Sorry it has been a while since my last post. I haven’t had access to my computer for a bit. I was lucky enough to spend our ‘Easter Break,’ as they call it in Austria, on a trek through Nepal. I suppose it’s not the typical spring break for a college student, but I knew this may be the only chance I had to take an opportunity like this, so I didn’t want to let it pass me by. It all started with a Groupon I received in my email for a 12-day tour through Nepal, which included a five-day trek. Nepal having been one of my dream destinations for a while, I worked up the courage to go to a third world country not knowing anybody else on the trip, and booked it! As nervous as I was about traveling to a completely new area of the world, in which Western toilets, warm showers and clean tap water were extremely few and far between (nonexistent in some cases), I was excited to have the chance to truly put myself out of my comfort zone, to see how people live in a different part of the world and to experience their culture.
Traveling by myself to a place so unknown really forced me, to put myself out there and strike up conversations with people I may not otherwise have connected with. My new acquaintances range from a girl my age from Scotland also traveling alone to two sisters from New Zealand, to couples my parents’ age from Canada, Australia and Japan. The conversations I’ve had with them were equally varied, from other travels to the energy industry. The older couples were particularly curious about how I was able to go on a trip like this on my own. When my answer was money saved up from previous internships as a petroleum engineer, the conversation quickly turned to the energy industry and different development theories. I was able to hold my own in the conversation with people twice my age, sometimes even informing them on particulars within the petroleum industry that they were unaware of, none of which I would have been able to do with out the amazing education that Mines has provided for me. For that I am forever grateful.
As much as I would love to relay the details of the five-day trek (we did part of the Annapurna circuit, for those of you who are curious), that would take more words than I suppose most of you want to read, so I will focus on a different aspect of the trip. As I was using my time off of school from our Easter Break for the trip, I got to thinking of the difference in religion between my new home in Austria and what I was witnessing in Nepal. As you can guess, the two are very different.
Austria is primarily a Catholic nation, which is emphasized by at least one church in even the smallest of towns (you can see the steeples driving through the countryside). I have attended only one or two Catholic ceremonies in the states, and from this I can conclude that the ceremonies are very similar between the two nations. Nepal, on the other hand, has a much more Eastern outlook on religion, with Hinduism and Buddhism taking the lead. During our time there we were able to visit various temples, which were different from the traditional Christian churches in many ways.
The first temple we visited was the World Peace Pagoda, a temple built by Buddhist monks imploring for world peace. Above is a photo of the plaque in front of the temple, which gives a bit of the history. We arrived at the temple at sunrise to find a pair of monks simultaneously banging the gongs inside the main temple building. This drumming continued as the sun rose behind the mountains and stopped as soon as the first rays showed behind the peaks. At that point, the monks switched from drumming to chanting, a sound very moving to listen to. We continued up to the Peace Pagoda in silence, walking around the building clockwise so as not to offend the local believers. As we were walking around and admiring the sunrise, a pair of locals in the middle of their morning exercise routine came up to the temple to pay their respects. I found it a bit strange that one minute they were doing sit-ups and push-ups at the base of the pagoda, and the next bowing their heads below the giant statue of Buddha.
The next temple we went to was Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple because of the holy monkeys living in it. Stepping out of the taxi, I immediately understood why it is also known as Monkey Temple, as a group of five or six ran by within feet of us! As we climbed the 300+ steps to the top, I was once again caught off-guard by the chaos surrounding the temple. There was a mix of people giving their thanks to the many idols located on the stairs, monkeys running up and down, locals running up and down the stairs for their daily workout, and tourists such as ourselves. The mix was something so very different from the large cathedrals I have seen in Europe, the cathedrals being much more serious in nature. Arriving at the top of the stairs, we found prayer flags surrounding the gold steeple with Buddha’s eyes overlooking Kathmandu. It was a beautiful sight to see as the sun rose above the city below, with incense burning in the air and flowers on the ground forming the multiple offerings being made to the Hindu gods.
From my short time in Nepal, I’ve noticed that religion seems to be left to the individual more so than in Christianity. There is no weekly service led by an individual; rather, the people are left to individually visit the temples of whatever god they wish, and to leave them whichever offering they need to on that day. There are temples and idols all over the city, holy men walking around giving blessings, and monks living in their respective temples. I found it very interesting to be in the mix of it all, only having been exposed to Western religion in the past.
The morning at the Monkey Temple was my last in Nepal, and it was truly an amazing way to spend it. It is such a beautiful country with such beautiful people. If I ever have the chance to return, I don’t want to let it pass me by.
I hope you all found this interesting; it’s definitely a bit of a change from my last posts. I know it doesn’t have to do directly with my study in Austria, but it’s a cultural experience I felt should be shared.