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Archive for December 21st, 2009

Neapli Wedding

December 13, 2009
Nepali wedding In Lumbini, Nepal
Monks at tree Buddha was born under (a sapling from the original the story goes)
I woke at 6am after a great rest following a long day of overland travel and a somewhat stressful situation in finding lodging after dark when all the electricity was out….again.
Indian Buddhist spinning giant prayer wheel

The guide book recommended hiring a rickshaw to transport  you from one Nations’ monastery (in reverence) to another, or hire a bicycle and do it yourself.  I instead opted to walk.  I figured that after spending 9 hours on three local buses the day prior, as I traveled from the Tibetan refuge camp near Pokhora to the birth place (Lumbini) of Sidhartha Buddha, I could use the exercise. By midday I had likely covered 10K and was getting tired and hungry, and realized my food options were roasted peanuts and potentially a banana or tangerine from a rickshaw vendor. Or potentially ice cream that was being sold to the hundreds of Indian tourist; it looked good, but I had my droughts regarding my stomach agreeing so I told myself that lunch was going to be wait until dinner.  I bought some peanuts.

Taiwan temple

I wondered off the main path and found myself at the under construction Nepalese monastery.  The man at the gate was uninterested so I simply walked in to the bamboo scaffolding, the young (15) girls hauling sacks of pea gravel to the upper level on their heads, and the men planning boards by hand to make the interior bookshelves.  Soon I was met by the Project Manager who was monk from the Manang monastery I had visited while trekking around Annapurna. He was delighted in my interest and he explained the reincarnation history of his guru (who was somehow responsible for this monastery being build but I did not following entirely), and how it came to be that he was now building a great monument and equally good karma in his work.  And the work was impressive.  Inside I met the master painter who was responsible for incredibly intricate murals on all the walls and ceilings (about the size of a high school basketball arena). Given our Christian heritage we pay great attention to Michelangelo and his master works, but having seen both, I can attest to the artistry of Asia painters as being equally magnificent.
Nuns and Monks from Burma (Myanmar)

“You take dal-bhat” the monk asked.  I politely refused as I knew this was food off of someone else’s plate but there was no arguing as this was not a question but rather a statement.  On the brick pile in the sun, the local workers had placed jars of pickled peppers and were livening lunch up a bit with some “hot”. So thinking “When in Nepal do as the Nepali“, I helped myself to one green and one red pepper while the girls giggled with glee and the men shook their heads in warning.  I should have heeded the men’s council.  This was particularly apparent  when I realized I could not safely drink the water on the job site. The monk ordered some boiled water be prepared but I can’t say that boiling water helps much when your esophagus is sweating or evening bleeding hot. After lunch I tried to make a donation and was flatly refused.  “You are our guest, you are always welcome here, travel in peace my friend”..  I bowed in deference and waved to the girls as they filled, placed atop their heads, and carried more bags up the bamboo ladders.

Making tar to mix with  for the roads around Monasteries (town is dirt)

Da Peppers

At about 15k I had had enough and excepted the offer to jump side saddle onto the rack of an ancient single speed bicycle. The locals make it look so easy, and I have watched gorgeous women in brightly colored saris do it with grace and beauty a thousand times.  I, on the other hand, nearly crashed the poor kid pedaling the bike, and almost ended up on my bumm in the process. I declined the ride, but the kid really wanted the 50 rupees so we tried from a stand still and with a push from another boy we finally achieved forward momentum.  It was only then that I realized that to sit side saddle on a bicycle requires you perform one continuous abdominal crunch, and after a fee hundred meters I was beginning to shake as unused muscles revolted. Days later as I write this, I am still sore.

My bike

The next day I again awoke early and walked the other direction into the local village of Lumbini.  The contrast is amazing.  In the park you literally have multi-million dollar monastery’s that are supported by Buddhist communities from their home countries and in the local village you have people living in straw shelters along with their goats, and ox. I do not think many Westerners go that way because when I drew my camera I was immediately swarmed by every village kid wanting his picture taken.  I obliged and took an hour taking photos.  This is always a mixed blessing because after such a session it is nearly impossible to escape the grasp of these kids and often their parents.  I think this is why most people avoid interactions with locals and rather stay on the path or in the tourist bus.  It is hard to look at a group of people who are beyond description less fortunate then you, and simply walk away. And the irony is you are somehow richer for the experience; I certainly hope they are as well, but I have my doubts.

Lumbini boy

I secured a bicycle of my own and hit the back roads; until I threw a chain in the middle of a rice dyke and crushed my finger on the rear cog as I put it back on.  It is funny, I remembered how to ride a single speed bike for my childhood but I somehow forgot that when you are turning the pedal with one hand and holding the chain in the other, make damn sure you keep you fingers out of that gear.

Town of Lumbin

Village of Lumbini (yes those are homes in the backgrougd

I decided to tend to my wounds at one of the Japanese hotels that charge a hundred dollars a night (that is a fortune in Nepal), and then figured lunch was in order. This may be my new strategy – live on the cheap and then find out where the Japanese high rollers stay.  The lunch was nearly $20usd but included 5 courses and green tea.  The rest of the afternoon I road around the county side realizing that was the best meal since leaving the US nearly three months ago, and also realizing that it cost nearly a months wages for the average Nepali. Late in the afternoon, I rented the hotel car and maniac, but skilled, driver and visited Sidhartha’s mothers kingdom. I walked threw the same arches that he did; the arches that led from his Princely life of wealth and isolation, to one of suffering and ultimate enlightenment and teaching. At that point I realized, that I would indeed visit the other pilgrimage sites of Buddhism.  My friend Michael Wirth described my trip as a pilgrimage before I even left, and I did not know what she meant; now I am chasing Buddha across the subcontinent.

Knowing that my Nepali Visa expired the next day, I got back to the hotel at 6pm with plans for an early evening that included money exchange, transportation and immigration coordination.

Ox in Lumbini village

I was greeting at the door by the hotel manager and his lovely wife who were waiting for the only car they had access to (the one I had ,and the one which we just put a completely bald spare tire on after a flat).  He was dressed in a meticulously tailored suit with a beautiful silt tie, and she was adorned in her finest sari, bracelets, necklaces‘, and nose and ear rings.  They were the most beautiful couple. “We go to best friends wedding, hurry you must come with us”.  Dressed in trekking gear and a baseball hat I explained that I indeed owned a nice suit, even a tuxedo, but had nothing appropriate with me given this obvious very formal affair.  “No, no, he is my best friend and you will be a most honored guest, you must attend”.  His wife simply nodded and smiled/.  I ran upstairs, threw the hat on the bed, combed my hair with my fingers, brushed my teeth, throw on some cheap Nepali antiperspirant/deodorant and was in the car in three minutes; Off to a Nepali wedding.

Bride and groom

Jupiter and his wife (my host)

An honored guest indeed.  We stopped on the way to buy a wedding gift in a fairly large town near the Indian border and I found the epitome USA cheesy rose flowered, sappy text wedding card.  I simply signed it “Congratulations on your wedding day from the American who just showed up”.  At the door the in-laws greeted me with great fanfare and kicked people out of their seats for me, Jupiter, and his wife. We enjoyed an amazing dinner of traditional Nepali food  and given that at least some of the guest were Buddhist everyone was, shockingly, by USA comparison, completely sober. When the dancing, that was limited to those dressed for a formal, started, I tried to work my way to the back but the other guest were having known of it. Thus, I said the hell with it and danced in a style that was later referred to an “unique’….code word “you suck dude”. The biggest cheers came when me and the new in-laws got down with our imitations of Michael Jackson.  The bride and groom, simply sat in their assigned seats and watched the craziness before them; he is a western suit, and she is a beyond bright red sari adored with sequins; I am sorry American women, white is nice but red is the color for a striking bride.
Wedding Party

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