Nepal Day 8 - Everest
Nepal Day 9 - Solo
If there's one thing every tourist needs it's a solid stomach. Judy's stomach, etc., unfortunately, deserted her yesterday afternoon and so she decided to call in sick today. If you want the clinical particulars send her an email. This is a family blog and so I'm not going into detail here. She's rested all day at the hotel but this evening she's still a bit rocky. We've got our fingers crossed for tomorrow.
That left me out on the tourist trail by myself. Paras and I knocked off four temples, keeping us on track for completing the plan by Friday. We leave for the Chitwan National Park in search of elephants Saturday morning, returning to Kathmandu on Monday and then leaving for home on Tuesday, arriving Wednesday evening.
Actually, while temples got the headline billing today, it was the towns that were the stars of the show. All are in the southern part of the Kathmandu Valley. All are centers of the Newari people, a distinct ethnic and cultural group who were early settlers of the valley. They have their own calendar and own language, which is said to be one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world.
First stop: Bungamati, a very nice village much simpler and more rustic than others we've visited so far. Women were drying rice and turmeric seeds in front of their houses near the road. On entering the village Paras pointed out a very distinctive odor coming from a dark doorway. It turned out to be a mustard processing facility. Mustard seed is brought in from the fields in 84 Kg bags (185 lbs; you ought to have seen the way a guy threw a bag over his shoulders to carry it into the shop. None of his co-workers offered to help). The seeds are broken up and roasted over a fire. They are then passed through a manually-operated press to extract mustard oil. The residue is passed through a motor driven press to get more oil. The bottle I bought says it's good for body massage, scalp massage, wounds, boils and cooking foods. I can't decide whether to rub some on Judy's knee or make a stir fry.
And yes, the temple was very nice too.
Khokana is another medieval Newari town but this time with a stain on its reputation. It, like many Hindu temples, is the scene of animal sacrifice. Goats, chickens and even bulls meet their demise on a regular basis. Khokana has a celebration in which a live goat is tossed into a local spring-fed pond. Teenagers jump in after and the one who manages to kill the goat barehanded is given the place of honor in the parade. Not a pretty thought. The town's ladies seem to specialize in wool spinning, an activity in many household doorways.
Chobar's claim to fame is its deep gorge through which the Bagmati River flows. Legend has it that Manjushri used his magical sword to create the Chobar Gorge, thereby draining the lake that covered the Kathmandu Valley, making it habitable. Scientists agree that the valley was once covered by water; they say an earthquake created the gorge. Scientists sure know how to take all the fun out of a good legend.
The temple by the gorge is dedicated to the elephant-headed deity Ganesh, the god of prosperity and wisdom, making him one of the most popular Hindu gods. He comes from good stock: his dad was Shiva and Mom was Dad's consort, Parvati. The elephant head thing came about through an unfortunate misunderstanding. It seems that when Shiva returned home from an extended business trip he found Parvati in bed with a young man. Not realizing that it was his son, who had grown considerably during Shiva's extended absence, he cut off his head. Parvati was not happy. She insisted Shiva bring their son back to life, which he did using the first thing that came to hand: an elephant's head.
By the way, Nepal has launched, with United Nations funding, a major project to clean up the Bagmati river, building a park along its banks. The river is indeed polluted; the river's odor at Chobar was powerful.
Finally, Kirtipur. This town was the first taken by Prithvi Narayan Shah in his bid to conquer all of Nepal but only after three protracted sieges. It was then an easy matter to march down the hill to take Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur and thereby end the Malla dynasty. Because they resisted so fiercely, the Gorkhas mutilated the faces of all men in Kirtipur (except for musicians who were needed for King Shah's inauguration party).
Paras attended the Tribhuvan University located in Kirtipur. He said that students looking for a place to stay in Kirtipur were often asked, "Are you from Gorkha?" If the answer was "yes" housing was denied. The people of Kirtipur have a long memory, it seems.
As we were leaving we encountered a young gal approximately Esme's age. She was shy and hid behind a shrine and then her mother's skirts. I took her picture and told her I had a granddaughter who would like to play with her. When we skyped this evening I told Esme I'd send her the girl's picture so here she is:
Tomorrow I put on my cap and gown to lecture the student body at Deerwalk Institute of Technology where, you may recall, I am a Visiting Professor. The title of my talk is "Random Recollections of a Really Old Guy Who Used to be an Engineer." Judy and I are then going to sit in on Jeff's All Hands meeting, where he will review progress creating Deerwalk's products and set the direction for new work now underway. Should be fun!
Love to all,
Jon and Judy
Nepal Day 10 - She's Back
Judy is back! A day's rest did her much good. She's being cautious about what she eats but was able to participate fully in today's activities. Hurrah!
Today was all business until 2:00 PM. Jeff's and I made back-to-back presentations to different groups:
I went first and talked to 90-plus first, second and third year students at the Deerwalk Institute of Technology. I spoke for about an hour followed by 20 minutes or so of question and answers. I spoke about my experiences in the U.S. high-tech marketplace. I got a few laughs, responses from the students to some of the questions I raised, and a number of good questions from the students. Their greatest interest was in entrepreneurship: starting and running a business.
After lunch in the Deerwalk cafeteria it was Jeff's turn. He made an "all hands" presentation to the software developers. It was a great presentation in which he reviewed activities since his last visit in October, the group's accomplishments against the goals he set in October and the goals he has set for the next six months. It was a nice combination of praise and gentle reminders of what lies ahead and the challenges they will face. Mom and Dad, sitting at the rear of the hall, burst their buttons with pride!
We did get in a little touring this afternoon, visiting first the Tibetan Refugee Camp in Patan. Tibetan followers of the Dali Lama fled the country when China invaded in 1959. Nepal, despite limited resources to deal with refugees, obtain external help to house the Tibetan Buddhists. We visited a facility where Tibetan women produce woven rugs.
I am NOT going to tell you what we bought or how much we paid for it. My lips are sealed. Except to say it will, look real nice in the visiting grandkid bedroom, if it's not to scary, and it didn't cost that much.
The second stop was at the Patan "industrial" area where a number of workshops and associated sales rooms are located. Only one Grandkid trinket here.
Jeff is out with Deerwalk folks tonight so Judy and I crossed the street and went to the Nepali equivalent of Denny's. The food was ok and cheap: $10 for the two of us and we left a ton of food uneaten.
Tomorrow is our last full Kathmandu touring day. After that it's Chitwan and then home!
Love to all
Jon and Judy
Nepal Day 11 - UNCLE!
I'm crying uncle. For neigh onto three weeks I haven't gone 24 hours without a curry dish, usually the curry/rice/daal combo, often two in a day. But tonight, after curry at lunch, I came back to the hotel, took a nap and said to Judy, "I'm not up to a big curry feed tonight." When she recovered from the shock we went to the hotel coffee shop and I had scrambled eggs, pancakes and a dish of pistachio ice cream, just like at Denny's. It hit the spot and I'm ready for whatever comes tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow, we're off to Chitwan National Park and the Parkland Hotel. It looks like a full, fun time, certainly different from the Kathmandu Valley, which has been our stomping grounds for the past week. Judy is so looking forward to her elephant ride. Me, I'm looking forward to a canoe ride to see two different species of crocodiles.
Jeff left today, so our only contact to back home is gone. But we had a great time with him and we're glad he'll be back with Lisa, Reagan and Carter soon. Thanks, Jeff, for a great time in Nepal! The best part of the trip, by far, was seeing him in action at Deerwalk.
Today was a slow day, which was just fine with us. After breakfast, Deepak drove us to the Kopan Monestary, located hillside at the northeast side of the valley (Buddhist monasteries are almost always at the top of the hill; makes for better meditation, it seems). This one is by far the most beautiful monastery we've seen on our trip. It's also the largest.
Kopan is a teaching monastery, taking in young boys at age of seven and, for those who stay, training them through adulthood (of course many decide to leave). Today we saw perhaps 600 boys in attendance in three groups. Outside under an awning were the youngest; they sat facing one another and did not take part in any rituals that we could see. The main focus seemed to be learning how to sit cross-legged without wiggling too much and without excessive chit-chat with their neighbors. Older boys walked around and boinked offenders on the head with a short knotted cord.
Off to one side under an open-air roof sat slightly older boys who were reciting sacred texts read from scrolls. They too required some discipline.
Inside the temple sat a master on a raised dais. He had a microphone and his chanting was broadcast throughout the temple and outside as well. His voice was deep and his chanting expressive (listen to one of Judy's videos sometime to get the full effect). The temple was filled with yet older boys with scrolls who chanted along with him, or at least that was the intent. Once or twice the master monk broke off to admonish boys who weren't distributing the scrolls fast enough.
All the boys, of course, were dressed in red robes with yellow sashes and had shaved heads. Quite a sight.
Around 11:30 yet other older boys brought in lunch: pails full of rice, vegetables, and I can only presume, curry. Each boy had a plate and cup and was served sitting in the temple or wherever they happened to be.
The other piece of this monastery's business is as a meditation and education center. They cater to all people, including those from the west. You can stay, Paras told us, for a month for around $600, meals and lodging included. This probably accounts for the impressive buildings and grounds: donations from grateful pilgrims. Nonetheless it was an impressive monastery.
Paras took us to Kilroy's for lunch: a garden restaurant in the Thamel section of Kathmandu. I asked one of the staff on the way out, "Will you celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year?" "Oh yes," he replied. "Irish day. Green clothing, green beer and green momos."
Thamel is the tourist center, made up in equal parts of trekking companies and souvenir shops. "How awful," you might say. But don't knock it; in less than an hour we had all of our grandkids covered with gifts from Nepal.
Not only that but we went to the office of the tour company that had arranged for the Bhutan section of our trip. There we met our main man, Rajeev, who gave us a refund for a $35 overpayment I had made. Kinda fun. His mother had passed away suddenly (brain aneurism) and had just returned from 14 days of mourning.
We strolled back through Thamel to our hotel, thankful we had Paras to assist us old, dottering foagies cross eight lanes of motorcycles, cars and trucks. (It's really a four-lane road but that doesn't stop Kathmandu-ites from doubling up.)
So tomorrow we check out of the Annapurna Hotel, returning on Monday for one more night. We still have the King's palace to knock off (now a museum since they've done away with kings). Our flight on Tuesday isn't until 4:30 PM so we'll have a leisurely day of it before getting on the plane. (Imagine our surprise this morning when I logged in to find that our 12:30 PM flight had been canceled and replaced with an 8:30 AM flight. That would have given us 12 hours to kick around the Delhi airport; we got that fixed after calls to the U.S. and India and so we'll only have a four-hour layover.)
Love to all,
Jon and Judy
Nepal Day 12 - The Scenic Route
They say getting there is half the fun, and today it turned out to be about 80% of the fun. We checked out of "home" at 7 AM and left Kathmandu with 12 Deerwalkers bound for Chitwan National Park.
Normally, the trip is said to require five hours. We elected to take a route that climbed over the hills rather than taking the valley, which we had done when going to Pokhara last weekend. "Should add an hour or two," we were told. It was indeed the scenic route that, despite the haze, gave very nice views of the hills (can't be called mountains; we topped out at only 7,000 feet. Mountains in Nepal start at around 7,000 meters or 21,000 feet). We stopped once for breakfast and, given my uncertain state, I bypassed the local fare (beans and tea) and opted instead for part of Judy's box breakfast and an orange.
My will power gave out at noon when we stopped at a roadside restaurant of the rustic variety. I ordered the first thing on the menu; scratch that: I ordered the only thing on the menu, a typical Nepoli meal. The service was interesting. One of the waitstaff (a son of the cook, if I have my guess) brought a generous glob of rice on a metal plate about the size and shape of a nine-inch cake tin. It was accompanied by a small bowl of daal (lentil soup) and some cooked spinach. As the meal progressed the cook and her staff came around to the tables and ladled out servings of various vegetables (beans, potatoes, cauliflower, pickles, etc.). If you asked for it they would bring a small dish of curried chicken. The cooking was done in the restaurant next to the tables. Say what you will, I thought it tasted good and it is one of the Deerwalkers' favorite stops.
To tell the truth, I ate Nepali only to try and save the Rick reputation in Nepal. Everywhere Jeff and Judy go it's "No spice please, we're American" to paraphrase the title of the play Judy and I saw on our honeymoon in London 42 years ago this July.
This is Holi, the festival of colors, celebrating (or hoping for) lots of rain in the coming rainy season. Whatever the original meaning the holiday today means everyone paints their faces crazy colors and throws water balloons full of colored liquid at passersby. As a result, our van was hit on several occasions by water balloons. The local kids, as we traveled up the mountain, set up check points every little while, sometimes every 100 yards or so, with a bamboo pole across the road. They wouldn't let us get through until we gave them 5 Rupees (about a nickel).
We stopped as well for an afternoon break where I sprang for ice cream bars for all ($8 for 14) at a combination ice cream parlor and liquor store. Ask Judy about the ladies'/men's room. It's on the all-time list.
Long trip told short: we arrived at our hotel at 5 PM, about 10 hours after leaving Kathmandu, a distance of around 250 Km or 150 miles. For reference, Jeff's trip from Delhi to Newark took 15 hours or so, covering, as I recall, around 7,500 miles or 22,000 KM. (Bet he didn't get daal, curry and rice on his trip though.)
After some confusion in the nearby town, we finally found the Green Park hotel. It's a modern, brand new resort that would feel at home on Long Boat Key. Except for the approach. The road coming in reminds me of the Elliotsville road mid-summer before they smooth it out from all the damage "away" folks have caused racing at high speeds from Onawa to Guilford. And along the way one sees goats, sheep, cows, ox carts pulling tourists and elephants walking down the road. The elephants were apparently on their way home to the barn (or wherever elephants spend the night). Tomorrow we'll be riding on one!
We talked the hotel staff into taking us to the sunset viewing area where we were to meet our Deerwalk friends. The staff was bound and determined to serve us the lunch that we'd paid for as part of our package; we declined. Instead we went sunset watching, arriving just before sunset at 6 PM; the friends arrived shortly after 6. So we said "Hi" and "Goodbye" and came back to the Green Park to prepare for dinner.
I tried to log onto the wifi but it says "user has exceed quota" so I'm not sure when I'll be able to send this. Not to fear, we're fine and haven't been trampled by an elephant or eaten by a tiger (yet).
Love to all,
Jon and Judy
Nepal Day 13 - First Up
Who do you think was the first to join the Tharu stick dancers for the audience participation finale? Pick one:
___ The ladies from Colorado (our age) who will start a 15-day trek around Everest day after tomorrow?
___ The couple from Belgium who've just completed a couple of weeks in India and will do a 5-day trek soon?
___ The Indian family who now live in Dubai
Yes, the correct answer is Jon but only because the MC, desperate to get someone on his or her feet, pulled me up forcibly. I relented to the inevitable, used the same basic shuffle I use for everything from the fox trot to the chicken dance, and joined the fun. Judy came along too.
Actually, we had a very enjoyable dinner with the first two couples. And we met the Indian family of four (including a three-and-a-half year old) on the elephant safari. I took some pictures of them on their elephant that I showed them afterwards.
The day started with breakfast and a 7:30 AM canoe ride in a long, narrow dugout craft that seemed tippy but was perfectly safe. Besides, the water wasn't all that deep so no real issue except, that is, for the man-eating crocodiles we saw sunning themselves on the river bank. We saw a few interesting birds too.
After a 30-minute ride we walked for another half hour to the elephant breeding station where elephants are bred to enter the tourist trade. Cute little baby elephants but kinda sad considering the domestic nature of the enterprise.
We were back at the hotel by 10:30 with nothing planned except lunch at 12:30 and the elephant safari at 3:00 PM ("Too hot in the middle of the day", the property manager told me). But you know what? We managed to goof off quite successfully. Maybe we're ready to start winding down a bit from the pace we've been leading.
The elephant ride was fun. The hard parts were getting on and off the elephant. Each elephant carries four tourists on a platform no bigger than three feet square. Each rider straddles a post at each corner of the platform.
The ride, once you got used to it, wasn't so bad. Lots of swaying from side to side, up and down, as the elephant lumbers along. Similar to many Nepali roads, in fact, except that the bumps aren't quite as sharp; more of an undulation.
The only animals of note we saw were two rhinos taking a bath in a small river: one large and one small. Mother and child? This one-horned specie is quite rare, Chitwan being an important sanctuary for them.
Back by 5:00 PM for the 6:30 stick dance and, afterward, a pleasant time chatting with our new friends, followed by dinner together. It's now 9:30 and time for bed since the wake-up call is at 6:00 for bird watching at 6:30. Then back for a quick shower, breakfast and our transfer to the airport for the 11 AM flight back to Kathmandu: a 22 minute flight compared to yesterday's 10 hour journey.
Love to all,
Jon and Judy
Day 14 - "Judy, Where's Your Passport?"
The 6:30 AM bird walk had gone well. We saw a fair number of birds and recorded a corresponding number of black dots on the camera. But the real treat was seeing the elephants reporting for work through the early morning mist. Today was the official Holi day in this part of Nepal and there were lots of kids on the river bank watching the crocodiles. A very pleasant morning stroll, all told.
Breakfast outdoors with our friends from Belgium was equally pleasant. Then at 8:30 it was time to catch a quick shower, pack and be ready for the 9:30 AM jeep ride to the airport for our 11:10 AM flight to Kathmandu.
My first step in packing while Judy hit the shower was to corral the money belts with our stash of Rupees, credit cards and passports. That's when my heart stopped beating: Judy's passport was missing; nowhere to be found. I had taken charge of both passports the day before, zipping them into a protected pants pocket. Judy joined the search; no luck. I ran to the front desk. Not there either.
I usually don't get upset when things go missing but this was different. There were few places to look (we were traveling with only our backpacks, having checked suitcases at the hotel in Kathmandu). Did it fall out of the canoe yesterday? Off the elephant? Could we fly back to Kathmandu without a passport? Could we get a replacement in time to make tomorrow's flight? No good answers.
Finally I thought to look on our balcony where I had typed yesterday's message ( and had a quick nap). Sure enough, there it was, lodged between the frame and the seat cushion.
The flight turned out fine: brief and with only a few bumps. Paras and Deepak met us at the airport and took us to the hotel for check-in and a quick bite in the hotel cafeteria. Then we drove to the end of the block to see the King's Palace museum.
This King's Palace replaced the palace at Durbar Square in 1910, was demolished in the quake of 1934 and substantially expanded in the 1970s. It ceased to be the King's palace with the 2008 decision by the newly reinstated Parliament, which gave the last monarch, King Gyanendra the boot. He had in 2006 declared a state of emergency and disbanded Parliament but a 19-day popular protest in the streets forced Gyanendra to reinstate Parliament, leading two years later to the end of the monarchy.
Gyanendra came to be king after the royal massacre of 2001 in which the crown prince shot and killed his father, the king, his mother and eight other family members before turning the gun on himself. Gyanendra, the king's brother, was thus next in line.
At least that's the official story. Paras related some conspiracy theories that make "who shot JFK" look pretty simple. Did the crown prince really get drunk when Mom and Dad said "no" to the girl he truly loved? Did the king's own brother, Gyanendra, mastermind the massacre?
The palace museum is a tour of the guest quarters used by visiting dignitaries and the royal quarters. Gyanendra ordered the destruction of the wing where the massacre took place (to destroy evidence?) but the foundation remains and bullet holes can be seen in some walls of the palace.
Our final adventure of the day was a solo outing Judy and I took to the Garden of Dreams. It was built by the son of a prime minister in the 1920s using money he had won from his old man in a gigantic gambling bet. We got there after sunset but had a nice stroll through the gardens and had dinner at a nice but expensive restaurant. We were so proud of our street-crossing success that we treated ourselves to ice cream at a "Baskin Robins" knock off just up the street from our hotel.
So now to get started packing. No touring plans for tomorrow. Our flight to Delhi doesn't leave until 4:30 so we'll have a leisurely morning before starting what is scheduled to be a 35 hour journey.
Now the good news: this is the last email report so we'll stop littering your in-box everyday. Thanks for reading and for your nice notes of encouragement.
Love to all,
Jon and Judy