Monday, August 30, 2010

Giving the Palace The Run Around

Now as I stated recently, I'm the only person I usually see running in the streets of Kathmandu. During a conversation with some expats while we were in Bhaktapur observing the Gaijatra festival the topic of exercise came up and someone mentioned "It's not like you can go running in Kathmandu". Well you can, I do. Kind of. It's a little more like an obstacle course, and in some ways it makes things more interesting. Some times though you just want to run and not deal with all of the traffic and people and cows or whatever might get in your way.

As I've mentioned, the only place I see people running jogging most of the time is around the palace. The house owner of my apartment also recommended it to me as a place to go running. So the other day I didn't get a chance to go out until sometime around 5PM. I really wanted to go running, but the traffic out by the ring road on the way to Boudha would be terrible during this part of the day, so I took the opportunity to try out the route around the palace. I gave it two laps plus the distance from and back to the apartment.

Map showing the route around the palace, almost exactly 1.6 miles.

The palace route has some real advantages going for it. First there are sidewalks around the whole thing, and in most places you can actually use them. In some places they are full of people, like near the east gate and over by the foreign ministry on the west side, but other than those two spots you don't have to run in the road. Because really no vehicles go in or out of the palace area for the most part, you don't spend too much time dodging cars or getting stuck in traffic. Another bonus is that the trees and bamboo that line the walls provide some decent shade from the sun. With many of the normal obstacles removed from my path I was able to keep a fairly consistent pace. Also the mile and a half loop that isn't far from home allows for a nice variable run depending on how I feel, and if I pull a muscle or something it isn't a long walk back to the apartment. 

So with all of those advantages, you'd think this would be my new route, but I think I'm gonna stick to the Boudha route. The main reason is that the air quality around the palace is terrible. Sure I cross the ring road on my way out to Boudha, but for the most part the air isn't all that terrible on my way out there. Around the palace I felt like I was constantly sucking exhaust. Narayanhiti Path and Kanti path are especially bad. The sidewalks that are concrete are fine, bu the brick ones, though even enough for walking are a bit tough when running, during these segments I usually shifted to running on the side of the road. While the trees and bamboo provide shade, they also provide homes for birds and fruit bats, and thus when running under the trees on Kanti Path especially, not only do you have to dodge poo from the sky, but you have to inhale the smell of the poo on the sidewalk. 

While the sidewalks are nice, young Nepalis seem to like to take up as much space on a sidewalk as they can. I don't think it's done on purpose, but it's common to see four people spread out perfectly to take up the entire length of the sidewalk, and thus you end up jumping off and back on to the sidewalk. The sidewalk near the foreign ministry is always full of Nepali people waiting to get a passport. The quantity of people there is always really high, and due to this the number of people already walking in the street is already high, thus you end up dodging people and oncoming traffic through this section. Also there is very little difference in elevation over this route, just a few places with some minor variation giving some gradual up hill and down hill segments. On my route out to Boudha I get a couple of really good hills in each direction, so I get some good practice on both up and down hill running.

All in all maybe not a bad place for an early morning run before the traffic gets going. I'm sure I'll use the route from time to time, but all in all not too impressed. If I want to do some distance running once in a while it might not be a bad option if I got up in the morning and did like five laps or something. Running long distances otherwise gets me too far from Kathmandu, and I'd hate to strain my calve way out by Sundarijal or something. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Le Trio, Another Option in Patan

There are lots of restaurants opening up in Patan, many try for a kind of stylish look and serve imitation western food. Some do this much better than others. To be fair to these places, cooking many western dishes in Nepal is difficult because it is very hard to find many basic ingredients that are of the same quality as what we are use to. I'm sure many people from Nepal who go to the states get served rice and think "what the hell is wrong with the rice here." Many of these places popping up in Patan have over priced menus for what gets served and like a Chinese hotel, it may look like quality at first glance, but a closer look reveals the shoddy reality. So it was with these thoughts in mind that we wandered into le Trio today while in Patan's restaurant area and decided to give it a try. 

The interior did have a good clean look, and though it was trying a bit for a 'hip' look that I'm not a fan of, it worked for this place. Really good looking bar area that appeared to be well stocked. The stand out physical feature was a very good sized television, which would make this a decent destination if you want to catch a soccer match or cricket (you really want to watch cricket?). Unfortunately for us MTV India was on when we arrived, and it looked like the exact same bad reality shows they pump out in the states are made in India, only with obnoxious Indians instead of obnoxious Americans. Luckily the channel was changed to tennis at one point which is a bit easier to ignore.

So we just ordered simple lunches, and some fresh lemonade. Some of the best fresh squeezed lemonade I've had in Nepal to be honest. Often I find they get the ratios of sugar and lemon juice way off, but this was quite good (priced at 60 NRS). Both of our meals were priced in the mid 200 NRS range, Kim got an enchilada and I got a spicy chicken wrap. My food was quite good. It was like Nepali chicken chilly in a wrap, and the chicken was moist, tender and plentiful. It also came with a dipping sauce which was really good. It came with a very meager side of fries (maybe a dozen or less), which seemed a little odd, it's not like potatoes cost a lot in Nepal...don't skimp on the cheap stuff guys. As for Kim's food she reported it was better then most of the Mexican food that we've sampled as of late. Most Nepali Mexican food though seems to be an imitation of an American imitation of the real thing. It came with a good looking side salad and some rice. All in all not a bad place, I'd go back if I was in the area, especially if I was just gonna get some drinks.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Buying Gear in Kathmandu

When some travelers first get to Thamel they think they are surrounded by great deals on trekking gear. To even a casual observer though it becomes very clear that the North Face and Mountain Hardware logos, which occasionally are both present on a single product, are not authentic. Almost all of the supplies in these shops are Nepali made, and much of it is of dubious quality. The trick is to know what you can get and what you can’t, what will work and what items will fall apart.

Many of the items here will last you a single trek if that is all you need them for. Things of great importance that will be in constant hard contact with your body, like shoes and backpacks, should be avoided as you are just asking for sores and blisters. Zippers are the components that I have found often break in Nepal, and the straps lack the correct adjustability and often break after a limited number of uses as well. In fact the key to buying these products is looking to minimize the number of seems, zippers and straps, as these are where the Nepali products break down. I bought a “Polartech” head band back in 2002 and eight years later I still use it as the fabric keeps my ears warm and the velcro attachment in the back end works fine. Other items that stand up a little better to time are fleeces, sleep sacks, water bottles, hats, and travel towels.  Be aware that the advertised gore-tex or other specialized fabrics are not as advertised, and many products advertised as waterproof are not. In the instance that an item is actually waterproof you can almost be certain that it will not be breathable.

Recently a couple of official outdoor shops have opened in Kathmandu, and this is where I go if I really need dependable gear. North Face and Mountain Hardware have opened stores on Tredevi Marg, heading toward the Garden of Dreams east of Thamel. These stores sell the real deal but you will also pay real prices for their products, often equal to what you would pay in stores back home.  Another quality option is the Nepali based store Sherpa Adventure Gear  which has a location just south of the Roayal Palace Museum. These are the places that I visit when I need shoes, tents, and clothing that wiks or has zippers. The key to gear shopping in Nepal is to be aware of what you’re buying and to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Feeding Frogs, 9 Bean Soup, Sacred Lakes, and Cows Leading Spirits

Nepal, I think, has more festivals than any other place on the planet. Yesterday was Janai Purnima, which is a Hindu holiday that doesn't make any sense to me. All I know about it is that it has something to do with a string that gets tied around you and on this day it is replaced. Somehow this is also associated with the feeding of frogs (yes even frogs get holidays in Nepal) and a very tasty nine bean soup. The soup seems to be the thing that most people actually take part in. It is also the holiday that attracts many people  to the pilgrimage site up to Gosainkund lake that I was trekking through recently. Supposedly a dip in the high altitude lakes during this holiday cleanses a person of their sins. A hotel owner up on the trail told me that usually some people get sick from exposure to the cold water and cold conditions up at that altitude. The presence of thousands of pilgrims at a site that normally supports around a hundred people or so can't help the sanitary conditions either. 

Procession for the Deceased over the Last Year

One festival just isn't enough, so today was another festival known as Gaijatra, which is a festival to help lead the spirits of those who have died over the last year to the God that judges the dead. Or at least that is what I was told. Now in the past it use to be that families bought a cow and donated it to a priest and that cow pulled a chariot for that person, and it was believed that by the spirit grabbing on to the cows tail that the cow could help him find his way through the challenges of the after life. Personally I'm not sure I'd trust a cow to be my spirit guide, I'd be worried about just hanging out in a field with grass or something, but then again I'm not Hindu.

Now despite the historical use of cows I didn't actually see any cows being used today. Instead cows were represented on many of the float like things that were carried through the city of Bhaktapur, the city we went to in order to observe the festival. Also on the floats were a picture of the deceased and lots of other ornamentation including an umbrella on the top of the floats.

Young People Dance and Bang Sticks

All around the city the processions were lead by bands and many children and young adults that were dancing and banging sticks together. Supposedly the meaning of this ritual was to ward off the evil spirits. That may, or may have been the case, but very clearly today it was an excuse to have a good time. Many western tourists also had joined in some of the processions and along with some of the locals had put on body paint and danced and banged sticks together to the rhythm of the music. 

Drums and Costumed Youths

Th squares of Bhaktapur were packed with onlookers, mostly locals. The parades on this day seem to be a big event and lots of people gather to watch the processions. Like parades back home bands are mixed in, again with the purpose given that the music wards off the evil spirits. Young boys are occasionally dressed up as Shiva or cows and young girls are dressed in some traditional attire, that if it was supposed to represent something, was lost on me. 

Boy Dressed as Shiva and a Costumed Girl

Onlookers watch the Processions in front of the Old Palace 

We mingled with a multitude of people in Bhaktapur's Durbar Square for a while, just watching the processions go by. Really a great place to watch and experience the festival if you happen to be in Nepal during this time period. Nepal seems to have a festival or holiday for everything, and hardly a week goes by where you can't see some kind of event somewhere in the country. This one was really a lot of fun to witness first hand though and stands out above many of the others I have watched while I was here. It was also nice to watch a festival that took an event that can be as sad for people as death and turned it into something that was a celebration. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cross Cultural Toilet Humor

Toilets and bathrooms are one of those differences between east and west that neither party is comfortable with how the other handles things. Over the years in my travels through the Asia, Africa and the middle east, not to mention the many outhouses in the north woods of New England have gotten me rather use to situations that may call for improvisation. Despite my comfort with Asian bathroom protocol, I find that it is regularly a source of confusion and comedy. 

I was talking to my mother back in the US the other day when somehow the conversation had moved to discussing the lack of toilet paper in most of Asia. She was quite confused, "What do you mean they don't use toilet paper?!" This seemed inconceivable to her.
I didn't know how to make it any more clear, " know they ahh don't use toilet paper." 
This didn't help any, "Well what do they do? I mean how do know...I don't get it?"
"They use water."
"What do you mean 'they use water'!?"
"You know, they use water. That's why they don't use their left hand for eating."
"Huh? Oh. That's disgusting! You know you're on another planet over there, right?"

Recently a friend of mine in Kathmandu who is putting up a building had some of his workers go on strike. The problem was the bathroom that was being supplied had a western style toilet. I acknowledged confusion, "I don't get it, what was the problem?"
"They think it's disgusting."
"They don't want to sit on something that everyone else's ass has been sitting on."
"Fair enough."

Recently some other friends of ours told us that they had a Pakistani man come to stay with them for a bit and while he was there he asked where the bathroom shoes were. My friend had to inform him that they didn't bother using them (for those who don't know, we don't have sandals for our bathrooms in the west). The man apparently kind of hovered around the bathroom door a bit and abstained from using it. Later on while visiting a place out by New Road he picked up a pair of rubber sandals and was then comfortable using the bathroom. One of my friends laughed a little about the incident, "He probably tells his friends back home that we were disgusting, 'they didn't even have bathroom shoes!"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Has Government Failed Nepal?

It's always awkward commenting on Nepali politics because as an outsider you really aren't part of the system. So I'll buffet what I'm about to say with the disclaimer that, these are just my opinions and observations. I always stand by the idea that Nepal's politics should in fact be decided by Nepali people and not foreigners, no matter how good the intentions of the intervening nations might be. Also I am the first to admit that my country is politically a complete mess, so I am not trying to suggest that westerners have all the answers. Now with that aside, let's move on.

 Today a quote came out from Maoist chairman Dahal that the failure of the parliamentary system to elect a prime minister amounts to the failure of the parliamentary system as a whole. Now this shouldn't surprise anyone, the Maoists have been clearly working the system for a while to make it look terrible, to cause it to fail. Every time the system stalls and sputters the Maoists can point and claim that this kind of system doesn't work and they can slowly begin to peddle their real goal which is a one party system, where of course they are that party. The Maoists very clearly are still fighting the civil war, it's just changed gears, and the other political parties are too numb to realize it. Every time UML and NC plays for the short term goals of getting the PM seat or any other thing the Maoists can use to divide and make them look like opportunists, they make the system look corrupt and unworkable. In some ways the Maoists don't have to work very hard, because that is essentially the state of Nepali politics as far as I can tell.

UML and NC don't seem to realize just how high the stakes are that they are really playing for, they are always blinded it seems by the next shiny object that lies right in front of them. This is a country without a functioning government, that is in the process of writing a constitution (although that seems to be being avoided at all costs), and is in a very precarious state as the largest party in the constituent assembly were at war with the monarchy and the government of Nepal not all that long ago. The continuation of politics as normal and complete lack of leadership is uninspiring to the public at large to say the least, and dangerous to the precarious state of affairs that Nepal now finds itself in.

When I first came to Nepal, it was only a matter of months after the royal massacre in 2001. At that time it struck me that the county's people were in a terrible predicament, choosing between a corrupt establishment and a ruthless and corrupted ideology in the Maoist alternative. While there is no longer large scale violence in the countryside, the people of Nepal still seem to be faced with that same terrible choice. The constitution process, and the promise of a multi party democracy that works is a farce and just about everyone knows it. The Maoists want this system to fail, and the other parties want things to continue as they have, where government mostly exists as a means to funnel public money into certain people's coffers. So I think it is safe to ask the question whether not only has parliament failed in Nepal, but has the government failed?

At the peace rally back in May many Nepali people I talked to were just sick and tired of all of the political games that were interfering with their lives. "Look, just let us work, run our stores and live our lives." I remember one person summing up her discontent. Isn't that what everyone wants? Just to live their lives and be left alone from these people who assume the role of our "leaders"? Maybe the problem is that of all the options that the Nepali people have been given, the one where they are free of the withering hand of government has not been one of them. Maybe they don't want people trying to enforce some utopian society or maybe they want limits on government that keeps its hand out of their pockets and takes away the power to make arbitrary decisions that allow it to collect so many bribes. This seems to be what I hear from just about every Nepali person I speak with, and yet not one person in politics here seems to be willing to take that angle and lead that charge. The established parties seem to just see the state as spoils that they fight over.

When established parties have so much control over the system it is rarely good for the people of that country, or their freedom. The right to vote is only worth it if the system is able to produce choices that actually represent your beliefs and adhere to the actual rules that government is supposed to be restrained by. The choice between multiple bad answers put out by established powers is not freedom, it's just a dressed up from of tyranny. If no one gives you the choice you really want, maybe it's time to come together and tell them all to go to hell. In one sense maybe the Maoists are right, there should be a people's constitution, but not one written by them for the people, but instead one written by the people to constrain all of them.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Enlightened: Selling Salsa in Kathmandu

I had been trying to get in the habit of posting on this blog just about every day, and every other at a bare minimum. As you can see though this is day three since the last post. My excuse is that I had to get the packaging and product ready for my latest venture, which is selling salsa at the farmers markets in Kathmandu. Getting salsa made right here isn't as easy as you would think, as many of the spices are just a bit different and finding some ingredients can be a chore. That said, the base ingredients are very abundant, and Nepal offers some great additional fruits that are cheap and fresh. Just the other day I saw avocados being sold too, which means even more options very soon!

Vegetables Dry from an Iodine Bath

On Thursday I bought what I thought was enough ingredients and had it all soaked in an iodine solution for an hour. Now normally I don't bother doing this when cooking for myself, but many people (especially expats) consider this essential. Now since I'm selling it to other people and not just making it for myself, it's also important that I do everything I can to make sure that the food is hygienic. Once everything dried I divided up all the different ingredients and went out to pick up my labels.

Abhishek Shrestha did an excellent job printing up labels for me, I unfortunately didn't measure the jars correctly as I didn't realize they had such a curve to them on the top and bottom, this caused the labels to crease a bit at those ends, but it still looked good. By Thursday night I had all my labels I would use for my first test run attached to the jars.

Now chopping that huge pile of vegetables and fruit pictured above into five different one gallon batches is no simple feat. Friday morning I started at about 8:30AM. I took a quick break to run to Bhat Betini to get a larger bowl to put the batches in once I realized the existing one wouldn't work. I also stopped briefly to check my e-mail around 4PM. Other than that I was chopping, slicing, dicing and mixing. Some time after 6PM Kim and I stepped out to eat some dinner, as I had essentially skipped lunch. We also had to stop to get some more tomatoes, onions and garlic on the way home. After getting back I went back to chopping and finally got to bed some time just before midnight.

Selling Enlightened Salsa at the Farmer's Market

So I arrived just before 9AM and spoke with Francois, who is one of the two people in charge of the market.  He sets me up with a table and I put the samples out and the jars. Almost immediately people started showing up and I sold some of the Original Mexican style, which seemed the most popular with Nepali's who tried the different flavors. Some time after ten thirty I sold out of the Pomegranate, then the Original, and then the Greek by 11AM. By the time I was done all I had left was a couple bottles of hot pepper and one Thai.

Salsa Ready for Sampling

What I learned in my first attempt is that there is definitely a market for salsa in Kathmandu. Having the Greek stuff was a great way to have something to sell to people (especially Europeans) who don't like spicy foods. I could have easily sold half again the number of Greek and maybe Pomegranate and Original as well. I'll also have to look into selling at the Summit Hotel in Patan on Sundays. 

In order to make enough to sell at both locations and also in order to save my hand from future blisters and my body from 15 hour days of salsa making I'll have to take my earnings from today and invest in a food processor. I'll also have to start looking into making tortillas and tortilla chips to sell alongside, because the chips in this city are very expensive, mostly because I think only expats eat them. So thanks to Shobha at 1905 for not only putting together the market, but also for letting me sell there. Had a great first run and look forward to continuing to provide salsa to Kathmandu.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thinking of Aubrey

Back in May I heard through some friends about an American girl who had apparently gone missing up in the Langtang area (You can see my original post HERE). Word came just as the Maoists were in the middle of shutting down the country. This added to the confusion, and I was among the many people who assumed that the strike had delayed her return to Kathamndu and she was either stuck in Dunche or Syrabru, or after getting frustrated with a lack of transportation had decided to walk back via Gosainkund and Helumbu. As we clear the middle of August she has still not turned up.

I'm not sure why her story still sticks with me so much, but I find that at least once or twice a week I think about what might have happened to her, or where she is, or how hard this must be for her parents. Now I have never met her, and what I know about her comes to me only through the facebook page they created for her in the search and what I read in the media. The thoughts continue mostly though because she disappeared doing one of the things that I love most in the world, and from what I have read about her, she had in some similar approaches to life and travel that resonate with me.

There is nothing like getting out in the middle of the Himalaya and walking the trails of those mountains, and in some ways doing it on your own adds to the experience. There are many people who would scold me for writing that, as traveling by yourself especially in places with potentially dangerous terrain puts yourself more at risk and potentially in a bad situation. I stand by it though, and there are few experiences like it. A lot of people ask me what I like about trekking so much, when I tell the stories it just sounds like a lot of walking and work. But you can't convey all the little moments, like coming around a bend and having three wild goats come up onto the trail, or turning the corner and seeing a snow covered peak that had been hiding behind a ridge, or discovering a four hundred year old monastery three thousand feet up above the trail. When you are on your own there are no distractions, there is just you, the trail and the mountains and rivers around you. You can take it all in, at your own pace and as you like.

Reading some comments on some media websites, especially in the States, there were a lot of ignorant comments about how trekking by herself was such a terrible idea. Mostly written by people that have never been outside their state I would assume, it doesn't take one long to realize  once here that this is one of the safest destinations on the planet. Despite the sometimes dangerous trail conditions and the sheer number of tourists that come through regions like Langtang, Nepal boasts an extremely low rate of fatalities for foreign tourists. The Nepali people are some of the least threatening people on the planet, and even more so up in Buddhist regions like Langtang, and doubly so when it is a region that knows that tourism is their bread and butter. Langtang has very few villages that even exist for reasons other than tourism, Langtang Village and a portion of Kyanjin Gompa excepted.

I even traveled here during the height of the insurgency, in 2002 and 2004. The Maoists had blown up a control tower at the airport in Lukla, scaring away many tourists. There was such a backlash against them for this that while I was hiking on my way to Everest from Jiri they had actually spray painted slogans in English to win over tourists saying things like "Foreigners are welcome to see our sacrifice." My point in brining this up is that it is for the most part extremely safe and aside from some petty theft, foreigners are rarely ever the target of violent crime.

All of this makes Aubry's disappearance  so much more of a mystery to me. Langtang is not a trail that you can lose, there are high mountains on either side of the river and basically one trail. If she had just gotten into physical trouble with the terrain via a nasty fall or something, someone would have seen her or her belongings not far from the trail. Besides my understanding is that she disappeared somewhere between Lama Hotel and the police checkpoint before you get to Langtang village, a portion of the trail which is relatively free of any scary drops or precarious cliffs. As for abduction by locals, it just seems so out of character for that region. She was there at the end of the high season, how could someone not notice with all the people, both Nepali and foreign going through. Again there aren't many trails through that valley. Also why? Sure everyone likes white woman, but it's dangerous. White folk tend to stand out in Nepal and India. As many people assume that we are all rich and have connections many also view messing with westerners as potentially a very dangerous undertaking. Even if someone had decided to traffic this one girl, many many people would be reluctant to work alongside or get involved. Where would you bring her that she wouldn't stand out? Lastly the traffic strike that followed paralyzed the whole country for over a week, how were they moving around?

All of this kind of went through my mind as I passed some of her missing posters on the trail in langtang. What could possibly have happened to her out here? I'm reminded when I see them still up at Bhat Betini, or Phora, or in Thamel. We can all hope that this will still have the best possible ending, and my thoughts go out to her family. The only thing I would maybe say to them if I could is that Aubrey was doing something that few people ever get to do, she was experiencing something that few people ever dare to experience, and she was living like few people ever get to live. While her disappearance is a tragedy, her life seems to be an inspiration.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's a Cultural Difference: Running Through Traffic in Kathmandu

Now I've been better at keeping up some good habits than others. For instance I am no closer to speaking fluent Nepali now than I was three months ago. This is of course my fault, as I haven't kept up with classes and spend all my time speaking to people who speak English. Sometimes I'm really good about sitting down and writing, and sometimes not as much, but I have stuck to it and get at least three pages written or edited each day. In line with that project I have also been reading quite a bit and have been going through rather in depth books every week or two. Thank god for Kindles, because I would never ever find the books I'm reading anywhere in Kathmandu, or most US bookstores for that matter. I have also kept up my running, and continue to run to Boudha about every other day or more, and that has made for some interesting adventures.

South Asia as a whole doesn't seem to be all that interested in athletics. Sure they watch and occasionally play soccer and cricket, and in the press I see things about badminton, table tennis and judo, but serious competitive athletics are just not part of daily life for school kids apparently, not on any scale like what we do in the US anyway. As for running you occasionally see people do some fairly lazy laps around the palace wall, or a few people on cardio machines at some of the gyms, but even there it is most often expats. I have never ever in all my times I've gone running seen another person running as well. You see some Nepali's doing back breaking work, so they aren't afraid of breaking a sweat, but they seem quite averse to doing so if they don't have to. Judging from some of the puzzled looks I get as I go running and some of the conversations I have with people here, most Nepali's don't have any idea why you would put yourself through running across town.   While people back in the US might think you're still nuts they implicitly understand the health and fitness benefits that go along with running, and I'm not sure that is ingrained in the psyche of South Asia.

As I have finally gotten back to actually running and not just jogging I am starting to find that I actually can move faster than a large segment of Kathmandu traffic, which brings some benefits as well as some awkward situations. Kathmandu has an incredibly dense population, and there are people everywhere. There are no sidewalks, so people, bovines, dogs, and all manner of transportation from tractors and tuk-tuks to SUVs and school buses all fill the roads. Trash is not collected in bins or bags, but dumped in piles on the side of the road for pick up. The monsoons have eroded some parts of the streets and new sink holes have opened up in places to add to the already large array of pot holes, large puddles, open manholes that one can encounter in the streets of Kathmandu. This all makes for some tricky maneuvering when you are running, and you rarely get to keep a nice even pace as you have to switch sides of the roads, temporarily jump up onto a limited sidewalk, or slow down as you reach a traffic jam.

The strangest thing is that people do not look where they are going for the most part, and even if they do see you coming they continue on what ever path they are on, regardless of if they are on foot, on bikes, motorcycles or in a taxi. The other day I almost slammed into a woman who just stepped out in front of me without looking, luckily I just put my hands out, and kind of moved to the side so as not to fully collide with her, but had I been a motorcycle or a car, she would have been seriously hurt. Bicycles tend to go at a very lazy pace through the city, and often many of the men I pass who are on bikes feel it is some kind of personal challenge to them that I have run by them and start peddling a little faster. For a minute they will get ahead, especially if we are on a down hill, but then they go back to their lazy pace again and I pass them. I get the most puzzled looks from these guys.

The funniest thing is when I get out past the ring road I start passing a lot of the white mini-vans that transport people out toward Boudha. I'll pass them in traffic, and they will pass me on some open road,  but then I pass them again when they stop to drop people off or pick them up. Then as we inevitably hit traffic again as we close in on Boudha I often am running right next to them, and the looks I get from the boys that holler out where the van is going and collect money from passengers is priceless. Sometimes they or someone else in the van will try and say something to me in garbled in English, and sometimes they will even cheer me on. I passed a school bus the other day on a downhill where the bus had to keep stopping for speed bumps. The children on the bus had moved to the side I was passing it on and many of them were cheering me on, and as the bus hit traffic I pulled away to them all pointing and laughing.

Now navigating traffic here is on a bit of a learning curve, as many of the rules and signals from back home just don't apply. Blinkers for instance often are a signal saying that it is OK to pass on the side that blinker is flashing on. On the buses and vans that have young men hanging out the door, they kind of hit the side panel of the vehicle every once in a while, two whacks indicating that it is OK to proceed and one whack means stop (they are signalling to their driver). This is done most often when they are backing up, when people are trying to squeeze by each other in a very congested street and when passenger vehicles are letting people on and off. Horns also constantly update you on a vehicles location, if they are coming up behind you or if they are coming around a tight corner. Luckily Kathmandu traffic rarely exceeds about 25 MPH giving you plenty of time to assess your situation in relation to everything on the road, and more often then not in stop and go traffic you can actually move just as fast if not faster than they can. In fact I am averaging about +/- 17 minute runs out to Boudha right now, and there is no way in hell I could get a taxi out there that fast.

When I get to Boudha I generally do three walking laps around the stupa to kind of collect myself and take some deep breaths. Often a curious monk will start talking to me, and several have asked me why I am sweating so much. I tell them, that I ran from Lazimpat, and they just kind of look at me like I have three heads, but are then happy to move on to more traditional conversation about where I am from, if I have seen the monasteries here and some general questions about any interest in Buddhism. Taxi drivers waiting at the exit to Boudha, people normally perplexed that westerners would want to walk instead of ride in a taxi, always point and shake their heads as I go running back toward Lazimpat. Sorry guys, it's faster and it's free.

I really think that in my school days I learned as much from athletics as I did in the classroom. In school you learn math, English, critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, etc. In athletics you really develop discipline, courage, character, teamwork, and leadership. While those traits can be tested under other non-athletic conditions, it seems to come naturally and easily in that kind of environment, and is something that most youths enjoy. Track and cross country are not expensive sports, you just need a place to run, any country or community can support that. It's somewhat strange then to see a society where it is so under utilized as an educational and developmental tool. To be honest, as cool as it was to have those kids cheering me on as I passed their bus, I kind of wish it was myself and other adults cheering them on.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Enlightened Salsa

So it looks like I will be trying to sell some Salsa at the farmers market. Over the last two weeks I have been a salsa making fool, and have settled on five different types that I am very happy with. I actually had a mango salsa that I really liked, but mangoes seem to be going out of season, so I won't be making it.  How much of this stuff I can sell on a given weekend is up in the air, I have no idea. Where I will store it all, given the size of our refrigerator is also a point that I will need to consider. I'm going to go into the first weekend with low expectations and a fairly limited amount of product and see how it does I think.

This is the label for the standard chunky garden style salsa. Kim put together the picture for me, and I did the colors and writing. There was some discussion about whether it might be offensive to have the Buddha in a sombrero, but I think it's clear from the tag lines that it's all meant in good fun. If this kind of thing bothers you, most likely you need thicker skin, and besides Buddhism teaches to let such trivial things go anyway.

As to the salsa itself, this one is a fresh garden salsa with tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, all mixed up with some lemon juice and a splash of tequila. I'm thinking of starting this one at 200 Rs which is a good deal I think considering that crappy Old El Paso sells in the stores here for 280 RS, and I think it's only 350ML and my bottles are 500.

This is essentially a bruschetta mix with the addition of capers, Greek olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. I eat this stuff at least once a week on my own as it is. Goes great on bread and with various cheeses. Serve with some red wine and you can almost forget that you're in Kathmandu. As the capers and olives are not local and the sun dried tomatoes are a little pricier than the other vegies I'm going to be selling this stuff for around 300 Rs a bottle, which is rather good considering the ingredients I think.

I love this salsa. I had never thought of using pomegranate in salsa before, but I figured I would give it a try since you can get them year round in Kathmandu. I threw it together with some other Persian inspired ingredients and the result is quite tasty in my opinion. The pomegranate is just subtly sweet and the mix of the mint and saffron along with it makes for a really different flavor. Despite the different flavor undertones it is still definitely salsa, and still goes great on tortilla chips. This one also has some pricier ingredients, so I'm pricing this one at 300 Rs a jar as well.

This was the hardest one to make. Anyone can throw together a super hot salsa, the trick is to over ride the hotness with enough flavor so that people who like spicy food will continue to eat it despite the burn going down (and most likely coming out!). To accomplish this I grilled about half the peppers and blended them in with the liquid component, giving the salsa not only a great texture but also a flavor that over rides that bitter taste you can get if you just rely on hot peppers for lots of spice. Although this label says 3 different hot peppers, I have in fact changed it to 4 and made the flavor a little better. While it isn't the hottest salsa I've ever had or made, it is definitely spicy. This was Kim's favorite. I should be selling this one for 250 Rs.

I had no idea how this was going to come out when I first thought of it, but I'm really happy with the result. Although just as spicy as most of the other salsa's the mint cucumber and lime combine to make a very cool and refreshing summery kind of salsa. A few other ingredients in the sauce give it a distinct Thai flavor. I really want to try and find some wanton chips to serve it with, but I haven't had any luck finding any as of yet.

So if you are in Kathmandu next Saturday feel free to stop by the 1905 farmer's market and try some salsa!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Some Thoughts on Nepal Tourism Year 2011

So 2011 is Nepal Tourism Year, and they are aiming at getting one million tourists into the country during this year. Now I want to be the first person to say that if you even think you might be interested in visiting Nepal you should. I've visited over thirty countries, and Nepal is one that offers more than almost any other. Culture, natural beauty and a relatively low cost (once here) combine for a spectacular holiday. I have plenty of countries I still want to visit, but here i am in Nepal (for the third time) and even though I have spent a combined 10 months or so in this country there is still a lot more that is worth exploring. The little tag line that 'once is not enough' that they are using to advertise their tourism now is accurate. Nepal is a country you could come back to again and again and always find something exciting to do.

Now all of that said, from an outside standpoint this whole tourism year thing seems like it is being as well managed as most Nepali government endeavors; terribly. Now to be fair, some of the promotional pieces that they have put together aren't all that bad. I've seen some decent posters and to be honest the website that they put together looks better than what I would expect (you can see it HERE), but i am highly skeptical that these kind of promotions will bring many additional tourists. Other promotional measures taken overseas are also of dubious value.

The largest problem I currently see is that there is a huge question mark as to what is actually being offered. This uncertainty and ambiguity is really not a good thing as we start to near the time when people are planning their trips for the next year. For many people a trip to Nepal is a rather large undertaking, and it isn't uncommon to plan well in advance. As someone who has a vested interest in how visas will work next year, I don't even know exactly how that will work. I've heard rumors that the normal five month limit will be lifted, and others say no way. I've heard that the visa fee will be waived, I've heard that only a second visa fee will be waived, and I've heard that they will not waive any visa fees. There were rumors of increased flights into KTM through both Nepali airlines and other international carriers, but as someone who is researching flight costs for family and friends for early next year, I can attest that they are as high as ever right now.

On the NTB website (Site is HERE) there are some stated goals;

1- Establish Nepal as a choice of premier holiday destination with a definite brand image,
2- Improve and extend tourism related infrastructures in existing and new tourism sites,
3- Enhance the capacity of service renders,
4- Build community capacity in the new areas to cater the need of the tourists, and
5- Promote domestic tourism for sustainability of the industry.

Now they announced this project in 2008, and all five of these stated goals are not anywhere close to being realized. You could argue that they were over ambitious to start with, or that most of it was a way to funnel public funds into the hands of connected people within the government and contractors that did the promotion, and you may have a strong argument. But if certain steps had been taken, ones that were available with the funding they received they could be much closer.

Now point one the devil is in the definition, but Nepal will not be a premier holiday destination any time soon. It lacks the infrastructure, it lacks many amenities that western tourists would consider required to fit that definition, and it would need destinations that included more relaxing experiences. Nepal is an adventure tourism destination, and that is what it will remain for the foreseeable future, its appeal is only to a limited segment of those societies outside Nepal and that really should be where the focus of their marketing should stay for now.

Now number two is something that I agree is a good goal, but has it been done? Not that I can tell. In fact sites like Durbar square in Kathmandu seem less accessible now than the first time I arrived due to the increase in traffic through that part of the city. Roads to trail heads  like Dunche and Jiri are amongst some of the most frightening I have ever been on and the buses that take you to them very rarely inspire any confidence. As to new destinations, there is a lot of buzz about the Great Himalayan Trail, but I'm not aware of any tourist sites receiving any significant upgrades or  easing of infrastructure.

Number three has not been implemented to my knowledge, and I don't have a whole lot to say about it.

Number four is implying that an infrastructure would be created for tourism in these new tourism areas they are developing. Again aside from some talk of expanded infrastructure on the Great Himalayan trail I have no idea what they are even promoting that is new. I should add that I actively look for these kind of things, I love going to new and different places here, so if these places are being worked on, the promotional division is doing a terrible job of getting the word out about them.

I can't say a whole lot about number five, aside from saying that I've been more places in Nepal than many Nepali's I have talked to, but many of them don't express a whole lot of interest in going to the same kind of places that western tourists like to go. Mostly when I bump into Nepali's traveling in the same circles as myself they are going to Hindu pilgrimage sites like Mukinath or Gosainkund lakes. You see some people going to Pokhara or to Kathmandu, but not really as tourists so much. While there is a segment of Nepali society, especially in Kathmandu, that has the time and the money to travel within Nepal as domestic tourists, most seem to be lacking the desire. I could however be very wrong about this one.

Now anyone can complain or say negative things about the job someone else is doing, that's easy, the harder thing is to come up with sollutions and practicle ways of meeting at least the obtainable goals that were mapped out for this project. There are a couple of cheap inexpensive things that could have been done, and then there are other things that are not as cheap, but would have much larger payouts. So here are a few of my recommendations for things that could be done to make Nepal Tourism Year, and really tourism in general more attractive and increase the number of tourists.

1- Beautify Thamel- This is the tourist nexus of Kathmandu. Now I love Kathmandu, I chose to move here from the US, but many (meaning 90%) of tourists I talk to describe Kathmandu as something like hell. Westerners can't stand the honking (the use of horns has a cultural difference), the streets that are both for foot traffic and speeding motorcycles is unnerving to many, they hate the burning trash, and the constant harassment by kids sniffing glue, touts and tiger balm salesmen can be really tiresome. Most tourists come through this section of the city at one point in their travels, so changing this one section could change the opinion of many tourists, and more importantly change what they tell their friends back home. So what to do:

   A- Close Thamel to Vehicles- This is done in tourist districts the world over with the result of making them much more pleasant. Now there are some vested interests (most notably the two parking garages in the area) that wouldn't like this plan, but that would immediately make that section of town much more enjoyable and immediately give a more laid back atmosphere where tourists are not jumping out of the way of oncoming traffic or cursing at the honking taxi that is behind them. Bollards and police could enforce the zones easily enough it would seem.

  B- Trash Collection & Waste Baskets-  Waste baskets or rubbish bins are cheap, and with the cost of labor in Nepal the collection should be as well. Trash on the streets is an eyesore that can be easily cleaned up and managed. while city wide this would be great, if it at least worked to clean up where most tourists see it would be an improvement.

  C- Enforce a No Harassment Policy- I would confine this rule to just Thamel, make it a special zone or something, but limit the selling of goods and services to people that have shops. Get the guys selling tiger balm and those annoying instrument things as well as the trekking, rafting and other scammers off the street. If someone wants a service or a handicraft there are hundreds of stores in Thamel where you can get those things, tourists don't need to be bothered every step they take by people trying to sell them things that they don't want.

2- Diversify the Tourist Seasons- Right now most people are under the impression that Nepal is not worth visiting in the "off seasons". This is a terrible misconception that needs to be dealt with so that people will come to Nepal on a more even schedule. Trekking in some of the western parts of the country, the back side of Annapurna and even the Langtang region that I just did can be very enjoyable this time of year. For people that are traveling here for more cultural purposes it would seem that much more attractive to come during the times of year when the country isn't over run with trekkers. Also the myth of the monssons needs to be dispelled. The monsoon rains are not the endless deluge that many westerners believe them to be, in fact most days during the monsoons are no different than what many parts of western countries are like year round. The perception that Nepal can't be traveled in during this season really reduces tourism, and it doesn't have to be that way.

3- Reduce and Open Some Restricted Trekking Areas- Some of the existing restricted routes would be the easiest to open up and develop. If you really plan on doubling the number of tourists, especially in the peak seasons, then you need to give them places to go. As the new roads reduce the appeal of large sections of Annapurna, it only makes sense to open up some of those nearby areas that currently require guides and additional fees and paperwork.The areas that stand out as able to accommodate trekkers with only a minimal increase in infrastructure would be the Nar & Phu valleys, as well as Manaslu. Making Upper Mustang and Dolpo more accessible might not hurt either. By doing this you not only open these places up to more tourists dollars, give tourists more options as to where they can go, you also create an incentive for people to come back to Nepal for a new hike that they wouldn't have done before.

4- Create Financial Incentives That Are Clear- As I said at the beginning, one of the big problems with this campaign has been its ambiguity. If this years financial indicators are any forecast to the future, many western nations will be filled with economic uncertainty and reduced incomes. This makes it all the more important to promote Nepal in a way that reduces the largest costs, which is getting here, permits and visas. Reduce or negate visa fees and streamline the process, so that when tourists get off the plane there is a favorable first impression. The current first impression is one of inefficient over priced bureaucracy that one does not often encounter at "premier holiday destinations". If there is any way to reduce flight costs that would also help get people here. Currently the better deals coming from the States are somewhere near $1500 which is about as high as it has been since I've checked flights here. Any incentives that would reduce that up front financial obstacle would be a big help to getting people here.

5- Target the right Population- Look, hardly anyone in the US or Europe uses travel agents since the internet has been around, so the promotion or development of trips that are to be peddled through overseas travel agencies will not bring the numbers. Besides, package tourists generally come for shorter stays, they spend most of their money on some foreign firms and do less to benefit the larger segment pf Nepali society. Independent travelers on the other hand often stay for a month or longer, spend their money at more diverse restaurants, adventure outfits, shops and hotels and all that money goes directly to Nepali people, it isn't siphoned off by western tour operators or one large Nepali travel company. Target independent travelers, not only in their home countries but ones that may already be in places like India or south east Asia.

Well those are my thoughts. I realize it's all a pipe dream, but thought I'd put it out there. Nepal is a great destination, and it could receive far more tourists than it currently does, but my guess is that the promoters won't be able to get out of their own way.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Buddhism & Greek Philosophy

Many people who travel to Kathmandu at least have a passing curiosity in the Buddhism that they encounter here. My first trip here in 2002 was my first real exposure to it, following up on the month I had spent looking at Buddhist temples in Thailand. My view of Buddhism then was rather clouded by what I had learned about it via Hollywood and New Age garbage. As someone whose two least favorite actors include Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Gere their speaking up for it didn't increase my interest any. On top of all of that the pop-culture fetish in the US with Buddhism and especially phony causes like Beastie Boys and the whole Free Tibet thing did nothing more to kindle my interest. In fact all of this worked to create a bias in me that would keep me from seeing Buddhism as it should be seen, on its own terms as a serious philosophy.

My trips through Buddhist countries in Asia did very little to change my opinion either. To an outsider, the forms of cultural Buddhism that are practiced through Asia can seem rather odd. Be it offerings of beer and whiskey to divine protectors, or the thousands of divine entities that are present in Tibetan Buddhism all of this works against  seeing Buddhism as a rational philosophy of life, at least it does to me. Touts and hawkers in the tourist districts of these countries don't help any either as they try and "sell" Buddhism through the trinkets that western patrons will buy, be it prayer wheels, crystals, thanka paintings, beads, even whole monk outfits. Some of this can be relevant to philosophical Buddhism, like the thanka paintings, and some can be nonsense, such as the crystals. More importantly though, because tourists regions sell what westerns want to buy, the things that they already think Buddhism consists of, your view of it is unlikely to change passing through these regions.

So strangely my introduction to Buddhism came to me through the Greeks. I have a long standing interest in Alexander the Great, as is evident in some previous posts. That interest lead me to study what happened to the far Eastern Greek Kingdoms after his death, especially the regions of Bactria (present day Afghanistan) and Greek India (essentially modern Pakistan). Many people are unaware that the Greeks and Greek influence would have a major role in this region for about the next three hundred plus years. These years include the rise of the Indian King Ashoka who is credited with being one of the greatest Buddhist proselytizers, as well as the fall of the Maurya dynasty only fifty years later to the Sungas. In fact many beleive that the Greek conquest of India that happened under the Bactrian King Demetrius and later Menander (Who is featured as King Malinda in the Buddhist Malinda Panha) were done on the grounds of defending Buddhists from their new Hindu rulers.

Anyway the mix is not only historically interesting (at least to me) but it also allowed for the transmission of ideas to flow even more readily than they did before between east and west. Historical texts are very clear that many Greek settlers in this region converted to Buddhism, and some texts suggest that the Greeks sent many ethnic Greek Buddhist monks to Sri Lanka and others as far north as the Tarim Basin. No doubt some also traveled back to the Mediterranean to Anatolia, Greece, and Egypt.

It was while reading about some of these transactions that I came across text that showed philosophical Buddhism to be the serious work that it really is. I began to see that there were very strong connections between what it prescribed as a way of dealing with the world around us, and what the Greek stoics taught. In the most basic sense both philosophies teach that since we can not always change the world around us, we must change what we can, which is our opinion and perception of a thing. Both the Greeks and the Buddhists saw that we are not offended by a thing if we remove from ourselves the sense of offence. This got me interested enough to do a good amount of reading to see where Buddhism stands on its own. My misconceptions of Buddhism were plentiful, and this post is long enough without going into full detail.

All of the preceding text was to get to one of the books I just recently read which is one of the better I have read in a long time; Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism. Now I was vaguely familiar with Greek Pyrrhonist philosophy, but I had always thought it was very similar to the other schools of Greek Skepticism. The excerpts I had seen were from Sextus Empiricus and usually his arguments against the dogmatic beliefs of the stoics. Although i am often a fan of much in stoic thought, the line of attack from Sextus was usually demolishing some part of their line of thinking that I was also not a fan of, such as their teleological outlook or some other claim about nature.

This book shows clearly why Pyrrhonism is not just another branch of Academic Skepticism and instead expounded a philosophy that does not infer the negative from those things we deduce that can not currently be known but instead advises a suspension in judgement about all things non-evident. The parallels with early Buddhism are quite striking, and one could easily view Pyrrhonism as an adaptation of a western form of Buddhism. As someone who has always struggled with epistemology in philosophy as the more problematic field that derailed just about any philosophical endeavor, section three of this book on things evident and non-evident was a real joy to read, and gave me one of those rare "aha!" moments that make the world seem just a little more clearer.

As a quick example, in the west when we experience an apple, we take it that underneath all of our perceptions is a form that actually is an apple. It is from this form that exists in the "real" world that the "real" apple transmits to us the look, touch, taste, and sound (if you tap it) and smell of an apple. The Pyrrhonists (and Buddhists alike) do not assume that there is anything beyond experience itself, that what we experience as an apple is merely a bundle of sensations that are consistently correlated, there is nothing in anyone of them that dictates to the others a sense of "appleness". Put another way if you were blind, you could not infer a visual apple from a tactile, or audible apple. Basically there is no common quality that one can observe in which all these modes of sensation adhere, no underlying substance or form.

Another book that has made it on to my reading list because of this book is Buddhism Without Belief, which seems to be very much in line with Pyrrhonist thinking. Although this will have to wait until I finish A New Stoicism which at this point I unfortunately can not recommend all that highly. While it is a well argued book the author has a way of making even interesting topics excruciatingly boring. It's written in a format that is the result of a terrible habit of spending too much time talking and debating with people only in academia.

Getting a TIMS Card as an Individual Trekker

Some time ago Nepal introduced the TIMS card under the guise of safety for trekkers. I'm dubious of safety through paperwork in countries that are efficient with their data like the US, and I'm downright cynical when it comes to its application in Nepal. Regardless, if you want to strike out on the trail you need to go and get one of these. Although they use to be free, they now cost independent trekkers $20 ($10 if you go through some tour agency). It's rather clear which lobby was pushing for this nuisance. 

Many agencies offer to get the card for you, and depending on the fee that they charge it might even be worth it. Personally whenever I need one I have just walked down to the office. The first thing to keep in mind is that Nepali government offices have abysmal hours, often opening late in the morning and then closing in the early afternoon. Staff can also be light around noon as people have lunch. Currently the TIMS desk at the Tourist Information Center is open from 9AM to 3PM. If however you need to get a permit for the Annapurna Sanctuary, that office is only open from 10AM to 2PM. One can only pray that they plan on expanding these hours and personnel for Nepal Tourism Year in 2011, but I'm not holding my breath.

Before you set out for the office be sure you have your passport, 2 passport sized photos and the equivalent of $20 in Nepali Rupees.  Even though the price is always stated in US$, they only accept Rupees, so make sure you have the correct kind of cash with you. Also on some occasions I have been asked for a copy of my passport, including the page with my Nepali Visa, and other times I have not needed it. It's not a bad idea to have a copy with you while you're trekking anyway so I'd advise to make the copies ahead of time, and if they don't need them then you have another backup. If they decide there that they do want a copy, they have a copier on site, assuming that there is power.

So where is the office?
The above image shows the central part of Kathmandu. If you are arriving in Nepal as a tourist you are most likely staying in the Thamel area near where Kathmandu Guest House and Fire and Ice are labeled. The other easily recognizable features that you can navigate by are the royal palace seen at top center of the image and Ratna Park which is the long North South running green brown space in the center south of the map. The Tourist Information Center I have marked with the blue information symbol labeled Trekking Information Center.

Here is a closer look;
The easiest landmark to keep in mind is Ratna bus park, which is just to the north of the building, this is the bus park where you can go to Jiri or Shivalaya if you are trekking in the Everest region and not flying into Lukla.

The people at the Tourist information office generally have a good grasp of English and have for the most part been much more helpful than other government offices. If you have questions, and they are not overwhelmed at the moment, they have always helped out in answering them. If there are some questions you are unsure of, like how long you will be trekking or your exact route, just answer to the best of your knowledge and give yourself more time than less. The card will be checked at various police checkpoints along the trail and entering the reserve/conservation areas. The most useful thing they do is record your information as you pass certain checkpoints, leaving a definite trail of where you have been if something were to happen to you on the trail. In the past they used your passport info.

Again remember that if you are going to Annapurna to pick up your conservation area permit at the nearby counter, it costs 2,000 NRS. You can also get your ticket for the Langtang and Everest regions, but there is no need as they are available at the entrance  to those regions for the same fee.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Water in the Streets

The other day Kim and I were working o our computers, and had decided that we were going to go to Bhat Betini to pick up some groceries. Some distant thunder and light rain started to come down just as we were going to leave, so we decided to wait a bit for it to clear. Then it really started to rain. It was pouring, the rain was coming down so hard that the water coming down off the roof near the spiral stairs was literally a waterfall. It kept up like this for at least two hours.

The KC's Garden is Flooded

The result was the worst flooding I have seen to date in Kathmandu. as I went out on to our patio and looked down at the garden down below, it was completely covered in water, at least a foot of it. The small river just down the road was apparently overflowing its banks completely and water from it was flowing down the nearby road and directly into ours. Having seen and smelled that water I resigned myself to staying indoors for the night. The flooding got so bad that it got into the first floor of our building (raised several feet above ground level) and our power was cut for the night.

A woman attempts to navigate our street, up to her waist in water.

The house owners told us that this was the first time they had seen flooding of this level since they have lived here (over a decade I believe). The water actually went back down fairly quickly, as the drainage on our street is better and a more modern design than most of the city. By late evening the water had subsided from the garden, and in the morning it was completely gone. Even the debris that had been left behind was cleaned up by 10AM. I have to give credit to the people that take care of the street I live on, they really do a nice job keeping it up. Some other parts of the city are still a bit of a mess. 
Water fills our street in Lazimpat

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mike's Breakfast, More than just Breakfast

Mike's Breakfast is one of those places I knew about before I even came to Nepal, and I'm not even sure how. Its been around for quite some time and is an expat staple for food. Mike apparently was a peace corps volunteer back in the 60s and opened the restaurant in the 80s. They have locations in both Kathmandu and in Pokhara. The Pokhara location is in lakeside right on the lake, and the Kathmandu location is in Naxal set back from the main street in a garden set next to a Rana style Newari home.

As stated in the header, the food is more than just breakfast despite the name, and it has some of the more authentic western food in the city. That said you should also be prepared to pay something a little closer to western prices. The breakfast dishes include the normal combination plates offering eggs, toast, muffins, home fries, bacon, sausage, yogurt and mixed fruit. They also offer pancakes that are much better than what most Nepali places serve, French toast, breakfast burritos and waffles. My personal favorite is the special waffle with yogurt and mixed fruit. They also offer a variety of coffee drinks, and teas.

Now to be entirely honest I've almost always eaten at Mike's for brunch with friends and thus my experience is mostly with the breakfast food. I have however tried some of the Mexican dishes that they offer, and while it's nothing that would be memorable back home, it is better than most of what you can find in Kathmandu. They do also have rotating specials that include steak and rainbow trout, but the price has usually kept me from trying them. Which is generally how I feel about Mike's, the place has good atmosphere, and decent food but I always feel like the bill is just a little higher than the quality and content of what actually got served.

That negative bit said, I do also find myself going back, so I don't mean to be too negative. The truth is that if your with friends and just want to make sure the food you order isn't just a bad imitation of what you wanted, Mikes is the place to go. It's also a good stop before or after a trek, or a hard day of mountain biking. It's convenient locations is central to where most expats are in Kathmandu and makes it an easy meeting point as well. If you're traveling to Kathmandu and staying in Thamel though, it is a bit out of your way, being just East of the palace in Naxal  before you get to the police headquarters (west of the petrol pump).

Monday, August 9, 2010

100th Post: Evolution of Blog

I started this blog last December, with the intention of having it fill the same roll my other travel websites have filled while I was away from home; as a way to keep in touch with family and friends back home. At first that is exactly what it was, and it never occurred to me that other people might actually be interested in some of this. Slowly I kept seeing an increase in traffic and Kim made some changes to the format and added some links via other expat sites and the traffic increased even more. I even ended up doing some travel writing thanks to an editor coming across my blog, and have since had some other opportunities thanks to readers.

So while I have supplied the writing content on this blog, and the pictures that scroll on the sidebar are mine, I have to give full credit to Kim for really adding the aesthetics and the marketing that  has opened this blog up to a wider audience. After some more changes recently to how posts are labeled and another page layout change recently views on this page are up some 40%. While I'm not getting thousands of views a day like some websites, we'll most likely get about 400 unique views this week from increasingly diverse parts of the planet. So I owe Kim a big thanks for most of this blogs transformation. Someone might wonder what exactly this is transforming into, and that is the purpose of this post.

While I still fully plan on having the occasional opinion piece or a post where I talk about stuff I'm doing in Nepal, I'm also focusing on turning the site into more of a resource for people that plan on spending time in Nepal. The post content won't change dramatically, but I plan on having more reviews of different services from trekking outfits to restaurants as well as adding a better organization of information so that if people are interested in information about the Annapurna circuit for instance they can find it a little easier. I plan on fully expanding that list of restaurants and helpful websites on the side bar as well as creating additional pages that will contain information on different treks or what there is to do in Kathmandu, Pokhara or other locations. I have also noticed that I get a lot of referral trafic from other bloggers that discuss Nepal, and I'll start a sidebar that links back to other Nepal blogs as well. Eventually I would like this to be a fairly central information center to all things Nepal. This won't happen over night, but slowly this is more the direction that the blog is headed to.

At its heart though, this blog is about an American living in Nepal, what happens here and my perspective on it. That's what it will always be most likely. The new things that are being added are to be a resource for people who are travelling to this place I love so much in order that they can get as much out of their time here as possible. Nepal can be a notoriously hard place to find accurate information about what is going on, where stuff is or how things work. I mean this is a country that doesn't have something like a phone book or yellow pages, it's not navigated in the same way as back home. Internet resources are often biased, dated, or both. I'm hoping to kind of fill the gap of lack of good up to date information for what goes on here.

Lastly thanks a bunch to the people who have been reading consistently. I see a lot of repeat traffic and it's great to hear from people who enjoy reading about Nepal and my small place in it. If anyone ever has any questions that they are having trouble answering about something over here, always feel free to ask me via a comment on the blog or via an e-mail to me directly ( So thanks for reading and hopefully this blog can continue to improve over the next hundred posts!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

1905 Farmer's Market

A while back I had mentioned (link HERE) that there was a farmer's market at the Summit Hotel in Patan. The probelm of course is that it was all the way in might as well be another planet most of the time. I mean yes there are some good restaurants and shops in Patan but the taxi ride is more than i normally want to deal with, at least just to go to the farmers market. In the last couple months though they have started having a market at the restaurant 1905 on Kanti Path, just across the road from Phora. As this is only a twenty minute walk from the house we have made it a weakly stop unless we're out trekking, biking or whatever.

1905 Market

It's not only the best place in the city to get cheese, including chèvre and Greek style feta, it's also a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. The setting is great, the 1905 restaurant was once an exclusive club that entertained the elite of Kathmandu, and was located next to the famous Royal Hotel. It has a great laid back feel and you would never suspect that you were within a stones throw of one of Kathmandu's busiest streets. There are plenty of gardens fountains and man made ponds on the property, and the setting is something you would expect to find on the outskirts of the valley as opposed to the heart of the city.

Looking out over the Pond

Aside from cheese, there are vendors with organic vegetables, bees wax products, fruit drinks, dried strawberries and  tomatoes, baked goods, pâté, and more treats that can make into a good brunch. Because it is the one of the only places you can get all this kind of stuff in one place it is also common to run into plenty of people in the expat community, and you almost always run into at least a few people you know. After buying some different cheeses, spreads and bread we'll sit, talk and sample. If I'm not doing something active, it's a great way to spend a relaxing Saturday morning.

Donnie Wants More Salsa

I have come to the conclusion that there is however a lack of good salsa available in this city, and no one sells any at the farmer's market. Sure you can buy crappy brand name stuff that has been shipped from the states, but it has a good size mark up on it, and to be honest isn't all that great. The other kicker is that corn chips are so pricey here, like $4 for a bag that would cost you maybe $2 tops back in the states. So I may be looking into making salsa for the expats of Kathmandu, it would only be the civic minded thing to do. I brought a batch of regular chunky and some mango salsa today to test out and people seemed to like it, and so I might give it a try. I was thinking of making a regular, a spicy one, mango, pomegranate, and possibly tequila-lime. I may also look into a corn based one and a black bean salsa. Kim drew up a label with a fat Buddha in the lotus position with a sombrero on as the label. I got a kick out of it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Prime Ministers, Toaster Ovens, and Shipping Products from the U.S.

Politics & Prime Ministers
So the Prime Minister of Nepal, Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned five weeks ago. Does Nepal have a new Prime minister yet after three different votes? Nope. Most of it seems like politics as usual in Nepal to me. There was an interesting take on it in an opinion article in Republica today. The article basically makes the case that the coalition that formed to force the Maoists out of power needs to hold or there will be a People's Republic of Nepal. The article struck me as a little alarmist, and though I certainly am not a fan of the Maoists, I don't see any of the other political parties riding to the rescue any time soon. The Maoists actually seem organised and have a plan that they are following through on, to ends that I'm sure will not be good for Nepal. The other parties, instead of offering a real alternative seem to exist mostly to legitimize the government bureaucracy that fleeces the people here of more of their money then it seems to provide in meaningful services and often stands in the way more then helps development in the country. That's my take for what it's worth. The article in Republica by Kanak Mani Dixit can be read HERE if you are interested.

Toaster Ovens
The other day I broke down and got a toaster oven, as I hadn't baked anything in about seven months. Having gone so long, I was immediately quite excited with all the opportunities that opened up. Chicken and eggplant parmigiana? Check. American Style Nachos (full chili and vegies)? Check. Bruschetta? Yes again. To those of you sitting comfortably in the first world none of this sounds like much to you I'm sure. Try going without an oven for half a year and your perspective will change, I promise.

The only problem is that due to some damage at one of the hydro power plants we are back up to eight hours of dreaded load shedding again. They seem to pick the worst times to cut the power too. Today I was about to make some lunch in my new favorite appliance and the power got cut....and didn't come back on for four hours. Sigh. When I plugged the oven into one of my outlets powered by my battery the inverter started beeping, which I took to be a bad sign and quickly unplugged it. They also seem to like to cut the power right around when I make dinner, and although I normally can find the "Power Assassination Schedule" on lline, I haven't seen the latest one, so cooking is a bit of a gamble at the moment.
Related Posts with Thumbnails