The familiar face of the International Guest Houses’ chief sentry greets us as we pull into the courtyard of what will be our home base in Katmandu. He stands clad in old green kakis, tightly belted around his waist, sporting a boat shaped army cap and salutes us proudly with a toothless grin as we enter the premises. His wrinkled aged face looks exactly as it did 4 years ago and he grabs my bag from my hands in a gesture of chivalrous pride. Although I am decades younger and stronger, it would be beyond his capacity to allow me to carry by bags up the six flights of stairs to the special roof-top room that has been set-aside just for us.

This room is really more like a small cabin set on the roof of the small guest house in Thamel, a district with a bustling labyrinth of deteriorating cobbled streets and multitudes of small shops and kiosks. The scent of food and a multitude of street noises make their way upwards.

The ‘sentry’ has been here for a lifetime. He exudes great pride at his modest job of opening and closing the gates and being the trusted keeper of the keys. His demeanor is humbling and I feel my heart opening even as my eyes become heavy with the calling of sleep after an exhausting journey from the other side of the world.

The room is cold and musty. All thoughts of a warm bath are quickly dismissed as I look upon the. brown water coming out of the tub’s spout. Uck. Maybe we can get a heater and if not there are two tons of blankets in the closet. As soon as my head hits the pillow I’m asleep. The bed is surprisingly comfortable given that it seems like a cement mattress on top of a board. I deem not to notice.

My eyes open in the darkness of the still too early morning to the sound of dogs barking around the city. It stirs my memory. Oh yes, the nightly chorus of yelping city dogs that chased our boys down the street during our last visit. As dawn breaks the dogs voices disappear and it is the sound of roosters and puja bells that call to me to wake up fully. It is gray out but the city begins to stir as shadowy figures on surrounding rooftops prepare for their morning ablutions and prayers. Shawled women and hunched men throw fist-fulls of rice about as they bow and pray. The outline of their great Katmandu Monkey Temple looms in the hilly distance and I hopefully await the first warm rays of the sun.

This city is immensely compelling. It forces the visitor, the pilgrim to reach far beyond the crumbling façade of every building, the raw sewage flowing through its streets, the thick, polluted and noisy air filled with sounds of impatient car horns, bicycle bells, rickshaw tooting, merchant calls, dog yelps, piles of trash and small enclaves of Hindu animal sacrifices around the city to reach the timeless and infinite power of its soul.

Here, children thrust their company upon unassuming visitors for a walk to the market and then demand a tip for the service of having come along like it or not. A million near misses greet my every step as I negotiate the seemingly simple task of going from one place to the other. Vehicles of all types plus swarming, pushing pedestrians and sacred cows rush at me from all directions at the same time. Kiosks filled with food vendors preparing meals on dirt floors with hands that know no sanitation make my entire western body wince. Echo’s of distant chanting; flutes and mantras are all around. Everything is moving.

Still, like a thick veil of illusion, a place of great unvoiced tranquility and unnamed understanding emerges and stays close, like a good friend. Everywhere people are mouthing mantras on their mala beads or turning great prayer wheels situated throughout the city. Even the poorest are leaving offerings to their sacred deity while asking for milk money from passers by. Hindu Sadus, dressed only in their ragged loincloths are collecting food in their small bowls. Piles of plastic garbage are scattered here and there. Raw sewage flows freely in the cobblestone streets. Street musicians sing praises on street corners to Buddha, Shiva or Tara. This is Katmandu, city of paradoxes where one finds the sacred beneath the abysmal.

Author's Bio: 

Diáne Mandle is an author, teacher, healer and recording artist based in Southern California. She is Certified in Tibetan Bowl Sound Healing and Polarity therapy. Diane maintains a private practice offering an integrated system for healing which includes Sound and Polarity Therapy, Toning and Visualization. Diane conducts educational programs, keynotes and Harmonic Sound Healing concerts nationally and presents frequently at the Deepak Chopra Center. She has produced the first comprehensive multimedia home study course in Sound Healing using Himalayan instruments (Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese bowls, tingshas, gantas and dorjes) ‘Ancient Sounds for a New Age’, an E-Book/DVD/ CD set available on her website