TRAVEL 

NEPAL 2010


February 24- March 8

 

The Journey Over to Nepal

 

We got up between 6 and 6:30, showered, set up the card table as a cat cave with a heating pad and food for James, Dick turned off the water and we were off by about 8.  James seemed depressed about our leaving, poor guy.  We got to the Myrtle Beach Airport around 9:30.  The Budget Parking lot was a little way from the airport, but the shuttle driver saw us and immediately picked us up.   We got our boarding passes and had our frequent flier numbers put on the tickets to give us credit for the 7,500 miles we were traveling on the way over.  Just outside our gate Spirit Airline were offering 3 free tickets for signing up for a credit card, so both Dick and I signed up.  We bought Subway sandwiches for lunch and ate them while waiting. The flight was twenty minutes late, but we still got to Newark before 1, about eight hours before our overseas flight.

 

Dick bought a plug adaptor for Nepal and worked on his bird website.  I read, did puzzles, and walked through stores.  Because we were getting dinner on the plane, we had yogurt, nuts, and pita bread we brought to keep us going.  Time was already becoming meaningless.

 

Our flight was about a half hour late because a man decided not to take the flight after all, and we had to wait for them to find and remove his luggage.  We took off around 10:15 PM, sitting in the very last row of seats, which luckily still did recline a bit.  Each seat had its personal video screen, so I passed some of the 14 hour flight watching The Invention of Lying, The Informant, Little Miss Sunshine, and some episodes of 30 Rock and Arrested Development.  Dick slept well and I tried for a good deal of the night.  They served us breakfast and dinner with a decided Indian/Nepalese flair.  The after dinner ‘mints’ looked like ice cream sprinkles and had anise among other flavorings.

 

We arrived at Indira Ghandi International Airport at 10 PM local time and followed the crowd to passport check.  We had thought that maybe we could get a transit Visa and had even booked a room in New Delhi, but it was apparent at the airport that it wasn’t going to be an option.  From the passport desk we were told we didn’t have to go through there and waited a half hour or so for a man to come and take us back to the Transit Lounge- which was much nicer than we expected, with regular and lounge chairs, clean bathrooms, and even board games to wile away the hours- fourteen for us- until our next flight.  The only problem was the very loud continuous announcements of planes taking off for all points of the globe at all hours of the night.  I lay in a lounge chair for a while, then read and we played Hand and Foot.  Dick stretched out on the floor and managed to sleep some.

 

Around 10 AM a representative of Jet Airways came up with our boarding passes and showed us the way to the Security area where I was funneled through the Women’s Lane and checked thoroughly with a scanner by a woman.  Dick went through another lane.  Our suitcases went through the scanner and we were in an even newer area of the airport.  We tried to get wifi going at the computer hook-up desks, but had no luck, so went downstairs to Gate One to await our flight.  Around eight flights went to Kathmandu that evening and day and we watched one group leave just before it was our time. 

 

When it was our turn we went through the gate and onto a bus that took us out to our plane. We climbed the stairs and took the two hour flight to Kathmandu.  At the airport there we had our luggage scanned then stood in line to buy our two week tourist Visas ($25) to enter Nepal.  When we walked outside, we spotted Heather immediately, and, after finding the ATM closed, got a taxi.  Heather had to bargain down the price to about half of the original offer, making it more like the amount she had paid to get to the airport.  The road from the airport was crowded and dusty with horns being used constantly to wend our way around trucks, buses, and motorcycles- all from the other side of the street- not for the fainthearted- even as passengers.  We passed children sifting through the trash on the side of the road.  In about fifteen minutes we arrived at the Shechen Monastery Guesthouse.  After being in transit from 8 AM Wednesday morning to 3 PM Friday afternoon, we finally began out trip to Nepal!!!

 

Friday, February 26, 2010- Kathmandu

 

The Shechen Guesthouse was an oasis of peace in the teeming city, with an open air restaurant and beautiful gardens at the back area of a monastery.  We had a three-bed room with a lovely parquet wood floor and a bathroom with shower than sprayed the whole room.  Power is off in the Boudha section for at least half the day, but the guesthouse had an auxiliary generator so lights were available during all dark times, though you couldn’t use a computer or charge batteries. 

 

We walked out to the Boudha Stupa- a very ornately painted domed religious center, surrounded by monasteries.  The stupa was ringed with prayer wheels and people walked clockwise around it, chanting and turning the wheels.  There were people of every description and costume there.  All the women wore brightly colored saris and other oriental dress but children, especially boys wore Western clothing for the most part.  The Nepali people are very beautiful almost without exception, with long dark hair and lovely faces.   We joined the group circling the stupa, looking for future gifts in the many small stores that encircled the area. 

 

We went to Heather’s room in another monastery associated with the college she attends.  She has a small room on the second floor of the housing building with a bathroom along the balcony.  Her bathroom looked good, but she only had a cold water shower.  Inside her room she has a bed and several tables alongside and at the foot of the bed.  Her room overlooks the stupa and has a small window for light when the power is out.

 

We circled the stupa again on the way back to the guesthouse.  The Buddhist temple associated with the guesthouse is lovely, with ornate paintings covering the whole building.  You walk through the monastery grounds to get to the guesthouse, past a temple with many prayers wheels and a huge prayer wheel the children can treat almost like a merry-go-round.  Dinner in the outside restaurant was very good.   I had a vegetable curry and Dick had dumpling-like pastas filled with vegetables- because it was a vegetarian restaurant.  By 8:15 we were back in our room and ready for bed!

 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

 

Heather was up at 5 to go and meditate at the stupa and Dick went out a little later to look for birds to photograph.  He was back around 7:30 and we went over to the restaurant for breakfast.  Our room cost only $20 a day and breakfast was included in the price!  Dick and I had thick pancakes with honey and I had a pot of ginger, honey, lemon- which became my favorite drink of the trip.

 

We had time to spend before the taxi was due at 9, so we went down the small roads to the stupa, buying toilet paper on the way to use on our trip up the mountain to the Nagi Gompa Nunnery.  Heather has spent a lot of time there including a retreat in a ‘cave’- and plans to spend this summer there as well.  The taxi driver was Wang Chuk, our favorite, and was a bit late, but drove us through the teeming, dusty, rough streets to the entry to the National Park where we had to fill out papers and pay a fee to continue our drive to the nunnery entrance.  The road was filled with big rocks sticking out and steep cliffs on the side. 

 

We were let off at a steep stairway up to the nunnery.  Once there Heather introduced us to her mentor nun and her ‘sister’ nun who had arrived about the same time as she first did.  They made us a meal of rice, vegetables and a vegetarian soup that tasted like chicken noodle and we ate at a table in the kitchen and talked.

 

When we finished eating, we climbed the stairs to see the director of the convent, who sat on the floor refolding prayer scarves while she talked to us.  Heather gave each of the nuns a package of the sugar free candy we had brought- a treat for them since many were diabetic and couldn’t eat regular candy.  They looked at all the photos on my electronic picture frame and we talked of family.  Then we went into a shrine further up where a lama associated with the nunnery had meditated and died.  It had food offerings on an altar and the bed area where he had died.

 

We climbed further up to see the ‘cave’ where Heather spent time in retreat, coming down to get her meals twice a day.  It was constructed in the hillside with a corrugated roof, cement walls and floor, and had a raised sleeping platform and altar, with a primitive bathroom outside.

 

The nuns were performing a ceremony, so we sat at the side and watched as they chanted, accompanied by drums, horns, shell horns, and bells.  They brought around butter tea, which tasted a lot like bullion.

 

We sat on the steps and watched the nunnery’s cows eating a cardboard box.  When we were ready to go, we walked down the steps, then down the road for about fifteen minutes until the taxi caught up with us.

 

When we got back to Boudha, it was time for the Lama dancing, so we went into the monastery’s main temple.  The monks chanted and a group of about eight in costumes and masks, including one of a skull, danced in a line around the hall.   The costumes were in very bright colors and chandelier-styled hangings of bright colored silk hung above.

 

After a short rest in our hotel room, we had dinner at the restaurant with Heather’s friend Alfreda from Sweden, entertained by a rat who ran along the rafters and skittered across the roof.  We tried to call hotels for tomorrow night and Monday and Tuesday, but couldn’t get through.  So we went back to the room where I read, Heather studied and Dick worked on bird photos from the day.

 

Sunday, February 28- Kathmandu to Patan

 

Heather was up and off and we were up by 6:30.  I finished my book and we exchanged it for a French language novel for Dick.  He and I walked down to the stupa before breakfast and it was already busy there due to the holy day of Holi that was being celebrated.  The narrow street leading to the stupa was lined with beggars asking for money.  The main feature of Holi, as far as we ever saw, was that children (mostly boys) threw water balloons (most often plastic sandwich bags) at passers-by (mostly young girls).  Many of the boys had dye on their faces- sometimes golden- and threw many colors of dyes along with the water balloons.  We took lots of photos of the regular worshippers and the gangs of children roaming around.  Young guys on motorcycles roared through the streets, tempting kids to bombard them, both from street level and from balconies ringing the center.

 

We got back relatively dry and had breakfast with Heather’s friend Janet from Taiwan and a young Lama who taught them named Nyandak.  We walked back to Heather’s room and she went out to buy scarves to offer to the three Lamas we would meet at her monastery, which housed the university classrooms.  I watched a young monk scrubbing the yellow archway to her monastery, whose gates closed at nine, making sure Heather was safely in each night.  We walked from her room to the monastery, dodging water thrown from upper windows and balconies as we went.  Heather walked us around the grounds and showed us the classroom area.  Dick took a few bird photos, but new birds seemed few and far between. 

 

Heather instructed us in the proper procedure for offering scares and money she had put in envelopes to her Rinpoche and the two others sitting on raised platforms and blessing and accepting offerings from the faithful.  We presented the scarves on our two upraised hands, had the scarves placed around our necks and were given a little Buddhist medicine in our hands and saffron water which we drank.

 

We only got a little wet as we made our way back to the Shechen Monastery Guesthouse to check out and meet the taxi we had reserved to take us to Patan, the city across the river from Kathmandu.  There we checked into the Summit Hotel which was enclosed, as each of the subsequent hotels were.  The annex where we stayed had two shared bathrooms and a shared shower, but so few people were there, it was like having our own facilities.

 

We caught another taxi to take us to Patan’s Durbar Square- an area of ancient temples and monuments.  Wandering through the square was very interesting, though we still had to be wary about gangs of children who perched high on the monuments, bombarding people with water and colored dye.  Heather wanted to see the Golden Temple so we used a map and people’s directions to find it.  It was interesting and ornate, with monkey statues wearing yellow lei-like strings of flowers.  Heather heard the chanting going on, and found it was being led by some nuns from Nagi Gompa upstairs in a temple.  It was a chant she had learned earlier, so she joined in the ceremony while we sat on cushions surrounding the celebrants.

 

When we left the temple, we wandered around and I took photos of a group of six little boys and girls and paid them for their time with candies I had in my purse.  Back at the main square, we sat and people-watched and took photo of interesting characters, soldiers, women in saris, and children.   A taxi brought us back to the hotel where we took photos of a young Dutch couple who had been beautifully decorated by the dye-throwing children, then ate at the hotel restaurant.  We ended the day as we usually did, reading, writing down the days’ activities and working on photos.

 

 

Monday, March 1, 2010- Patan to Godavari

 

In the morning I showered and Dick wandered around looking for birds.

We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel.  I saw a children’s book about a yak and yeti and bought a copy of it for Liam at the hotel business center, then got the newspaper article about the author copied.

 

A taxi was waiting outside the hotel and we rode to the Godavari resort and arrived around 11.   The resort was beautiful with many buildings and brick stairs down to the swimming pool.  Pink marble steps led to the second floor and our room.  After wandering around for a while, we decided to go to the Botanical Gardens and walked down to the main road and caught a taxi which whizzed us there.  There were a lot of little food stands and Heather and I got a can of fruit juice and drank as we walked up the road to the gardens.  Unfortunately we never found the gardens (although we may have seen them at the very end of our time there). 

 

We did find the road into the national forest and walked it, looking for birds as we went.  Down below the road was a picnic area and from there a path led to an experimental garden with plants, bee hives and goats.  After walking around there for a while, we were told by a man lying there that we were not allowed to be there, so we went back to the road and continued up the mountain.  Heather wasn’t feeling too well, so decided to rest a while.  Dick and I took a path off the road and heard a lot of birds but saw few, except for two very long tailed pheasant-like birds that we never saw land long enough to get a photo.

 

It was snack time when we got back to Heather, then we wandered around some more.  Heather decided to go to a monastery she had seen and meet us when it was time to head back to the hotel.  We looked for her at a retreat center, then walked down to a field area across from the Botanical Gardens Office.  Dick walked into the field and was told by three boys lying on the trail that there were water buffalo up there and to be careful.  I walked into the office area for the second time, hoping to find the gardens were there, but was told the area was off-limits.

 

We spotted Heather far up the road through the village walking with a monk and headed that way, but she disappeared.  We saw an area that looked like one description of the Botanical Gardens- that it had a pond with paddleboats, so we went in there, but didn’t see much in the way of a garden.  There were some ancient looking stupas (religious monuments) so I took a photo of the one in the best shape then walked on.  Some workmen were reconstructing one, and one of them asked us for entrance money.  With so little time, it wasn’t worth it, and there didn’t appear to be much to see, so we headed back looking for Heather and the mysterious monk.

 

We found them inside an area that had a spring where a half-naked older woman was washing herself.  The monk told Heather the story of the monastery, that a monk from another area fast-walked there in a day and was told that if he didn’t drink the water that night, there would be a great deal of water in the morning.  He didn’t drink and the next morning the spring was flowing from the hillside.  By this time the woman was washing her hair over and over and didn’t seem the least bothered that we were there.  Although the monk really wanted us to have tea with him, we left and walked back down to the area where the buses ran. We got on one with a couple of Catholic nuns, but were told that the bus was waiting there for an hour or so, so we and the nuns got off.  They decided to catch a school bus and we decided to walk.  Another couple who seemed to be a German man and American woman were trying to get a bus to Kathmandu, so we wished them good luck as we started the walk back to the hotel.

 

The walk back took about an hour with stops for photos- including a Golden Buddha high on a terraced hillside.  Some of the little kids were friendly and said hi as we passed.  It rained lightly, but stopped fairly soon.   Back at the hotel we rested for a few minutes, then went to dinner in the hotel dining room.  Dick had prawns, I had a chicken curry and Heather had soup and grilled vegetables.  On the way back to our building it was raining lightly with flashes of lightning and before we reached the building the power went off and we were left in the dark.  But it came back on in a few minutes and we made it to our room.  It was cold enough that we looked for heat, but closing a window was all we could do to warm it up.

 

Dick and Heather took baths for the sheer luxury of it, I typed this then we read, worked on photos and so on until we were all ready to call it a night.

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010- Godavari to Daman- The Everest Panorama Resort

 

We got up around 7 and Dick went out to photograph birds.  I took a bath and enjoyed it.  I had a bit of Montezuma’s Revenge in its Nepali form, so kept breakfast to tea with sugar and toast, ignoring the better parts of the buffet.  As we left a lot of people in black cars were arriving and Wang Chuk, our taxi driver told us it was a meeting of the Maoist government representatives.  Further down the road, we passed the motorcade with the leader of the Maoists making his way there.

 

We drove to Patan where Alfreda joined us.  Dick got money at the ATM and we were off- very cozy with three in the back seat and the trunk area piled high with luggage and backpacks.  Heather got me a bottle of Coke as part of a cure she’d read in a trekker’s handbook- Coke first, then rice and yogurt.

 

We drove curvy roads that snaked up and down along the mountainside.  The views of terraced fields and small villages kept us interested on the three + hour bumpy ride.  I drank water mixed with mineral/electrolyte black currant flavored tablets that Alfreda kindly brought.  The taxi kept cutting out and Wang Chuk stopped at mechanics places and called his friends for advice.  Finally after scraping off parts to clean them, the car ran very well for the remainder of the trip.

 

Wang Chuk knew about the Everest Panorama Resort and drove us there, where he’d spend the next couple of days with us.  There was a fair walk to the resort from where cars had to park, paths and stairs and we were glad to have the staff carry most of our bags.  Heather helped negotiate for the three rooms we’d need.  Wang Chuk would eat and socialize with the resort personnel during his time there.  They told us they had no electricity, but they did run a generator for several hours in the evening and we even had electric heaters to warm up the room for the night.

 

We went to the lookout beyond the restaurant and watched the clouds traveling in and out, but never got a very clear view of the Snow Mountain area of the Himalayas.

 

At the restaurant I chugged my Coke and had rice and broth for lunch, while Heather, Alfreda and Dick had vegetables with rice, bread and soup.  I felt a bit better after dinner.  We went back down the 114 steps down to the duplex cabin we shared with Heather and Alfreda in the other unit, using an LED lantern the restaurant attendants gave us to light our way.  And as a wonderful surprise, a pretty young woman knocked on our door, bearing hot water bottles for all, just before the electricity went off for the night.  So we snuggled under our heavy quilts and passed a cozy night in the mountains.

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010- Everest Panorama Resort- Daman

 

Dick was up and roaming about for about two hours before I got up at 7:30.  I did a little hand laundry and hung things out to dry in front of the cabin.  When I went down to the restaurant, I saw Heather meditating at the overlook with the mountains as a backdrop.  They showed up very well, but Everest was still cloud-covered.  Their snow capped tops sparkled in the sunlight. 

 

I felt good enough to have pancakes for breakfast with water with lemon and honey.  Honey is very popular in Nepal with lots of hives on local farms.  Alfreda was up last, having asked Heather to let her sleep in.  We went to the upper level of the resort and sat in hammocks and chaises until it was time to meet our driver for the trip to the Chu Mik Changchuck Shrine- an ancient shrine revered by both Buddhists and Hindus.  We still had time after walking out to the road, so went up to the helipad and enjoyed the panorama of mountains there.  From the distance we could see the resort’s guard using the mirrors on the cab and a bucket of water to shave.

 

 

Wang Chuk drove us the short distance to the shrine’s entrance, then went back to help drive the resort’s staff to town to buy groceries.  We told him we’d walk back from the shrine and he left, with the day to himself.  We walked the rocky path to the shrine- about a half hour walk with some long flights of stairs as we went up and down.  There were prayer flags strung all along the way, but unfortunately a lot of pilgrims’ trash all along the way as well.  The Nepali people use the whole world as their trash barrel, which was a bit disconcerting to us.  We saw the hut where Heather had done a week-long retreat earlier.  She stopped at the house of the resident lama to buy scarves to hang by the shrine.

 

The shrine was Hindu looking to me, with raised alcoves for the religious figures, covered with red and yellow dye that had been thrown as part of a Hindu festival a few days earlier.  A stand of hanging bells was at the side of the temple area.  But even up at the shrine, several trash bags were stuffed in niches in the rock.  On one of the two temple shrines, there was a discernable ‘face’ in the rock that believers think is coming further out to the surface as the years go by.

 

We met a very nice family there.  The husband had studied in Augusta, Maine and all spoke English.  The older and younger women filled the brass cups with oil, then soaked the ends of wicks and pressed them into the oil, lighting them.  Their small (about two year old, I think) daughter watched the ceremony, but the father and older son stood off.  We hung our scarves on the prayer flag lines and left the shrine area.

 

We went back to the ‘monastery’- a small one that was also residence to the lama’s family.  Because they were eating lunch, we sat on the terrace and ate peanuts, trail mix- which Heather shared with the lama and his daughter later, and crackers.  The lama’s daughter made tea for us.  She was a nice looking woman, probably in her early thirties, who had lived there her whole life and considered herself an unofficial nun.  Her brother had spent the last 35 years in retreat- with his mother and sister as his caretakers and he had only come out when his mother died- going back into retreat by the time we were there.

 

The lama came out to see us on the terrace, wearing a Reebok wool hat, jacket and his robes.  He invited us into the temple where we saw him doing a blessing ceremony (or baptism) for the young daughter of the couple we had spoken to.  The mother held her in her arms while the lama, using a peacock feathered broom-like instrument to dip into a brass water receptacle, sprinkled water on them.  He then threw corn on them. 

 

We spoke to the older woman, who was godmother to the younger woman, and found she had three daughters studying in the US, one of whom was finishing her PhD in neurology and planned to come back to Nepal to work there.  The lama poured a little saffron water in our hands as a blessing and we drank it.

 

Dick and I left then, with Heather and Alfreda staying to meditate.  The stairs going up now, seemed a lot greater in number than they had when they were going in the opposite direction on the way in.  Dick estimated we must have climbed 2000 steps that day, by bedtime.  When we got back to the room, we found I must have left the toilet running all day (It had a pull-up knob connected by a cord to the flushing mechanism that could hang-up) effectively draining all our solar heated shower water for both rooms, for which I felt very apologetic.   We both got under the covers and read and napped for an hour or so.

 

The girls got back around 6 and we went to the restaurant for dinner.  Though the resort was large, we seemed to be the only residents while we were there.  Like the Goadvari resort, which was much grander, things seemed to be very tough for them right now. 

 

Heather had ordered Nettle Soup- a local delicacy- made from nettles that our driver had picked.  It tasted about as if it had been made of grass to me, but Heather was happy to finish my bowl too (the delicacy of my condition still made me think a half bowl was enough for my bowels) saying how healthy it was.  We got extra toilet paper with our hot water bottle delivery.  Hotels certainly didn’t seem very generous with that commodity and we often had to request a second sparse roll.  We worked on the day’s photos until the enforced ‘lights out’ around 8:15.  I used the LED lantern to read for a while and Dick worked on photos using what energy was left in the computer battery.  Then we gave in to the darkness and the activity of the day and went to sleep.

 

March 4, 2010- Daman

 

Dick and I got up early and went walking uphill from the resort.  We figured it was about 225 steps up to get to the entrance of the resort, then an uphill climb after,  We walked up a trail that may have led to a shrine, looking for birds, but never got to a shrine if there was one.  Dick photographed birds there and on the road as we walked.  We went through a small village where there were lots of children, many of whom bowed their heads, folded their hands and said, ‘Namaste’ as we passed.  The older people smiled too and it was a friendly experience.  One boy was rolling a hoop up and down the street.  I gave candies to three little ones I photographed.  The little boys opened their immediately, but the girl took it to her mother who checked it out first. 

 

We were back at the hotel for breakfast by nine, and I picked up some broken pieces of green and blue pottery on the way to incorporate with whatever mosaic I decide to make later.   We met the girls, who had gone again to the shrine, at the restaurant and had our pancakes at an outside table.  The mountains seemed even clearer today and Everest was visible beyond some of the other mountains.  Heather meditated a while and we headed back to the cabin to pack up. 

 

The resort staff helped us carry our bags to the taxi and Dick paid all the various charges for the three rooms and several meals.    We took our last mountain photos from the helipad and left around 11:30.  We made some stops to photograph birds, including one by a river, and Wang Chuk became very good at slowing whenever we indicated we wanted to take a photo.  We arrived back in Kathmandu around 3 and Wang Chuk drove us by the ‘dump,’ actually the river where everything had been dumped, to see the eagles (actually black kites) flying there.   We got money at an ATM and were at the Shechen Guesthouse by 4:30. 

 

Dick and I showered and it felt great to be clean again.  Heather ordered her dinner then showered while it was being prepared.  We were back in the room by 6:30 and Dick worked on photos while I read.  Heather went to her place for her phone charger and bought shower shoes and another mask for Dick.  We got our clothes together in the laundry basket to be washed the next day, and called it a night once more, glad to be back in a place that felt like home when we arrived back there. 

 

Friday, March 5, 2010

 

We got up around 7 and went to breakfast.  Our favorite driver was busy, so the desk helped us order a cab to take us  to the Patan Zoo in the neighboring city.  It turned out to be a very nice zoo, on the whole, with a large pond in the middle for pelicans and ducks.  It featured a lot of local animals: various deer, hippos, rhinos, tigers, leopards, monkeys, birds, and an elephant that waded into the pond, splashed the water with his trunk, sprayed himself and appeared to be having a great time.  I took some of the bird photos because my small lens would fit through the wire mesh, when Dick’s couldn’t.  The driver waited outside as did Heather, and we joined then in about an hour and a half.

 

We went from the to the Monkey Temple with lots of steps to climb up, but nowhere near as steep as the steps going down on the other side.  We wandered around looking at the various temples and shops there and I bought postcards.  Every once in a while, an aggressive money would chase the others around with lots of accompanying noise.  Heather bought some incense for herself and for Rob.  We sat waiting while she meditated and a young teenaged boy sat down between us and practiced his English on us- which was fun. 

 

We got another taxi when we came down from the temple and went to the main tourist shopping area in Kathmandu.  We bought scarves, T-shirts, silk purses, teas, a shell ‘horn’ like the Buddhists use in ceremonies, fossils and a skirt.  It was festive there with bike drawn tuk-tuks and brightly colored shops, equipped with generators for when their electricity was turned off. 

 

Heather had arranged to meet friends at a restaurant in the back of a bookshop, so Dick and I made our way there when we finished shopping.  Christine, who we had met in North Sandwich, and a Nepalese couple came and we discussed life in Nepal, the political developments as they tried to write their Constitution, and the caste system which was still alive and well there.  The food took quite a while to come.  I had carrot soup and a very hot cashew curry and Dick had a veggie burger.  As we ate I heard ‘Hotel California’ and other Western songs- the first Western music I’d heard on the trip.  We took photos of everyone, then caught a cab back to Boudha Stupa.

 

We walked the back roads to the guesthouse using Heather’s flashlight to find our way and were back after 9.  Our clothes were beautifully washed and ready for us when we got back.  I repacked my suitcase and backpack with clean clothes and gifts.  Dick worked on the photos of the day and we both wrote postcards.   We felt like short-timers in Nepal at this time. 

 

Saturday, March 6, 2010- Kathmandu

 

We were up before 7 and went down for breakfast.  Dick and I walked down to the stupa and I bought a few more gifts including crystals and the broom-like things with peacock feathers that the lamas use to sprinkle water for blessings.  Heather went on to her room in the other monastery.  My camera froze, probably because of dust that got in, so no more photos for the rest of the trip for me.  When Heather got back, we went to see a 17 year old Rinpoche to get him to bless the prayer flags Heather had bought for us and her mother. We sat outside his door for about 45 minutes, then were told he was sick and sleeping, but we might be able to see him later.

 

We went around the front to the temple to see the Lama Dancing, but they were only chanting to drum beats, with assistants passing out water to them.  It was crowded there with people filling the doorway and rows of shoes and sandals outside.  Back at the guesthouse we worked on photos, wrote postcards, and read.  I went back with Heather to see if the Rinpoche was available and we did get to see him, sitting on his platform with his tiny dog beside him.  He sprinkled water on the flags as a blessing then wished us a safe trip back.  This time around, also, the Lamas were dancing- stepping high and turning to the beat of the drum, with brightly colored costumes and headdresses of different colors to signify different positive attributes such as truth and purity.

 

Dick and I showered and we rested up, read, and worked on photos before the long trip home.  Then we walked to the Garden Restaurant where we ate curry- chicken for me, mushroom for Dick- hot chocolate and mushroom pizza.  I bought a few more gifts in their gift store.  We walked back though the narrow darkened streets, seeing people in silhouette carrying large packages on their heads, lots of children including very young monks, and motorcycle light cutting through the crowds.  Heather paid to light candles and we each took turns doing it alongside the stupa.

 

We went to bed as soon as we got home, in preparation for the almost two- day trip to reach home in North Carolina. 

 

 

Sunday, March 7, 2010- Leaving Nepal

 

We got up around 6:30 and were down waiting for the restaurant to open.  Dick ran to the stupa area to get one more T-shirt while waiting for our pancakes to be made.  He also ordered ten pieces of their flat bread to be made for eating on our journey home.

 

We finished packing and Wang Chuk was waiting at the hotel desk when we got there to check out.  We said our sad good-byes to Heather and left her to study for her Monday exam.  Traffic to the airport wasn’t bad- the usual confusion of cars, taxis, and motorcycles jockeying for position and dust enough to make us put on our masks one last time.  When we got to the airport, Dick offered Wang Chuk twice the usual fare, but he refused to take anything for the ride!

 

We went through lots of security checks including body checks and showed our passports various times.  In the outer lounge Dick worked on photos, I typed some of this journal and we bought candies and cookies to use up our Nepali money.  When we realized the time, we went through two additional security checks before boarding the bus (separate buses because the male security line went slower than the female one).  We were as far forward as I’ve ever been on a plane and could spread out because the flight was lightly booked. 

 

I had to wake Dick to take photos as a beautiful panorama of the Himalayas spread out before us for many miles of the flight.  As soon as we were in the air, drinks were passed out, followed by a choice of veg or non-veg food for lunch.  More drinks and then tea or coffee were offered and the two hour flight passed quickly.

 

In the Indira Ghandi Airport in New Delhi, we had to wait again, until our information was checked and an attendant escorted us back to the Transit Lounge where we had spent the night on our way over.  Dick worked on photos and I worked on this journal once more.  This time we had twelve daytime hours to pass here- so it’s now 4 ½ down and lots to go!

 

Around three hours before our flight, an attendant from Continental Airlines came and took our passports and itinerary, promising to bring them back with our boarding passes in about fifteen minutes, which he did.  We were told to go through two different security passages before someone motioned us through, and we went through our male and female body check booths and entered the departure lounge.  At a computer desk we worked on photos and the journal while finishing our wait.

 

Our flight was called and we went through another fairly complete security check just before entering the jetway.  I got through the female side before Dick and a nice man helped put my suitcase in the overhead bins.  I passed the night trying to sleep (the flight was 14 hours again- from 11:30PM Indian time to 4 AM NJ time) using the blow up neck pillow, which helped.  But I also watched Love Happens, Motherhood, and Where the Wild Things Are to pass the time.  Dick worked on photos, but also slept a good bit.  They served dinner around midnight, gave us a snack bag with sandwich, bottle of water,  and Twix bars for the overnight, then served breakfast in the early hours.  The night went reasonably quickly and we landed in Newark right on time about 4AM.

 

We followed the crowd through Passport Control and through the only Security Gate open at that early hour.  The wait in Newark was about four hours, and included moving once when the gate was changed, but time was totally meaningless at this point in our journey.  I got a chocolate shake and a chicken sandwich for Dick at McDonald’s and we passed the time reading, doing puzzles and working on photos.

 

The flight from Newark to Myrtle Beach went quickly and we even got a muffin with our sodas and juices.  We paid our parking fees in the airport, took the shuttle to the car, got a few groceries in Calabash and were home shortly after noon, happy to be back in our little house once again!

 

It was a very good trip, but not one we’d do again.  Nepal is struggling its way into democracy, but has a long way to go to make the environment cleaner and more healthy for its people.  But, as always, those warm experiences with the Nepali people made the trip for us and we hope that all the better parts of progress will improve their lot in the years to come.

 

The Journey Over to Nepal

 

We got up between 6 and 6:30, showered, set up the card table as a cat cave with a heating pad and food for James, Dick turned off the water and we were off by about 8.  James seemed depressed about our leaving, poor guy.  We got to the Myrtle Beach Airport around 9:30.  The Budget Parking lot was a little way from the airport, but the shuttle driver saw us and immediately picked us up.   We got our boarding passes and had our frequent flier numbers put on the tickets to give us credit for the 7,500 miles we were traveling on the way over.  Just outside our gate Spirit Airline were offering 3 free tickets for signing up for a credit card, so both Dick and I signed up.  We bought Subway sandwiches for lunch and ate them while waiting. The flight was twenty minutes late, but we still got to Newark before 1, about eight hours before our overseas flight.

 

Dick bought a plug adaptor for Nepal and worked on his bird website.  I read, did puzzles, and walked through stores.  Because we were getting dinner on the plane, we had yogurt, nuts, and pita bread we brought to keep us going.  Time was already becoming meaningless.

 

Our flight was about a half hour late because a man decided not to take the flight after all, and we had to wait for them to find and remove his luggage.  We took off around 10:15 PM, sitting in the very last row of seats, which luckily still did recline a bit.  Each seat had its personal video screen, so I passed some of the 14 hour flight watching The Invention of Lying, The Informant, Little Miss Sunshine, and some episodes of 30 Rock and Arrested Development.  Dick slept well and I tried for a good deal of the night.  They served us breakfast and dinner with a decided Indian/Nepalese flair.  The after dinner ‘mints’ looked like ice cream sprinkles and had anise among other flavorings.

 

We arrived at Indira Ghandi International Airport at 10 PM local time and followed the crowd to passport check.  We had thought that maybe we could get a transit Visa and had even booked a room in New Delhi, but it was apparent at the airport that it wasn’t going to be an option.  From the passport desk we were told we didn’t have to go through there and waited a half hour or so for a man to come and take us back to the Transit Lounge- which was much nicer than we expected, with regular and lounge chairs, clean bathrooms, and even board games to wile away the hours- fourteen for us- until our next flight.  The only problem was the very loud continuous announcements of planes taking off for all points of the globe at all hours of the night.  I lay in a lounge chair for a while, then read and we played Hand and Foot.  Dick stretched out on the floor and managed to sleep some.

 

Around 10 AM a representative of Jet Airways came up with our boarding passes and showed us the way to the Security area where I was funneled through the Women’s Lane and checked thoroughly with a scanner by a woman.  Dick went through another lane.  Our suitcases went through the scanner and we were in an even newer area of the airport.  We tried to get wifi going at the computer hook-up desks, but had no luck, so went downstairs to Gate One to await our flight.  Around eight flights went to Kathmandu that evening and day and we watched one group leave just before it was our time. 

 

When it was our turn we went through the gate and onto a bus that took us out to our plane. We climbed the stairs and took the two hour flight to Kathmandu.  At the airport there we had our luggage scanned then stood in line to buy our two week tourist Visas ($25) to enter Nepal.  When we walked outside, we spotted Heather immediately, and, after finding the ATM closed, got a taxi.  Heather had to bargain down the price to about half of the original offer, making it more like the amount she had paid to get to the airport.  The road from the airport was crowded and dusty with horns being used constantly to wend our way around trucks, buses, and motorcycles- all from the other side of the street- not for the fainthearted- even as passengers.  We passed children sifting through the trash on the side of the road.  In about fifteen minutes we arrived at the Shechen Monastery Guesthouse.  After being in transit from 8 AM Wednesday morning to 3 PM Friday afternoon, we finally began out trip to Nepal!!!

 

Friday, February 26, 2010- Kathmandu

 

The Shechen Guesthouse was an oasis of peace in the teeming city, with an open air restaurant and beautiful gardens at the back area of a monastery.  We had a three-bed room with a lovely parquet wood floor and a bathroom with shower than sprayed the whole room.  Power is off in the Boudha section for at least half the day, but the guesthouse had an auxiliary generator so lights were available during all dark times, though you couldn’t use a computer or charge batteries. 

 

We walked out to the Boudha Stupa- a very ornately painted domed religious center, surrounded by monasteries.  The stupa was ringed with prayer wheels and people walked clockwise around it, chanting and turning the wheels.  There were people of every description and costume there.  All the women wore brightly colored saris and other oriental dress but children, especially boys wore Western clothing for the most part.  The Nepali people are very beautiful almost without exception, with long dark hair and lovely faces.   We joined the group circling the stupa, looking for future gifts in the many small stores that encircled the area. 

 

We went to Heather’s room in another monastery associated with the college she attends.  She has a small room on the second floor of the housing building with a bathroom along the balcony.  Her bathroom looked good, but she only had a cold water shower.  Inside her room she has a bed and several tables alongside and at the foot of the bed.  Her room overlooks the stupa and has a small window for light when the power is out.

 

We circled the stupa again on the way back to the guesthouse.  The Buddhist temple associated with the guesthouse is lovely, with ornate paintings covering the whole building.  You walk through the monastery grounds to get to the guesthouse, past a temple with many prayers wheels and a huge prayer wheel the children can treat almost like a merry-go-round.  Dinner in the outside restaurant was very good.   I had a vegetable curry and Dick had dumpling-like pastas filled with vegetables- because it was a vegetarian restaurant.  By 8:15 we were back in our room and ready for bed!

 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

 

Heather was up at 5 to go and meditate at the stupa and Dick went out a little later to look for birds to photograph.  He was back around 7:30 and we went over to the restaurant for breakfast.  Our room cost only $20 a day and breakfast was included in the price!  Dick and I had thick pancakes with honey and I had a pot of ginger, honey, lemon- which became my favorite drink of the trip.

 

We had time to spend before the taxi was due at 9, so we went down the small roads to the stupa, buying toilet paper on the way to use on our trip up the mountain to the Nagi Gompa Nunnery.  Heather has spent a lot of time there including a retreat in a ‘cave’- and plans to spend this summer there as well.  The taxi driver was Wang Chuk, our favorite, and was a bit late, but drove us through the teeming, dusty, rough streets to the entry to the National Park where we had to fill out papers and pay a fee to continue our drive to the nunnery entrance.  The road was filled with big rocks sticking out and steep cliffs on the side. 

 

We were let off at a steep stairway up to the nunnery.  Once there Heather introduced us to her mentor nun and her ‘sister’ nun who had arrived about the same time as she first did.  They made us a meal of rice, vegetables and a vegetarian soup that tasted like chicken noodle and we ate at a table in the kitchen and talked.

 

When we finished eating, we climbed the stairs to see the director of the convent, who sat on the floor refolding prayer scarves while she talked to us.  Heather gave each of the nuns a package of the sugar free candy we had brought- a treat for them since many were diabetic and couldn’t eat regular candy.  They looked at all the photos on my electronic picture frame and we talked of family.  Then we went into a shrine further up where a lama associated with the nunnery had meditated and died.  It had food offerings on an altar and the bed area where he had died.

 

We climbed further up to see the ‘cave’ where Heather spent time in retreat, coming down to get her meals twice a day.  It was constructed in the hillside with a corrugated roof, cement walls and floor, and had a raised sleeping platform and altar, with a primitive bathroom outside.

 

The nuns were performing a ceremony, so we sat at the side and watched as they chanted, accompanied by drums, horns, shell horns, and bells.  They brought around butter tea, which tasted a lot like bullion.

 

We sat on the steps and watched the nunnery’s cows eating a cardboard box.  When we were ready to go, we walked down the steps, then down the road for about fifteen minutes until the taxi caught up with us.

 

When we got back to Boudha, it was time for the Lama dancing, so we went into the monastery’s main temple.  The monks chanted and a group of about eight in costumes and masks, including one of a skull, danced in a line around the hall.   The costumes were in very bright colors and chandelier-styled hangings of bright colored silk hung above.

 

After a short rest in our hotel room, we had dinner at the restaurant with Heather’s friend Alfreda from Sweden, entertained by a rat who ran along the rafters and skittered across the roof.  We tried to call hotels for tomorrow night and Monday and Tuesday, but couldn’t get through.  So we went back to the room where I read, Heather studied and Dick worked on bird photos from the day.

 

Sunday, February 28- Kathmandu to Patan

 

Heather was up and off and we were up by 6:30.  I finished my book and we exchanged it for a French language novel for Dick.  He and I walked down to the stupa before breakfast and it was already busy there due to the holy day of Holi that was being celebrated.  The narrow street leading to the stupa was lined with beggars asking for money.  The main feature of Holi, as far as we ever saw, was that children (mostly boys) threw water balloons (most often plastic sandwich bags) at passers-by (mostly young girls).  Many of the boys had dye on their faces- sometimes golden- and threw many colors of dyes along with the water balloons.  We took lots of photos of the regular worshippers and the gangs of children roaming around.  Young guys on motorcycles roared through the streets, tempting kids to bombard them, both from street level and from balconies ringing the center.

 

We got back relatively dry and had breakfast with Heather’s friend Janet from Taiwan and a young Lama who taught them named Nyandak.  We walked back to Heather’s room and she went out to buy scarves to offer to the three Lamas we would meet at her monastery, which housed the university classrooms.  I watched a young monk scrubbing the yellow archway to her monastery, whose gates closed at nine, making sure Heather was safely in each night.  We walked from her room to the monastery, dodging water thrown from upper windows and balconies as we went.  Heather walked us around the grounds and showed us the classroom area.  Dick took a few bird photos, but new birds seemed few and far between. 

 

Heather instructed us in the proper procedure for offering scares and money she had put in envelopes to her Rinpoche and the two others sitting on raised platforms and blessing and accepting offerings from the faithful.  We presented the scarves on our two upraised hands, had the scarves placed around our necks and were given a little Buddhist medicine in our hands and saffron water which we drank.

 

We only got a little wet as we made our way back to the Shechen Monastery Guesthouse to check out and meet the taxi we had reserved to take us to Patan, the city across the river from Kathmandu.  There we checked into the Summit Hotel which was enclosed, as each of the subsequent hotels were.  The annex where we stayed had two shared bathrooms and a shared shower, but so few people were there, it was like having our own facilities.

 

We caught another taxi to take us to Patan’s Durbar Square- an area of ancient temples and monuments.  Wandering through the square was very interesting, though we still had to be wary about gangs of children who perched high on the monuments, bombarding people with water and colored dye.  Heather wanted to see the Golden Temple so we used a map and people’s directions to find it.  It was interesting and ornate, with monkey statues wearing yellow lei-like strings of flowers.  Heather heard the chanting going on, and found it was being led by some nuns from Nagi Gompa upstairs in a temple.  It was a chant she had learned earlier, so she joined in the ceremony while we sat on cushions surrounding the celebrants.

 

When we left the temple, we wandered around and I took photos of a group of six little boys and girls and paid them for their time with candies I had in my purse.  Back at the main square, we sat and people-watched and took photo of interesting characters, soldiers, women in saris, and children.   A taxi brought us back to the hotel where we took photos of a young Dutch couple who had been beautifully decorated by the dye-throwing children, then ate at the hotel restaurant.  We ended the day as we usually did, reading, writing down the days’ activities and working on photos.

 

 

Monday, March 1, 2010- Patan to Godavari

 

In the morning I showered and Dick wandered around looking for birds.

We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel.  I saw a children’s book about a yak and yeti and bought a copy of it for Liam at the hotel business center, then got the newspaper article about the author copied.

 

A taxi was waiting outside the hotel and we rode to the Godavari resort and arrived around 11.   The resort was beautiful with many buildings and brick stairs down to the swimming pool.  Pink marble steps led to the second floor and our room.  After wandering around for a while, we decided to go to the Botanical Gardens and walked down to the main road and caught a taxi which whizzed us there.  There were a lot of little food stands and Heather and I got a can of fruit juice and drank as we walked up the road to the gardens.  Unfortunately we never found the gardens (although we may have seen them at the very end of our time there). 

 

We did find the road into the national forest and walked it, looking for birds as we went.  Down below the road was a picnic area and from there a path led to an experimental garden with plants, bee hives and goats.  After walking around there for a while, we were told by a man lying there that we were not allowed to be there, so we went back to the road and continued up the mountain.  Heather wasn’t feeling too well, so decided to rest a while.  Dick and I took a path off the road and heard a lot of birds but saw few, except for two very long tailed pheasant-like birds that we never saw land long enough to get a photo.

 

It was snack time when we got back to Heather, then we wandered around some more.  Heather decided to go to a monastery she had seen and meet us when it was time to head back to the hotel.  We looked for her at a retreat center, then walked down to a field area across from the Botanical Gardens Office.  Dick walked into the field and was told by three boys lying on the trail that there were water buffalo up there and to be careful.  I walked into the office area for the second time, hoping to find the gardens were there, but was told the area was off-limits.

 

We spotted Heather far up the road through the village walking with a monk and headed that way, but she disappeared.  We saw an area that looked like one description of the Botanical Gardens- that it had a pond with paddleboats, so we went in there, but didn’t see much in the way of a garden.  There were some ancient looking stupas (religious monuments) so I took a photo of the one in the best shape then walked on.  Some workmen were reconstructing one, and one of them asked us for entrance money.  With so little time, it wasn’t worth it, and there didn’t appear to be much to see, so we headed back looking for Heather and the mysterious monk.

 

We found them inside an area that had a spring where a half-naked older woman was washing herself.  The monk told Heather the story of the monastery, that a monk from another area fast-walked there in a day and was told that if he didn’t drink the water that night, there would be a great deal of water in the morning.  He didn’t drink and the next morning the spring was flowing from the hillside.  By this time the woman was washing her hair over and over and didn’t seem the least bothered that we were there.  Although the monk really wanted us to have tea with him, we left and walked back down to the area where the buses ran. We got on one with a couple of Catholic nuns, but were told that the bus was waiting there for an hour or so, so we and the nuns got off.  They decided to catch a school bus and we decided to walk.  Another couple who seemed to be a German man and American woman were trying to get a bus to Kathmandu, so we wished them good luck as we started the walk back to the hotel.

 

The walk back took about an hour with stops for photos- including a Golden Buddha high on a terraced hillside.  Some of the little kids were friendly and said hi as we passed.  It rained lightly, but stopped fairly soon.   Back at the hotel we rested for a few minutes, then went to dinner in the hotel dining room.  Dick had prawns, I had a chicken curry and Heather had soup and grilled vegetables.  On the way back to our building it was raining lightly with flashes of lightning and before we reached the building the power went off and we were left in the dark.  But it came back on in a few minutes and we made it to our room.  It was cold enough that we looked for heat, but closing a window was all we could do to warm it up.

 

Dick and Heather took baths for the sheer luxury of it, I typed this then we read, worked on photos and so on until we were all ready to call it a night.

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010- Godavari to Daman- The Everest Panorama Resort

 

We got up around 7 and Dick went out to photograph birds.  I took a bath and enjoyed it.  I had a bit of Montezuma’s Revenge in its Nepali form, so kept breakfast to tea with sugar and toast, ignoring the better parts of the buffet.  As we left a lot of people in black cars were arriving and Wang Chuk, our taxi driver told us it was a meeting of the Maoist government representatives.  Further down the road, we passed the motorcade with the leader of the Maoists making his way there.

 

We drove to Patan where Alfreda joined us.  Dick got money at the ATM and we were off- very cozy with three in the back seat and the trunk area piled high with luggage and backpacks.  Heather got me a bottle of Coke as part of a cure she’d read in a trekker’s handbook- Coke first, then rice and yogurt.

 

We drove curvy roads that snaked up and down along the mountainside.  The views of terraced fields and small villages kept us interested on the three + hour bumpy ride.  I drank water mixed with mineral/electrolyte black currant flavored tablets that Alfreda kindly brought.  The taxi kept cutting out and Wang Chuk stopped at mechanics places and called his friends for advice.  Finally after scraping off parts to clean them, the car ran very well for the remainder of the trip.

 

Wang Chuk knew about the Everest Panorama Resort and drove us there, where he’d spend the next couple of days with us.  There was a fair walk to the resort from where cars had to park, paths and stairs and we were glad to have the staff carry most of our bags.  Heather helped negotiate for the three rooms we’d need.  Wang Chuk would eat and socialize with the resort personnel during his time there.  They told us they had no electricity, but they did run a generator for several hours in the evening and we even had electric heaters to warm up the room for the night.

 

We went to the lookout beyond the restaurant and watched the clouds traveling in and out, but never got a very clear view of the Snow Mountain area of the Himalayas.

 

At the restaurant I chugged my Coke and had rice and broth for lunch, while Heather, Alfreda and Dick had vegetables with rice, bread and soup.  I felt a bit better after dinner.  We went back down the 114 steps down to the duplex cabin we shared with Heather and Alfreda in the other unit, using an LED lantern the restaurant attendants gave us to light our way.  And as a wonderful surprise, a pretty young woman knocked on our door, bearing hot water bottles for all, just before the electricity went off for the night.  So we snuggled under our heavy quilts and passed a cozy night in the mountains.

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010- Everest Panorama Resort- Daman

 

Dick was up and roaming about for about two hours before I got up at 7:30.  I did a little hand laundry and hung things out to dry in front of the cabin.  When I went down to the restaurant, I saw Heather meditating at the overlook with the mountains as a backdrop.  They showed up very well, but Everest was still cloud-covered.  Their snow capped tops sparkled in the sunlight. 

 

I felt good enough to have pancakes for breakfast with water with lemon and honey.  Honey is very popular in Nepal with lots of hives on local farms.  Alfreda was up last, having asked Heather to let her sleep in.  We went to the upper level of the resort and sat in hammocks and chaises until it was time to meet our driver for the trip to the Chu Mik Changchuck Shrine- an ancient shrine revered by both Buddhists and Hindus.  We still had time after walking out to the road, so went up to the helipad and enjoyed the panorama of mountains there.  From the distance we could see the resort’s guard using the mirrors on the cab and a bucket of water to shave.

 

 

Wang Chuk drove us the short distance to the shrine’s entrance, then went back to help drive the resort’s staff to town to buy groceries.  We told him we’d walk back from the shrine and he left, with the day to himself.  We walked the rocky path to the shrine- about a half hour walk with some long flights of stairs as we went up and down.  There were prayer flags strung all along the way, but unfortunately a lot of pilgrims’ trash all along the way as well.  The Nepali people use the whole world as their trash barrel, which was a bit disconcerting to us.  We saw the hut where Heather had done a week-long retreat earlier.  She stopped at the house of the resident lama to buy scarves to hang by the shrine.

 

The shrine was Hindu looking to me, with raised alcoves for the religious figures, covered with red and yellow dye that had been thrown as part of a Hindu festival a few days earlier.  A stand of hanging bells was at the side of the temple area.  But even up at the shrine, several trash bags were stuffed in niches in the rock.  On one of the two temple shrines, there was a discernable ‘face’ in the rock that believers think is coming further out to the surface as the years go by.

 

We met a very nice family there.  The husband had studied in Augusta, Maine and all spoke English.  The older and younger women filled the brass cups with oil, then soaked the ends of wicks and pressed them into the oil, lighting them.  Their small (about two year old, I think) daughter watched the ceremony, but the father and older son stood off.  We hung our scarves on the prayer flag lines and left the shrine area.

 

We went back to the ‘monastery’- a small one that was also residence to the lama’s family.  Because they were eating lunch, we sat on the terrace and ate peanuts, trail mix- which Heather shared with the lama and his daughter later, and crackers.  The lama’s daughter made tea for us.  She was a nice looking woman, probably in her early thirties, who had lived there her whole life and considered herself an unofficial nun.  Her brother had spent the last 35 years in retreat- with his mother and sister as his caretakers and he had only come out when his mother died- going back into retreat by the time we were there.

 

The lama came out to see us on the terrace, wearing a Reebok wool hat, jacket and his robes.  He invited us into the temple where we saw him doing a blessing ceremony (or baptism) for the young daughter of the couple we had spoken to.  The mother held her in her arms while the lama, using a peacock feathered broom-like instrument to dip into a brass water receptacle, sprinkled water on them.  He then threw corn on them. 

 

We spoke to the older woman, who was godmother to the younger woman, and found she had three daughters studying in the US, one of whom was finishing her PhD in neurology and planned to come back to Nepal to work there.  The lama poured a little saffron water in our hands as a blessing and we drank it.

 

Dick and I left then, with Heather and Alfreda staying to meditate.  The stairs going up now, seemed a lot greater in number than they had when they were going in the opposite direction on the way in.  Dick estimated we must have climbed 2000 steps that day, by bedtime.  When we got back to the room, we found I must have left the toilet running all day (It had a pull-up knob connected by a cord to the flushing mechanism that could hang-up) effectively draining all our solar heated shower water for both rooms, for which I felt very apologetic.   We both got under the covers and read and napped for an hour or so.

 

The girls got back around 6 and we went to the restaurant for dinner.  Though the resort was large, we seemed to be the only residents while we were there.  Like the Goadvari resort, which was much grander, things seemed to be very tough for them right now. 

 

Heather had ordered Nettle Soup- a local delicacy- made from nettles that our driver had picked.  It tasted about as if it had been made of grass to me, but Heather was happy to finish my bowl too (the delicacy of my condition still made me think a half bowl was enough for my bowels) saying how healthy it was.  We got extra toilet paper with our hot water bottle delivery.  Hotels certainly didn’t seem very generous with that commodity and we often had to request a second sparse roll.  We worked on the day’s photos until the enforced ‘lights out’ around 8:15.  I used the LED lantern to read for a while and Dick worked on photos using what energy was left in the computer battery.  Then we gave in to the darkness and the activity of the day and went to sleep.

 

March 4, 2010- Daman

 

Dick and I got up early and went walking uphill from the resort.  We figured it was about 225 steps up to get to the entrance of the resort, then an uphill climb after,  We walked up a trail that may have led to a shrine, looking for birds, but never got to a shrine if there was one.  Dick photographed birds there and on the road as we walked.  We went through a small village where there were lots of children, many of whom bowed their heads, folded their hands and said, ‘Namaste’ as we passed.  The older people smiled too and it was a friendly experience.  One boy was rolling a hoop up and down the street.  I gave candies to three little ones I photographed.  The little boys opened their immediately, but the girl took it to her mother who checked it out first. 

 

We were back at the hotel for breakfast by nine, and I picked up some broken pieces of green and blue pottery on the way to incorporate with whatever mosaic I decide to make later.   We met the girls, who had gone again to the shrine, at the restaurant and had our pancakes at an outside table.  The mountains seemed even clearer today and Everest was visible beyond some of the other mountains.  Heather meditated a while and we headed back to the cabin to pack up. 

 

The resort staff helped us carry our bags to the taxi and Dick paid all the various charges for the three rooms and several meals.    We took our last mountain photos from the helipad and left around 11:30.  We made some stops to photograph birds, including one by a river, and Wang Chuk became very good at slowing whenever we indicated we wanted to take a photo.  We arrived back in Kathmandu around 3 and Wang Chuk drove us by the ‘dump,’ actually the river where everything had been dumped, to see the eagles (actually black kites) flying there.   We got money at an ATM and were at the Shechen Guesthouse by 4:30. 

 

Dick and I showered and it felt great to be clean again.  Heather ordered her dinner then showered while it was being prepared.  We were back in the room by 6:30 and Dick worked on photos while I read.  Heather went to her place for her phone charger and bought shower shoes and another mask for Dick.  We got our clothes together in the laundry basket to be washed the next day, and called it a night once more, glad to be back in a place that felt like home when we arrived back there. 

 

Friday, March 5, 2010

 

We got up around 7 and went to breakfast.  Our favorite driver was busy, so the desk helped us order a cab to take us  to the Patan Zoo in the neighboring city.  It turned out to be a very nice zoo, on the whole, with a large pond in the middle for pelicans and ducks.  It featured a lot of local animals: various deer, hippos, rhinos, tigers, leopards, monkeys, birds, and an elephant that waded into the pond, splashed the water with his trunk, sprayed himself and appeared to be having a great time.  I took some of the bird photos because my small lens would fit through the wire mesh, when Dick’s couldn’t.  The driver waited outside as did Heather, and we joined then in about an hour and a half.

 

We went from the to the Monkey Temple with lots of steps to climb up, but nowhere near as steep as the steps going down on the other side.  We wandered around looking at the various temples and shops there and I bought postcards.  Every once in a while, an aggressive money would chase the others around with lots of accompanying noise.  Heather bought some incense for herself and for Rob.  We sat waiting while she meditated and a young teenaged boy sat down between us and practiced his English on us- which was fun. 

 

We got another taxi when we came down from the temple and went to the main tourist shopping area in Kathmandu.  We bought scarves, T-shirts, silk purses, teas, a shell ‘horn’ like the Buddhists use in ceremonies, fossils and a skirt.  It was festive there with bike drawn tuk-tuks and brightly colored shops, equipped with generators for when their electricity was turned off. 

 

Heather had arranged to meet friends at a restaurant in the back of a bookshop, so Dick and I made our way there when we finished shopping.  Christine, who we had met in North Sandwich, and a Nepalese couple came and we discussed life in Nepal, the political developments as they tried to write their Constitution, and the caste system which was still alive and well there.  The food took quite a while to come.  I had carrot soup and a very hot cashew curry and Dick had a veggie burger.  As we ate I heard ‘Hotel California’ and other Western songs- the first Western music I’d heard on the trip.  We took photos of everyone, then caught a cab back to Boudha Stupa.

 

We walked the back roads to the guesthouse using Heather’s flashlight to find our way and were back after 9.  Our clothes were beautifully washed and ready for us when we got back.  I repacked my suitcase and backpack with clean clothes and gifts.  Dick worked on the photos of the day and we both wrote postcards.   We felt like short-timers in Nepal at this time. 

 

Saturday, March 6, 2010- Kathmandu

 

We were up before 7 and went down for breakfast.  Dick and I walked down to the stupa and I bought a few more gifts including crystals and the broom-like things with peacock feathers that the lamas use to sprinkle water for blessings.  Heather went on to her room in the other monastery.  My camera froze, probably because of dust that got in, so no more photos for the rest of the trip for me.  When Heather got back, we went to see a 17 year old Rinpoche to get him to bless the prayer flags Heather had bought for us and her mother. We sat outside his door for about 45 minutes, then were told he was sick and sleeping, but we might be able to see him later.

 

We went around the front to the temple to see the Lama Dancing, but they were only chanting to drum beats, with assistants passing out water to them.  It was crowded there with people filling the doorway and rows of shoes and sandals outside.  Back at the guesthouse we worked on photos, wrote postcards, and read.  I went back with Heather to see if the Rinpoche was available and we did get to see him, sitting on his platform with his tiny dog beside him.  He sprinkled water on the flags as a blessing then wished us a safe trip back.  This time around, also, the Lamas were dancing- stepping high and turning to the beat of the drum, with brightly colored costumes and headdresses of different colors to signify different positive attributes such as truth and purity.

 

Dick and I showered and we rested up, read, and worked on photos before the long trip home.  Then we walked to the Garden Restaurant where we ate curry- chicken for me, mushroom for Dick- hot chocolate and mushroom pizza.  I bought a few more gifts in their gift store.  We walked back though the narrow darkened streets, seeing people in silhouette carrying large packages on their heads, lots of children including very young monks, and motorcycle light cutting through the crowds.  Heather paid to light candles and we each took turns doing it alongside the stupa.

 

We went to bed as soon as we got home, in preparation for the almost two- day trip to reach home in North Carolina. 

 

 

Sunday, March 7, 2010- Leaving Nepal

 

We got up around 6:30 and were down waiting for the restaurant to open.  Dick ran to the stupa area to get one more T-shirt while waiting for our pancakes to be made.  He also ordered ten pieces of their flat bread to be made for eating on our journey home.

 

We finished packing and Wang Chuk was waiting at the hotel desk when we got there to check out.  We said our sad good-byes to Heather and left her to study for her Monday exam.  Traffic to the airport wasn’t bad- the usual confusion of cars, taxis, and motorcycles jockeying for position and dust enough to make us put on our masks one last time.  When we got to the airport, Dick offered Wang Chuk twice the usual fare, but he refused to take anything for the ride!

 

We went through lots of security checks including body checks and showed our passports various times.  In the outer lounge Dick worked on photos, I typed some of this journal and we bought candies and cookies to use up our Nepali money.  When we realized the time, we went through two additional security checks before boarding the bus (separate buses because the male security line went slower than the female one).  We were as far forward as I’ve ever been on a plane and could spread out because the flight was lightly booked. 

 

I had to wake Dick to take photos as a beautiful panorama of the Himalayas spread out before us for many miles of the flight.  As soon as we were in the air, drinks were passed out, followed by a choice of veg or non-veg food for lunch.  More drinks and then tea or coffee were offered and the two hour flight passed quickly.

 

In the Indira Ghandi Airport in New Delhi, we had to wait again, until our information was checked and an attendant escorted us back to the Transit Lounge where we had spent the night on our way over.  Dick worked on photos and I worked on this journal once more.  This time we had twelve daytime hours to pass here- so it’s now 4 ½ down and lots to go!

 

Around three hours before our flight, an attendant from Continental Airlines came and took our passports and itinerary, promising to bring them back with our boarding passes in about fifteen minutes, which he did.  We were told to go through two different security passages before someone motioned us through, and we went through our male and female body check booths and entered the departure lounge.  At a computer desk we worked on photos and the journal while finishing our wait.

 

Our flight was called and we went through another fairly complete security check just before entering the jetway.  I got through the female side before Dick and a nice man helped put my suitcase in the overhead bins.  I passed the night trying to sleep (the flight was 14 hours again- from 11:30PM Indian time to 4 AM NJ time) using the blow up neck pillow, which helped.  But I also watched Love Happens, Motherhood, and Where the Wild Things Are to pass the time.  Dick worked on photos, but also slept a good bit.  They served dinner around midnight, gave us a snack bag with sandwich, bottle of water,  and Twix bars for the overnight, then served breakfast in the early hours.  The night went reasonably quickly and we landed in Newark right on time about 4AM.

 

We followed the crowd through Passport Control and through the only Security Gate open at that early hour.  The wait in Newark was about four hours, and included moving once when the gate was changed, but time was totally meaningless at this point in our journey.  I got a chocolate shake and a chicken sandwich for Dick at McDonald’s and we passed the time reading, doing puzzles and working on photos.

 

The flight from Newark to Myrtle Beach went quickly and we even got a muffin with our sodas and juices.  We paid our parking fees in the airport, took the shuttle to the car, got a few groceries in Calabash and were home shortly after noon, happy to be back in our little house once again!

 

It was a very good trip, but not one we’d do again.  Nepal is struggling its way into democracy, but has a long way to go to make the environment cleaner and more healthy for its people.  But, as always, those warm experiences with the Nepali people made the trip for us and we hope that all the better parts of progress will improve their lot in the years to come.