.All Trips / Asia / Nepal

Swayambunath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

012 Swayambunath Stupa, Kathmandu

Swayambunath Temple, in Kathmandu, Nepal, is one of the most important sites in this ancient city.  It is known as the “Monkey Temple” because of the large number of (mean spirited) monkeys that have all but taken over this complex (and are said to be “holy monkeys”).

Swayambhunath is an ancient complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley.  Most approach it via a long uphill climb of 365 steps (one for each day of the year), past thousands of Buddhist prayer flags that set the atmosphere for the complex ahead.  Each morning before dawn hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims ascend these steps and begin a clockwise walk around the stupa at the center of this ancient site.

The Swayambhunath complex dates to …

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“Pic of the Week”, November 15, 2013. Mani Stones, Khumbu region of Nepal

2013-45-November 15a

There are many memorable moments when one treks in the Khumbu.  From flowering rhododendron bushes, to mountains that seem to stretch to the stars, to glaciers cracking and calving and feeding rushing rivers and streams.  But perhaps even more fascinating than the dramatic landscapes are the Sherpa people who reside here.  Living in a harsh and rugged land their lives are filled with hard work and few pleasures.  But they are happy and cheerful people, grateful for small acts of kindness and happy to engage with you as best they can given language difficulties.

I was especially struck by the deep Buddhist faith of these folks, a trait shared with their neighboring Tibetan brethern, which you’ll see manifest as colorful strings …

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“Pic of the Week”. November 30, 2012 — Musical monks, Kumjung, Khumbu region, Nepal

November 30, 2012

The Sherpa people live in one of the harshest regions on the planet, the Khumbu.  Their world is one of majestic steep mountains (the highest anywhere), roaring rivers, glaciers, steep trails and yaks.  There are no roads, no airports, not even a swimming pool.  They are poor and have little; still, they are among the happiest and friendliest people I’ve had the privilege of meeting.  The Sherpa are best know for their excellence in mountaineering.  From Sir Edmund Hillary on they have guided and staffed expeditions to the many tall peaks in the region, especially Mount Everest.

We had camped overnight near the village of Kumjung, close to Namche Bazaar and not far from Mount Everest.  It …

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.All Trips / Asia / Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: A Land Like No Other (Part 10) Adam’s Peak

Sri Lanka —  10) Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak (also known as Sri Pada, or “holy footprint”) is located in the southwestern part of Hill Country.  It’s 2,243 meters (7,359 ft) high, the tallest mountain in this region and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka.  Because of its size and distinctive pyramidal top, Adam’s Peak stands out when one is traveling through the region; on a clear day it can be seen from the ocean.  The mountain is set in a region of wilderness so much of its vegetation and fauna are pristine.

I was first introduced to Adam’s Peak in Arthur C. Clarke’s book, THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE (which also features Sigiriya, hence the title).  In this story a mountain bearing an uncanny resemblance to Adam’s Peak is the earthbound terminus of Arthur’s …

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.All Trips / Asia / Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: A Land Like No Other (Part 7) Kandy

Sri Lanka —  7) Kandy

The Sinhalese name for this city is Maha Nuvara (Senkadagalapura), impossible for the British to pronounce so they just called it Kandy.  Located in the forested foothills of the central mountains, about 1500 feet above sea level, Kandy is appealing to Sri Lankans as well as to visitors.  The weather is cooler and less humid than on the coast, especially at night.  Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka and the gateway to the Hill Country and Cultural Triangle, so there’s lots to see and do.  It’s easily accessible by road and train from Colombo, offering scenic journeys through coconut and rubber plantations and rice paddies.   I’ve visited Kandy four times and enjoyed each visit.

Like Polonnaruwa …

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.All Trips / Asia / Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: A Land Like No Other (Part 6) Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka —  6) Polonnaruwa

The eastern most point visited when touring Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle is Polonnaruwa.  The ruins in this ancient capitol are the best preserved and most varied in Ceylon and it’s well worth the effort to visit them.  The city’s historic sites can be visited in one day, although it gets quite hot in the afternoon so be sure to bring your water bottle.  Polonnaruwa is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

A Brief history of Polonnaruwa

King Aggabodhi IV (7th century) was the first Sri Lankan monarch who began to develop Polonnaruwa.  He built it as a “vacation residence” for royalty, an alternative to the historic royal home in Anuradhapura.  King …

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Sri Lanka: A Land Like No Other (Part 4) Dambulla

Sri Lanka —  4) Dambulla

Dambulla is known for its Cave Temples which predate Christ.  Legend has it that a Sri Lankan King, driven out of Anuradhapura, found a hiding place and refuge within these caves.  When this king regained his throne he decreed the caves should be a shrine and began fashioning them into the temple complex you can visit today.  Subsequent kings progressively added to the shrine, including Buddha carvings and gilding the caves’ interior; the last additions were the interior paintings finished around 200 years ago, including over 1500 Buddha images.  As with most of the other ancient sites around Sri Lanka, Dambulla is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most tourists who stop at Dambulla do so while traveling from …

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Sri Lanka: A Land Like No Other (Part 3) Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka —  3) Anuradhapura

A great opportunity available to any traveler to Ceylon is the chance to explore the country’s rich history and extensive archeology.  This post will be the first of several describing my visits to the ancient sites in Sri Lanka and highlights the oldest of these, Anuradhapura (it’s pronounced just like its spelled).  The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose prehistory dates back to at least 1000 B.C.

Anuradhapura is one of the points of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, the others being the cities of Kandy and Polonnaruwa (which I’ll discuss in future blogs).  For over 1500 years Anuradhapurna’s palaces were home to a string of almost 125 kings ranging from around 400 B.C. to 1200 A.D.   The city’s development and rise to prominence coincided with the arrival of Buddhism …

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