Zerky in Katmandu

January 4, 1968
Katmandu, Nepal

Dear Zerky, there is no heat in Katmandu, or at least we have not been able to find any of it. Our room drops below freezing each night and the days bring icy, hazeless blue skies filled with sunshine. Each morning we can hardly wait for the sun to flood onto the tiny balcony outside our window so we can go out and sit in the sun, our only source of heat except for our daily bath. Our room has neither a sit-down toilet nor a shower nor a bathtub but, for a few cents extra, the room bearer will bring us up two buckets of luxurious warm water that has been lovingly heated on the downstairs kitchen stove. Then, for a few delightful minutes, your mother and I get warm in turn as each of us pours our treasured bucket of warm water over the other. This has become our daily get-warm ritual. But you, Zerky—you lucky dog!—you fit into the bucket and get the only warm spot in this entire hotel.

Downtown Katmandu near Durbar Square appears much as I suspect it was a hundred years ago. We walked there today with your dog Tarzan and, for 1.3 rupees each, got blessed. So now all three of us have red spots on our foreheads, all of us, that is, but Tarzan. We tried to get him a red spot, too, but the guy selling the spots could not manage to put one on him. Tarzan is now thinking about becoming a Buddhist.

Bodnath Stupa with Bill in his Blue Jeans

Bodnath Stupa with Bill in his Blue Jeans

Bodnath Stupa takes up nearly an entire city block around which, in the shape of a mandala, are prayer walls with imbedded prayer wheels you are supposed to spin as you walk by, thereby offering up your prayers to Buddha. But if you do not happen to be near a prayer wall, you can still haul out your own little portable wheel. They are for sale in many of the shops in Katmandu. You see people walking around with them, twirling away as they go. Your mother and I each bought one across the street from Bodnath Stupa. Their prayers are written on small pieces of paper rolled up inside each of the wheel’s little cylinders that you are supposed to spin with the help of a chain that goes round and round like a merry-go-round. I took each of the prayer wheels apart in order to try to figure out what makes them tick, but the prayers are written in some kind of a code that your mother claims is Tibetan writing. Regardless, our eight-rupee prayer is very short whereas the prayer in the twenty-five-rupee wheel is more than ten times as long—all of which just goes to show you that if you plan to go to heaven it pays to buy the very best.

January 5, 1968
From JoAnne’s Diary

Today we read and relaxed in the AM and walked around Katmandu in the PM. We met some interesting people at the Camp Hotel, which appears to be the center of organized trekking activity here in Nepal. A Sherpa costs 10 rupees a day and will act as you’re your cook and your guide. Sherpas are also in charge of the porters who cost five Nepali rupees (50 cents) per day per 60 pounds. The legal limit they can carry is one hundred kilos, the equivalent of 220 pounds. The flight to Pokhara costs 79 Rupees each way ($7.50) and is supposed to be one of the finest flights in the Himalayas. So now we are going hiking, or rather “trekking,” as they call it here in Nepal!

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky


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