Monday, October 23, 2006

Oh Tihar!

Bright Lights. Big Bangs. Music. Dancing. Welcome to Tihar.
A whole week of festivities. With the loudest and brightest occuring last Saturday night (21 Oct) and last Monday (23 Oct). The houses in the villages have been decorated. The shops in the city have been decorated. Garlands of flowers adorn the doorways to any establishment, and a bright powder display lit by candles draws your eye earthward. The occasional banging firecracker punctuating the relentless noise of the evening.

Both nights saw the young (and the young at heart or the just plain merry) out and about singing and dancing and earning a few bob. In Kathmandu some of the youngsters were most impressive in their displays. Dressed in Newari costume and doing a wee dance all in time while they chanted something that made all the adults smile indulgingly and part with their hard earned rupee. Some other little whipper snappers however saw the great chance at giving a halfpie attempt and fleecing foreigners for their dough. Very entrepaneureal. I myself was involved in one of these halfpie attempts; a very merry hotel employee dragged me outside and got me to chant the "chorus" while he did most of the work. I in turn dragged anybody within grabbing distance into this little escapade. The poor chaps in the shop next to the hotel got the full brunt of this half baked Nepali/Kiwi performance, and to their credit just burst into laughter (while trying to coach me on the finer language points). Barefoot as I was, I scarpered before I could be lead anywhere else. My cohort was so full of drink I think he barely noticed. In Bistachhap by comparison it was all about the fun. We volunteers joining in and making right clowns of ourselves as the onlookers and indeed at times, fellow participants couldn't contain their delighted (or perhaps disbelieving) chuckles. What can I say? We aim to please! A group of older gents were taking part aswell, armed with guitar and smiles a plenty, they went from house to house, their number constantly growing, having a ball and earning quite a few pennies. Which they then donated to the local temple. The lads were still wearing their smiles the next morning. Good on 'em!

The last day of Tihar is celbrated by sisters "protecting" their brothers with Bhai Tikka. Its a chance for girls to "spoil" their brothers with a small short ceremony which everyone looks forward to and can participate in (including yours truely- yay!). The ceremony itsself involves the sister drawing a cirlce around her brother(s) with oil and water. Incense is burnt and tikka (powdered dye) is applied to the forhead, sometimes dyed rice is also applied. The sister then offers a garland of dried flowers, and a plate of food and the brothers give her money. Its awesome to see and be a part of, 'corse its also cool to check out everyone else's tikka to see who got the best one!

Both in the villages and in Kathmandu, Newar girls were wearing their traditional dress. They look amazing. Absolutely beautiful. Very regal. Unfortuatley as is the case the world over, the boys venture out in what they deem to be "cool". Forgoing traditional attire for modern garb. Next to the girls they look rather shabby. Yay the girls!!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

2 Weeks in Rural Nepal

So I've been placed out with my host family in a wee village called Bistachhap. Compared to some of the villages we passed on our hike in Nagarkot though, Bistachhap is a town. Its surrounded by lush hills, terraced with various agriculture endeavours, accesible only by brave bus drivers or crazy motorcycle owners, or the even braver pedestrian. Its a hilly, rocky, uneven dirt track that brings the adventurous here.

The village has four chiyya pasal (tea shops come Four Square or corner Dairy), a tailor's, a school, two orphages (in reality more of a children's home) and a whole lot of children. Life is slow and dictated by the hours of daylight. At first light the women are up and heading out to the fields or somewhere, perhaps doing a bit of cleaning and getting brekkie ready first. The men soon follow (or the kids) heading to the community tap to get the morning or daily supply of water. Morning ritual also includes pujaar (prayer/worship), which involves walking around the house with incense and ringing a bell, and I think also "annointing" the house with coloured powder. My family do this at round half seven so its a nice alarm, others though are doing it way earlier. As its only a wee village, once the sun goes down its all over red rover. Dinner then maybe some TV is the usual. Lights are commonly out by 2130.

If you are a guest in a Nepali house, you generally eat first. Alone. Or with the lady of the house watching over you and making sure your plate is constantly full. Dinner is usually a quiet affair as the ladies don't often speak English and your Nepali is pidgin at best. If your family has a small kitchen (where dinner is served on the floor and you eat with your hands) you get booted out so the rest of the family can eat. Fair enough. Bit tough though if you're used to chatting with the whanau (family) or friends whilst dining. Sigh.

So far Rural Nepal agrees with me. Lots of nature. Lots of accomodating locals to practice pidgin Nepali on. Lots of chhiya. The occasional thrill ride that doubles as a bus journey into Kathmandu.


Monday, October 16, 2006

An Escape from the Crowds

We decided to get out of the big smoke for a wee while. Me and three other intrepid travellers headed out into the Kathmandu valley to a little spot called Nagarkot. And the view that we had was amazing! The whole valley floor pretty much just laid out before us, in all its wonderfully lush green glory.

We supped quite early, lazed the afternoon away watching a hawk circle some unseen prey and enjoyed a quiet beer in the waning sun. A simply superb afternoon spent. The other three lovelies decided to head to the lookout point to witness the sun setting behind the hills. I napped. Well I mean once you've seen one sunset you've seen them all no?
Darkness descended rapidly and as Nagarkot is not really a "happening" place, we were safely tucked up in bed by 8pm. Real party goers! Our room was only 200 NRs (NZD4.00 approx), and was very much in the manner of "you get what you pay for". It served its purpose though, and for 50NRs each one couldn't really argue. The plumbing and the bathroom in general were a bit suspect so we all decided to be pooh for a day.

The next morning saw us woken at 0530 because some of our party wanted to witness the sunrise. Myself and Katie stayed put in the warm hotel room and were able to see an awesome sunrise. It was amazing to see the valley absolutely shrouded in mist and then that mist turning a golden red as the sun rose higher and higher. It was perhaps only the third sunrise I've ever seen but by far the most spectacular.
When the foolish two arrived back from their trek up the hill, we decided to breakfast. The food was mediocre but the view was sublime. The himalyas teased us for a bit, playing hide and seek with the clouds, until we got one mountain top fully exposed for all of a minute if that. It was enough. Breakfast with a view. Wonderful!!

Bellies full, we headed down into the valley. With the intention initially for a couple of hours hike. The further down we went, the more lost we became. Oh we met some locals, saw some villages, wandered through rice fields (and I got some cool photos) but we had no idea where we were actually heading. A local came to our rescue and lead us in the right direction... for a fee. We were on our way though so the nominal fee didn't dampen our enthusiasm.

Breakfast with a view. A four hour hike. An hour spent squished in the armpits of a woman standing beside my seat on the bus. An escape from the crowds.
Worth it? Abso-bloody-lutely!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Seven Days in Kathmandu

The comfy bed was a ruse. I thought I had found a good guesthouse. I found a manager who had no time for complaints from a budget traveller. So after a very public yelling match, I departed my guesthouse for cheaper pastures and better service.
An unusual intro to a city renowned for its beauty and friendly locals I'd wager!

Three other voulnteers arrived around the time I did and we set off to explore the city together. Myself and the young Bashful Billy gave not a thought to being lost in a foreign city. Our company however was a little more nervous and asked constantly where we were. "Who knows?", was our constant answer and in the end they gave up and accepted their fate. Poor sods.

Kathmandu is indeed a charming city. Ringed by hills with the constant laughter from kids flying their kites in the street or from the roofs of their abodes. The locked wooden doorways enticing the imagination as to what lies beyond, the various wares on display in the market area, the cobbled roads, or, the dusty uneven ones, the old woman peeking from her doorway, men sitting on their "stoop" watching the world wander by. What can I say? Its a city after my own heart- slow, easy paced, relaxed.

Now those of you who know me, know I don't walk fast. It could be said I don't even walk. I stroll. And lets face it; strolling is a great way to see a place and meet the people. And so it was that during our wander around the city, I was enevitably left behind or lost by my companions. They were most patient though. And listened intently when I related the latest tale of the person I'd just met or the photo I'd just taken. They've also learnt that punctuality is not something I'm familiar with. Oh I have a watch. A very nice one. But its more of an ornament than an effective timepiece.

I've not seen many of the tourist sights, figuring I'm here for a while so why rush? I have however, managed to meet quite a few characters, (including one chap who was flying so high on whatever illicit substance he had ingested that day, that he babbled and stumbled his way from tourist to tourist trying to peddle his "natural" high) to see a funeral which reminded me of a Maori Tangi and read two or three books.

So my seven days in Kathmandu. A relaxed wander, a relaxed chat with the locals, a relaxed smile and walk-by to the ever persistant shop owners.
Relaxed. Sums it all up really.