Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Climb to Mt. Everest

Thank you Gandhi’s Birthday (a national holiday in India) for giving us a 3 day weekend to travel to Nepal — a mere 90 minute flight from New Delhi.  Why haven’t we been here before now?  As I asked the family how they would describe Nepal, the response was, “It’s India, but it’s not India.”

Ok, so we didn’t actually climb with our feet to Mt. Everest but we climbed VERY high in Buddha Air’s “Flight to Mt. Everest Experience” and let’s just say it was an experience of a lifetime.  Saturday morning at 5:00 am we left our hotel to head to the small, Kathmandu domestic airport that everyone goes through to hike to Everest Base Camp or further.  Sitting in that airport and watching the excitement of different groups heading out on hiking excursions planted a desire for Tyler to get back here and at least do a day hike in this beautiful part of the world.

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At 29,028 feet, Mt. Everest is absolutely beautiful!

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Boarding our small aircraft.  There were about 20 of us on the airplane with everyone having a window seat.  Some of our children were still wanting to be in bed so taking off in the airplane almost put them back to sleep.  Flights over Everest are done for only a couple of hours each morning starting at 6:30am.

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There are over 20 mountain peaks in the mountain range that are any where from 20,660 feet (Chugimago that is pictured in this shot) to the big Mt. Everest.  They gave us a map of the mountain range that we could follow as we took the 50 minute plane flight.  Each person on the flight got to visit the cockpit area and let’s just say those pilots definitely have the best view on the plane.

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Saturday felt like the day that must have been more than one day for sure.  After the Everest flight we headed back to get in church clothes to visit our church in Kathmandu.  The earthquake in May damaged their building they were meeting in so they currently meet in a hotel conference room.  Saturday instead of Sunday is their day of worship because in Nepal, Saturday is the only day off.  Yes, Sunday morning, we saw kids heading off to school in their school uniforms.  Following church we headed out to visit some of the holiest sites to Buddhists.

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The Monkey Temple is the common name for this Unesco World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath.  One climbs hundreds of stairs to get to the top and experience an incredible mixture of both Hindu and Buddhist temples and worship taking place.  The history of this site dates back 2000 years.  According to legend the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake and this hill rose spontaneously from the waters, hence the name that means “self-arisen.”

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Prayer flags are shown here with a great view of the Kathmandu valley.

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Hundreds of monkeys live in the trees and around the site, thus the common name of “monkey temple.” 

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Prayer bells were found throughout the site.

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A mistake by our taxi driver put us at this location before arriving at the Monkey Temple which was up and around the hill from here.

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The Great Boudha Stupa — Stupa of Enlightenment — was just a short walk from our hotel and we visited it both Friday and Saturday.  It was definitely fun to sit and people watch and feel the energy of the place.

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The Boudha Stupa

Buddhist people believe the relics of the third Buddha of Bhadrakalpa was enshrined in the dome of this stupa.  It was undergoing some restoration and repair work so we saw a lot of scaffolding.  This Stupa is another world heritage site by Unesco.  It is a major destination for pilgrims from the Himalayas and the center of a thriving town of monasteries.  Many stories and legends surround the history of this stupa and it is considered a “wish, granting jewel.”  All those who receive blessings from it will receive empowerment from all the Buddhas of the ten directions.  It is know as “The Stupa that Answers All Prayers.”

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This is as close as we could get to the Stupa, just inside the gate where we entered a room where there was a huge prayer bell that one walks around three times and of course leave a donation to invest in the power of this precious jewel.

So as we sat Saturday night on a bench and watched people making their rounds around the Stupa, we observed a few things.  Prayer bells line the stupa and as they walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction, they will move the prayer bells as they are praying.  They also walk with prayer beads in hand and we noticed that women wear an apron.  I inquired about this and was told that the colorful apron is a sign that the woman is married.

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Shops line the Boudha stupa where one can buy prayer beads, aprons, snacks, souvenirs.

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The Guru Lhakhang Monastery — the oldest of the four monasteries around the Boudha Stupa.

We were there during a fuel crisis.  Many people asked us if there were signs of it.  Yes there were but it didn’t affect us too much.  Taxi prices were much higher than normal as they are limited on the amount of fuel they can obtain.  Streets were lined with buses waiting to get fuel at some point.

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Nepali people make the most of their fuel shortage — Buses were loaded inside and out.
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The souvenir shop where I bought my yak bell that they tie around the yaks wandering the Himalayas.

The best souvenir of the trip — memories of this great experience  for sure.  Along with those, a yak bell, leather yak backpack and a singing bowl accompanied us back to New Delhi.

Auspicious Days and Other Customs To Bring Good Fortune

Favorable, good luck, well timed, prosperous and fortunate are all synonyms of auspicious — a word that I personally had never used until moving to India.  It’s one of those words I hear frequently now, and have to smile every time.  In the Hindu religion and here in India, there is a strong belief that things should be done on “auspicious” days — such as buying a car, purchasing a home, opening a new business and definitely which day you are married.  The calendar of holidays in India differs from year to year based on the “auspicious days” selected for those events.  How is it determined?  Astrology is the most simple answer.


A Vedic Astrology Chart

Hindu Vedic Astrology is fundamentally different from Western and Chinese astrology.  The measurement of the Zodiac is one of the main differences.  In Vedic astrology the motion of planets is measured with the fixed background of stars.  In Western astrology the motion of the planets is measured against the position of the Sun.  Some universities here offer advanced degrees in astrology as so much weight is placed upon the ability to read numbers, stars, etc. to gauge the most “auspicious” days and determine which person one should marry.  Vedic astrology can be traced back thousands of years.  In the early days it was only based on the movement of planets in relation to the stars, but later it added the element of the zodiac signs.

So as the major holiday season of India approaches with Dusshera in October and Diwali in November, there are a number of “auspicious” days and many big purchases happen at this time.  Just today in the newspaper there was an ad that reiterated the belief that even choosing the color of your car should be considered in relation to Vedic astrology.

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“”Passion Red or Ivory White?  Better to carry your numerologist along!”  And here I thought choosing the color of car just had to do with personal preference.

The wedding is one of the greatest events in a person’s life and Indian’s take their Vedic astrology very serious when it comes to determining the person they marry as well as the date the marriage takes place.  One woman that I have gotten to know here grew up in America but had Indian parents.  She was sent to India to meet some of the men that her father considered were appropriate for her to marry.  She told me that her father would consider the birthdate of each candidate because if the man’s birthdate did not align properly with hers, he would not even consider it.  She did end up having an arranged marriage here in India, with someone that was “auspicious” and she says she has been fortunate in her marriage.  She personally does not believe in it, but she says looking back now (she is probably in her 50s), she says that many of the predicted events did come to fruition.  Every Hindu Indian I have met has confirmed that they met with an astrologer before picking their wedding date.  An astrologer will determine the groom’s astrological position to the moon and then determine the same for the bride in relation to the sun.  The astrologer then gives the couple lucky times and dates for their wedding.

There are a few other customs here that are followed to bring good fortune as well that I wanted to share.  The first is the placing of different “charms” around one’s home in order to ward off the evil spirit.  As I participated in the pottery village tour last year, the guide pointed out several masks that were placed near every home.  At our building, there are several to be found as well around the property.  I am not sure if it is the guards, the landlord, or the drivers that place them there but we are well protected.

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One charm in the pottery village that hung from someone’s home to ward off evil.

Babies are also named based on their charts of astrology.  During the first year of a baby’s life, there is a custom followed here to ward off the “evil eye.”  Parents will place a black dot on the side of the face, or on the forehead.  I was told by a local that the parents don’t want people commenting on how beautiful the baby is because they fear it will bring an evil influence to the baby.  One Indian woman I have gotten to know that spent most of her life in America told me that even the parents that say they don’t believe in this tradition will still place a black dot behind the baby’s ear “just in case.”  Babies also have black bangles placed on their wrists to assist in helping ward off the evil.  The black “kajal” that is applied to baby’s eyes has a couple of meanings — first it is believed to give a cooling effect upon the eyes protecting them from the sun’s rays but also to ward off the evil eye.

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This baby has “kajal” around his eyes.  The child in orange on the bottom picture has a small black dot on his forehead as well to keep him protected.

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Another Indian custom, which we all identify with India is the “bindi” a woman wears.  This dot has mystical meaning and is only worn by Hindus, thus a physical identifier that the woman is Hindu, although I have met women who are not Hindu that wear it.  It represents a third eye of spiritual sight which sees things physical eyes cannot.  According to some of the facts I read on bindis, it states that if it is a red bindi it means the woman is married and sometimes those women not married will wear a black bindi to ward off the “evil eye” of course.  What I see happening today, though, is that the bindi has become a piece of fashion and the color of the bindi is worn to correlate with what the woman is wearing whether she is married or not.  Until researching the bindi I didn’t understand it’s true meaning of being a reminder to use and cultivate this spiritual vision so I am unsure how much this concept is taught and understood.

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“Auspicious” days and events are smiled upon by everyone but it is amazing to me how moving to a different culture has brought this word into my vocabulary.  I am not one to read horoscopes or have palms read but I am grateful for those moments where I fell fortunate, prosperous and that things were well timed — in other words, auspicious!