Vishal, Maya and Boudhanath
Nearly two years after a major earthquake devastated parts of Nepal many people are still living in 'temporary' accommodation.
The journey back from Birgunj in the south of Nepal to Kathmandu was a particularly exciting one. We took a Tata Sumo 'Express' (shared 4x4 taxi) and it lived up to the name. Our driver was overtaking everyone and taking shortcuts along narrow dirt tracks through the mountains with big drops to the side. We were quite happy though as it meant we arrived (thankfully safely) in Kathmandu in good time to get ready for New Year's Eve celebrations.
I met Vishal the next day as I was walking around the streets of Thamel. He wanted to practise his (excellent) English and we got chatting about his family and his art work. He offered to show me around the school where he is learning to paint Bhuddist Mandalas.
First we visited the the Seto Machhendranath temple in the centre of Kathmandu. It was great to get a local's perspective on the history and traditions around the temples. Nepal is a very religious/spiritual country with most people following the Hindu faith or Buddhism, or some mixture of the two, with a small proportion of Christians and Muslims also. There seems to be a religious festival/holy day happening almost constantly.
We took a packed local minibus up to the Bouddanath area where Vishal lives with his family. The area is dominated by the dome of the grand Bhuddist temple.
Many of the people living in this area are Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese repression. Following the major earthquake in May 2015 which did severe damage to many areas of Nepal, some supposedly temporary accommodation was created here to house those whose homes had been destroyed. For various reasons many of those people are still living in that accommodation, and have no idea when they might be able to return to more permanent housing.
Vishal and his family were moved here after the earthquake completely destroyed their home in Bhaktapur.
I went to meet Vishal's family in their very basic brick accommodation with a corrugated tin roof. The whole family stay in one small room with little insulation and not much in the way of covers. Kathmandu sits at 1400m/4593ft and in winter in can get bitterly cold.
I received amazing hospitality from Vishal's mother Maya, despite the family having very little. I was offered a cup of delicious doodh chia (milk tea) with fresh ginger, and later a delicious vegetable curry. At dinner time the alleyway outside was filled with thick acrid smoke as fires were lit for making roti, using whatever bits of scrap wood were available. I helped roll out some roti and Maya was amazed to hear (via Vishal translating) that I'd made them before in the UK.
After dinner Vishal and I walked over to the temple to see evening prayers.
Mandalas are a traditional form of meditative art which feature in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. What's thought to be the oldest Tibetan Mandala in existence dates back to the 11th century.
I was shown around the school inside the temple where Vishal is learning to paint Mandalas. To train fully and be considered a master takes 10 years.