Outlanderings

Adventures of Two Americans Living and Working in Nepal

Archive for the tag “thamel”

Pokhara

The past several days have been somewhat low-key, as I have been sick with a fever off and on. As a result, there hasn’t been too much going on at Ghar Hughbanks that has been worth reporting.

But all of that will change very soon! Tomorrow, Emily, Edge of Seven’s program director arrives in Kathmandu, and the first group of volunteers will be here next week. We’ll be headed back up into the mountains on Nov. 22. I will stay with the volunteers through the end of the month, and Travis will be there for 5+ weeks. Hopefully, we can get a blog post out of him before he leaves in a few days.

We did manage to recently make a quick trip up to Pokhara, the base city for all of the Annapurna Range treks, one of the most popular trekking areas in Nepal. After being in Kathmandu for so long, Pokhara felt a little bit like heaven.

Situated on a big lake with snow-peaked mountains all around, it is extremely laid back and lacking all of the pollution of the capital city. Granted, it is also swarmed by tourists, which may not be an experience everyone is seeking when coming to Nepal, but it’s still a nice respite. The tourist industry has given rise to quite a few good restaurants and makes for an excellent people watching scene. Most Westerners in Pokhara are guaranteed to have at least one of two looks going on: spiffy, high-tech hiking pants and a walking stick or dreadlocks and patchwork clothing.

The main purpose of our trip was to meet with the women’s collective I have been working with on Sapana Bags. It was really inspiring to see their shop and talk with the founder, Tara, who is an incredible woman doing a lot for women in her community. (More on this to come.)

Women weaving material for handbags in Pokhara.

We also got to spend some time with our friend Bikash, the brother of our good friend Binod. Bikash runs Natures Grace Lodge, a cozy hotel tucked away off the main street. Last year, we stayed there for several days during the May 2010 Maoist strike, so having Dal Bhat with Bikash and his cousin Ganga in the Nature’s Grace kitchen this week most definitely brought back memories from that time.

Nature's Grace Lodge in Pokhara!

Aside from that, we’ve had several good meetings in Kathmandu, finally ate lunch at Nina and Hager, a deli across from the U.S. Embassy that has terrific sandwiches/burgers and has been recommended by pretty much everyone we’ve come into contact with in Kathmandu, went to a documentary screening about Monsanto’s move into Nepal (a big deal that has the potential to be very harmful to Nepali farmers), and have even made a few friends.

Lastly, and I don’t believe I have mentioned this on the blog before (though I have told the story to many people), but there has been another pigeon incident.  Those of you who know me may know about my pigeon aversion, second only in severity to my rat phobia. During our first week here we were having a snack at a restaurant in Thamel and sitting at a table by the windows, which were open to let in the breeze. As we were close to finishing our food, a sick pigeon with an open sore on its head flew in the window and landed on our table. We tried to shoo it away, but it didn’t respond. Instead it stumbled across the table, walked into our plate of hummus, and sat down. I jumped out of my seat and screamed a little, which the men sitting behind us found hilarious. “What?!” they yelled at me. “This has never happened to you before?”

Well, today I went out to the balcony to do a little laundry and there was a big, dead pigeon in the outside sink. Travis tried to get me to suck it up and dispose of the body myself, as I need to learn to deal with these things, but I just didn’t think so. Next time, I’m sure I will have more courage.

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Namaste, Kathmandu!

We have finally arrived in Nepal! Our flight landed Thursday afternoon at Tribhuvan Airport, where we were greeted by Karma Sherpa, the head of The Small World, the Nepalese NGO Edge of Seven is partnering with on the Solukhumbu Development Project. Karma was gracious enough to come welcome us to town and help us navigate to our hotel.

I have already been reminded of a few basic travel rules on this trip, such as always err on the side of “really heavy” when estimating your bag weight for flight bookings. But the one that really came to mind when we got to our hotel in Thamel, Kathmandu’s touristy backpacker district, is don’t reserve a room at a place that lacks photos on its website.

View of Thamel, Kathmandu.

In truth, our room is fine. It’s bare-bones basic, but relatively clean, with two beds and an attached bathroom. Its biggest issue, however, is its direct proximity next door to Kathmandu’s premiere death metal club, where the live music starts around 2 p.m. and doesn’t stop until 10 p.m. It is so loud. Sitting in our room is like being front row at a Gwar concert. Thankfully, around 8 p.m. the bands switch to somewhat “lighter” covers. For example, we were lulled to sleep last night by a stunning rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.”
So far, we’ve spent our time getting some practical errands taken care of and exploring the city by foot, trying to orient ourselves a bit. Yesterday, we met with Karma first thing in the morning and decided it was a good opportunity to go ahead and get our bank account set up. At the local branch, everything was going swimmingly until the bank manager looked at our visas. Pointing to the date in our passports, he informed us that the visas had expired earlier this year. We said that was impossible, that we had just arrived the day before.
In Nepal, most government bookkeeping is done by hand, so the margin for human error is high. In this case, the customs official at the airport had mistakenly written down an expiry date of 2011, when it should have been 2012. Since the bank couldn’t process our account without a valid visa, Karma put us on a bus headed toward the Immigration Office to sort things out.
When we got off the bus, we ventured into the Tourist Services office to ask for directions. After explaining our visa situation to the man there, he gave us a huge grin and mapped out the route to the Immigration Department. “Go there,” he said. “They will laugh.”
At Immigration, we were bounced around to about 7 or 8 different desks before reaching someone with the power to help us. He and another employee stared at our passports for several minutes, pointing repeatedly at the visas, while exchanging a lively dialogue and trying unsuccessfully to conceal their laughter. Finally, one of them took out a pen, crossed out “2011” and wrote in “2012.” Done. Why didn’t we think of that?
Our jaunts around the city thus far have reminded me just how completely chaotic the streets of Kathmandu are. Travis hops through traffic like he owns the place, while I tentatively navigate my way through all sorts of moving vehicles and animals. Yesterday, as Travis pulled me along for the umpteenth time, he slapped me on the back and said, “You’re going to do well here.” I appreciated the vote of confidence.
It’s really great to be back in Nepal. It’s the kind of place that plays on every sensory nerve in one’s body, where even small things can seem exciting and time seems to slow down so that each moment can be properly acknowledged and recorded. At the same time, it’s impossible to walk down the street here and not notice how hard life is for so many people. One minute, I am marveling at the beauty of such a colorful city; the next, I am tearing up at the sight of a young street kid. We are really looking forward to getting settled and getting to work.

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