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Only 4 more days in Kathmandu! Then on to Ladakh for a few weeks, then home.

All of my photos posted so far have been of trips from Kathmandu, and none of Kathmandu itself. I don’t take too many, so the average quality is pretty poor, but these will give some sense of the city.

A sad follow-up to the “Food and Drink of Nepal” post, but bears telling, and also explains why my project is in agriculture:

As many as 41 out of 75 districts are reeling under acute food deficit and the rest have marginal surplus of 10 percent, thanks to poverty, says a Food Security Monitoring Task Force report.

According to Sunday’s The Himalayan Times, 31 percent population lives below poverty line, 41 percent people consume less than minimum calorie requirement and more than half of the population can’t find full dietary intake of 2,144 calories per day, mentions the report, adding Nepal suffers the highest malnutrition rate in the world.

Full article

I visited Nepal in 2007 for just a week, and came out feeling quite disappointed with the food. That’s because I didn’t have time to sample the crazy variety of great food that’s offered around the country. This time I did.

Despite the variety, Dal bhat tarkari is still the Nepali standard dish. It’s rice, lentil soup, and vegetables. Sometimes served with chicken. Many will eat this every meal, every day. It’s nutritious and pretty good, actually, but easy (for me) to tire of.

Momo is another staple. Easy, delicious, Nepali dumplings with chicken or buffalo meat inside  (or vegetables), served in a great spicy sauce.

Then there are the regional specials, many of which I’ve included in the photo album below. Three drinks I wasn’t able to photograph:

Raksi – main Newari drink. Strong rice wine, essentially

Jhayan Khatte – Take raksi, some rice, and sugar, and fry it in butter. Then drink.

Chhang – Tibetan rice beer.

There hasn’t really been a meal/drink here I haven’t enjoyed yet. But I do miss a slice of east coast pizza…click below for the slideshow

Yoga

I don’t get much exercise here in Kathmandu. You’d have to be crazy to go running in these streets, and while there’s a gym close by (in a converted palace, actually), my motivation to hit the weight room here isn’t stellar.

The gym does offer yoga classes, though, and I gave it a try. When in Rome, or something.

I had never been before, but it roughly fit my expectation. Lots of relaxing and keeping my eyes closed. Lots of stretching. Strange poses that make me feel a) self-conscious, like when I was on my back holding my legs apart like I was about to give birth, or b) that I was going to break my neck, like when I felt my whole body’s weight about to break my neck. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

It’s not exactly the ideal setting for a yoga class, probably, since it’s in a room with open windows where 2Pac is blasting from the nearby swimming pool speakers, but at the end of the hour, you really feel great. I might feel just as good from a midday nap on a yoga mat for an hour, but I’m sure the stretches had something to do with it.

After returning to Kathmandu from the field, I immediately felt like leaving again. The city felt tired and oppressive and I wanted to visit somewhere new, really anywhere. So my friend David and I caught a bus to Bandipur, about 4 hours away and stayed a night.

No motor traffic (or even bicycle traffic) goes through town making it incredibly quiet, and the views from the hilltop Newari town (Newars are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley) are really stunning. We even caught a glimpse of snow-capped peaks, which made my weekend in itself. And the people we chatted with, from local Newars to a friendly British sommelier escaping Mumbai for the weekend, were lots of fun.

No wonder this town has its own facebook fan page.

These photos are among my favorite so far. As usual, click for slideshow:

One of the worst parts of school is that there’s no time to do any reading for pleasure, and I make up for that when I travel. Aside from a few books I’ve listened to now on audiobook (Ender’s Game, Chuck Klosterman IV, Too Big to Fail – all highly recommended), there are three books on the region that I’m enjoying a lot.

Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu recounts some of the author’s travel experiences through south and southeast Asia in the 80s: Nepal, Tibet, China, Burma, India, Thailand, etc. He’s never in one place long – usually just a few weeks – but his stories and conversations are pretty wild. He doesn’t speak any of the languages of his destinations, but somehow gets some great access.

I haven’t read much before of Pico Iyer’s (only this good essay on the joy of travel), and I’ve only read the Nepal and Thailand chapters of this book. While the book (and essay) suffers from some distracting wordplay and pretension, it tells some great stories and captures a lot of what it is like to be a traveler in Asia.

Then, I read Fatalism and Development by Dos Bahadur Bista. I don’t expect anyone to read this unless you’re planning on spending some time in Nepal. It’s a sociological explanation of Nepal’s failure to modernize. Lots of ethnography, history, and social information on Nepal that made me way better informed about the country’s challenges.

Last and best is Seven Years in Tibet, which I’m currently halfway through. I bought the book in Nepal three years ago, and I’m only getting around to reading it now. I first learned the story of Heinrich Harrer – a mountaineer who gets arrested by the British in India when WWII breaks out, escapes the POW camp into Tibet, and becomes tutor to the (current) Dalai Lama – from the adapted movie, but the book is way better. This is mostly because the movie tries to turn the book into a redemption story, where Heinrich (played by Brad Pitt) starts out a huge ass and emerges a model of Tibetan humility and grace.  A shame and unnecessary, because the book is matter-of-fact and always exciting.

I’m reserving The Ascent of Rum Doodle (parody of mountain climbing books) and Shalimar the Clown (Salman Rushdie novel set in Kashmir) for when I’m in Ladakh.

I was really happy when I heard my project was based in Nepal’s hills, and I’m happier still after spending some time in the Terai (Nepal’s plains – contrary to popular opinion, Nepal isn’t all mountains). It’s as hot and crowded as the hills are cool and pleasant.
Wondering why people lived there, I needed to remind myself that while a short time in the hills is wonderful, life there is extremely difficult. Most places are quite inaccessible, lacking electricity and resources, and the people can’t organize well due to the distances between homes. Consequently, migration to the Terai  – with more jobs, better mobility, and accessible resources –  is pretty steady. Those who can’t find work in the Terai often go to the Persian Gulf for manual labor.

That all said, if I ever settle down in Nepal, it would be in the hills. Two photos below. One is in Palpa, a hilly district where I did field interviews. The other is on the Nepal/India border (actually on the India side). You pick.


Thought so.

More photos of Palpa/Lumbini here.