Editor’s note: This is another in a series of columns about Palmer Lake resident Jay Heinlein’s work and adventures in Nepal. Heinlein went there with Five14Nepal, which combines trekking adventures with humanitarian projects in the earthquake-stricken country. By Jay HeinleinGuest columnist, The Tribune of the Tri-Lakes region
KATHMANDU, Nepal – Recently, a computer meltdown prompted me to call for tech support. I was enjoying another morning in Nepal, but it was late at night at the IT support center in Phoenix where I was calling.
I said, “Good morning!” and the young technician in Phoenix responded, “Morning? Where are you calling from?” “Nepal,” I answered. “Greetings from the future!” Then she asked, “Where is that exactly? Nepal? I've heard of it . . . about the earthquakes and all. You’re, like . . . on the other side of the world, aren’t you?”
It occurred to me, after the interchange, that this sleepy tech was not alone in wondering where I’ve been these last 9 months, or what the culture of Nepal is actually like, other than being some remote location “over there,” that has some really tall mountains and bad earthquakes. There is much more to know about Nepal and its rich culture and heritage.
Nepal is a small country in Asia, the “Far East,” bordered by huge neighbors, China to the north and surrounded by India to the south, east and west. Nepal's diverse geography includes not only the towering Himalayan peaks and forests, but also, lush jungles in the southern regions.
One of things Nepali visitors, like myself, quickly observe is the seamless blend of social customs, culture, official civil festivals with religion and religious practices, all being interwoven into the daily life of Nepalese society. “Namaste” is the Nepali’s everyday greeting. It shows honor to a deeply spiritual significance and reflects the belief that the life in each person comes from the same divine source.
The largest religious groups in Nepal are Hindu and Buddhist. Their colorful and festive traditional celebrations, along with native Newars, have been practiced for more than 2,000 years. The history of the festival participants includes a royally mandated social caste system, serving in unique and significant customary roles as priests, artisans, craftsmen, storytellers, food servers, dancers and musicians.
Visiting Nepal’s richly unique heritage sites and the country’s many temples, while working in Nepal, has been a spectacular learning adventure for me. The “land of temples” is host to the Durbar Squares (originally royal palaces) of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. The Kathmandu Durbar is also home to Kumari Devi, the Living Goddess; Buddhist stupas – sacred, mounded structures containing relics – of Swayambhu (oldest Buddhist stupa in the Kathmandu valley) and Boudhanath (most holy Buddhist site beyond Lhasa-Tibet);and the Hindu temples of Pashupati (regarded as the most sacred temple of the Hindu Lord Shiva in the world) and Changu Narayan (the oldest Vishnu temple in Nepal, and dates back to about 3,000 years ago).
I have also traveled the green and pastoral area of Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhārtha Gautama or Buddha. But I was not able to visit and view the actual memorial stupa. It’s on the list.
The most memorable of my own cultural site experiences was chanting and drumming with Buddhist monks at a monastery near the World Peace Stupa, above Pokhara and Fewa Lake. The vibe was joyously peaceful and deeply meaningful. The view not to be missed.
Jay Heinlein is a lifelong writer, a publishing professional for over 25 years and principal of Heinlein Publishing Services. Reach him at email@example.com