Thursday, March 15, 2007

Trek To Ghandruk (Pics by Anil Maharjan)

Trek To Ghandruk

Starting from : Kathmandu
Ending at : Pokhara
Grade : Easy
Highest access of the trek : 3200m (Poon hill)
Culture : Gurung, Magar
Mode of trekking tour : Teahouse
Himalayan sights : Dhaulagiri, Fishtail, Annapurna range, Manaslu, Nilgiri etc
Most Attraction of the trek : Close Mountain View, Villages

Anapurna left & Machapuchre

Ghorapani Pass to Deorali: 1 1/2 & hours; Deorali to Banthanti: 1 hour; Banthanti to Tadapani: 1 hour; Tadapani to Ghandruk: 3 hours. Elevation Gain: 1,780 ft. (543m). Elevation Loss: & 4,240 ft. (1,292m).

It is a long day's walk from Ghorapani to Ghandruk with several steep ascents and descents, but the trail passes through beautiful dense forests unlike any other you will have seen while trekking in this region. There are waterfalls and clear-running streams and, yes, several lodges where you can stay if you want to break up the hike into 2 days. Do not attempt this hike on your own. Always go in a group and stay close together. In the past there have been attacks and robberies along this trail but almost always of lone trekkers.

Anapurna Ranges seen from Ghorepani during sunset

From Ghorapani Pass, head due east along the top of the ridge, past the school and into the forest. There are many trails heading in this direction, but eventually they all begin climbing up through the forest. In an hour you'll come out on a grassy hilltop at 10,300 feet (3,139m). The view from this point is superb and virtually identical to that from Poon Hill, so if you are planning on heading this way anyway, skip Poon Hill, get an early start, and catch sunrise from here instead. You'll even be able to see the crowds over on Poon Hill.

Pictures clicked from Poon Hill

The trail reenters the forest and climbs a bit more before beginning a descent to several lodges at Deorali (10,100 ft.; 3,078m). Signs at this little clearing in the forest advertise the view from nearby Gurung Hill (yet another hill) as being every bit as good as those from Poon Hill, making this an alternative overnight spot for anyone seeking memorable mountain views. Here at Deorali, you meet a trail from Chitre, a shortcut if you are coming from Tatopani and headed to Ghandruk or the Annapurna Sanctuary. Taking this shortcut eliminates the climb to Ghorapani.

Pictures seen from Poon Hill

From Deorali, the trail descends steeply to Banthanti (8,720 ft.; 2,658m), a collection of lodges at the base of some limestone cliffs. The setting is enchanting, making this a great spot for lunch. From here, the trail continues descending briefly, then climbs steeply for a while before descending again to 8,250 feet (2,515m). From here it is a steady climb up to Tadapani (8,840 ft.; 2,694m), a collection of lodges that is a popular overnight spot because of its excellent views of Machhapuchhare, Hiunchuli, and Annapurna South. Keep an eye out for langurs around here.

Pictures seen from Poon Hill

Two trails leave Tadapani. The longer route goes directly to Chomrong by way of Kyumnu for anyone pressed for time and headed to the Annapurna Sanctuary. The other trail makes a long, steady descent to Ghandruk, passing the lodges at Bhaisi Khark in about 45 minutes. After another 1 1/2 & hours, you'll come to a fork in the trail marked by a large sign showing the many lodges in Ghandruk. Take the right fork at this point. From here it is another 30 minutes to Ghandruk (6,750 ft.; 2,057m), which you enter from the upper end of town. If you want to stay in the old part of town, take a left fork steeply downhill when you come to a dense cluster of houses.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Patan Durbar Square

Patan Darbar Square as seen from North West. Marking the Northern end of the palace complex, the museum's imposing Keshav Narayan Chowk is still overshadowed by the dominant Degutale temple behind. The Palace and its Square are inscribed as a World Heritage Site.

Around Patan Durbar square

The ancient city is situated on the southern bank of the river Bagmati and is about five kms southeast of Kathmandu. The city is full of Buddhist monuments and Hindu temples with fine bronze gateways, guardian deities and wonderful carvings. Noted for its craftsmen and metal workers, it is known as the city of artists. Patan is the oldest of the three ancient city-kingdoms of the Kathmandu valley which once ruled by the mallas. Patan is still populated mostly by Newars, two-thirds of them being Buddhist. As in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, a fusion prevails between Hinduism and Buddhism. Also, as in those cities, Patan has a Durbar Square and a labyrinth of winding lanes. The square boasts of many famous sites and unique architecture. Krishna Mandir in the Patan Durbar Square was built to honor an incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna fought by the side of the Pandavs in the Mahabharat war to assure that truth would prevail. This temple is the best example of stone architecture in Nepal. Scenes from the Mahabharat, Asia's greatest mythological war, are carved on the temple's wall. The Bhimsen Temple which honors Bhim - great wrestler, brother of the Pandavs, and a deity to Nepalese businessmen - contains fine samples of metal craft. The best place, however, to see metal sculpture is the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar, the "Golden Temple". It is a Newar monastery which contains wall painting , fourteenth century statues, and scriptures. Other sites including the Mahabouddha Temple and Uku Bahal are only a few minutes walk away from the square. The streets in this area are home to metal sculptors of the present day. Many more temples dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, Shiva, Narsingha, Taleju, and others are situated in the Patan Durbar Square.

Swayambhunath Stupa

Swayambhunath Temple, one of the pilgrimage listed at the World Heritage

Swayambhu is not only one of the most honorable Buddhist sites of the Kingdom but also the most sacred of the Kathmandu valley, as it symbolizes the creation of the valley itself.

As mentioned in the Savayambhupurana, the present day Kathmandy valley used to be a lake called Kalihrada. In Satyayuga Bipaswi Buddha sowed a lotus seed in the lake and after eighty thousand years the lotus bloomed. Self-Existent Lord, the Swayambhunath manifested himself in the form of Light (Jyotirupa) from this lotus.

In Treta Yuga, the Bodhisattva Manjusri came from China to pay the pilgrimage. He found the access to Swayambhu difficult due to monstrous aquatic animals in the lake. With his sword he cut the mountain surrounding the lake at a place called Kotbar (Chobar) and drained the water. The valley then became a place for human settlement, known as Manju Pattan. Latter the disciplines of Manjusri built the Manjusri Chaitya near the Swayambhu Mahachaitya to his memorial.

Later in Dwapar Yuga, the Bodhisatva Vajrasattva fearing that wicked men in the age of Kaliyuga would steal away the jewels of Swayambhu concealed him under a stone salb. Master Santikaracharya raised a chaitya over the hidden Swayambhu, which remained there until today.

The historical evidence of the Swayambhunath as religious site goes back to early Lichhavi time (5th century AD) attested to by the inscriptions as well as two chaityas from the period. More chaityas seems to be constructed in the latter part of Lachhavi period survive, six on the hill top and three along the eastern stairs.

Pratapa Malla was the only king who contributed larger buildings to the immediate surroundings of the Swayambhu Chaitya (2) . He not only placed the enormous Vajra at the head of the Eastern stairs, but added a pair of Sikhara temples right and left of the stairs. The southern one, Pratapapura bears his name.

For centuries Swayambhu Chaitya has not been in a good state of repairs. The earliest recorded renovation of the chaitya is from 1129 AD. The existing structural form of the Chaitya dates from the renovation carried out in 17th century. After Countless renewals and additions the central building got its present shape only 60 years ago.

Machindranath (Red & White): Pics by Ajay Joshi

An old man at the top of the 'Raath' of Rato (Red) Machindranath ready to throw the NUT. It is believed that the person who receive the nut is consider lucky and he/she would have son.

The Red Machhendranath temple was built in 1408 AD and is situated in Tabahal. For six months the deity is taken to its other shrine in Bungamati. The Rato (Red) Machhendranath temple, the god of rain and abundance comes in a variety of incarnations. To Buddhists, he is the Tantric side of Avalokiteshvara while to Hindus he is another face of Shiva. The temple has four elaborately carved doorways that are each guarded by lion figures and at ground level on the four corners of the temple plinth are reliefs of monkeys. The metal roof is supported by struts, each showing Avalokiteshvara standing above figures being tortured in hell. Prayer wheels are set into the base of the temple. The Machhendranath image is just a crudely carved piece of red-painted wood, but each year during the month-long Rato Machhendranath celebrations it is paraded around the town on a large temple chariot. The complex celebration moves the image from place to place over a period of several weeks in the month of Baishakh (April/May), finally ending at Jawalakhel where the chariot is dismantled. Once every twelve years, the chariot is pulled all the way from the ancient city of Bungamati and is continued through the narrow lanes on Patan to be once again pulled to Bungamati where the procession finally ends.

The portrait of Seto (White) Machindranath

Seto (White) Machindranath 'Raath' been pulled by the local residence at Indrachowk

Kel Tole, where there is the well-decorated Seto (White) Machhendranath Temple. It is one of the more important temples in Kathmandu and both HindusHindus and Buddhist worship at this temple. In the temple there is a seating image of a white-faced of Seto Machhendranath. Buddhist worship Seto Machhendranath as a form of Avalokiteshvara and the Hindu worship him as a form of Siva, who brings rain.

It has an arched doorway with an image of Buddha on a high stone pillar faced by two lions. In front of the temple are bronze images of Taras on top of high pillars. It is not known exactly when the temple was built, but it was renovated in the 17th century. In the courtyard there are many shrines and statues of deities.

The deity of Seto Machhendranath is placed on a chariot and paraded around the city during the Seto Machhendranath festival in March/April. The parade ends of Machhendranath Temple in the south section of the city.

In the middle of Kel Tole is the Tantric tripled-roof Lunchun Lun Bum Ajima Temple. It has some erotic carvings on the bath struts.

Boudha Nath Stupa

Boudha Nath Stupa, The biggest stupa around the world

Rarely a tourist visiting Nepal wishes to return to his homeland without treading on a land that has been accorded a great amount of reverence. The famous land that arrests our attention and has been a place of sanctity over centuries is Boudha, a home to Tibetan refugees over decades and one of the holiest pilgrimages for Buddhists who come on a perpetual journey traversing many lands in a quest for self realization. One wonders after all what is in store in Boudha for tourists, of all other beautiful monuments and shrines in Nepal and why Tibetans had chosen this particular land for their abode. Our all curiosities find an answer once we set our sight upon the Great Stupa which is in substance a storehouse of mysteries and a stack of ancient tales of wisdom. For this and many more reasons Tibetan Buddhists have deliberately taken refuge in this sacred land. The Great Stupa with its unsurpassed beauty woos tens of thousands of tourists every year. The one step in finds the place vibrant with spiritual moorings. This marvelous monument captivates our curiosity and stirs up our imagination to dig up the history of it. Curiously enough we reach no where as regards its historical moments for want of documents. The commissioning of the Stupa has no scientific and documentary evidence to chronicle it in the book of history, yet plenty of legends we come across about the origin of the Stupa interest one and all.

A tale that arrests our mind goes back to a dynastic rule of King Dharma Deva centuries ago. During his reign a deadly drought deserted the country stirring up a massive famine causing people to die of

starvation. Dharma Deva called on royal astrologers to unfurl the reason and possible remedy. One of the astrologers pondered over it and visualized that nothing but a sacrifice of a man with 32 uncommon attributes and flair should be made at a spring from where water flows. The king meditated over this for hours and days and arrived at the conclusion that no one other than the monarch himself is possessed of the qualities discernibly described by the royal astrologer. Then he summoned the prince and commanded him to go to the site of the spring at midnight to find a person shrouded in a white robe. He further added that he must serve the head of the person without looking at his face to sacrifice at the site from where water springs up. The prince unquestionably set off for the site to accomplish the performance and did it promptly without looking at the countenance of the person obeying the instruction of his dear father.

No sooner had the prince performed the deed than the shower of rain started to sweep the city with floods of water spreading every where. People all over the country sang songs and danced in great jubilation rejoicing at the fact that finally their days of woes are over. But when all the people were celebrating in great joys the news filled the air and pervaded through the whole nation to strike every body with horror that the sacrificial deed performed at the spring was of the monarch himself. The break of the news dismayed one and all but every one can figure out the state of the mind of the prince who was ignorant of the fact that it was his own father who was sacrificed out there. Filled with remorse for a great wrong done from his part, the prince renounced all worldly affairs to set off for the jungle to live in seclusion. Engrossed in great meditation he passed the rest of his life in the jungle. It is believed that it is through the power of his meditation that the Great Bouddha Stupa appeared in this site. This is one of the thousand tales that revolve about the origin of the Stupa. Some Buddhists believe that the origin of the Stupa goes along with the origin of the Swayambhu Chaitya. They relate that the Swayambhu Chaitya originated from a lotus flower and the site where the root of the lotus has reached been the place from where the Stupa appeared. These tales have been legendary and strongly believed.

Bestowed with this beautiful Stupa, Boudha has been a centre of attraction for Tibetans who entered Nepal as refugees since 1950. Swarming in and around the Stupa they built many monasteries, Gompas and stupas. Boudha is a Tibet in miniature. In ways of life and in terms of their settlement styles around the Stupa, they bear a considerable resemblance to a life style in their original abode, Tibet. Every year thousands of monks, Lamas come to visit this great pilgrimage. Buddhists and those who believe in Buddhism invest large sums of money in building monasteries and teaching Buddhism for they are convinced that there is a substantial return on their investment spiritually if not in the mundane world. On the list of world heritage sites, the Stupa stands one of the ten heritages of Nepal. The Stupa is 36 metre tall and occupies 82.36 m and 82.03m in length and breadth with prayer wheels surrounding the wall. When Tibetans in their large mass go around the Stupa citing their Mantra and move the prayer wheels in their typical Tibetan robes with beads around their necks, the onlooker unaware of his existence in Nepal feels that he is in Tibet itself.

In other words, he will be on a mental ride to Tibet to revel in the mystical world leaving his physique in Nepal. Monks in their marooned robes between 10 years to 80 years of age strolling around entails the fact that Boudha is endowed with many living Buddhas incarnated in varied forms. Modernism is no doubt sweeping through Bouddha, yet the ancient Buddhist civilization is still at large. The new generation through westernization in their attitudes and outlooks are metamorphosed in their behavioural patterns and living style, yet the old generation who have passed parts of their lives in Tibet make the city still vibrant with Tibetan cultures in terms of their communication, fashion, movements so on and so forth.

Buddhism is a religion which remains vivacious even after centuries. Boudha for that matter is a place for all seekers where their quest for Nirvana gets visualized. For spiritual edification, if one is on an eternal pilgrimage Boudha stands second to none in this part of the globe.