First week in Nepal, Part 1

Well hello.  Alive and well in Kathmandu.  I like the idea of going two months without touching the internet, but here I am, and there you are.  How are you by the way?

Let’s see.  It is pretty hot in here, so a quick update.

We arrived last Tuesday, after just over 24 hours of travel.  London Heathrow was its normal bustling place, and my sense of adventure was awakening, which in this case meant I ordered a burrito.  A London airport’s take on a burrito was actually fairly decent…though I am not sure why it was soaking in marinara sauce.

Bahrein was kind of a culture shock, as the Middle East always is.  Strutting men with aggressive auras, their women’s personality defiantly leaking out of the eye slits in their burrqas.  I have no idea how to spell that, and this computer is not so savvy as to either.

Our flight to Kathmandu was K and I, and a returning UN mission of some sort (our neighbor’s English was not quite good enough to explain what), all guys, all cheery.  The decent through the Himalayan clouds was bumpy and exciting and epically beautiful.

It was raining when we landed, and the knowledge that I was feeling a monsoon on my skin left me high.

Customs was pretty painless, and the boss of our program picked us up at the airport, and drove us through town to the hotel we’re staying in.

Driving through Kathmandu for the first time.  It tends to leave people looking fairly shellshocked.  Newcomers first getting out of their taxi look a little shaky, their face overly still as they try to pretend it is totally familiar to ride through a vehicular maelstrom like that.  Sometimes there are lanes painted on the ground, which seems kind of cute.  There is no sense of lanes going the same direction, and the border between your side and oncoming traffic is maleable, fluid as shaken up oil on water far from reaching equilibrium.

The Nepali people seem to be very kind, but the approach to driving and movement is pure sub-continent.  Standing in lines has more in common with practice for a defensive lineman in American football than an orderly wait for one’s turn.

We spent a couple days in Kathmandu, walking around town, seeing the beautiful temples and palaces, all rimmed with garbage and flies.  The sacred and the profane breath through the same hot air here.  Temples and sacred spaces are scattered through every tiny winding street, people going about their lives alongside stray dogs eating garbage at the foot of crouching monuments with orange-smeared faces of gods.

Kathmandu is one of three distinct cities, which were formerly independent kingdoms.  The others are Patan and Bhaktapur.  We will be staying in Bhaktapur all summer and have not seen it yet, and Patan has been enveloped by Kathmandu’s sprawl.  We walked there last week, an hour walk turning into three as we regularly got lost.  There are no street names here, but that’s okay because it is all worth seeing.

We seem to be among the few tourists who walk between places, entering “local” neighborhoods, and the people tend to find us fairly interesting, especially the children.

We took refuge on the 17th century temple of Vishnu in Patan’s Durbar Square while the monsoon poured incredible amounts of water down around us.  Women in colorful robes sang beside us, and a young couple ran through the rain to huddle on the other side, looking exactly like a Bollywood movie, close but not touching, heated smiles and rain slicked hair.  I waited for the coordinated dance, but it must have been canceled on account of the weather.

The program starts tomorrow, so we wanted to get out of the city and see more of the country.  We took a local bus, which was another cultural experience of accepting the driving style and waiting to see if we would die that day.

We went to Manakamana, where some amiable Austrians built the longest cable car in Asia in 1998.  It goes nearly vertical, covering 2.8 kilometers and ascending 1000 (feet I think…I can’t remember the unit, but the view was beautiful coming up to and into the clouds).

There is a temple and small town at the top.  The moderate rain turned heavy and we ducked under the metal roof of the area where worshippers leave their shoes when they enter the temple.  A holy man in bright yellow robes was accepting gifts of bags of rice and applying the orange and red paint to the devotees foreheads.  I am chagrined at not knowing what it all was…the difference between bindhi’s and…

His eyes were an incredible light blue, and the suspense until I can see what that one picture looked like may drive me crazy all summer.

The plan was to walk out, but the rain went from heavy to biblical, and the 18 kilometer walk down the mountainside quickly became impossible, so we ate the Nepali lunch, Dal Bhat, and took the cable car back down the mountain.

We caught a jitney (mini-bus) to Dumre, from where we would walk 7 kilometers to Bandipur, which we had heard great things about.  Not long into the trip we pulled over, the driver got out and wandered off.  We sat quietly for a bit then people got out and we noticed the line of stopped traffic snaking off around the bend in the distance.

Turns out a waterfall that forms in heavy rain had shut down the road, and we waited for it to clear.  We waited 7 hours, talking to other passengers and seeing the shanty structures the people there live in, before it got dark.  The larger buses were given clearance to go, but the smaller would be washed away.  Most waited in line, but ours returned to a small truckstop town just down the road.  The logistics of moving people and vehicles around in a place like this, where trucks had all elbowed up, double blocking each other in, was another chance to practice calm acceptance.  This was only difficult when we, and a dozen other large vehicles, were stuck on a bridge over a monsoon swollen river…I sat calmly listening for sounds of its collapse, but we were in luck.

The internet connection, and power supply to the city, are both unreliable so I think I’ll break this into two.