Star Date: August 2008
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Namaste! Tapai lai kosta cha?
(Hi! How are you doing? Nepali greeting)
"Never look at the doors closing behind you or you'll miss the ones opening ahead." Cyril Magnin (1899 - 1988) U.S. businessperson)
The magical town of Pokhara on Fewa Lake, nestled in a valley below the Annapurna Range, displays one of the most dramatic panoramic backdrops in the world. Every morning in the summer, these majestic snow mountains, crowned by Machhapuchre, poke through the clouds and majestically loom over the valley. These giants, many over 8000 meters, are the gateway leading to the Mustang in Tibet. Hidden amongst the peaks along the way are endless little untouched villages, accessible mainly by foot. Gazing at the peaks one morning we were talking to a young man who said he would be at home in his village in only 2 days, weather permitting. By foot that is! He told us that Bisal has snow 9 months of the year. Coming from such harsh conditions with wind whipping through the valley most days, it was no wonder that he chose to work in the mellow, temperate climate of Pokhara. A hike up to Sarankot, perched on the side of the mountain above the lake is a way to enjoy village life with the bonus of feasting your eyes on the morning guest appearance by the Himalayas. Visiting the temples scattered around town reminded us that Pokhara is near Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Met at our public bus by the enterprising family of Padam and Laxman, we were spared from the busy tourist end of the lake and instead relaxed at the 'dam side'; our room overlooking both the lake and mountains, with no traffic to disturb us. No noise except the splashing of the squeaky little boys jumping off the wall into the lake. Care had to be taken not to get caught in the current flowing towards the dam, something unfortunately that happened to the young Chinese NGO worker we had met. Staying in our hotel for over 1 month and swimming daily, we read that he had drowned the week after we left. So sad.
The family was cheerful, friendly and helpful. As in so many households or shops in Nepal there was a 'baboo' or boy who worked very hard around the hotel and a sweet little 10 year old girl working as a servant (i.e. slave). Sold by her relatives for a pittance she happily bounced along, singing, waiting hand and foot on the old parents of the absent owner upstairs, 5am to dark. Susmita just shone as you talked with her. We would sneak around meeting as 'Cinderella' wasn't allowed to dawdle. All the while she quickly learned English. We gave her several gifts, including a pack of bright markers, paper and stickers. She would sit on the floor drawing and pretending to write. Whatever we wrote she would carefully copy several times. She wanted to go to school but wasn't allowed. Most girls aren't educated past 12, even if there is a government law stating everyone must attend school until 15. Not wanting to interfere, but as her only hope, Joseph and Ram negotiated for over an hour with the old man, reminding him of the law which needs enforcing in Nepal, and finally they agreed to have a tutor for her 3 hours a day. She was so excited that she skipped around singing and promising to study hard. She had the girl downstairs write a note to us:" For Nancy & Joe. Thanks for giving me these things and loving me. You are so beautiful and kind. That's why I like you very much. Signed, Susmita." We never know how things turn out but the Nepali caste system of slavery needs to change. These things were done for Susmita with kindness from our heart in an attempt to help just one from the endless ocean of unfortunate little souls. If you stay at the Jharna Hotel please give Susmita our love.
We were excited to find out that our good long-time friend Ram Prasad Maharjan was working in Pokhara and we shared many meals together, even frequenting his favorite Newari somosa shop, owner of 2 little servants. Changes come slow especially with slave labor from lower castes. Ram is famous for his "5 minute straight up" hikes. One hour later and him not even sweating, we arrived at the World Peace Temple overlooking the lake, then taking a boat out to the island in Fewa Lake from the other side. We also hiked to the top of the hill across from our balcony and to the other end of the lake, exploring villages and neighborhoods along the way. With petrol held up at the Indian border and only available for double price on the black market, we began to feel the far reaching ripple of increasing oil prices, with resulting transportation strikes. You simply don't break the strikes or 'bondas' here because desperate people may throw a rock at the vehicle, as the broken windshields of 4 buses attested to. It's a lesson in patience.
Following a week's stay we made it back up into the mountains to the village of Gorkha. Famous for their courage and stealth use of their curved Khukuri knives, these feisty men have served in the Indian army for centuries. Arriving in town I sat by the bags near the first hotel Joseph checked. Just after he left a man staggered by and began hitting his wife, throwing her to the ground. Everyone cheered with approval as I yelled at him, belittling his actions and diverting him from his current bout of violence. I told him to , "Go Home" and he slunk away. The wife nodded thanks and onlookers told me men aren't usually allowed to drink until 7pm. Excessive alcohol is a scourge to families and mankind everywhere.
Staying at a basic room with a commanding view of the valley we walked through the charming back streets, toured King Rajendra's 1550AD palace, and even hiked all the way up to the Hindu temple high on the neighboring mountain top; famous for it's bloody offerings of live goats. Our dreams were shattered as we found out that all these cute little goats on leashes weren't pets.
The previously required 12 hours completing the bus loop to Katmandu, was reduced to 5 with a new highway, only the clogged traffic in the city delaying the journey. Katmandu for all it's smog, noise and traffic is still an undisputable exotic destination. Lost in a vortex between times we are reminded that the calendar in Nepal is 57 years ahead of ours. Surprises await at every bend. It is just necessary to locate yourself in a quiet suburb or near the tourist haven, handicraft mecca and restaurants of Thamel. Thamel is a quirky mixture of everything from "Om mani Padme hum" chants to live jazz, noisy street side hawkers with food stands to sit down 4 star restaurants with white linen table cloths and everything in between. Location is everything as you rest up and brace yourself to maneuver around the busy city. Walking the maze of back streets is the best means of transport as you stand, surrounded by 'sadus', eccentric holy men sporting 6 ft dreads, topped off with a monkey or two, at Swayambhunath, Monkey Temple. Or pass through Durbar Square on the way to Freak Street, hang out of hashish smokers during the 70's. Each street is an experience in itself.
A packed minivan will have you standing in awe at the grandeur of Boudnath Stupa, the eyes of Buddha watching for peace towards all 4 corners of the world. We chose to visit on the full moon night when thousands of butter lamps glow as monks and pilgrims circumnavigated the Stupa clockwise. I once again looked into the peaceful eyes of the Maitreya Buddha, hidden back in one of the side temples off the circular walkway. When here in 1996 I meditated with the monks following their puja, and suddenly was overcome with tears. The words came to me loud and clear: "If you want peace my child, see nobody's faults and make the world your own." Simple yet challenging.
Historically the three mini kingdoms of the Katmandu Valley: Patan, Bhaktapur, and Katmandu were in fierce competition with each other. Visiting the similar town centers with their square Newar Pagodas, Shikhara Temples, and nearby Buddhist stupas is like falling back in time. It will take more than cell phones to make a dent on the exotic and often mysterious culture of Katmandu.
Joseph worked his magic and found us a 'secret garden' cottage to stay at in the midst of Thamel. Literally surrounded by the old tourist hangout the Tibet Hotel, we had our own private garden to relax in, taking the time to smell the roses daily, or simply sit in the gazebo and read. A highlight of our month long stay in Chhetrapati, this area of Katmandu, was the daily unannounced visit by the local bunny looking for a hand out. That is until he started nibbling at our electrical cords and got big enough and felt comfortable enough around us to jump up and sleep on our pillows!
We spent many enjoyable days with Ram, Gundekesari, Rosan, Sri Krishna and Grandma; the dear Nepali family Mariah, Kevin & I had lived with in Katmandu while teaching English at Children's Model School during the summer of 1996. Mariah stayed with them again in 1997 and I visited in 1999 on my way back from backpacking in Tibet. Our dear older Swiss friends, Pierre & Elizabeth, had adopted Ram from an orphanage and provided financial support throughout his life. Ram, my 'hanai brother', with their help was able to visit us twice in Canada, where he studied hotel management for a semester, launching his 25 year career as a manager of small hotels. He couldn't be hired by the larger hotels because he is of a lower caste, but has worked hard overcoming many obstacles, including learning English, and has done well. The boys have grown up, the women are still great cooks, and Ram walks through life with the kindness and slow wisdom of a sage; accepting and helping the situation at hand with a cheerful smile. As is our usual custom, the family were our guests for a day out on the town, a grand occasion for Gundakesari to wear a new sari; being a typical Nepali mother who only cooks, cleans and goes to Hindu temple. Together we dressed, as she excitedly pinned and double pinned my sari in place. Joseph donned his Nepali traditional cap presented by Ram and we ate a tasty meal, in the gazebo of our garden, which I had prepared for them, (Thai cuisine was their choice of menu). We then looked around the shops and enjoyed ice cream, dessert and even hot chocolate at a fancy Thamel restaurant. It was an "auspicious occasion" and a treat they will remember. We were happy to share the western Thamel culture with this lovely Nepali family and our good friends. Wonder when our paths will cross again?
From Katmandu Joseph & I flew in opposite directions. He was heading to explore the Himalayas in Leh, via Delhi and I from Delhi to Chicago on a wonderful 15.5 hour non stop flight. I was off to visit family and help my Mom with her upcoming hip replacement surgery. The transit lounge at the airport in Delhi looked like the United Nations conference room with people from all over the world waiting for their onward flight. I talked with an Afghani woman and her elderly parents, who had just fled the trouble in Kabul. She said that most people lived in their basements and it was dangerous to even go outside. She felt that after the US invaded, all the educated people left and now some of the 'simple minded' locals who remained are getting desperate and easily persuaded over to the ways of the fundamentalist influence from neighboring Pakistan. It is these locals who are suffering in the face of yet another senseless war. She was sad to see how her homeland was being destroyed. I also spent time teaching Spanish to a Nepali NGO worker heading to Mexico for an AID's conference and with an excited older Indian couple heading to visit children in Boston. My plan was to just catch up on writing during the transit wait but these 3 weeks were about time with people.
Trying to fit into the busy schedules of our 2 kids can be a challenge at times. But then what more could a mother wish for than to have two such independent, happy, successful, children? Their upbringing as global citizens, while traveling and experiencing other cultures has made them well rounded and more open to the possibilities of life. I had a fun time in Colorado visiting our 25 year old son Kevin. Kevin has lived near Boulder for 7 years. After graduating from the University of Colorado in International Studies and business he started his own company and has 4 employees helping him remodel and paint houses. He's an avid fly fisherman and enjoys getting out in the mountains whenever he can. Mariah, our 30 year old daughter, a coordinator for the international Center at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, joined us for a few days and we got to relax in Kevin's newly remodeled home, meet Kaipo his dog, enjoy a gourmet vegan dinner on the mall in Boulder and go remote camping in the pristine Rocky Mountains 2 nights. Driving 4x4 roads back up into Peaceful Valley we camped along the Middle St. Vrain River. Kevin caught a trout for dinner and we made pocket stew and corn on the cob in the roaring campfire. Not seeing another soul either evening we breathed in the clear mountain air, took in the spectacular scenery and had a warm, rich time together just catching up on each other's lives.
Trying to get to my hometown of Mellen, Wisconsin is a case of "you can't get there from here." After flying for hours, the closest airport is another 100 to 200 miles away. My helpful brother provided taxi service for both Mariah and I, from different airports. Once you do get there it is always a relaxing time with family and many remote out in Nature experiences, hanging out in the favorite lakes and forests of my youth.. You can count on bumping into everyone; as 80% of my graduating class still lives within a 25 mile radius of our hometown. As you may guess I was 'different' while growing up; enjoying my time in Nature to socializing or looking at National Geographic pictures while dreaming of far off places. My reputation hasn't changed as I visit my hometown from places many of the people don't even know exist. We spent the next 6 days helping my 83 yr old Mom, Laverne or 'Gami' get the house ready for her return from the hospital with a walker, following hip replacement surgery. We made time to take Gami on a few slow but sure pre surgery outings to the Black Cat Inn for lunch and a lasagna dinner and 56th birthday party for Paul, my thoughtful brother, out at our family's log cabin, 'The Shack'. We enjoyed the beauty of Lake Superior at Bayfield, and even caught a hilarious show under the Big Top Chautauqua with Garrison Keiller, singer and author of "Lake Woebegone" fame. It was a difficult, painful surgery and will be a slow recovery but with my Mom's determination, spunk and positive attitude, she will definitely be meeting the family in Hawaii in February. She is an inspiration to us. Sure hope those genes are hereditary.
And so it goes.........................................Next Kashmir & Leh, high in the Himalayas. Five years of continuous travel! Can you believe we've made it this long? As we start our 6th year of non stop travel, not only are we still talking to each other, most of the time, but we are embarking on another 5 months in India. That's over 80,000 miles by public bus, jeep, truck, foot, boat, raft, train, plane, camel, elephant, and some forms of transport we don't want to remember. After India we will have a look through the Middle East on our way to years of exploring deepest, darkest Africa. From there we 'plan' to venture through South, Central and North America and maybe parts of Europe before starting around the globe for a second time. Who knows? Life is what happens along the way. Que sera, sera?
This webpage started as a way to send letters and photos to family and friends and with over 30,000 hits last month, we are happy to see that our goal of simply “Sharing the World With You” has caught on. It really IS an astonishing, beautiful, safe world out here full of welcoming friendly people, amazing sights, thrills and chills; all waiting for you at a fraction of the cost to live at home. Read, learn, enjoy and thanks for sharing this journey with anyone you think might enjoy it. Knowledge dissolves fear and builds bridges.
We receive many encouraging emails from all corners of the planet each month, something that means a lot to us and keeps us inspired. We have even had fellow travelers refer us to our own website. Full circle. So thanks for keeping in touch. Nothing like a few friendly lines opened in a remote internet cafe. Glad you are along with us on the adventure! Take care!
Love, Light &
$1.00 US = 68 Nepalese Rupees
Back up hotel: Langsisha Guesthouse: Chhetrapati, Tel # 4255453. Room 403 is big and quiet (350r). We left because of bad water - they were to fix it. Check for dark colored water in bathroom before committing, otherwise a great room and Raju Lama is helpful at the desk.
Green Organic Cafe: down from the Katmandu Guesthouse, great salad bar, juice and a relaxing cafe to just hang out in. Let Bishnu and friends help you escape the busy streets. Phone # 4215726
M Craft shop, Silversmith: the father has been in business for 20 years and his craftsmen do good work. He is trustworthy and fair priced. Be wary of other shops selling silver plated vs. silver or imitation turquoise, coral, amber. Shop around and soon the prices become obvious. Higher prices don't mean real stones so beware. Next to Koto Japanese restaurant, on same street as Green Organic Cafe.
Shree Lal Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant: House #318, upstairs, Thamel Marg St.
Budget Travel: on Freak St off Durbar Square,
deal with owner Harry, for any visa needs. He can guarantee a
6 month India visa, whereas after waiting in line 4 hours at the
Indian Embassy they may only give you a 3 month visa although promising a 6
month. Things are tightening up, but Harry provides what he
says, on time, for a small additional fee.
Good ticket prices also.
Northern Wisconsin (Mellen, Ashland, Bayfield):