Apr 9, 2008

Never Ending Peace And Love

According to a menu in a small mountain town, NEPAL = Never Ending Peace And Love. I believe it, despite the political unrest that has been building up to the very major election here on April 10. Since we arrived on Mar 23 the election has been the talk of the country, as well as the headlines on all the newspapers. Maoists and some other small parties have been the culprits of most of the violence. Sadly politicians have been murdered and kidnapped. Gun shoot-offs, cadres beating up cadres of other parties, knife fights and more. However, as a traveler, I've only been privy to the peaceful Maoist rallies - motorcycle gangs driving through town waving communist flags, trucks with loudspeakers praising the working man's party doctrines encouraging voters. I must admit, it is pretty trippy to be somewhere that is about to experience a major political shift depending on tomorrow's outcome. If the Maoists do win, then the country will become communist. If not, the newly established democracy will endure. Either way, the constitution will be re-written by the new constitutional assembly. Formerly ruled by a king whose brother murdered the entire royal family in order to become king about 5 years ago, this is a very historic event. Everything is supposed to be closed on election day, but i've learned that the tourist area where i'm currently hunkered down in Pokhara (5 hours west of Kathmandu) will be open for service. Tourism is the #1 industry in Nepal.

Back to peace and love, the people in Nepal are stunningly beautiful inside and out. The women are gorgeous, the men are hot. I hate to make generalizations, but it's true. and the kids! the spirit, the laughs, the playfulness, the smiles. We have made some incredible little friends who speak English better than many adults and just want to hang out and have photos taken of them without asking for money or sweets or pens (they like the pens here). "One photo, one photo" is the common cry as we walk by, especially in the mountain villages. Of course we always comply and love their giddiness as the run to look at the photo on our cameras.

I met a Hungarian named Viktor in Kathmandu - i was drawn to his large self-made pinhole camera he carried down the crazy streets. After a second spotting at a Tibetan Buddhist stupa (temple), I sat down to ask him about his camera. As luck would have it, I ran into him several days later in Pokhara. He had highly recommended I trek to a small mountain village in Panchassee and he happened to be leaving for the place the next day. Susan had sadly sprained her ankle and Ariella was looking into a yoga retreat in Pokhara, so I asked Viktor if I could tag along with him. His answering Yes made for a truly blessed next five days.

I was hesitant to trek because of my back issues. I hadn't done any serious hiking in a year - in fact it was a year to the day since I was in the emergency room after injuring my back again. Months of physical therapy and the past three months carrying my bags on the road had increased my strength, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel after trekking. Four hours uphill later, I was in awe of the ridge-top location looking across valleys down both sides of the mountain and didn't even think about my back. While I was sore the next day, I was thrilled that I made it step by step, even carrying my own backpack. Panchassee means Five Seats. The seats are the five mountain peaks that comprise this very sacred area. A revered yogi had come here to be enlightened/die and others have followed his lead. The peaks, caves, lakes and other natural beauties are believed to exude spiritual energy. Sunrise looking out at the Himalayas enhanced the peaceful bliss for me.

The guesthouse where we stayed for 5 nights is called the Happy Heart Hotel and is run by three incredibly special women. All single, no kids, never married. When asked if they like it that way they responded, "No husband. No children. Free." I guess I fall into the same boat. As Viktor had said, you can taste their happy hearts in the dal baht and other meals they cooked for us. Viktor had stayed with them previously for 3 weeks (with his anthropologist friend who lived there for 8 months) and so we were considered family. Instead of sitting in the dining room with the few other trekkers that would show up for a night, we spent most of our time sitting in the small kitchen where they cook over a fire. Much of my time was spent listening during the 5 days, whether it was to guides and the didis ("sisters" - which you call women like "aunty") speak in Nepalese or listening to birds or just the wind. No electricity meant candles after an early sunset. Squat toilets and a cold water bucket shower, of course. Viktor and I took long day hikes, which I calculate to include up and down roughly 10,000 stairs over the course of the 5 days. seriously. there are stone paths that connect the villages that are spread out all over the mountains and valleys. Apparently many paths get washed away with the monsoon season, but then the villagers all work together to rebuild. Quite a concept. The morning we left the didis sat Viktor and I down and adorned our foreheads with a red pigment dot and tied a traditional prayer cloth around our necks. It was an incredible moment. Sadly by the time I was down the mountain my dot was a huge smudge as I had wiped the sweat off my brow continually.... The photo above is a pinhole image of me and the didis made by Viktor. He carries around his darkroom and creates prints for everyone he photographs. He's a special soul.

Meanwhile, back in Pokhara Susan and Ariella had been volunteering daily at a local NGO, the Butterfly Foundation, helping prepare a new building for its preschool for orphans and other disadvantaged kids. I joined them when I returned and helped finish up the colorful paintings of butterflies, flowers, and painted a colorful mandala. Susan has an incredible natural ability and drive to befriend the local children, anywhere. We walk down the street and kids will say "Susan!" and give her a local handshake. Ariella and I have been telling her she must work with children upon returning to Seattle. She made a special friend (the most intelligent little boy we've met), Manish, whose parents own a bookstore/Gorkha knife shop. Manish's mom invited us all for dal baht and we enjoyed a lovely home cooked meal in their modest home behind the shop. We've also befriended the owner of our now local bar where we make a daily appearance, even if briefly. Jossi, the owner, painted with us at the school and has encouraged us to stay in Pokhara, although we didn't need much encouragement.

When we first arrived in Nepal we spent a few nights in Kathmandu, which is an intense and polluted city. Despite that, I loved walking the narrow streets and checking out how people live. The buddhist stupas are incredible places to visit, especially joining the tibetan buddhists walking in circles around and around the stupa turning the prayer wheels.

This is definitely phase 3 of the journey, as we're now used to paying $7/night for our own rooms (less if we share), $1 for breakfast and generally living on less than $20/day. I've gotten used to squat toilets outside of our hotel (sorry to harbor on the bathrooms, but it's a real change), and don't flinch as much when I come home to a cockroach in my bathroom. Okay, maybe I do still jump....

We'll move on from Pokhara once the buses are running again after the election. Next stop is Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Back to serious heat and mosquitoes. Around the 27th we plan to travel overland to India, but I'm not sure if we'll actually be able to leave Nepal. If we do, I will be back.

Oh, I forgot to mention how great it is to greet everyone with Namaste!

So, I've spent today uploading photo albums to my blog. LONG overdue....

When you have some time, peruse my new slideshows:
Melbourne (yes, back to January!)
Sydney/Cape Tribulation
Indonesia (3 albums)

Next I'll upload Cambodia. I'm still working on editing Nepal in real time, so hopefully sooner rather than later I will share this beautiful country. How could the home of the tallest mountain in the world not be so magical?



  1. great updates! keep 'em coming! It sounds like you continue to have amazing adventures. the trekking sounds like a lot of fun. I saw your sister on Monday -- they seem to be doing very well.

    We'll look forward to more updates!

    ~Seattle Durhams