Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Namaste Nepal!
We’re driving on a zig-zag road with a slope at variable angles. We’re coming down from the rarefied atmosphere of the Tibetan plateau toward the place where clouds are born. The first wave of humidity spoils our lungs: how easy it is to breathe! From the valley white steam is rising and clings onto branches from the opposite mountain. There is so much green and we even see flowers. We’re close to the border. In the town, the houses are backed by the mountain, the road is so narrow, very little space for trucks. It’s a mix of people and clothes. We cross the border on the Friendship Bridge. It is a simple one that unites two different worlds. Best foot forward over the yellow line: “Welcome to Nepal” said a guy who noticed my gesture.
On the Nepali side the houses are in the process of being constructed and used in the same time. They are tall and narrow, with three floors. The business is always on the first floor: a tea house, a store or a travel agency.

We wait for the private car to take us to Kathmandu. I leave them at the immigration office and with Ioan I take a climbing road to take some pictures. We climb in search of a spot from where we could take a photo of the valley, but vegetation covers everything. Finally we arrive in a hamlet.....heeeey, I took a picture of this one from the Tibetan side. It looks idyllic, roofs made of straw, the creek beside the fence, red flowers, green terraces...

Water, there is an abundance of water, flowing freely between rocks, making waterfalls, it is captured in hoses and released in faucets covered with a rag, so it will not splash. Women sit and scrub the laundry with soap, and then with a brush and after that they rinse. Water is carried in buckets on a shoulder stick to the construction site, it is sprinkled on the floor before sweeping... what century are we in?
We meet with Anu, a cousin of the hotel owner from Kathmandu, and we climb into minivan. They drive on the right side. Immediately the driver starts honking, he drives on the wrong side of the road between trucks which transport goods to and from the border. At one point our driver is forced to wait and turn off the engine; in front of us is a line of trucks that are driving on the correct side of the road (the side without pot holes). In the curve made by the road in a streamlet is a woman crouching and scrubbing the lunch plates with dust to clean them. The last truck signals to us with the headlights that no one is coming after him and that we can continue on our way.
There are many signs that we are in another country. The road hugs the mountain, but whereas in Tibet it was asphalted and the pot hole areas were announced by large red rocks in the middle of the road, in Nepal it’s just pot holes. If you look up, you see the piles of sand and rocks which slipped down last monsoon season. Occasionally we drive on a brand new road, as Maria termed it, newly dug because the old one fell apart in the monsoon. Only now do we understand Tsewang’s and the driver’s eagerness to leave the valley quickly—if something happens to the road, there is no way to go anywhere for a few days.
The honks are different: short, hurried, repeated —tit-ti-ti-ti-TIIIIIIIT! I won’t even mention the ones with melodies. The driver accelerates for a few meters and then brakes so hard our noses hit the seats in front, just so he can pass over a hole. However hard he tries, he can’t surpass 40 km/h (25 mph).
In wider areas there is sometimes a village, with the houses built close together. Most of them are unfinished brick. The old ones are from adobe. All of them have corn ears hung up to dry on the roof’s rafters.  On the unfinished stories the rice sheaffs, the corn or other agricultural products are drying. In front of them some short, improvized shed shelters a bag with weeds from which some goats are eating. Rice is strewn over the road and we drive over them to thrash it. A bit further, it is winnowed with a huge plateau by a woman dressed in a saree.
We pass through the mountains, but the road is still hanging on the side of the hills. The valley offers us a privileged view of the opposing hills. The road is constantly on the crest. Here, also, is the greatest concentration of people and houses. The stairs start where it becomes steep, next to the terraces and water. I continuously look out the window and the landscape keeps its elements: road, houses with yellow, brown, green terraces, without pause. Like Peruvian roads they’re surrounded by rocks, but only set on top of each other, without any special care. 

As we get closer to Kathmandu, the road gets more crowded and passing is a bit more rare. There is almost continuous honking, like a sort of announcement—I’m approaching the curb, pay attention. The differences between the city and village are mainly the height of the buildings and the greater concentration of people, cars, and garbage. A woman rocked her baby at the second floor of a block that had no walls, despite the fact that the ground floor was finished and with windows. The street exists and is asphalted (and with holes, but smaller), but the sidewalk is nonexistent, the people walk through dust. On the side, the store-owners struggle with little broom to sweep the dust from the steps, but in a few minutes it’s back. The wares are dusted several times a day with hands, rags, brooms. The dust enters between your teeth and you begin to understand why they keep spitting. Where does all this dust come from? On a radius of 50 meters we have at least four construction sites and a demolition site.
We reach Thamel, Kathmandu’s touristic quarter. There are lots of shops full of souvenirs, clothes, and restaurants. On the four rows of narrow, outside-opening double-doors, the wares are hung. On the stairs sit baskets, and between them sits the owner and maybe a few friends with whom he speaks. In general they’re quiet, but it’s enough to catch your eye and they start to speak... in English! How easy it is to make yourself understood, to ask for an extra blanket because you’re cold, to ask for “not spicy” food. The majority of the people speak English, not just the ones in the tourist business. The slogan “Education is the national defense” makes sense.
We finish the day at the Italian restaurant Alchemy at the hotel’s ground floor, because we’re starving, tired and we don’t have any energy to search for some edible Nepali food.  During our stay in Kathmandu we will return again and again to eat here because the food is good and the staff is friendly.
One of the things we have to do in Nepal is to vaccinate ourselves against rabies, yellow fever and typhoid. In United States it would cost us $4000 for all five of us while here it’s only $650. We weighed the decision if we should get an anti-rabies vaccine or not and in the end it mattered that one lick on a little scratch and you have to have five injections instead of three, two in the first 24 hours. What if we are on some mountain top attacked by hungry monkeys? How do we know that if we get to the hospital they have what they need? The other two vaccines are necessary because we intend to get to Africa in endemic areas.
Teak door with Buddhist motifs.

It was a little hard to find the clinic, there are no clear addresses and even the neighbors cannot tell you clearly where it is. The first impression was of a country dispensary. They had an old consult table in the office, a metal screen with a curtain, a baby scale with sliding weights on the top of the cabinet, but they had new posters on the walls. The people were very nice and the nurse was very careful to show us the expiration date on the vaccines and to give us the shots.
We immediately took homeopathic remedies to prevent the pain and the toxicity (Vaccinotoxinum, Arnica C5, Horse serum C30, and because the next day we were tired and grumpy I added Drenor Hepatic and Solidago C7). For those interested we did not have pain with movement, just at touch, Ioan is the only one who had fever, three days after.
“We don’t have pictures from Nepal!” Mihai declared while trying to find some to put on the blog. I know, and we have many reasons for this. I read a book written in 1923, Percy Brown’s “Picturesque Nepal”, he described two types of architecture and their distribution in the country, depending on what areas were conquered and when. Now all the building are about the same: narrow, cramped, decayed or unplastered. Filth everywhere, garbage, bags of cement or rubble in the middle of the street. 

The temples, so white and free in Brown’s pictures, are now hidden under dust or merchandise. We tried to take a walking trip to the Durbar Square (the Palace Square), reading along the way about the temples that we passed by. We gave up after 1,500 meters, flooded with too much information and by too many people. We should be open to the differences, as we try to learn more about this culture, but it is very hard to understand their religion, a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism. In Tibet, Tsewang did a very good job, I was able to learn the ABCs of Buddhism, I was able to recognize the statues. Here there are three gods, they reincarnate under different manifestations, plus their wives, their children, the demons, I don’t know where they come from... I can accept this, as well as the symbols of fertility, but I had enough with what is to me a lack of respect: they are on the ground, at dogs level, I could step on them by accident, some are so old they are underground, and the blessing red paste that they add every day gives them a dirty appearance.

On the second try we took a guide, as we stepped out of the cab. He asked us where are we from and he excitedly showed us Romanian money. Prakash (pronounced Prah-KAHS) walked us through the three squares, telling us about the new palace (looks like the Bank of England), the old palace, in dreadful shape, with cracks in the brick walls and bent teak windows (there were some wood scaffoldings in front of it, I presume they are going to renovate it), about the temples, which one’s who’s and how to recognize them from the animal that is in front of it (Maria described it here), the hippies who came and found a country without laws for what they wanted so they expressed themselves fully, about Kumari, the living goddess ( read here), about customs.

To the left a Hindu temple, to the right the Old Palace.

The courtyard of the living goddess' house,  Kumari.

Detail of the courtyard step.

Detail of a window, front of Kumari's house.

Kumari house. The golden thing on the roof is the representation of the way to Nirvana.
This is where one could find the constructions described by Brown, those reddish buildings, with decorative teak windows, that would allow the regal family to see outside, but not to be seen, delicate wood sculpture, simple interior courtyard. We climbed the steps of the Hari Krishna temple, just to have a view, but we saw the same dirt and disorder. I looked inside a Hindu temple and saw the women sitting on the floor in every direction. I was told that they were praying. In some other place it was a god with a face of a demon (painted in loud colors). Once a year beer pours out of his mouth and men fight each other to drink it.

Courtyard with temples, Buddhist and Hindu.

Two Buddhist temples and around them, the market.

Hindu Temple
Wherever you turn you find a Ganesh, a lingam or the feminine equivalent, a six point star, a Buddha. In the guide’s words, the Nepalese want that the first thing that they do to be religion related, then they will have a good day. So that’s why every courtyard has a small Hindu and Buddhist temple. If one wants to reach Nirvana one has to do good karma, good deeds. If one gives money, because he has them, it doesn’t count, but if the one who receives them is happy, then karma is good. If you give him money to go to school, and instead uses them for drugs, your karma is good, his is not. If you believe in Shiva, he will help you, if you don’t believe, then this is just a rock and you have no gain.

Swayambhunath temple or the monkeys' temple

Prayer at the Swayambhunath temple.
Swayambhunath Temple, the one that so many Tibetans dream to visit, is swarming with monkeys, dogs, hawks and vendors. The praying hall is small, and the monks, gathering for the evening prayers, gave me the impression that they were just doing their job. Nothing from the austere atmosphere and quiet resistance from Gyantse. But we had the Kathmandu valley at our feet.

Patan's Palace Square

Temple in the Durbar Square, Patan
An emperor had three sons and he divided his kingdom in three parts, so they would not quarrel. But after he died, they did fight each other. Patan is one of those kingdoms and it has a single square with temples, statues, water fountain and palace. It was clean and neat. We hired another guide who told us many things about the king and the royal family, the Nepalese garuda (the vehicle of transport of one of the gods, lion body with wings) has a human face, not a bird one, like the Indonesian one, and those two kiosks were actually two beds, on which people who visited the city for different reasons would sleep (the motel business wasn’t started yet). I don’t understand what was special about the golden temple, maybe just that the priests would heal the different ailments of people with vibrations of a bowl. We were taken for a demonstration and saw the droplets of water jumping from the outside toward inside because of vibration and I felt its concentration in my chest when he put it on my head (this gave me a headache, which it would have been cured if I had it in the beginning). We also visited the museum, started with Austrian help, with few objects and succinct explanations (though too many for our brain’s hard-drive, as Ioan says).
The people with whom we had contact were very nice and obliging. “You just have to tell us and it will be done” it was their answer to anything. Dhanyabad, thank you.
The days spend in Chitwan were nice and relaxing. We slept at Sapana Lodge Village, a few villas, an office and a riverside restaurant. Started with Netherlands funds, the project invests part of the earnings in a local school. The first night we saw traditional Tharu dances: war dance, New Year dance, Thakara— for harvest, Thumara dower (?) — when someone dies, friends try to bring a smile to the relatives’ faces, boys dressing in girl’s clothes, the fire dance and Jilly, wedding dance. We were invited to participate in the last one.

Around us where blooming mustard fields, buffalos, goats, elephants and Tharu villages. Originally they are Hindus who used to live in the jungle, but since the park started they were forced to live outside of it and learn a new skill: agriculture. Their houses are from elephant’s grass, a kind of reed, that is coated with mud and dung. They rebuild them every year, leaving just a small part of uncoated reeds for a window. 

A mat hanged on a wood frame stops the mice and snakes. They embellish them with their right hand fingerprints in different colors (the left hand is considered unclean). The roof is from straw. Women who already have a tattoo cook on an open hearth and their chopping block is a two stone system.

Water comes from a well with a bucket or from a pump (we saw an elephant drinking from one, his trunk glued to it and the owner pumping; when the trunk was full, the owner would stop and the elephant would empty the trunk in his mouth). The weights are carried in a basket on their back supported by a  strap on their foreheads.
Even here are many construction sites because of the park that brings tourists. At the corner is a general store, and next to it is the butcher, today he has chicken, what part of it would you like? When we visited the village we were surrounded by children. Learning our children’s names they started repeating them, especially Ileana’s. They were having fun before evening’s chores.

In Kathmandu women wear saree or dhaka, a knee-length shirt with pants. Hair in a pony-tail or a low bun, bindi (over the “third eye”) and a red color in the middle of the hairline if they are married. Men wear western clothes. In front of our hotel there was a middle school where children dressed in uniforms were learning in classrooms without doors, windows without panes, repeating after their teacher or one of their classmates reading from a book, from 10 to 4 pm. They had a lunch break to go home and eat. In recess they would go in the courtyard and jump rope or play with a small ball. Saturday is free and they have two vacations of 10 days, plus many religious holidays spread around the year. Soldiers are present all over the place and they will check your papers, but is not the same feeling as in China. They are relaxed, they smile, they are just doing their job.
Farewell Nepal! Namaste!

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