Trip Start Oct 17, 2008
13Trip End Mar 20, 2009
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Where I stayed
The after affects of signing this agreement are still having a profound affect on Nepal. Nepal generates much of its power through hydro electricity. However, because the dams generating this power are located on rivers that flow to India, India has some control over the flow of water and hence power through these dams. All of the electricity and gas that comes in to Nepal flows through India, and this is subject to vagaries in price and supply. On the day we were leaving Pokhara the taxi driver had to drive around the town trying to find a petrol station with a supply! It took a visit to a number of stations and general word of mouth to find a supply.
One of the things that totally exasperated and shocked throughout my Nepalese trip was the complete incompetence and level of corruption of the Nepalese government, and the resilience and ability of the people to make things work in the face of this level of ineptitude. Amongst the people there is a general air of resignation about the state of their government, which leads them to expect little, and in most cases they aren't disappointed!!
Having settled back in to the hotel room, and a quick spruce up, we were off exploring the city. Kathmandu is crowded and traffic gridlocked most of the time. People tend to get around on motorbikes or scooters, or via minivan taxi (packed in like sardines) - the usual set up for cities in developing countries. Therefore the quickest and most convenient way to make our way around was on the back of Deepak's motorbike. So having saddled up we were off to the largest temple ?? In Kathmandu. Nepal is around 80% Hindu and 20% Buddhist, with a smattering of Muslims and Christians. They also tend to believe in the old animistic traditions, and so beliefs are fairly fluid. It was nice to be in a country where there is a lack of religious competition and in general the Hindus and Buddhists co-exist almost completely at all levels. Hindus tend to worship at Buddhist as well as Hindu temples (although Buddhists stick to their own temples). So there's none of the religious top trumps that you get between the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam.
When we arrived at the ?? it was fairly busy. I'll never get over how much time people India and Nepal give over to Hindu worship. It was a weekday, prime working time and the place is rammed to the rafters with locals worshipping and bathing. The temple is the main spot in town for family cremation, and there are 4 or 5 cremating platforms bordering the bathing river. The day we visited the cremation ceremonies were in full swing and smoke and the smell of cooked flesh hung in the air!! Again the temple contained a fair share of pretend-Sadhus on the make. Dressed to impress and with little or no morals, even less religious conviction these are invariably locals dressed up for the camera and a fee.
The temple complex was fairly extensive, and non-Nepalese were not allowed in to the main worshipping area. Nevertheless I was able to get off a number of good shots after which we headed off to see the living goddess.
Nepalese Hindus have a tradition of identifying a young girl with particular characteristics who from the age of about 5 to puberty will be the spirit of the living goddess Lackshmi. She is schooled from a young age and is housed in a complex in the middle of the city. The goddess is provided with a religious education and pension. They tend not to get married, as generally it thought to be bad luck to marry an ex-goddess, and as girls are always expected to be married by a fairly young age (by western standards) they are pretty much stuffed without the pension. Obviously being a living goddess isn't all it's cracked up to be! Living Goddess v lottery, goddess/lottery ...... uuummm let me see ..... Yep lottery every time.
Anyway all are able to enter the courtyard of the building housing the goddess in the hope that catch site of the immortal/mortal one. She has a balcony above the courtyard, and at certain times of the day she may (or in most cases may not) come out to the balcony and give you a little wave - little as she only tends to be about 3 foot 6 inches. Anyway it is meant to be quite auspicious to catch a sight of the goddess and apparently it is very rare to actually catch a glimpse of her. Well I'm pleased to report that on our first visit she came to the balcony, and gave us all a wave, and I'm sure I also got a special wink (or it may have been a nervous tic!). I'm not sure what I was expecting from a living goddess, as I've not seen too many. Anyway I wasn't really overly impressed, but I'll take the good luck nevertheless.
After the living goddess it was on to the museum. We were unfortunate to actually get to the museum just as a large party of Nepalese school kids arrived. They were on some sort of school field trip and were being asked to complete a quiz where the answers were provided in the exhibits. We've all been there - boring school trips, packed lunches with salt and vinegar crisps and invariably somebody sick on the bus. For me and my school it was the natural history museum in London, and a very similar quiz that used to take hours. In fact just enough time for the teachers to have a sneaky few pints before moving of f to the next stage of the trip, which was inevitably a trip to Cheddar Gorge (yawn!). Anyway I digress. The train of kids actually formed a line that pretty much stretched from the entrance to the exit of the museum. As the kids snaked through the museum the made the loudest noise. Therefore safe to say that we didn't hang around too long, particularly as the most interesting exhibit was the former king's bullet ridden Austin Ambassador - the result of an earlier coup attempt.
We rounded the day off at the monkey temple, which is on top of a fairly high hill. This is one of the main Buddhist temples in Kathmandu. It was a pretty impressive affair, but not to dissimilar to most of the temples I'd seen on a previous trip to Sri Lanka. The main draw for the temple was in fact the view over the city, which was impressive and the innumerable monkeys that patrolled the complex. There's also an attached monastery, and it's always interesting to see the monks at play. Buddhist monks never really seem to act very monkish. Having grown up with the tails of Catholic monks that swear an oath of silence which they maintained for years, I expect something similar from Buddhist monks - or at least a bit of levitation or Kung Fu. What I don't expect is to see them playing football with an empty Coke can - as I said not very monkish.
We wrapped up the day with my first trip to Deepak's orphanage. I mentioned at the start of this section of my blog that Deepak was a cool guy. Well he's not only cool, but he's set up an orphanage in Kathmandu for 24 kids with only limited help from some people outside Nepal. Deepak has a good job by Nepalese standards, but certainly not by Western standards. The orphanage building is basic, but comfortable and the kid's food again is basic but adequate. The kids are all put through school which costs money, and altogether it costs around €700/month to support the kids - this is a major amount of money and something that Deepak is having to find each month. Originally he had some support from a French couple, but that dried up and now he's also supported by a guy in Dublin who's set up something via sponsorship through acquaintances in Dublin.
Deepak's long term aim is to make the orphanage self supporting by creating a trekking company who's profits will be ploughed in to the orphanage. Deepak is currently the operations manager for one of Kathmandu's biggest and oldest trekking companies and so he has the experience and ability to do this. However he still needs to decide how he will pitch this together with the orphanage. The proposal would be to run the trekking programmes on line and provide the background to the orphanage and explain the linkage and the profit distribution to the good cause. Deepak would also like to run some treks that are specifically linked to good causes - he calls this charities and challenges. The idea would be to allow people on a trek once they've raised a certain amount of sponsorship - then provide the trek for free. He also would like to tie this in to some form of additional volunteering after the trek that could include work in one of the remote villages. It's a really marketable concept, but what he really needs is help to formulate the proposal and an understanding of how best to market the concept. I'm going to speak to a couple of contacts I have at home, but if anybody has any ideas or would like to help then please provide some comments to this blog.
I spent time over 3 days at the orphanage, and it was probably the most rewarding part of my trip so far. I didn't really do a lot - I provided a contribution, played and talked to the kids and helped around the orphanage. I would say that all of the 24 kids are some of the nicest and little people that I've ever met. They don't have a tremendous amount, but value highly everything they've been given. They have very little, but don't complain. They work hard at school (they all speak some English, with the older kids having a good level of English), and they are invariably top or near top of their respective classes. They are deserving of all the help they can get, and I will be doing as much as I can when I get back from my trip to help out as much as I can. I've set up a monthly direct debit, but I want to take a more active role in helping out and allowing Deepak to realise his dream of creating a solid footing for each of these lovely, funny, mischievous and deserving children. I have link to the charity website and details on how you can help, so if you fancy dipping in to your pockets then please do so.
The second day we visited the town of Barentpur Which has been designated a world heritage site and is beautiful. It's a little bit commercialised, but is a fantastic place to just wander around and soak up the atmosphere. It has a temple and palace complex attached which is also impressive, but it's the town that really inspires.
I came to Nepal with trekking in mind only, and I'd given little thought to the country itself. Having spent time in Kathmandu and Pokhara and travelled in between, I really loved the country and the people. It is definitely a place I would visit again, and indeed I've made a commitment to the kids in the orphanage to visit next year.
I had a massive scare on the way out of Nepal as my journey to Bangkok was via Delhi. I only had a single entry visa to India, and as I was travelling with different airlines between Kathmandu-Delhi and Delhi-Bangkok I thought I'd have to clear customs. Obviously without a visa I wouldn't be able to do this so I thought my bags would be riding the carousel in Delhi forever, whilst I'd be transiting to Bangkok. After multiple hours of panic, with 2 hours surfing the net checking out transit visas in India (and finding out that these can take 3 days to issue) I'd worked myself in to fine lather. At the point of most dire panic in steps Deepak and saves the day (again!). I forgot that Deepak knows pretty much everybody, and of course he knew somebody in the airport who could help out for a little baksheesh. So for the cost of 500 Nepalese rupees (£3.50) I had my bag booked through all the way to Bangkok, and a seat upgrade. Whoopee! Thank God for corruption and bribery ........ What was I saying about Nepal not working ........ It does, you just need to know how.