Waking up with the fresh and calm air of Dhulikhel is one of the things that I cherish while staying here since I do not have to deal with all those cacophonies and pollution when I commute to Kathmandu University*. However today, I am as twice more excited because not only it is the first day off from the class but also we are going on a tour to Bhaktapur, one of the ancient cities in Kathmandu Valley! Yayy!!
After a 30 minute drive towards Kathmandu city, we arrived in Bhaktapur Durbar Square where one of three kings ruled the people of Bhaktapur. Our Nepalese guide, Arian, led us into the main square then to a Hindu temple where non Hindus are not allowed to enter then to “Snake Pond(Pokhari)” surrounding the square. From his enthusiastic explanations and little research I have done, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the plaza in front of the royal palace of the old Bhaktapur Kingdom and it is one of three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1934 so it looks now more spacious than the others in Kathmandu and Patan.
Over our Dalbhat lunch, we got to taste some curd which is very famous in this area (Bhaktapur is known for its production of wonderful 1. Curd, 2. Pottery, 3. Handcraft goods). We also had the opportunity to visit one of the Thanka art schools nearby. A Thanka is a painting on silk with embroidery and usually portrays a Buddhist deity, scene or mandala of some sort. It was so fascinating to see the art students painting so much detail of the complicated life circle which is incorporated into their work.
Okay, now back to Dhulikhel, but some students, including me, decided to go see the world tallest Shiva(One of the dominant god in Hindu religion) statue in Sanga(half way to Dhulikhel). After some time of hiking we finally reached the feet of the Shiva statue which looked so magnificent that I felt overwhelmed by its size and the expression on his face, like he was looking peacefully down over the valley with the good wishes for the people of the valley. Later I learned that it was built by an Indian entrepreneur and at the beginning of the construction the locals were unfriendly and doubtful but now there is so much development going around the village and people earn more due to the tourism.
After we got back to the lodge, there was Shabbat waiting for us which was very interesting for me to take part in because I am coming from such different background and I haven’t got any chances to experience such an event. Shabbat, “rest” in Hebrew, is the Jewish day of rest and seventh day of the week, on which Jews remember the God’s creation of the heavens and the earth in six days and on seventh day he rested. So on this special day, Jews refrain themselves from work activities and engage in restful ones to remember the day.
Candles were lit at the dinner and two of our Jewish friends, one from Israel and the other from France, began a prayer welcoming the arrival of Shabbat. After the prayer and blessing, the bread, “hallah”, and the wine were passed around then festive food was served. It was a beautiful ceremony and tradition and it always fascinates me that people honor God in different ways.
Earlier there was announcement about the Gala Night and students formed some groups according to their interests and talents. I was in the Salsa dance group and our group had so much fun when preparing for the program and learning some basic steps of the dance. Since there are lots of international students from different countries with various experiences, what people prepared were so diverse and fun such as Poi, singing(ranging from Nepali to Eminem rap song), Nepalese dance, Salsa dance, Juggling, Israeli dance etc.
On a misty Saturday morning at around 8.30 A.M, students are gearing up with their trekking equipment. Yes, today we are going for a trek to Namo Buddha, one of the most important religious sites in Nepal.
There is a very interesting story about this place: There was a prince who once went on a journey for relaxing time with his family and ended up in wooded forest. He found a hungry tigress with 5 cubs exhausted in a cave, with nothing to eat. He decided to sacrifice himself and gave his flesh and blood to the tigress so she could feed the cubs. Having given up his body in generosity to the starving tigress, he was reborn as Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.
Our trekking began with climbing up the “1000 stairs” to one Buddha statue in Dhulikhel then small trails that led us to different landscapes and village environments. Not only the scenic view from every point was fantastic but the people we met on the way were so hospitable with kind and generous smiles on their faces. I could not believe that people living in a situation with lack of cleaning drinking water and stable electricity could have that happy faces.
After 4 hours of rather slow-paced trekking, sometimes challenging because of the heat from the sun, we finally reached to Namo Buddha and the place where we were going to have our Dalbhat lunch.
The original plan was to walk back down but we all were already tired so decided to take a bus. I thought walking all the way down to the village and highway was the most challenging part of today’s journey. But when the bus arrived pack with people inside and some on the top roof of the bus, our real adventure started. It took around 20 minutes back to the Dhulikhel town but it was a perspiring experience since we were all standing up soaked with sweats and it required lots of strength to sustain our position inside the packed bus whenever the bus took the curvy courses. But it was unique experience and I think we all felt bonded at that moment like we were “on the same boat”.
The article was contributed by Mihwa Wi, Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea
*I have been working for the development project in Kathmandu University with the objective of providing technical trainings to the underprivileged youths in the region.