Category Archives: Nepal

Trekking in the Solukhumbu: Part II

Continued from Part I: we made it to Lobuche!

The next two days were shorter: I had been getting sick for the past week or so (I had a bad cold and cough which went to my lungs on the day we crossed Cho-la pass, and was having trouble breathing while hiking in the cold air), so I decided to take a rest day. This worked perfectly, because the plan from here was to hike to Gorakshep, and from there go to Everest Base Camp one day and to the peak of Kala Patthar the next day before coming back to Lobuche. So I stayed in the lodge and Danny and Melissa went up to Gorakshep. They decided not to go to Everest Base Camp (Because there’s really nothing there, especially now since all the Everest expeditions this year were canceled), but went up Kala Patthar the next morning before coming back to Lobuche to meet up with me again! After 1.5 days of resting and taking tons of cold and cough medicine I was much better than before, and ready to keep hiking!

Prayer flags during the one clear part of the day on the way to Chhukhung.
Prayer flags during the one clear part of the day on the way to Chhukhung.

Day 11! It was extremely cloudy and overcast, and we decided to, instead of going over the Kongma la pass and not getting any views, we would just go around and take it a bit easier on ourselves. We already got one amazing pass experience, so we were content with that. This brought us to Chhukhung, at 4,730m/15,500ft. Here we rented equipment for ice climbing and got ready to go to Island Peak!

Day 12 we had a short hike to the Island Peak Base Camp, at 4,970m/16,300ft. Here we were going to be camping, so we set up tents and settled in. We were supposed to take day 13 as an acclimatization day at Base Camp, but we decided that, since we had been at high altitude for a week already, we didn’t need it. That meant that we would be waking up at midnight that night to do the climb to Island Peak!

At Base Camp we also met our climbing Sherpa who taught us how to clip into fixed ropes and use the ascending and descending clips to go up and down the slope on the rope line. At the top of Island Peak there is a period of time where there are fixed ropes on the ice, and you use those plus heavy-duty plastic boots with crampons to ascend to the peak. So we spent some time that afternoon getting used to climbing up a steep slope on lines, harnessed in and everything!

That night we went to sleep early and woke up at midnight. We had some oatmeal, as much as we could eat at that hour and then set off: day 13 was officially under way.

Sunrise at Island Peak.
Sunrise at Island Peak.

The first few hours were brutal. They were switchbacks covered in a thin layer of snow, and above all we could see were the headlamps of hikers who had started earlier than us constantly rising higher and higher. If you have never done this (gone up to a peak in the middle of the night), it basically sucks. Every time you look up you think that the end of the lights must be the top, and that that is where you are going! But in reality that is just the end of the line of hikers, and it keeps rising higher and higher. You cant tell how high you are, how high you have gone, and all you have is the monotony of switchbacks up a steep hill on little to no sleep, in the dark, in the cold.

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The view from Island Peak

Finally, after a few hours of the switchbacks we got to something new: icy rocks! Again, not ideal in the dark, in the freezing cold. Because it had snowed the previous afternoon (like it does pretty much every afternoon up there) there was an inch layer of snow and ice on all the rocks, and so for the next hour we climbed up boulders and across rocks, balancing on the snow.

Finally, at around 4:30 or 5 in the morning it started to get light out.

Rocks, the glacier, and the top of Island Peak.
Rocks, the glacier, and the top of Island Peak.

We spent another two hours climbing up the rocks over the snow, finally with a bit of light, and by 7am we had finally reached the top of this part! We could see the top from here, and we could also see all of the amazing views that the top had to offer. It was really a perfect spot. We could have kept going, another four hours across the glacier, to the top, but at that point we had been climbing for around six hours, were completely exhausted, and overwhelmed by the climbing that we had been doing. So we decided to end the climb on a high note, sat around eating some snickers bars that we had brought with us, before starting the long climb down.

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Myself and Danny at Island Peak

By the time we finally got down from the mountain it was nearly 10:30 in the morning. We sat around, ate some instant noodles as a sort of breakfast, and basked in the brief period of warm sun before packing up our things and hiking back down to Chukkung. By the time we got to Chukkung it was almost 3pm: we had been hiking nearly 12 hours that day on very little sleep, and all we wanted was to go to bed. We made ourselves stay up till 5pm, and then ate a light dinner before going directly to sleep.

Day 14! By this time it was mostly downhill, but we had a long day in store. The plan was to hike all the way to Namche Bazaar in one day, a hike that is close to 8 hours long, and includes both a good amount of downhill and a few intense uphills. So, we set off early, stopping only once or twice the whole time (including a lunch break in Tengboche consisting of slices of cake at a great bakery there), and made it to Namche Bazaar by around 3pm. We put down our bags and immediately went to a pub for beers and buff momos to celebrate the (near) end of our hike! It really was pretty great going down so far in altitude: we had much more energy, and the hiking felt easier because of all of the extra oxygen in the air! After being at high altitude for so long we were sure we could do anything with all of the air going to our lungs.

One last view on the way down!
One last view on the way down!

The next and last day we hiked from Namche Bazaar to Lukla: our hike was done, all that was left was to get off of the mountains!

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done.

For the past few days no flights had been getting in or out of Lukla. There were too many clouds between Lukla and Kathmandu and so it wasn’t safe to fly in. The way it works is that there are a fixed number of flights going in and out, and if your flight gets cancelled then you get placed at the bottom of a waiting list for flights the next day. But there were already nearly four days worth of people on the waiting list trying to get flights because theirs had been cancelled, so the chances of getting a flight out soon was getting pretty grim.

Helicopters landing in Lukla airport
Helicopters landing in Lukla airport

In addition to this, instead of having a flight time the flights just have an order for takeoff. They fly four flights an hour (one from each of the four airlines), and so the flights in hour one are flights 1-4, the second hour they are flights 5-8, etc. So if you have an early flight number (like 1 or 2), the theory is that you only need one or two flights to actually land in Lukla from Kathmandu, and you’ll be able to fly out.

We were flight number 15.

Of course, none of this matters if no flights at all land in Lukla that day. Which is what was happening the morning that we were supposed to be flying out. Danny and Melissa had a flight back to the states in a few days, and on top of that we really didn’t want to be stuck in Lukla, since it was a pretty miserable town. So when the flights weren’t going out we had to look at our other option: a helicopter! This meant having our trekking guide follow some leads, find a helicopter with spaces on us for a reasonable price, going to the western union to take cash out to pay for it all, and then wait on the tarmac until the helicopter landed, sprint to it, board, and we were on our way. All in the course of approximately an hour. It was a hectic way to leave, but at least we got out! And with that we ended our trip: fifteen days of hiking later!

Last day of hiking!
Last day of hiking!

Trekking in the Solukhumbu: Part I

Two weeks ago I got back from a hike to the Solukhumbu region of Nepal, which is the area of the Himalayas where Mt. Everest is located. A lot of people who go there just go straight up the Everest Base Camp trail (we call these people EBCers), and then they go straight down. While cool, there is so much that you don’t get to see while doing this. So, my brother, Danny, and his girlfriend, Melissa, and I went on a 16 day trek up to Gokyo-Ri, across the Cho-la pass, and then to Island peak, and then back down. (A lollipop route, as Melissa pointed out: we overlapped just the very beginning and the very end.) This way we were able to see incredible views of Everest and Lhotse, as well as incredible, diverse landscapes and peaks.

For reference, a map of our route through the region.
For reference, a map of our route through the region.

To get to the area you have to fly into Lukla airport at 2840m/9,300ft. It is one of the highest airports in the world, but, more importantly, holds the record for being the most dangerous airport in the world. Good things to know before flying in there! Why is it so dangerous? Well, the airstrip is on the side of the mountain, and when landing the plane flies onto a short, uphill runway that points directly into the mountain. And when taking off, well, you are flying off of a cliff. The flights are extremely weather dependent, too, and so if there is too much wind or too many clouds anywhere between Lukla and Kathmandu the flights cant fly. Because of this we were extremely lucky that our flight there not only took off on the day that it was supposed to, but it took off pretty much on time, too! It was a good start to the trip!

Me, Danny, and Melissa on the first day of hiking.
Me, Danny, and Melissa on the first day of hiking.

After landing at Lukla we had a quick lunch before setting off on the first leg of the hike: a four hour hike to Phakding, at 2,610m/8,500ft.

There are long bridges that run between the mountains, high above the river.
There are long bridges that run between the mountains, high above the river.

Day 2, a bit longer, took us up to Namche Bazaar, at a more respectable 3,440m/11,200ft. This was the last town where we were able to eat meat (above Namche Bazaar the area is a national park and you are not allowed to kill animals. Because of this, any meat on the menu is carried in by porters from below and therefore is not very fresh), so we ate plenty of buff momos and yak steak, and also took the last hot showers we would take for another week or so! It was quite luxurious.

Namche Bazaar, nestled into the mountainside.
Namche Bazaar, nestled into the mountainside.

Day 3 was an acclimatization day, so we did a day hike from Namche up to the small towns of Khumjung and Khunde.

Our first view of Everest, behind the Lhotse Wall, from a view point near Namche Bazaar.
Our first view of Everest (L), behind the Lhotse Wall (R), from a view point near Namche Bazaar.

Day 4 was another short day, a few (beautiful) hours to Dhole (4,200m/13,800ft), and day 5 was short, too, from Dhole to Machhermo (4,470m/14,600ft). Both of these days were beautiful, taking us around the sides of gorgeous mountains while also following the Dudh Koshi river north up towards the higher mountains and towards Tibet!

Following the river towards the whitecaps.
Following the river towards the whitecaps.

One more short day on Day 6, from Machhermo to Gokyo (4,790m/15,700ft). Gokyo is surrounded by five high altitude lakes, three of which we got to see on our way! They were beautiful, settled into the mountains surrounding them, some frozen over some not.

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Day 7 we finally got some of the really amazing views! In the morning we hiked from Gokyo up to Gokyo Ri (5,360m/17,585ft). From there we were able to see amazing panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and surrounding mountains.

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A view from Gokyo Ri

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In the afternoon we hiked from Gokyo, across the Ngozumba Glacier to Dragnag (4,700m/15,400ft).

The glacier, as seen from Gokyo Ri
The glacier, as seen from Gokyo Ri

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Day 8 was another big day: we woke up early and set off to cross Cho-la pass! This involved a hike to the base of the mountains, across a large snow field, and then up a good deal of boulders and large rocks until we got to the pass. It was difficult, but fun, even though it took a really long time to get to the top. When we finally reached the top of the pass at 5,420m/17,782ft we got views out onto the ice glacier in front of us, and down the steep rocks and snow below us.

Us, at the top of the pass.
Us, at the top of the pass.

 

Looking back towards Dragnag
Looking back towards Dragnag

The glacier was fun to cross, though difficult at times. It consisted of a lot of testing the snow in front of us, stepping on it and hoping to not fall down into the snow! A lot of times we could take a good number of steps on top of the snow and everything would be fine, and then all of a sudden we would take one more step fall knee- or hip-deep into the snow! I missed out on getting snow this winter, so I personally loved getting to fight my way through the massively deep snow.

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Finally, after nearly nine and a half hours of hiking, we made it to our destination: Lobuche (4,910m/16,100ft).

More later on the second half of the trek, and Island Peak!

Moving on, from Lobuche to Chhukung.
Moving on, from Lobuche to Chhukung.

On the Road, Again

It’s 5am and the people are starting to come out. These people who disappear all night, from when I land at midnight until now, start to appear again, come out from their corners, again. Some of them are just arriving at the airport, and I realize that it is already time for some of the flights to start taking off again. 5am. A normal time to get to the airport. For some.

And as for me? I am just happy to be in an airport again. I am just happy to be traveling again. I am excited to be somewhere new, again. Layovers aren’t really so bad once you get used to them. Wander the airport some; find a nice corner to sit in. In Singapore, where I am now, there is even a koi pond and I can walk over and watch the fish swimming around while the rest of the world flies by. Literally.

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Early morning on the bridge to San Francisco

I spent a while back home rehabbing my ankle after my accident in Vietnam. Which was a good thing to do. I wasn’t really able to walk on my ankle after I sprained it, so coming home made sense, so that I didn’t have to travel on it. But now it has been over a month and, while I loved getting to take hot showers whenever I wanted and getting to eat any type of food that I wanted  (though I did mostly stay away from Asian food. I wasn’t ready for American-Asian food yet), I have gotten pretty antsy being home.

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My dog took good care of my while I was bed ridden

It is hard to get used to sitting still when you have been moving for so long.

It was really hard getting used to fitting in again at home. Reverse culture shock. It was one thing getting used to the giant grocery stores and paved roads and everyone speaking English.

It was another thing going back to my university for homecoming and trying to fit into situations where a year ago I would have felt so comfortable. Seeing people who I recognized. Seeing people who I hadn’t seen in a year. Seeing people who weren’t, also, traveling.

I didn’t know how to act in a room full of people. I felt like a stranger. Well, not with my closest friends, but it was odd trying to trade stories from the last year with acquaintances. How to sum up my past year when people asked? With a list of places? How to put it into one word? And so I kept feeling like I was falling short of what people wanted to hear. Which just made it feel that much more awkward.

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A perk of going back to Baltimore: seeing my old friends and roommates!

So maybe that is one reason why I am so excited to go back. I don’t feel like I have finished my time traveling. I don’t feel like I can sum it up yet. I can tell stories, stories about the times I took a bus across the border of one country into another. Stories of when I climbed up into the mountains in Nepal. Stories of the first time the smog cleared in Kathmandu and I could really see the Himalayas and how magical they looked standing above the ridge of the valley.

And stories of all the amazing people whom I met along the way. People and friends who I would never meet in any other place at any other time. And how they are the people who I have become so comfortable around. And how maybe it just takes time to get used to new things, and how maybe it takes time to also learn to get used to old things, too.

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At the homecoming game: JHU vs UMD

This time around I am heading back to Nepal so that I can go trekking, and then head over to Tibet with a friend of mine! Trips that I have been waiting for all year, but that I had to put off until my ankle was healed completely. I am so excited to get to see new places; I am so excited to be traveling again. I am so excited to be back, on the road, again.

Into India

On Sunday we walked across the border into India. We took a taxi from Lumbini just 26 kilometers down to the little town, Sunauli, which is on the border of Nepal and India, and where you can get across from one country into the other relatively easily.

Sunauli was a typical Nepali experience of tourists, and people catering to the tourists. Places to exchange money, places to book bus tickets and plane tickets and any other tickets that you wanted. Places to buy fruit. Places to buy anything else you wanted to buy, or for them to try and sell you any of the things that you really didn’t need to be buying. Places for everything.

The border crossing into India
The border crossing into India

We let the taxi drivers who were surrounding us trying to get us to use them once we got to India shuffle us over to the Nepali immigration where we got our passports stamped, our exit visas, and we were officially allowed to leave the country. And then we walked across the border. Down the road swarmed with trucks waiting to get through to Nepal, past the guard who glanced at our visas, and under the arch way. And into India.

India. Crowded, bustling, India.
India. Crowded, bustling, India.

India. Just one step over the border, and the place was different. Everything felt different. More crowded. More people, more dogs, more things being sold. More pushing, more shoving. Less space. Less air. Foggier, even, it seemed. Everything that Nepal was, but so much more. Like someone had taken the things that make Nepal Nepal and pushed them to the extreme. Where we had seen poverty by the side of the road it was doubled. Quadrupled. Where there were buildings that were falling down, India’s were suddenly bigger and falling down even more. Amplified. Everything was amplified. With no space to breathe, to move, to do anything.

It was a short 50 meter walk down the main road until we got to the immigration office on the Indian side, and after a quick check and a stamp by them we were officially, legally, in the country. The next stop was the local bus. We hopped on and waited for it to fill up and then we were on our way to Gorakhpur, a (relatively) short 3 hour ride through farms and swamps and extremely crowded villages, to the train station that was able to take us to Delhi.

The train station at Gorakhpur.
The train station at Gorakhpur.

It was strange being in a new country that was so close to Nepal. There was so much about it that felt similar: the writing on the shops, the shops and what they were selling, the dogs and the goats and the cows in the middle of the street. But there was so much that was different, too. So very much.

There were cows, more cows, more packs of cows than before. And more people. So many more people. People crowded in and out of the stores. Stores piled on top of each other, competing for attention in such a small space. People spilling out onto the streets and sitting by the road.  And in the rural areas, the big buildings that were built so long ago and are now crumbling to pieces. An ancient feel to the entire place. Where in Nepal there was so much construction and so much movement forward, the places that we passed felt the opposite. Like all of their movement forward had been done already, that the things had been built and then left there. Left there and started to crumble away.

Old station, old trains.
Old station, old trains.

And little things, too. Words that sounded familiar, but different, too. Where I had become used to certain words, and picking up pieces of what the people around me were saying, all of a sudden this ability was gone. I was again in a new, strange land.

It is a strange dichotomy here. There are the places that are poor. That are so poor. That are falling down, falling apart, worse than I had seen in Nepal. But then again, maybe they seemed worse because there is so much more.

And then there are the things that are so much better than what I saw in Nepal. The roads, for one. The roads are paved. So many more roads are paved, at least.

Trucks waiting to cross the border into Nepal.
Trucks waiting to cross the border into Nepal. And a dog.

And we come to New Delhi, where there are road signs and manicured lawns and nice houses and new stores with shiny fronts. Some of the things that you might see in Kathmandu, but probably wouldn’t. Bigger, better, newer, more advanced. More technology, more everything. The city is pretty. Very pretty! It is organized, there are cars (so many more cars than I ever saw in Nepal). And I want to compare it more to a western city than to Kathmandu. But then I remember the pieces of the country that we went through to come here. They are so different, so run down.

There is so much here that is moving forward, that is modernizing so quickly. And yet there is still so much that is not. There are the research centers, the universities, and the government buildings surrounded by high, fancy walls. There are the fancy neighborhoods. There is organization and structure to the city. There are paved streets. There are street signs. And there are also the areas of the city, and the areas outside the city that are full of run down shacks and overflowing with people. It feels like two different worlds smashed into one, at times, because the differences are so huge.

It is an odd place to be, and also a wonderfully interesting thing to get to see. I, for one, am intrigued.

A woman waiting for the train in Gorakhpur, India.
A woman waiting for the train in Gorakhpur, India.

New Beginnings

So I am sitting in a café in Pokhara, Nepal. I am surrounded by the mountains rising out of the horizon, the snowcaps poking up into the sky, so much clearer than they were in the big city. There is a lake here, and trees (!), and everything is slower. Slower and cleaner. It is such a contrast to Kathmandu, where the roads are fast and dirty, where the air is never clean and everywhere you go is crowded with people. People on bikes, in cabs, trying to sell you things or trying to get money. Of course there is some of that here, but much less. All to a smaller degree.

The lake and the mountains in Pokhara
The lake and the mountains in Pokhara

It is an odd thing, leaving a place. It is hard to remember how long you have been somewhere, how much you can grow attached to it, until you leave. I was actually pretty sad leaving Kathmandu: not that I didn’t think that it would be a sad thing to go, but I did not expect to actually feel it. I will be coming back, in the spring, albeit for a shorter period of time.

It was sad leaving the little alley off which I live. It was sad, passing the vegetable market for the last time, dark still in the early dawn with the street dogs asleep in the middle, where all of the sellers would set up their stalls later in the day. It was sad, too, catching the early morning micro bus, still half empty, filled with school kids making their way to college, and men sitting with bags of things to sell on the streets that day. I got so used to my routine, to seeing these simple things every day, that I forgot that it might be sad when I had to see them or sit with them a last time.

My last day at my NGO was also incredibly sweet. They had a little going away thing for me, said a few words and gave me a plaque to take home to remember them by! We took a lot of pictures with it, and had a dance party with the children. My friend, Stephen, got here last Friday (we will be traveling together for the next few months), so he came, too, to the NGO, and got to meet all the children. They sang their welcome song to him, they danced with him, and when all that was done we sat and watched them singing their evening prayers, and ate daal bhaat. It was a good last day. Sweet, and wonderful to get to share with a friend from home.

Me, my plaque, and Raksha Nepal
Me, my plaque, and Raksha Nepal

And now I am on the road! I have my frame pack, my backpack, my camera and my ukulele. All the essentials for being on the road. The next few months will bring many new countries, sites, people and foods. It is a different thing, being on the road. I wont be able to go back to my apartment every night, to the same things, see the same people, follow the same schedule. The things that I do will change every day, and the places that I am and the people that I meet will change every day, too.

Stephen dealing for a game of gin rummy at happy hour by the lake
Stephen dealing for a game of gin rummy at happy hour by the lake

So it is a different type of traveling. A more exciting one! But I will still miss my home in Kathmandu. The smells of the trash fires burning at night (which really does grow on you), the same dogs hanging around near my house and my local temple. The worn out streets and the people that walk along them and the little micro where I know the route so well. And the city that slowly became my home without me realizing it. That I will miss most of all.

Bombs and Bandhs: Election Time in Nepal

On Tuesday, the entire city shut down as Nepal held its first elections in five years, and voted for a new Constituent Assembly (CA) for the country. For those you of (read: majority) who aren’t up to speed on Nepali politics and history, here is a little crash course:

Nepal, for years, was ruled by a monarchy.

From 1996-2006 there was a civil war, also called the Maoist conflict, because it was headed up by the Maoist party looking to overthrow and replace the monarchy.

In 2006 the war ended, in 2007 Nepal was declared a federal republic, and in 2008 they held their first elections, electing a Constituent Assembly, the majority of seats of which were won by the Communist Party of Nepal (aka CPN aka Maoists).

The newly formed CA was charged with writing a constitution. They failed to meet their deadline.

They got an extended deadline. They failed to meet this one, too.

In 2012 they had STILL failed to meet their deadline and to write a constitution, so it was announced that they would have elections that November.

They did not.

They finally set the ACTUAL date for November 19, 2013.

In the months leading up to the election, the Maoists did everything they could to try and get the elections canceled. They held bandhs, or strikes, where everything was closed and no cars or vehicles could drive on the roads for fear of being vandalized. Starting November 10th, they threatened to hold a 10-day long bandh that would shut down the city and keep the elections from happening. This lasted only a day or two, with people deciding that they did not want to just go with it, and going out on the roads and opening their businesses anyways.

This did not stop everything, though.

Bombs were found in the city. Fake bombs real bombs. Some went off, injuring people, which is perhaps one of the things that has been most reported in the (two that I can find) articles published. The point, again, being to scare people into not holding the elections.

This, again, did not work! It was, however, a bit scary.

Tuesday their first elections were held in five years. Public spaces (such as the basketball court where the vegetable market is held by my house) were roped off on Monday to create polling locations.

Ping pong played on a sunny day off from school.
Ping pong played on a sunny day off from school.

Because many Nepalis are illiterate, the ballot was made up of symbols printed onto the paper. Each of the 120+ parties vying for the votes chose a symbol to represent them. Everything from a tree to a sun to bowling pins to hands pressed together. This way everyone would be able to vote, literate or not.

The government declared a four-day long public holiday, starting Sunday, so that people could go back to their villages to vote.

There was a threat of strict bandhs on buses, which would prevent people from leaving and going home to vote, but that did not happen, people got home, people voted.

I stayed inside all day on Tuesday, though, because there was still the threat of being caught up in a rally, or run into a bomb, real or fake.

And on Wednesday? All was well, people returned, slowly, to the city, kids returned to school. All was well. They had voted, and in time the results will come out.

Military doing drills in a practice field in the middle of the city.
Military doing drills in a practice field in the middle of the city.

So far it looks like the Nepali Congress party (symbol: tree) will win, which, at least according to the Nepali’s I have asked, is a good thing.

So why is it so hard for them to come to a decision on a constitution? Well, to start with, the country is incredibly diverse. Within the one country they have trouble just starting to consider how to divide it up into states.

Nepal is made up of 26.5 million people, with a literacy rate of 63% for men, yet only 35% for women. 81% are Hindu, 9% are Buddhist, 10% other. It has more than 100 different ethnic groups, an even greater number of languages (125 and 127 respectively, as reported by the New York Times), and three different ecosystems, ranging in altitude from only 60 feet above sea level to 29,029 feet above sea level (hello, Mt. Everest).

View of the snowcaps from the big city
View of the snowcaps from the big city

And this is just part of it.

There are many problems: poverty, diversity and the lack of opportunity for women in the country being just a few of them. Many people have migrated to Kathmandu as a result of the war, and to look for jobs, but many times these jobs are not available. Or they do not have the education or skills sets to get them. Of the nearly 7,000,000 people living in the Kathmandu valley, at least half go home each year to their villages, they are not from here.

There is a great risk of natural disaster, too. Nepal is susceptible to frequent earthquakes, but Kathmandu is in no way built to withstand a major one. There are so many people and so many buildings so close together that it is really quite a frightening thought of what would happen, or will happen, when they get a big one. They are supposed to get a major one once within every 100 years, and the last one was at least 80 years go. So there is that.

It is hard, still, to figure out what to think about the election, or what is going to happen. It is so hard to get a good news source that will say anything of substance that I think the trick is really just to wait and see what happens.

Hopefully this new government will provide stability and a good constitution. Hopefully it will address some of the major issues that face Nepal. Hopefully it will do its job. And until then, we wait. We celebrate the fact that the elections happened at all, and we wait to see what change they bring for the future of a little Himalayan country with so much to offer.

On Two Months Traveling

Today is two things: the day after Tihar, the end of the holiday season, and my two-month anniversary with Kathmandu.

Cheers to two months, Ktm.
Cheers to two months, Ktm.

Two months. A long time, but at the same time it feels like no time has passed. It is that weird paradox where I feel like I left home a lifetime ago, and yet the time here has gone so quickly.

It took me probably the first month of living here to really get myself adjusted. Jet lag alone counted for two of those weeks: even after I had gotten my sleeping on a mildly correct schedule, it was still the little stresses of every day life that kept enhanced my jet lag. I also lost my appetite for the first week or two, also, which made the adjustment a bit scarier. Not only did I not know where I was, but I was having a hard time just feeding myself.

It takes so long to get used to waking up on a hard bed in a new country with dogs barking outside. To get used to the streets not being paved, the electricity going out every day, and hot water only when my upstairs neighbors’ hot water overflows. Little things like not being able to get the same foods as I am used to: for the first month at least there was still the scare of bird flu, and buying eggs was taboo at best. I lived off of instant noodles for weeks at a time. Or momos bought for takeaway and handed to me in little blue plastic bags instead of plastic containers like in the “real” world.

The little alley that I lived on.
The little alley that I lived on.

And learning how to navigate a new city where things weren’t even in a familiar alphabet. And doing so alone, too, made just that much harder. I had the girls at my NGO to help me, but it was still hard to figure out how I could manage and get around on my own, without someone guiding me. And even though I have used different cities’ public transportation countless times in the past, this was still something so completely new and different.

The houses here can be so squished together that it can feel claustrophobic at times.
The houses here can be so squished together that it can feel claustrophobic at times.

I finally am confident about taking buses and micros: they are a lot less scary than they look, but it took the first time or two for me to realize this. And to realize that there is a lot more to the city than where I live and where I work. There are towns and areas beyond where I had ever ventured. And there are still pieces of the city that I have yet to go to, but know that I will get to.

Boudhanath, or Boudha, is a huge, beautiful and peaceful stupa just a 40 minute walk away.
Boudhanath, or Boudha, is a huge, beautiful and peaceful stupa just a 40 minute walk away.

It is my two-month anniversary of my first night in Kathmandu. That night that I got off the plane into the balmy Asian air, and got help from a friendly cab driver to help me find my ride. That night that I spent so long just putting my things away, try ing to make my flat feel home-y.

And then that same night I laid in bed for hours, wide awake, listening to dogs bark and voices shouting outside. Voices speaking a foreign language. Shouting in foreign tones. And all I knew was that I had been dropped at the end of a dark alley, many dark streets from any semblance of a paved road. And it was terrifying. And I (I will admit it now) cursed myself a bit for deciding to come here, started counting down days in my head till it was time to go home.

And the first day was dizzying. I had barely slept the night before; I had been on planes or in airports for the three days previous. And I had no idea of what was going on, where I was, who these people were, or what I was supposed to do next. It felt like I had been dropped into a big black hole. It was scary, I was confused and consoled myself by making plans for when I would leave Kathmandu, and counting down the days until that would happen.

Spotted, on my way to work this morning.

It is amazing how much time can pass in two months. And how much those two months can change things. I am SO much happier than I was that first night. I am no longer scared. I am no longer frightened of something so new and so different.

It is a lot easier to admit you are scared after you have finished with being scared. It is a lot easier for me to admit that I had a rough time now that I enjoy where I am so much. It was hard for me to admit that I was worried that I had made the wrong move, but is easier to say that now that I know that I really didn’t.

It is amazing how much more at home I feel now. And how much I really do love what I am doing, traveling and living somewhere new, gaining new skills and experiences. It is so incredible to be living in a different city, a city so opposite of anywhere else I have ever lived. And it is so incredible to really feel at home here, in this foreign city. I know my way around. I have my favorite cafes. I love the apartment I am now living in, and the freedom it affords me through living far from work. This distance means that I get to spend a half hour each morning walking to work through a new city and am able to call it my city.

From above my NGO you can start to see the hills that surround the Kathmandu Valley.

So today is the day after Tihar, and the city feels like it is still getting over the sugar rush of a holiday season. Everything is slow: the cars and the motorbikes, the item pushers on the streets. The shop owners are too busy cleaning to make sure you are seriously eyeing an item they can sell you, and the festival lights are slowly coming down off of the shop fronts.

And work? Work is quiet, empty. The kids aren’t at school, and the bosses are at home, and I am sitting in a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant at a low down table with cushions lining the wall for seats, writing and drinking chai.

Today is slow, but the city will speed up as the week goes on, and as the weeks get further and further away from the holiday. Kathmandu will resume its normal rhythm, the trekkers coming in and out, the shops pushing for business, haggling prices to one that’s acceptable to everyone involved, and the buses and micros will be bursting with people hanging off the sides, out the windows, going here or there, to or from work or family or their home. And I will continue to walk to and from work on the dusty street, passing cows and goats and chickens on my way. And it is wonderful and perfect: because it is home.