March 14, 2009

Spring Break

Enjoy photographs taken by classmates while on vacation to some beautiful places.  Perhaps you will be inspired to plan a spring break trip or summer vacation.

Jill Keener traveled to Ireland.  Click on the picture to view a slideshow of her travels.
Jerry Hilgenberg made a trip to Kathmandu.  Click on the picture to view pictures on his flickr site, and read his interesting travelogue.

I.  Swayambhunath Stupa and surrounds.  A “stupa” is a place where religious relics are kept, generally a few bones or other objects.  Stupas have a sort of “standard” construction. The overall shape of a stupa portrays the seated Buddha, with components that represent earth, fire, air, water and life.

1.  Entrance to Swayambhunath Stupa.  This stupa is located on a high hill with a nice overlook of the Kathmandu Valley.  The stupa is illuminated at night (when the electricity is on) and is visible from the much of the valley below.  It was an easy 15-minute walk from our hotel. 
Note the prayer wheels in the foreground.  Each prayer wheel has papers inside on which prayers and chants are written, principally the chant “Hum Mani Padmi Oom”.  People walk past and give each one a spin in a clockwise direction.  They believe the prayer wheels amplify and give voice to their prayers, and that all of the prayers written inside the wheel are recited.
The two-entranced gatehouse building in the background contains a giant prayer wheel that is 12 feet high.  This prayer wheel strikes a bell with each revolution.

2.  At the foot of the steps leading up to the 2,500-year-old Swayambhunath Stupa.  This stupa is atop a hill that overlooks the Kathmandu valley.  Swayambhunath is the oldest of over 600 stupas in Kathmandu valley; it’s said that the Buddha himself once taught here.

3 & 4.  It’s 365 steps to the reach the top.  Almost there.  I know making this climb isn’t supposed to be easy – that’s why it’s called a pilgrimage.  But I’m sure glad I quit smoking.

5. Swayambhunath is known as “Monkey Temple” for the hundreds – make that thousands – of Rhesus monkeys living there.  Although these monkeys are considered holy, keep your hands in your pockets as you walk by them.  A bite from one of these critters means rabies shots.

6. Looking east to the Kathmandu Valley from the stupa.

7 & 8. Swayambhunath Stupa. The base of the stupa is a dome, representing earth.  Arranged around the perimeter of the dome at Swayambhunath are over 200 prayer wheels.
Check out the “Buddha eyes”.   There are two eyes and eyebrows, painted on each side of the stupa, which represent the omniscience of the Buddha, and between them a third eye which represents the wisdom of the Buddha.  The “nose” is the Nepali script for the number “1” --- symbolizing “unity” of humankind.   Virtually every stupa in Nepal has Buddha eyes painted on it.  In fact, they’ve become the symbol of the country.
Notice the thirteen rings above the eyes.  Each ring represents a different level of knowledge you need to achieve Nirvana, represented by the umbrella at the top.
Surrounding the stupa are a number temples and shrines, a monastery, a library and museum and (of course) souvenir shops.

II. Kathmandu street scenes.  Our visit to Kathmandu fell in the middle of the Dashain Festival, a religious festival running from late-September to mid-October.  Each morning, starting about 4am, thousands of pilgrims were in the streets, dressed in their best clothing, walking to the temple so as to be there at sunrise.  Often times there was cadence drumming, as well as musical instruments played, as part of the procession.
October 6th was a very bad day to be a barnyard animal (chicken, goat, duck, sheep, etc) in Nepal, as this was the annual day of sacrifice.  Animals are taken to the temples, sacrificed, then butchered and eaten for dinner.

9. Meeting tree.  Neighborhoods and villages in Nepal have “meeting trees” and I suppose the analogous concept in our country would be the town square.  It’s a central place in the neighborhood where people congregate to talk and pass the time.

10.  This little girl was working as the waitress and clean-up person at her mom’s street market.  Stopped for a coke!

11. Feral monkeys.

12. Traffic snarls are the rule, not the exception, on Kathmandu’s narrow, crowded, unpaved and unmarked streets.  Here’s a typical mess at the entrance to Durbar Square.  These vehicles are not moving.

14.  “Crafties” Nepal??  I shouldn’t make fun; their English is far superior to my Nepali!

15 – 18.   Street merchants near the entrance to Durbar Square.

19a.  People getting water from a public well.
19b.  Renovation project using bamboo scaffolding!
19c.  These goats will be supper one day soon.
19d.  Laundry day.
19e.  Street scene.
19f.  Merchants near Durbar Square.

III. Durbar Square.  .   The “durbar” is the royal palace, and there are three Durbar squares in the Kathmandu valley.  Durbar Square in Kathmandu is the location of the second-oldest palace, and entry to the palace is not permitted for foreigners.
The square is located in the medieval part of the city center.  There is a two-story pagoda here that is over 2,000 years old and was constructed only of wood, without any nails.

20a. Durbar Square entrance; pedestrians only.
20b. Durbar Square Pagoda.

21. Entrance to the old palace at Durbar Square.  Foreigners are not permitted inside.

22. Massive carved elephants guard the entrance to this pagoda.

23. Another pagoda at Durbar Square.

IV. Umbrella Foundation.  It’s estimated that there are 30,000 homeless and abandoned children in Kathmandu.  Go out early any morning and you’ll see them sleeping in doorways, on benches at temples and stupas, around the “meeting trees” --- wherever they can find shelter.  The Umbrella Foundation is a sort of orphanage; they are a “rescue shelter” for children.   If you visit no other linked site while looking at these photos, you should visit this one.  Umbrella currently has a population of about 300 children, ranging from very small up to the age of 17.  They are sheltered in houses rented by the foundation, young boys in one house, young girls in another, older boys in another, older girls in another.
The children are education, fed and cared for.  In some cases they are returned to their families.   Children are regularly deposited at the gate of the shelter by their families; unfortunately, financial constraints keep the shelter from accepting all comers.  They would quickly become overwhelmed.

If you choose, you may make a financial contribution to their work from their web site.

25 - 27. Entrance to the courtyard and the Umbrella Foundation houses.

28.  Boys bedroom.

29a.  Preparing to cook rice for dinner, which is prepared in the kitchen of each house.  The diet is basic, but as you can see from the photos the children are well-nourished and well cared for.
29b. Boy at Umbrella Foundation.
29d.  Older kid’s bedroom.
29e. Boy at Umbrella foundation.

V. Mountain Flight.  The Himalaya Mountain range runs between Nepal and Tibet.  One third of the 2,400-kilometer range falls within Nepal, and contains eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, which rise above 26,000 feet.  The highest, of course, is called “Sagarmatha” (Mount Everest) at 29,028 feet.  There are hundreds of “lesser” peaks; lesser meaning below 26,000 but still pretty tall.
Daily, when the weather permits, there are over 30 flights departing from Kathmandu that will take you on an aerial tour of the mountains to Everest and back – about a one hour trip.
Our friend Kathy tried to warn us against flying on any airplane that’s piloted by somebody who believes in reincarnation (!) but personally I thought it was a good idea.  After all, a pilot who screws up and crashes into the mountain could come back as a snail or toad, so that gives them incentive to be extra careful.

30 -33. The mountain flight boarding and shots of the Himalaya mountain range.  The cloud floor is 20,000 feet and the plane is flying at 25,000 feet.  We’re about five nautical miles from the mountains, which rise to 30,000 feet.

34.  Mount Everest from the cockpit.  The world’s highest known peak above sea level: 8,848 Meters (29, 028 feet).  We have Everest in a couple of other photos, but because of distance, angle and elevation this is the only photo we have where it is shown as the highest peak in the picture.

VI. Hotel Vajra.  The Hotel Vajra was built early in the 20th century, designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.  It has many wonderful architectural details.  It’s a short walk to the Monkey Temple, and the web site says a 10-minute walk to Durbar Square.  Although you may be able to walk to Durbar Square quicker than a taxi could take you (provided you know the way) it’s generally better to take a taxi as the streets are not marked and it’s very easy to get lost.
A “vajra” is an indestructible weapon, as well as a source of wisdom.  There’s a huge vajra at the Swayambhunath Stupa.  I didn’t get a good photo but you can see a photo of the vajra at this site

40.  Pretty girl caught at the elaborately carved main entrance of the hotel. 

41-42.   Small buddhas in the courtyard of Hotel Vajra.

43.  Carved elephant at the entry to our building in the “new” section of the hotel.

44. Carved entry door to the Great Pagoda Hall at the Vajra. The hotel regularly holds performances of plays and traditional Nepali dances in this hall.

45.   Shrine at Hotel Vajra courtyard. 

46-47.  Kathy Hirsch, a friend from old days in Bloomington and Chicago, happened by coincidence to be staying in the room beside ours at the Hotel Vajra.  We hadn’t seen her in 30 years, and she turned up in the room next door.  Small world, indeed.

VII.  Bouddha Stupa.  This is the largest and most popular pilgrimage site in Nepal, this stupa was built in the 5th or 6th century.   The base of the stupa is surrounded by prayer wheels.  For your prayers to be effective, walk around the stupa – in a strictly clockwise direction – spinning each wheel, always in a clockwise direction.
The multi-color banners strung on and around the stupa sites are “prayer flags”.  It’s believed that when the wind blows it carries the prayers written on these flags to heaven.
There are a number of temples around the circular perimeter of the stupa, as well as souvenir shops and restaurants.

50-52.   Bouddha Stupa, from entry way, front and side. 

55 – 56.  Wall art at the entrance to a temple at Bouddha Stupa.  I do not know what these symbolize.

57.  Monk standing in front of giant prayer wheel.

58.  Painted ironwork portal of the prayer wheel.

59.  Painted archway.

60 – 62.   Inside the temple.  The monks seated on either side of the aisle were performing a ceremony that included cymbals, drums, and a very large horn.  The photo at the shrine at the front of the temple is of the Daili Lama.

63 – 64. Elephants stand at the base of the Bouddha Stupa.   Photo #64 is a close-up of the sign.

65 – 66.  Lighting candles in the Bouddha compound.  The lady with her child is dressed in traditional Tibetan clothes.

67.  Men gambling at the base of the stupa.

68.  Feral cow taking a break from the stress of everyday living at Bouddha stupa.  This is on the perimeter at street level and you can see a couple of sets of prayer wheels in the background.

Mike Hinshaw submitted photos from late 2008 trips.  Mike says, "The first one is of the summit ridge on Quandry.  It is just south of Breckenridge and is one of the easiest 14,000 foot peaks.  I had been backpacking and climbing in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area in September and decided to do this one on the way back to the airport.  It had received a few inches of snow overnight and the hike up was very pretty.

The next three are from a December sailing trip in Belize. 
Peg and I and two friends rented a sailboat in Placencia, Belize and visited several of the small islands inside the barrier reef.  This photo is of us on Laughing Bird Caye.  It is a World Heritage site, but it is so small you can stand in the water on one side and throw a rock into the water on the other side.  The guys in the boat were local fishermen who anchored near us one night.  They had eight dugouts stacked on the sides of the boat and they slept beneath the tarp at night.  During the day they use the dugouts to fish the breached areas of the reef where larger fish come in from deep water." 

Jill also traveled to New Orleans.  "My vacations are captured in the architecture and texture of the places I visit....I captured this photograph and with a little PhotoShopping, I get a very interesting photo.  I call it 'Bum in Doorway'."
Dan and Becky Thornburg have certainly traveled around!