Landed in Kathmandu late morning, airport and traffic a bit chaotic, but the man from the hotel was so nice and apologetic that I did not mind. Prabal Gurung, the young NY designer and CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund winner, was there to welcome me at the Hyatt Regency…quite incredulous that I was actually there in his native country. Prabal is from Nepal. His mother is a Rana, the ruling family for centuries, and his father is a Gurung, the cast of the warriors. He is very proud of his country and his country is very proud of him !
First thing, Prabal and I got into a car and went to Durbar Square, near the Palace. As we walked around the beautiful old buildings, the house of the Living Goddess, Kumari Ghar, we noticed a lot of commotion. As we approached, I saw people in awe…And there it was, the Chariot Seto, a structure on wheels right before Kal Bhairav, the angry form of Shiva. This apparently only happens once a year and is a moment of good luck. We had a long visit through the different courtyards of the Palace, some of them just opened to the public ! The combination of stone and wood carving is extraordinary and the whole tour was very special since we had the privilege of having everything explained to us by Kanak Mani Dixit, the great intellectual journalist of Nepal !
After a quick rest and a cheese and olives break at the house of Suman and Riva, we drove to the Grand Stupa Buddha and walked around the temples. Because we were in the middle of the 9-day holiday, Puja, Riva took us to the White Monastery to listen to her Guru Tulku Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. We sat right in front of the guru and experienced the incredible ceremony of this very Holy Day for Buddhists where monks chant for 24 hours to a large crowd of thousands who come to receive their “wongs.” We had the honor of meeting the guru who gave us his blessings and he gave me his book as a present. Feeling blessed and privileged, we walked around the enlightened city ! Dinner was at The Roadhouse Cafe in Freak Street in Thamel. After all, Kathmandu was discovered by the hippies in the 60’s and that is yet another piece of heritage about very tolerant Nepal !
Back at the hotel, I have a massage before taking to a well deserved rest. Tuesday morning…papaya and pomegranates, yogurt and morning paper. Prabal and I are in the front page of the Kathmandu Post ! Romio Shrestha, my other Nepalese very good friend picks me up with his nephew Anante. Romio was born Hindu in Kathmandu. The legend says that at age 5, the oracle of the Buddhist monastery came to tell him that he was a reincarnation of the master Tibetan Thangka painter, Arniko, and that one day he would find his own school of painting. His father was reticent and sent him to a Catholic school instead. He later went to UCLA in Los Angeles, surfed a bit before coming back to Nepal to create a Thangka school of artists. He met and married Sophie, an Irish beauty…they had four wonderful girls and now live between Ireland and Nepal.
Romio cannot believe that I am here…he takes me to Pashupati, the most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal….here, Shivah, the God of all living things, is celebrated in all splendor. We stroll by the river and assist an entire full cremation ceremony. I had never seen this before…all the rituals, the wrapping of the body, the goodbye from the family. We watch the whole preparation for the last journey and stay until the first flames appear…quite emotional but beautiful !
That night, Prabal and his family had planned a dinner in my honor out in the courtyard of the Patan Palace Museum, but the sudden rain changed the plans. Instead, we had a lovely seated dinner in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency. They were disappointed, but the dinner turned out to be very much fun, and cozy at the same time. Present were the Ambassador from the US, from Germany and many other interesting intellectuals and dignitaries, as well as Prabal’s wonderful mother and sister…a lot of very interesting conversations. It is powerful to see how Nepalese people are proud about their country ! Amongst other things, it is the country that has Mount Everest, Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha, and it is the land of the Gurkhas ! Squeezed between the two giants, China and India, it has had so much political change and turmoil that people both worry about the future and are optimistic.
The next morning started in a girls’ school from the Room To Read organization. Around the table, I met with a dozen young teenagers who all come from poverty…some of them were forced into marriage at 10. Thanks to Room to Read, they have an opportunity to seek education and, therefore, freedom. They are very sweet and curious about the world…We took pictures and I reminded them that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself ! They loved it !
The visit to Patan Square Palace was very interesting. Rohit Ranjitkar, the Director of Kathmandu Valley Preservation, and Kanak showed us all of the restoration programs they are working on. Prabal and I started to think about how we could raise money for them ! I bought some glass beads in the square, and we went to lunch at Kanak’s family restaurant, Dhokaima Café. We all had Momo, the Nepalese delicious dumplings.
I did not want to leave the city without visiting Bhaktapur, the third Palace and kingdom ! And was I right ! Going around Bhaktapur is really a treat, going back a few centuries. We visited the Palace, the museum, the courtyards, and went up and down the busy shopping streets…the rain caught us and we were soaked. We rushed into the car and Kathmandu’s heavy traffic.
The last night I had a delightful dinner at the house of Rajini and Reynu Malla, designers, socialites, and granddaughters of famous ruler Padma Shamsher Rana. His portrait is everywhere in the house as is his uniform, his swords and some of the skins of tigers he hunted. It was a very elegant house. We ate delicious food and shared girly conversation.
I left Kathmandu early in the morning en route for Bhutan, making sure I got a seat on the left side of the plane, in order to get a great view of the Himalayas and Mount Everest of course !