Nepal 2004

Trip Start Jul 16, 2004
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Trip End Jun 16, 2005


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Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Stuck in Kathmandu
Sep 1, 2004

I should have known that something was stirring when upon landing in Kathmandu the pilot announced it was not safe, and encouraged us all to fly back to Bangkok. But, I had read about the Maoist rebels and felt like I was making the right (and safe) decision to come to Kathmandu regardless. What I hadn't yet considered was the uproar that Nepal is in due to the massacre of 12 Nepalese in Iraq. Riots and demonstrations have lead to early curfews and all transportation is shut down. No taxis, no cars, no bikes even. I had noticed some smoke when we landed at the airport but hadn't, yet, realized that small fires were being started by very angry Nepalese with nowhere else to unleash their anger. Cars were on fire, motorcycles, and every 100 yards or so, burning debris littered the streets to stop anyone from safe passage in motor vehicles.

But...I was still met at the airport by the manager of The Mount Annapurna Guest House. It was 12:45pm so we had little time to beat the 2:00pm curfew. The ride would only have taken 20 minutes but we were on foot. The entire airport was on foot. There was just no other way - unless you wanted to sleep at the airport (which may or may not have been an option). There were military surrounding the airport and it was starting to look serious as the curfew time was quickly approaching. So, I grabbed my 45 pound backpack and off we went, on foot, the 5 miles to the hotel! It was a long walk, made longer by the odd stares of the local Nepalese, the burning debris in our path, and the curfew approaching. We ended up not making it to the hotel by curfew but didn't have any problem when the military went by in their camouflage, and army jeeps. Just kept on walking. Otherwise, the streets were deserted.

Once I got to the hotel I was fine. A little shaken up, and very sore, but feeling safe. I ended up spending the afternoon on the roof watching the local people do the same. Just waiting for nighttime. Then a few other travellers came up to the roof and we decided to venture out of the hotel to grab dinner. Mind you the entire city was truly shut down - but around the corner, and up a small alley we managed to find one open restaurant - Chinese food!

So, now it is Thursday, September 2nd (Happy Birthday again John) and I'm still in Kathmandu. Looks like I'll be here for a few days since they declared another day of curfew and this time it's starting at 9:30a.m. (right now it's 9:01a.m.). I have access to food, water, electricity, a bed, hot shower, and have a book or two to read so I'm really all set! But, I won't have access to internet after 9:30am. Not sure what tomorrow will bring. Still can't believe I'm stuck here in Kathmandu under a curfew of 9:30a.m.! Talk about adventures! As always, I'll make the best of it.

Hope to get up to Pokhara as soon as it's safe. Until then I'm staying off the streets. I bet Kathmandu has never been so quiet. After curfew there are no car horns, no engines roaring...just the bark of dogs, and the sounds of people chatting in their homes and on their rooftops.

Ciao,

Jen
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Here is what the American Consulat is saying. (Mom, please stop reading if you haven't already! It really is safe where I'm staying and I'm fine).

Important Security Information for American Citizens in Nepal

This wardens' message is being issued to alert American citizens of ongoing civil unrest in and around Kathmandu and possibly other urban centers in Nepal in reaction to the tragic killing of 12 Nepalese nationals by Ansar al-Sunnah terrorists in Iraq on August 31. The Embassy strongly urges all Americans to maintain a low profile, to avoid all road travel in and around Kathmandu Valley, and to remain in their homes, hotels, or places of work until the situation stabilizes. The Nepalese authorities may institute a Valley-wide curfew as early as this afternoon.

As of 10:30am on September 1, 2004, the Embassy had received reports of street mobs burning vehicles and looting Nepalese manpower companies. Protestors have also set fire to the Jame Mosque near the old clock tower in downtown Kathmandu. While focused in areas around Ratna Park, scattered groups of protestors are demonstrating, burning tires and disrupting traffic throughout the city. Many parts of the Ring Road are closed down. The possibility of violence, particularly against Muslims, is high.

Curfew continues
Sep 3, 2004

Just a quick message before I go back to the Guest House for another "lockdown". Already I've gotten used to this curfew thing. We are "free" from wakeup until 9:30a.m. and then everyone has to be off the streets the rest of the day. At around 5:00p.m. we find out about a reprieve from 5:30-7:30pm so everyone returns to the streets for two hours. The streets are a frenzy for those two hours. People selling their wares, people getting their daily prayer in, people just walking...and even some getting haircuts. Then, as the 7:30pm curfew approaches the streets become eerily silent. By 7:31pm the only random person on the street is a lost tourist or two.

Luckily I've met most everyone at the Guest House and it's a fun little bunch. Several Japanese, a Canadian, another American, and someone from France. We usually hang out either on the roof top during the day or in our own rooms, and then head to the rooftop at night for some beer, music (thanks to my little walkman and speaker) and multi-language chat. It's fun! Tomorrow I hope to catch the 7:00am bus to Pokhara. I'm now two days late but there is nothing I can do about it.

Ciao for now. Only 10 minutes until curfew...

Jen

Pokhara but...
Sep 4, 2004

Twelve hours into a seven hour journey I started to wonder what else would go 'wrong'? Since things usually happen in threes it seemed inevitable...

Anyway, I'm safely out of Kathmandu. It took over twelve hours due to a landslide blocking the road somewhere between Pokhara and Kathmandu but I finally made it. About two hours into the the trip everything came to a standstill. Lanslide ahead. We waited six hours for the bulldozers to make a decent attempt at clearing the road. Then, when it was apparent that it would take another ten hours to make it passable, we climbed the landslide on our hands and knees (with our belongings) and switched buses with the ones coming from Pokhara! Luckily, there were a few angels along the landslide who helped me with my backpack. I was able to get it up the hill but had to take it off and drag it down the other side. No small feat for one small girl.

So...twelve hours later I arrived in Pokhara. The rest of the ride was absoluletly breathtaking. The green mountains, overflowing rivers, local village life. It was amazing.

Now I'm in Pokhara. Finally! It took 5 days to get here from Indonesia but I'm here and now...the schools are all CLOSED! Not sure what will happen since my reason for being here is to teach English for six weeks!

I guess there is a Maoist uprising in the schools so they closed them for an indefinite length of time! So...not sure what will happen with my placement to teach english here. I met Naresh from Insight Nepal (the volunteer organisation) when I arrived tonight and we hope to figure it all out tomorrow.

So that's my three:
- The curfews in Kathmandu
- Climbing the landslide
- Schools all closed

I've had more adventure in the last week then I've had in a lifetime!




Exploring Pokhara
Sep 6, 2004

Pokhara is already worth every minute of curfew and every extra hour it took getting here! I'm living in a large bedroom above the office of Insight Nepal, and the home of Nasreth and Manjari who run it. Every morning I have a one hour one-on-one Nepali lesson with Nasreth in the small, 10-desk, classroom on the ground floor. It's a little intense but I can now say 1- 20 in Nepali, introduce myself, ask a few basic questions, and know that an 'ahloo' is a potato! Got a long way to go.

I don't know if, or when, the schools will reopen in Pokhara. I'm trying to figure out what's going on and all I can gather is that the Maoist negotiators went to meet with the government (or the king and his cronies) and they were arrested! So, the Maoists have "requested" the Pokhara schools remain closed until the negotiators are released.

Initially the plan was for me to spend a few nights with Nasreth and Manjari for a one person orientation program including language lessons, city tours, and cultural do's and don'ts. Then, I was to move in with a local family nearby the school for six weeks of teaching. With the schools now closed indefinetly we are slowly coming up with some contingency options. On Wednesday, when 'orientation' is over we hope to put a plan together. Right now the contingency plan is sounding even better to me. It may involve helping Insight Nepal get their women's initiative off the ground, brochure creation for the organization, and proposal writing to help raise funds from NGO's. In addition, we may gather about a dozen kids from the neighborhood who don't go to school and I'll have my own little class at Insight Nepal.

Until the Nepali government releases the Maoist negotiators all bets are off! But I'm in a win-win either way. Whether I teach or help out with Insight Nepal, it's a great way to live in the heart of it. I'm now hopping on/off local buses, know where the makeshift markets are, am washing my laundry by hand under a small faucet on the roof, and am comfortable in and around Zero Kilometre (the town where I'm living). Not another tourist for miles - but I know how/where to find them if I need to!

And, today, I went to see one of the Tibetan Refugee camps. There are three in Pokhara. The Tibetans have been seeking refuge here for 40 years. They have their own community, complete with schools, means of income and a temple. The women in the village were busy making intricate Tibetan rugs and one even stopped to teach me how they pull the yarn on the 10 foot looms. I hope to get back there several times during my visit - maybe that's where I can volunteer next.

Well, it's almost dinner time at 'home' so I have to get going! Manjari has promised to teach me to cook one of these nights. But not tonight since it's a holiday and everyone from the Hindu faith is supposed to be fasting. Luckily for me, they don't take this fasting thing too seriously and it merely means 'no rice'!


The contingency plan
Sep 8, 2004

The schools are still closed here in Pokhara and there is no end in sight. It feels like the Maoists are holding the schools hostage since schools can't open until it's safe.

Since opportunities are limited now that schools are closed, I tried to volunteer in an Occupational Training program affiliated with the local "Child Welfare Scheme" but they require a 3 month commitment and a letter from the U.S. stating that I don't have a criminal record. I could only come up with one of the two...!

The contingency plan is not ideal but it will still allow me to be immersed in Nepali life while contributing to the community - somewhat. Since Naresh is going to Kathmandu for a one week training program and Lions Club meeting he has asked me to stay in their Pokhara home for at least an extra week. During that time I'm going to help Insight Nepal by creating a brochure, a proposal, and a cover letter for their new initiative called "Sisters In Harmony" (SIH). I'll work on the SIH stuff in the afternoons, and in the mornings I'm going to collect local children (kidnap them if need be!) and I'm going to attempt to teach them English! I don't think I'll have too much trouble getting the kids to come to class since they are rather curious about me and always stare when I walk by. The braver of the kids will shout out "hello" or "namaste" as I walk by.

So, until schools open at least, we have a plan. Like they say "Want to make God laugh? Tell him/her your plans"!

If schools open we may revert back to Plan A" and I'll move in with another local family and teach primary school. Time will tell...

Until then I'm very comfortable in Naresh's home. My bedroom is as big as my NYC apartment and I'm learning to cook traditional Nepali meals thanks to his wife.

So - it's all good


Monsoon in Pokhara
Sep 9, 2004

The only thing worse than a curfew in Kathmandu is being stuck indoors all day due to monsoon rains. Yesterday was one of those days. It rained all night, and then right through the day. Sunrise to sunset...and then we lost power intermittently. Manjari is convinced that it's the rain from China. Wherever it's from it's making me stir crazy.

Today the rain was light enough to allow me to venture out. I'm back in the Lakeside area - where the tourists would be - IF there were any!! It's a ghost town around here. The rains, the Maoists, and the stern international government warnings have seemed to scare the tourists away. Either that, or they are all stuck behind a landslide on the way from Kathmandu! It's still considered off-season due to the seasonal monsoons so tourism should pick up in October.

This morning we got word that the schools would be re-opening in a few days. But, with Naresh leaving for Kathmandu tomorrow, I doubt there is time to find me a placement nearby. So, as another contingency plan, I met with a women's group this morning to discuss ways I can help them market their program and sell their handmade items in town and abroad. There are 13 women in the program. They work all day in a cement room, no bigger than a NYC apartment, and dye/weave fabric for bags, blankets, etc. The organization then finds outlets for these items to be sold, so the women can make enough money to eat and survive in Pokhara. I'm going to go back there this afternoon and see the women at work. Then, tomorrow morning, I will go back at 8:00am to see how I can help with marketing materials such as brochures, a web site, and catolog. Maybe I'll help them for a week, until Naresh returns from Kathmandu, and then either teach or hit the road...

I'm good at travelling, adventure, challenges, exhaustion, and stress. I am NOT good at being bored. Guess that's my next challenge!

When I leave here I hope to trek the Annapurna circuit for 21 days. That probably won't be until October/November when the monsoon rains let-up. Right now I can't even see the Annapurna mountains due to the rain, and heavy mist in the valley.

Am just happy to be out of the house!


World Peace Pagoda - September 11th
Sep 11, 2004

This morning I went to the "Laligurans Women Skill Development Centre" to discuss ways I can help them sell their bags to the local and international community. The Centre is a concrete room, in a field, where 13 women have hand looms to make cotton fabric. The fabric is then made into delightful bags of all shapes and sizes. The women work incredibly hard, just to make enough money to put food in their children's mouths. I'm excited about the project and will create a catalog, brochure, etc (hopefully all in a 1 week timeframe).

After meeting with the Development Centre I was determined to see the World Peace Pagoda - a 3 mile bike ride, and 1 1/2 hour uphill hike away. Not to be deterred by the sporadic rain, I set off on my rickety old rental bike. After stopping a few times due to the rain I finally made it to the base of the hill, left my bike in a small hut (for a nominal fee - come to find out), and set off on the journey up hill. Half way up the mountain I realized that I had a small entourage of local children following me...and then leading me...and then...pestering me for money. It was so cute - until I realized that they were only being cute for money. I had a hard time ditching them. Luckily some young Nepali girls were also on the hike up the mountain, so even though they spoke no english, they adopted me, and we sorted out the right/wrong trails together. By the top of the mountain we were sathi ("friends" in Nepali). When we stopped for a break, the rest of their family/sathi caught up to us. Twenty of them in all! Instantly I was adopted (having a digital camera helped break the ice) and we had a blast taking photos at the The World Peace Pagoda (stupa). They were great posers, and all four generations got into the act. From great grandma (who was carried up the hill by one of her sons) to the grandkids. They even dressed me up in local Gurund Dress and took photos of me as part of the family on the steps to the pagoda. Yes, yes, I will load the photos as soon as I can!

After the photo shoot, I was invited to join them for a picnic. They had carried up a feast. Actually, I even helped carry the load when we reached the steepest part of the hill leading to the stupa. So, we sat on the lawn of the stupa and enjoyed a feast of roti, chicken and some sort of curry/chic pea - all served on a leaf, and eaten with our hands. There we were, twenty of us, in a circle, sitting indian-style, on one of the highest mountains overlooking Phewa Lake. What a sight! The youngest spoke a little english, but otherwise we were at a loss.

After lunch we hiked back down the mountain and as soon as we reached the road, the sky opened up. They grabbed a local bus, and I found a small shelter for my bike and I to wait it out. But...there is no out-waiting the monsoon. After 30 minutes in a shop no bigger than a closet, I set out in my $1 poncho, through the flooded streets, towards 'home'. Got as far as Lakeside (where all the tourists hang out), and decided to leave my bike at the local internet shop (here), and take the local bus home. I can handle the rain - it's the flooded potholes that can throw you off. Literally!

Anyway, it was a wonderful day. So much more than I ever could have expected. Tomorrow I will meet the people from the Women's Centre again, and get to work.


Laligurans Women Skill Development Centre - Volunteer Project
Sep 15, 2004


The Laligurans Women Skill Development Centre (LWSDC) is a non-profit, non-government organization located in Pokhara, Nepal. LWSDC strives to create opportunities for women who do not have income and are struggling to survive. By providing handcraft-related skills to these women LWSDC is preserving traditional skills of Nepal while helping women become self-sufficient and achieve economic independence. Presently, 13 women are being trained by LWSDC with many more showing interest.

The women trained by LWSDC are committed to creating high quality, hand-made products such as woven bags, messenger bags, duffels, camera bags, shopping bags, purses and pencil cases. When I come home I'll show you all a catalog so we can place a bulk order! Bags cost around $4 each, but shipping adds up.


Nepal update
Sep 18, 2004

Yesterday I enjoyed the Teej (Women's festival) with Manjeri at the local temple. There, I met a great group of 5th graders who were performing in the festival and invited me to come visit them at their nearby school. Photos to follow.

Today I went on a quest to figure out a way to get a visa without going to Kathmandu...and sure enough...

Found a travel agent who was able to send my passport to Kathmandu via a courrier and hopefully when I get back from a 21 day trek of the Annapurna mountains, it will be here in Pokhara waiting for me. If not, then I'll have to come up with plan B! Or, become a Canadian citizen. That's the big joke here - I really have to be careful who I tell I'm American. There doesn't seem to be animosity towards the U.S. but then again, you never know when you are talking to a Maoist.

I already know that I need to get a Canadian trekking permit because the Maoists collect a "tax" on all of the trails. If they find out I'm American they will ask for double the amount.

I will write again soon about the Teej festival, and my wonderful day today biking into the mountains. But, right now I'm in the touristy part of town and internet costs 6x as much as up in the local area.

In the interim, get your e-mails out to me soon! Once I hit the trails I won't have access to the internet - for three weeks! And I may hit the trail as early as Wednesday.




Going Trekking
Sep 20, 2004

It's finally coming together! I leave tomorrow morning to start a 21 day trek into the Annapurna Mountain range. The trek is called the Annapurna Circuit.

My travelling companions will be Shai (pronounced "Shy") from Israel, and a porter. We leave first thing in the morning so I have to spend most of today gathering the things I will need like a sleeping bag, a fleece, a warm hat, gloves, etc. Shai spent the last 6 years in the Israeli army and seems pretty confident in his trekking, and map reading ability. Originally I was going to go with a Dutch guy but he was a bit too freaky for me so I bailed. Luckily, it was around that same time that I met Shai. Shai was supposed to start his trek today but said he woke up with a cold. When I saw him in town this morning I was surprised that he was still around, and thankful that I now have someone to trek with. We are prepping for the trek with the help of an agency in Pokhara so everything should be pretty easy along the way. They have arranged for my canadian trekking permit (made myself 28 years old as well), they faxed my travel info to the American Embassy in Kathmandu, arranged our bus transportation to the start of the trek, and we will meet our porter tonight. Shai and I will combine our trek gear into one backpack and the porter will carry up to 20 kilos for us. That's probably everything!

So....it's been a little rough getting going...but now that I've moved into town with the rest of the tourists the trek is coming together easily. Am finally having a great time in Pokhara. Last night I also ran into an Israeli, Ido, who I first met in the Kathmandu airport during the beginning of curfew. He just finished the trek a few days ago so gave me lots of great pointers, and introduced me to twenty new friends he made on the trip (all Israelis!). We all ate dinner together and I picked up a few key Hebrew words and made some great new friends.

So...off I go! I should be back in Pokhara around October 12th - 15th. Depends on what detours we take. Do not expect to hear from me until then but keep me in your thoughts (and prayers wouldn't hurt either)!

Namaste!

Jen




Still trekking...
Oct 5, 2004

Hi all! Am having the time of my life! It's absolutely GORGEOUS up here in the Annapurna mountains. I'm 13 days into the trek and have about 1 week to go. This is the only town on the circuit with a computer so this is all you get...for now. Check back in a week or two and I'll tell you all about my visit to the highest lake in the world, and my climb through the dreaded Thorong La Pass (5,000 meters) in the snow.

It's all so incredible....

Jen


The Annapurna Circuit - The Thorung La Pass
Oct 13, 2004

For twelve days the pressure was mounting...The dreaded Thorung La Pass was ahead of us. I didn't know much about it but knew that we had to acclimate to the altitude before attempting it. The pass, at an elevation of 5416 meters (that's over 17,500 feet), was difficult - that much I knew. I knew that it had taken it's share (albeit small) of climbers. But, after twelve days of climbing, and several days of light headaches as our bodies adjusted to the high altitudes and steep climbs, we were as ready as could be.

Now picture this...

It's 4:00 a.m. and you are in a small room with two wood-frame beds. There is sporadic electricity and no heat. Your clothes for the hike are at the bottom of your sleeping bag in an attempt to keep them warm. Through the dirt/snow encrusted window you can see that the snow is still falling and five inches have accumulated on the trail between your room and the outhouse, 50 feet away. Past that, you can see that the light in the dining hall is on, and the dozen porters/guides are already up and waiting for the trekkers to wake-up. After putting on as many warm layers as you can muster, and covering all those layers with anything you can find that's waterproof, it's time to restuff the shared backpack, hit the W/C and eat the breakfast that you pre-ordered the night before. You head to the dining hall/warming hut through the snow (the only heat coming from a can of warm coals strategically placed under one table) for your muesli and try to dismiss the fact that it's now 4:30a.m. and the sky and trails are covered in snow. At 5:00a.m. you, your travel partner (Shai) and porter (Subas) set out. You know it is going to be a challenging day but have made it a point to not ask the questions: How many hours to the top? How many hours to the bottom? How many meters will you climb and descend? You will find out soon enough that your day will entail almost 7 hours of steep ascents (3000 feet), descents (4500 feet) and a pass that's over 17,500 feet above sea level. Think of THAT the next time your airplane pilot says that the cruising altitude is 20,000 feet!

It's now 5:00 a.m. and your headlamp is lighting the narrow snow path in front of you. You focus on Shai's feet - one step at a time. Everything is in slow motion as the snow and the altitude take their toll. When you look up you can sometimes see the silhouettes of other trekkers working their way up the pass. It's now 7:00 a.m. and a Tea House is barely visible in the distance. You stop there only long enough to regroup with your quick-paced porter and catch your breath. You trudge on. At 8:00 a.m. you take a break and realize that the sun is trying to burn off the snow clouds. By 8:30 a.m. it appears that the sun is winning and the views slowly start to unveil themselves. It's like a watercolor at first. Mountains are barely visible - almost like a Nepali mirage or a Monet behind the snow. You stand still and wait... By 8:45 a.m. there is a small group of trekkers waiting at the top of the pass. You try to take in all 360 degree views at once. It's magnificent!!! The scenery has gone from all white, to watercolor, to crystal clear. The snow capped mountains surround you on all sides. Only minutes before you didn't even realize you were at the top of the world! Now it's apparent. And it's stunning. Snow-capped mountains on all sides, blue sky, and the sun welcoming the day. It does not get better than this!

After 30 minutes snapping photos and staring in awe at the landscape you continue the last few meters to the official top of the pass where a wooden "congratulations you made it" sign, hundreds of prayer flags, and friends you have made on the pass, greet you.

It's not even 9:30 a.m. and you know that you still have a long day ahead of you. The nearest town is still four hours away (at best) and it's all downhill (4,860 feet) from here. The walk down is more difficult than the ascent. The blue sky has turned once again to clouds - but this time you are in them. You are eye-level with the clouds and can actually see them overtake you as the temperature fluctuates drastically. Down down down you hike. You are finally below the cloud line and can see Muktinath in very far-off distance. The porter/guides start to sing and you join them. After 12 days you are starting to know some of the words to the local songs so sing along, or hum to the now familiar tunes. Muktinath, where you are going to spend the night, is still hours away, and your knees are hurting so bad you want to cry, but the pass is now behind you. The songs become more jovial, the porters/guides sing louder, your fellow trekkers high-five you, and you know that you survived "the pass". Not only survived it but thoroughly enjoyed it. The views were a gift that couldn't have been timed any better. And the friends and memories you made along the trail, especially on the Thorung La Pass, will stay with you forever.




The Annapurna Circuit - I DID IT!!!
Oct 13, 2004


I don't know where to begin! Twenty one days walking up hills, over bridges, along cliffs, through valleys, over waterfalls, down rock stairs, and into guest houses. Views of wild horses, yaks, birds, mountain deer, local Nepali life, moving bushes, wheat harvesting, porters carrying 80 kilos to local villages, donkeys taking up most of the trail, and bulls on the loose (including the one that attacked Shai).

From snow to 85 degree sunshine; from firn trees to white birch to the oranges and yellows of the autumn in the northeast; from beautiful snow-capped mountains to desert. Where to begin? And how could anyone even imagine anything so magical?

Each day was a new adventure and a new sight to behold. Twenty one days, each with it's own personality and flavor. And each day even better than the last.

I've posted lots of photos for now (see three recent journal entries). Eventually I'll fill in the details about the two highlights of the trip:
+ The sidetrip to Tilicho Lake - the highest lake in the world
+ Crossing Thorong La pass in the snow, and the daily fear of elevation sickness

I didn't post too many "scenery" shots since there are too many to choose from. But, you are all invited to a slideshow when I return. Have your passports ready though, because once you see the photos you may be on the next flight to Nepal...if you can handle basic accommodations (at best). If you need daily running water, western toilets, attached bathrooms, electricity, hot water, this may not be the trek for you. But...if you want, I will put you in touch with Shai from Israel. He and I travelled fabulously together, and he can teach you how to find a silver lining in any circumstance. I could not have asked for a better travel partner.

Here are photos of our side trip to Tilicho Lake. The highest lake in the world. The most beautiful, and most exhausting, day of the trip.




Kathmandu
Oct 23, 2004

I've been back in Kathmandu for almost one week and haven't even touched the surface of all there is to see and do here. This is a great city when there isn't a curfew or a monsoon to bring the spirits down.

In fact, I like Nepal so much that I've decided to try to come back this Spring. Perhaps I'll re-attempt the volunteer gig or 'just' trek to Everest Base Camp.

There is something very special about the people here. I've made several Nepali friends and have even been invited to dinner several times at my friend Sharan's home. Sharan is a local souvenir seller who I met at one of the tourist sites (Swayambhunath). His home is no bigger than a NYC studio apartment with two beds, one couch, and a small black and white tv (for he, his wife and their two kids). Their kitchen is merely a kerosene stove in one corner of the room. There are no cabinets or counter-tops or refrigerators so his wife must go to the market before each meal, and then she prepares the meal while squatting on the floor. There is no running water, and only limited electricity. Yet, she managed to turn out the most remarkable and delicious meal I've had in Nepal. In fact, I'm going back there tonight for another dinner!

During they day I've been exploring the city. It's the biggest festival of the year - Dasain - so the streets have been even more vibrant than usual. With animal sacrifices (Hindu), bright red tikas on foreheads, special delicacies, street gambling and hundreds of kites in the sky.

There are temples and stupas around every corner, but here is a list of some of the larger ones that I've had a chance to explore:

-Dakshinkali - temple known for it's animal sacrifices (with Sharan)
-Patan and it's Durbar Square (with Joan and Dzenek from Switzerland)
-Kathmandu's Durbar Square
-Sayambhunath - Large Buddhist stupa also known as "Monkey Temple"
-Bodhnath stupa - the largest stupa in Nepal and one of the largest in the world
-Pashupatinath Temple - the most important Hindu temple in Nepal (where I got to witness a cremation along the banks of the Bagmati River)

And, if that's not enough for you...you can check out Nagarkot and Bhaktapur. Those are next on my 'agenda'! I'll stay overnight in Nagarkot so I can see both sunset and sunrise over the Himalaya Mountains. Hopefully, with a glimpse of Mount Everest. Then I'm going to start heading south to India. My Nepal visa expires on October 30th so I should have just enough time to hit Chitwan National Park before crossing the border from Nepal into India.

Anyone interested in a 3 week climb to Everest Base Camp this spring should let me know. Maybe I'll put a small group together...





Into India
Oct 29, 2004

With only one day to spare on my Nepal visa I'm officially over the border and into India.

Right now I'm in a small north India town waiting for an 11:30pm train to Varanasi. It's been a long day and it's only getting longer. From a jeep (15 min), to a bus (5 hr), to a jeep (10 min), to a rickshaw (5 min), to a an over-crowded jeep (1 hr until it broke down) to another jeep which was even more crowded (1 hr), to the train station awaiting our departure. I met a gal from Korea on the first bus so we are working our way through the travel kinks together. Luckily we are both enjoying the journey.

My last few days in Nepal - Chitwan Park - were pure magic. I went on an elephant safari, a night jungle walk for Rhino viewing, and my favorite of all - swimming with an elephant during it's daily bath ritual. What a site! And what fun. Wait until I upload those photos!

Well, I can't write for long because I have to continue my journey to Varanasi. Will write more soon...
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