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As an amateur student of religion, one striking feature of the Nepalese is their attention to religious observation.  As I traveled about, fealty to religious tradition and practice was on display everywhere.  Whether it was Hindu murals on walls, Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the wind,  or in many cases a unique blend of both, spiritual symbology inundated my visual sensations throughout my trip.

Along the way, it became obvious that physical geography plays a strong role in the religious practices and iconography of Nepal.  When you recognize that Nepal is sandwiched between Tibet -- the ancestral home of the Dalai Lama -- and India -- the font of Hindu development, you can understand the inevitable melange of religious observation that takes place in the country.

In some ways, Hinduism and Buddhism remain quite discrete.  Sahdu's, for instance, wear orange robes, while the robes of Buddhist monks are safron.  On the other hand, these religious traditions have melded into something that is all together Nepalese.  Something I came to think of as "Bindu".   How does Binduism manifest itself?  A Buddhist temple that reveres monkeys (a la the Hindu monkey god Hanuman), for example.  Or a statue of a multi-armed Buddha (a la the Hindu lords Vishnu and Durga) for sale on a street vendor's table.  Or Lord Ganesha (a Hindu god) seated as Buddha.  Or the Śikhara of a Hindu temple painted with the ever-watching eyes of Buddha.

While a purist in either tradition might see sacrilege, I found myself viewing these mash-ups as authentic.  I saw them not as bastardizations, but rather as proof that the Nepalis are deeply in touch with their spirits, in a way few western religious traditions allow.

When you travel in Nepal, make sure you take time to recognize and absorb it's many forms of spiritual observance.  Who knows.  If you focus hard enough, perhaps you'll even convert to Binduism!



... and Looking Down!

The irony of a trek in such a beautiful place is that, while the inclination is to constantly look up and around, the track is such that you have to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at your feet to avoid tripping.

In fact, every time I looked up to take in the beauty, I found myself stumbling.  Along a mountain cliff with no guard rail, such an occurance can be deadly.

Nowhere was the volume of scree and ice greater than in the Khumbu Valley on the way to Everest Base Camp.  Despite the looming enormity of Everest, the walk to Base Camp was about as myopic an experience as you can imagine.  If you didn't watch every step, a twisted ankle, or worse, was an inevitability.

The solution, of course, is to stop frequently to take in the sites.  This we did.  It's also a good idea because it allows both frequent rest and drinks.  Rapid ascent and dehydration are two of the biggest trek-wreckers on the mountain.


Land of Looking Up...

The very first thing you notice when you arrive in the Himalayas is the sheer enormity of the mountains.  "Scale" does little to describe how tall the surroundings are, particularly when you're from a country where the tallest mountain around is only 14,000 ft. (4,200M).  In the Himalayas you have to get over 20,000 ft. (6,000M) before things start to look big.

My first "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore" moment came on the first day's hike, where we reached the small village of Phakding (which, incidentally, is pronouned perilously close to a rather untoward english word when spoken casually).  Looking up the valley from the lodge, one sees a layered collage of ever-taller mountains.  The visual is so surreal that it appears to be CGI'd rather than actually there.

For the rest of the trek, I marvelled at how high one could look and still be staring a terra firma.



Back home in the US after an amazing 22 days in Nepal.  I'll have plenty to report on the trip now that I have bandwidth -- mmmmm, warm, fuzzy, delicious bandwidth! -- however for now, you can feast your eyes on a few photos from the trip in the new Nepal Gallery.


Good Time to See Nepal

One of the concerns people have expressed to me in the time leading up to this trip has been: "Is it safe?"  The question is a good one for any international travel and, in this case, stems for the decade of civil war that tore through Nepal until recently.  After the elections over the summer, however, it appears that the Nepalese have settled into a period of peace and are focused on rebuilding their compromised society. 

Part of that repair can come from tourism -- folks from outside the country coming to meet its people, enjoy its hospitality and see its natural beauty -- and I'm happy to pitch in.  While travel to countries like Nepal does have an element of risk, it's not as great as Hollywood would have you believe!  With a good bit of prudence and great planning, there's little cause for general concern.

One way to stay on top of what's going on is to remain in contact with your tour operator or guide in the period leading up to the trip.  They don't want anything bad to happen to their customers, so they will usually keep you very well informed.  Such was the case with Geckos Adventures, our trek planner.

Another way is to reach out an make new friends that are on the ground and can give you the local view.  This is how I met Raj Gyawali, whose company Social Tours is based in Kathmandu.  A quick visit to Raj's site and a subsequent email to him yielded the following friendly and informative email:


Nepal is fine to travel! Its safe and totally OK to trek specially.

We are having major political upheavals, which means that crime is on the rise in Kathmandu etc... but that is still far far lower than most cities of the world. Political changes means demonstrations and strikes etc. but once you are in the ground you will pretty much know where to go and what to avoid. Much like anywhere else in the world.

However, if you are trekking, then once you are out in the open, you are totally in a different world... nothing seems to matter in these areas... political upheavals in Kathmandu, the stock exchange crashes, nothing! Its plain fun....

When in Nepal, feel free too to drop into our office an talk to our staff, they will be more than willing to venture information. There are no obligations involved to providing you information of course.  We are more than happy to help a traveler coming in.

Enjoy your travels.

As you can see, it's great to have friends in high places.  Thanks Raj for helping put my mind at ease!