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Nepal

I was so excited to visit the birthplace of the Buddha. In my head I had this image of a romantic old Hindu kingdom, locked away and preserved, full of peace and tranquility. …yeah, I was a little off base with that image.

Lumbini is not so much a town as a destination, and it certainly retains no sense of being a once wealthy kingdom. Any sense of peace and tranquility was smacked away as soon as we came out of the hills and in the plains of the Terai. Suddenly, the only spiritual experience we were having was cruising along between two trucks and neither being hit nor dying from espixiation. Welcome to the Terai – the land of hot, dusty, and flat.

Lumbini itself was mostly a large, dusty park preserving the land upon which they believe Buddha was born. It now serves as a spiritual center and a magnet for Buddhist monasteries from all over the world.

Once in the complex, with the Terai safely outside, I stood amongst the ruined stupas in the wide-open field, felt the setting sun on my face, and just listened to the wind in the trees. I was standing in the grass barefoot (no shoes allowed). Off to my left was a young Nepalese girl, holding a Japanese tourist and blue camo covered policeman captive with her wit and charm. I closed my eyes, and for a moment could grasp a small sense of what it meant to be here — what it meant to be standing the exact spot where the Buddha was born. And there it was, peace.

As I opened my eyes and began to walk back into the hot, dusty chaos, I vowed to remember that feeling. To remember that if I could find that feeling here, there were very few places where I couldn’t find it again.

Later that evening the owner at our hotel put it best – the Buddha must have been chosen to be born in such a hard, hot place. “He needed to know suffering. How else can you let go of something, unless you have know it?”

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Tansen is an old, hardly touristed town several hours off a winding drive through the hills to the south of Pokara. It seems to stretch over a whole hill top and down into the valley below. Tansen is a little rough around the edges, but overall the place has a delightful air of authenticity to it. A stopover in here means:

The best breakfast at a tiny little restaurant – hot savory samosas, warm sweet and gooey jeri, and a just right sized cup of milk tea.

A walk through the meandering streets and around the octagonal town center.

A morning spent in Dhaka stores, looking for just the right color combinations.

Smiling children with their hands clasped together in a Namaste, ready to run for cover the minute you Namaste them back.

But the one thing that will be missing, the one thing you can feel the void of in this town, is the Tansen Durbar (palace). Everyone that we talked to agreed. It had been the most beautiful palace. And no one had expected that in one night it could be lost. So what happened? Earth quake? Fire?

Politics. A battle between two groups that had been holding civilians in a state of constant fear for over a decade. The Maoist and the government. All in one night, lost was the beautiful palace, and lost were over 30 lives. A lesson in impermanence? Perhaps. A lesson is the waste of war? For sure.

When I was a little girl my family took a summer vacation to the coast of Maine. I remember standing on the edge of a cliff, the waves slamming into the rocks below,  watching as helicopters flew in circles over the gray water. A little boy had just been washed off of a rock with his father. I remember my mother being upset. Holding my hand tightly she said, “You have to respect the ocean. It is like a living thing that at any point can decide to swallow you up.”

Those were the exact words I heard in my head as we came down off the long lateral glacial moraine that led from Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp. It felt as if you were entering the domain of a living being. To hobble over the innumerable glacial rocks and enter this world of constantly flowing, intermixed rock and ice, I could feel the power that this mountain holds. The Sherpas believe that the mother goddess lives on Everest. At that moment I believed it. It felt so obvious that if you showed any disrespect she would reach out and swallow you up.

And yet amidst this, Base Camp had the optimistic air of a small pioneering town. Brightly colored tents made little settlements along the edge of the Khumbu Ice Fall for a good half-mile. Each camp seemed to have a flag hanging above and a sign stating who was there. The place had an energy of expectation and excitement. You knew that a good number of the people in this camp would have a lifelong dream of climbing Everest come true within the next couple weeks, but you also knew that not all of them would be coming back. Every year there are deaths on the mountain (so far this year there have been 2). I had to wonder if it was worth it. At one time I thought I would want to be in one of those tents, full of excitement and anticipation, but not now. To stand at the foot of the top of the world and marvel, that was enough for me.

Tents strewn along the Khumbu Glacier at Everest Base Camp.