Since returning to Kathmandu after our vacation in Nagarkot, Karin and I have been busy! The day after returning to the city we set off to get a local bus to the nearby medieval city of Bhaktapur. It is now a world heritage site and offers 8th, 12th and 15th century Newari temples by the dozens! Streets and squares paved in red brick, flanked by red brick or grey stone buildings with intricately carved wood windows, doors, and eves. Looking closely at some of the carvings can provide a vivid education in the erotic! Shops and markets abound for locals and tourists alike and there is little traffic so, while crowded with people, it’s much quieter and more pleasant to walk around than Kathmandu. We saw several parades one of which was a colourful masked dance parade to chase away demons. Always a good idea to rid the area of that type of character especially while providing a deliciously noisy spectacle! Getting to and from Bhaktapur was an adventure in itself because very few local busses were running due to the SAARC Summit. I’m not sure what the relationship between the two was – but there was an alarming dearth of busses. So as we were waiting with a growing crowd of other waiters, a woman with two enormous bags of shopping asked if we’d like to come in her taxi. Local rate, the equivalent of $5 for all of us. Well “yes” – and in we hopped. Smart woman, she just got herself a free ride home and we enjoyed the comparative comfort of a taxi. Why she picked us over the numerous other potentials is a mystery. The bus, if it ever came, would have been really really crowded. Turns out this woman sells jewelry in Bhaktapur so of course we later each bought a piece while she plied us with – you guessed it – tea! Our trip home was on a local bus. It cost us each the equivalent of 10 cents! Thankfully it wasn’t too crowded.
We have spent our last few days teaching. Karin has been enlightening classes 3, 4 and 5 while I’ve made more inroads with 8, 9 and 10. I also had “my” grade 7s who I’ve greatly enjoyed teaching over the past three years. These kids and I have a fabulous relationship and we seem to accomplish “great” things. It’s this class that has created books over the past two years. This year, inspired by the recent SAARC summit meetings, these kids decided to create their own school environmental summit. They have elected their chair people, treasurers, secretaries, and four projects committees (dust bins, trees and gardens, plastic reduction and education). Every child in the class is involved. I elicited funding from the school through some pretty serious arm twisting and am hopeful the kids will be able to follow through with their ideas. It is always so very satisfying to spend time with them as their enthusiasm is boundless. Classes 8, 9 and 10 offered some challenges and despite the short time frame I was able to make some headway with them as well. Well perhaps not too much with class 8 – they were a tough and pretty disinterested crowd. I started a journaling program with them all – I doubt any of the class 8 kids will continue but am quite sure there are some in the other two classes who are realizing the value and enjoying the process of writing about their thoughts, dreams, frustrations, successes etc. So while our time together was limited, I feel it was for the most part, worthwhile.
For me the hardest part of travelling in Nepal isn’t the cold nights in unheated buildings, it isn’t the less than stellar toilet facilities, the noise and general dysfunction of Kathmandu. It’s not the challenge of no drinking water from taps, the lack of hot water, it’s not even going for days with no warm shower. Nor is it the power cuts, which have been almost continuous since the summit ended. No, it is none of those things. It’s simply the act of saying good bye to this place and people I love. And that difficult time has arrived.
Yesterday evening Karin and I went to Thamel House for dinner. We sat at “my” table, our meal was delicious and our bill significantly discounted. We left with small but meaningful gifts – the wee dishes from which one drinks rice Roxy – and good wishes from the staff. Today was our last at school. As I’ve said, neither of us spent much time there this year due to various reasons, but the kids are oh so very hard to part with. I have more projects to complete with them, more dreams to explore, more lessons to share, but time was short and now it’s over. Saying good bye to Phulu and Nima was particularly painful. They are part of my extended family. And then there’s Tendi. My little brother who is also my protector and guide. I am his Didi (older sister). He came to the hotel this evening to say his good byes. Of course, as is the custom here, this included gifts and Khatas for Karin and me. Our leave taking – difficult – but made more bearable with promises of our next trek – one which will begin and end in Khamding – and include some off the tourist trekking routes and surprises. March 2016 seems a long time away but I’m already counting the months – 15. I’m very glad Karin is here as I’m feeling fairly bereft at the moment.
Tomorrow Karin and I will go to Boudhanath. We’ll walk clockwise around the stupa with all the pilgrims. We’ll likewise walk past all, and no doubt into most, of the surrounding shops with all the tourists. I think we both have bags too full already to add any more to either them or the gross national income of any more shop keepers! We’ll visit the temple then sip tea at a roof top restaurant. (Well OK we’ll probably guzzle a cold beer.) We’ll consider the sacred and the secular, and admire the synergy between them. Upon our return to Thamel, we’ll say good bye to our friends at the hotel – they are hosting a family dinner for us – before heading off to the horrendous airport. We’ll be saved from a bone jarring ride in the usual rickety old taxi because Binod (HikeNepal.com) is coming to take us there in a decent vehicle. And then we’ll fly home to join our neighbours and friends at a Christmas party. We’ll be glad to be home and will bask in the comforts and friendships. But always part of my heart, and likely Karin’s too, will remain right here in Nepal.
I’ll try to send a few pictures shortly.
Thank you for reading my blogs and sharing this journey with me. And thank you also for your comments which kept me connected with home. I needed that! See you all soon. Good night from Kathmandu on my dog barking, currently sleepless, last night in Nepal.
Oh my! Karin and I have enjoyed our wee luxury vacation. We had a wood stove in our room! So needless to say, as it was cool up in the hills, we had a toasty fire both nights. The full board package provided way more than either of us needed to eat. But as the food was delicious, we consumed, with gusto, everything put in front of us! We did go for walks both days but as we did this at a snails pace while indulging in a picture taking frenzy, I’m not sure it did us much good from a purely exercise point of view! However from the camera lens point of view the walks were delightful!
Our taxi came at the appointed time and whisked us back down to Kathmandu – a distance of about 30 kms in a speedy 21/2 hours! No that isn’t a typing error. 30 kilometres in two and a half hours. Part of that lengthy time is due to the dreadful roads. Part is due to the SAARC summit which continues to cause various major roads to be closed to local traffic. Thus we needed to take a rather circuitous detour through the side streets of Kathmandu. Always fascinating.
Some of you will remember that I arrived here last year to spend a month at the school to discover it was closed for holidays for most of this time. Now this closure had been on the national holiday calendar for months so it was very anoying.
This week Kathmandu is hosting a SAARC summit and as a result there is considerable security and trafic reduction programs going on in the city. And schools are closed for four days. It turns out that the school closures were announced a mere two days in advance. No comment….. This is after all a fairly public forum. Those of you who know me well, can well imagine that I do have plenty of comments. You also know that most are fairly inappropriate.
So what to do? Well Karin and I are not a pair to let moss grow under our feet so we are enjoying a little R&R at a hill-top resort in Nagarkot. This place is a bit isolated from the nearby town so we’ve booked full room and board, with set organic meals from the resort gardens. We are surrounded by lush gardens, sunny little patios, stunning panoramic views of the Himalaya range to the north, clean air and bird song has replaced the racket of car, bus, and motorcycle horns. We’re here for two nights and are also enjoying much improved internet! We may go walking tomorrow or we may just chill here. It’s certainly nice enough so there’s not much incentive to go anywhere else!
Good night from Kim and Karin in Nagarkot
The plan is to be out walking by 6am if the sky is clear. Once again there are clouds piled against the distant peaks and there are no mountains to be seen. Still Karin and I decide to go for a walk. We enjoyed where we went yesterday so will do that again this morning and we convince Tendi there is no need for an entourage. His mama arrives to have tea with Lhamu just as we are leaving so that ensures Karin and I can slip away politely to enjoy a quiet walk and picture taking expedition without the usual audience. It’s rather nice to just have ourselves for company after the intense socializing of the past couple of days.
As we gain altitude I look back and there peaking out of a lovely blue pocket behind grey clouds are some glorious snowy peaks. I get all excited wondering if we are seeing Everest. Unfortunately that is not the case but we do get some pretty spectacular Himal views none the less. We climb up to just short of yesterday’s tea stop and find a peaceful spot to just sit and listen to bird song while watching clouds descend across the horizon and then wrap us in cool mist.
We return to the village hungry for lunch and refreshed from our private excursion. When reporting our destination there is considerable surprise that we went that far – unsupervised even!! It’s time for our last meal and we are pleased to finally be able to all eat together. Usually Karin and I have been served first then shuffled off to the comforts of the dining room while the rest eat something different in the kitchen. Today we are also joined by papa and mama so that is an added treat.
The delicious meal complete, mama brings out her version of Roxy. This one is distilled from her apricots. It too is smooth and slides down very easily! Of course one cup is never enough. The time has come for farewells. Khatas are draped around our necks and tears are shed. I’m a bit surprised to see mama and papa also tearing up then Tendi too. He explains. Tendi’s sister died a couple of years ago. After that I became his didi. His parents are happy to consider me a new daughter. I’m overwhelmed. I continue to feel so. What an extraordinary honour.
We leave mama and papa at the house and head up to the village. There we need to drink yet more tea and have another sip or two of Tendi’s sister-in-law’s Roxy. Finally we head for the jeep. We pass through an enormous crowd of people. Many more khatas are bestowed. We climb in the jeep with three passengers we’ve agreed to take. More khatas are pushed through the windows.
There is a sad and rather awkward note which concludes our otherwise wonderful visit. Two of the passengers are a mother and daughter who clearly feel they are important enough to have the front seat. They are quite put out to discover that as free loaders they are riding shot gun in the very back. An elderly frail gentleman sits in the centre seats with Tendi and me. A fourth person wants to come. Karin and I have paid US $280.00 to not be riding in an overly stuffed pay-by-the-seat jeep. We say no more passengers. We agreed to give three a free ride that is enough. Unfortunately this puts Tendi in a difficult position. No one is pleased we are taking three for free. Everyone is annoyed we aren’t taking more. We are also transporting assorted cargo on the roof. With all the emotion of our leave taking, these things leave me feeling pretty devastated. Tendi and I discuss the situation, he understands our decision, and respects it, but clearly wishes he hadn’t been put in the middle. He’ll hear about it and take flack when he returns. This we understand is a cultural norm in Sherpa society. When you are asked for something, you give. You can be asked for just about anything. “No” as I’ve previously mentioned is never an acceptable response whether you are on the receiving or giving side of the gifting equation. Karin and I have transgressed rather grievously, however we are the ones making the long journey back to Kathmandu. We hope some consideration will be given as we are weird and by Sherpa standards, selfish, westerners. When I come to the village next I’ll try a different approach but can’t think at this moment what that might be. Now I know the consequences, I’ll do my utmost not to put Tendi is such an awkward situation again. As it turns out Tendi paid for the fourth person’s seat in a public jeep leaving the next day. I have since compensated him for that…..the complexities seem endless.
Enough of that. Our journey back to dismal Okhaldunga is bumpy but uneventful other than our back seat passengers being quite car sick. Karin kindly hands over some gravol. We hope it puts them out of their abject misery for tomorrow’s longer drive to Kathmandu. We’re staying in more humble, but actually nicer accommodation tonight. Our room has much softer beds and is actually fairly pretty and cheerful. There is an inside tap so we don’t have to practise long distance toothpaste spits. Instead we just have to contend with sharing the space with horking men. All that throat clearing and glob spitting is just kinda disgusting at close quarters! At dinner the younger of the two women buys us each a beer as a peace offering. Tendi has explained that as they aren’t paying for their trip they don’t get the prime seats. You’d think that would be obvious but evidently not. Anyway Karin and I accept the gesture and enjoy the beer before bed.
We are exhausted but sleep doesn’t come that easily. It has been quite an emotionally challenging day.
After the ceremony of yesterday we wonder what excitement today will bring. It’s another early start as we are going on a small hike up the hills above Khamding. Our goal is to see some mountain views. Mountains here are snow capped, the rest are just hills. There’s some cloud over the area where the peaks are but we hike in pleasantly warm sunshine. Karin and I stop to take numerous pictures. And we see Everest in the distance along with several other peaks before the clouds lower and obscure them. Lhamu and our cook have come along too so we are a happy little group. While Tendi is used to the strange behaviour patterns of tourists the other two are clearly slightly puzzled by the things we take pictures of and exclaim at. Lhamu is probably gaining insight into what Tendi deals with in the course of his job!
Eventually we arrive at a tea stop. Karin and I order black tea with no sugar. This is always greeted with such astonishment. The normal way of drinking black tea is to have two or three heaping teaspoons of sugar in a tiny glass. It’s like drinking syrup. The tea is served, along with beer. We try to turn down the beer but Tendi explains this is Sherpa hospitality so we must accept. Despite it only being 9:30 in the morning we do so…..well we are a bit thirsty after all from our sunny two hour walk up to this place.
It is then suggested that we stay here over night in order to have a better chance of seeing clear mountain views in the morning. Karin and I at first misunderstand and think the offer is to stay somewhere further along the trail. When we realize this is the intended overnight spot I go on a recee.
Out house situation – rather poor and far from the accommodation. We have no flash lights with us.
Accommodation situation – dismal. It’s a communal room. “Room” is being a bit over generous. Bed situation – oh my. Wooden benches are covered with very thin seriously filthy mats. The blanket supply looks very dodgy. We haven’t got our sleeping bags either.
I report back to Karin as we sip a second tea, or was that a second glass of beer? We decide on a firm but polite exit strategy. Kim needs to take medication at night, we need to go back to Tendi and Lhamu’s farm. Thankfully no one is put out.
After a while we continue on our way up to a monastery. It is unlocked for us to look around inside and it is typically colourful. Every wall and the ceiling is covered in brightly hued Tibetan Buddhist frescos. The predominant colours are red, green, yellow and gold. As well as the monastery there is a shining white stupa and a huge painted prayer wheel and a mani wall. The area exudes a sense of tranquil sanctity. After more picture taking we are invited into a home for – you guessed it – more tea!
One of Tendi’s aunts lives here so while we walk back to the first tea place for lunch he stops in to visit her. Tea was not on the menu – and neither was beer. Karin and I are pretty sure the Roxy was flowing! After lunch we return to Khamding by a different route that takes us along a ridge between two valleys. Mist was flowing rapidly up from one, then sliding with gathering speed down into the other. Our sunny day is now cool and decidedly foggy. Regardless, the return walk is lovely. Back at the village there is more tea and Roxy at Tendi’s brother’s home and then I manage to get us an invite to tour the health clinic.
That turns out to be very interesting. It is amazing what services, including midwife support for women giving birth, they provide from a very basic set up. I enjoy talking with the medic there and have of course come away with a wish list. The thing that astonishes me the most is the clinic’s autoclave (devise for sterilizing medical tools such as those used for surgery or suturing). The items are wrapped and put into a metal container with tight lid. That is put into a pressure cooker which is put over a wood burning fire. I imagine it works well, and while primitive by our standards it strikes me as innovative to say the least.
We are back sipping tea and Roxy when I notice daylight is fading so Karin and I make a strategic more for the door. Lhamu comes with us and we arrive back at the farm in the twilight. While dinner is being prepared she gets out some treasured prints, a couple of which are of her wedding with Tendi. She was 20, he 18. It was an arranged marriage. I think the three of us have all had a fair bit of Roxy by this time so pretty soon we are trying on Tibetan and Russian fur hats. (The next day when we show Tendi the crazy pictures we took, he thinks it quite hilarious. While he’d been out carousing we’d been at home doing the same thing.) He does turn up briefly at dinner time but then disappears again on the pretext of getting Karin and I more beer.
Lhamu, Karin and I are asleep at about 9pm when he comes home. Escorted by our cook! Trouble is Lhamu has closed the door. The only way to close the door is to slide a huge wood bar across it on the inside. She is sound asleep so I clamber out of my sleeping bag, grab my flashlight and stumble down stairs to deal with letting Tendi in before he gets every dog in the region barking due to the racket he is making outside. Of course my sleep addled brain struggles when confronted with the massive bar instead of a simple door knob. But I manage to lift it out of it’s cradles on either side of the door which then swings open. There on the threshold is Tendi, blurry eyed but still functional. I think he’s a bit horrified it’s Didi who greets him and not Lhamu but she’s still sound asleep. Within minutes we’re all nestled into our respective beds again and very soon snoring ensues – from all four of us I have no doubt!
Early to bed and early to rise! You know the adage. Well it is in effect here. We are out of bed and dressing in a shivering dawn at shortly after 6am. Speaking of dressing. I am wearing traditional Sherpa attire. Tendi took me dress shopping before we left Kathmandu. Dress shopping here entails buying fabric and having the dress made. This he supervised and while at first I was a bit dismayed by his choice of brown – it is the perfect garment. Despite feeling somewhat awkward and self conscious when I first put the thing on, I am now very comfortable in this full length local dress. I certainly blend into the fashion scene! Most people just accept that I’m dressed like they are. A few have asked and Tendi’s response is that as I’m his Didi (older sister) I should dress like one of the family. Karin and I are doing a fair amount of walking – enough to qualify as mini trekking. So I’ve learned the funny little kick that the women do when walking up steep slopes and staircases so as not to fall flat on my face.
Enough about Sherpa women’s fashion. At breakfast we are kindly served unsweetened black tea but there is a big kettle of Sherpa tea on the
stove. When it comes time for the second cup it seems polite to agree to try some of that instead of putting Lhamu to the trouble of making separate cups. It is with some trepidation that we try Sherpa tea. For those of you who don’t know what this is, let me explain. Black tea is boiled with milk and rancid butter. Yak milk and butter is used at higher elevations but here we have the farm’s cow to thank for her contribution. Salt is added as is a bit of flour. The whole concoction is stirred with a special stick as it is boiled. It has interesting texture and when piping hot, the flavour isn’t unpleasant. While not my most favourite beverage I’m glad to have had the opportunity to drink it several times during our visit.
As soon as breakfast is done we head to Tendi’s parents farm next door. Tendi’s dad had a stroke a couple of years ago and is less mobile than he used to be. Last year I funded an indoor toilet for their home. Tendi is pleased to show us the innovative way he installed it. It’s an Asian style toilet but built up on a platform so his dad can sit, rather like we do on western toilets. Tendi’s step-mum died three years ago but now we meet his mum. Don’t ask, I don’t understand the details of how that all works. We are warmly received. Two eggs are boiled for each of us and of course tea is served. While we sip our tea, Tendi’s dad, who is a retired monk lama blesses a set of prayer flags we have brought with us from Kathmandu. Now we’d previously had these flags well and truly blessed by a monk at Boudhanath. But being as papa was once the head lama in these parts, it is obviously a requirement that he add his blessing. And this particular blessing was a rather long one. Eventually our flags are considered acceptable for hanging.
We set off across some fields and into the woods by a pretty stream and there are numerous other strings of flags strung from tree to tree. There’s a tiny chorten there as well, built by Tendi and some friends. We are told that this is a very special sacred place inhabited by various gods and the water in the stream is known to have healing properties. The flags are hung with enthusiasm and care by Tendi and his cousin, our cook.
I don’t think I’ve explained the cook yet. So Tendi and Lhamu are free to entertain us and escort us hither and yon, we have a hired cook for the duration. Part of the reason for this is that our cook has training having been a trekking cook for a number of years. Lhamu, being unfamiliar with our weird western eating habits, would be a bit out of her depth dealing with us.
Back to the flags. Once hung, Karin and I are instructed to toss the rice grains we’ve been given for this purpose, in a certain manner, up and over the strings of flags while sending wishes for good life. I hope we did this well enough to please the various gods lurking about the area!
It is by now time to go to the local school. There is to be a small cultural program of dance in our honour as we’ve made a small donation. Besides the drums we’ve donated funds to be used as the capital for a small loans program. Government teachers here get paid once ever four months. It is sometimes difficult to make their merger pay stretch for such a long period. Our donation will provide a loan fund that will be used to help teachers deal with cash flow problems. The money will be loaned with a three percent interest rate meaning this should be self perpetuating.
We first go have yet another cup of tea at our cook’s home as it seems things are running a bit behind schedule at the school. Eventually we arrive at the school and endure a long long wait for the action to begin. Tendi had begged them to keep things short and simple, but it would appear that this will not be the case. Finally Karin and I are shown to our seats. We are flanked by Tendi and Lhamu. Papa is there as are a great number of village dignitaries. Then begin the speeches. They go on and on. It seems everyone in the place has been invited to say a few words and most people say more than a few. When my turn comes I manage to get the first couple of sentences out in passable Nepali, but then revert to English with Tendi translating. It’s a short few words because both Tendi and I want it all to end before the looming clouds turn the warm morning into a cold afternoon. The drums are brought out and the packages of pencils and crayons are given as is the envelope of donated cash for the loan fund.
The speeches end and then the Khata presentations begin. Khatas are light scarves presented to people on special occasions. Each presentation is accompanied by a namaste. Tendi, me, Karin, Lhamu, papa, etc etc, we are all draped with numerous Khatas. I’m thinking this is a bit over the top when suddenly the first child bearing a lovely marigold garlands appears and pops it with a namaste around Tendi’s neck, then another child gives me one, and Karin and so forth. There are 130 kids in this school. If I can get a picture to download you shall see the result. We have so many marigolds and Khatas around our necks we are buried in them. We start taking them off and piling them on the table in front of us. The pile grows and grows until we are hidden behind a veritable mountain of marigolds. For me the most special thing about these numerous garlands is that every one has been made by people here in this village. Some are quite huge and full and others simple strands, but all have been created in our honour and that is quite overwhelming.
At last that comes to and end and the entertainment begins. Thank goodness. It is now cloudy and quite cool. The kids are lovely dancers and we are treated to several folk dances with catchy tunes. Karin and I have a great idea to recycle some of the garlands by presenting each dancer with a couple. Despite this the pile on the table remains precariously high! It is about 2pm by the time the affair wraps up. We have been lauded most royally. As is often the case in these situations the appreciation seems over the top compared to the gift. The following day our visit makes the Solo Khumbu regional news.
Pictures to follow in separate post.
Lunch at our cook’s house is followed by tea at Tendi’s brothers house. While we are drinking our tea it is evident that others are drinking something a bit stronger. Karin and I are desperate to stretch our legs so we set off on an unescorted walk. Very soon however Lhamu catches us up. She seems half cut. The three of us now set off down the track hand in hand, Karin on one side with one of her trekking poles, me on the other with the second pole. Lhamu informs us 100 times or more, “Sorry, no English”. We assure her 100 time or more that is not a problem. She also seems very concerned that Karin can’t handle a walk. Tendi has told her of Karin’s artificial hip and knees and this seems to have caused everyone to think she’s a cripple. So about every three steps Lhamu indicates we should turn around and go back and she touches Karin’s hip with concern. In the end we manage to get to the next village – Fatanje. It’s pretty much a similar set up to Khamding although it also has a Buddhist chorten and Hindu shrine. Upon return to the village we of course need to stop in for another tea before heading back down to the farm. Dinner includes some of the mysterious beverage everyone’s been drinking. Local Roxy! Lhamu has distilled her version from apples. She shows us an enormous vat of the stuff currently fermenting in the first stage of the process. The next stage will be the distillation. The drink is clear, yellow, strong and very smooth! It’s quite a fine beverage. Karin has a couple to my one! Dinner is delicious chicken which is a gift from some of the teachers. It was alive when gifted and I suggest we add it to Lhamu and Tendi’s flock. But Tendi is worried someone will find out if we don’t eat the thing. So it is duly slaughtered – by our cook I presume – and shows up on our plates shortly there after.
It has been a very eventful day! Karin and I are completely astonished by the reception from the school. But we experienced something similar when we were in Tanzania so I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised! We hope and trust our gift will be used wisely and be a lasting and positive one.