As the the year comes to a close I have looked back through the photos I took during 2013 and selected one of my favorites to share. When I started this blog almost 9 years ago I thought it would help me to improve my photography. In retrospect, I suspect it has actually done more for my writing skills. The real value, however, that I have only now come to fully appreciate is that I have created a window for my children to peer into their childhood. The glass may be rose colored (I rarely make an effort to document the ugly part of our lives) but it still offers a reminder of how we spent our days living together under one roof. I will continue making daily entries until Maya graduates from high school at which time I may scale back to a less challenging cadence.
For the last week I have been something of a vegetable, content to write performance reviews while at work, get caught up on my blog or on recorded TV shows while at home, and generally rest while my body makes the full transition back to Eastern Standard Time. Today I was in the mood for some exercise and took a one hour walk during lunch. Massive amounts of rain over the last two days have melted much of the snow on the ground and swollen rivers and flood basins. Despite the cold it was nice to be out for a walk, especially without a pack.
It has been ages since Kyle, Nico and I have gone out for a Boy’s Breakfast and today it was more like a Boy’s Lunch given it was after noon before we set out. That notwithstanding, we all ordered breakfast and enjoyed our normal conversation among men. Later in the day the entire family went to the Science Museum, principally to see the new exhibit; Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture. It was most interesting, but I was even more captivated by the Hall of Human Life where I analyzed the arch of my foot, the efficiency of my walk, and my balancing ability using interactive measurement stations. I was very impressed that the stations were able to handle Nicolai’s configuration with no apparent problems. My balancing score (timed maze traversal) was 2 seconds faster than both boys and I enjoyed lording this over them for the balance of the day.
Christmas at the Calabria’s is an all day affair. It starts with Jeanine’s famous pop-over breakfast (another outstanding batch this year) followed by the emptying of the stockings (one item at a time, sequentially from oldest to youngest). This usually takes us to lunch time and then the afternoon is spent slowly opening presents from under the tree. This year Jeanine was responsible for all of the gift selections as I was in Nepal. I did, however, return with an assortment of Cashmere scarves and shawls, Tibetan wool hats, Nepali pants, jewelry and a singing bowl which were all distributed on the day I arrived.
This year Kyle took over for me as head Zippoli Ball fryer. These honey and sprinkle covered fried dough balls are a long standing Christmas Eve tradition that goes back to my youth. The kids have become quite proficient at the recipe and I have little doubt they will one day be photographing their children making these little holiday treats.
A more recent tradition is Christmas Eve Dinner at Chang An’s Chinese restaurant with the Budris family.
My effort to obtain a seat assignment on the left hand side of the plane for my flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok was immediately rewarded with views of the full Himalaya range including Mount Everest as we broke through the clouds after takeoff. What an incredible sight to end my visit to Nepal on. From Bangkok, I fly to Frankfurt, and then on to Boston for a total trip duration of 36 hours. It is hard to complain about the less than ideal routing given I used frequent flyer mileage to obtain my tickets. The time is put to good use as I set a goal of deleting at lease half of the 6000 photos I took during this vacation. Once home I will seek to further reduce that number to 1000.
The Chorten Chempo in Bouddha is one of the largest stupas in the world and the most important Tibetan Buddhist monument outside of Tibet. The stupa has been sealed for centuries and no one knows for sure what it contains although it is widely believed to contain parts of the Buddha’s body (bones, hair, teeth) and other holy relics. Is is said that one spin of a prayer wheel here is the equivalent of reciting the mantra embossed on it eleven thousand times.
By mid morning I began walking to Pashupatinath, Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site. The Pashupati Mandir is the main temple but entrance is restricted to Hindus only although I was permitted to go as far as the entrance gate and look inside. Here also is where cremations are performed on the banks of the Bagmati River. During my 4 hour visit, I witnessed as many cremations including one for a high ranking dignitary complete with a military guard and band with the General of the Nepali Army in attendance to pay final respects. Bodies are carried to the river where they are dipped in the water three times, the feet are cleansed and clothing removed (discreetly under covers). The body is then placed on a riverbank ghat (raised platform) on top of a bed of logs. The chief mourners (typically the eldest sons) circle the body three times and then set it on fire (face first, which I found to be somewhat disturbing). It is then surrounded by additional logs and covered with wet reeds to keep flames from erupting. Smoke is carried to the heavens for hours before the body has been fully consumed. I found the cremation ceremony to be very poignant and beautiful but had trouble reconciling that image with the level of pollution in the holy river which I can only describe as a sewer.
I find traditional Hindu religious attire to be very photogenic and enjoyed making several portraits as I surveyed the crowds from a distance.
The ancient Newar town of Bhaktapur, located 30 minutes by bus from Kathmandu, was my favorite cultural destination. It was cleaner and less commercial than the other places I have visited and one can imagine that this is what Kathmandu must have been like in by gone times. I spent the entire day roaming within the gates of the old city.
The siblings pictured below are children of the street. At no point during several visits to this particular square over the course of the day did I see a parent anywhere. The older girl never let the baby from her arms. What they did for food I have no idea.
The city is graced with carved wood at almost every turn. The artisan seen working here was preparing a new railing for the guest house in which I was staying. All the work is done by hand.
Durbar Square in Bhaktapur was easily my favorite cultural destination. The architecture and craftsmanship are unrivaled and the layout of the square is more open than most others by virtue af an earthquake that destroyed many of the original structures.
As I was getting ready to make the 8 hour bus trip back to Kathmandu, I noticed a very unusual scene. A man suspended by a rope was collecting honey with little apparent regard for the swarm of bees that was attacking him as he did so. No amount of money in the world could induce me to perform this work in this fashion. I departed with a greater appreciation for the honey I was having each day with my lemon tea. The bus ride went quickly as I spent the hours conversing with a young woman who worked in Bhutan as an eco-tourism adviser and was in Nepal visiting friends. That evening I found a quiet guest house and went out for a nice dinner at an Indian restaurant.
Tomorrow I will walk throughout the city visiting the many cultural sites in the area. My photographs will be carefully taken to show all that is beautiful. Today, however, I must comment on the fact that Kathmandu is the most polluted city I have ever visited. It is truly depressing to witness what little regard the Nepalese have for their environment. The air is thick with smog from unregulated engine emissions, the open burning of trash, and the use of fires for cooking and heating. The rivers and waterways are filled with garbage and sewage. Residents urinate, defecate and spit where they please. Car and motorcycle horns are beeped incessantly all day long and well into the night. People discard refuse and organic waste wherever they are standing. The homeless live in squalor. It is hard to imagine how people who can be so friendly to strangers can be so uncaring for their own environment especially in a country so blessed with natural beauty.
I logged another 10 miles this morning while making the return hike to Sauraha with my two guides. We saw very little in the way of wildlife but did arrive just in time to watch the local elephants bathing. Handlers scrub their elephants from top to bottom and all involved seem to really enjoy the daily ritual. Hearty spectators can climb on top of an elephant if they wish to take a very cold shower.
Once cleaned, the elephants return to duty carrying up to four passengers at a time into the jungle. I joined one such tour this afternoon and was treated to several wildlife sightings including a mother and baby rhino.
At day break I met my guides by the river where we started our two day jungle trek with a 4 mile boat ride in a dug out canoe. Dense fog reduced visibility to almost nothing. Our boatman clearly knew every rock in this river and guided us expertly downstream even though we could only hear the rapids as he set up for them. A few miles in, the head guide whispered to the boatman who quickly brought as to shore. We scampered up an incredibly steep bank and then stood silently until we could hear the sounds of a very big animal moving through the brush. I was instructed to climb the nearest tree as did my guides. In a few minutes a huge one horned rhino emerged from the mist. Their eyesight is rather poor but they have excellent hearing and a great sense of smell. We waited patiently in our perches and I was treated to some great photos as this magnificent animal, one of 2000 remaining in the world passed below my tree.
When the coast was clear we climbed down from the trees and returned to the boat to complete our downstream journey. After landing, we set off on a rather brisk pace through the jungle. Having just returned from high altitude and with three days of recovery time on my blisters I was moving in high gear. We covered no less than 20 miles during the ensuing 9 hours and I could have easily gone further. During that time we encountered all manner of wildlife as documented below and paused for lunch in the safety of an observation tower. We spent the night in a small lodge just outside the park which we reached just as the sun was setting.