Archive Page 2

07
Mar
12

Thank you for the 25.000 page views

At the occasion of the 25.000th visitor to my blog, I want to take up the thread again by publishing some new articles. First of all I want to thank all of you for the many visits and reactions that I could receive in the past year. It’s always nice to find out that the published articles and pictures are read, viewed and  sometimes also commented.

For today I want to share a happy picture that I have taken during my latest Nepal trip in Langtang area.

Situated in the Central Himalaya, Langtang National Park is the nearest park to Kathmandu. The area extends from 32 km north of Kathmandu to the Nepal-China (Tibet) border. Langtang was designated as the first Himalayan National Park in 1971. While the main reason for the park is to preserve the natural environment, an equally important goal is to allow local people to follow traditional land use practices that are compatible with resource protection. Culturally the area is mixed, the home of several ethnic groups . The majority of people are Tamang, an ancient Nepalese race. The Tamangs, traditionally farmers and cattle breeders, are especially well known for their weaving. Their religion is related to the Bon and the pre-Buddhist doctrines of Tibet. Today this religion has merged with the newer teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Especially the Helambu area, immediately north of Kathmandu, has many scenic villages inhabited by Sherpas and Tamangs who emigrated from Tibet.

It was in one of these villages that I noticed this old Nepalese lady who was very happy with the company of a playful young cat.

Image

“A cat does not want all the world to love her, only those she has chosen to love.”
Helen Thomson
18
Apr
11

Annapurna trekking circuit in Nepal, mountain views on the way.

Nepal has some of the best trekkings in the world, to and around several of the world’s highest mountains, including Mount Everest. Many people visit the country just to trek and the tourism industry is well prepared to facilitate all manner of trekking styles and destinations. On the one hand you could spend a year planning an expedition to wild and lofty places; on the other you could land in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in a matter of days.

“Teahouse trekking” along the main trails is the most common style, with decent lodges in every settlement (and between), it is possible to trek in comfort with minimal preparation, equipment and support. There is no need to camp and a selection of western style foods are readily available from a menu system. No special permits are required, just national park entry tickets. The main areas for these treks are Everest, Khumbu and Annapurna.

Facilities available in remote areas are less extensive than in the more popular areas. Off the main trails where there are no lodges and food from menus a Nepali guide becomes essential, and it may be advisable to visit such regions with organized groups, including guide, porters and full support. Mustang, Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, Dolpo and Humla are in remote areas. Many of them require also special permits.

There are lots of agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara who are always keen to broker the services of a guide and/or porter. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks, both teahouse and camping styles, and it generally possible to join a group doing a trek of your choice. Independent trekking is quite easy with straight forward preparations.

A trekking permit is required to trek in any part of Nepal. If you want to trek two areas, you will need two permits. Each permit requires details for the route and region. Police check points are set up in some areas so do not venture off the set route. Annapurna trail starts from the North of Pokhara, from lush middle hills into high mountains. A circuit leads up the Maryangdi river to Manang, over Thorung La (5400m) to the Hindu temples at Muktinath. Down the Kali Gandaki on the Jomsom trail enjoying Gurung and Thakali hospitality. Up through spring rhododendron blooms to Poon Hill for a dawn Himalayan vista. Trek up into the very heart of the Annapurna Sanctuary for an awesome 360′ high mountain skyline.

Altitude sickness is a significant risk when trekking on any trails above about 2500m. Be familiar with the symptoms and do not ignore them. If you keep to a conservative ascent schedule and drink plenty of fluids then most people can acclimatize. If you or anyone in your party begins to experience symptoms of AMS then do not ascent, and if they do not improve then descent to a lower altitude. This is the only option to consider.

17
Apr
11

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet: The Panchen Lama’s seat

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is seat to the Panchen Lama, the second most imporant leader of Tibet. It is one of the Six Big Monasteries of The Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in Tibet.

Also called the Heap of Glory, the monastery is located at the foot of Drolmari (Tara’s Mountain) in Shigatse. Founded by the First Dailai Lama in 1447, the monastery’s structure was expanded by the Fourth and successive Panchen Lamas. Tashi Lhunpo Monastery covers an area of nearly 300.000 square meters (3.229.779 sq. ft.). The main structures found in the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery are The Maitreya Chapel, The Panchen Lama’s Palace and The Kelsang Temple.

Standing on the entrance of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, visitors can see the grand buildings with golden roofs and white walls. The remarkable Thangka Wall which is nine floors high was built in 1468. The wall displays the images of Buddha on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May every year following the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The images are so humongous that one can easily see it from Shigatse City. Visitors can find The Maitreya Chapel by strolling into the monastery on the west side of Tashi Lhunpo. You can tour the upper floors of the chapel using a wooden staircase to appreciate the superb skill of the Tibetans.

The Kelsang Temple is one of the oldest and biggest buildings in Tashi Lhunpo. It is a colossal compound. The Main Chanting Hall is a place for lamas to learn the sutras and listen to the Panchen Lama’s sermon.  Besides the grand palace and gigantic statues, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery also treasures characteristic wall paintings. Because of the variety of shapes, resplendent colors and exquisite painting, the murals are considered to be another masterpiece of Buddhist art.

16
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 2)

Gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, the huge Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is a spectacular work of Burmese temple architecture and is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar.

The legend of the Schwedagon Pagoda begins with two Burmese merchant brothers who met the Buddha himself. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs to be enshrined in Burma. With the help of several nat (spirits) and the king of this region, the brothers discovered the hill where relics of previous Buddhas had been enshrined.  A chamber to house the relics was built on the sacred spot and when the hairs were taken from their golden casket, amazing things happened: there was a tumult among men and spirits… rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell… the blind beheld objects… the deaf heard sounds…the dumb spoke distinctly… the earth quaked… Mount Meru shook… lightning flashed… gems rained down until they were knee deep… all trees of the Himalaya, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.  Once the relics were safely placed in the new shrine, a golden slab was laid on the chamber and a golden stupa built over it. Over this was layered a silver stupa, then a tin stupa, a copper stupa, a lead stupa, a marble stupa and an iron-brick stupa.

Later, the legend continues, the Schwedagon stupa fell into ruin until the Indian emperor Asoka, a Buddhist convert, came to Myanmar and searched for it. Finding it only with great difficulty, he then had the jungle cleared and the stupa repaired. It is easy to see why the Schwedagon Pagoda is such a holy place for believers. Built on the site of the relics of previous Buddhas, containing the relics of the most recent Buddha, the site of miracles and of royal patronage, this is an important stupa indeed. Legend says, that the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries (i.e. during the Bagan period). The pagoda emerges from legend into history in 1485, which is the date of an incription near the top of the eastern stairway that tells the story of Shwedagon in three languages (Pali, Mon, and Burmese).  It was around this time that the tradition of gilding the stupa began. Queen Shinsawbu provided her own weight in gold (fortunately she was a lightweight at 40kg), which was made into gold leaf and used to cover the surface of the stupa. The queen’s son-in-law, Dhammazedi, offered four times his own weight plus that of his wife’s in gold and provided the abovementioned 1485 inscription.

It has been rebuilt many times since then due to earthquakes (including eight in the 17th century alone); the current structure dates from the rebuild under King Hsinbyushin in 1769. After the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, British troops occupied the Schwedagon Pagoda complex, which stands high over the city like a castle. In 1852, during the second war, the British occupied the pagoda for 77 years and pillaged its treasures. In 1871, King Mindon Min from Mandalay provided a new hti (the decorative top), flustering the occupying British. As a symbol of national identity, the Schwedagon Pagoda was the scene of much political activity during the Myanmar independence movement in the 20th century. Amazingly, the huge earthquake of 1930 (which destroyed the Schwemawdaw in Bagan) caused only minor damage to the Yangon stupa. But the following year, it suffered from a disastrous fire. After a minor earthquake in 1970, the main stupa was fully refurbished.

The great Schwedagon Pagoda stands on a platform covering over 5 hectares on a hill 98m above sea level. It can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city, and the citizens of Yangon literally live out their everyday lives in its shadow. The large platform that supports the great stupa contains a variety of other stupas, prayer halls, sculptures and shrines. A number of these are associated with eight “days” (Wednesday is divided into morning and afternoon), based on one’s day of birth. Each has an associated planet, direction and animal sign. FYI, the Buddha was born on Wednesday morning. One must always walk around (circumambulate) stupas clockwise, so visitors take a left from whichever entrance to the platform they’ve chosen.

15
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 1)

Myanmar has been called The Land of Gold, and that is not surprising at all when you consider just how beautifully the capital city sparkles. Giant, golden and glittering pagodas will take your breath away in this friendly city. Myanmar is a densely populated land with a population of approximately 48 million people. The capital city of Yangon itself boasts a population of 5 million. The people of the land are predominantly Buddhist, though there are many other ethnic groups represented. All in all, there are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, each possessing their own proud culture and language. In the green, tree-lined streets of Yangon you will find all these hospitable people and places, and you will find other things as well. You will find food that has been described as some of the best in the world. And you will find the glittering and vast Shwedagon Pagoda, full of history, spirituality and lore.

Sitting high atop the sacred shrine of Singuttara Hill, housing relics of The Buddha and three Buddhas that preceded him, encased in gold and in jewels, the Shwedagon pagoda is a wonder to see. The beauty if the architecture and design will take your breath away, as will the sparkling, light catching jewels. This wondrous holy place, filled with history and legend, is not to be missed on your journey.

The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity, its age unknown. Long before the pagoda was built, its location on Singuttara hill was already an ancient sacred site because of the buried relics of the three previous Buddhas. According to one legend, nearly 5000 years had passed since the last Buddha walked the Earth, and Singuttara hill would soon lose its blessedness unless it was reconsecrated with relics of a new Buddha. In order that such new relics might be obtained, King Okkalapa of Suvannabhumi spent much time atop the hill, meditating and praying. A series of miracles ensued, and eight hairs of the historical Buddha were, somewhat magically, brought to the hill. To enshrine the relics, multiple pagodas of silver, tin, copper, lead, marble, iron and gold where built one on top of the other to a height of twenty meters.

During the following centuries, passing from myth to historical fact, the pagoda grew to its present height of ninety-eight meters. Much of the continued construction of Shwedagon was actually reconstruction following disastrous earthquakes. During the 17th century the pagoda suffered earthquake damage on at least eight occasions. A particularly bad quake in 1786 brought the entire top half of the pagoda to the ground and its current shape and height date from the reconstruction of that time.

While much of the pagoda’s beauty derives from the complex geometry of its shape and surrounding structures, equally mesmerizing is its golden glow. The lower stupa is plated with 8.688 solid gold bars, an upper part with another 13.153. The tip of the stupa, far too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is set with 5.448 diamonds, 2.317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, .1065 golden bells and, at the very top, a single 76-carat diamond. Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing pre-Buddhist spirits called Nats, miracle working images, and even a wish granting stone. The entire temple complex radiates a palpable sense of beauty and serenity.

14
Apr
11

Amarapura, Myanmar: U Bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world.

Amarapura is a former capital of Myanmar, and now a township of Mandalay. Amarapura is bounded by the Ayeyarwady river in the west, Chanmyathazi township in the north, and the city of Innwa in the south. Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries, before being finally supplanted by Mandalay 11km north in 1857.

The U Bein Bridge is a 1,2 km wooden footbridge (longest teak bridge in the world) and is built by the mayor U Bein, salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old palace during the move to Mandalay. The bridge still serves as the most important communication link for the people of his villages.

The best time to travel to U Bein Bridge is in the afternoon. The view of sunset from and around the bridge is perhaps the most beautiful scene around Mandalay. The weather is also cooler and more comfortable, with a cool light breeze blowing over the serene lake. You can sit on the river bank of Taungthaman Lake, sipping beer with fried shrimps and fishes freshly caught from the lake. Then, take a boat ride along Taungthaman Lake. Walk along the bridge until the end, and meet the local villagers coming back from work to their villages on the other side of the Lake. You will realize this is one of the best places in Mandalay.

13
Apr
11

Bungamati: a traditional Newari village in Nepal

Bungamati is a traditional and tiny Newari village from the 16th century and is located at eight kilometers south of Kathmandu (on the outskirts of Patan). The village has its own history and has retained its tradition and culture. It is a living museum and recalls medieval times.

The farming community of Newars who live here are mostly dependent on agriculture and much of their daily activities take place outside of their dwellings. It is perched on a spur of land overlooking the Bungamati River and is shaded by large trees and stands of bamboo. Fortunately, the village streets are too small and hazardous for cars. Visitors are rare, so tread gently.  

Bungamati is the birthplace of Rato Machhendranath, regarded as the patron of the valley, and the large shikhara – style temple in the centre of the village square is his home for six months of the year. He spends the rest of his time in Patan. The process of moving him around Patan and backwards and forwards to Bungamati is central to one of the most important annual festivals in the valley. The chowk around the temple is one of the most beautiful in the valley – here one can see the heart of a functioning Newari town.

There are many chortens and a huge prayer wheel, clearly pointing to the syncretic nature of the Newari religion. There are women sitting outside spinning, men crushing seeds, and other daily activities. Between Bungamati and Khokana the Karya Binayak Temple is dedicated to Ganesh. The temple is not particularly interesting and Ganesh is simply represented by a natural stone but the view is spectacular. From this point, surrounded by trees, you can look over the Bungamati valley to the foothills, or back to Bungamati, tumbling down the opposite hill.