Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pharping Placid As Maoist Strike Enters 2nd Day


KATHMANDU, DEC 20 - Normal life across the nation was brought to a virtual standstill on Sunday, the first day of a three-day general strike called by the UCPN (Maoist) as part of their third-phase protest demanding the establishment of 'civilian supremacy'.

Vehicles stayed off the roads, shops were shuttered and the educational institutions were closed due to the banda..Over a dozen Maoist cadres and half-a-dozen police personnel...were injured in Baneshwor..which according to eyewitnesses turned into a virtual battle gound.

The agitators did not spare journalists' vehicles and ambulances in certain parts of the country despite their earlier commitment to abstain from attacking vehicles belonging to hospital, media and diplomatic missions....However, the other parts of the country remained relatively peaceful in comparison to the capital despite minor reports of scuffle and vandalism. -SANJEEB PHUYAL/DEEPAK GURUNG, ekantipur.com

--------------------------------

Yesterday, the mountain road from Pharping Pass through Dollu and up into Pharping was strangely silent, as locals walked on the blacktop without fear of the cars, trucks, vans, buses, and motorcycles that customarily clog the thoroughfare during daylight hours. Pharping, itself, took on a holiday air, as the steel rolldown doors of half the shops were down, while most of the others featured storeowners standing in doorways, watching the few walkers and motorcycles on the nearly empty streets.

At the intersection of the two main streets that make up Pharping, eight or so policemen in their usual blue and grey camelflage uniforms stood outside their guardhouse and looked down the road at a like number of young Maoists males in street clothes, casually blocking the road into the village with a limp red cloth on a makeshift stand. The two groups kept their distance, while, between them, teams of village children, off from school, played on the dusty soccer field near the side of the road.

As if to celebrate the unexpected free time and the lack of traffic that would ordinarily push them to the side, a group of villagers gathered in front of a closed shop and put on an extended, impromptu song and dance concert. (Click on pic for larger view.) --Jerry in Nepal

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Colonel Sanders Buys Home In Kathmandu


The first Western fast food restaurants to open in Kathmandu have turned out to be KFC and Pizza Hut. We'll visit Pizza Hut at a later date. Located on Darbar Marg, Kathmandu's Rodeo Drive, KFCs a popular addition to the landscape. It's right across the street from the new, upscale Sherpa Mall, with its brand name shops familiar to Westerners. Well-dressed folks from the nearby banks, travel agencies, and antique shops have made the restaurant a lunchtime hit. Here, lunchtime is sometime between 1 and 3, and the diners treat themselves to the same food and packaged specials, like a 2-piece chicken with fries and a Pepsi, that they're apt to find in Austin, Texas. At under 300 Nepal rupees, that comes to around $4.00 American. Plus, you get super-fast service and dine in exactly the same modern kitsch sorroundings that are available in most KFC's in the U.S.

While I'm not a KFC fan in the U.S., I thought the food wasn't bad. The smallish drumstick and breast, both breaded, spicy, and crunchy, were fine. The fast food fries were done right, and the corn on the cob was excellent. The cole slaw was watery. Since the multi-national Asian company that owns the two restaurants also runs a Pepsi factory in India, other than Pepsi, the only carbonated drink on the menu was a "Virgin Mojito," but they were out of that alternative during our visit. As in the U.S., everything came wrapped in paper and cardboard, making it all look much bigger than it was. The young servers and cashiers we interacted with were attractive, friendly, amused, and spoke English well.

To Christine, Dorji, and I, the most interesting thing about this Nepal KFC was its attention to religious rules in this primarily Hindu country. The paper place mats focused on this. One cooking and serving crew handles the meat, another handles the vegatarian offerings. Another cultural point can be found if you'll click on the picture to get a larger version: the Indian/Nepali custom of a uniformed male opening the door for you in upscale restaurants is honored at this Kathmandu KFC, something I've never experienced back in Austin, Texas! --Jerry in Nepal

Monday, December 7, 2009

Eat Your Heart Out, Krispy Kreme


I was very disappointed when I arrived in Pharping a month ago, only to find my favorite "donut" store (see picture) closed. Unlike American versions, this donut is not a sugar rush, although it's probably a grease rush. Cooked in an oil-filled wok and moved around with a stick, the slightly sweet dough ends up light, crispy, and chewy. Golden circles of goodness without preservatives, they have a short shelf life, but that's no problem 'cause they taste so good!

Imagine my chagrin when I learned the smokey, step-down room without a name past the Guru Rimpoche statue where the donuts, and only donuts, are made had been closed for over a week, and the surrounding shopkeepers had no idea when it would reopen, if ever. After all, the larger, more consumer friendly Quality Bakery and Chai Shop down the road was cranking out more than enough donuts in smartly wrapped plastic wrappings. But their dounts were not chewy and were not as light. They were more like cake or bread, and played second fiddle to the bakery's brightly colored cakes. And those of the super bakery in Kathmandu, the Nanglo empire whose products were sold in thousands of stores in the valley, were even worse. Sigh.

Then, late yesterday, hallelujah, I learned the donut store reopened, so today I promptly went up to Pharping for my donut fix, and was not disappointed. I went down the three stone steps into the smokey room, paid the baker stirring the cooking donuts in the wok with a stick, and his assistant rewarded me with 6 warm donuts in a ubiquitous black plastic bag. I immediately ate one as I walked down the road. Life is good! --Jerry in Nepal

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Spy agency finds Buddhist monasteries involved in anti-China activities"

by Saroj Rajadhikari at Kantipur Online

KATHMANDU, DEC 04 - "National Intelligence Department (NID) has listed 24 Buddhist monasteries in the Kathmandu Valley as sensitive for their involvement in the Free Tibet movement and anti-China activities. The national spy agency has placed seven of them on the ‘very sensitive’ list from the security point of view. It has suggested the Home Ministry to keep tabs on altogether 43 monasteries in the capital, out of 59 it studied." more


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Getting High In Nepal

Back in the 60's hippies flocked to Kathmandu to get high, since Nepal had few laws against the use of drugs. They hung out on Jochen Tole, renamed  Freak Street, near Durbar Square and it grew to look like San Francisco's Haight-Ashberry district: ultra-cheap lodgings, cool restaurants, and lots of chocolate cake. 

Today we've learned that the Nepal government's cabinet will get high, too, but in another way. Yesterday it met in the Mt. Everest region in the town of Lukla (elevation 9,000 feet), and plans to helicopter up to Kalapathar for today's brief meeting at 17,000 feet.

The cabinet meeting is dubbed "the highest ever," and its purpose, as reported in Huffington Post, is "to highlight the threat global warming poses to Himalayan glaciers.The meeting comes ahead of an international climate change conference beginning next week in Copenhagen, Denmark, and is meant to draw attention to the effects climate change is having on the region surrounding the world's highest peak...Scientists say the Himalayas' glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, creating lakes whose walls could burst and flood villages below. Melting ice and snow also make the routes for mountaineers less stable and more difficult to follow." --Jerry in Nepal

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thamel Calls


Yesterday a Pharping monk asked me where I was going in the dusty Tata van. I told him "the Kathmandu entertainment complex." "Oh," he replied, "you mean Thamel."

Thamel is the tourist center in downtown Kathmandu, a series of long, narrow streets and winding alleys, filled with all manner of traffic, chaos, international tourists, many of them here for trecking, shopkeepers, touts, and beggars. Oh, and did I say "traffic"? It's one of the most colorful areas of the city, and that's saying a lot. Think the French Quarter or the Village on steroids. Some say either you love it or you hate it. I love it.

My favorite inexpensive DVD/CD place is across from Fire and Ice Restaurant on Tri Devi Marg. This time I foundt DVD's of  BROKEN EMBRACES (Almodovar) and BAD LIEUTENANT (Herzog). Both have just opened in US theaters. For my music iPod I came across COLTRANE PLAYS THE BLUES and THE VERY BEST OF J.J. CALE. Hearing it being played, I couldn't resist adding WHEEL OF LIFE by Kicha Chitraker, a local DJ/musician. 

A few doors down at the Tibetan Book Shop I picked up THE OPEN ROAD, by Pico Iyer, my favorite travel writer, and THE COUNTRY IS YOURS, a collection of contemporary Nepali literature edited by Manjushree Thapa, a local writer, and published by Penguin. From there I went to United Books that has Half-Price Books in Austin beat by a mile. You pay half-price for a used book, and when you return it you get half of your purchase price back. At Half-Price Books they'll give you $5 for a wheelbarrow of books, providing you throw in the wheelbarrow. You know I'm just kidding, right?

Anyway, the typical Napoli week always seems to include a holiday, which includes a half day to prepare for it and a half day to recover from it. Yesterday was the holiday, this time it was a day celebrating Newar farmers, who make up much of the population of the Kathmandu valley. So in the middle of our Themal shopping, wave after wave of farmers from the villages sorrounding the city marched down Jyatha street in diverse garb to the sound of bells, drums, flutes, and whistles (picture). 

After that, we retired to Nanglo's Chinese on Durbar Marge, Kathmandu's Fifth Avenue, for a lunch of chilli chicken (boneless). --Jerry in Nepal 







   

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What We See

The picture at the top of this page was taken from our roof patio in Pharping, and looks across a deep farming valley, through the notch at Pharping Pass, across the Kathmandu Valley, and ends on a view of snow-capped mountains that form part of the Himalaya chain that sorrounds the valley, which is about 25 miles long and 20 miles wide. Pharping is in the mountains to the south of Kathmandu. Each day, we're eye-level with the passenger jets that cross above the mountains from India to the right of the Buddhist monastery and gradually sink into the valley and land at Kathmandu's international airport.

The narrow, twisting blacktop road between Kathmandu and Pharping is only 12 miles long, but it takes about 45 minutes to cover the distance, due to the two-way traffic that is forced to squeeze by with two wheels in the dirt and perceptious dropoffs into deep ravines only feet away. As we pass the small villages lining the road, we move from the flatlands of Kathmandu at 4,000 feet, pass Nepal's major university, begin to dip up and down and around picturesque hills and dales, pass an abandoned cement factory, and then climb up into dark, mountain passes that curve around the gorges until we reach Pharping at 6,500 feet.

Most people in the valley are engaged in farming in one way or another, but some foodstuffs are transported from India to the south or China to the north. This becomes a problem when the few major roads into the country or the valley are blocked for one political reason or another.  The beautiful valley floor is carefully tilled to take advantage of its riches, and the various governments have banned the commercial harvesting of trees which line the mountains to prevent erosion. However, the never-ending march of a growing population is a very serious threat to the future of this heart of Nepal. As more and more farmland is being replaced by strings and blocks of brick and concrete houses and apartments, the question of a self-sustaining society is paramont.

At night from our patio I see strings of lights across the valley that I've never seen before. While Kathmandu has a 2009 population of 2 million, Patan, the third largest city in Nepal and directly south of Kathmandu, has only 200,000+, but is growing by leaps and bounds. We recently drove south through Patan, passed street after street of new buildings and houses under construction, crossed a newly-constucted bridge over the Bagmati river, and ended up at that abandoned cement factory, which marked one-third of our journey to Pharping. --Jerry in Nepal 



 

Humor: Thanksgiving

As you probably know, Thanksgiving in Nepal falls on the same day as Thanksgiving in Texas, give or take a few time zones. Nepali Thanksgiving goes back to the time the Bahuns, members of the Brahman caste, crossed  the border into Nepal as they escaped the Muslim invasion of India around the 12th century AD. 

Once in Nepal, the Indian pilgrims, who were Hindus, met with the Newars, native Buddhists living in what is now the Kathmandu valley, and they gathered in peace and participated in a thanksgiving feast of rice, dahl, momos, and cranberries. So, unlike the first Thanksgiving in the U.S., in Nepal the visitors were Indians, but like the first Thanksgiving, we ate our fill and went to bed.

Like the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving in Nepal is devoted to Christmas shopping, and the main intersection in Pharping, a village a kilometer up the mountainside, was reportedly clogged with bargain seekers on motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, and foot all day. In Pharping the shopkeepers wrap up all their goods in gaudy paper during the holidays, so every purchase is a present!  As for Christine and I, we decided to wait a few days for our weekly trip to Kathmandu, where we'll snag our brightly packaged Christmas gifts at Bluebird Market or in Thamel. 

Ooops, I seem to be out of scotch. Guess I'll have to take a quick trip to Pharping Fresh House after all. --Jerry in Nepal 




Friday, November 27, 2009

Welcome

Thanks for stopping by. While my native home is in the U.S., Austin, Texas, to be exact, I spend 3 0r 4  months each year near Kathmandu, and thought I'd like to write and photograph my responses to experiences as they happen. My interests and activities are diverse, so there will be no particular order to these entries. If I touch upon something that you're particularly interested in, please let me know (jp@moonvine.org). This blog will be much more fun if it's interactive. --Jerry in Nepal