A day in Kathmandu seems like a week. Our guide and fixer took us to some of the key areas, but more importantly gave us some sort of understanding about the cultures and structures that make Kathmandu what it is.
There is a new Government which is trying to help the poor. Education is not free therefore not all children go to school. There are private schools and state schools. Both charge, but the state schools are a lot cheaper. The government have brought in a subsidy to help make schools more accessible but is still out of reach of many. There are 60 ethnic groups in the country and 70 different dialects. There is also a growing Tibetan community as refugees continue to flee Tibet.
Kathmandu is a place of blood sacrifices. In one annual festival 108 animals are killed in one temple in a single ceremony We looked inside the temple. It was a small stone building with a wooden stake in the centre of the floor. It must be wet and sticky in there.
Later we went to the sacred river where the open air cremations were taking place. I did not know that if you were a holy man you did not need to be cremated as you were considered pure enough to make the next journey. If however you were the wife of the deceased you were expected to throw yourself onto the cremation fire yourself. This practice ended in the 1800’s. A few years ago a foreign doctor founded an organisation to take the eyes out of the corpses so that he could transfer them to people who were either blind or going blind. This practice stopped when relatives started to say that when the dead were reincarnated whey would not have their eyes. At least there was a reason for stoping it. In England most people don’t fill in the organ donor card. I suspect this is not for religious reasons but for reasons of ” not quite getting around to it”.
Just up the hill were the Holy Men. I am sure they are Holy but the thing you notice s the culture of “Photo Opportunity” that exists. If they see you have a camera they beckon you over and sit in the “iconic” pose. They all have the same pose, then you have to give them a donation. I think thats fine but it has become mechanised and a bit like the human statues in Bath and Covent garden. Jo saw one Holy man talking on his mobile phone. When he saw that she was going to take a picture he put the phone away and “ struck the pose”. The impression I got was that they were there to have their picture taken. The challenge for me was to try to get something that reflected the reality of what was going on. For that reason the picture of the Holy man spotting the next photographer coming along behind me and to my left is my favourite.
Later when we were driving back to the city through a rural area where the crops were just being brought in we passed a body face down in the road. It did not look good. The face was side on to the mud road and the body positioning did not look like it had been adopted by choice. I asked Ramini ( our guide) if it was usual to see bodies like that in the road. She looked a bit embarrassed and said “ No sir it is very unusual” The body was gone on our return.