Birendra and his Nephew

SYNOPSIS:  Back in Kathmandu.  About a neoclassical garden, a new friend searching for meaning in life, an excursion to a secret place, and a dinner invitation.

The report from Vladimir came in via What’s App.  What a world we live in!  The expected 6-hour bus ride from Lumbini to Kathmandu had taken an awful 11 hours on dusty, pot-hole riddled roads.  Not even the fact that he took the luxury bus, providing a bathroom and lunch along the way, did ease much of the pain.  I decided not to put myself through this agony and booked a 1/2 hour flight home with Buddha Air which, despite its bad reputation did not let me down.  The airport of course was steaming hot, the electricity was down, and bags had to be inspected by hand.  But all of that seemed minor in comparison to a hot and sweaty 11-hour bus ride.  At the World Heritage Hotel, I was welcomed like a part of the family.  My room was waiting for me, and so were all the idle guides and peddlers without customers, roaming Durbar Square…

I caught up with some work, always minding the sky — thunderstorms were predicted by the early afternoon, but failed to deliver.  I finally took off to my last destination in Kathmandu, only to find myself in a downpour, within minutes.  Not the ideal circumstance to visit the Garden of Dreams.  I hired a rickshaw, ran into the garden looking for shelter, and found myself at the rather pricy garden restaurant, filled with foreigners.  No table left.  A young Nepalese guy sitting alone at a table gestured me a welcome.  That was 32 year old Birendra.  For about 45 minutes we weathered the storm and started to talk.   

For ten years he had been a banker making more money than he knew what to do with.  Yes, there are people like that in Nepal, too.  But he found himself to be frustrated, unhappy, full of anger; in one word:  an unlikable person.  He quit his job and ultimately was led to participate in an excruciating 10-day Vipassana meditation course.  10 days of meditation, no talking, no social media, no contact with the outside world. He only recently finished and found himself in a new world of calm and content.  Home is a small town about 12 hours from Kathmandu, where he left his wife and 5 year old daughter to visit two of his three sisters.  They currently live here in Kathmandu.  This afternoon, he had already spent 6 hours at the garden, meditating and enjoying  its beauty.  Eventually, he will figure out, so he hopes, what to do with his life other than just making money.

If I count right, he is the fourth truth- or meaning- seeking young guy I have come across this trip.  How do they find me?!  First, there was Sergej from the Ukraine, then there was Rob from Grosse Point, then there was Alfredo, the American from Brazil (I did not write much about him, but we connected on a flight to Pokhara), and here is Birendra.  Well, the rain subsided and we parted. 

The garden is a total idiosyncrasy in dusty Newari-style Kathmandu.  It is a beautiful and tranquil European style, neo-classical park with ponds, statues, pavilions, and several adjacent villas which once were living quarters, and a library.  It is small, but complex.  And most amazingly, you completely forget the dusty outside world.  For that matter, you could be somewhere in France, Spain, or England.  Viewing the garden, I lost track of Birendra and most likely would have never seen him again. 

But 15 minutes later the rain started again, and we found each other seeking shelter once more.  This time, I gave him my facebook address and he messaged me.  Like all self-respecting young men, he moved around on a motor scooter.  With all that time on his hand, he offered me to go on any excursion I would like.  And so I messaged him back.  I really wanted to attend another one of those Aarti sessions at the Pashupatinath Temple.  I figured that would be right up his alley.

The next day he picked me up and to the temple we went.  But before the Aarti session started, he wanted to show me one of his favorite spots in town.  We started to hike up behind the temple on a small path into the woods.  Believe me, I am not out of my mind.  But you just could not do anything like this in our Western World.  If you would be found robbed or raped, it would be your own fault.  Here, that is different.  He would not tell me what he was up to, but I knew I could trust him. 

We ended up at a remote meditation retreat.  It was the community and the place that had introduced him to Vipassana meditation.  This community had formed around a spiritual leader named Srimat Paramhamsa Govindananda Bharati or Sri Shivapuri Baba, for short. He reportedly lived to the ripe old age of 136 (from 1826 to 1963), for which there is little historical evidence.  But he must have been a tremendously charismatic figure judging just by his picture, which was abundantly displayed at every wall of the meditation shrine.  The current manager of the community proudly declared that Sri Shivapuri attained amadhi at the age of 126 (or so).  Amadhi is the highest stage of concentration achieved in Hindu meditation, which allows the devotee union with the divine.   

Birendra asked if he could meditate “for a while”.  An hour later (!) he woke up and we were on our way to Aarti at the nearby temple.  I can’t even quite sit right for meditation; but I know how to meditate.  And thankfully, I have no problem to contemplate and reflect for an hour especially in an ambiance like this.  I guess, if you have made it through 10 days of straight meditation, 1 hour seems like nothing.  I have no doubt that it does transform both body and mind in spectacular ways and that if we all would practice meditation, the world would be a better place!

From the internal, more esoteric type of spirituality, we moved to the external, and more populous one.  Aarti, as I said in my blog before, is a one-of-a-kind infectious worship. 

I enjoyed it as much the second time as I had the first one!

The next day, Birendra invited me for dinner at his sisters’ Jamona and Namona’s home.  Their hyperactive son Nasal dominated the scene.  Since the older sister is running an internet business here, they only rent their home and I was sad not to get a better sense of yet another living situation.  But I was honored that they would invite  me as their guest.  All three of them are beautiful, kind and special people.  His younger sister even learned some German at the Goethe Institute, which she proudly tried out.

How lucky I was to have rain on the day I visited the Garden of Dreams.

2 comments so far

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  1. Our daughter always looks for the surprise and favorite of each day and you certainly hit both today.

  2. Interesting and enjoyable day!