Kathmandu via Chicago and Abu Dhabi

Little black dress? Check. Zero degree sleeping bag? Check. Camera for photography workshop? Check. Cute high heals? Nope. Umbrella? No room. I tried to pack only what I thought I would need for a trip that covered everything from chic city dining to days of showerless trekking. Then I boarded a plane to visit friends in a city new to me, Chicago.

My dear friend Gaston picked me up from the airport and proceeded to make a home-cooked meal upon my arrival to the city of food. It was truly a treat as he grilled the chicken on his indoor parilla and asked questions about what I had packed and prepared for the trip to Nepal. He was going on this photography adventure as well. I spread all of my gear on the bed so he could see exactly what I’d packed and then left to connect with three amazing friends from my Nicaragua yoga teacher training. Hannah, Heather, Masin and I had shared so many special moments in Nicaragua that upon seeing them – even though it had been a year or more, I felt instantly at ease. Hannah, Heather, and I met first, sharing stories over fancy biscuit sandwiches and coffee, and as our cups emptied, we fell into comfortable conversations of present, past, and future. We made plans for the rest of my time there and left our outdoor picnic table as the weather threatened an influence. And it did influence my time in Chicago. It rained as Gaston cooked his famous  Argentinian asado on his outdoor grill while we all drank wine and chatted in the kitchen. It snowed as I ran down the street in capris to take a yoga class at Masin’s yoga studio. It cleared and cast rays of sunlight as we chatted about life in Hannah’s apartment. It blew cold as we went to Girl and the Goat for some tasty Chicago cuisine. And it changed quickly from one to another. but it did not change the warm company of good friends. I left Chicago knowing that I would be back for another visit.

Gaston and I flew on the same Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi and the home of the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We decided to attempt our first photography shoot at sunset at this amazing site. We shot into darkness, and I learned more than anything just how much I didn’t know about photography. We left and had dinner at a tasty Lebanese restaurant before exhaustively going to sleep. The next day was my birthday, and it was a great treat to sit in business class for the five-hour flight to Kathmandu. I ate beef tartare and drank champagne and then couldn’t stay awake. When we arrived, we sorted through buying our visa and then met Joel and Tenzing, our guides for the adventure. I originally met Joel, an amazing photographer (http://www.joeladdams.com/) in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy while he was trying a new photography workshop with a couple from Utah. He told me about this trip (through Italy Workshops), and I was intrigued. Joel had been to Nepal several times, and while filming a documentary on corneal harvesting, met Tenzing. Tenzing was our Sherpa guide. He had developed his guiding skills over many years of working with family members and growing up in the Himalayas. He took his family to Vermont for ten years, where he learned English and owned a business, and then, missing his home country, returned to Nepal.

Joel and Tenzing took us to the Kathmandu Guest House to drop our bags, and then we ventured into the city for our first taste of Kathmandu chaos in Thamel. Tight streets, traffic, people, shops with wares hanging and setting outside, motorbikes, bicycles, lights, signs, smells, and sounds. The activity seemed ceaseless. We got a few groceries and went back to the hotel. Then, I crashed into a jet-lag induced sleep. The next morning we started our photography workshop over breakfast – learning about aperture priority, ISO, and shutter speed. We gathered our cameras and in the next two days went to several temples: The Golden Temple of Patan, Swayambhu Monkey Temple, Pashupatinath, and Boudanath. As we learned to make adjustments to our cameras for better pictures, we also learned about the culture of the area. The earthquake damage to some of the older buildings still remained in devastated crumbles. Sadhus, holy men, live in some of the damaged temples. Many are yogis that have removed themselves from normal society to pursue the highest form of liberation from the material world. They have a distinct dress with long dreadlocks and do not work. So, they get food from donations. People also donate money to the living goddesses, kumaris, who live at the temples. These living goddesses are young girls chosen to be goddesses based on very strict qualifications and their horoscope. Giving blessings and healing sickness, they are believed to be the embodiment of a female deity. They are only allowed to go outside for certain festivals, their feet cannot touch the ground, and they are tutored to receive their education. Hindus and Buddhists both believe that when the girls begin menstruating, the deity leaves their body. Their time as living goddess then ends, and they return to regular society. The society as a whole is an interesting mix of the Buddhist and Hindu religions. The cultures collide in a mixture of tradition with spinning prayer wheels, lighted prayer candles, and prayer flags all over the country. We captured and experienced a few of these unique scenes within the city of Kathmandu. It is a place I will never forget.

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