Monday, February 18, 2013

A very long post about Nepal! :D

Hey there! I'm in Kenya for a week now after returning to Mexico and have lots to share about my (super duper short/whirlwind) trip to Nepal (Kathmandu)! I was there with my job to help instruct a workshop, and got the chance to spend a couple extra days to explore some more and visit a friend (hi Greg!).

Hopefully I'll have as much to share about Nairobi soon, but so far I've just been between offices and the hotel (I want to see some large animals!).


Because of the time constraints, I wasn't able to get out of the Kathmandu, but I did get to see some beautiful temples, wander, get lost, get un-lost, experience a bit of the culture and meet some amazing people.


For the first several days of my trip, I was mostly near Thamel, one of the more concentrated and touristy areas of Kathmandu. There were lots of restaurants and shops, but also a great and entirely sense-overwhelming outdoor market place, Asan tol.



I was able to go wandering/get lost amidst the bright colors and smells of produce, spices, and shawls (and people!) one day after work with two of my coworkers (and get completely lost trying to find our way out after dark!).





We also wandered down a few side-alleys, which were always surprisingly peaceful and removed from the other chaos outside. 



It was amazing to see temples throughout the markets and elements of traditional architecture built into all of the shops and houses. 


After the last day of the workshop, I met up with Greg and a student he works with (who actually ended up having some family friends in Nepal, who own restaurants in the area!) for dinner in Thamel. 


The next day, I headed over to the Cornell Nepali Studies Program (CNSP) center in Kirtipur following bus directions from Greg for some acclaimed daal bhat (traditional Nepali meal - lentils and rice!).


Getting to meet and sit down for a delicious home-cooked meal with all the students and staff, who seem more like a big family than anything else, was really wonderful, especially after a week and half of bouncing between countries and hotels and not knowing anyone. 


After the meal, we set out to explore Kirtipur. Of course, we saw lots of temples. :)


And some great views of the city. 




We also stopped into a local restaurant, Newa Lahana (Greg's favorite) for a quick snack of roasted soybeans and to enjoy some chhaang, a rice beer brewed all over the place around there, this one made right in the restaurant. It was deliciously tangy, bubbly, and full of complex fermented flavor.  



We wandered around some more, then headed back to CNSP to touch base before heading out with a group of students to see Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple... because of the monkeys climbing all over it!




We wandered around there for a while, entranced by the beautiful temple, the great views, and of course... the monkeys!








We stopped into a little restaurant just off of the temple for some momos (tibetan-style dumplings), and then went back out to enjoy a little more monkey watching. :) 






And then headed out!



Greg and the students had to be back in Kirtipur before dinner, and I had to make my way back to the hotel.


The next morning, I set out to do my souvenir/spice shopping in Asan tol before I left to go stay in Patan, a quieter area known for its traditional crafts and beautiful central square.


Instead, I was whisked away by a small man from India to go see the temples in the area, taught how to do tika, and given corn to feed the pidgeons. 



After seeing temples in the immediate area, we went to take the bus to Boudhanath and Pashupatinath, two of the bigger buddhist and hindu temples in the area.


On the way, we stopped at his home to visit his family and have tea and chapati with his mother and children.



Not surprisingly, the kindness and hospitality came with a request for help. My new friend was an out-of-work cobbler who had lost his shoe repair box containing most of his materials. Getting a new box would enable him to start working again, but without it no one would want him to shine their shoes with the supplies pulled from his backpack. 



Unable to make a contribution as large as he needed, we settled on going to the grocery store to buy some staples for his family. A big bag of rice, some wheat flour, oil, toothbrushes, milk powder, and a bag of daal later, we parted ways.

The experience was in some ways encouraging, but also very frustrating. I knew there was something I could do to help, and wanted to, but felt that there was very little that I could do that could have any kind of long-term impact. Without an address, cellphone number or internet access, there was no way for me to hope to contact the family again or maintain any kind of meaningful relationship.



Afterwards, I headed across the street to see Boudhanath Stupa, a large buddhist temple surrounded by many Tibetan monasteries.



I wandered around for a little while, but wasn't able to stay long. Disoriented, I asked around for directions and managed to find a bus (tiny packed van!) that was going back to Ratna Park (the bus stop near my hotel). All by around 12 o'clock noon. :)



Once I got back (and found my way back to the hotel), I met up with Greg and we hopped on a bus towards Patan, so that I could stay in a guest house there recommended by his friend for my last few days in Nepal. The Yala Guesthouse, a small quiet place (run by very friendly people!) is right on the Durbar square, so we popped up to the roof porch to take some pictures.


The square was really lovely, and incredibly relaxing and peaceful especially after being in the center of Kathmandu (and my very eventful morning).

We stopped into a cafe for some lunch, and then headed across the square to the Patan Museum.



The museum itself is beautiful, and we explored the extensive collection of sculptures and artifacts, mostly pertaining to traditions of buddhist and hindhu religion in Nepal.



We got kicked out when the museum was closing, and then made our way back through Patan Durbar back towards the bus station for dinner at CNSP in Kirtipur. 




... which involved passing through a busy marketplace at what seemed like "rush-hour"!





Even the bus area was packed with busy fruit and vegetable vendors. 




We crammed into a bus and enjoyed a comfortably squished ride to Kirtipur. :)

Monday nights at CNSP are "Cook Nights" - meaning that the cooks get the night off and the students prepare the meal for everyone! This time around, the Nepali students were in charge of cooking, and so I was lucky enough to get to try food prepared from recipes from their homes. We had daal and rice, of course, and also delicious curry vegetables, spicy pickles, and a really good dessert (sorry for not taking pictures!).

Afterwards, we played the favorite Nepali card games - Callbreak, and a new one called Dumble (possibly not spelled like that).

I headed back to the guest house, and got some pictures of Patan at night. :)


The next morning started early. Though quiet most of the time, Patan Durbar square wakes up at around 5:30 AM, before sunrise, full of people chanting, praying and ringing bells. I watched for a while from my room (/curled up under my blanket) until I decided it was light enough out (and not too freezing cold) to get up and start my daily wandering around.





It was fairly cold and rainy, and despite my jacket I was pretty chilly.



When I got too cold, I headed back to the guesthouse and had a cup of tea with Mana, who was working there in the morning. We hung out for a while, and when I was feeling brave enough again, I headed back out. More wandering! 





I came back to the guesthouse to warm up again (and watch some Indian soap operas), and then went out to find some food and coffee in another attempt to not be really cold.

I stopped in Cafe de Patan off of the square, and settled down on the roof with a pot of coffee, and a bowl of the most delicious momos I've ever had! I ordered Newari-style vegetable momos (described as in a sesame sauce), not really knowing what to expect.


What I got was a bowl full of piping hot momos filled with delicious curry-spiced vegetables and bathed in a spicy and rich sesame sauce. I savored every delicious (and warming!) bite. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I will have to find a recipe and try to replicate these sometime. :) 





After lunch, I headed back to the guest house, and out for an adventure with Mana who had the rest of the day off. We hopped on his bike (sorry parents! and grandma! and all other relatives who occasionally express concern for my safety!) and drove out past Kirtipur to a small pond and park area.



We got some puffed rice and soy to feed the fish... and were followed around by all of the dogs!





We wandered around for a little while, and enjoyed the views.



We stopped to feed the fish - there were so many and they were all so huge that it sounded like the water was boiling!



This was my favorite (slobbery) stray dog.



Afterwards, we headed back towards Kirtipur to meet up with Greg. We went up to another small park site with an amazing view.




When we got back to Kirtipur, we relaxed for a bit and warmed up with some coffee and hot cocoa (!!!). Once we all (okay, mostly me) stopped shivering, we decided to play some ping-pong, before participating in the first yoga class of the CNSP semester! Both were a lot of fun and very relaxing.

Afterwards, we met up with two of Greg's friends, then headed into Kirtipur to grab some dinner, and of course, some more chhaang.



My last morning in Nepal was spent wandering around a misty Patan at around 6 in the morning...



When I got back, there was a karate class going on outdoors in the square. I watched for a bit and then went inside for tea. 


Then, I set out on a sourvenir mission! And succeeded in buying lots of souvenirs from the local craft stores (warm knitted socks, hand made cloth and metal crafts... which are all... in my lost luggage). 


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I headed to Kirtipur for one last daal bhat meal at CNSP before my trip (by far the best food I had in all my time in Nepal!). I said goodbye to all the students and staff who welcomed me in, and headed back to Patan with Greg for my last hour or two in Nepal. We wandered Patan a little more, found some spice shops, and stopped into one last temple.




Then it was off to the airport, onto a plane... and 38 hours later I magically appeared in Mexico! Though it was short, I truly enjoyed my trip to Nepal, and I know that I'll have to find my way back there someday. :) 

I'm so grateful to all the people I met along the way and the friends who made my trip something special! 

That's all for now (yes, I do realize this is already super long, haha).

Coming up: croissants, and Kenya! Until next time! :) 

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