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Salutations from a Global Citizen!

May whoever read this be blessed by God with peace and success, now and forever.

Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.

— Pico Iyer.

Welcome to my blog! I am the Holy Monk and I am endeavoring to seek meaning in life through travel and pilgrimages. I believe travelling humanizes the images and knowledge we see or hear about other places in the world and brings life to our perception of them. Religious tradition and history have always fascinated me in that our ancestors have sought and discovered knowledge that would bring about a better understanding to meaning of this world. Whether it is through offerings, rituals, arts, or architecture. I am specifically interested in the Dharmic field (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, etc). I have set up as an initiative on my part to inquire and discover about Nepal before my departure to the country at the end of this year 2019.

Until 2008, it was officially known as the Kingdom of Nepal, and thus the last Hindu kingdom on Earth. The nation is a landlocked country bordering the countries of India and China. It has within its borders the tallest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest.

As a third culture kid who grew up in various countries, I have adopted and learned from a variety of cultures and religious thoughts. Drawing from these different social experiences, this blog be looking at Nepal from a cultural, historical, and social perspective. Focusing on temples, palaces, and other historical places of significance, such as Newari architecture. I will be assessing the symbols, arts, issues, and challenges one might face in setting foot in the holy land of the Himalayas. Stay tuned!

The Language of Nepal (Assessment)

Indeed, language is the key to opening all other barriers in one’s trip.

“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I am Indonesian by birth and spent half my life in the Arab World. I know English, Indonesian, Arabic, and I studied French. Arabic, for example, has its words loaned in the other languages I speak, and through learning one’s languages, you are able to peer into their habits, culture, history, way of thinking and expressing, manners, etc. Unfortunately for Nepal, however, I know almost nothing of its national language.

Street sign in Nepal using the Nepali language. Photo credits: Hey Brian.

The official language of Nepal is Nepali, and it is considered an Indo-Aryan language. Indonesian on the other hand is an Austronesian language. Due to the Indian influence of the past, both languages share Sanskrit loan words and influences. For example, the word for ‘language’ in Indonesian is bahasa and in Nepali is bhāṣā. This of course does not make it mutually intelligible.

Indonesian street signs written in the modern Latin alphabet and the traditional Arab Melayu script. Photo Credits: Piccour

My past experiences would definitely not help me in preventing the worst of ‘culture shock’ as Nepal’s culture and history is different from Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. As a result, I know for a fact I would feel anxious, scared, lost, in fear, isolated, and panicking because I would not be able to communicate a simple “where is the bathroom?” I am away from anything and anyone I know which would be extremely terrifying for me. I feel it would be inevitable for me to me cheated on and ripped off by scammers easily as I know nothing.

Since I could not possible learn an entire language in the span of a few weeks, my only option to reduce culture shock is to familiarise myself with places I am going to. Memorise street names, outlets, common phrases, and the etiquette and manner on how to deal with people. Most importantly is knowing the prices of how much I should not pay beyond for an item or service.

Cafes and Handicrafts shops in Bhaktapur. Language would certainly be important for someone like me here! Photo Credits: Kaspersky Content Hub

The 2015 Nepal Earthquake

May the well-being of all people be protected. May all the worlds become happy.
Oṁ peace, peace, peace.

On April 25, 2015 9,000 people lost their lives, a further 23,000 were injured and there was major destruction of homes infrastructure. The earthquake resulted in more than 5,000 schools being damaged or completely destroyed. On May 12, 2015, a second 7.3 earthquake struck the country, causing further devastation and loss of lives.

— All Hands and Hearts

Om Avighnam astu (may there be no hindrance)

It goes without saying that the world goes through tremendous amounts of disasters, natural and artificial. In Daniela Papi’s article, the issue of orphanage and volunteers for the relief of orphans (i.e. orphanage tourism) in Cambodia was discussed. This has led to think whether or not such related issues are present in Nepal. However, the common theme of volunteering is the pitch and tone in which I will be talking about in this post.

Nepal went through a terrible earthquake in 2015 that resulted in a clear a humanitarian crises. Since then, relief efforts have been sent to help these people. However, it would be wise to consider the approach on how to help.

https://www.actionaidusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Volunteers-save-bricks-Vlad-Sokhin-150945scr-1200×660.jpg

For although I might not have the necessary skills, knowledge, or connection to contribute directly to the people in need, I am able contribute my funds to trusted organisations that will indeed know best on how to manage the situation and help with rebuilding Nepal, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Logo of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Due to the fact that I am not from Nepal nor have I ever stepped foot into the country, I believe the best way for me to contribute will be to local organisations directly who would know best on how to navigate the social norms. The last thing I want to do is transform my assistance and donation into colonial-style crusade of liberation of social ‘injustices’ like women’s rights and breaking the traditional norms. It is best of the local people decide on what to do. Alternatively I can do something like donating bricks for the sole purpose of rebuilding and not have the money misplaced.

This I believe is meaningful international engagement as it is part of a relief effort whilst also being respectful of the possible conservative culture that might be present.

Tradition and Essentialism (Assessment)

The identity of places is very much bound up with the histories which are told of them, how those histories are told, and which history turns out to be dominant.

— Doreen Massey.

“So, might I offer you some advice? Forget everything you think you know.” (Doctor Strange, 2016)

In this blog post, I am going to talk about essentialism. Place essentialiasm promotes the idea of innate or internal ‘essence’ of a place. However, as Doreen Massey states, “[Place] is absolutely not static.” As a smart traveler, having an essentialist mindset is apparently not the most positive thing to do. I myself have been guilty of this in the months leading up to this blog post.

My first ever visual image of Nepal (aside from Mount Everest) was from the 2016 movie Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the movie, we see the main character undergoing life’s lowest and travelling to Nepal in search of healing. We see him learn the art of mysticism and the energy from different dimensions. Naturally, this is what drew my main interest in Nepal.

Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Photo Credit: Jay Maidment. ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

I essentialised Nepal as a place of spirituality and learning of Dharmic religions. I saw it as an abode of Hinduism and Buddhism, viewing it in light of the former Hindu Kingdom of Nepal. And it was with this mindset that I wish to travel to Nepal in the footsteps of Doctor Strange and study Tibetan Buddhism at Kopan Monastery.

Kopan Monastery. Image by: Shanker Hotel

My own view can be challenged by the very fact that now, Nepal is a secular republic. It is true that Nepal’s majority is Hindu, and there are inhabitants who practice Tibetan Buddhism. However, I am appropriating and essentialising what Nepal should be and forcing my view on it. It is more appropriate if I consider the fact that Nepal is one of the poorest countries on Earth and the 2015 earthquake there does not help the status quo. Essentialism is a problem because it deprives and neglects the fact that Nepal is real country facing real modern economic and social problems that demand a more profane view of the country.

Nepal may be full of culture and religious heritage, but is also facing real time problems and crises. Image by: Geographical Magazine

Newari Architecture

Newari woodcarving is probably the most distinct feature of the Kathmandu Valley.

But perhaps the quintessential Newari art was woodcarving. With their talent for design and invention, the Newars turned the window into a lavish display of the carver’s skill and imagination; instead of a rectangular hole, the window became richly decorative, exuberant, playful.

 Marcia R. Lieberman .

Art is always present in our everyday lives, be they street art, architecture, graffiti, signage, ephemera, performance, etc. Whereas some cities like Melbourne take pride in their graffiti, the cities of the Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur) is covered in beautiful Newari archiecture.

Newari is the distinct creative architecture by the Newar people, the historic inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. The New York Times says that “Their artists and craftsmen, whose skill was noted by visitors as early as the seventh century, left their stamp on the art of Tibet and China… [they] created beguiling patterns on brick walls, much as Persians, Turks and others did on carpets.” Until 1768-169, each city in the Kathmandu valley was their own kingdom. At that time, each Newari king competed on a grand scale and “each of the three cities built a Durbar (or Palace) Square, competing to fill it with the most magnificent palaces and temples.

Patan Durbar Square/LONELY PLANET

In itself, Newari architecture can be considered a form of religious expression of the people towards the Divine as a lot of the wooden carvings are decorated with images of deities, mythical beings, dragons, peacocks, auspicious jars and other elements.

An image of the Vedic god Ganesha carved onto a wall/The Newars

Newari architecture can be considered a part of an “unofficial” tourist attraction. For despite the fact that Newari architecture in itself is not usually advertised as the attraction, a majority of top “tourist” spots in the Kathmandu Valley are of Newari architecture, especially those sites and buildings that possess a religious (e.g. temple) or historical (e.g. durbar square) significance to the local Nepalese population.

Mount Everest as a Symbol (Assessment)

Who doesn’t know Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world?

We live in a whirl of symbols, and to make sense of the world around us, even as children, we need to become experts in attaching appropriate meanings to an immense range of images, logos, numbers and signs

— From Land of Symbols by Melissa Harper and Richard White.

Symbols of countries and ordinal things are not something we are alien to. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest man-made structure. Jungfrau is the top of Europe, and Mount Everest is nature’s tallest point in the world.

I decided to talk about Mount Everest because not only is it well known in Nepal but also globally. For indeed, who hasn’t heard of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain the world? As a symbol and icon, however, it carries certain distinct meanings for different people.

A sign points towards the Everest base camp some 140km northeast of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. 
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

What sort of symbol does Mount Everest carry? It certainly means different things depending on who you ask. For the Buddhist Sherpa guides, it carries a religious significance. According to them, the south side of Everest is regarded as a béyül—one of several “hidden valleys” of refuge designated by Padmasambhava, the ninth-century “lotus-born” Buddhist saint. Furthermore, Miyolangsangma, the “Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving,” is believed to reside on top of Mount Everest and is thus the one who delivers the Sherpas’ bounties. For Western foreigners, the answer is more profane: Testing one’s limits. Personal achievement. Companionship in a shared challenge. Escape. Fun.

Professional guides are the backbone that has made the adventure accessible. Sherpas set up ropes and ladders, and base camps with tents, stoves, bottled oxygen, and food. Alun Richardson/Getty Images

Despite the historical and religious significance of it, Mount Everest seems to be exploited for the benefit of commercialization and tourism. Since its first successful attemot in the 1950’s, mountaineering is a booming business on many sides, with 8,300 people successfully ascending to the peak in the past six decades. To start with, climbers hire a Sherpa for around $5,000 and securing oxygen for at least $500. There is also a mandatory $11,000 permit. Additionally, climbers need to buy expensive gears to climb the mountain. This has resulted in Mount Everest as a luxury adventure destination for prestige and intrinsic rewards. As for the Sherpas, mountaineering is their livelihood, and they do it to support their families.

Appa Sherpa, who has climbed Mount Everest 11 times, inspects empty oxygen cylinders brought from the world’s highest mountain in Katmandu, Nepal. 
Binod Joshi/AP
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