On New Years Day 2014, I woke up early to perform 108 Surya-Namaskaras as a welcome trial of mental and physical strength. At the time, Boulder, Colorado had been home for a few short months, and I felt more alive and captivated in that heavily packed room than I had ever before. Sweat mixed with sweat. Groans, sighs, sways, laughs. We shared it all as we packed into the studio with one of Boulder’s finest yoginis.
On New Years Day 2015, I wanted to emulate that same experience. But how? Why not in the same way, but this time in a private space?
I woke up before dawn on January 1, 2015. My body still buzzed from the previous night’s countdown where I had danced and sang alongside Nepalis, Canadians, Koreans, and everyone in between. Traveling alone, I received a few sympathy invitations to join diners in their celebratory dinner as I moved from restaurant to restaurant in search of the perfect place to ring in a new year.
An invitation to red wine and chocolate cake landed me at a table with a pair of travelers, in Nepal for a two week break from the school they taught at in South Korea. The city of Kathmandu was alive and vivacious. Streets were lit in bold colors and neon signs. Each restaurant offered live music, each bar offered drink specials better than the last. Each tourist joined hands in making the night a memorable one, though easily forgotten.
Staying within my limits, I had an incredible night, counting down to midnight and throwing confetti into the air while leading a group in a rendition of the Electric Slide. Soon after, I retired to my room, a small hotel off the main streets of Kathmandu’s tourist district with an old fashioned key that tried my skills each time I exited or entered. I learned how to use that key the hard way: when checking in I put the key in its place but turned it upside down and somehow managed to jam it so well that the manager gave up after several minutes of trying and instead pointed me toward a different room. He had handed me a new key, showed me how to use it, and offered to watch as I practiced this ancient art. Mastered.
On New Years Day, with a few hours of sleep -a standard when traveling- I woke up to complete the same 108 Surya-Namaskaras that marked the previous year’s grand opening. After finishing over an hour later, I stood and stared out the window. Where was I? Pinch me for this couldn’t be real.
The dancing. The beauty. The monkey temple high up in Kathmandu’s mountains. The people . The graciousness. The selflessness.
Kathmandu set itself up to rank high on a list of must-see recommendations. Since my visit, the area has been rocked with an unfortunate earthquake. The devastation was massive, killing over 8000 and destroying many homes and businesses, along with several places I had the opportunity to visit.
The earthquake shook the land hard, but rocked the residents harder. I heard of it early in the morning, before leaving for work. On the bus ride to work I was able to check Facebook and saw a notification pop up. A friend I had made while in Kathmandu was marked as “Safe”. He was alive, promised so by his elder sister. This young man had sat with me for over an hour one afternoon in his studio within Durbar Square’s gates. He is currently studying to be a master artist and in the meantime is working at the mandala school’s shop to sell his own creations alongside those of his peers and teachers. I had coaxed him into setting aside time for tea and sharing his story before choosing one of his own pieces to purchase. It worked, and he shared a tale of persistence, dedication, and family unity that led him to his ultimate livelihood.
Seeing that many historic sites in Kathmandu were destroyed by the earthquake, it was both a relief and a wakeup call. This was real. People, real people, possibly people I knew, were effected by Mother Nature’s ferocious ways.
The Monkey Temple, high above Kathmandu’s glistening lights and New Years parties, was shattered. Its Nirvana Cafe which I’d posed in front of was torn to the ground (At the time I’d thought how cool is it to say you’ve reached Nirvana!) Many of the prayer wheels no longer will spin. And the monkeys! What’s happened to the monkeys? How about the shop owner who let me store my things after I’d purchased a Nepali cookbook, relieving aching shoulders as I climbed higher and higher into Nepal’s mountains on an unexpectedly sunny afternoon?
What had happened to the toddler I’d seen walking with his Mother into the shanty town hidden behind one of the city’s many temples?
What had happened to the butchers?
The motorcycle riders?
How did those fruit stands uphold the tremors? How many oranges were left to roll in the crowded streets?
What happened to the schoolchildren who’d proudly posed with their father’s motorcycle as I passed by, acting as if they owned it and in turn, feeling as if they owned the world?
The Sadhu Men? Did they survive without having any proper home or other such means to protect them?
The puppy who’d accompanied me for an entire day, leading me to the must-see places of Pashupatinath Temples, following me from riverside to hilltops and ‘protecting’ me from the caged deer held in a sparsely populated village high atop one of Kathmandu Valley’s forested mountains?
Where are they now?
Many of these questions will go unanswered. Yet the most important answers are still relevant. Kathmandu is a city of peace, joy, love. They people are fascinating. They’re kind, gentle, charming. They have lived with the world at their feet for millenniums and have recently felt that world tremble beneath their leathered soles. They invite outsiders in and make sure your every need is taken care of.
As the New Year began, I promised myself and I promised the country of Nepal that one day I’d return. Maybe in the meantime you can go there for me? Give those kids a hug, give the artist some recognition. Stock your shelves with fresh produce. Dance like you do in your bedroom mirror. Support them and you’ll see them return the favor tenfold. By all means, go. And when you do, I expect a report back. Let me know what you find.
Looking forward to it!