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Return to Kathmandu…

18th November 2011

side note, I believe I have been writing 2012 on some of my posts, oops, ignore that and imagine 2011 when you read it… Thanks! (of course I guess I could always go back and change them, I could…)

Bus Ride number 3

Returning to Kathmandu would involve another 6+hr bus trip, luckily this time I had booked in advance and had ensured I would have one of the very front seats. So after checking out and saying a sad farewell to my new sister, Laxmi, I grabbed a taxi and headed to the bus station. As luck would have it, the driver didn’t have change, but one enterprising young lad selling baked goods quickly took advantage of the situation:
“Lady, lady, I can make change if you buy something…”
Well I did need something for breakfast. I told him he was a bright lad and would go far and he seemed to like this. Now that I think about it maybe the two were in cahoots… But either way it meant I didn’t overpay the driver and got something to eat at the same time.
I felt a little bad for another chap who had tried to sell me something but I had said no, he just sort of looked on in shock. Am guessing he learnt a valuable lesson.

The front seat I had so hoped for ended up being almost jammed into the glass behind the driver giving no room to put my legs up and the seat was too high to put my feet down, for those who don’t know I am barely 5ft/1.5m tall, you can pretty much use me as measurement. My seat mate was a local travel agent and was kind enough to ask the driver for one of the little stools people use in the aisle when the bus is overcrowded, and I had an instant foot rest. It only got better when the people booked into the row behind us never showed up and the agent moved to that row, providing ample space for me to stretch out.

The bus ride still took over 7 1/2 hrs and I was utterly exhausted at the end of it.

Without much warning and in an area completely unfamiliar the bus stopped mid traffic flow and the driver yelled “Thamel! Last Stop”. All of us piled out of the vehicle rather confused and disoriented, we grabbed our bags as they were unloaded, with the bus still moving with the traffic, and then hurriedly got out of the road.

Luckily a couple of folks were heading my way so I was completely left to fend for myself and in no time I recognised a street corner and knew where to turn. My friend, Buddha, had promised to meet me, but when I called he said he had been invited to participate in a bartending competition and if I could make it back to Hotel Silver Home the owner, Yogi, would come and pick me up and take me to where he was.

Competitions

I had hoped to have time to shower and grab something to eat, but it sounded like we had to go asap. So after they showed me to my 4th floor room (I have always had a severe dislike of stairs, especially after a long bus drive), I washed my face and headed back down. Unfortunately Yogi got side tracked with some duties at the hotel, and Buddha called twice to find out where we were before we finally left.

I was tired, famished and dressed in wonderfully touristy Nepali clothing when we pulled into this rather fancy looking bar hosting the event. A local bartending school was using it as a way to prepare bartenders from around Kathmandu for international competition, with a rather nice sum of over $100 for 1st place. Buddha works as a bartender on the MSC cruise lines, and has for the last 5yrs, he is a natural when it came to that.

He was excited to see me and gave me a big hug then lent on me as we watched some of the other bartenders take their turns. Unfortunately I was so light headed and tired I had to find somewhere to sit. It took almost 2 hrs before it was his turn and he was by far the best of the lot, I am not biased in any way…ok maybe a little.

He had wanted to make 3 cocktails in the 5minutes they had, the judges permitted 2, but with a severe shortage of glasses and then have a glass shatter mid pour and cutting his finger he ended with one… and still a minute to spare. It was called purple rain and I thought it was spectacular, as the 2 colors of alcohol turn a vivid purple when mixed. The judges were well impressed and the only negative comment was that perhaps he seemed too confident. We felt he was a shoo in for 1st.

Buddha doing what he does best

We waited for the results but the flaring competition which was very cool, ended up taking too long, so we headed out to Buddha’s friends place for dinner.

Bronco Billy’s

Bronco Billy’s is a western theme, cowboy type place ,with pics of John Wayne and other stars on the walls. There was a circle of chairs and a big drum for a fire pit. Buddha had arranged it all for me and a few friends, super sweet thought, if I hadn’t been so exhausted. But the food was amazing with chicken and beef ribs (or rather buffalo) all done on open flame and slathered in yummy sauce. The hot rum punch that was ordered for me was also fantastic, threatening to make me pass out then and there. After a great evening it was time to head home, almost falling asleep behind Buddha as we rode through an eerily quiet Kathmandu at 2am on his motorbike. Dropping me off at my hotel we planned to meet the next day for more sightseeing.

Bed oh glorious bed!!!!!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Shopping Nepali Style

15th November 2012

Early Morning Taekwondo

Ever since I told Garaup about having a black belt in taekwondo, from my years living in Seoul Korea, he has begged me to come to his early morning class at 6am. So at 5.30am in the pitch dark I rolled out of bed threw on some clothes and headed out into the night. I knew round about where they would be having class, and headed in that direction. It was about an 30minutes before sunrise and a beautiful time of the morning. This mist was rising off Few Lake and creating an eery presence to the morning. I could hear the disembodied ki-aps of the students but could not find entrance to the field. As I wandered down a lane full of buses I came across a staircase leading over a wall to some houses. I was fairly certain they were over the wall, but didn’t want to be that tourist that merrily walks into peoples yards at 6am in the morning. Call me a scaredy cat, but growing up in South Africa certainly makes you more cautious. Around 6.20am I gave up and headed back to the hotel. As I turned to look back at the lake one more time the sun’s rays had just kissed it and it was stunning, for a brief second before the grey clouds realised they were being lackadaisical in their duties and quickly filled the hole. I fear it might be another dreary day, but hey at least there are momo’s in this country, maybe for breakfast after another few hours of sleep.

Sleep didn’t last too long as I received a call from Raj, one of our drinking mates in Kathmandu. He is hilarious that guy, but not at 7am, I mumbled some kind of greeting and put the phone down. Oh well I was due to meet the German folks from Dresden at 8.15am anyway, may as well just get up. Headed over to Few Restaurant and got settled, unfortunately there was a misunderstanding on time and they had been there about 20min earlier. Oh well, all good though as Fewa has decent wifi, so I was able to sit and work on my blog. Been there so many times I pretty much have a table and they know how I like my coffee, one of my favorite things about stopping in one place for longer than a few days.

Walking Fewa Lake

As I could tell the sun was desperately attempting to break through the impenetrable barrier of clouds I decided to enjoy what little sun, or rather glare, there was and go for a walk. For weeks before I had arrived here I had dreamed of talking a daily walk around part of Fewa lake, relaxing perhaps sitting with my singing bowl I was yet to buy, and I was looking forward to it. I put on my MP3 and headed out. After some interesting criss cross maneuvers along the path and field that were saturated with the rain I finally made it to the path around the lake. EXCELLENT!!!!

The path turned out to be all of 500m long, it just stopped at the edge of the lake to the left and at the boats you could rent to go on the lake to the right. I was gutted to discover the only way around the lake, other than by boat, was to walk through town. As much fun as that can be it was not the relaxing, zen like hike, I had been imagining all this time. Oh well if you can’t beat ’em may as well walk and explore the main drag, luckily I had forgotten my money at the hotel so had an excuse everytime a seller approached me. I wish I had more money to be able to sit and bargain and interact with all of them, as it is one of the most enjoyable and occasionally frustrating things to do when traveling.

Rent-a-boat

Shopping Trip!

Popped in at Laxmi’s for tea and she said she was going to go to town to get some supplies and look for some cloth for me if I want a traditional outfit. I asked to join and we decided to leave in an hour. Went to get changed and take a rest and then headed back.

We hopped on the local bus and squeezed into a seat. Then enjoyed the 20 minute ride out of the tourist center and into the local shopping center. When we got to our destination we hopped off with barely enough time for both feet to hit the pavement before the bus hurtled off in search of more passengers. Laxmi uses one shop to buy material and the fabric was all absolutely stunning, the colors amazing and the embroidery beyond description. Unfortunately, even with the owner giving me the friend of local discount, it was still too much to pay for an outfit I might never wear. In hindsight I kind of wish I had, but when you are in backpacker penny pincher mode its often hard to see hindsight…

We walked around a bit and she bought us some peanuts to share. They are roasted out in the open, in their shells. Very yummy!!! She also chose some Indian style bracelets and bought us each a set, “a gift for my sister”. Explored some of the local produce and then caught the bus back home.

Prickly Cucumbers…


Fresh Produce on Every Corner

As we boarded the bus and squeezed into the front seat we were rewarded with this, some of the best word art on a vehicle yet… I am still not sure what to make of it!

Ummm… well I guess it’s better than two pieces…

To Stay or To Go

Back in Pokhara I went to my usual wifi spot at Fewa Restaurant to check emails and chat to friends. Chatted a bit with my mate who had been in Pokhara a year before in January about staying or going. He said the weather would clear if I wait another day. But considering the weather reports keep pushing the sun out another day, I am seriously doubting that. I will give it a few more days, but am leaning towards heading back early. At least in Kathmandu I have a great friend who can take me to many places on his bike and show me all the nooks and crannies with yummy local food. Staying in Pokhara is going to result in a serious dip in my bank account as I am just not motivated to go out sightseeing when it threatens, and often succeeds, in pouring with rain each day.

Around 6pm I headed over to the family and helped Gaurab with his homework. He told me that I should come and stay and teach, he would talk to his teacher and get something sorted for me. In his words:
‘Cause you’ve got skill Kathy, you’ve got skill!” Well at least I know I have skills somewhere. Laxmi is just amazed at how he listens to me. Unfortunately she was brought up very traditional and Gaurab, being a boy, barely has to disagree with her decision before she gives in. She changes significantly when her husband gets back, I don’t think he is mean in any way, but she just becomes quieter and more deferential.

I am a little concerned because she has developed a bad cough and was vomiting last night. I wish there was something more I could do, she is so sweet and am so blessed that she adopted me as her sister. Luckily Gaurab has facebook so we can stay in touch a little at least when I leave.

Back “home” involved curling up in bed with the movie channel…

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Annapurna what??

14th November 2012

Pokhara day 3

I woke up to another grey miserable day. If I didn’t know better I would think I was back in Eugene, Oregon where we have about 9mths of grey weather with occasional sun spots. Everyone keeps telling me how amazing the mountain views are, and how paragliding here would be a once in a life time blah blah blah…. Most times I can’t even see across the lake, apparently there is a Stupa that is visible…apparently. Not that I am unhappy enjoying all the sites and sounds of Nepali life, it is truly amazing and I am already developing regular haunts and getting to know people, not to mention being “adopted” by a local family. But lack of sun has a way of making you feel tired and unmotivated.
Mountains? What mountains??!!??

Mountains?? What Mountains??!!???

My days revolve around eating and sleeping and shopping and at this rate I am going to run out of money as there are wayyyyyy to many good things to eat and buy. This afternoon I was stopped by a lady claiming to have walked from Tibet when she was a child, to have about 6 kids and selling jewelry to get by. I told her perhaps on my way back… dang it all if she didn’t keep a watch out for me and catch me as I attempted to buy some small oranges from a guy I had walked past about 10 times. She got me arm in arm and walked me across the street tut tutting at how I had overpaid for the fruit. Then began a very animated and rather enjoyable bargaining session. Her stuff wasn’t the best quality and there wasn’t much that jumped out at me, but it was so much fun I couldn’t help but pick out a couple of things, even if the price was too high. If you are going to be hoodwinked you may as well enjoy it!!

Tibetan food

A friend/writing guru/occasional shrink of mine recommended I go to a local Tibetan restaurant and try their momos. He had stayed in Pokhara for an extended period of time about a year prior while he was traveling and writing and so knew a lot of good places. The momos were AMAZING!!!! They were lightly fried too, which makes everything better. I knew this would become a regular lunch spot for me. I only wish I had taken a picture but the it tasted so good I forgot as I stuffed them in one after the other, attempting not to dip them too enthusiastically into the rather spicy sauce, already experience the after effects of that…

Full Moon!!

After a bit of a nap and some chill out time, all you can really do in weather like this, I headed over to Laxmi’s for dinner. I helped Gaudal (am sure I have a couple of versions for the spelling of his name, I keep hoping one of them is right) with his homework. Then he took me over to a local restaurant that has a nightly cultural dance show. We hovered behind some bushes until the door man asked us if we needed a table, for about the 5th time. He kept looking over at us and so we eventually headed off back to dinner.

As we were walking I looked up to see a tourist couple in front of me, the father their kid on his shoulders. I nearly fell over laughing when I was faced with a very white, very full moon! The kids shorts had slipped during loading onto shoulders and was showing the world his rear. I was giggling but managed to tap the couple on the shoulder. The wife was mortified but amused, the father I think would have stripped with the kid saying its all about freedom. We fell in to chatting and discovered they were from Dresden, one of the cities I would visit in Germany. We planned to meet up the next morning for breakfast. I still get a giggle when I think of that full moon!

Mmmm the power of Dal Baht!!!

Once again Laxmi cooked an outstanding dinner, I am sure eating with your hands had something to do with it. She is an amazing cook and makes it with just enough spice now not to kill me, which I am sure is barely a pinch compared to what they are used to. Then off to bed for sleep.

Contemplation

There is something about this country that makes one stop and think. I feel completely at peace at times but the very next minute agitated. Am sure its all the emotions of this past year and the knowledge that after 1 more country, 1 more month, it will all come to an end. The constant calming sounds of Buddhist chants make one want to sit in the lotus position and simply BE… but unfortunately that only lasts so long, guess then the thinking starts, and its way to dangerous to let that happen…


A Daily Scene in Pokhara

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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KATHMANDU!

Breakfast and New Friends

Since I had skipped dinner last night being so tired I went for the expensive breakfast, with 2 pancakes (crepes), honey, coffee, juice, 2 eggs any style and hashbrowns. A whopping $3 US give or take a few cents.

mmmmmm yummy!

While I was sitting sipping my coffee I struck up a conversation with the girl at the next table and within a heartbeat she popped over to my table and we were soon deep in conversation about travel and shopping in Kathmandu. At least until I tasted the hashbrowns, which were more a fry up of potatoes, onions and tomoatoes. It was amazing and actually stopped me mid sentence (not that I would have been talking with my mouth full mum). She was leaving that afternoon and needed to do some last minute shopping and so I asked if I could join her. Jessa lives in the UAE but is from the Philippines.

Shopping Nepal style

To say that walking through the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu is an assault on the senses would be an understatement, and from what I hear it is quite tame when compared to India. I was overwhelming and brilliant at the same time, with noise and colors and smells and music everywhere in every crevice and coming from every corner.

Beautiful colors

I hate shopping but I love markets like this, where you can bargain and meet people and dig through treasures piled higher than your head in stores the size of a porter potty.

stalls by the dozen

I was enjoying this preview of the market with Jessa and found it very amusing to watch her bargain. Here I thought I bargain hard, but Jessa throws in the sympathy card as well and wraps the store owners around her little finger. I should have taken notes. Our first stop was an art shop, to get something for her boss. We waded through piles of canvases until she found 2 she liked and then proceeded to bargain the guy down to well below his original price. The paintings were spectacular and all done by local Nepalese artists, apparently. I hoped to pick one up before I left.

Beautiful art

Then onto a little road side store that was barely the size of your average lemonade stand, to find a few keyrings. I was looking for a new bag, as the one I had bought in Ecuador and carried for almost 7mths really cut into my shoulder and I loved the styles here in Nepal. We finally found a store with some good looking ones and the owner ushered us into the back to see the rest of his stock. Turns out, apparently, he runs the factory that makes them, or one of the factories might be more accurate. We browsed and searched and pulled what felt like hundreds off the shelves to open and try and look at and finally I decided on a multi colored one and Jessa chose 2, plus a skirt. The owner then offered us tea, a habit that I would find most delightful in Nepal. We chatted and looked at photos of his children.

Jessa, Bag Guy and me

Another useful thing is that everyone seems to have a brother, cousin, uncle, sister… who runs a store with exactly the item you were thinking of purchasing. In this case the bag guy’s brother ran a pashmina store. We went in to have a look but Jessa didn’t have enough cash on her to buy one so we moved on back towards the hotel. That is until we saw a bag that Jessa had to have, she went and exchanged some more money and bargained for the bag, then with a few extra rupees we went back to the pashmina guy and, much to his bemusement, got a scarf (of the cheaper quality) at a 3rd of the price.

Meeting Buddha

When we got to the hotel she proceeded to run around like a busy worker bee exhibiting ADHD. It was quite amusing to the rest of us who just stood outside and watched. Finally she was in the taxi and heading to the airport. We exchanged info and promised to stay in touch both wishing we had met each other earlier.

After the whirlwind died down I asked Yoge (hotel owner) about a place called Monkey Temple. The conversation went something like this:
Y – you can walk
K – How long would that take
Y – oh about 30min or more uphill
K – what about a taxi
Y – you could do that or my friend here will take you on his motorbike.
K – how much would that cost
Y – oh you can pay or not pay its up to you (another trend in Nepal is this wishy washy statement)
K – oh ok well that would be great, if you don’t mind (looking at the guy next to the rather large bike)
Y – oh he doesn’t mind, he is on vacation from the cruise ship

Turns out the mysterious friend, who just sat and smiled through out this entire exchange went by the name Buddha, and is a bartender on international cruise ships. He said he was happy to take me as he had nothing else to do, how about we meet in an hour.

And so started a great new friendship with Buddha. Who else can say they have Buddha’s phone number 🙂

Not 1 but rather 3

We met about an hour later and after a few minutes of figuring out just how I was meant to climb onto the back of his offroad bike that was higher than my waist, we were on the road.

I thought we were just heading straight to Monkey Temple but instead we went to 3 separate temples. The first one was a Hindu temple called “Pashupatinath”. Also known as Pashupati, it is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu and considered the most sacred amongst the temples of Lord Shiva.

Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple areas, but others may walk around the area and try catch a glimpse of the inside.

The temple


Inside the temple

In addition to having to be of the Hindu faith to go inside, no leather (including clothing and shoes), photos or videos were allowed to be taken inside.

Need I say more...

For most temples in Nepal there is a small entry fee for foreigners and so after finding the small booth and paying we set about exploring the non-Hindu areas. The architecture and carvings were amazing.

carvings

As we rounded one corner there was a strange smell of cooking in the air. Buddha turned to look at me with an impish grin and asked:
“BBQ anyone?”
I barely restrained a positive answer as his smile told me there was more behind the smell that meets the … ahh… nose. I was right. The one bank that lined the river was the local crematorium for Hindus. Booking was required and then you could incinerate your family member and push the remains into the river. Remind me not to swim. It was strangely hypnotic to watch, you don’t want to, but its such a fascinating part of the culture you can’t help it.

crematorium

As we wandered through this vast temple we chatted about all the countries we had been to and how we got where we were. There were macaque monkeys everywhere and you had to be careful if you were carrying anything edible.

Macaque monkeys

The path wandered up the hill and gave you a spectacular view of the temple and surrounding city, it was quite impressive how it seemed engulfed by the surrounding houses.

Pashupati temple


Pashupati Temple

We stopped for a soda at one spot and watched someone give one of the monkeys some cookies, am not sure why she gave him the wrapper as well because that just gets added to the litter.

cookies!!


cookies 2!!!

There were also a lot of spotted deer in the “Deer Park”, or rather an exceptionally overgrazed fenced off area.

Spotted Deer

As we continued to walk we passed through another part of the temple that had troops of monkeys everywhere, but you could tell there were definite group structures… and that had nothing to do with the very loud, potentially dangerous to all around territorial spats that were going on. The local snack sellers (who just spread out their wares on blankets) carried slingshots just in case they got a little carried away or tried to shoplift (or maybe blanket lift) a quick treat.

Pashpupati temple


very new babe



keeping a lookout

After a good couple of hours we headed out of the temple. On the passing an enormous bull. There are cows everywhere often sleeping in the middle of the road, but as it is against the culture to kill them they are allowed to roam free, often not even having true owners. As we left I bargained for a necklace and got her down from 1000rs ($12US) to about 600rs ($8), but knew she still got one over me when she agreed to readily.

Bull anyone?

Buddhist Temple

Our next stop was a Buddhist temple, much more to my liking as they always seem to have a very welcoming and calming feeling. Boudhanath Temple (Boudha for short), has a massive stupa Sanskrit for meaning “heap”, a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics), that dominates the skyline and is surrounded by stores and restaurants. The stupa’s massive Mandala (sansKrit for circle) makes it one of the largest spherical stupa’s in Nepal. I think it became one of my favorite places to visit and walk around. On this occasion it took me about 3 circles before I realized we were walking in a circle, I had started thinking some of the stores were chains.

Boudha Stupa


The massive stupa

It wasn’t only the amazing artwork and numerous small temples you could pop into or turning the prayer wheels, it was watching the people, such beautiful people.

Monk


Buddhist couple


"Miss Nepal" according to a bystander


the song "Old friends" comes to mind

truly a remarkable place and one I would return to day after day if I could. I even found a singing bowl store that I hoped to return to if I couldn’t find a bowl in Pokhara in a few days. One of the amusing things was when I came out of a temple and found Buddha with a big grin on his face and a new necklace. While he waited for me he decided to try and bargain a Nepali price from a local seller and got his for 250rs ($2), it was also bigger and better quality. We had a good chat with the seller and I ended up buying 2 more for 360rs each (foreign Nepali price…), but he did give me a free keychain!

Lunch – Tibetan Style

Buddha took me to a back alley (a place that normally I would most likely never go) and sat down with some locals for lunch. We ordered momos (similar to potstickers), tea and soup. After he had ordered, he told me we were having Tibetan tea which was salty. I thought I must have misheard him so disregarded the comment until I took a big swig of the tea and nearly spat it out exclaiming “It’s salty!!!!”, “told you so” was the reply. I found pretending it was soup made it easier to drink the tea.

Mmmmm momos!

Monkey Temple

It was getting late as we headed to the final temple, Swayambhunath also known as Monkey Temple for the hundreds of holy monkeys that live on the premises. The main entrance apparently has 365 steps leading up a very steep incline to the stupa with Buddha’s eye. But we took the motorbike entrance (and also missed the pay station) which consisted of about 10 steps.

Stupa with Buddha's eyes

We were too late to feed the monkeys but it was beautiful to walk around and admire the city as the sun set.

Tongba anyone?

Back at the hotel I was swept along with Buddha, Yogi (Hotel Silver Home owner) and Raj to go have Tongba (Traditional alcoholic drink) and dinner. It was almost surreal how they just included me like an old friend and pretty soon we found ourselves in a local restaurant which felt more like a house with a large dinning room. We ordered our Tongbas that came in large tin mugs with lids and a metal straw. Tongba is essentially millet seed filled with hot water. The combination creates a mild alcohol and you simply drink the liquid and refill with hot water until the water no longer has a milky appearance, then you get a new one.

Tongba


Buddha and me

It was a great night with great new friends and a perfect ending to a fantastic first day in Kathmandu. It is so strange to think coming here was due to Sri Lanka not working out.

I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere I needed to be – Douglas Adams

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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