Little Kids, Monkeys, and Thousands of Fish

Oh my – I am so behind on my blogging, and I have SO much that I want to share! It has been hard to process and write about my experiences these past few weeks when there is just so much to see and do. But I will attempt to begin now!

I’ll use a somewhat chronological approach, as that’s the only way my ‘Type A’ brain seems to be able to organize the enormous amount of photos and stories that I want to share. So for now, I’ll start with my visits to the International Playgroup and Preschool in late July….

I was sitting in my studio one grey morning when, out of nowhere, I heard the familiar sound of children’s voices. A group of children, in fact – a LARGE one. I have several windows in my studio, and I thought that perhaps they were next door, but then I heard a woman’s voice say “Maybe someday YOU will make paintings like that!” and realized that they were in our building. I poked my head out of the door just in time to see them come charging up the stairs and into my studio – looking and touching and talking excitedly. I immediately felt the rush of energy and life that only a group of young children can create, and up until that very moment, I hadn’t realized just how much I had been missing this energy in my life since leaving Philadelphia. My work as a preschool teacher is so dear to me for this very reason – being around groups of children makes you feel alive. And curious and playful and tired and endlessly inspired. Of course, I am happy to be on this amazing journey, but I do miss that special energy, and having this group of children appear in my studio out of nowhere was such a delightful and invigorating breath of fresh air.

Turns out they were a mixed-age summer preschool program at the International Playgroup and Preschool, located just about 10 minutes walking from my apartment. They were originally scheduled to visit the Kasthamandap Art Studio the Saturday before my arrival at the studio, but, luckily for me, a ‘bandh’ (strike) forced them to reschedule their trip. As indicated in its name, the school is an international program, so the instruction is in English and there are children from all over the world there – Nepal, Pakistan, Austria, and elsewhere.

When I told the teachers that I was a preschool teacher back in the US, they immediately invited me to visit their school the following day…

IPPS

 

IPPS 2

IPPS 3

I was happy to see that the children remembered me from the studio, and as young children so often do, they easily welcomed me into their world as we played ‘Duck, Duck, Goose,’ and I taught them a few songs that we sing at my school.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Playing

I sat with them while they ate lunch and then watched as they worked on hand-painted aprons….

Lunch

Blue hands

And, of course, the visit would not have been complete without a group picture…

Group picture

I returned the following week for a longer visit – we taught each other songs, made art projects, ate snack, and played. It was a blast, and I really enjoyed the chance to spend time with children again. I hope to go back before leaving Nepal – the staff are all very friendly, and I am honored to feel so welcomed by them. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in a preschool while in Nepal, but I am so happy I did!

Around the same time as my visits to the preschool, Drew and I managed to squeeze in a few days of touring here in Kathmandu and the nearby city of Bhaktapur. I’ll start with Swayambhunath, otherwise known as the “Monkey Temple.”

Atop a large hill in the far reaches of western Kathmandu, this religious complex consists of a large stupa, various small temples, and a Buddhist monastery. It is a very important site for many people here (both spiritually and socially from what I could tell), and it offers the best view of the city I’ve seen so far. You just have to make it up the stairs first (no small feat, I can tell you!)…

Bottom of the stairs

Buddhas at the bottom…

Long way to go...

Looking up – a daunting challenge, but we’re ready to tackle it!

So close...

Soooo close…

Looking back

Looking back at our uphill trek…

The view

Oh, but what a reward…

View 2

Stupa

The main stupa at the top of the stairs…

Stupa 2

prayer wheels

Drew turning the prayer wheels as we circumambulate the stupa…

2 dogs

One of my favorite photos from that day.  Just two dogs – on working his shift, the other taking a break…

snoozing dog

Another dog found an interesting place to rest…

smaller temples

tchotchkes

And for those looking for religious tchotchkes, the merchants at Swayambhunath have got it covered…

At first I was a bit disappointed in the “Monkey Temple,” as I wasn’t encountering many monkeys at all. I was beginning to think I had seen more at Pashupatinath until we went down the hill a bit to a wooded area where we found another, smaller stupa and the monastery. Because of all the trees in this area, we found many more monkeys here and Swayambhunath finally began to earn its moniker…

 down the hill to monkeyland

Monkey portrait

stupa monkey

monkey family

mommy monkey

I enjoyed this area much more than the top of the hill by the main stupa – the enormous trees, their branches strewn with prayer flags, are absolutely gorgeous, and it’s generally more quiet and calm here…

down the hill

prayer flags and monkeys

flags everywhere

prayer flag tree

stupa in the distance

from distance

And a view of this prayer flag-strewn area from the main hilltop above…

After our visit to Swayambhunath, we headed over to Kathmandu Durbar Square. Before I go on, I should stop briefly to explain: the greater Kathamndu area is actually made up of three cities – Kathmandu, Patan (where I live), and Bhaktapur. Each of these cities has their own Durbar Square, which are basically plazas filled with temples opposite ancient royal palaces. Before Nepal was unified in the mid-eighteenth century, Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur were all separate kingdoms, and so therefore all have separate Durbar Squares.

Kathmandu Durbar Square is bigger and more spread out than Patan Durbar Square – it is beautiful and the wood carving is magnificent…

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square

AMAZING TREE

Amazing tree…

wood carving

wood carving

wood carving

I have to say, though, that I still prefer Patan Durbar Square, as I enjoy its smaller, more intimate feel. (And perhaps there’s a bit of ‘neighborhood pride’ at play there as well).

Just outside of Kathmandu Durbar Square, we found “Freak Street,” a haven for American hippie ex-pats in the 1960’s…

freak street

freak street

Nothing too remarkable to note here, but we figured we might as well stop for a beer – it somehow seemed appropriate…

beer

These past few weeks we’ve spent some more time in Thamel (the tourist district) for a bit of shopping and meeting various Nepali and ex-pat friends for drinks or dinner. I still find it overwhelming and it certainly isn’t my favorite place in Kathmandu, but I don’t mind it quite as much anymore…

Thamel street

pashmina shop

Pashmina galore!  You want it, they got it…

Thamel street

Night lights…

shops

Drew and Sunil

Dinner with Drew and our friend Sunil…

hooray for candles

Fun with candles in a dark bar…

Cover band

A Nepali cover band at an Irish pub we found ourselves in one evening… The set list included dated Western hits like “Wonderwall” by Oasis (again!), “I’ll Be There” by Incubus, “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, “This Love” by Maroon 5, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, and -the most hilarious of the evening- “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams… HILARIOUS.  Oh – and a sidenote:  Apparently Nepalis just LOVE Bryan Adams and he is huge here.  Who knew?  He’s got a big concert in Kathamndu scheduled for November – HA!

On a Saturday in late July, we visited the third city of the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur (about a 30 minute taxi ride southwest of Patan). When we arrived at Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, I noticed one glaring difference right away: it’s clean! Foreigners are asked to pay entrance fees for most plazas and religious sites here, but they are minimal, about 150 – 500 Rupees (around $2 – $6). The entrance fee at Bhaktapur, however, is 1,000 Rupees (around $12), and it’s clear this money is put to good use. Litter is virtually non-existent in the main squares and everything seems to be well-maintained. There are several squares connected together by large brick plazas, so the temple area here is much bigger than the Kathamndu and Patan Durbar Squares. The temples are gorgeous and the statues lovely….

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur

Golden tounges

Note the golden tounges!

statues

The wood carving here is also especially wonderful…

wood carving

wood carving

wood carving

I just loved this jolly guitar-playing fellow…

And I loved this golden gate – amazing craftsmanship…

golden gate

golden gate detail

After touring the main squares a bit, we went walking along the smaller side-streets, looking at the shops and the large variety of items for sale….

side streets

side streets

embroidery

A young craftsman getting a lesson in embroidery…

puppets

Fantastic puppets…

fiber art

And some lovely fiber / textile arts…

textiles

wooden ties

And I just loved these strange wooden puzzle-ties… So funny!

On a search for a nearby pond Drew remembered from his first visit to Bhaktapur 10 years ago, we found a different, duckweed-covered pond with children swimming on the clear end….

 

duckweed pond

duckweed pond

swimming

We also managed to ‘pick up’ some unofficial tour guides – a group of young boys hanging around that got a kick out of Drew’s Nepali. They offered to show us the way to the pond we were searching for….

guides

guides

After a short walk past the most beautifully rusted STOP sign in the world….

STOP

rust

…and some absolutely incredible trees…

tree

tree

tree

.we came to “Macha Pokhari” (literal translation: “Fish Pond”). This little oasis just off the busy main road into Bhaktapur was just lovely, and by far my most favorite part about this small city – quite, and calm, people sit along the edges of the pond relaxing and stroll about.

Fish pond

fish pond

fish pond

And although you wouldn’t know it by merely looking at the surface of the dark green water, thousands of fish live in this pond (mostly carp, we think), awaiting their meals of puffed rice snacks from the friendly people above…

fish pond

snacks

Bags of fish snacks for sale…

…throw some food into the water and the still dark green surface immediately comes alive with frenzied movement and flashes of grey, white, and orange – dozens of fish, 8 to 14 inches in length, compete for their meals, their bodies intertwined so it is nearly impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins…

mass of fish

It was hypnotizing to sit at the pond’s edge, slowly feeding our scaly friends….

feeding fish

After some time, we observed some fish ‘begging’ for food. We had just finished dispensing our bag of snacks a minute or so prior, but this fellow kept coming to the surface to ask for more…

begging

Some brave souls even try to catch the fish with their bare hands – of course, this method yields sad results. I wonder if anyone has ever managed to catch one…

catching fish

One of the highlights of our time at Macha Pokhari was meeting Cristina, a bright and friendly young girl who was eager to practice her English with us…

Cristina

Cristina is in the foreground, holding the map…

She was inquisitive, talkative, and precocious – she informed us that she was among the group of children swimming in the other pond when we passed by, and was happy to find us again. We had a delightful conversation with her about the English school where she studies, and like most children here, she seemed to get a kick out of Drew speaking Nepali. Here she is, writing her name in my notebook…

writing

After a lovely hour there, we headed off for a lunch date with an American Embassy worker named Emily that we met at a bar in our neighborhood the night before (who coincidentally had plans to tour Bhaktapur that day as well – AND she is originally from Ann Arbor, MI where Drew is getting his PhD at Unversity of Michigan. Small world, indeed).

On our way, we passed the first duckweed-covered pond again and discovered a group of people working diligently to clean the duckweed from the surface (we’re not sure if this was for the health of the pond or if the duckweed is used for something)…

cleaning

cleaning

piles

The process attracted a crowd of on-lookers, and presented endless opportunities for great photos. We were running late for lunch, but I just couldn’t stop shooting!

cleaning

umbrella girl

Finally back in the main tourist area of temples and plazas, we ate MoMo’s (more about those in a future post) and drank banana lassis with Emily and her co-workers on a beautiful rooftop patio with an absolutely gorgeous view…

view

happy us

Happy us on a happy day…

hanging plants

After lunch, we all walked together through the streets, looking around and talking until a sudden downpour forced us to take shelter in a small temple for several minutes (oh, monsoon!)….

rain

rain

This goat thought we had the right idea and joined us…

goat

Emily and her friends were picked up by an Embassy driver shortly thereafter, and we ventured across the plaza in the pouring rain with Ian, a British anthropologist whom we had also met the previous evening and lives in Bhaktapur. We enjoyed tea and good conversation about Nepali culture and American / British politics for about two hours as it rained on and on…

rain

The view from the second-floor tea house where we took shelter…

light post

So much time spent sitting there allowed me to notice this ‘light post’…. Religion and ritual are so much a part of everyday life here – there’s a certain pragmatism about it that I find quite charming…

After the rain finally died down, Ian walked us back to the main tourist area where we caught a taxi back to Patan, tired and hungry, but also completely satisfied with our lovely day.

There is so much more to share – favorite photos, an amazing weekend trip to a small mountain-top village called Nagarkot, Nepali festivals and holidays, my newest artwork, my last few days at the studio, an art lecture I was privileged to present, and on and on…. BUT I’ll have to stop here for now. We are leaving for a short trek in the Annapurna range tomorrow, and I fear I am running out of time. However, I promise to be back with more soon! Even if I have to blog about Nepal from France, I’m determined to get it all down – this blog not only keeps you posted on my journey, but serves as my own record of this amazing adventure as well.

Until my next post… Namaste!

One thought on “Little Kids, Monkeys, and Thousands of Fish

  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE the hanging blanket/rug/tapestry thing!!!! How much do they cost you think? To ship to me? Love that you are doing so well and learning so much. Chances of a lifetime!!!!

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