Kathmanu to Pokhara
Walking the narrow streets, exploring the temples and squares, climbing the Boudhanath Stupa, getting attacked by monkeys and looking over the huge city sprawl, Kathmandu is an excellent city.
I noticed that the majority of ‘I Love Nepal’ t-shirts seem not to be worn by the usual tourist crowds but Nepalese themselves. Even out in the countryside it wasn’t strange to see young boys with happy patriotism announced across their chests.
On the final evening in the city we visited the Pashupatinath monastery, where bodies are cremated by the river side, the remains being left to sail down the Bagmati river. Under nightfall we wandered the site, with prayers, candlelight and smoke filling the eerie darkness. Approaching the river crematoria you are aware of what to expect, but walking to the edge and seeing it for yourself is a moment uniquely memorable.
There is space for 10 plinths along the river side where the bodies are wrapped in cloth, laid on a carefully arranged pile of wooden beams and burned while the families look on, one after another, 24 hours a day. In earlier days the plinths would be divided by caste system but not so much any more, yet there are still plinths reserved for royalty and the super rich.
Turning back to the river I noticed a women carrying a bundle of cloth and praying with it as she was walked around the wood prepared for the next cremation before it as lit. Asking someone why she was doing this, they replied that the bundle was her baby boy.
I can think of few monuments steeped in such history and still used constantly and solely for their original purpose. It should be somber and melancholic to walk the river banks, almost voyeuristically watching families attend the cremation of their loved ones, but in reality it was a peaceful and thoughtful experience. It also shows the vast chasm in attitudes towards death versus western nations. Life can appear a cheaper currency in this part of the world, maybe because there is just so much of it here.
It’s an extraordinary place to visit.
You can feel the power of history pouring through the walls. It’s difficult to not consider your own mortality in a place such as this. The serenity is enough to make even an atheist whisper in prayer. And yet Nepalese people seem almost immune, so used to the sight of death there are laughing children, dogs barking and screeching of monkeys, as life goes on all around.
We set off on a two-day cycle towards Pokhara with our new recruit. By lunchtime we had lost Pete, who had sailed past in blissful ignorance as we stopped for a rest, whilst we believed him to still be behind he was actually many miles ahead. A few hours of confusion occured before finally normality was restored. The first time we’ve lost each other in 7 months of cycling, so was well overdue.
To add another bout of complication, the following morning my rear derailor sheared off and Eddie (my bike) became unrideable. With 60 km left in the day I was forced to break the chain and make it into a single speed bike. Picking a low gear which was a good idea on the climbs but makes you look peculiar when passing through flat villages with feet spinning at a pace your average washing machine spin-cycle would be proud if. It’s the cycling equivalent of running the wrong way up an escalator.
Reaching Pokhara we took an evening boat trip on the fresh water Phewa lake, drinking beer and watching the sun set over the mountains. A moments relaxation before we head back through the mountains to India.
New recruit taking a rest.