Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Monday, December 14, 2009

So Long, Nepal!

Rested and ready, I hopped out of bed the morning of Sunday, December 6. I was all set to hit Kathmandu and run all my errands: get more film developed, check on my bespoke pants, buy a new watchband (I broke the old on in Pokhara), mail more postcards, etc. I also looked forward to another lingering lunch at Kumari. The sun was shining and the weather was warm and it promised to be another beautiful day in central Nepal.
Around 9:30 the land line phone rang. It was Macha, telling me there was a general strike and he wouldn’t be able to come over today. Damn Maoists. So there I was, stuck at home. Ah, well, make the best of it. All part of the Nepal experience. There’s always the internet and HBO and relaxing on the rooftop with a good book and a Samuel Adams beer. I could do that. Of course, I really had no choice, so that, in fact, is what I did.
Monday dawned bright and sunny again and I was off to town - finally. Picked up my new pants, bought a new watchband, got my film developed, and a few other things. Even had time to meet Rabin for lunch at Kumari, which was a nice interlude. I still had a few hours to kill, so I decided to take a rickshaw ride up to Thamel. I could have walked it faster. The tiny streets were packed, jammed, crammed, smashed with oversize cars, motorcycles, bicycles, pushcarts, pedestrians – a veritable crush of people, all trying to get through. As a result, naturally, no one got through. What a mess. Kathmandu desperately needs traffic controls, including traffic lights, stop signs, better rules and regs for motorcycles (that really screw up the traffic) and, in fact, an entire traffic infrastructure. It’s gotten far too big and crowded for the authorities to handle. Plus, Durbar Square needs to be wiped clean of cars and motorcycles – pedestrian only. Kathmandu has a long way to go traffic-wise.
I stopped off at the Fire and Ice restaurant for a chocolate brownie and some ice cream which, I supposed later, was my undoing. Yep, it got me again. Nepali Belly. Not quite the ring of Delhi Belly, but just as lethal. At least this one, although it kept me up all night with the runs and other ways of anointing the porcelain receptacle, didn’t incapacitate me for more than a day. The next morning Macha gave me some pills that helped, and I spent the day at home, resting and catching up on my lost sleep. Guess I’d have to do Bhaktapur another day.
Wednesday it was finally off for a day trip to Bhaktapur, another interesting town about 12 km from the southern part of Kathmandu. Macha and I got there around 10:30 in the morning after an hour’s drive through some of the worst traffic I’d seen yet, exacerbated by road construction for much of the way. As usual, the reality of what I found was far removed from what I’d anticipated. According to the maps I‘d seen, Bhaktapur seemed to be out in the country, a small, isolated oasis of calm amid the lush greenery of the Kathmandu valley. When Macha pulled the car up to a dusty gate at the side of a long two-lane dirt and asphalt road off the main road a short way out of Kathmandu, it was with a sense of disappointment that I climbed out and began my tour.
I fought my way past the hawkers and souvenir sellers up the hill to the main gate of the local Durbar Square and entered one of the main parts of town. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Not as colorful nor as active as the other Durbar Squares, nevertheless it was okay. I wandered around through the main square and through back streets to the other squares in the area, Taumida and Tachupal squares, took my photos and soaked up the local atmosphere. Lunch at the Sunny Café overlooking Thaumida Square was pleasant, lots of rice for my sore tummy and some 7 Up to keep it soothed. A nice afternoon.
On Thursday I got an early start for an early finish for my pretty much final shopping day and cruise through the Thamel area of Kathmandu. I was able to find most of the items I wanted, including a nice CD holder with photos of Elvis on both sides. Hey! The alternative was Ironman. I think I did pretty well. Decided to try the New Orleans restaurant for lunch, as I’d read they had jambalaya. Well, the service was execrable and slow, it took 20 minutes to get my order, the jambalaya came on a plate with veggies mixed in and was alternately hot and cold, depending on where I scooped the rice and it was overpriced. I told the waiter to withhold my compliments from the chef. Not a restaurant I would recommend.
Friday was probably my last full day of sightseeing in Kathmandu. In the morning I visited Pashupatinath, at the intersection of the Ring Road and the Airport Road. This temple complex lies on the Bagmati River and is the primary site in Kathmandu for cremation. Yep, a nice way to start the day. According to Lonely Planet, there is almost always a cremation going on, and Friday was no exception.
I got there around 10 AM and immediately noticed an unsolicited guide had attached himself to me, limpet-like and eager to please – and to get paid. But Dilip was friendly and nice and personable, and he took me all over the complex and pointed out areas of interest. He even talked me into having my picture taken with one of the local sadhus before he was all painted up. This holy man had dreadlocks down to his ankles and a smile as wide as the Bagmati River, so why not. It was only 50 rupees (about 65 cents).
The entire area was actually quite fascinating and a quick instruction on the differences between cultures. Nepal doesn’t have room for cemeteries, and the Hindu religion, I believe, requires immediate disposal of the remains after death, mainly by cremation, so there you are. There were a couple of wrapped corpses being prepared for their ultimate fate on one of the ghats (cremation stands) by the riverside and even as I watched they were laid on the wood-and-straw pyres and the whole thing was set alite.
Now, naturally, fires of this type consume the remains within a couple of hours, and for the first part of that time huge clouds of smoke ascend into the surrounding skies. Of course, when the wind changes, spectators – and there were quite a few, including herds of Chinese and Japanese photographers eager to shoot every moment of the cremation – always get nice lungfuls of dead body smoke. Smells rather sweetish, sort of like roast pork. I managed to stay upwind most of the time, but occasionally found myself enveloped in the smoke. An hour and a half was about all I could take.
That evening I had been invited (again, after my abortive first attempt due to food poisoning) to Rabin’s home for dinner. I arrived there around 5-ish, with my arms loaded with flowers ($28 friggin’ dollars’ worth; man, did they see me coming!), again recommended by Lonely Planet for the traveler lucky enough to visit a local home. I’ll get them for that. However, the evening was fantastic. What a warm, nice, welcoming, friendly, happy family. Rabin, his wife Punam and their year-old baby Prayesh. You can almost always tell the sense of a family by the baby, and Prayesh was a smiling, happy, chubby kid if ever there was one. We had beer (too much Iceberg beer, in the 6.5 dl bottle) and lots of appetizers and even a main course, which I gobbled down as it was getting later.
A great evening, filled with good conversation, Tom and Jerry cartoons on CN, Punam jumping up and down with the food and baby, Rabin settling in as the benevolent lord of the manor, and, of course, Prayesh, ruling over it all with his cries and smiles and giggles and gurgles. Travelers rarely get to visit a private home in our many travels, and this was such a nice exception, just like Copenhagen, that I was entranced for the evening. We even had sukuti as an appetizer. I was in heaven.
On Saturday I had no plans until meeting Ferenc in the late afternoon for a program at the British School, so I took it easy once again, giving Macha most of the day off to relax. I met Ferenc at the British School in the southern part of Kathmandu for an evening of holiday caroling by a local choral group. Lots of families and a nice crowd for the second show of the day. Afterwards we all needed dinner, so started on our restaurant trek. Several were closed, but we finally found one named the Red Dingo open, and we settled in for a late supper.
The restaurant was lit by candles when we got there, an obvious result of the load-sharing in effect, i.e., no electricity for this part of town for some hours. Fortunately, while we were there the power came back on and we could actually see our menus and food. The other three ordered appetizers in addition to their main courses; the starters turned out to be bigger than the mains! Everyone except me went home with a doggy bag, as I had only some garlic bread to start. My Red Dingo Meat Pie was very nicely done – I guess it wasn’t made with real dingo.
Sunday I went back into Kathmandu for a few last-minute items, and found them all. Monday I decided to stay in the house and wait for Sandra to arrive. As far as I knew, her plane was due in around 2 PM or so. So I lounged around and ate breakfast and read some of my new books, an around 3 PM or so I got a call from one of Sandra’s colleagues informing me that Sandra’s plane was, for reasons unknown to me, forced to divert to Lucknow, India, where it was at the present time. I think she said something about the weather being too bad to land here, but as I looked out the window and saw a sunny, clear day, I was confused. However, the fact was Sandra was in Lucknow and the airline would try to get her back either later Monday or, perhaps, on Tuesday. Interesting. OK, I’d just wait and see what happened.
What happened was that about two hours later Sandra called and said she was at the Kathmandu airport and would be at the house in about an hour. So all was well.
So, that’s pretty much it for my Nepal month. The next Newsletter will contain my impressions of this interesting country, things I saw and did and observed that aren’t covered in any detail in my past few epistles. For today, my last in Kathmandu, I’m just resting up for my long trek back to Budapest – and hope I can get on the plane with my extra baggage. Y’all take care, more to come when I’m home again.

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