Written by Monika Terfloth.
This is part 1 of 10 of the “Mother in-law” series IN Nepal and India.
Holy Bagmati where do I start?
Perhaps with the tail of the category 8 Typhoon Koppu that pushed us into Hong Kong two days ago? A rocky but memorable introduction to Southeast Asia. Since we had a 12 hour lay-over, rather than spend it in the airport we ventured into old Hong Kong, an area known as Kwoloon. It was mid-morning when we arrived there, the streets were wet and deserted. Debris was everywhere… garbage , broken glass, electrical wire, uprooted plants. We discover by asking a gentleman, that the typhoon had now passed. “Thank-you very much”. It is comforting to know this because we fly out later today. We thread our way through narrow alleys, poking our heads into tiny shops and wondering at the exotic fruits, fishes , raw jade, finally stopping for a steaming bowl of wonton soup (and a side dish of something unidentifiable and gelatinous).
The reunion with Tlell and Rex was fabulous! They greeted us at the airport in Kathmandu with traditional garlands (malla) of marigolds and silk scarves (khatta) . They have a small and simple, fourth floor flat from which we can seen the surrounding flat rooftops each with its own special array of potted plants. The old fellow across the way has his morning cigarette on the rooftop while a younger woman sorts through the day’s rice to pick out the stones and the weevils before cooking it. (We discover that we have to do that too).
Yesterday was our first full day in Kathmandu and it is a truly colourful and sensual place. It is hot and dusty and noisy, and the sights and smells change with every step. One moment the smell of soapy laundry water then of curry spices. Then the sweet scent of night blooming jasmine and shortly of garbage swept to the gutter. “Look!” There’s a black bull in the middle of rush hour traffic and we too have to cross the street, threading our way between cars, busses, motorcycles and everyone honking. It is truly chaotic but somehow it works! As I am staring in amazement at it all, I step on a loose brick and something squooshes out from underneath it and plops squarely on top of my sandal soaking my foot. (Oh what a great pleasure to wash my feet at the end of the day!). In the midst of all of this are the beautiful, brown people with wonderful smiles… one carrying a couch and two chairs on his back, followed closely by another pushing a load of bananas on his bicycle, yet another with the entire family on his scooter, and then a woman in a beautiful red sari smiling quietly from the doorway of her shop. (Women are very much in the forefront of things a definite contrast to the apparent absence of women in Turkey). They tend shops, go out alone and dress beautifully all the while mothering gorgeous, black-haired children with huge brown eyes.
Today we took a long walk through the dusty streets and alleys to Pashupatinath. It is a sacred site on the banks of the Bagmati River where the Hindu people cremate their dead. Many ceremonies take place each day and today we had the honour of witnessing an entire ceremony from the moment that the woman’s body was brought to the riverside, as her sons ritually and with utmost care removed the cloths from beneath the shroud, bathed her feet and her face, wrapped her in fresh linen and saffron coloured cloths and draped her in garlands of marigolds. They laid her on a bamboo cot and placed ghee (butterfat) into her mouth. They then lifted her onto the funeral pyre made of wood and straw. The eldest son sets alight the ghee in her mouth, covers her with more straw and the pyre begins to burn. Such a simple and intimate ceremony and truly a memorable day.
Tomorrow Randy and I are going to strike out on our own to Swayambhunath, a Bhuddist temple on the northwest side of Kathmandu. We will attempt to use the local busses or tuk-tuks and on Friday we will leave for Pokarha, the town from where we will begin our trek. I will probably not be able to send another note until after we return to Kathmandu about a week later. But we are having a wonderful time and we hope this note finds you all well.