Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet - October 6-19, 2005

Kathmandu, in the week of Durga Puja

At Nagarkot on the east rim of the Kathmandu Valley we got up early to see the sun rise from behind the Himalayas.

This shows where Mt. Everest is on the skyline.

Mt Everest is in there somewhere.


On a walk near Nagarkot

Baktapur, on the street of the peacock window.

A linga. Learn about lingas here. They are SO sexy!

temple scene

Hanaman, the monkey god



Monkeys are everywhere. Rats too. Hindus revere them and they eat the offerings of grain and fruit left in the temples. At Pashupatinath sitting on a tree-root I took a couple of bananas out of my pack hoping to befriend one of my primate relatives. Mistake. One guy strode up and grabbed a banana right out of my hand. His big brother bounded over from 50 m away, shrieking and showing every intention of taking all of my bananas by force. I threw the bag at him and stood up hastily. When he'd eaten the banana in it, he became angry again, growling and gathering himself to attack me. I picked up a brick and stamped, and he retreated. Mugged by a monkey.

loafing in the temple

lingas at Pashupatinath, the burning ghat

Sadhus at Pashupatinath. One of these guys offered to lift a 40kg weight with a rope tied to his penis, for a few rupias.

Like Varanasi on the Ganges, Pashupatinath on the Bagmati River is a popular place to be cremated. The surrounding buildings are temples and hospices for the dying. When a person dies, his/her sons wash the body on an inclined slab at the riverside and annoint it, throwing the clothes into the water and wrapping the body in white cloth. They lay the shrouded corpse on a bier of stout firewood arranged on one of several stone piers according to social rank, the further up the river the better. Royalty gets the one most upstream. The attendants stuff straw between the faggots and strew it over the body, then set the edifice afire. Several pyres wreath the air of the little valley in smoke at any given time. Reduction of a person to dry ashes takes several hours, during which the sons have their heads shaved, all but for a little topknot at the crown. They fuss with the fire and lounge about with other male relatives and friends of the defunct. The women sit on the other side of the river. Eventually they push the few embers that remain off the pier into the water.

In Tibet the Bhuddists dispose of the dead in a "sky burial". Perhaps because of scarcity of firewood and the ground being frozen for part of the year, they don't cremate or bury; instead, they take the body to a high place, cut it up into small pieces, crack open the bones and expose the whole mess to the sky to be eaten by vultures! Let it be known that that's the way I want my body to join the universe, on Hermit Island, devoured by bald eagles, seagulls and crows.


stupa at Bodhnath

The pilot on the flight from Nepal to Bhutan said that this is Kanchenjunga, third-highest peak in the world, at 28,156' (8,532m).


The Tiger's Nest (Takshang Lhakang) monastary near Paro, at about 3000m above sea level.

prayerwheel on the way up to the Tiger's Nest. Click to hear the bell.

A Bhutanese lady and gentleman. Our guide Namgay, a 25 year-old man with a masters degree in business administration, told us many interesting stories about Bhutanese customs. He said that traditionally a man and a woman become married in a process he called "night hunting". When a young man takes a fancy to a girl, he climbs into her house in the middle of the night and convinces her to come out with him to make love. Since everyone in the family sleeps in the same room, he runs the risk of getting clouted by the father, and if she does not welcome his attention that will probably be the result. When she becomes pregnant, they marry.

I also learned that poligamy is still practised commonly in Bhutan. For instance, the Crown Prince married four sisters. In order to simplify inheritance issues, several brothers may take a single wife. The lady who operates the tour company that arranged our Bhutan travels, Sonam, told me that in her village in the east of the country, she heard of such a union planned with four brothers. She protested to the patriarch of the family, who told her to go away and mind her own business. Several years have passed in which she has remained in touch with the bride who tells her that although she has not a moment to herself she doesn't regret her marriage. Her husbands are good to her and take turns. One travels extensively on business and is rarely home, another is a shepard who's not around much either, and the other two ... ?

Archery is big in Bhutan.

On our way to visit the monastic school at Tango Goemba, about 12km north of the capital Thimpu.

Tango Goemba

Tango Goemba

A typical Bhutanese house. The red on the roof is chili peppers drying.

dusk on the highway between Thimpu and Paro

Lhasa, Tibet

The Potala was the winter residence of the Dalai Lama, before he left Tibet to escape the Chinese occupation.

the full moon sets at dawn

Pilgrims come from all over to the Jokhang, the most revered temple in Tibet

Monks chanting in the Jokhang. click to listen

The Barkhor market circles the Jokhang.

Chinese rickshaw. Rickshaw experts will note the hand lever that actuates brakes on the rear wheels, in constrast to the Bangladesh front-wheel brake design.


kettle's on ... butter tea, anyone?

This is a pretty typical Lhasa house.

the Brahmaputra River, near Lhasa airport

temple detail