Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

Kuala Lumpur

Monday, October 5th, 2009

On Wednesday, my first morning in Singapore, I went sightseeing with a dutch girl I met in my hostel. We went to see the biggest fountain in the world, and were a bit disappointed… What was cooler was to actually see the tracks from the F1race the weekend before, and some of the huge stands for the audience that had been rigged up around the place. In the evening I went to Singapore zoo for the famous night safari. It was nice to see a zoo where the animals seemed to have a decent life!

The next day I had the most expensive cup of coffee of my life, in the City Space bar on the 71st floor of the Swissotel Stamford. The next point on my agenda was to have a Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel Long Bar, where the drink was first invented. I got there though, and it was filthy. You get free peanuts with your drinks, and there were peanut shells EVERYWHERE. It was crunching under my flipflops when I walked in, it crunched under my bum when I sat down, and the tables were so full of peanut shells that there was barely room for glasses and when the waiters were clearing the tables, they just shuffled it all down on the floor… It was not very nice, and the service was extremely slow, so I flung the whole idea of a Sling out the window.

In the evening, I went to dinner and drinks in Little India with a bunch of couchsurfers. After a late night at the Singapore couchsurfers’ usual hang out, I was talked into staying another day, and go clubbing with Nikki from Singapore, and we asked Glenn from Norway to join us. Hence, on Friday, instead of going to Kuala Lumpur, I went out and bought a pair of dress shoes for 10 S$, and was then ready for the clubs. The rest of the daylight hours I pent walking around Fort Canning Park, and learning about Singaporean history from the information boards along the historical paths.

In the afternoon I met Simin, a schoolmate from my Italian days, for dinner, and she came along clubbing as well. We went to a fancy club called “Attica” on Clarke’s Quay, where we (to Nikki’s disappointment, I think) dropped the dancing, and sat talking into the small hours of the morning, and shared a bottle of Moet, courtesy of Glenn. I had a great time!

The next morning it was time head out to Kuala Lumpur. After about three hours of sleep, I got up around nine, and took the subway to the border, and a bus across. The border crossing was intensely crowded and took forever, but I finally arrived at Larkin bus station in Johor Bahru on the Malaysian side, and immediately got on a bus for KL. I’d been texting Seth with regular intervals since that morning, but since I didn’t get any reply, I assumed I’d written down the wrong number. When I arrived in KL around 6pm, I sat down somewhere that had WiFi, and looked up the number, and it turned out Seth had given me wrong instructions as to what to do with the area code when adding the country code. When I got it sorted out, he gave me directions to his place, and I got in a cab and went over. The evening was relaxed but fun. We went over to Ali’s place, another diver I met in the Perhentians, and who lives in the same apartment complex as Seth, and played Rock Band on his PS3. To round up a good evening, we went around the block to one of the best night spots in KL for a couple of beers before bed.

Yesterday I bought some clothes, cuz the ones I had made in Nepal are getting worn out, and today I’ve had lunch in KL Tower. It was a bit costly, but worth it for the view, just like the coffee in Singapore. (and it was only about twice the price of the cup of coffee anyway, for an eat-till-you-drop buffet…) Today I’m hoping to meet with another friend from the Sunlight Divers for tea, but I don’t have his phone number, so it’s looking bleak…

Politics, religion, environment, health, work and commercials

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Wednesday March 11

Commercials
I’m sure it’s just me that’s blazé when it comes to advertisement but I have a feeling that the ads on billboards and TV down here are a tad on the naïve side. I mean it’s been a while since car and MC commercials back home were fronted by slogans like “Admiration Guaranteed!”, “Always In The Limelight,” “For Real Men,” “Are You Man Enough,” by a deep resonating baritone voiceover, while the hero is surrounded by beautiful young women… Or this amazing TV commercial for an all terrain car: “When you’re on your deathbed, what will you remember? The corner office? The corporate jet? Your portfolio?” *pan camera across gorgeous landscape, ending up at a 4wd on a cliff* “TATA SAFARI DICOR!”
Shampoo commercials are a tad less sex fixated, but they always make sure to throw in the word “Guaranteed” several times for good measure, without really letting on exactly WHAT is being guaranteed.

Religion
On Tuesday the Nepali hindus celebrated a different kind of religious holiday called Holi. I’m not entirely sure what the religious significance of the rituals are, but they consist of everything shutting down, then everyone who can walk, crawl or roll go out onto  the streets to throw water and smear paint on each other. I would’ve taken pictures, but I didn’t dare to bring a camera out into the mayhem… Biking down the street to the shop (which was futile, seeing as everything was closed) literally EVERYONE I saw, young or old, men and women, were covered in bright colors, and dripping wet!

Health
I’m guessing it’s not the most interesting thing to read about, but whenever my health is not as it should be, it is strongly on my mind, so I don’t give a crap. Or rather I do so way too often. For the fourth or fifth time in the past eight weeks I am suffering from diarrhea. This time around it’s a bit different, it started with a strong fever on Monday, and the diarrhea set in that evening. On Tuesday the fever settled down, but my neck got sore and stiff. This morning I went to the private clinic at Patan hospital with a stool sample and a description of my symptoms. It might be a recurring viral or bacterial infection, or it might be a chronic amoebic infection. I’ll get the answer from the lab tomorrow. Until then I will be taking antibiotics to help my stomach fight the infection, and rehydration powder to stop from getting dehydrated. The rehydration solution is basically sugar, salts and electrolytes that you dissolve in clean water, and that tastes like sweetened brackish water. No matter what it is, it will be a relief to find out, and get some professional assistance in killing it.

Politics
I had tickets to go to Royal Chitwan National Park on Monday, and come back today. I have not been to Chitwan, and it is not because of my health. Late last week there was a Bandha (demonstration/blockade) in the Terai region near the national park, and two people got killed. When this kind of thing happens, there are no systems in place to care for their families unless they are declared martyrs by the government. Now the local communities are blocking all the roads in and out of the area, and say that they won’t open them again until the government agrees to declare them martyrs. It seems quite safe to assume they will be declared such but it might take some time. There is a small chance I might be able to go on Monday March 16 instead, but that will be my last opportunity, as I leave Nepal on Thursday 19. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to go bathe elephants and spot rhinos and crocs and bengal tigers! *fingers crossed*

Environment
Elephants in Chitwan can bathe in the river, but the river here in Kathmandu is dry. I mentioned that the water situation is getting worse, and it’s escalating quickly. Kathmandu is now a city where only the rich have clean drinking water. Even the “clean” water needs to be uv-filtered to be drinkable, a single unfiltered drop swallowed can make you sick. However, the trucks that deliver water are now so over worked, and clean water has to be transported so far, that there’s a three week wait to get clean water delivered, and the clean water has become so expensive that a normal Nepali working family can not easily  afford it. You can still get dirty water at a lower price, but that’s so dirty you have to boil it to use it for washing. Kathmandu is a city of about a million inhabitants, and not enough clean water to keep sanitary standards to a necessary minimum. We all try to save water, but even I realize that flush toilets which use about 10 litres of water in a single flush are probably the biggest waste of clean water ever. When I shower, which I now have cut down to a couple of times a week, I stand in a little plastic tub, to gather up the water, so I can re-use that water to flush the toilet later. Still, I use over a thousand litres of water a week, and more when I have stomach trouble and need to flush more often. Right now I am out of water again, which means I have to climb into the cistern again, to scoop up some of the water that the pump doesn’t get to… Some technical genious ought to come up with a system that can effectively flush a toilet with a lot less water! (The squat toilets that are typical for Asia use less water, but they hardly ever flush clean, which is why they so often smell.)

Work
My time working here in Kathmandu is almost over, and although I’ve enjoyed it, I would have to think hard about staying here on a more permanent basis. I think I need a place with less filthy air, and definately closer to the sea! I am really looking forward to moving on, and to travelling Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with Annikken. Only about a week to go, and I am counting days!

RP’er LFG in Ktm! WoD, D&D, MERPG, VtM, GURPS, anything!

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

First of all, an important announcement: the title Uncle Travelling Gjerulf is no longer a lie… On February 27 around noon Norwegian time, my little sister Jenny gave birth to my first nephew! This picture is taken the same evening, sent to me by my mother, the proud grandma. 😀

Now for the heading… I would very much like to play some roleplaying games again! I’ve been thinking about this game I’d like to run in the World of Darkness setting, but I’d also just love to play any game of RPG… I’ve just posted on the Nepal forum in CouchSurfing.com to see if there are any other gamers around, wasting for a session of dungeon crawling or blood curdling horror gaming, or any gaming at all, really….

Day care centre for mentally handicapped childrenIn the past couple of weeks I’ve been to youth gatherings, organized a Sunday Service and had the sermon in church, read books, had diarrhea again, visited a day care centre for mentally disabled children, said goodbye and hello to Mikhiel a couple more times, gone trekking again, and bought plane tickets Kathmandu-New Delhi-Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City.

Mikhiel came from Tibet, then went to Chitwan National Park, came back, went to a buddhist retreat, came back, and then eventually left for good, to go to India. we talked a bit about his buddhist retreat, and it seems very close to the Christian retreats I’ve heard of, with teaching, silent contemplation, prayer and meditation. Mikhiel is probably the one person I’ve spoken to most in the past four months. I met him, as you remember, at the CS-meeting in Irkutsk, we went to Lake Baikal together, then we met in Ulan Bator for a few days, and now here in Kathmandu.  The other day I met up with another CS’er, Sanna from Finland. She is here for volunteer work, but after a week her coordinator still has to give her anything to do. My volunteer work is also limited, so we spent a day roaming Kathmandu’s Durbar Square (Durbar means Palace) and finished the day with a beer on the rooftop terrace at my house.

Water shortages are a fact of living in Kathmandu. It is most obvious in the fact that there is less and less electricity as the rivers are running dry. It’s been a very dry winter, and the only rainfall since I got here was a couple of weeks ago, and came in the form of a very light drizzle that lasted for about three minutes. The holy garbage dump, (some call it “river”) Bagmati is almost dry, which leaves all the feces, human ashes, and other waste of the city just lying there. At  the house where I live, a truck comes in every once in a while and fills a cistern in the yard, from which I pump up water to a smaller cistern on the roof whenever there’s electricity to run the pump. On the roof is also a setup that very effectively heats water using the heat of the sun. Saturday a week and a half ago, the house manager ordered more water, but because there’s so little water to be had, it took ten days to arrive, and then I only got 1500 liters… The last seven of those ten days, there was too little water in the cistern in the yard for the pump to get any up to the roof, so I had no running water. No running water means no filtered water, no showers, and most importantly: No water for flushing toilets… In order to get water for flushing, and also for washing myself, I climbed down into the cistern in the yard, where I sat scooping water into buckets, that I hauled  in to the bathroom. Impractical you say? Well, I say “At least there WAS water.” If it’d been another couple of days before the water truck arrived, I figure I’d have had to start using a bucket for a toilet, and dig a hole in the yard to empty it…

The service on Sunday was very good. The youth did everything from leading the service and playing to the worship, to preparing and showing the power point presentation and filming the service. I now have about ten gigabytes of  video that I need to send back to Vardeneset, but I’m having trouble uploading photos for this journal, and I can’t imagine trying to upload several gigs of video… I’ve also been told not to trust the postal system here, so I don’t want to send the memory cards back from here. The post offices are complaining about rats eating the mail, but people say these “rats” must be very choosy, seeing as it’s only valuable mail that gets “eaten”…

I mentioned my tickets. I wanted to go to South East Asia without going by plane, but my plans have been thwarted by political circumstances. It is not possible to go from India into Burma/Myanmar, and there are no boats heading around. This means that I have to fly. Originally, I was supposed to meet my friend Annikken in Vietnam in March, then she got into law school, and our Vietnam travels were postponed till summer holidays. Now it turns out she didn’t like law school, and we’re on for March again. This means that I’m skipping India for now, going directly to Vietnam when my volunteer period is over here in Kathmandu. On March 19 I am taking a plane to New Delhi. I wait at the airport in New Delhi for almost eight hours, and catch a flight to Bangkok, where I arrive early in the morning on the 20th. After over nine hours at Bangkok airport, I head on to Ho Chi Minh City. I leave Kathmandu at 15:45 Nepal time, and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at 17:35 Vietnam time, 24 hours and 35 minutes later… To be honest, I would much rather take the train for three days, than hanging around planes and airports for 24 hours…
Annikken arrives about half an hour later, and after we go through immigration, we’re hoping we’ll have a CS host to head off to.

I have spent a long time typing this out while doing other things online at the same time, so now I have almost no battery left. It’s still two hours till electricity comes back, so I can’t just plug in the charger either… Oh well, at least I got the post up! I also posted some pictures, but I haven’t taken many in the time when I haven’t been a tourist here. 😉

Hoping to get some pics of  tame elephants and wild rhinos, bengal tigers and crocodiles in a couple of weeks… I am going to Royal Chitwan National Park! 😀

I miss…

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Settling down here in Kathmandu for a little while has been great, and it has given me time to miss things. When I’m travelling from place to place every few days, there’s not really any time to miss anything. Now that I’ve been here for over a month, I’ve started to realize that I miss things, and thiss is, believe it or not, not necessarily a bad feeling! 🙂

I miss friends and family, I miss work, I miss the ocean, I miss ice skating, I miss role playing games and board games, I miss clean air, I miss a good bicycle, I miss round-the-clock electricity and internet access, and the weirdest little things that pop into my mind every once in a while. I also miss travelling, and I am looking forward to moving on again. The funny thing is that not all the things I miss are things I would like to go back to right away. At the international church on Sunday, the headmaster (mistress?) of Kathmandu International Study Centre was doing the sermon. The congregation is, as I’ve mentioned before, made up mostly of expats, and she was talking about missing things back home in our own countries, while at the same time wanting to stay here. The reason she brought it up, was as a comparison to how she felt as a Christian, being drawn between a longing for the perfect existence with God when this world kicks it, and wanting to live life here and now as much as possible, for as long as possible!

I found it a good comparison. I guess I can make the same comparison with my journey. I long for being back home, but I want to make the journey there as long and enjoyable as possible. (Do not take this parable any further. Norway is NOT heaven, and I don’t feel as if my journey is comparable to “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”… 😛 )

On a more day-to-day update, my week is not very busy. I have choir practice on Monday nights, even though I won’t be here for the concert at the end of the semester. Tuesday afternoons we plan the youth group (Sparx) the coming Sunday, and on Tuesday evening I meet some other Norwegians who have a prayer group. Wednesday to Saturday I fill with socializing, reading, and planning what to do with the youth work, and Sunday sees me at service in the morning and Sparx in the afternoon. When the board here gets it report, I think I will suggest that if they hire a permanent youth worker, they go for part time, two or three days a week. I am meeting a couple of the board members tomorrow night, to evaluate the stay so far. 🙂

Proposal of marriage

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It’s turning out to take a bit longer between each time I post, now that I’m not moving around. This is for several reasons. I already mentioned that I don’t have internet access at home, but I’m now at the Higher Ground café, which is the only café I’ve found that offers free WiFi for the customers. Also I’m a bit more busy, and my activities are a bit more commonplace and thus a little less interesting to write about. 🙂 I’ll relate a little from the past week that has been memorable, though.

Early Saturday morning, I took a bus out to Suriya Binayak, which  is the place Milan lives, just south of Bhaktapur. I met up with Milan there, and we walked south into the hills. Milan was telling me how he’d been thinking of buying a plot of land up there, and building a small cottage to go to in weekends, and maybe renting out to tourists. We stopped in little villages on the way, for refreshments in the form of small cups of milk tea and barley or rice beer. The “beer” tastes nothing like western beer, it is a cloudy, milky white, and the taste is  slightly reminiscent of lemonade with just a hint of sugar… Milan spoke to the locals, asking them about distances between villages, directions for where we were going as well as other villages in the area. At one point we met a local school teacher, who knew actual distances in kilometers, instead of in the time it would take them to walk… 😉 At one point a group of mountain bikers zipped past us down the hill at break-neck speed, and I made a mental note that I’m going to HAVE to do that before I leave!

As we went on hiking, we came up through a pass, and as we were heading down into the next valley, a small suzuki 4wd stops on the shoulder of the little road we were walking down. As always, Milan makes a little smalltalk, and quickly realizes that the driver is a friend of a friend, and we’re invited up to their cottage just up the hill next to the parked car. It was a gorgeous place, with a marvellous view of the Himalayas from the Lang Tang to Kangchenjunga and if the weather was clearer we would’ve even seen the Everest. The guy had recently finished building it, and was planning to hire a couple of people to run it as a guest house in the tourist season, and then use it as a private cottage in the off season. He and Milan really hit it off, and even discussed possible furnishing options, publicity, and the like, and before we left, after having been treated to a traditional lunch, they’d exchanged phone numbers and planned to meet up again to continue the talk!

The views of Kathmandu Valley had been gorgeous along the way, and we both agreed it’s weird that not more people come out there for walking! You can get out there on a local bus, for the neat sum of 15 Nepali rupees, and it’s completely quiet, the air is fresh, and the atmosphere is the exact opposite of the busy, traffic-clogged streets of Kathmandu! It was an almost religious experience to walk along the forested ridges and up and down hillsides, here dry and warm in the sun, and there moist, lush and  green in the shade. After a while we reached another pass, and from there it was all down hill. It fogged up as we descended, and by the time we reached the floor of the valley at Lamatar, it was dark. The goal for the day was Milan’s cousin’s house, but with the horrible cell phone coverage in Nepal, he’d been unable to get through, so we showed up unannounced. Milan told me that over four years ago he’d been acting as stand-in for his cousin’s parents when her marriage to a christian Nepali man was arranged, but he hadn’t had an opportunity to visit her since then, even though it’s not really that far away!

When we’d finally managed to ask our way to the house, it was completely dark, and it turned out the the cousin and her husband weren’t home. Their two children were there, however, with the cousin’s mother in law. We stopped in for a cup of tea, but when we said we’d be taking the bus (about fourty-five minutes) back to Kathmandu, the old lady looked hurt, (I’m not too old to cook, you know!) We were treated to a wonderful baal bhaat, and I played with the children, a two year old boy and a four year old girl.

The next morning we got up at seven, had a cup of tea, and left for Kathmandu. While we were waiting for the bus, a rather wealthy looking couple in a big SUV picked us up, and I was home at eight already, in time to have breakfast and a shower, and prepare a sign-up list for the youth social the following Saturday, which I brought with me to church at eleven. After the service I was invited to lunch at a restaurant by some Norwegians, and then I tagged along to a youth group meeting they have every Sunday afternoon, called “Sparks.” I had dinner with the host and some of the older youths after Sparks, and then headed off back to church, because they were having an evening “contemporary worship service” that Sunday.

Monday and most of Tuesday I was basically locked up at home with a stomach ache, and I don’t think I’ll be going too far today either, at least not to anywhere with no proper toilet… Yesterday I got a phone call from Mikhel, the Dutch buddhist guy I met in Irkutsk, and then spent time with in Mongolia. He’d just arrived in Kathmandu, and I went to meet him. He’s staying with me for a few days, while he’s here. 🙂

Now, you might be wondering about the heading of this post… When we were in Lamatar, and were sitting around having supper, Milan suddenly started laughing so hard he almost fell over. When he got himself together enough to answer my inquiries, he explained that the four year old girl had just asked him if he could make her father contact my parents, and arrange for our marriage! Milan proceeded to patiently explain to her that she would have to be grown up before she could marry anyone, to which the answer was clear: “I’ll make sure I grow up by Wednesday, when Daddy comes back!”

(EDIT: Pictures from my trek in Panchase outside Pokhara are finally up – captions to come later)

Kathmandu International Christian Congregation

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Jan 25
As of today, I am officially a youth worker in KICC, Kathmandu’s interdenominational church for expats. The Pastor went on a two month sabbatical last Sunday, and I am living in his house. It is a rather big house, at least for one person. There’s a hall, a big kitchen and living room on the ground floor, my bedroom, a terrace and the pastor and wife’s private quarters on the first floor, and two roof top terraces on the second floor. I have solar heated water, so hot showers are available in the afternoon. The battery backup for electricity is broken, so my daily schedule depends largely on the load shedding schedule. According to the church board members, the house has internet, but I have of yet not found out how to connect. I suspect the router is in the pastor’s locked off study. Some board members have said they’ll email the pastor to find out if there’s a way for me to get online at home and one of the other Norwegians in the congregation has offered to try and fix the electricity backup.

On Tuesday, I met with three of the board members for a job interview, and they seemed impressed. I apparently have quite a lot more education and experience in youth work than they expected. On Wednesday I moved into the pastor’s house, on Thursday I had breakfast with a Norwegian family, before familiarizing myself a little witht the area, getting a visa extension, and doing some necessary shopping. Friday I spent proof reading a field report for the couchsurfer I stayed with last week, in return for which he gave me a ticket for a “mountain flight”, which is a very popular way of seeing the Himalayas from a different angle; from a small airplane! Yesterday I went with some other Norwegians here to do some fabric shopping (I got a good price on linen for two pairs of trousers for warmer weather, which I’ll take to a local tailor)and an English language movie at a café. (Vicky Christina Barcelona, a quintessencial Woody Allen) After the movie, we went to a restaurant, and then over for tea at another Norwegian expat’s flat late in the evening. After church this morning I met some friends of my sister Anne Malene, from the school that’s sent her to Brazil (en hilsen fra Hald-studentene til deg, Anne Malene!) and then I spoke to some of the teenagers about organizing a brainstorm on what they think will be  a good idea for the first step in furthering the youth work, and then there was a pot luck lunch with the church board, where I told them about myself, and what I think I can do to further the youth work in the congregation. The result was that I got the final go ahead, and money back for the 60 day visa extension I bought on Thursday.

I’m quickly getting used to bottling water from the electric filter and refilling the rooftop watertank with the electric pump for a few minutes when there is power, soaking all fruit and vegetables I’m planning to eat raw in iodine-water, wearing a mask to filter away most of the dust when I’m out walking (or from today, bicycling, as I’m now borrowing a mountainbike from the Dutch bursar on the church board) and all the other little peculiarities of Kathmandu life. There are some things, however, that I’m not sure I’ll get used to. Yesterday, as I was standing on the street waiting for the people I was going to see the movie with, a goat was slaughtered right there on the pavement across the street. It was tethered to the little shack that serves as the local meat market, and had it’s head chopped off in one mighty blow with a Khukri, the famous large, curved knife of the Gurkha warriors. Then it was held down by two people, and the blood coming out of the neck was gathered in a bucket. I was picked up before I got to witness the rest of the process, but judging from the carcass that was lying on a sheet next to it, the next parts of the process would be burning off the fur, and cutting off the hoofs. (feet? trotters?)

Incidentally, I walk past the headquarters of the Gurkhas whenever I’m going to the nearest supermarket… The Gurkha warriors are a fierce special force, handpicked from a throng of applicants that go through what are some of the world’s most extreme and rigorous tests. The soldiers are Nepali, but they are part of the British armed forces(!) Popular legend says that the best applicants will finish a footrace even if they break a leg on the way, because a Gurkha is not supposed to be hampered by such minor inconveniences.

Trekking in Panchase

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

So. For the first time on my journey, I have backtracked, and am now back at the hotel rooftop in Kathmandu. My plan was, as you probably know, to be in Royal Chitwan National Park just about now, and head for the border on the 23rd, when my visa runs out. I am back in Kathmandu now, though, because I have a job interview here tomorrow. Kathmandu International Christian Congregation has offered me a two month job as a youth worker. The pastor is out of town for a couple of months, so if I accept, I’ll be living in his appartment. They will also pay for my visa, and give me 20 000 Nepali Rupees (1767 NOK) per month towards insurance and food. My travel insurance costs around 900 NOK per month, and if I eat cheaply the remaining 800 should almost cover food, so I’ll come out losing very little travel time.

Yesterday and the day before, I went trekking in the mountains. I took a bus up to the trailhead, about 1500 meters above sea level, and we then hiked about 11 kilometers up to ca 2300, and back down to 2200, where we stayed the night in a tiny village named Bhanjyang (or something similar.) Up there we got a beautiful sunset, lighting up the mountains in the Himalayan Annapurna range, after a rather hazy day. Yesterday I got up before sunrise, and got some more fantastic views of the majestic giants, coloured bright red by the rising sun. As the sun warmed up the valley, the fog from Fewa Lake down by Pokhara, together with mist from the trees and thatch roofs on the hills, rose up past the mountains, and we got a much clearer descent. Much of the path going there was “paved” in big slabs of stone, making for smooth walking on the few flat stretches, and some mean stairs on the steep hillsides. Much of the paving is paid for by communal guest houses where tourists leave their money, but it is not mainly put there for the tourists’ sake, but for the locals. In the monsoon season, the torrential rains wash away the path where there are no big rocks holding it together, and it becomes almost impassable. This is a big problem for the locals, who have to walk at least half an hour from their homes to find firewood every day, and then haul their heavy loads back. There are plenty of trees, but to avoid deforestation, it is not legal to use healty trees for firewood. I asked why they don’t do like the Tibetans, and gather up dung for the fires, since there are holy cows walking around and dropping it everywhere, but the thought was clearly too disgusting to contemplate… 😉

The trek was a welcome break from the noisy cities I’ve been to, with clean, warm air and the sounds and smells of hight altitude tropical forests surrounding us. My guide Harry, (“Jerry and Harry will have chicken curry, don’t worry” was his first words when we introduced each other) had however brought his Nokia N95 with over 500 western and hindi songs, and a battery powered loudspeaker, so it wasn’t quiet ALL the time… When coming back down, the rocks were wet from the night’s light drizzle, and the steps were treacherously slippery. On the most precarious parts, where the path just hung on for dear life to the green mountainside going straight up on our right and straight down directly to our left, I admit to making doubly and triply sure I had good footing before shifting my weight to that foot… I would’ve loved to take a longer trek, but my legs are glad they’re not moving much today. The ascent was hard on my thighs, but the descent was ten times as rough on my poor knees and calves. I was very happy to find that there was a clear mountain stream at the bottom, where I could cool down my aching feet and legs!

Today I allowed myself the luxury of taking the tourist bus back to Kathmandu, instead of the local bus. The main differences were that the seats were just far enough apart that I could fit my legs between them, there was no stereo blaring Bollywood love songs at 110% volume, we didn’t transport any goats, chickens or other livestock and the trip took about 8 hours instead of 9, as we didn’t stop at every one-horse-town on the way to drop off or try and squeeze in a few more passengers. The price difference, you ask? Up from 300 to 400 Rupees (from 26,50 to 35,40 NOK)

Steak and beer under the stars

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Jan 15

Yesterday I went to Kathmandu, and visited the Swayambhunath temple with Sujan, who’s been with me for three days. He’s studying computer science in Kathmandu, but has a few days off, and is visiting with his uncle, Milan. We got a wonderful view of all of Kathmandu, at least as far as the cloud of fog, dust and smog allowed.  At Milan’s office I got online long enough to upload my last couple of posts, and then we went home to Bhaktapur for the festival feast. The food was phenomenal, with fried chicken, spicy potatoes, something that tasted exactly like grandma’s Norwegian donuts, but were looped into the frying oil so the circles (they call it circle bread) were about 15cm across. There were little balls of sweet seeds, balls of candied, puffed rice, and different kinds of yams. All family members in the valley seemed to be there, and we had a great time.

Before we headed off that morning, however, I got a view into Nepali culture that I hadn’t expected. Milan’s wife had invited some friends over, and the occasion was the first meeting between a prospective bride and groom! I was introduced to both parties, in separate rooms. First there was the girl, and with her were the boy’s parents. In the other room was the eligible bachelor, and the girl’s guardian. They were interviewing the candidates. Milan told me that the next step, after we left, would be the introduction of the candidates. Milan’s wife, as the part who knew both of them, would introduce them by name, what they were doing (the girl was a student, the boy a high level police officer) and so forth. Then the girl and boy would first talk about their families, to find out wether they were related. If they were, marriage would obviously be out of the question. Next, they’d spend some time just chatting informally, and then the meeting would be over. The boy and girl would then decide whether they were interested. If they weren’t, it would’ve just been a nice and exciting occasion, and they’d be introduced to other people later. If they were still interested, the boy would invite the girl and her parents to his parents’ home, and they’d set a date for the wedding!

This morning I got up, had my morning daal bhaat (lentil soup and rice) and Milan followed me to the bus station in Kathmandu. All the time I’ve stayed with him, he’s not allowed me to pay for my own bus fare, or chip in on the food budget, and now he bargained for the bus ticket for me. The driver seemed a bit disappointed when I came from a shop nearby, and turned out to be the one who was paying the locals’ price on the bus… 😉 Approx 28 NOK for a seven hour, 206 km bus ride…

I arrived in Pokhara a few hours ago, and I’ve just had a wonderful steak dinner. It was a bit more expensive than I’ve been eating lately, but I decided it was worth it, and it was… 😀 I’m sitting in a restaurant on a balcony one floor above the street, and the slight chill in the air, like a Norwegian summer’s night, is dispelled by the fire in the outdoor fireplace (read: a half barrel with a chimney) right behind me. When I ordered the grilled steak, the waiter asked me whether I wanted my steak well done, medium or rare. I replied truthfully that if it was safe, I’d have it rare. The waiter hesitated, looking almost a bit hurt, then proceeded to confirm that I wanted my steak medium… 🙂

I had a phone call a couple of hours ago, from one of the Norwegians I met in church on Sunday. She might have a job for me… The job is, as far as I understand, with youth in Kathmandu International Christian Congregation. They don’t have any youth work as it stands today, but they want to start a social scene for Christian youth. She said they’d be having a meeting tonight, and if I was not completely uninterested, she’d discuss the opportunity with the other chair members. It would be voluntary work, but with board and lodging included. I said it’s not out of the question, but I need a few days to decide. I also said that if it becomes a reality, the time I’d have available woulde be up to three-four months. I ask those of you who pray, to pray with me on the matter, and help me find out whether this is God’s will, or just a crazy idea!

Tomorrow I’m planning to look around Pokhara and relax after a tiresome bus journey today, and then I’ll head up into the mountains the next day. I’d like to have taken a longer trek, but this is what my visa allows me. (or so I keep telling myself, to avoid the fact that I’ve  grown lazy) When I come back, I’ll stay one more night before heading to Chitwan, and a tropic climate.

Temples, cremations and festivals

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

As I am writing this, I still haven’t had the opportunity to  upload my last post, so I guess both will be posted simultaneously.

On Saturday I googled churches in Kathmandu, and I got several hits. I chose KICC, Kathmandu International Christian Congregation, and found out where they have their Sunday service. After breakfast on Sunday, I checked out of my hotel room, and took a taxi to the church. It was a very friendly crowd, and lots of people came up to me, asked if I had been in town long, and whether it was my first time there. In the beginning of the service, people who were there for the first time were asked to stand up, and the microphone was passed around so everyone could introduce themselves!

The songs sung during the service were all English hymns that I didn’t know, but it was very nice. Nepal has a serious problem with electricity, and power comes and goes on a set schedule, a “load shedding schedule” in order to keep the grid from breaking down. The “children’s talk” was early on in the  service, and the guy leading the service was talking about how God has no “load shedding schedule”, his power is working everywhere, all the time! 🙂 After the children’s talk, the children left, and went to Sunday school, and the pastor gave a sermon where he was talking about the situation in Gaza, and how to react to the Isreali attacks. His conclusion was that the history of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament shows that the Jews have a special position with God, but they are still held accountable for their acts, and that this is how he  figured we should look at the current situation.

After the service, some Norwegians came up to me, and it turned out I had found the place where the people from both the Norwegian Tibet Mission and Normisjon use to come on Sundays! I got to film some of them, and got a greeting from one of the Norwegian teenagers there to the teenagers in the congregation of Vardeneset back home. I was invited to join some of the younger people there for lunch at a café, and afterwards I went home with a couple of the Norwegians. I got to borrow a Nepali sim card from them, and the Lonely Planet guides to Nepal and to India! I then called up my CouchSurfing host Milan, who lives in Bhaktapur, 15 km from Kathmandu, and I went to meet him. The 15 kilometers here take about an hour by bus, because of traffic and horrible road quality. I have lived with his family for the last couple of nights.

                               His nephew Sujan showed me around Bhaktapur yesterday, and we went to a couple of temples in Kathmandu today. The hindu temple area of Pashupatinath was quite special, as there were pyres along the river there, where they were cremating people. before the cremations, they took the corpse to the river and washed the feet, poured some of the water down the throat of the corpse, and then covered it in an orange shroud, flower petals and some red powder. After the pyre was burned down, they flushed the ashes into the river, where street kids were rummaging through it to search for coins. A little downstream, people were washing their hair, themselves, and their clothes! There were holy cows walking around the temple grounds, and lots and lots of monkeys were playing and chasing each other on the streets, walls and rooftops. If anyone took out any food, the monkeys would follow them around until the food was gone, hoping for some scraps. There were people selling fruit, that was given out in small, black plastic bags, and the monkeys would also follow any black plastic bag around, knowing it might contain a snack coming their way!

                               The second temple we went to was Bodhnath, which is a Tibetan buddhist temple, the only one in the world where Tibetan buddhism is practiced freely, without oppression. The biggest change was that there were pictures of the CURRENT Dalai Lama in the shrines, and it was free of the throngs of military that dominated the monasteries and temples in Tibet… It also has the worlds largest stupa (chörten in Tibetan). There I could pass on some of the things I learned in Tibet to my “guide”, Sujan! 🙂 The chörten is surrounded by prayer wheels, like everywhere in Tibet, all of them inscribed with the holy words “om mani padme hom.” For the first time, I saw white, western buddhists walking around in the red monks’ robes, or prostrating themselves in front of the chörten alongside the Tibetans!

Tomorrow will be a small festival, and Milan has invited me to stay and experience it. It is the first day of a new Nepali month (lunar calendar) and it apparently marks mid winter. It involves a bath, supposed to be taken in cold water, because in a legend, a monkey fell from a tree into the water, had a bath, and came a long way towards enlightenment as a result (or so I gather.) None of the people here will be taking a bath, however, because it is too cold, and Milan and his family has no running hot water. The water they do have is pumped from a well into a tank on the roof, whenever there happens to be electricity for the pump… It will, however, involve a feast with lots of special traditional Nepali food!

Tomorrow I should also book a place to trek from in Pokhara, and go to Kathmandu and give back the books and sim card. From Kathmandu, I’ve gathered that I should go west to Pokhara, for a two or three day hike in the mountains, and then head south to Royal Chitwan National park, where it is much warmer, and I can ride elephants on safari around the park, and see Bengal tigers, rhinos, monkeys, fresh water dolphins, crocodiles and Gharials. (The latter is described as a prehistoric slender beast of an animal, with a long snout full of bad teeth, living on a diet of river fish) From Chitwan I go to the border, and head into India, before my visa runs out on the 23rd. I’m considering taking a round trip of India before I head east, and if so my first stop there might be Agra, but I haven’t quite made up my mind yet.

Creature comforts

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I’m amazed. I don’t know what’s the most important factor, but I feel SOO good right now. It might be the fact that I’ve just had a nice hot shower. It might be that I’m in bed without thermal underwear, a hat and a scarf. It might be because I’m not at an altitude where walking up a flight of stairs makes me struggle for breath. It might be for any number of reasons, but I feel great! 🙂
DSC00721.jpgThe last three days I’ve travelled quite far, on a very scenic route. I’ve been to altitudes as high as 5220 meters above sea level and I’ve slept at altitudes over 4000 meters. I’ve realized that the colour symbolism of Tibetan art isn’t as weird as it seemed as first. Blue stands for the sky: Obvious. Red is for fire: Also normal. Orange is for earth: Actually true, most of the time! Green is for water: Astoundingly, almost always so! All art in Tibet uses these three, plus white, which seems to be the colour of the gods, and black which is the colour of the demons.

DSC00649.jpgI left Lhasa on Tuesday, early in the morning, with Gabrielle and Christopher from the US. We took the roundabout route to Shigatse / Rigaze / Xigaze, via Yamdrok Lake. The lake is more than 4000 meters above sea level, and the most brilliantly azure green imaginable. It’s one of the holy lakes of Tibet, it has holy Lama Ducks (feathers the same orange as the Lamas’ robes) floating around on it, and there’s holy fish living there… We stopped in Gyatse, and took in the old temple there. It had been badly burnt and damaged in the cultural revolution, and the monks were not allowed to restore it, but they were at least allowed to use it. There were old prayer books that were burnt at the edges, the paintings on the walls were nearly invisible due to their burnt state, but still it had a feeling of authenticity that the well kept and restored temples in Lhasa didn’t. In Shigatse we stayed in a hotel with two stars on the official Chinese rating. I can’t imagine what one star is like, because there was no running hot water, no heating (so somewhere around -15 degrees in the room, I guess), no toilet paper, no soap, the floor was filthy, and the bedsheets weren’t clean. We asked for clean sheets, and the attendant came with new sheets, neatly folded, that looked even dirtier than the ones already on the beds, but at least didn’t smell like sweat and yak butter.

Yesterday, we started by walking around the main monastery of Shigatse for a couple of hours. It was a great place, that seemed a lot older than the ones in Lhasa, but in a better state of repair than the one in Gyatse. Another good thing was that there were no Chinese military presence inside the monastery. In Shigatse we also got our Travel permits, which allows us to travel outside of the two big cities of Lhasa and Shigatse. At this point they told me that my Chinese visa was NOT valid until Jan 10, but Jan 9! (December has 31 days, I had a 30 day visa, I entered on Dec 11, hence I assumed it was valid till Jan 10. Not so, apparently) This meant that we must leave Tibet a day earlier than planned, even though we’ve already paid for the last day. We still got the permits we needed and got going. We were going to stay at Rongpu Monastery, 7 kilometers from Mount Qomolangma (Everest) Base Camp that night, but that’s at very high altitude, and therefore very cold, so our driver was sure the car wouldn’t start again if we stayed the night there, so instead we stayed over at a hotel in a small town right outside of Qomolangma National Park, called Shegar. The prices were that of a hotel, but this was more like a guest house than hotel. There was no running water, hot or cold, no heat, the toilet was a hole in the floor onto a big pile underneath, the room was probably around -20 degrees, and absolutely filthy. I liked it a lot better than the one in Shegatse, however, as it was quite quaint and rustic, and had a heated common room where the locals came to drink tea and gamble at Mah Jong! We got our Mount Qomolangma National Park Permits, which were 180 NOK per person, plus 400 for the car.

DSC00706.jpgThis morning we left while it was still dark, and went through two military checkpoints before we got to enter the National park. One checked our passports and travel permits, and the other checked our National park permits. We saw the sun rise over the Himalayas from the Pang La pass, 5110 meters above sea level, from which we could see four of Tibet’s five mountains over 8000 meters! We had our breakfast noodles in a village on the other side of the pass, and then went through yet another military checkpoint before we started the climb to Rongpu. At Rongpu we met a frozen river that crossed the road. There was so much ice that it was impossible to get any closer to Base Camp, so we had to turn around, a measly seven kilometers from the first Base Camp. (There are three, at increasingly higher altitude, with exponentially increasing entry fees. To climb the actual mountain costs, according to Gabrielle and Chris, 50 000 American Dollars from the Nepal side, and is definately no cheaper from the Tibetan side…) We still had a marvellous view of the world’s highest peak, and left there only slightly disappointed. After the 97 kilometers of bumpy, dusty gravel road, with hundreds of switchbacks to climb the marvellous passes, back through two of the three checkpoints, the first part of which we had a monk hitch hiker with us, and the second part a soldier from one of the checkpoints, we met a French guy which we were told were to travel with us to the border. He had paid for a land cruiser for himself all the way to the border and we had paid for ours, so he called the agent and said that he’d agree to it if he got half his money back, and we said we’d agree to it if he split the cost of our car for the last leg of the journey. He ended up not going with us, but he was leaving Tibet on the same day as us, so we might meet him again at the border tomorrow…
When we got to the town of Dingri / Tingri, we wanted to stay the night there, to get the last leg of the journey to the Nepalese border in daylight. Then we were suddenly told that people leaving the country on the last day of their visa (which, for some reason is Jan 9 for me) have to leave before 10 am… Which meant, we had to go on to Zangmu, the Tibetan border town. DSC00727.jpgWe had a gorgeous ride, through a valley scattered about with ruins of old Tibetan fortresses and monasteries, walled by mountains in the most amazing shades of bright red, through brown, orange and yellow, to soot black. We crossed two passes over 5000 meters, before ascending into the valley where the town of Zangmu is clinging to the hillside next to the Nepalese border, only a couple of thousand meters above sea level. It was dark when we went down the valley to get here, which was a pity, because it was the steepest, scariest zig zag road carved into the almost vertical sides of the Himalayan mountains, and it would’ve probably made for some great pictures in daylight. In the light of the almost full moon, however, it got a quite eerie feeling, which was also really cool! It’s now past 1:30 am, and I’m getting up at 8:30, so I’m going to try to get some sleep.

(Posted from Kathmandu, Nepal)