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Archive for the ‘2009 Asia’ Category

Neapli Wedding

December 13, 2009
Nepali wedding In Lumbini, Nepal
Monks at tree Buddha was born under (a sapling from the original the story goes)
I woke at 6am after a great rest following a long day of overland travel and a somewhat stressful situation in finding lodging after dark when all the electricity was out….again.
Indian Buddhist spinning giant prayer wheel

The guide book recommended hiring a rickshaw to transport  you from one Nations’ monastery (in reverence) to another, or hire a bicycle and do it yourself.  I instead opted to walk.  I figured that after spending 9 hours on three local buses the day prior, as I traveled from the Tibetan refuge camp near Pokhora to the birth place (Lumbini) of Sidhartha Buddha, I could use the exercise. By midday I had likely covered 10K and was getting tired and hungry, and realized my food options were roasted peanuts and potentially a banana or tangerine from a rickshaw vendor. Or potentially ice cream that was being sold to the hundreds of Indian tourist; it looked good, but I had my droughts regarding my stomach agreeing so I told myself that lunch was going to be wait until dinner.  I bought some peanuts.

Taiwan temple

I wondered off the main path and found myself at the under construction Nepalese monastery.  The man at the gate was uninterested so I simply walked in to the bamboo scaffolding, the young (15) girls hauling sacks of pea gravel to the upper level on their heads, and the men planning boards by hand to make the interior bookshelves.  Soon I was met by the Project Manager who was monk from the Manang monastery I had visited while trekking around Annapurna. He was delighted in my interest and he explained the reincarnation history of his guru (who was somehow responsible for this monastery being build but I did not following entirely), and how it came to be that he was now building a great monument and equally good karma in his work.  And the work was impressive.  Inside I met the master painter who was responsible for incredibly intricate murals on all the walls and ceilings (about the size of a high school basketball arena). Given our Christian heritage we pay great attention to Michelangelo and his master works, but having seen both, I can attest to the artistry of Asia painters as being equally magnificent.
Nuns and Monks from Burma (Myanmar)

“You take dal-bhat” the monk asked.  I politely refused as I knew this was food off of someone else’s plate but there was no arguing as this was not a question but rather a statement.  On the brick pile in the sun, the local workers had placed jars of pickled peppers and were livening lunch up a bit with some “hot”. So thinking “When in Nepal do as the Nepali“, I helped myself to one green and one red pepper while the girls giggled with glee and the men shook their heads in warning.  I should have heeded the men’s council.  This was particularly apparent  when I realized I could not safely drink the water on the job site. The monk ordered some boiled water be prepared but I can’t say that boiling water helps much when your esophagus is sweating or evening bleeding hot. After lunch I tried to make a donation and was flatly refused.  “You are our guest, you are always welcome here, travel in peace my friend”..  I bowed in deference and waved to the girls as they filled, placed atop their heads, and carried more bags up the bamboo ladders.

Making tar to mix with  for the roads around Monasteries (town is dirt)

Da Peppers

At about 15k I had had enough and excepted the offer to jump side saddle onto the rack of an ancient single speed bicycle. The locals make it look so easy, and I have watched gorgeous women in brightly colored saris do it with grace and beauty a thousand times.  I, on the other hand, nearly crashed the poor kid pedaling the bike, and almost ended up on my bumm in the process. I declined the ride, but the kid really wanted the 50 rupees so we tried from a stand still and with a push from another boy we finally achieved forward momentum.  It was only then that I realized that to sit side saddle on a bicycle requires you perform one continuous abdominal crunch, and after a fee hundred meters I was beginning to shake as unused muscles revolted. Days later as I write this, I am still sore.

My bike

The next day I again awoke early and walked the other direction into the local village of Lumbini.  The contrast is amazing.  In the park you literally have multi-million dollar monastery’s that are supported by Buddhist communities from their home countries and in the local village you have people living in straw shelters along with their goats, and ox. I do not think many Westerners go that way because when I drew my camera I was immediately swarmed by every village kid wanting his picture taken.  I obliged and took an hour taking photos.  This is always a mixed blessing because after such a session it is nearly impossible to escape the grasp of these kids and often their parents.  I think this is why most people avoid interactions with locals and rather stay on the path or in the tourist bus.  It is hard to look at a group of people who are beyond description less fortunate then you, and simply walk away. And the irony is you are somehow richer for the experience; I certainly hope they are as well, but I have my doubts.

Lumbini boy

I secured a bicycle of my own and hit the back roads; until I threw a chain in the middle of a rice dyke and crushed my finger on the rear cog as I put it back on.  It is funny, I remembered how to ride a single speed bike for my childhood but I somehow forgot that when you are turning the pedal with one hand and holding the chain in the other, make damn sure you keep you fingers out of that gear.

Town of Lumbin

Village of Lumbini (yes those are homes in the backgrougd

I decided to tend to my wounds at one of the Japanese hotels that charge a hundred dollars a night (that is a fortune in Nepal), and then figured lunch was in order. This may be my new strategy – live on the cheap and then find out where the Japanese high rollers stay.  The lunch was nearly $20usd but included 5 courses and green tea.  The rest of the afternoon I road around the county side realizing that was the best meal since leaving the US nearly three months ago, and also realizing that it cost nearly a months wages for the average Nepali. Late in the afternoon, I rented the hotel car and maniac, but skilled, driver and visited Sidhartha’s mothers kingdom. I walked threw the same arches that he did; the arches that led from his Princely life of wealth and isolation, to one of suffering and ultimate enlightenment and teaching. At that point I realized, that I would indeed visit the other pilgrimage sites of Buddhism.  My friend Michael Wirth described my trip as a pilgrimage before I even left, and I did not know what she meant; now I am chasing Buddha across the subcontinent.

Knowing that my Nepali Visa expired the next day, I got back to the hotel at 6pm with plans for an early evening that included money exchange, transportation and immigration coordination.

Ox in Lumbini village

I was greeting at the door by the hotel manager and his lovely wife who were waiting for the only car they had access to (the one I had ,and the one which we just put a completely bald spare tire on after a flat).  He was dressed in a meticulously tailored suit with a beautiful silt tie, and she was adorned in her finest sari, bracelets, necklaces‘, and nose and ear rings.  They were the most beautiful couple. “We go to best friends wedding, hurry you must come with us”.  Dressed in trekking gear and a baseball hat I explained that I indeed owned a nice suit, even a tuxedo, but had nothing appropriate with me given this obvious very formal affair.  “No, no, he is my best friend and you will be a most honored guest, you must attend”.  His wife simply nodded and smiled/.  I ran upstairs, threw the hat on the bed, combed my hair with my fingers, brushed my teeth, throw on some cheap Nepali antiperspirant/deodorant and was in the car in three minutes; Off to a Nepali wedding.

Bride and groom

Jupiter and his wife (my host)

An honored guest indeed.  We stopped on the way to buy a wedding gift in a fairly large town near the Indian border and I found the epitome USA cheesy rose flowered, sappy text wedding card.  I simply signed it “Congratulations on your wedding day from the American who just showed up”.  At the door the in-laws greeted me with great fanfare and kicked people out of their seats for me, Jupiter, and his wife. We enjoyed an amazing dinner of traditional Nepali food  and given that at least some of the guest were Buddhist everyone was, shockingly, by USA comparison, completely sober. When the dancing, that was limited to those dressed for a formal, started, I tried to work my way to the back but the other guest were having known of it. Thus, I said the hell with it and danced in a style that was later referred to an “unique’….code word “you suck dude”. The biggest cheers came when me and the new in-laws got down with our imitations of Michael Jackson.  The bride and groom, simply sat in their assigned seats and watched the craziness before them; he is a western suit, and she is a beyond bright red sari adored with sequins; I am sorry American women, white is nice but red is the color for a striking bride.
Wedding Party
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Tibetan Friends

Tibetan friends, Pokhora, Nepal
Welcome to Pokhora
Boatman before sunrise

Before sunrise I hired a boatman to row me across the lake so I could hike the alternate route up to the World Peace Pagoda overlooking the lake side town of Pokhora, Nepal. I arrived at the monument just after sunrise as the Himalayas came into view   – I sat in silence inside the Japanese Monastery as a monk hypnotically beat a drum and chatted a peace mantra. A anti atomic bomb reminder hung prominently above. When he saw me, he gestured to come forward and I expected a request for a small donation.  Instead, he opened a small brass jar and gave me a peace of hard candy and nodded silentlyl; he then went back to his chanting and rhythm drum work –  I went back to listening silently. Hours later, after tea and enjoying the view from the Stupa before the bus of Korean kids came up from the other “easy”  side, he was still sitting in the same place, performing the same brain focusing work.

World peace Pagoda

Upon returning to Pokhora lakeside, I was in a particularly calm, peaceful, and generous mood so I decided to look at some of the small souvenirs offered by the Tibetan women who carried their offerings in small day packs.  For days they had patiently and politely asked me to make a small purchase to “Help” and I had equally patiently and politely declined.  Today was different however and I knew that If I looked ,I would be compelled to buy a little something to help them out. Unfortunately, there were 7 women who sell in the neighborhood of my hotel so one by one I had to look and buy.  At the end, I had more stuff than I possibly needed given I had also bought some stuff trekking. So  I simply bought something from one seller and gave her another piece I had previously bought.  I didn’t haggle on the price and they all knew that I knew that I was over paying; but really….the prices were stupid cheap by our standards and they had made these pieces that were there means of livelihood.  I maybe spend $50usd. Who would have known that this small kindness would be returned a hundred fold in the days to come

Boats

The next day, I remembered that I had 1.5kg of Tang left from trekking that I was not likely going to use, and I also had several kilos of popcorn that Angin’s mother had graciously given me after Angin told her I eat it all the time and loved the small mountain corn.   Given that I could not ship the popcorn and had no way of cooking it, I figured I would offer it to my Tibetan sales women and ask if maybe they could pop a little bit for me. They were very grateful and recommended that I walk to their refuge camp and see the Tibetan rugs – I did but unfortunately the Maoist had told them, while carrying sticks, that they must close for the day in solidarity of the strike.

Boys of Pokhora

Side note: from what I have read in the local papers, I am empathic to the Maoist position and what appear to be legitimate grievances. That said, having young thugs with stick close poverty stricken shops, including my tiny barber stall, is just bullshit and in no way can be good for the country.

Now the Tibetans of the village, being the great adapters, figured this would  simply be a good time to have a town meeting, which they did and discussed the upcoming democratic elections being held in Dharmasala (the exiled capital of Tibet, which is in India). Tibetans are not Indian, or Nepali citizens…they are literally exiled and refuges with no citizenship, 50 years after the invasion of Tibet from China in 1959, but fortunately the Indian government has largely stayed out of their affairs as they maintain an exiled government. And fortunately the Nepali government has also largely left them alone and allowed the establishment of refuge camps.  At his point, there are children of children  of the original Tibetans who fled their homeland.

Tibetan women weaving belt (in violation of the Moaist imposed strike)

Returning, I ran into the women (~30-~65 years old) and told them I could not see the rug factory, but I did sit in on part of their town meeting and an old man translated for me. They gave me some of the popcorn that they had popped and commented that this must be “high county” corn, which it was, because it was “so very good”. They told me to meet them by the selling tree the next morning because they were going to bring breakfast.

Black tea, with butter, and a LOT of salt, equals Tibetan tea.  They say it is an acquired taste and maybe after years that is so, but it is pretty awful and I have drank a good many cups in the last weeks seeking the allusive “acquired” part.  We drank our tea and ate Tibetan bread and then I jumped into a jeep and headed for my paragliding adventure.

Flying was truly a remarkable experience and acting like a bird as the thermals took us higher and higher was impressive.  But I could not help but think about my friends in town, who brought me breakfast and who were selling jewelry in hopes of making a few dollars, if that, a day.

Flying

Unfortunately flying is also like being on a carnival ride and 40 minutes into my hours flight I was releasing my Tibetan Tea and  bread to the good humor of my French pilot. We descended very quickly and a coke largely fixed the taste in my mouth.  I walked an hour back to town thankful for the experience and went straight to bed.

Egg Delivery

The following morning I had planned to leave Pokhora but another strike was planned and thus I opted to leave the day after.  Following breakfast the girls found me (they never once asked me to buy another thing), and bought black tea while I purchased some bananas and tangerines from the street vendor.  We drank tea, ate fruit and laughed about me getting sick.  When they inquired about when I was leaving.  I told them my plans and they explained that if I could stay, I could come back to village, stay at  their brand new guest house, and celebrate the 20th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama  winning the Nobel Peace prize. You know, why not; besides one of the women – I found out was single, in the appropriate (as defined by this culture) age category (over 30, over 20 is actually fine here but does not work for me) nice, and quite attractive. I was not looking for any romance but interacting with single women is simple different than those who are attached. I packed my bags, checked out of my good but sterile hotel and walked back to the refugee camp with nothing but a name as a reference.

“You must be Mr. Robert, we expecting you,  thank you much for being guest at new house, and helping our community, your room is prepared for you”.  And what a nice room, a great young cook who prepared wonderful meals on a two burning portable stove, and a welcome from 800 Tibetan refugees the next day.   The guest house was build with donations from westerners and contains 4 rooms.  It employs 5 young camp members who are well educated but have no prospects for jobs.  The idea is to create there own jobs in a sort of “teach a man to fish” way.   All proceeds go into the general community fund. I was thrilled to be here and very happy that I was getting a good service for abiet slightly elevated price –  but the money was going to help the many rather than benefit a few.

Preparing food

I got up early but not early enough because when I got to the outdoor kitchen I found team B (there are three teams in the camp, and each team takes on the community duties for one year) hard at work preparing food for all inhabitants as well as those even less fortunate in the surrounding Nepali village. I drank more Tibetan tea as I took photos and tried to stay out of the way.  Buy this point, everyone in town seemed to know who I was (along with an aspiring Nun, we were apparently the only Westerner invited. Their were three young Australian girls who were volunteering there for a month), and it was all smiles and explanations regarding what was being prepared on the wood and propane stoves.  Every seen a Wok that is big enough to fry multiple  Kilos of rice?  Big.

Prepare food

I went to the flag ceremony led by the camps monastics, and spun the prayer wheels while chanting the now familiar mantra which is said to be untranslatable because it encompasses all of the Dharma, or wisdom, of Buddhism. Each prayer wheel has this same inscription written on it, and I discovered that inside each cylinder is filled with small pieces of paper containing the mantra as well.  Thus you are saying, and amplifying this mantra thousands of time with each revolution of the wheel.

We went to the blessing for His Holiness and I was ushered forward to pay honors as well.  I was self conscious as I did not no how to show respect but simply followed the lead of those in front of me; when done, the Lama  smiled broadly and clasped my hand and nodded.

Food for 800

We feasted on buffalo, dal-bhat, sweat rice with fruit, and really good yogurt. “I thought Buddhist were vegetarian” I inquired to Choezom as we ate alone while  the old women whispered.   “Did not Buddha teach that one should refrain from killing”? “ Oh yes” Choezom replied, “ That is Buddhist teaching, and we do not kill anything,,,,, but the Buddha said nothing about eat if dead, so ok  we eat… bought the buffalo from someone else who kill”.  And thus we get a perfect insight into the adaptability of the Buddhist philosophy.

Monks and secular boys

In the afternoon Choezom and I walked along the river, through a local part of Pokhora, and amongst the rice fields.  We sat on a bench together for awhile and while I have no idea what she was thinking, and we did not discuss, I had a strong feeling of awkwardness until I regrouped and recognized that here was a kind friend and a wonderful person and enjoyed the remainder of the day with that thought alone.

Tibetan friend making yarn

While the rest of the village ate again (I do not know how that was possible) we drank Nescafe coffee in her tiny back yard  adjacent to the semi-indoor kitchen that she shares with 2 sisters, one brother, and one brother in law. We talked of travel, of places I have been, was going (some she had visited as a guest of other travelers)  and places she hoped to see one day. We talked about the plight of the Tibetan people, why the police had showed up at our celebration today (at the request of the Chinese government to the Nepali government to ensure ongoing intimidation and compliance ….according to the Tibetan perspective which I understand fully is only one perspective).

Choezom and village child

Then we danced and danced some more. Young, old, ancient….we all danced.  We danced until the power went out…literally.  And I watched how a community works; everyone watches the children,  and while I do not hold babies as my family will attest I held a few this night.  And everyone monitors and enforces appropriate behavior; when one young man had obviously been drinking, he was escorted off the dance floor.  When he first refused his friends, his parents stepped in while other looked on approvingly and then started dancing again. During the day, two teenage boys got into a bit of scuffle and when the one boy would not calm down his quite elderly mother pinned him to a wall in front of the entire community.  Choezom explained to me, that tomorrow the parents would hold a meeting with the two boys to ensure the problem would not fester or potentially grow. It was impressive to see.  And yet, Choezom explained to me that it has it downfalls.  “What are those” I inquired.  “You see all of these people are my extended family, so getting married here is like marrying your brother, marrying your brother who you grew up with, who does not have a job and who has no prospect of getting one”.  She said this is in a perfectly factual manor with no bitterness or even perceived longing…just a simple way that I have noted, particularly amongst the Tibetans and the mountain Nepali’s, and one that Choezom herself described as simply “The way things are….we do not concern yourself with the ways things are, as that is a waste of time.”  At first I thought this was defeatist but then I saw plenty of action that proves that is not the case.  The difference here verses my perspective at home is, here they only focus on the things they can change and they actually do seem to know the difference as the prayer recommends.

Village grls

I new I was leaving in the morning and had that awful feeling you get when traveling after you meet wonderful people, you know you have to go, and in this case in particular I maybe actually needed to go, and yet a part of me wanted to stay….. At 4am I got up as Annie, the aspiring nun was heading on a sunrise sight seeing trip around Pokhora with Choezom and my other friend as guides.  We said our good-byes in the dark and they each gave me a scarf (I forget its specific name but they are for safe travels)  Angin had previously given me one as well, so now I travel with three. I made a donation to the community and tried to help my friends out a bit as well, and told myself  if I am every in Nepal again, I will come back and see the dear people of Tashiling refugee camp. Next time I will help chop the vegetables.

My Friend Choezom

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Monasteries

Monasteries on Annapurna
Buddha eye

Another advantage of a good guide is access.  The Buddhist monasteries along the trek are truly spectacular but they are often locked during the time that is convent for your visit. For Angin, being a Buddhist himself, this posed no problems.  He invariably started talking to someone, often an ancient women spinning a prayer wheel, and shortly someone would show up and give us complete access.  In Manang  this happened and I soon found we were sitting with the local Lama asking for a blessing of our upcoming mountain crossing.  We lit candles and chanted some and I was taken with how serious Angin was taking the whole process and realized that while incredibly competent in the mountains, the mountain people certainly do not suffer from hubris and take any pass over 5000m as a serious undertaking.

On the day of our summit, we were blessed as the temperature were quite cold but we have clear skies and no wind.  Days before we met several groups who had turned around to difficult conditions.   We left high camp at 5am along with many of the other trekkers but the pass was owned this day by Angin and I.  We were both healthy, both strong and we made the pass at 6:45 as the sun rose over the Himalaya.  I was the first westerner on the top this day and me along with Angin and other porters had the world to ourselves as others moved slowly up the mountain. Had Island Peak been in front of me today, there would have been no quitting as I could have easily climbed another thousand meters this day.  And knowing that was really good and helped me reflect on not climbing Island Peak weeks before; there are days you are supposed to be successful and there are days you are supposed to know it is simply not your day.

Monastery painting
Prayer wheels

Low tech (old cans) prayer wheels

Om Mani Ped Na Hum

Temple painting

Prayer works

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Meat

Annapurna Circuit

After some pretty marginal tea houses at the beginning of our trek we came to what looked like a really nice place and Angin had informed me that they had nice private cottages.  When we arrived the place was indeed nice and we headed to the back area that did indeed contain several private rooms.  When we got to mine however, we discovered that a Yak had been slaughtered that morning and my front porch was being used as the butcher shop.  No worries, we simply pulled the tarp, complete with all kinds of yak parts on it, away from the front door and I checked into a truly nice room. I then sat on the stoop as two men used hatchets and long knives to cut the animal into strips for drying. They explained the process and explained that Yaks are not often killed for meat, but when they are old and dying, well you might as well eat them.

Yak butchering outside room

Yak parts


Goat parts

On the other side of the mountain, we had lunch while each household in the small village that owned goats slaughtered two of them.  I inquired with everyone why so many goats were loosing their live today, and from what I gathered this was simply the day you were supposed to kill two goats.  Eating my vegetarian noodles, I talked to the butcher who scraped the hair from the goats head and explained how it would be used to make “very tasty” soup during the soon coming winter. No part of this animal was wasted and the small amount of flesh that came off with the hair was thrown to the patient but obviously hungry dogs.  In the west we have grown accustomed to eating our meet without bones and without skin (chickens for example) but here that is considered a crazy, wasteful, and less “tasty” option.  “Bones provide much flavor, must always cook with bones” the butcher proclaimed.   And given the small amount of meat that is actually consumed here and the amount of hard physical labor that is undertaken here, I am pretty certain that a little chicken skin in a cholesterol problem.

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Annapurna Circuit

Annapurna Circuit

Sunrise at Poon Hill

Without a doubt the Annapurna  circuit is the most diverse  trek I completed in Nepal.  Certainly the scenery on Gokyo and Everest base camp were more spectacular, certainly the jungle areas  and crops of Langtang were more varied  but for a single trek that captures the diversity of Nepal – Annapurna is incredible.  From banana trees, to hard wood forest, to pine covered mountains, to sub-alpine tundra, to barren snow covered alpine passes, to desert in the rain-shadow, to apple orchards, to orange trees, to rice terraces, and back to banana trees once more. Certainly the road construction deters from the trek and many opted to fly out of Jomsom or take a jeep down when available, but with a competent guide, it is still possible to stay out of the ankle deep dust of the road,  In fact, that section of the trek, through now forgotten villages on the other side of the river, is really remarkable and having few tourist was an added bonus.

Tea house along the path

I had originally planed to hike into the “Sanctuary” (Annapurna base camp) as well, but after a 1600M decent my knee was less than happy and I was eating Ibuprofen like Chiclets.   So Angin and I simply slowed our pace and took a few rest days as we completed our circumnavigation of the massif.  Actually the trek is not a complete circle but rather about 300 degrees of a a circle. It is a few hundred kilometers regardless as you climb a valley, cross a pass and decend a valley.

Women who served up tea

The women in the photo walks an hour each morning and and hour each evening in hopes of selling a few cups of tea to the porters and maybe a tourist who pass by.  If the weather is to bad or if she has customers late in the day and it gets to cold she simply stays in the hut. Having tea, and talking to her was one of many trek highlights.  When I commented that she had a great little tea hut she laughed and laughed and said “Very smoky, roof  leak, very cold, many mice….but yes I am very fortunate and have good tea hut”.

Tibetan Women

As we climbed higher up the valley we met more and more Tibetan people who were living in exile in Nepal.

Washing clothes, chickens and feet


Cold on summit day


Working our way towards the pass at sunrise

All down hill from here

Hill town

Rain shadow side of mountain


Children of Kalbini

Hill county living

Plowing under lasts seasons rice

Avalanche – bodies inside not recovered

Bananas and Poinsettias

Wonderful guest house in hill country





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Road Block

November 10, 2009,

I thought Ronald Regan, Casper Weinberger, and I put an end to Communism back in the 1980s?  Hell, Ron was the President, Cap was the Secretary of Defense, and I was a young Marine convinced I was saving the world from tyranny with my “service and duty”. When I started to see red Hammer and Sickles banners and flags, I had to admit that, like a later President,  our “Mission Accomplished” bravado may have been a bit premature and likely misguided.

Hammer and sickle emblem of the Maoist party in Nepal

Who can blame them? For the poor and down trodden, Communism sounds really good.; it just does not seem to work particularly well. Here is no exception as the word from the person on the street is: “Monarchy was very bad, Communist – very bad,  now the so called “republic” it’s very bad….all corrupt, nothing changes in Nepal“.

It had been widely reported that the Maoist were going to hold a “strike” the day of my departure back to the Himalayas and the Annapurna circuit. After verifying that these things often do not actually happen, and were typically peaceful, I decided that a private car, leaving  very early would likely be the best option to avoid any hassle.  I also wanted to begin the trek on the same day I left Kathmandu, and thus avoid a typically shabby hotel at the end of a bus line with no viable options.  Postponing was an considered as well, but perceived schedule issues over ruled good judgment.

At 5:30am we departed confident in our approach; all we had to do was get over the pass road that led out of the Kathmandu valley- easy. Stopped. The driver walked up the road to assess the situation, Angin talked to other stranded locals, and I took a pee beside the road.  Ultimately the driver came back and said “Maybe”, which should have been my first clue. We pulled out of line and started slowly driving forward up the wrong side of the road-past dozens of mostly busses and other commercial vehicles who’s occupants looked on in puzzlement. As we moved ahead , I first saw Nepali police in full riot gear (not good), then I saw the Nepali Army which was more heavily armed (more not good) but looking particularly casual.  Finally we were close to the top of the hill where the road bottlenecked and made for a perfect place for the blockade.  They saw us, and as our car was about to be mobbed.  I yelled to our driver: Turn the fuck around and get us out of here”.  To late.  Crowds of young, wanting to be upset, men  is a situation that one should ALWAYS avoid – Broke that rule.

Now Nepali’ people are typically soft spoken unless they are yelling into a phone (as the connections are always poor), and apparently unless they are trying to negotiate a car and its stupid passenger out of a potential riot. Initially I was paralyzed and sat frozen in fear.  Then I realized that this car was of no protection so I might as well do something.  So I casually put my camera under my arm, rolled down my window, put my arm on the window ledge and said “Namaste” to the first pissed off guy who got in my face.  That helped calm him down – generally the Nepali people are REALLY friendly and certainly not aggressive. “Strike, Maoist strike, you understand strike” he said.  “Yes I course” I said nonchalantly.  “Me American, strike is good, Martin Luther King is good, Che Guevara (they love this guy in Nepal but based on my inquires most do not know who he was) is good.  But blocking the road…not so good.  And I do not understand – The revolution is over, and I thought you guys won?”  My driver was still shouting with the guys on the right, and the crowd grew as people wanted to see who was tying to “run” the road block.  About that time, I saw the comforting  blaze of a UN human rights observer on the back of a vest.  He was obviously not going to intervene, but I was glad he was watching nonetheless.   Maybe he would document my less than heroic demise.

I continued to have a conversation with my guy while exposing my views on why road blocks were actually bad for the Moaist and how President Obama did not approve of them and would consider this a terrorist act at an airport when my driver started to try and turn the car around; apparently that is what he had successful negotiated. But  the military, who are not Moaist (it is really hard to figure out who is who in this decades old conflict) did not want us back and blocked our path.  Then the “Man” showed up.  While listened to a bunch of yelling from both apparently self appointed negotiators  he stuck his head in the drivers window and looked at me.  “Namaste sir” I said while chuckling at the situation while shrugging my shoulders; he immediately smiled, laughed as well, and responded in kind.  He barked a few orders, like the Red Sea the crowd departed as he walked beside the car as we moved forward up the road.

The next group, who were apparently the original road blockers, quickly rebuilt their human chain to prohibit our passage.  Wow, what an good group to get news coverage if things got ugly; maybe 40, brightly sari clad, bendi adorned, beautiful women, all smiling at me with a determined look that I was not going anywhere as they clasped hand in Communist unity. Fine, take me prisoner, abuse me.  But, the “man” raised his hand and the human chain fell apart.  I am not sure what he said to them, but many clasped their hands and mouthed Namaste as we passed.

Having the road to ourselves we made great time and startled the intermediate road blocks who quickly let us move through thinking we must somehow be important if we got this far.  We followed a powder blue SUV with giant UN blazes across the back, front, top, sides for a while on the now deserted road, then  passed on a blind corner as my driver honked his horn incessantly.  I gave a big wave as we drove past.  I paid my driver a handsome tip given I was still alive, and was heading into the mountains at 2pm. I heard later from others that they spent a dozen hours beside the road and hundreds of people simply opted to start walking in the often seen “resigned” fashion that recognizes that the system is broken but you still have to get home.

Post script: The civil unrest in Nepal is increasing again with several reported violation of the peace accord including armed clashes between the Moaist and the Nepali government (which the Moaist are now a part of).

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VIVA Annapurna

Oh, maybe “Viva” is not Nepali.  Anyway, signing off again for a while as I am heading for the Annapurna masiff in the morning.  I will be trekking the classic Annapurna Circuit, with some modifications.  They have build a road over part of the trail, so I may take a jeep in those areas and then take some side trips up the more remote valleys.  I should be in Pokora around December 1st and am having my netbook sent over to me (we will see if that is a good idea…..will it show up) around then; so I will be back on-line sometime that week.  I understand Pokora is a great place to hang out and decompress after 3 more weeks in the Himalayas.  Looking forward to it all ready.

Oh Shit, that means I am going to be on the trail for Thanksgiving….I may have to commandeer a chicken in the lowlands and have it travel with me until dinner time.

small worhip shrineHindu god and goddess

The cough is still lingering, but I think it is good enough to go back into the mountains.  The pass is something over 5000m, but I am feeling good so off we go.

bike and fruit

Fruit vendor

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