to pay to get into the heart of town, just like in Kathmandu; but contrary to the capital, there wasn’t much flesh around this Durbar Square, so you basically had to pay to get into the town. They were never very thorough when it came to collecting though, given all the little alleys leading in and out and all those folks buzzing about – to think that people actually lived entire lives inside that World Heritage – and I think that day we got in for free. My Brazilian friends atoned for that by painting bindis on their foreheads, which I found culturally insensitive and ill-advised, but they were the gentlest souls and meant nothing but well, and it was their way of showing just how much they came in peace and appreciation and sisterhood and brotherhood.
Durbar Square, Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 beautifully dressed skeletons
Durbar Square, Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 hanging out at the temple
Durbar Square, Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 wood & stone
Durbar Square, Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 temples, temples, temples
Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 yesterday's store
Bhaktapur / Nepal · 2015 she's too young for you bro
Pokhara / The Lungs
Phokara / Nepal · 2015 the city, breathing
If Kathmandu was the heart, Pokhara was the lungs. I stayed with my Brazilian friends from Kathmandu who had set up a little nest there.
Phokara / Nepal · 2015 Buddha's throne
Phokara / Nepal · 2015 to be in the place to be
when you set out to see Everest, but Everest doesn’t care