Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kolkata, India

Sorry for the total lack of posting in the last 2 weeks, or so, but this is just a quick update to let you know that we are, inded, still alive... just barely.

Our last two days in Nepal (17th and 18th of Nov.) were spent in Bodnath (also called Boudha), a town about 5 miles north-east of Kathmandu and known as a place for Tibetan refugees. There's a giant stupa (huge Buddhist mound/monument that usually houses a relic of the Buddha or other saint... this one is said to house a bone of the Buddha) there about 100 feet high and a few dozen monestaries (called gompas) that also act as universities. In fact, we met a few Americans who were doing 1 to 3 year study abroad programs there in philosophy or Buddhism. A strange thing was happening to me, however, which is that at night I'd get a nasty fever and severe aches in my legs... it was debilitating and I'd usually turn in to the hotel and watch Animal Planet after losing my appetite and only eating half of myt dinner.

On the plane ride over to Kolkata on the 19th of Nov., I sat next to a Nepali pediatrician, who I told about my symptoms. She said, "oh... you have Malaria. Go to the doctor and get some drugs when you get to Kolkata."

Since we arrived at night, we stayed in our hotel (a sketchy place near the Howrah train station with people sleeping on the floor of the lobby and no hot water) that night and then moved to the YWCA downtown the next morning. After that, we went off to find a western-style clinic so I could have my blood tested. After a few hours of intense pain and fever (I was now sick all the time, not just at night), I found out that I tested negative for Malaria, which they don't have much of in Nepal, anyway, certainly not at this time of year. After begging to see a doctor, he suggested I get admitted to the hospital to be observed and so more tests could be performed (like checking for Dengue, Chicken Gunya, etc.). By the time my dinner came, Justine was running a fever and vomiting, so the doctor admitted her, too!

Fast forward 6 days, when we were discharged from the hospital... diagnosis: "Viral Fever". Every day since then we've been a bit better and done a bit more. One day we went to the Indian Museum, which was huge and ancient and silly (they had an exhibit on "How a Volcano Works," which consisted of a paper-mache volcano in a glass case with a red lightbulb that flashed on and off... no joke!). We've also toured much of the city on foot, seen Casino Royal, and bought our train tickets to Varanasi for later this week.

So that's my update. I'm not sure if we ever mentioned this on the blog, but it turns our neither of us had giardia back in October. Our near-death experience of river rafting (the story of which will be posted as soon as Mrs. Blogbum finishes writing it!) was quite enough for that month, and now our viral infections.... what's next? Stay tuned to bedardhearntravel to find out what India will throw at us, and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! We had tomato soup and sandwiches on Thursday... what did you eat?


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Trekking in Nepal (Part II)

Read Part I here.

Just the pictures.

Before I continue, I want to make something perfectly clear. When I said that the trails are just the roads that Nepali people use to move around between the mountain villages, I don't want to suggest that the roads are flat or paved or in any way easy to get around on. There are the cut stone stairs (made of slate taken from the mountains), which makes steep ascents and descents possible, and on the "flat" ground there are usually stones of some kind to keep the roads from falling apart, but they are still very rough (see an example of one of the nicer sections of the road here). These walks are not for the faint-hearted (James, I'm looking your direction), but we did see a woman being carried on the back of a porter in a special chair, followed by another porter carrying her wheel chair (so James, maybe Meghan can carry you on her back!). The walks also aren't too difficult, since the trails are well marked and you don't need special gear or climbing tools... we just wore sneakers and the same clothes every day. And since you stay in lodges, you don't need a tent or food, just a water filter or Iodine (or money to buy tons of bottles of waters, which as I discussed before, is something we're not interested in). Because the trails are really just roads, J and I always laugh at the people who are walking around in huge hiking boots and gore-tex jackets and huge 50 L bags and separate day bags and titanium walking poles, etc.... it's a joke. I'm not sure what these people think they're getting in to, but I assure you, you can do this with just a light water-proof jacket, a fleece, pants, a t-shirt, sunglasses, a sun hat, a warm hat, and tennis shoes.

I also want to mention, since this doesn't appear anywhere in my journal, that the weather and views were pristine for the entire 7-day trek. It was a bit chilly most nights, but during the day, the sun was always out, the sky was so blue you couldn't believe your eyes, and the hugest mountains in the world were just a few miles away... Really, we couldn't ask for better weather that what we had. It was usually around 75 F during the day when we were walking, and although it usually started to get cloudy in the evening, at night the full moon (or nearly-full moon) illuminated the mountains to give us a totally different view than we had during the day.

Finally, instead of including pictures in the actual entry, I've linked to them in the text, so when you see a link on this entry, they all go to pictures of the things I'm talking about. Not all the pictures are linked, however, so feel free to read and click pics as they come along, but also to look at all the pics I've posted (only 23 more than yesterday) when you're done (see above).

Day 4 - 6.Nov

To lower Chomrong (~2100 m)

Start time: 9 am
Lunch: Noon (1 hr in Taglung; good Daal Bhat)
Finish: 315 pm
Dinner: 6 pm (excellent Daal Bhat!)

Started the day with monkey watching (pic is of the comon langur) in Tadopani before taking a steep descent through a mossy oak forest. We soon emerged in an open river valley (pic) with terraces on all sides. We climbed up and down (as usual!) two ridges before cutting across the tops of 2 more ridges and then reaching Chomrong. Since most of the scenery was terraced farm land, it was uninspiring to me (compared to the previous 2 days), but J enjoyed it a bunch and I must admit that it was somewhat interesting for the sheer amount of terracing. Justine also picked up a tomato that grows on trees here, and is used to make the spicy pickeled stuff in the daal baht, which I don't personally like. But when we tried the tomato fresh, it was quite delicious; simultaneously spicy, sweet, and juicy.

The last climb we had, just after lunch, was probably the steepest set of stair we've ever seen: we climbed at least 6 or 700 m in only a 1 km distance! This wasn't the usual road to Chomrong, but a landslide had destroyed the old trail, so we had to follow a new one up to the top of the ridge. On the plus side, most of the rest of the hike after that was on a nice soft dirt path, not the slate stones, which made it seem more like hiking and less like walking the porters' road. We also met up with the German couple from yesterday's lodge on the trail, and we walked and talked with Birget for much of the day (her husband had blazed on ahead, as he's trying to make it to Ann. Base Camp in four days).

Day 5 - 7.Nov

To Jinhu Danda
Start time: 9 am
End time: 10 am

To the hot springs
Start time: 1030 am
End time: 1115 am
A short walk downhill from Chomorong today took us to the tiny village (with only 3 lodges!) of Jinhu Danda. Our hotel was a "short" 45-minute walk (pic) down to the river and 3 natural hot springs (pic). The springs are man-made pools (of slate stone... what else?) that collect the hot water that comes right out of the side of the mountain). We bathed in them for about an hour before it got cloudy and started to rain (just as we made it back to the hotel!). Besides Bharat and the pool's donation collector, we were the only ones there to enjoy the springs and the views from the bottom of the steep canyon were amazing, with lush greenery on all sides! At night, it got really cold and we drank about 3 pots of hot chocolate and played Big 2 and gin for hours.

Day 6 - 8.Nov

To Deurali
Start time: 830 am
Lunch: Noon (1 hr in Landruk)
End time: 5 pm(!)

The longest and possibly the toughest day on our trip, we finished with 2 hrs. of stairs (maybe we climbed a thousand or more for 1 km uphill) up to Deurali. This extra-long session was designed to have us avoid any climbing for tomorrow, our last day. The terrain today was quite diverse, beginning with a climb down to the river, which housed lush nearly-tripical vegetation and huge bolders in the areas nearby the water flow. A slow climb through a thinly-packed forest brought us to terraced hillsides above the river (probably 500 m up) and back towards civilization (Landruck is quite a large village). All around us, as far as the eye could see, the hill were being farmed and grazed, and whereas most of the morning Annapurna South and Hiunchuli were in clear view out the western end of the canyon, from the terraces the mountains fully disappeared until we reached Deurali. In addition, because we walked so long and so late, the sun was mostly down by the time we finished climbing the steps to Deurali, so we were sweaty but freezing because it was dark and the wind picked up a bunch. Although we both "showered" (using a bucket of hot water each) when we got to the lodge, it wasn't until we got into the dining hall where the fire was that we began to warm up.

At the lodge, we met a nice Australian chap named Greg, and his porter/guide named Prim, who joined us in playing Big 2 with Bharat. The food was good, the fire hot, and the babies (of the lodge owners) were super cute! In the morning, we ate pancakes, muslei, potatoes, and Justine just had to order some apple pie!

Day 7 - 9.Nov

Back to Pokhara
Start time: 945 am
Lunch: 130 pm (Phedi)
Took a taxi back to Pokhara and arrived at our hotel (pic) at 230 pm

A rather boring walk down from Deurali through Dampus (pic), which has gorgeous views of the whole Annapurnas, to Phedi was somber and sad. Worst of all was the 20-minute walk down the road at the end of the trail to the Phedi and the HORRIBLE daal bhat at the restraunt while we waited for our taxi (the rice tasted like cigarette smoke... blech!). After so many good meals, slience, stunning views, and clean air, it's a total bummer to be back in the world. Even yesterday was a sad reminder that the trip was ending, as we were greeted with numerous "one rupee, pen, sweet?" calls from the kids in Landruck.* We also saw several groups of trekkers numbering 12 or more making noise and carrying around their huge bags and shoes, which was another sad reminder that our time here is done.

* These are the usual things that kids in Nepal beg for, even though they rarely need food or pens for school. It seems that some tourists, rather than giving money, started giving out candy and pens, or letting kids try on their sunglasses. This means that now, every child in Kathmandu and Pokhara demands that you give them something, whether or not they even need it. It turns out that the kids just turn around and sell the pens to other tourists, and it has become quite annoying. It had been days since we had heard these calls, so Landruck was a powerful reminder that we were almost back.

It's strange that I really feel as if part of myself is left back in those mountains for me to come back and rediscover. I spent a lot of time in my head these last 2 days and I've come to two conclusions that are probably the same thing:

1) I'd like to be more giving of myself and my time. [Part of the reason we started volunteering at the Nepal Children's Welfare Association after our trek, though we had planned to do this, anyway... see Part I and we'll have another post about this later.]
2) The world is so huge, but people aren't so separate.

Basically, we saw that people here and everywhere (cities and villages in Nepal, China, Japan, America) live and breathe and work the same as you. They might do different things, but you really get a chance to see that you're the same. You meet other travellers, too, and they instantly know you and bring a sense of community, trust, and belonging. Really, you are the same as everyone else and to do wrong or harm to others (or to hold grudges) is to do wrong and harm to yourself. How can you live if you can't forgive yourself? How can you survive if you don't give to yourself? It seems silly or maybe obvious now that I'm writing it, but I can't express in words here how I really do feel more connected to other people through this trekking and all of our travelling experiences.

Day 8 - 10.Nov

Dinner at Bharat's (see here for pictures) in Pokhara.

Bharat cooked us Daal Bhat tonight, and it was possibly the best dinner we've had this whole trip! Here's how it breaks down (Bharat, please correct me if I made any mistakes in the ingredients!):

-Tons of spinach/chard, chopped. Cook in a bit of water with oil, salt, chopped onion, and shredded garlic and ginger

-Daal/lentil soup, cooked and served plain with a bit of oil, salt, and termuric.

-Veggies, cubed potatos, cauliflour, minced onion, shredded garlic and ginger, salt, turmeric and cumin. Fry in a bit of oil the potatos with the onion and salt. Add the cauliflour and other ingredients when the potatos are half-way finished and add a bit of water, if necessary, to soften them.

-Sauce (Baan?), Hemp seeds, toasted (substitute with toasted almonds in the States where hemp isn't available?). Fry some tomatos with chili powder, garlic, and cumin. When done, blend the tomatos with the seeds/nuts until smooth... add water if necessary. (This was the tastiest part of the meal!)

-Plain white rice.

-Pickeled stuff that was made before we got there.

Serve all together on a huge plate and enjoy!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Trekking in Nepal (Part I)

I can't possibly describe our whole trek right now in any kind of detail, but I'll try to do it a bit of justice using a fraction of a percent of our photos and some of my journal entries. The northern boarder of Nepal is all Himalaya, with Everest region in the east and the Annapurna region in the west. The gateway city to the Annapurnas is called Pokhara, which is where we've been staying and doing yoga for several days before beginning our trek, and where we currently are staying until Tuesday this week, when we return to Kathmandu to prepare for our flight to Kolkata, India on Sunday. Here in Pokhara, we met a ton of really nice people, including our Belgian hotel owner/NGO operator, Sabine (hotel, Nepali orphanage, Belgian NGO) and her Nepali husband Ram (both of whom helped us organize our trek), our German yoga/meditation teacher, Ms. Petra, an Australian lawyer named Christy, a Canadian TV producer working in Mumbai (Bombay) for the last two years, Lindsey, and an American salesperson/traveler from San Francisco, Lana; both Lana and Lindsey became our yoga partners for 6:30 am sessions with Ms. Petra!

Anyway, you can think of the major peaks in the Annapurnas as a crescent-moon shape, with the opening to the south and the peaks called Annapurna South and Hiunchuilli at the south-west tip of the crescent, and Machhupucharre, or fish-tail mountain (so-called because of it's twisted double peak), at the south-east. The two most famous treks here are the Annapurna Circuit, which goes around the outside of the mountains and takes about 20 days, and the trek to Annapurna Base Camp (also called the Annapurna Sanctuary trek), which takes you into the middle of the crescent moon and takes about 10 days round trip. Of course, there are tons of trails and we met people who had been in the Annapurna region (a protected area under the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, or ACAP) for 40 days and more! We took a simple 7-day trek starting in a village called Birethanti, south and west of Annapurna South. We walked north and east until we were literally 5 miles from Ann. South, cut across the mouth of the crescent moon to the Sanctuary trail near Fishtail, and turned south out of the mountains where we caught a taxi from Phedi back to Pokhara.

I should also explain that hiking up here isn't like it is back home in the States, or elsewhere in the world. The "trails" we're walking are really just the roads that the local people use to walk between the villages, farms, rivers, and cities of Nepal. There are little to no camping facillities anywhere along the road; instead, people stay in the guesthouses that have sprung up in each of the villages. Some are really nice, but most are just modest rooms with two beds, no heating, and plywood walls. If you're lucky, there's a toilet and shower inside the building somewhere. If not, there's at least a toilet outside. Accomodation at these guesthouses for doubles runs from about 100-200 Nepali Rupees (that's 70 NRs per dollar, so 100 NRs is about $1.50), and food is about the same. So in any given day, Justine and I spent about 2000 NRs, not including our guide.

Speaking of which, there's a new rule in Nepal that was implemented just days before we left: In addition to the ACAP entry fee (2000 NRs each), the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN, which is just a travel agents' union) started requiring people to book treks through them, which costs an additional 250 NRs each. This means there is no more independent trekking in Nepal... you MUST book a porter (dude to carry your stuff), a guide (a dude to tell you where to go), or a porter/guide (a combo), AND the booking must be made through a unionized agent. We got a single porter/guide, named Bharat, to carry our one backpack (stuffed with a few clothes, two rented sleeping bags, meds, and our water filter) who is a friend of our hotel owner (Sabine).

On the first day, we took a taxi out to Birethanti from Pokhara, which took about 90 minutes, registered ourselves and our trek, and that's where I'll start. For height references, one meter is about 3.3 feet, Everest is 8848 m (~29000 ft), Mt. Whitney in California is 4421 m (~14500 ft), and altitude sickness usually sets in at about 3000 - 4000 m (~10000 - 13000 ft). Also, on our horse trek in China, we camped at almost 3500 m and the Ice Mountain lookout we went to was at 4500 m. Also, when we were in Pokhara, we spent 1100 NRs buying two trekking poles. Naturally, we left them behind in our hotel and bought two excellent bamboo poles for 100 NRs about an hour along on the trail; these would serve us extremely well. Okay, here we go:

Day 1 - 3.Nov

Birethanti (1025 m) to Uliri (2010 m).
Start time: 930 am
Lunch: Noon (1 hr)
End Time: 345 pm
Snack: 4pm (Pancakes and porrige)
Dinner: 715 pm (Daal Bhat, the traditional Nepali meal of Lentil soup, rice, veggies, pickels, and other stuff, depending on who makes it.)

Climbed the dreaded "Stone Staircase" today after descending an additional 100 m into a river valley and past a landslide which has killed the power in Uliri and other villages up here. At the start of the day, we were "asked" for a "donation" of 100 NRs to the Annapurna shrine. Saw many spectacular waterfalls and riverside scenery. The dogs here are huge and gorgeous, and the chickens numerous and cute! Of course, Justine is obsessed with them. Her Nalgeen went "missing," taken hostage by two teenaged Nepalis who seemed like they'd only give it back to me in exchange for money. We'll just buy another one when we get back to Pokhara, rather than give encouragement for steeling people's sh*t. Anyway, after lunch, we walked along a river for a short time before crossing over on a rickety suspension "bridge" and started up. The climb lasted for almost 2 hrs.!

Bharat, our guide, taught us to play Canongat (sp?), a billiards-type game played on a square table with giant tiddly-winks... you flick the cue disc (called the "shooter") with your fingers. The views of Annapurna South and the ridge across it to Hiunchuli were stunning after the clouds lifted. [See for yourself:


The Maoist checkpoint at the start of the trail was efficient and professional, but lame anyway. At the lodge, a guy from Singapore and his 5 friends from HK lugged a bunch of Absolute vodka and limes up here. They gave us a bunch while Justine, Bharat, and I played cards and sipped Nepali tea. [ed. note: the Maoists are a group of rebel separatists in Nepal who have been waging war with the King until he relenquished power back in April and the democratic parties of the parliment (called the Seven Party Alliance) since at least 1999. Two days ago, the Maoist leader agreed to join the SPA and make the Maoists a ligit member of the Parliment, which means a cease-fire has been arranged. Almost none of the Maoist activity directly effects the tourism industry of Nepal, except for the trekking fees levied by the Maoists, which is a form of extortion, since it is not government authorized. Back in the day, Maoists roamed the trails with guns and took money as they saw fit, charging some tourists, specifically Americans, 100 USD! More recently, they have set up tables and started charging 100 NRs a day to everyone (except Nepali people) in the trekking regions, don't wave guns around tourists, and give you a printed reciept. Someone told me they sold their reciept to another American on eBay as a keepsake... why?]

Day 2 - 4.Nov

Uliri to Ghorepani (2750 m)
Start time: 845 am
Lunch: Noon (1 hr in Nangethanti)
Finish time: 2 pm (Hungry Eye Guesthouse)
Dinner: 6 pm (Dall Bhat)

I thought we were done with the stone staircase, but it just continued for another 1.5 hrs. this morning! We then entered an oak and rhododenderon forest area, whcih was much flatter and had beautiful rivers and huge waterfalls everywhere. We met a woman at lunch named Julia (from Seattle and who sounded exactly like Sarah Vowel) who knows all the same people in Pokhara as we do, even our guide, as this is her tenth time trekking in Nepal! A very small amount of rain fell on us today but the sun was strong, anyway. In the evening, we did laundry outside in the freezing cold wind, but used the fire inside to dry our stuff. We played cards with a Welsh couple (Tristan and Jess) who were finishing the Ann. Circuit trek on their own. Although we rented sleeping bags from Sabine, I got stuck with her daughter's bag, which barely covers me up to my chest. Tonight, I'll get blankets from the lodge and use those, instead. Tomorrow at 430 am, we'll start our walk up to Poon Hill at 3200 m to view the sunrise over the Annapurnas. I think there will be about a million people up there with us...

Day 3 - 5.Nov

to Poon Hill (3200 m)
Start time: 5 am
Finish time: 540 am
Breakfast back in Ghorepani: 8am

to Tadopani (2590 m)
Start time: 915 am
Lunch: 1 pm in Banthanti (1 hr.)
Finish time: 340 pm

View of Dhaulagiri (far left, 8167 m, 7th tallest mountain in the world), and Annapurna I (8010 m, 10th tallest, with a bit of light on it at right) with Annapurna South (7219 m) just starting to get cutoff on the right.

With our guide, Bharat, standing at the Poon Hill sign with Ann. I and Ann. South in the background.

The climb to Poon Hill was straight-forward but up a steep flight of stairs... I guess that's how all the trails/roads will be up here: Everything is "paved" with cut slate stones and the stairs are all uneven and so steep. But I guess that's the reason why: if they were dirt roads, everyone would be slipping and sliding everywhere and porters wouldn't be able to bring in supplies easily. ANyway, the sunrise views we shared with 100+ people in literally freezing weather were amazing, even though it was loud and annoying to be with so many people. I felt the views from the hill across from Poon Hill that we had around 10 am were far more rewarding and moving for the sheer silence. Also, the entire range was lit up and I swear you could see the earth's curvature from up there (see below). For the first part of the hike (after the better-view hill), we walked through an open and airy oak/bamboo forest area. The sun was bright, but the canopy above caused it to be just perfect inside, and the air was cool. For the first time, we walked on some Nepali-flat ground (a little bit up, a little bit down), but it wasn't as bad as the previous two days. The forest was like a happy, magical place, with views of the Himalays on the left and an open valley with trees of orange, red, and green on the right. After lunch, the trail went downhill past amazing river scenery, and the waters coming out of the mountains cascaded down countless 5, 10, and 20 foot waterfalls. We then started up a steep (they're all steep!) and exhausting ascent through a tropical, lush jungle... not quite the kind of terrain I'd expected in Nepal, but again, totally awesome. I think today was the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen anywhere, from the highest mountains in the world to colorful river valleys and open forest and jungle... we ran the gamut today! Unfortunately, we ended up in a dump of a place with a ton of loud Australian trekkers. The walls in our room don't reach the floor or ceiling, the windows don't close, and there's no light, but the food is good and we played cards all night again with Bharat and a German couple (Birget and ???), as well as another porter. We've been playing gin rummy and a game we call Big 2, but I think it's also called a$$hole. The funniest thing is that Bharat is totally enthusiastic and laughing and really enjoys playing. He's so excited when he wins, slamming down his last cards and gloating! Earlier today, he laughed for like 10 minutes when J joked about wanting me to carry her up the stone stairs... I thought he was going to pee himself.

Okay... I can't really write anymore, right now, but I'll leave you with a few pictures of what happens later in the trip because I've already put them on the page. Briefly, the trek went off without a hitch, we got back and took Bharat out to dinner, and he cooked us Daal Bhat the next night. The day after that (which was yesterday, Saturday) we started some volunteer work at an orphanage in Pokhara and took the kids out to a Japanese-Nepali festival, which was really strange, as Nepali people were doing the cherry blossom dance and judo while Japanese dancers did traditional Nepali dance. Anyway, the last picture is not of our newly-adopted daughter, but of Justine and one of the kids from the orphanage. Enjoy, and hopefully I'll post days 4 through 7 tomorrow.

Walking through the forest on Day 3.

A better view of Dhalagiri from a hill neighboring Poon Hill (which is off the shot to the far left)... a team of horses carrying supplies are walking towards me out of the forsest along the path.

Mike with his bamboo pole standing near the summit of the hill near Poon Hill. The picture above was taken from near this spot, but facing the other way, so Poon Hill is off to the far right in this one.

On the last day of our trek, Justine approaching a water Buffalo family near Dampus.

Playing "Big 2" with Bharat at Cafe Concerto in Pokhara after dinner on the night we returned from trekking

Bharat cooking us dinner at his home in Pokhara the night after we returned from trekking.

About to eat Bharat's Daal Bhat!

Justine and Mamata at the Nepali-Japanese festival.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Newari New Year in Nepal

The Newari New Year celebration took place when we were in Kathmandu about 10 days ago. It's actually a 5-day celebration called Tihar. Although we didn't know much about what actually goes on during the festival or what it all means, it was still pretty exciting to be right in the thick of things, for Nepali people really know how to celebrate! We were actually in a smaller city, just to the south of Kathamandu, called Patan, which is a really fantastic old city. It was a former royal capital, has the most outstanding examples of Newari architecture (which involves incredibly intricate wood carvings and elaborate windows, etc.). Indeed, the structures around the main city center, known as Durbar Square (most cities have durbar squares... it's just a gathering place with tons of temples and stuff), were spectacular (see a few pics here).

On the eve of the New Year (which is the 3rd day of Tihar), both Kathmandu's and Patan's Durbar Squares were positively buzzing with activity. People were buying garlands made of marigolds to give to their families, as well as sweets and gifts for their siblings (one day of Tihar is dedicated to brothers and sisters, who exchange blessings and gifts with each other). The streets were so choked with vendors and shoppers that it was difficult to navigate and we were shoved, stopped, and trapped many times! On Laxmi day (the day that honors the goddess of wealth) of Tihar, the store fronts in Patan (and presumably in Kathmandu and elsewhere) made these elaborate dye poser displays. First, they lay down some red clay from the Kathmandu valley, which is supposed to connect them to their roots. Then they buy these fabuously bright dyes (in powder form) from street vendors in the Sq. They drop the dye down in these really amazing displays that go from the street, up the stairs, and to the store's cash register. For example, we saw footsteps walking into the store, flowers, dancing couples, animals, buddhist designs, and other, more abstract, desighns. They also set up candle and electric lighting displays in order to attract Laxmi to their homes and shops. This excessive demand for power is likely the reason we had power outages every day in Kathmandu and Patan! The topper of the week-long Tihar festival was that every night, despite a government ban, people were blowing firecrackers and fireworks all night long off the roofs of their houses! I should also mention that besides Laxmi and the sibling days, there is a day to honor crows, one for cows, and one to honor dogs, who get marigold garlands of their own and tikkas (the orange mark on the forehead, which is a good luck blessing).

On a totally unrelated note, I wanted to mention that we saw something quite foreign to us the other day. We're currently in Pokhara (it's about 200 km west of Kathmandu), and the views from everywhere in the city of the Himalaya are probably better than the mountain vies of any other city in the world; from here, we can watch the sun go over 8 peaks, all 6997 m or taller, including at least two 8000 m peaks (Dhaulagiri and Annapurna I are two of the 10 tallest mountains in the world)! Anyway, two days ago, in the middle of the afternoon, a police van led a march filled the streets and sidewalks of the lakeside area of Pokhara; they were heading south (towards the police station, I guess). A huge group of people of all ages followed (kids in school uniforms, teens, adults, womend, old folks... the whole town!). They were all shouting and most looked pretty pissed off. In the middle of the crowd (actually, close to the police van), was a man in only shorts and shoes, covered from head to toe in a black goop, with chains and shoes draped around his neck. He was most likely tied at the hands, too, but I don't recall. When I asked a shopkeep what the fuss was about, he siad that the guy was a child rapist and that you can be executed for that in this country. Although I'm not sure what the judicial system is like here, public scorn of criminals (was he even convicted? how do they even know if it was the right guy?) and a total lack of suspect rights is a really foreign concept to us as Americans. Perhaps he was being paraded straight to his death, or maybe to the police station for protection. Someone else told us that the insurgent Maoists were actually circling the man, protecting him from the mob of people who would have killed him in the street. In fact, we know that in Nepal, "justice" is usually served vigalante-style. When we first arrived here, two men were suspected of having kidnapped two kids. One was found dead, the other severely injured. The next day, one (or perhaps both?) of the suspects were beaten to death by a mob. It was not a scary experience, but so foreign and a rather frank and stark reminder that we're not in the States, where although the justice system isn't perfect, at least some people are trying to make it better.

Hope you all had a nice Halloween... they don't really celebrate that here in Nepal, but more than that, Justine and I will be missing out on the best American holliday, Thanksgiving. :( Even for us vegetarians, that's going to be a tough one to miss....