Monday, May 16, 2011

The End of an Adventure

So here I sit, in my living room, looking out at the grey Seattle sky, Rainier beer on my left and cat to my right.  Yep, after 6 fantastic months I’m home at last.  It’s both strange and wonderful to be home, but first I need to tell the final story of how I got here!

Wow…. Back in Katmandu, just looking at this photo again makes me miss the road… living out of those bags and looking at scenes like that every day… sigh…

Anyways.  At this point I only had a few days left in the trip, and I just needed to relax in Katmandu for a few days before the flight home.  I had a few errands to do such as taking care of laundry, printing out my flight info and other bits, but really it was a do-nothing day.

In the afternoon I met what we dubbed ‘the roof crew’ on the roof of the guesthouse: Julian, Julia and Maggie, as before we spent the whole evening sitting on the roof chatting and generally just having a good time.  The ease of meeting so many cool people is without a doubt one of the best things about traveling, and something I’ll really miss being home again.

On my last day of the trip I wasn’t about to sit in Thamel and do nothing so I went to one more place in Katmandu I had not visited yet, Pashuptinath, the most holy Hindu temple in Nepal.  I took a taxi for 200 rupees to get there and arrived at the entrance gate.  At this gate I found out the price to get in was a whopping 500 rupees! My guide book was from 2006, but back then it was “only” 250, and not long before that it was free from what a friend told me.  Part of the attraction to traveling in this part of the world is that things are cheap, if prices are going to go up this much and this fast, they are going to start turning people off to coming in the first place.  It mattered a lot for me actually, because since I was leaving the next day and didn’t want to get more Nepali cash, I was almost broke so 500 rupees was a LOT to me and it put me in a bit of a sour mood honestly.

This temple is on the Bagmati River which connects to the Ganges in India, and a primary purpose besides simply going to pray is the cremation ghats.  This is the main area for cremations, and each platform is for a different caste.  The lowest caste was only granted access to the temple in 2001, and the rich and powerful are cremated in a different area behind where this photo is taken from.  Here you can see a body laid out in preparation for cremation, the wood being set, and two more cremations taking place behind the first platform.

From the viewing area closest to the cremation ghats.  The building in the rear right is the main temple itself, however non-Hindus are not allowed in.  As is usually the case in sites like this, the whole are is full of religious icons and various small buildings built throughout the ages, and while there is a lot to look at here it is admittedly less spectacular than many of the other sites I visited.

Here is a body going through the first stages of the cremation process.  I actually stood and watched the whole thing and it was quite interesting.  A few elements of the ceremony has taken place already here, and now the body was lifted onto the wood itself.

Across the river are other platforms, where every year after the cremation ceremony you are supposed to return to in order to honor the dead.  

In this part of the ceremony, the members of the family are taking turns placing pieces of wood on the body.  This is the only part of the ceremony that women take place in as far as I could tell.  It is certainly a different way of thinking about death and bodies than we have in the west, huh?

On the other side of a bridge crossing the river is where the rich and powerful are cremated.  Can’t be mixing with the commoners now can we? Anyways, this was interesting to watch because the ceremony was quite different.  In this point the body is having it’s feet dipped in the river.  I noticed the body was in a sleeping bag, and some webbing and carabineers were removed, maybe this man was a climber?

And back to the other cremation.  The fire is always begun from the mouth, then the whole thing is covered in straw for the fire to spread.  At this point most of the family (and all the women) leave and the cremation is overseen by two or three guys poking at the fire with bamboo poles.  The whole process takes about three hours, then all the ashes are pushed into the river. (which people also fill with trash, and then bathe in…)

Looking at a series of Shiva lingams in identical structures on the terrace above the river. 

This is a bit of an overview of the main cremation area.  The structures in front with the white roofs are what you were just looking through in the last p photo, the ghats on the right are for the rich and powerful, then on the other side of the two bridges is where the common people are cremated.

Up the hill a short ways I noticed a double gate with a guard sitting at it and wondered what exactly was beyond those gates.  As I walked up the stairs and through the gate, I was surprised to see a heard of deer in the park!  They were very skittish and would run away if you got within about 100 feet, but it was interesting to see and they were fun to watch running and leaping through the air.

Also in this area was a large number of monkeys.  Not uncommon, but these ones were using a sacred lingam as a play structure, and climbing the trees and taking massive leaps into the muddy water to cool down and presumably for fun as well. 

This is the Gorakhnath Temple, in the forest and farther up the hill yet.

Another photo of the deer I saw earlier.  I guess they are totally comfortable when there is a fence between you and them!

The Vishwarup Temple, another site non-Hindus are not allowed to enter.  It’s this kind of thing that make the 500 rupee entrance fee pretty outrageous.  Either way, I met a Nepali man who was sitting at the entrance and we talked for probably half an hour about people and travel and Nepal and politics and the future.  As I returned to the main complex, I then met Ramesh and Vishma, two young Nepali guys and we began chatting as well.  We touched on similar topics but it is always educational to talk to locals and I really enjoyed chatting with them.

The afternoon was spent hangout out with the crew from the lodge.  At this point Maggie had left but we had gained Julia’s friend Or who was from Israel.  We hung out in the stair ways for a lot time just chatting, and Julian pulling out his sketch book and drawing the scene.  I felt honored to be the subject of one of his drawings, haha.  In the evening we went out to dinner (which was Julias treat since I was broke, thank Julia!).

The next morning was truly my last day of the trip, and I woke up early to wander the streets of Katmandu.  It will be a while before I see a ‘grocery store’ that looks like this again…

Of the last minute things I wanted to do before leaving, one was to get a final shave.  Having someone shave you for less than $1 is one of the great luxuries of traveling in this part of the world, and something I will miss now that I have to shave myself again!

Once my business was taken care of I returned to the lodge and met my friends, then set out for some lunch and to use the wifi to check my flight status. 

I shared a taxi to get to the airport, and the end was clearly in sight. 

My last view of Katmandu and the part of the world I’ve spent the last few months in.  Near the tip of the wing is Bodhnath by the way.

Flying above the clouds to Delhi.

I had a fairly long layover in Delhi, which gave me lots of time to waste.  I ended up going to the same airport restaurant I went to when I was leaving India for Nepal a month and a half before.  For a whopping 550 Indian rupees (which is more than Nepali rupees), I had by far the most expensive meal of my trip at about $16!!  I guess I need to get used to that kind of thing coming back to America.

The airport felt really strange.  Being around so many white people again, hearing so much English language again, it was actually confusing and distracting.  I couldn’t help but hear and understand conversations around me again and I really couldn’t focus.  About this point I started to feel pretty depressed about the trip ending as well.

The flight from Delhi to Chicago was something like 15 hours, but according to the clocks and time zones, we only arrived 3.5 hours later!  Flying into Chicago really felt crazy, seeing a modern American city again, and roads in grids and straight lines!  It’s hard to explain the feeling, but it was a bit overwhelming.  I only slept about four hours on the flight, and ended up watching 5 different movies.  None of them good!

Here is my route back to America.  Since I also went west flying from Seattle to the Philippines when I first began this trip that means I circled the entire world on this trip, which is actually pretty cool!

The Chicago airport was a bit of a blur, being back in America and surrounded in all that entails.  I went through immigration no problem, and had a few hours to wait again.  I was really excited when I saw my ticket to Seattle though, because I had a window seat!  Or so I thought.  Instead of a window like every other seat for some reason I was staring at a wall.  Needless to say I was upset not getting to see the mountains of home as I flew in.

Once I landed, I got my bag and went out to wait on the curb for my parents to pick me up.  I was standing there, and all of a sudden I saw Sazzy, a friend from home and who I traveled with at the start of my time in India!  I had no idea he was coming, haha.  A month ago when I bought my plane ticket I posted a message on Facebook mostly joking about who was going to pick me up.  He said he would way back then but I didn’t follow up on it and my parents wanted to pick me up, so I was going with that.  So, it was a surprise, but a good one to see him.  I used his phone to call my parents, who were still on the way and decided to meet them part way.

Driving with Sazzy north from the airport to Seattle, here is my first view of my hometown!

We met my parents at Kubota Gardens where my dad works, and it was a perfect day.  The garden looked amazing, and of course it was great to see my parents again.

From here my parents took over the driving because Sazzy had to go, and we took the Viaduct, my favorite road in Seattle back towards my house.

Along the way I wanted to stop at a park on Queen Anne, my favorite view on Seattle, just to take it in a bit and get back in the Seattle frame of mind. 

Before going home though I needed food, and there was only one place to go: Dicks Drive In!  A Seattle institution since 1954, I’d been craving their burgers, fries and shakes for a long time. 

After food, we finally returned to my home, which my dad had been living at and taking care of for the last 6 months.  It felt great to be home again and I got to see my cats again!  As always, Jack was the first one out, but eventually Sven, the scaredy-cat came out and they were both very happy to see me =D

Before coming home told my parents I would like some brownies, 2% milk and Rainier Beer waiting for me and they did not disappoint, thanks mom and dad!  After some unpacking, I set up my netbook, grabbed a beer and took care of some business.  My travel computer looks so small next to those speakers, haha!

The laundry pile.  I washed everything on heavy duty, twice because let me tell you, third-world-grime is a whole other type of grime.  Especially when you have six months of it built up.  The dirtiest thing was my day bag.  I washed it twice in the machine on heavy duty with the other things, then washed it in a bucket my hand.  Twice I made the water almost black before it eventually came clean!

That evening Sazzy came over to the house, and we took a sauna which felt wonderful.  A great way to feel clean and purified after returning home and one of the things I’d really been looking forward to.

The next day I awoke to use the bathroom and went back to bed.  I was woken again by my phone ringing, and it was my friend Dan.  I complained that he was calling so early in the morning and at that point realized I’d woken up at 7:30 AT NIGHT rather than the morning, haha!  I had lots to do, but I guess I needed the sleep.  I got out of bed and began cleaning since I was hosting brunch the next day, and ended up staying awake until 5:30am, it was getting light out by the time I went to sleep again.

I woke up again at 8:30 (not much sleep huh) to do more prep for brunch, and around 11am my friends from home started to arrive.  I ended up with about 15 people over at the house hangout out, cooking, eating and drinking champagne, a great welcome home!

Oh, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet.  Two days before I came home I found out I don’t have a job to come home to like I’d thought I had.  If I’d known that sooner, I’d probably have stayed traveling longer, as it’s cheaper to travel than to come home and pay rent… It’s a major bummer and now I’m a bit short on money as a result of my travels.  I have a bit of side-work I will be able to do for money, but I don’t know how much or how long that will last.  If I can sustain it, I wouldn’t mind not having a full time job this summer though, so I can do a bit more here around town.  Maybe some good hikes in the mountains, maybe a short trip down the coast to visit some friends, who knows. 

Thanks for reading, I hope you have enjoyed the stories and the photos and I hope I’ve helped inspire you to go out and explore the world for yourself if you haven’t already.  I hope this is just the beginning of world traveling for me and I couldn’t be more pleased with the experience I’ve had over the last six months.

So, that’s it.  The end of my adventure.  I’m not sure what else to say right now that I haven’t said already, but this will be the end of my regular blogging.  Maybe in a week or so after I’ve had more time to rest, reflect and digest I’ll have some thoughts on the trip so look for that