Saturday, December 1, 2012


I spent today getting settled in Pokhara. I thought I was settled yesterday but then discovered that my hotel - the Sampada Inn - only has internet while it has electricity. Same for hot water. Electricity is an illusive thing here in Po
khara. The shops are all dark all day, and any place that requires electricity either has a generator or uses good old fashioned fire. I can live without a bath, but I cannot work on my dissertation without internet.

Meanwhile, I could see on my wireless network indicator that hotels near mine had internet signals even when my hotel did not. Turns out some hotels have back-up systems. Sampada does too, but doesn't prefer to use it. So I hopped on and then over to check out the Vardan Resort just across the street. I am embarrassed to say I do not recall the name of the man at Vardan who greeted me, despite being told twice. It's a Napali name and my memory doesn't do well with odd syllabic combinations. Whatever his name, he's proven a huge help to me in a million ways already. This alone is worth the move.

My host showed me two rooms in a small duplex cottage near the office. They are virtually identical, except that one is at the end of the row and has two beds. The other has a king size bed. The rooms are quite a bit smaller than the Sampada Inn, but new and clean and, according to my host, built to reflect an actual Napali home inside with hand-made brick, natural materials for the ceiling, hand-woven cloth curtains with a fish motif for Lake Fewa, and hand carved wooden decorations around the windows. Pretty, if tiny. The bathrooms are interesting - big enough, but the shower is just a drain and a showerhead in the corner of the room. I predict everything in the bathroom gets wet when I use it. The price for the room is $45, inclusive of all fees, etc. That amounts to about $4 less than I paid for the room across the way. I took the room with two beds, even though there's less space to move around, because the light is so much better. It will be nice for work. I promised the gentleman I would be back around 1 p.m., after my meeting with my guide. He seemed excited to learn I would be staying nearly two weeks.

Later, when I returned, he encouraged me to see a third room. Of course! Who doesn't love choices? The third "room" was upstairs in the hotel building next door, part of the same resort. MUCH more than a room, it had a full kitchen, a sitting area, a balcony with a view of the Annapurna Range and a huge bathroom with a real shower in a large corner tub. This room normally goes for $120, he said, but "for me" he could do it for $60. Perhaps I should have popped for this - I mean $60 a night barely gets you a Motel 6 in Flagstaff in the off season. But I didn't. Sort of crazy but I wanted to be near the front office and not away from "the action," whatever that means. Frankly, I think I reacted to being alone in a strange country without the language. I didn't want to feel even more isolated than I already do. Anyway, I told him that the simple rooms near the office suited me.

I have been rewarded many times over for this decision. So far, my host has played Tom Sawyer to my Huck Finn, practically grabbing the knife from my hands to help me cut down a sim card to fit my iPhone, bringing me an English newspaper just because he thought I might like it, giving me a lengthy explanation of the caste system in Nepal (much different than India, the castes are more like ethnic groups, and get along well here), telling me about his family and the village in which he was born outside of Kathmandu (where they still own farm land) and arranging for tea when I returned from my long walk this afternoon. I liked the people at Sampada Inn very much, but nothing beats all this interaction.

I did feel guilty leaving the Sampada. The young people who were managing the hotel in the owner's absence are all truly beautiful, kind and friendly. When I hesitantly explained why I was leaving - not wanting to offend - Monu (the woman at the front desk) reassured me repeatedly that it really was alright - she understood i needed internet to do my work. Earlier in the morning, a young man cooked and served me breakfast including "aloo chat" which is a ball of spicy potato, onion and peppers. Absolutely delicious, I'd asked about it. I knew Monu truly wasn't upset at my leaving when she invited me to come on over any morning for breakfast if I felt like eating aloo chat again.

I also met my guide, Bikash Gurung, today. Gurung is not only his last name, but the name of his caste - which, by the way, was something I learned not from Bikash, but from my host. That's what launched us into the conversation about the Nepali caste system. The Gurung are Buddhist. Anyway, Bikash is not only a guide. Among other things, Bikash is that he has a heart of gold and a strong desire to help his people. He donates 10 percent of everything he makes to the school in his home village, and about two months ago, he organized a "medical camp" for his village that served two hundred people. Bikash, by the way, is not alone in his desire to help his people. Everywhere you go, you see references to various projects. Even the Vardan Resort has several such projects going, which you can check out on their website,

Although my trek won't start until December 1st or 2nd, Bikash invited me to go with him to his home village this Friday to watch a festival called "hunting honey," the honey harvest. The villagers will smoke the bees out before we arrive, he assured me. We can also dash into the school he helps after I mentioned bringing pencils for them. And believe it or not, he offered to introduce me to his family. This works out splendidly because the person I found to do the short trek with us (on - yes, there is a website for everything) needs to be back in Kathmandu on December 6th. By heading to Bikash's village on Friday, we can shave a day off the trek length later.

After meeting Bikash and settling into my room, I wandered around Pokhara until I got lost enough to worry. Pokhara is not as small as a foreigner who sticks to the main streets might assume. The main drag is full of stores and restaurants like you might find in a college town. But off the main drag, the community looks a lot like the pics I posted from my drive to Pokhara. It is messy, smelly, and it seems like most people live on the sidewalk or in tiny courtyards in front of their homes. They were doing everything from sewing on machines to washing clothes in front of their homes. Also, I finally encountered untended cows in the streets in large numbers. I saw a curious cow walk up to a woman shucking corn, and another one curled up like a sleeping baby near a motor cycle. Try backing over that. I saw a cute little shaggy baby buffalo (seriously, it looked like a buffalo) walking down the street by itself, and a couple of parental looking cows waiting patiently for a different calf to finish nibbling on something before all three of them proceeded down the street past me. I saw yaks grazing in backyards, chickens wandering around the stools of an outdoor cafe, and dogs, dogs, and more dogs. I saw, or rather heard first, thousands of crows in a tree in a park. I did not see a cat. I walked and walked until the roads turned up into the hills, and, despite the lure of the hike, the view, and the many homes dotting the hillside, I decided to turn back or risk being truly lost.

At one point, I found myself walking toward a ruckus of children's voices, and figured out that I was near a school. The gates of the school had the six pointed star I've seen all over Nepal. It looks exactly like the Jewish Star of David, but this time I was shocked to see that it had what looked like the tablets of the commandments inside. I have to figure out what that star stands for around here. I know there's a Chabad House here somewhere, and when I find it, I'll ask the rabbi. Chabad, for those of you who don't know, is a Hasidic Jewish sect that sends rabbis everywhere to serve whatever Jews happen to live in the community. In Kathmandu, the Chabad hosts Jewish trekkers, primarily from Israel, and is famous for hosting the largest seder in the world. Apparently, Passover happens at the height of trek season. Anyway, the gate to the school yard was open, although there was an old gentleman in a soldier's uniform guarding the entry. I greeted him and he seemed to have no objection to me watching the scores of kids all dressed in blue and white and running gleefully around the playground. I pointed at my camera and then at the school yard, and he waived me a few feet inside the gate where the vantage was better.

Just after I left the school, about a block up, I noticed many women, some with babies or small children, bunched up inside a doorway. As I approached, I heard the happy ring of female laughter, and singing voices. Inside a courtyard women of all ages watched two women play a long, shared drum from either end, and two or three more dancing. The dance included 360 degree twirling and body dips and arm motions reminiscent of belly dancing. The audience, elderly women sitting in chairs and younger women sitting on the ground, clapped and chanted for the dancers. They were clearly having a blast. I suppose I stood out as the only non-local, and I was quickly noticed even though I was hanging way at the back of the bunch at the gate. The women in the doorway pulled me up where I could see, and let me take more pictures. Young girls crowded around my camera to watch the little video of the dance that was simultaneously going on in front of us, and some of the moms urged their toddlers to say "namaste" to me. I don't know what this will sound like, but ... I was so tickled to be among these women. Not because they were dancing, but because they were women. And because I am a woman too, they accepted and included me despite my foreignness. It brought back a memory from Jody's birth. When the attending nurse handed me my baby for the first time, she welcomed me to the sisterhood of mothers everywhere. Today I felt something similar - sisterhood in Nepal. Afterward, I walked along the road with two of the other women who had been at the dancing, not really with them, but aware of them and they of me. When they turned up a hill, one of the women said, "Bye bye" and she and her baby waived at me.

Then I found myself in neighborhoods that I imagine rarely see westerners. I felt out of place, wondered whether I was invading private spaces. I hesitated to take photographs, fearing I might make the people feel like specimens somehow. I recalled lessons learned from my friend Raquel Gutierrez about treating people like study objects. But people met my eyes in the street and offered namastes, which is more than I can say for some walks I've taken around Philadelphia! A woman held a baby who said "Mama, mama" over and over, and she answered by repeating his name over and over. As I walked by her, I too said, "Mama, mama" and she grinned at me. Another woman sat on a wall with two children, both of whom she prodded to say "Namaste" to me, and was tickled when I wanted to take a picture of them. An older woman sitting in a grassy yard peeling onions or garlic shot me a wide grin and a cheery "Namaste" too. A man pushing a cart full of something I didn't recognize cast a greeting my way, as did a group of young teenage boys. I remember once landing in the Turkish port of Kusadasi, and climbing on a tourist bus. The Turkish guide proclaimed, "We really are glad you're here. We like everyone, Arabs and non-Arabs alike. Welcome, welcome." I know it was his job to say that, but I believed him. And I believe these Nepalis smiles, too.

Finally I found myself walking parallel to Lake Fewa. If I squint and pretend like the cows aren't in the road, it almost looks like any fishing town in the Ozarks. Although, along with the boats and little food shacks, I could also see the World Peace Pagoda. I hope to hike up to it soon.

Eventually, I wound my way back to the main street. I've decided, after seeing women in these beautiful garments, to find myself such an outfit. Surreptitiously I've been soaking in information about cut and fabric. The jewel tones do something for my soul. So I began my search for the perfect ensemble as I wove through the little shops. Unfortunately, nothing I saw matched my expectations. The cloth for sale in the tourist shops is not the rich-hued, soft fabric worn by the local women. Then, as I walked by a trekking store, I noticed what the sales woman was wearing. The material looked like silk or rayon, and was beautifully embroidered. I spontaneously remarked on her clothes and lo and behold, she asked if I wanted one! This is not something they sell in her store, but we agreed to meet tomorrow so she can take my measurements. She said she will go to the woman who made hers and find me something to fit. Her name is Gita and I took her card so I don't "lose" her store among the many, many identical trek shops here. I'm so excited. I predict this will be the only thing I bring back for myself.

I will say, on a down note, that the air here in Pokhara is barely better than Kathmandu. The air makes my throat hurt and my nose run. In spots it smells like petrol and rotting garbage and burning rubber. PEE-YEW. I still haven't found a place to buy the face mask that so many locals wear, but I took out the fleece neck gaiter i bought to stay warm on the trek and pulled it up over my nose. I will look for a shop selling perfumed oils and put a few drops on the gaiter for good measure.

Right now, I'm settled into my room. I am not hungry for some reason, so I don't know if I will go in search of food or blow it off. The electricity goes off at 10 pm, so I might try to research the sites I want to see, and then turn in early. Thankfully, this room, unlike the one at Sampada Inn, has extra blankets. None of these rooms have heaters.

Tomorrow I will see Gita, walk around Lake Fewa, take the ferry over to see the Bahari Temple on an island in the middle, and then, after a bite of lunch, actually start my dissertation again. Yay!

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