Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life goes one and my visit outside of Kathmandu valley

I have mentioned before that we had met up with members of New Town Rotary Club and we had been asked to provide a Leadership Training session for them and we arrived at 0700 Saturday 27th to start the morning and yes believe it or not there were at least 10 people waiting to start and another 20 come along not long after.

I decided that we would fill in time while everyone came by naming the 20 leader’s faces that I spread around the room.

The rest of the morning was taken up with various activities, eating and having fun.  The whole morning was in English in fact everything involved with the club is in English including the formal function that I attended later.

Everyone really enjoyed the morning in fact a couple of them had planned only to stay a short while stayed until after 1400.

I think it was the first time some of these lovely gentlemen had been required to hop around on one leg whilst holding a full glass of water.  I have been asked to run an event for their younger members.

Mayte and I certainly enjoyed ourselves and I enjoyed working with her.

Early next morning saw me meeting the girls at our arch way at 0545 to catch the bus to Pokhara which was leaving from the other side of the city at 0700.

Pokhara is 206 km from Kathmandu and in the custom of most third world countries it takes hours of travel to cover this short distance. 

We opted to take the Tourist Bus which was a bit more expensive than the local bus and certainly a lot less crowded and was $12 US but not to go the total tourist bus which is airconditioned and has a toilet but was $25.

The roads are dirt, pot holed and very, very narrow.  The drop down the edge is daunting and it is often wiser just to go to sleep than to watch the oncoming traffic.

We stopped for breakfast around 0900 and then for lunch at 1230 and finally reached our destination 1530 and of course then had to handle the crush of taxi drivers who have the ‘best and cheapest’ hotel and taxis at horrific cost.  

It is funny the trip from the bus depot to the hotel took 45 minutes to get there and 10 minutes on the return trip.  It doesn’t matter if you are in Hanoi, Sydney, Pokhara it seems that taxi drivers are all the same.

Pokhara is a breath of fresh air such a difference from Kathmandu Valley.  The town is on a huge green lake, nestling among forested hill with a picture postcard backdrop of gleaming Himalayan peaks. 

I had chosen our hotel and when the taxi driver dropped us off I thought that I had made a terrible choice as the lake was nowhere to be seen although the hotel appeared to be nice and the staff made us feel very welcome indeed.  

The room rate was $11 cut from $36 and the rooms were big and quite cool.

It turned out that the lake was about 5 minutes away and we were away from the tourist area.

The temperature is perhaps even hotter that in Kathmandu Valley but the lake and the open area makes it feel cooler.

We wandered down to the lake on the first evening and sat around just looking at the lake and the boats and the fantastic mountains surrounding it.  There was a slight breeze and a few drops of rain and we sat there enjoying the atmosphere.  

Pokhara is a stepping off point for some of the treks so there are heaps of tourist there this time of the year.

Over 40 years ago a large number of Tibetan refugees settled on the outskirts of Pokhara and they still live in the camp although now most of them were born in Nepal.  The camp is right inside the city now and the Tibetans make their own traditional jewellery and walk around selling them. 

I love their work and bought a ring for $5 although the starting price was $70.

We eventually decided to find somewhere to eat and then we stopped off at travel agents to book activities for the next two days. 

Horse riding.  Yes, I try very hard to ride if possible where ever I am and it is very reasonable here.  $20 for a whole day, Mayte didn’t want to ride and Jessica was OK with it, compromise time.  I will go paragliding with you (gulp) if you come on a horse with me.  Done.

The next morning found us outside the travel agents waiting for the horses to come, eventually 3 horses and 2 young men came pounding down the main road.  Horses, well I would have said ponies going by the size but they were typical Asian horses, short, sturdy and fortunately strong.

We set of meandering down the main road, horns tooting, people staring and Mayte looking as if she just didn’t want to be there.

We were accompanied by a young boy who normally rides with the clients but all the horses were out so he  had to walk which most of the time was easy as the horses never went faster that a slow walk with an occasional bust of energy every so often.

We were out for the day so we wandered around the lake and then made our way up to the World Peace Pagoda which is high up on a narrow ridge and takes about 2 hours to walk up the steep and winding road. 

It is a beautiful brilliant white building constructed by Buddhist monks from Japan.

We rode the horses to about 50 metres from the base of the ridge and walked the rest of the way.  Boy, much easier that walking or at least for the humans.

We slowly meandered our way back down the mountain and stopped off at the Tibetan refugee camp and had a cold drink and then we went into an underground cave which has a huge stalagmite worshiped as a Shiva lingam and  after much crawling (just loved it, not) we ended up under a huge waterfall still under ground.

I was glad to leave as you all know I just love dark, cold confined spaces.

Unfortunately for me at least all good things must end and we had to hand back our ponies and go to the local shop to buy an ice cream and listen to why Mayte would never go on a horse again. 

It was good fun although the saddle did leave a lot to desire in the way of comfort.

We wandered back to the hotel for a late lunch and to wait until the temperature dropped again and this time we hired a boat and a man to row the boat and spent the last hour of daylight floating around the lake. 

Very nice and the young lad with us was well educated and a lot of fun.  The young boy try to convince us to buy more time and go for a swim but maybe tomorrow.  

Well the girls not me, none of the water is getting near my body!!

Paragliding was on the agenda for the next day and once again we were found sitting outside of the travel agents waiting to be picked up and taken to the paragliding office to wait for all the customers and then to be taken up to the top of the mountain range to commence our glide back down to the lake.

Was I scared, not really?  

We didn’t get any safety talk, we were just told to run for the edge of the cliff when we were told.  

We were just strapped into a harness and then hooked onto the guy at the back and I had just enough time to ask the guy at my back how long had he been jumping tandem and was told that it was his second day.

When it was my turn we stood about 3 metres from the edge of the cliff and we had to wait until the wind caught the parachute and we were off running towards the edge and suddenly we were airborne and after a couple of seconds I was brave enough to look around.  

Fantastic.  It is nothing like jumping out of an aeroplane, it was gentle and smooth except for the occasional jolt as the guy adjusted the ropes.

We could carry out a conversation and my tandem guy was very experience and had paraglided all over the world except Australia.

We moved around the mountain with the various thermals and slowly descended to ground level and made a good landing on the edge of the water.

Did I enjoy it, yes I did?  Would I do it again, of course?  I think that the 30 minutes was enough time as you were looking at the same sight all the time.

Jessica and enjoyed it immensely but poor Mayte came down and was green in colour and immediately went to the bathroom and vomited.

Mayte went back to the hotel and Jessica and spent some time wandering the lake area and in the evening we went back to the lake and Jessica and Mayte went for a swim amongst the weeds and rubbish, there was no way I was going to go it. Urk.

The next morning I caught the bus back to Kathmandu and Jessica and Mayte met up with Kamhal who we had met and become quite friendly with in Basandara and he was going to be their guide to take them to Poon Hill on a 5 day hike.  

I had thought about going but decided then remembered how much I hated hiking.  I am glad I didn’t as the trek was mainly made up of millions of stairs.

I am so glad that we went and managed to see more of Nepal other than the capital.


I had been invited to join the New Town Rotary club for an evening out to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of their charter and it was great night with heaps of members and their partners and lots of ceremonies and a review of what they had done over the 10 years.

The whole evening is spoken in English as is all of their meetings, it is strange as I was the only one who was not Nepalese.  It is good for me and I think as most of the members are business people it is their second language.

I was made to feel very welcome and after the speeches, the food and alcohol was freely available and the President has a band and they started playing a mixture of Nepal and 70’s music and before I knew it, it was after 11pm and I had a great night.  

No photos,sorry.  

I had decided to stay in town for the night so only had to wander through a few streets to get back to the hotel, it is funny I have walked through streets at night in a number of countries and Palmerston is the only place I don’t feel safe.

Mother’s Day in Australia is next Sunday, I told my students and when I arrived to teach on Sunday I was greeted with gifts of chocolate, fruit drink and a number of small gifts. 

Everyone had brought in food, rice, bread, plates of curry, just so much food and drink.  Amazing, they told me that for today I had 30 Nepalese daughters and that they wanted to make sure I didn't miss my sons.

They are lovely open hearted ladies and it has been a pleasure spending time with them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Months of March and April in Kathmandu valley

Two and a half months have now passed and sometimes it seems that I have lived here forever.  

I have been sick over the last couple of days firstly with diarrhoea and then with an infection in my chest.  They haven’t been bad but it is just so dusty here and with the warmer weather and the lack of power it seems that germs just breed.  I have lost a lot of weight which will be put back on as soon as I get on the Dawn Princess in July.

OK, what have I been doing on my few days off? 

In the past there were 3 kings who were brothers and they each had a Kingdom and they spent most of their time trying to outdo each other to make their cities the most beautiful. 

It is told that they would hire an artist to do a ‘commission’ and the chop off his hands so that he would not be able to do the same work for his brothers.

The 3 kingdoms are in Kathmandu, Paton and Bhaktapur.  Bhaktpur is about 45 minutes bus ride from the centre of Kathmandu and Paton is about 30 minutes.

Jessica, Mayte and I have visited all 3 areas this month and have found them very interesting but very similar in layout and architecture.  All 3 cities have a Durbar Square, a Royal Palace and many, many temples.

Bhaktapur’s history goes back to the early 8th century when it used to be the capital of the whole Nepal unto the 12th to 14th century.  It was a relief to enter the city square as no vehicles are allowed to enter the square so there were only people and the pigeons to navigate around.  To enter the city square foreigners had to pay $15 US which is quite a lot of money but the upside of this is that there are people employed to keep the city clean and for ongoing maintenance of the buildings.   

It astounds me that wooden structures and carvings in wood can last so long and look so good.  We were sitting on the stairs of one of the buildings to watch the world go by when I looked up and took a good look at some of the carving and I now know where the Karma Sutra came from. 

I would have thought it was impossible to get into some of the positions they were in.  No, I am not including any pictures here.

Interesting Fact.  The Nepalese flag I shaped like 1/2 of this Stupa structure.  It is the only flag in the world that is not rectangular.

We spent the whole day in Bhaktapur and then caught the dreaded micro-bus back to Thamel where we were planning to stay the night.  

It was a lovely day and later that night we planned to go to the café where they make the best pizzas.

We stay at the Heritage Hotel and I think that I mentioned before the only good thing about it is the price which is about $9 and if you are lucky you might even get a hot shower.

We learnt an expensive lesson that night when we got the bill for the pizza.  It seems that in Napal if you order a pizza with ½ different on each side you are in fact ordering 2 pizzas.  Mmmmmm.

The next morning we were going to a Rotary meeting as Mayte had been offered an opportunity to speak to some young people but when we actually got to the meeting the concept changed dramatically to not empowering women but speaking to members and family.

It seems that Rotary is very big over here with 86 clubs just in the city alone, in Darwin we have 3.  It seems that they are going into the country next week to distribute nanny goats to some of the villages as part of their self-improvement program for women and we have been invited.

I felt a bit guilty as I haven’t paid my yearly fees to my club in Dili but I pretended I was a member and received a banner and made to feel very welcome. 

It is crazy, last year on my cruise I took banners and badges but this time didn’t even give it a thought.

I have offered to run a Leadership course for their youth members.

After the meeting we wandered around Durbar Square in Thamel.  

This is certainly not as quiet as the Durbar Square of yesterday.  The buildings are very similar but certainly have not been maintained as well as Bhaktapur.  

We were asked to pay money to go into the square 200 rupee but managed to convince them that we were there for a meeting and were let in.  The Rotary meeting was in fact in the square.

I didn’t take many pictures but I am sure that I will be back.  In fact looking at my photos I only took one and it was of the famous peacock window which took us ages to find.  This window is regarded as the finest carved window in the valley

As we were walking out of the square we noticed a lot of people standing in front of palaces and there was a white horse outside.  

We had been reading about the Kumari Devi who is a real living goddess.  The Kumari Devi is a young girl who lives in the building known as Kumari Bahal which is in Durbar Square.  

Customarily she is somewhere between four years old and puberty and must meet 32 strict physical requirements ranging from colour of her eyes and the shape of her teeth.  

Once the Kumari Devi is chosen the young girl moves into the Kumari Bahal with her family and makes only half a dozen ceremonial trips into the outside world each year.  

The Kumari’s reign ends with her first period or any serious accidental loss of blood. 

Once the first sign of puberty is reached she reverts to the status of a normal mortal, on retirement the old Kumari is paid a handsome dowry but readjusting is hard.  It is said that marrying an ex-Kumari is unlucky, but it’s believed that taking on a spoilt ex-goddess is likely to be too hard a job.

Well, it seemed that the Kumari Devi was in fact about to leave her building and travel to an event outside of the square so we got ourselves a spot on the steps of a nearby temple and waited.  

We had to cover our heads with a shawl as the pigeons roost in the rafters and we were right under their bottoms.

I managed to get a picture of the young girl, it is really sad; she is like a little doll.

 Back to work, working 6 days a week is not a lot of fun especially if you use your one day off to sight see.  

I find that by the time Friday comes and I am on the micro on my way home I am totally exhausted.  Not sure if it is a combination of altitude, dust and heat.

It is still a pain to wake up each morning trying to think of what you are going to do ‘today’.  It is a little frustrating and I really wish that I had the skills to develop a curriculum for English teachers and how you can teach with out repetition.   

I have said it so many times there is a fortune to be made in resources for the Asian students learning English and making them relate to Asian matters.

When we went to school on Friday they told us that there was a picnic the next day and that we could pay 600 rupee and join them.  Why not, it should be fun.

Meet us at 0730 at the school and we will leave by bus to the picnic spot.  0730 Nepoli time or real time.  Silly real time of course.  

Well at 0730 there were 3 foreigners and 1 lady waiting for the bus, will we ever learn?  0900 saw us getting in the bus and driving around the extremely narrow streets around where we live to pick up a generator and entertainment equipment. 

We eventually hit the highway at 0930 and proceeded to the picnic site.  It seem here in Nepal a picnic site is an open area in a forest and there maybe 2 toilets in the whole huge area.  

You hire the area and also high a catering team who come in and set up an eating tent and also a cooking tent.

It turned out after we discovered that only about 6 of our students were at the picnic that it was in fact a picnic for the 3 local communities and after a cup of tea and about 10 speeches, the  men all disappeared and the women and the young people started to dance to the loud music.  

We had 2 huge speakers which matched the 2 speakers of the tent in front of us and the one behind us and of course the music just kept getting louder and louder.  Nepali dancing is interesting; you just walk around in a circle, waving your arms and not necessarily to the music. 

The men turned up about 3 hours, ‘full as a goog’ and proceeded to dance by themselves and fortunately it was time to eat again and we all lined up to join in Dhal Baard which was lovely and I enjoyed it, very different to what is served up at home more Indian. 

It was a long day and we were pleased to climb on the bus for the trip home.

Garden of Dreams is an oasis in the centre of Thamel it is a marvellous place to escape the noise, bustle and heat of the city.  
There are dozens of gorgeous small gardens and pavilions and although you have to pay the equivalent of $2 for as long as you like and we stayed until well after dark.  It is really nice and I intend to hide out there more when I go into town for meetings. 
There are great places to sit and read and there is a large area where you can sit on mats and just lie out in the sun.

On our next day off we went to visit the 3rd city, Patan which is only a short bus ride, it is almost a suburb of Kathmandu now.

Patan has a long Buddhist history which has influenced the Hindu temples and the four corners of the city are marked by stupas said to have been erected by the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka in around 250 BC.  

The town was ruled by local noblemen until King Shiva Malla of Kathmandu conquered the city in 1597.
The walk from the bus to the square was down a crowded street and there were quite a few stalls and I bought a pair of sandals to wear with my Kuttah tomorrow and a Bindi to also wear along with a pink pashmina shawl.

Once again we had to pay when we went into the square but at least it was only 200 rupee or about $2.  Thank heavens cars and motorbikes are not allowed in the square to at least it is quiet and no chance of being run over.

We are so lucky to live in Australia. 
This was the line for water in the Patan. 
The left side had maybe a dribble coming out and the right probably the occasional drop. Water, a natural resource should never be this difficult to get. 
I watch this lady stop and sigh when she saw the line of plastic bins waiting to be filled. I felt so sorry for her, for them all. I can’t imagine their daily life struggle to get water.
It's so easy at home. Why not here?

because the teachers had been invited to the wedding of the niece of the teacher and we decided that as we had not sari we should at least dress up.  

The kuttah is worn by most of the women here, it consists of a tunic and baggy pants and can be very dressy with lots of bling or for everyday wear.  

Mayte was not well so she stayed home but Jessica and I walked to the wedding venue and were made to feel very welcome as it is quite an honour to have a foreigner at your wedding even though they don’t know you. I love going to weddings as it means that I get to eat meat.

The kuttah we were wearing were very hot and we only stayed a couple of hours as there were over 400 people cramped in a small space and the weather here at the moment is really hot.

As I was walking home Jessica took these pictures when a few of the local girls came up to have their photo taken.

Mayte was almost at the end of her placement so on Friday the ladies at Basandara gave her some small gifts to say ‘goodbye’ although Mayte was still going to be in Napal for another 3 weeks.