Travel Blog-Day 21

March 9, 2013 1 comment

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 21: Chitwan

I stayed just to bathe and ride the elephants again.  It was, of course, great!  I go there early when the mahouts were actually bathing the elephants.  I talked with a mahout and he told me there are three people who take care of each elephant.  The mahout is the headman and stays with the elephant his entire life.

There was a gharial across the river.  The Rapati River in Chitwan really isn’t that wide.  Yesterday, the mahout took the elephant I was on way out into the middle of the river.  Today, they all stayed pretty close to shore.

A bad thing about the mahouts is, even thought they seem to care and love the elephants, the hit them in the head with the blunt end of a metal hook.  It seems painful, but the elephant doesn’t flinch.  Its like the pony cart drivers, they treat the ponies like absolute shit.  Its horrible, but I think they don’t care for them the way the mahouts care for their elephants.

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Elephant riding on the Rapati River.

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More elephant riding on the Rapati.

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Happy elephant!!!

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Slippery wet elephant on the Rapati River in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 20

March 3, 2013 1 comment

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 20: Chitwan

I wake up early and changed lodges.  I find one that is very nice for a lower price than where I am.  I’m the only person here.  I lay on the bed and there is a spider on the wall next to my face the size of my palm.  I get up; get a bucket, ubiquitous in Nepali hotels, and a newspaper.  With the newspaper, I push the spider into the bucket and cover it with the newspaper.  I take him outside and let him go.  It immediately starts to downpour like mad.  Even though the spider wasn’t itsy bitsy, I figured she drowned.  I felt bad.  I tried to not hurt her, but it probably didn’t work.  Though sleeping in a room with a spider nearly the size of a tarantula was not an option.

I left the room, went and had a glass of chai.  I’m across from where the elephants should be.  It’s now 10:00am and the elephants are supposed to be bathing, but no one is there.  .  I see that the river is actually at the bottom of a small cliff.  I walk down to the water and see eight elephants and a bunch of people to my right.  They were behind a big new hotel/restaurant.  I go and take some photos.  For 100rs, about $1.40, you can ride and bathe the elephants.  I decide it’s a good idea.  The man in charge of my elephant has alcohol on his breath, which makes me wonder.  I had a blast.  My elephant kept spraying me with water.  A few times, while I was on him, he’d roll over onto his side.  I was thrown into the river; got up and washed his ears, which he seemed to like.  Being on an elephant is an interesting thing.  Their heads, from up top and behind, are much bigger than one would think.  It was great!  For just pure pleasure, this was the most fun I had the whole trip.  By the way, when giving the mahout the 100rs, you actually give it to the elephant who then give the money to the mahout.  They know the difference between money and food.  Chitwan, which I did not like and was going to leave the next day; I decide is not that bad.  I choose to stick to my original plan and stay for another day.  I am coming back tomorrow to ride and bathe the elephants again.

I had lunch and bought a DVD at a shop for $2.00.  It’s called “Himalaya” and is directed by Eric Valli and was nominated for an Academy Award for best Foreign Film in 2000.  It’s about a Tibetan village in Dolpo, Nepal that has an annual caravan to sell salt and get provisions for the village.  I highly recommend it.

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Crocodile on the bank of the Rapti River in Chitwan National Park.

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Rapti River, Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
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Elephant bathing on Rapti River in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 19

February 24, 2013 1 comment

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 19: Lumbini-Chitwan

Today I left Lumbini for Chitwan.  At the Lumbini Village Lodge they said it was a four-hour trip.  The bus ticket office said about four hours.  We left at 7:00am; I got to Narayangarh about 1:00pm.  I have to get to Sauraha, which is where all the hotels for independent travelers are.  It is raining, I get off the bus, a cycle rickshaw wallah says he’ll take me to Sauraha for 50rs.  I say fine.  He drives one block, says here are the busses and demands 50rs.  I gave him ten; he just smiled and didn’t say anything.  I get on a bus, which I’m told is going to Sauraha.  They drop me off at a crossroads, point and tell me it’s that way.  Guys with 4WD vehicles are saying they are the only way I can get there and it costs 500rs.  I see some pony carts and ask, they say 50rs.  I get in, it’s stopped raining, but now it’s really hot.  The guy is beating the hell out of this poor pony and laughing.  At one point the cart itself rolled into a mud hole, they pony was actually in the air, they driver is beating the pony.  No one gets out of the cart except for myself and one other guy.  The weight of the pony now brings him back to earth and we continue.  This lasted about 45 minutes.  I didn’t get to Sauraha until 2:45pm.  I get a room and look for food.  Everything is two to three times the price of anywhere else in Nepal.  It’s very touristy.  There are a lot of touts.  I get dinner, its not too good, but edible.  I go back to my room and realize it stinks from mildew.  I decide to move in the morning.  The cool thing is I saw a whole row of pachyderms walking down the street.  That is quite a sight.

Donkey Cart at Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Donkey cart at Chitwan National PArk, Nepal

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Working elephant on the street in Chitwan, Nepal.

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The main river in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.

Travel Blog-Day 18

June 19, 2012 6 comments

Day 18: Lumbini

Today I went to the Theravada side of the canal.  Again the map in Lonely Planet was not really accurate.  The signs on the path weren’t either.  What was nice is that it was a pleasant, cool day and wasn’t raining.  After turning right at the eternal flame, there was a very big bell, quite impressive.  The road split in two; at that point there were signs for the monasteries and temples, but no arrows for direction.  I decided to go straight.  After about five minutes, I came to a raging river. The road just stopped and continued on the other side.  I assumed this was not the way to any monasteries.   I turned back and on my right was a little road I had not taken before.  It turned out to be the way to the Sri Lankan Monastery.  The guidebook said it was being built, this was 2009, and construction was going very slowly.  Well, this is 2011 and it is finished and very beautiful.  I walked around the monastery and found an open-air hall filled with pillars, in the center was the classic statue of the baby Buddha with his right finger pointing up.  Surrounding the hall of pillars were little alcoves with murals showing events in the life of the Buddha.  The murals were very well done with one intriguing quirk; all of the women were extremely hot (as in sexy hot).  One mural showed Mahadevi (the Buddha’s mother) having the dream she had when she first became pregnant of a dancing white baby elephant.  Mahadevi is lying on her right side sleeping.  She’s gorgeous.  Later, in the mural showing the ascetic Buddha being offering rice gruel; Sujati, the girl who gave him the rice gruel is extremely hot and only has on a sheer scarf covering her breasts and another covering her hips.  I mean its almost animé in its over the top, cartoon like, bigger than life depictions of these women.

I turned left after leaving the Sri Lankan Monastery and left again.  I came to the Gautami Nun’s Temple.  It is the only place for women in Lumbini Pilgrimage Park.  The grounds are large.  There’s a pond in the middle that is very quit and pleasant.  The nun’s wear pink robes.  A rope blocks entrance to the temple, but it is almost an open-air temple and one can easily see inside.

Next to the Gautami Nun’s Temple is the Lokamani Pula Pagoda.  This is a Burmese gold gilded Pagoda reminisce of the one in Kushinigar, but not as large.  I did a kora of the pagoda and saw that, like the pagoda in Kushinigar, there are Buddhas at eight points surrounding the pagoda.  What is interesting is that above each Buddha is a sign with a day of the week.  This was true of the Pagoda in Kushinigar also.  The signs are in English.  Since I no nothing about the cultural practices of Buddhism in Burma, I don’t know what this means.

The next monastery is the Myanmar Golden Temple.  Unfortunately, it is closed.  From what I can see, it looks huge, impressive, and beautiful.  Next to it a new Cambodian Temple complex is being built.  The only things finished at this point are the gateways.

A few minutes down the road is the Royal Thai Buddhist Monastery.  The sign on the gate says Royat Thai, but everywhere else it’s spelled correctly.  I walk through the monastery gates and am accosted by a very big, violent looking dog.  A monk, who had been gardening, jumps up and grabs the dog’s collar and is yelling at the dog.  The dog did follow me though the rest of the time I was there.  The Thai Temple is extraordinarily striking.   It is covered in pure white marble.  Inside is a meditation hall.  The whole complex is exceptionally magnificent.  The gardens surrounding the temple, though marred by construction, have a beautiful section filled with pillars.  It began to drizzle.

I walk in the drizzle, its rather pleasant, to the end of the canal where there is the Lumbini Museum.  It doesn’t open until 10:00.  It’s only 8:30, so I decide to go on to the World Peace Pagoda and come back later.  To get there, I walk through the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary.  This is a wetlands area dedicated to preserving the Sarus crane.  It’s very peaceful.  Even though I don’t see any cranes, I hear a few.  I get to the World Peace Pagoda; a guy is trying to start a lawn mower in order to cut the grass.  It is drizzling and yesterday there was a downpour.  The grass is soaking wet, but he really wants to cut the grass.  The World Peace Pagoda is imposing.  It was built in commemoration of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and is dedicated to World peace.

I walk back to the Lumbini Museum and get there at 9:55, so I have to wait five minutes.  I sit down, a guy rides up on his motorbike and changes into his security guard uniform in front of me.  He says we have to wait for the ticket lady.  She shows up about 10:15.  I fill out a form in a book.  I give her money; she tells me to go around the corner to in order to buy the ticket.  I get there; she has walked through the museum and is sitting at a table with a ticket in front of her.  I buy the ticket.  She tells me to go to the entrance of the museum, where we just were.  I give the ticket to the security guard and he let’s me in.  The museum itself is trying very hard.  Even though the building is large, there is not much there, mainly photos and reproductions.  Over time, I believe it will become a very good museum.

Walking through the Theravada side to leave the grounds, I go to the Myanmar Golden Temple again to see if it’s open.  It’s still closed.

After lunch I take a walk on the road next to the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park, but leaving Lumbini itself.  I see a beautiful Tibetan Monastery and Temple.  I go and see that it is called Tashi Rabten Ling Monastery and is a Sakyapa monastery.  The temple is closed so I take pictures of the outside.  A monk in his late 20’s opens up a door and asks if I want to go inside.  It is, like nearly all Tibetan Temples, stunningly beautiful.

Bell at  Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Buddhist Mural at  Sri Lankan Monastery

Lokamani Pula Pagoda

Royal Thai Buddhist Monastery

World Peace Pagoda

Lumbini Museum

Myanmar Golden Temple

Tashi Rabten Ling Monastery

Inside Tashi Rabten Ling Monastery

Altar Inside Tashi Rabten Ling Monastery

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 17

February 26, 2012 2 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 17: Lumbini

I start the day quite early.  The Lumbini Pilgrimage Park opens at 6:00am.  I get a bike from the lodge owner.

I ride into the park and go to the Mahadevi temple.  The Asoka pillar is right next to the temple.  To the north of the temple is the pond, now a tank, where Mahadevi supposedly bathed before giving birth to the Buddha.  North of the pond/tank is a Bohdi tree.  This is not the tree underneath which the Buddha was but, but it appears to be highly revered.

I go into the Mahadevi Temple.  It actually is an excavations site.  The excavation appears to be ongoing.  At one point in the middle of the temple, there is a stone, which marks, supposedly, the exact spot where the Buddha was born.   Whether this is true or not, the place is very moving.  The brick wall next to the stone is covered with gold leaf people have rubbed on it.  This appears to be standard practice.  I saw this in Bodhgaya, Sarnath (for the first time), and Kushinigar.  This was the only place in Lumbini I saw it.

I ride for a while, but it’s incredibly muddy.  I decide to take the bike back, since it’s easier to walk, and the distances aren’t as bad as the guidebook says.  In the meantime though, the gate has been locked (for security reasons).  People can pass through, but nothing else.  I find a guy who helps me out by lifting the bike on one side of the fence while I grab it from the other.

After returning the bike, I go back into the park.  I find that the map in the guide isn’t really quite accurate.  The park is divided into two sections by a canal.  At one end of the canal is an eternal flame; at the other is the Lumbini Museum.  Starting from the eternal flame, the left side of the canal has the Mahayana temples and monasteries.  On the right side of the canal are the Theravada temples and monasteries.  I decide to visit the Mahayana side today and the Theravada side tomorrow.

I walk by the Panditarama International Vipassana Meditation Centre.  Unless one is staying there on a retreat it’s closed.  It does look like a good place for a retreat.   I turn left and left again onto a dirt road, its monsoon so the “dirt” road is actually a mud road.  I go into the Drubgyud Chöling Gompa.  It’s a very beautiful gompa.  A Nepali man sweeping the place let’s me walk around and take photos.  He has me buy a butter lamp for 10rs.  Right next to the gompa, they’re building a stupa.  It looks as if it’s almost finished, but you never know here.  The stupa is quite big and imposing; when it’s finished it will be immense.  I go back out on the mud road and walkabout 50 meters to the Manang Samaj Gompa.  It has a beautiful, huge chörten, but unfortunately, the gate is closed.

I walk back out to the main road, there’s this huge complex that looks unfinished, but usable.  It is completely cement, no color at all and dominates everything around it.  Before I get there, I see the Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist Monastery.  There’s a great deal of construction going on.  I turn down an even muddier road and ask the construction workers if I can walk through the construction yard to look around.  They say sure.  It’s really muddy.  I can barely get around.  After about ½ hour of this, I work my way around the entire complex to the front.  It seems if I had walked about 25 more meters I would’ve come to the entrance, which is a paved road, no mud!  The temple itself is very beautiful, but the statue inside is comical.  It’s the fat Budai, the Chinese folkloric deity normally associated with Maitreya Buddha, found in Chinese fast food joints in New York.  It is covered in gold and is quite big, but still it’s comical.

Across the road is the giant cement complex I mentioned before.  This is the Korean Buddhist Temple.  I go inside and find it’s very, very beautiful.  A nun is chanting and beating a rhythm on a wooden block.  There’s a Korean woman doing prostrations.  Other than the three of us, no one is there.  This is it.  I grab a cushion and decide to sit down and meditate.  I’m smelly, sweaty and covered in mud.  I try to clean off the mud before I sit.  There’s a well with a pump, so I at least get the mud off.  I sit and try to meditate, but I’m listening to the nun chanting.  She’s really good.  It’s very musical.  After awhile, I know I can’t do this, so I get up and leave.  It says there is a ceremony every 5am and 7pm.  I decide to come to the one at 7pm tonight.

Now is when this whole walk gets really dirty.  I see a sign for the Linn Son Temple.  I try to follow the signs and wind up going through a swamp.  I do get to what looks like the front of the monastery and there’s a sign telling me: “Closed Due To Construction”.  I walk back through the swamp to the road.  I follow the road to the main canal, which is empty.  At one point there’s sign again for the Linh Son Temple, but also for the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa, the Nepal Temple, and the Sokyo Gompa.  I decide to take this turn.  The swamp to the Linh Son Temple was nothing compared to this.  It begins to drizzle.  It’s not just muddy, it’s a real swamp, to the point where my sandals are being sucked off my feet.  After about 15 minutes of this, I get to a complex of four monasteries surrounded by a lake with a pretty big island in the middle.  Except for the pathway around the lake, which is total mud, the place is actually very clean.  Linh Son Temple is closed on this side too.  The Nepal Temple and the Sokyo Gompa are also closed, but the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa makes the trip worthwhile.  It’s a beautiful complex of buildings with a domed temple in the middle.  Tibetan Buddhist Temples are usually rectangular.  I’ve never seen a domed one before.  It seems very strange.  The murals are stunningly beautiful.  The glass has etchings of scenes from the life of the Buddha on them, not stained glass, but rather etchings.  When I first come into the grounds, I take off my sandals, which are covered in mud.  My legs are covered in mud from my knees down, so taking off the sandals really makes no difference.  This place is spotlessly clean.  The guard looks at me and has me go to a pump well and wash.  I get clean and I feel a lot better.

A fountain, when you first walk in, has a statue of a turtle with a wooden yoke around his neck.  This is a reminder of how precious our human lives are.  The Buddha, when asked if a lower realmed being can be reborn as a human, said yes, it was possible, but it was easier for a blind turtle at the bottom of the ocean to come to the surface and by pure chance put his head through a floating, wooden life preserver, than it would be for a lower realmed being to acquire rebirth as a human.

The gompa has two huge prayer wheels on each side.  The entire gompa is very large, very beautiful, and very clean.

I leave, and walk on the mud path around the lake.  I get back to the main road, am filthy again and decide to go to my room and take a shower.

Around 6:00 I go to the Korean Temple for the ceremony.  It starts at 7:00, but I want to meditate a bit before the ceremony.  I get there at 6:25, grab a cushion and sit.  I normally sit in half-lotus.  In Tibetan tradition, one’s left leg is on the bottom and the right leg goes on top.  A Korean monk comes up to me, point at my legs and says change.  I ask what he means; he says that my right leg has to be on the bottom and my left on top.  I pretend not to understand and he leaves.  It is now 6:35.  The ceremony starts.  I guess schedules don’t really matter.  I’m glad I got here early.  It’s a very beautiful, musical ceremony.  It’s over by 6:55.  If I got there at 7:00, I would’ve completely missed it.

A thing I noticed is how, even though everyone is trying to sing in unison or octaves, a great deal of harmony is going on.  Parallel fourths and fifths are common.  At one point everyone hit a first inversion major triad.  It really makes one see and understand how organum developed in Europe during the Medieval period.  Absolutely beautiful!

Mahadevi Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Ashoka Pillar at the Mahadevi Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Pool at the Mahadevi Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Eternal Flame at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Drubgyud Chöling Gompa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Drubgyud Chöling Gompa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Korean Temple at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

The fountain with the turtle at the Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa at the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 16

February 10, 2012 1 comment

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 16: Kushinigar-Gorakhpur, Sonauli, and Lumbini

Woke up at 4:15, showered, meditated, packed my stuff and left the monastery.  The guard at the gate asked me for money to open the gate.  I said no, he shrugged and opened the gate.

I went to the highway right outside the city gate to wait for the bus to Gorakhpur.  Mr. Roy said the first bus was around 6:45.  The time was 5:30.  I figured, I’d just sit and see what happens.  A guy with an auto rickshaw starts talking to me and telling me, there are no busses to Gorakhpur, I have to take his auto rickshaw.  He tells me it’s only 600rs.  The bus is 37rs.  He keeps telling me there is no bus.  At 5:45 a bus stops, I ask if it’s the bus to Gorakhpur, the driver says yes.  As I’m getting in the bus, the auto rickshaw wallah is saying no, this isn’t the bus to Gorakhpur.  I love India, it makes me smile.

There is practically no traffic and the driver is speeding like mad.  We get to Gorakhpur at 7:00.  I walk about 300 meters, find the bus to Sonauli (the Nepalese border), get in the bus and wait.  It finally leaves at 8:00 after they driver packs the bus like a sardine can.  It turns out to be a local bus, making stops everywhere.  It also starts to rain; pour is actually more like it.

A Swedish guy named Zacharias is on the bus.  He says he’s been living in Mumbai for 12 months and trying to break into fashion design. He’s going to Kathmandu.  His sister lives there.

We get to the Indian/Nepalese border.  At this point its not just pouring out, it’s a deluge. Zacharias and I find a cycle rickshaw.  The guy is great; he takes us through Indian customs and waits for us, then through Nepalese customs and waits for us.  He waits for us to change money.  He had asked for 20rs Indian.  We gave him 100rs.  He was with us at least an hour and really helped us out in the pouring rain.

Zacharias and I have lunch and wait for the rain to stop.  I get a cycle rickshaw to the bus station for Lumbini.  I get there and jump on a bus.  The driver is packing it to the stuffing point.  An old lady who is so old or in such pain or both actually crawls onto the bus.  There are no seats left.  She’s standing there stooped over.  Meanwhile the driver is still packing people onto the bus.  I get up to give my seat to the old lady.  She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.  Someone says something to her in Nepali, pointing to the seat.  She points at me, shakes her head no and tries to make me sit.  I get her to take the seat.  The driver is still putting people on the bus.  I can’t breath it’s so packed.  I finally get off.  There’s another bus right behind with no one on it.  The driver from the first bus says I’ll have to wait an hour for it to leave.  The driver from bus B says no, just 10 minutes.  Bus A leaves.  Bus B leaves 10 minutes later and is practically empty.

I get to Lumbini and find a room.  The proprietor of the lodge says they are having a celebration because his 6-month old son is having his first solid food today.  He invites me to the celebration.  The food is excellent.  Home cooked Indian/Nepali food.  It’s just great!  I walk around Lumbini.  Its one street, literally.  At one end is the entrance to the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park at the other the Lumbini Bazaar stops and there is a traditional Nepali village of thatched huts.  It’s very peaceful and quiet.  Everyone is deeply kind.  Lots of water buffalo.  It is a beautiful, quiet, peaceful place.

Ceremonial Bell at the Gateway into the Hinayana Monastery Portion of the Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Lumbini Village

Sakyapa Monastery in Lumbini

Thai Monastery at Lumbini Pilgrimage Park

Categories: Travel

Travel Blog-Day 15

January 25, 2012 10 comments

This is a blog about my 36-day trip through Nepal, India, and a little bit of China.  I’ll make one post roughly every week until it’s all finished.

Day 15: Kushinigar

I got up at 4:30 again, had trouble sleeping last night.  There is no breeze, so the ceiling fan simply pushes around hot air.  I’ve been drinking sprite like mad.  I usually don’t drink soda at all, but it’s the only thing that is somewhat cooling.  Even the water is hot.

I went to the Mahaparanirvana Temple this morning to hear the Cambodian monks chanting.  It was very beautiful.

I ate a thali at a street side place.  Sort of strange.  The guy asked if I wanted rice and chapatti. I answered yes.  I got a whole bunch of chapatti, but no rice.  When I was finished, the guy’s son asked if I now wanted rice.  I’ve eaten many meals in India; never have I gotten rice after I was done eating.

Sat and talked with Mr. Roy.  He told me how Kushinigar is a magical place.  Sometimes, at the Mahaparanirvana Temple there is a sweet smell in the air that smells like nothing anyone can describe.  He said he’s also seen lights in the air above the temple at night.  It would be beautiful to smell and see these things myself.

Mahaparanirvana Temple

Stupa on the site where the Buddha was cremated, with Nissa in the foreground.

Categories: Travel
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