May 7, 2013: Active Day 2, The Monkey Temple

The sun, roosters, and dogs were up early and so was I. It seemed the local canines were able to sleep like the dead all day because every night was an up 'till dawn bark-fest. Everyone else went down to a buffet style breakfast but I wasn't hungry so I just stayed in and enjoyed some quiet time.
Why we don't eat meat or drink the water.

Why we don't eat meat or drink the water.

When our 9 am call time arrived we went downstairs and met our tour guide for the day, a local woman whose name I don't remember, only that it started with an R. We walked through the real Kathmandu (vs. the much cleaner tourist district where we were staying) which was an eye-opening bit of environmental-disaster reality. Raw sewage poured into what might have once been a river but instead was more of an open sewer choked with garbage. This did not seem to bother the pigs rooting around down there in the slightest. We held our breath as we crossed the bridge. You couldn't ask for a better illustration to discourage us from eating meat (especially pork) or using the water to brush our teeth.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

We reached our destination, Swayambhunath, or the Monkey Temple and began the climb up a steep length of stairs to the top. True to its nickname there were quite a few monkeys climbing around the building and the trees. We were warned beforehand not to give food to the monkeys or they'd steal our hats, or make eye contact with the vendors or else they'd follow us up the stairs. The trouble with the second rule was, I actually liked what they were selling. One woman was carving what looked like a zodiac in stone. Want... Somehow I mustered the willpower to avert my eyes and keep walking. Next we came to a man selling singing bowls, which I already knew I had to go home with. Whatever willpower I had left immediately vaporized and I succumbed to a demonstration.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

He told me what all the symbols meant and I was enthralled. He then put one in my hand and made it sing. Nice, very nice. He put another one in my hand and played it, and this time hummed into the bowl as it sang. The sound of this one resonated somewhere deep. Yes! This was the one. I asked how much. $35. That was way too much, I knew from shopping for them online at home. I began throwing objections his way and he had an immediate counter to each. I started to walk away and sure enough, he followed. The best part of this game was that the price went down the higher we climbed. A few levels up, we settled for $10. I was happy I got my singing bowl, he was happy he didn't have to climb higher.
Pineal gland, or third eye. If you have the time David Wilcock's talk about its appearance in religious symbolism is worthwhile.

Pineal gland, or third eye. If you have the time David Wilcock's talk about its appearance in religious symbolism is worthwhile.

At the top of the temple, R told us more about all the symbolism. I saw an excellent example of a pineal gland symbol in this particular stupa. The temple had a great panoramic view of the city, though it was a bit hazy.
My mandala.

My mandala. No tools were used to create these perfect squares or circles. Often times they use a paintbrush with only 1-3 bristles.

The highlight of the Monkey Temple for me was the Buddha Thanka Treasure art gallery. (Thanka means cloth painting.) A charming young man who spoke perfect English gave a lecture on both the symbolism of the paintings and the discipline it takes to create them. Artwork always ends up being my favorite souvenir so I happily bought a mandala and promised to email them a picture of the painting in exchange for a more detailed explanation when I got home. I did not budget cash for this, so I paid for my painting with a card. They used a calculator to determine the exchange rate in rupees. When I signed the receipt the artist told me I had a very bad habit. "I have many bad habits I'm sure." I responded, bemused. He said I needed to be more careful to check the number AND the words on my credit card receipt rather than just signing it. Yes, good advice. I wasn't planning on using the card at all, but would keep this in mind if I decided to use it again. Rather than walk, we took the van back to the hotel and then walked to lunch at a funky little upstairs cafe, the Phat Kath. In the innocence of daylight it reminded me a bit of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house at Disneyland, only, well... cool. The cocktail menu looked very appealing, but I was still being good at this point so I ordered a delicious mixed-fruit lassa. DK asked me what made me decide to come to the Himalayas. "It's like the backpacker's mecca," I said. I was waiting for the right opportunity to make my pilgrimage, and found it when Active began organizing trips a few short years earlier. I chose Everest Base Camp over Annapurna because to me there was so much more history there, in the sense that I would be standing on the same ground as some of my favorite adventurers. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Rob Hall, and last but most certainly not least my husband, er, hero Bear Grylls. Later on in the hotel lobby downstairs we met a Catholic priest who taught Protestant school in Bangladesh but lived in Kathmandu. Very kind, interesting fellow, and I couldn't help but envy his life a little bit. That afternoon we were free to wander the shops and pick up any gear we may have forgotten. Many shops specialized in jewelry or textiles. All smelled of dust and incense. There was a trekking gear shop on every street corner, and great deals to be had on brands such as North Fake or Pataphonia. Dovile and I browsed for Buddha masks and flip-flops. She promised a vendor to return for a particular mask and took charge of bargaining for the sandals. 1000 Rupee NoteWe changed currency in one of the many currency exchange market stalls for rupees in small denominations, 500 or less, for the climb. The exchange rate for rupees was about 87-1 at the time. It helped me to think of a rupee being worth slightly more than a penny. So 500 was a little more than $5. Anything higher than that and the tea houses likely wouldn't have change. (ATMs gave you 1,000 rupee notes.) Mentally worn down from haggling, crowds, dust, and blaring horns we abandoned the city streets to shower up and start packing the potato sacks before dinner. DK stopped by to make sure our gear was adequate. He thought both our down jackets were too light and recommended we rent heavier ones. They'd handle it for us in Namche. "You likely won't need it and might be cursing me later for having to carry it up there," he said. "I wouldn't curse you!" I laughed. The idea that I might curse someone for trying to keep me warm at 18,000 ft. was silly. Besides, the poor porters would be carrying it, not me. "Oh, good." He said something about my hei matau greenstone necklace, a mainstay on all my adventures since New Zealand. (The nice thing about writing is you can look stuff up. If you ask me about my necklace in person I'll forget the Māori hei matau and refer to it in English as a "fish hook.") "Yes, it works," I replied. "Safe passage over water, right?" DK wore an enormous toki, which represents leadership, strength, power, wisdom, authority, control, determination and focus. Good attributes for a guide. I considered asking him who gave it to him, as traditionally people don't buy greenstone for themselves, but decided the question was too personal. My head was starting to pound. This was the only time it would happen the entire trip and for that I am so grateful. I drank more water but suspected the cause was simply lack of sleep and spinal misalignment from trying to sleep on planes for two days. We followed DK through the crowded streets of Kathmandu for dinner, which was easy owing to the fact that he was so tall. He had his own look yet from behind the way he walked reminded me of Heath Ledger. We arrived at another nice restaurant. Instead of starlit views of the city, this time we were treated to live Nepali music. I ordered a salad and did my best to eat it all but my headache had killed my appetite. The host was concerned about whether or not I liked the food when he took most of it away and I insisted yes. DK saved me by telling them I was just full (pugyo) in Nepali. Once back I tried any energy medicine tricks I could remember on the headache. I never get them in real life and wasn't sure what would work. Tapping, Mirror Technique, Expanding Joints, Quantum Touch. The thing that finally worked was a few good yoga spinal stretches. One of them finally gave me the crack I was looking for and soon after I fell blissfully asleep, dogs and roosters be damned.

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