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I’m finally home. My three weeks in India went quite different than expected.

I had planned to trek for a couple of weeks in Ladakh in order to get a fix of mountains and solitude before returning home.

Instead, Leh, the district capital of Ladakh and reputed to be one of the driest places in India, was flooded, I got stuck in an Indian army base 5000m above sea level on the road to Leh along with fifty others. It’s a long story, so I’ll break it into a couple of posts. Click on the photo for an album with photos and videos, and click on the jump below it for the story.

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Friends in Nepal

This is coming three weeks too late, but my friends from Kathmandu threw me a party on my last day at the guesthouse I was staying in. Complete with a cake, Tibetan scarf, and flowers(?!) I was wished off in an unbelievably kind way. Here are some photos:

Today is sadly my last day in Nepal. The past 9 weeks have gone incredibly quickly, but I’m very happy and will be nostalgic for my time here. Some of the highlights:

  • Touring the countryside: The Nepali countryside is gorgeous. Particularly now, when rice grown all over, the country is a shade of brilliant green. I got the opportunity to travel through fourteen of Nepal’s districts and cover a good portion of the east. Still another 61 districts out there, though…
  • My Project: It’s nice when work and play mix well. I went on my first work-related hike in Bhojpur district, got to hear small farmers’ stories, observe women’s microfinance groups, and interview a host of actors in the business, all in 2 months. Once my report is distributed, I’ll try to share it.
  • Learning Nepali: I didn’t write much about this, but I took nine lessons in spoken Nepali while here, which was incredibly helpful, fun, and instructive about Nepali culture more generally. My instructor, Rajesh Shrestha, runs a volunteer program in Nepal called Cultural Destination Nepal, and it’s a fantastic program if you’re interested in visiting/volunteering here. He’s the man.
  • Friends: Travel buddies are always randomly stumbled upon and particularly memorable, and I fell in with a group of nearly a dozen Germans, who are incredibly fun and friendly. Very sad to be leaving them.
  • World Cup: First time watching it abroad, and while Nepal has no semblance of a good national team, and cricket is the main sport draw, the passion for soccer is still there, and it was great to witness and be a part of it. Truly dominated my first month here.
  • Nepalis: Even more attractive than the countryside somehow, both in personality and physically (the average Nepali girl would be a knockout back home). Always a pleasure to be around, (unless they are driving), quick to laugh, and insanely diverse given how small this country is.

Fortunately, my summer isn’t over yet. I’m flying into Delhi for a day, then heading up to Ladakh in the Indian Himalaya for 3 weeks. It is a rough and harrowing 3 day bus trip to get there, but these photos have me convinced it’ll be more than worth it. I’ll be doing my first serious trek (the 8 day Markha Valley trek), and checking out Pangong Lake. And as sad as I am to leave Nepal, I’m sure I’ll be back soon.

I won’t have much access to internet in Ladakh, and of course none during the trek and camping. Posts to this blog will likely be rare until I get back. Thanks for following to this point – will post when I get back.

My friend Peter introduced me to Mukti, who is certainly one of the more incredible people I’ve met here in Nepal. A Magar from the village of Bandipur (where I visited a few weeks ago), he came to Kathmandu as a teenager and began learning the art of thangka painting from a Tibetan lama. The learning process is arduous (one of his students has been with him for 20 years now) and very traditional. Colors come from all over Asia.

Blue is from lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, deep red from ground insects from China, and so on. Mukti specializes in the ancient thangkas that came from India (patas) around the 1st century AD, and he is renowned as a master. Bill Gates has bought more than a few of his. I’ve visited his home twice now and purchased one yesterday. It’s packaged right now, but this website gives a great survey of his work.

Just finished reading it. It’s absolutely awesome.

In the book, Heinrich Harrer mentions that he takes a lot of photos of Tibet while he’s there. I figured they must be accessible, so I googled it. Sure enough, National Geographic published these stunning photos in 1955. Click on the photo for the gallery.

Since it’s my last week in Nepal, and despite the fact that I’m not going home anytime soon (another 3-4 weeks left), my thoughts go home a lot. Beyond the obvious (family, friends), here are some things I miss:

10. Milk: Any milk, as long as it’s cold. Forget preferences between skim, 1%, 2%, and whole milk. Refrigeration makes storage tough. On an especially hot day, I asked the cafe below my apartment for a glass of milk, and they brought up a boiling glass of milk with sugar added. Only other option is the Parmalat variety.

9. Beef: Plenty of buffalo and goat to go around here, though.

8. SportsCenter: World Cup gave me my sports fix, but I miss waking up, turning on ESPN, watching SC, then watching it again for no real reason.

7. Baseball: My Phils are staging a comeback, only back 3.5 games, but it’s a tight NL, and nowhere to watch.

6. English

5. TV: Mad Men and Friday Night Lights already started up. Thank god I caught the end of LOST back home or I’d be dying.

4. Beaches: Nepal is landlocked.

3. Tap water: Yeah, so, I use a Brita back home. Still. Nice to not think about it too much.

2. Driving (and Seatbelts): Getting to where you need to be here is hard, but the driving is worse.

1. Americans

Nepal is hosting its first gay pride parade, led by its only openly gay member of Parliament, Sunil Pant.

Having lived in Philly for two years, across the street from one of its biggest gay bars, I’ll tell you that I fully support gay pride parades when they are not held outside my apartment window.

Still, this is a pride parade with a uniquely Nepali touch:

The date has been chosen to coincide with a centuries-old Hindu festival when Nepalese men traditionally dress up in women’s clothing, and which has in recent years been adopted by Nepal’s increasingly vocal gay community.

… Pant said the parade would feature live music and include elephants and horses dressed in bright colours”

Love it.