During our stay in Kathmandu, we visited the Hindu temple known as Pashupati Nath. As we entered the gates, a woman blessed us all with tika (the red dot placed on foreheads) and sent us on in. We were not allowed inside the temple itself because it‘s only for Hindus; however, the surrounding area had plenty for us to explore. The place is filled with numerous mandirs, or smaller temples for worship, as you make your way up the stairs. These mandirs are created and worshiped by couples who are wishing to conceive.
While we visited the many mandirs, we came across a sectioned off part of the temple, where hundreds of sadus (ascetics), or people who renounce society for religious purposes, were crowded together. We were lucky to see this tiny glimpse into their lives—something rather rare because they are typically stowed away and were only gathered here because of the Masharvati holy day.
Down below, a stream flows through the temple and all along the edges are small platforms where funerals take place. However, the Hindu funeral is unlike any we’ve seen before. All bodies are cremated in a step by step ritual. To paraphrase, the ritual begins with the dead covered in linens and bathed by the men in the family with sacred water. Incense is then lit above the head as flowers and marigold leaves are sprinkled over the body. The eldest son of the dead has his head shaved to signify sacrifice and a time of mourning. He is then the one to light the match and set fire to the body. Once the cremation is complete, the ashes are dumped into the water. The significance of the cremations is said to return the body back to the earth.
As these funerals proceed at Pashupati Nath, hundreds of people sit and watch on the other side of the river. Death is not hidden under a blanket here, but rather something natural to be shared together. We were able to see bits and pieces of a few separate cremations and get a small preview into the culture surrounding death in Nepal.
Boudhanath, at first a regular Nepali sight, congested roads, tall buildings, repeating store fronts, but after trailing the buildings with your eyes you see one missing, a gap in the wall, as you get closer the sound of chimes, footsteps and the voices of many gets louder and louder. Continuing up the path where the missing building is you instantly spot the attraction, hundreds of people walking clock wise around something of such out of the blue to the west even I can’t describe it. As the movement follows so do the spins of the hundreds of prayer wheels all following the same direction. Stores upon stores surrounding the center in a big circle shape it felt like it’s own little hidden community, that only curiosity could’ve led you to. Our time there consisted of a criss cross seating lunch with a small view onto the liveliness of this camouflaged stupa, followed by a short exploration of this Pure hearted hideaway.
Eve, Hayley, and Sophie
We had the best time with our Kopan host family this past week. The couple that housed us three women had two children: a seven year old daughter named Sonya, and a 10 month old baby named Besus. He was the happiest little baby and the light of our lives. Living right next door was our host father’s extended family, so there was a never ending stream of people coming in and out. Our family in particular was very active. They held a rice feeding ceremony as well as several dance parties. On our last night, our host father and sister took us into the city to see the Buddhist stupa Boudhanath and out to eat their favorite meal—which to our pleasant surprise—happened to be pizza and French fries.
Trevor and Conor
In my first home stay in Kopan it was absolutely amazing! My family was the coolest family on the block, and they treated us like total ambassadors. They fed us like kings, and they even had hot water that was an absolute privilege. My teammate Conor that stayed in the same house as me would most definitely agree. He had come down with the common cold and the family took the best care of him. The Mom of our home was the local school’s accountant and she was one of the best English speakers in the district. Our dad owned his own company. His company provided all the materials needed to make the foundations of the buildings in the district. Both of our parents were very smart and really hard workers, and they treated us with the utmost respect and me and Connor followed that. Our mom took us to the nearby market one afternoon and had us try pani puri which was a very spicy street food. It was a super fun experience and the food was delicious. All in all I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our home stay, it was incredible!
Alex and Charlie
The upcoming minutes to the arrival at the home stay brought upon such a cluster of mixed emotions, be it fear, nerves, excitement, and curiosity, my brain racing with the ideas and scenarios I’ll find myself in over the next several days sharing a vision with strangers of 2 completely different perceptions of each other. But at the end of the emotion and thought overload what follows is what started this trip in the first place, just a bunch of kids wanting to experience 1 of the many ways of living. And in this case, 1 hole in the floor of a toilet to a whole apartment building, birds nest in the corner ceiling of the house, 5am wake up, and enough rice to feed a village for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And that being said I’d have it no other way.
Something we flew to the opposite side of the world to experience is just another day for our Nepalese brothers and sisters. For our family in particular a normal day consists of feeding the hundreds of chickens they own, shepherding the goats, making “chai” and a big bowl of rice to finish the day.
As simple as it sounds that’s all life is here in Nepal, live life for each day and put your time with the people you love first before anything, something the west doesn’t prioritize and that’s a real eye opener.
Tom and Nathan
Despite this not being my first time in a home stay, I was still nervous when I first arrived. I wasn’t sure what the living situation was, and I was worried that communication with the family would be tough. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried about any of those things. My home stay family, which consisted of a mother who had two daughters, Roshni (19), and Eliza (17), and a son, could not have been any nicer. The cooking was also amazing, and they catered to all of my needs. Their neighbor, who was in the house a good amount, also spoke Hindi, which made communication easier as my home stay partner, Nathan, is a fluent Hindi speaker. A cousin of the girls, Sagar (along with his brother and sister), arrived midway through our home stay, and spoke excellent English, which made communication even easier. Their house was very comfortable, and could have the entire team over for lunch, which frequently happened. The highlight of the home stay experience had to be when Nathan and I hiked with the family through a local pine forest to collect beautiful rhododendron flowers, and we eventually ended up at a point that overlooked the whole city of Kathmandu. This was a fantastic experience for both me and Nathan, and it‘s one we will never forget.
Rice Feeding Ceremony
Halfway through our stay in Kopan we were lucky enough to be invited to a rice feeding ceremony by one of the host families. This is a celebration of a child turning six months old. The baby was decked out in red and gold and had a ceremony at a Buddhist monastery surrounded by family. This was followed by a day’s long party that only seemed to get more and more wild as time went on. Family from the surrounding area drove in to bless the baby and hand him money before staying to dance and eat. Our team arrived to dance around five and did not stop until well into the night. The locals taught us their dance moves and dressed the women of the group up in saris. We all went home with sore feet and full smiles.
Under the expectant gaze of 30-40 smiling Nepali children, our group was overcome with anxiety of varying severity concerning how we were going to survive the coming 45 minutes. If our translator/lord and savior Gokul wasn’t present, we might not have, either. While the other group with Charlie, Eve, and Tom set off on a highly successful geography lesson, our group with Sophie, Trevor, Alex, and myself plowed ahead with a cultural exchange exercise. We had the kids fold colored paper twice to create 4 squares on either side. We then asked them to draw pictures in the squares contrasting cultural aspects of Nepal and the United States. For example, we had them draw pictures of Nepali food verses United States food, Nepali holidays verses holidays in the United States, etc. It was a fun exercise, particularly in seeing how the Nepali kids perceived the United States. Overall it was a fun time for all involved and both teams succeeded in holding the attention of Nepali classrooms for 45 minutes with our lessons.
In Kopan our stay came with some very rewarding construction work. As a group we were assigned a few tasks at the local school. First off the team had to sand down the guard railing on the upper portion of the school. The goal was to put an anti rust adhesive and allow for a nice clean surface for the sky blue paint. The YI team made it look very good and it really complimented the school, and the principal was extremely satisfied. Second task for the YI team was to rip a lot of existing brick and concrete out of the school to create a play area for the kids. This project took the most work, with the YI team having to start by digging a trench for a small brick wall and then having to sort what seemed like countless amount of bricks, from full bricks to half bricks. After all of that was done the leveling process began on the last day of our stay. The play area started to come together nicely as the team came to an end of their work. This construction project was the first of the trip and with a small group of 9 people the job completed effectively. At the end of our work the school held a celebration ceremony for the YI team and it ended in a super fun dance party.
On Saturday we were guided up to two local monastery’s by our host families. To get to our destination we needed to hike up a hill overlooking the town of Kopan. It was about an hour hike passing through mountain towns and landscapes. By the time we reached the first monastery we were a little sweaty and parched but the views quickly quenched that thirst. The monastery was filled with elaborate paintings and pictures of lamas. Admittedly the zen vibe was a bit obscured with all the people taking cheesy selfies next to murals. Afterword we proceeded to the Kopan monastery, a very famous monastery in Nepal. After scrambling through hillside paths we reached the guarded entrance to the monastery. We had to convince the guard that we were there to mediate and not to sight see. The entrance to the gompa is marked with the writings of multiple Dali lamas. After spending some time inside the gompa we circled round to a famous stupa dedicated to the 1000 mini stupas inside the one big stupa. We then had to race down to the school to continue our work, with a zen state of mind.
Sunday afternoon, after a short morning of work, the group eagerly rushed over to myself and Nathan’s home stay. The occasion: making (and then eating) momos. Momos, a dumpling-like dish usually filled with vegetables, buffalo, or chicken, are very popular in Nepal. Once the group arrived, they soon found out the task would be tougher than expected. The process of making the momo involves creating a flat circle out of dough roughly the size of your palm, filling it with vegetables or meat (for this occasion it was vegetables), and then pinching the sides of the dough together while raising it up to cover the filling in order to create a dumpling shape. The momos are then steamed until cooked through. The process proved to be difficult, and only the Nepalese and Trevor were able to construct good looking momos. However, everyone proved to be proficient at eating the momos, with most devouring a plate of ten or more. We all left the house with full stomachs and a greater appreciation for the crafting of these delightful delicacies.
White Water Rafting
As a means of breaking up the long and bumpy bus ride to Pokhara, we spent three hours floating down the Trishuli River. Along the way we encountered intermittent rapids (the more severe bouts of which reached class four), both Sophie and Nathan capsizing Kayaks and having to bail on them, borderline frostbite on the slimmest among us, cliff-diving, an absolutely delicious, freshly made lunch, stunning scenery throughout, excellent Go-Pro footage, a couple of very cute dogs, and good times for crafting good memories. All in all, white-water rafting made for a highlight afternoon on the trip so far. Furthermore, its physically demanding nature combined with its omnipresent eye-candy made for an excellent prelude to our upcoming Himalayan trek.