Nepal to Japan: In Transit Post

A month traveling in a new country is a long time – It was the first time either of us had experienced this (without working). The month at times seemed like 8 weeks and there were several times we both had mini meltdowns out of frustration with the poor organization or ‘island time mentality’. We swung between wanting to make it work with *uck it, lets fly to another country as this is s*itshow. In the end we found the right balance, I think, and we did much more than originally planned.

In the last days of our stay in the country we hopped from one part of Pokhara to another more touristy part, and then finished up in dusty Kathmandu, all of which we will document in another post (with pics). In the meantime, as we sit in the lounge at Singapore Airport (thanks Trey for all your excess work travel to allow for such luxuries), these are some witty and not so witty observations that we made about Nepal and the things we discovered about ourselves in the process:

  • Cold showers and squat toilets are fine on occasion but they lose their novelty after a while.
  • Great vegetarian/vegan food means we didn’t miss meat.
  • It’s hard to sit upright whilst being cross legged (at least for us)
  • Not having coffee for a month feels great.
  • Not having booze for a month also feels great.
  • Cleaning your nose with salt water feels amazing (no, really).
  • Having no hairdryer and no hair product for a month is what you imagine it would be. Fluffy.
  • Nepal is not on our list of places to move to.
  • I will no longer take running water in my home for granted.
  • I could eat daal Bhat everyday and never get bored of it (rice and lentils).
  • Poor organisation still gets on my tits. Being here for a month didn’t make it any more ‘charming’
  • Our experience of volunteering through a local organization was not isolated. We heard similar examples of arriving and then being told that October was a dead month for teaching. My suggestion is to use an international organization vs small/local.
  • Being a foreign woman in Nepal was better than I thought it would be but not as good as it should be. The man is king here.
  • Traveling by bus here is miserable. It’s not exotic or ‘should be tried as part of the whole experience’- it’s a truly shitty experience. Bus journeys take 4 hours longer than advertised (4 hours takes 7, 6 hours takes 10), you get leaned on, sat on, coughed on and people throwing up in the aisle is not uncommon.
Someone’s looking grumpy!
  • They chew up the bones with their meet (fish, chicken, goat). We’re told it’s a good source of calcium. My preference is to eat a yogurt or leafy greens rather than have my insides ripped by splintering bones, but then again, I am old fashioned.
  • There are very cute kids everywhere, but I don’t think that this is because there are more kids. Instead, I think it is because kids (even as young as 5?) walk down the road between houses on there own. Village life feels extremely safe with everyone looking out for each other.
  • Basically no one uses the internet, but there is now 3G wireless everywhere so I’m guessing this will change?
  • In villages, No credit cards, ATMs. If you want money from the bank, go to the bank (old school).
  • They shop at local stores on credit and can pay it back up to a year later.
  • The Nepalese are hands down the most welcoming people. Everyone treats you like an honored family member. Sit here, eat this, let us make you something. Have some of (fill in the blank with a food item).

16/14 year old girls we stayed with:

  • Don’t have phones
  • Don’t have email
  • Can’t swim
  • Can’t imagine driving
  • No bank accounts
  • Don’t have access to social media (but they *LOVE* Snapchat lenses once introduced)
  • Work unbelievablely hard at studies – literally 14 hour days, 6 days a week

Rubbish (Trash if you’re from America)

  • Rubbish is just dropped on the road. e.g. Candy wrappers
  • Concept of don’t litter just doesn’t exist
  • The home we stayed in created maybe one bucket of rubbish in 3 weeks
  • Near complete self-sufficiency with produce
  • Rice is purchased in reusable 50 lb bags
  • Soda bottles are reused to carry water

Nepal Fun Score

S – 1.5

T – 1.5

Deshain In Khudi: Goats, Swings, Temples, Tikas and Lots of Meat.

The festival of Deshain (pronounced: De-sigh) is one of the most important for Nepali people. It happens around September/ October and is a time when families and communities gather together to worship, celebrate and eat.

I would compare it to the scale of Thanksgiving in the US, Christmas in the UK or Chinese New Year. It’s a big deal.

The actual festival has specific events of specific days and whilst some are flexible, the final day (in this case, the Friday: Tika day) is set in stone as the main event.

Here’s what we experienced:

Tuesday/Temple day:

This turned out to be quite a loose arrangement as we discovered the temple visit was pushed back to Wednesday. With the exception of Friday when there was a schedule, the balance of the week was a little ‘loosey goosey’. A touch irritating since we had come back from hiking specifically for the whole festival with the alternative being an additional day trekking. Gggrrrrrr

In the end, we spent the day relaxing, reading and generally waiting for instruction. Trey was asked to attend a couple of goat sacrifices with the nearby family which consisted of beheading the goat. It’s clearly a mans world here and ladies we’re not expected to join. Thankfully.

Bishnu had come down with a fever since the start of the holidays so after a trip to the doctor in Besisahar, he rested in his room. Such a hard working guy who’s body just needed a rest from working on average 18 hr days.

Some of his extended family visited us later in the afternoon and bought some of their goat meat for us to eat. One of the nephews butchered it on the porch on a wooden block. The term butchering is loosely used here as the carcass was hacked to pieces, bone, meat, and tendon all together. At one point they severed the lower intestine and poop trickled out.

That’s how they roll here.

Wednesday/ Goat Day:

As mentioned earlier, this turned out to be Temple day with Goma and her Mother dressing in their finery to worship at a small hillside temple. We were invited to join and witness the ceremony (water sprinkling, flower placing, bell ringing, incense burning, money giving). We used the balance of the day to walk to Khudi to pick up some groceries for the family (Sprite and Fanta, sugar and chicken).

The family goat kept his head that day but the extended family bought over more of their goat meat to eat. They told us it was a festival of meat: they’re not wrong.

Bishnu still sick.

Thursday/ rest day:

In the morning, T and I took a walk to town again to stretch the legs and kill some time. Once back, T went with some local kids to the local festival swing* and became a local celebrity. We learnt that our goat would be spared until next week (am guessing it’s because Bishnu is still feverish?). Lucky goat. Maybe they’ll forget about him. I secretly hope so.

* Swings are a big deal at festival time. They construct 20 mtr high bamboo structures and rig up swings for people to …swing on. The one near us was in a large tree lovingly called The People Tree

More meat was bought over by the extended family. This is most definitely a festival of meat.

Friday/ Tika day- the biggest day:

This felt like the most structured day of the festival and I compare it to touring the relatives on Christmas Day. Every one gets dressed in their finery ( I wore one of Goma’s saris and one of the daughters helps me to dress, and Trey wore a Nepalise hat). As a family we walk to their elders to pay respects and to receive a tika which is a red marking onto the forehead. In festival time the red paint is mixed with rice to add texture (and potentially a snack for later?). It’s also customary to receive flowers, herbs, and maize leaves in the hair, or behind the ear if your hair is short. Women receive cash (yay). We are also given food (shocker).

As Bishnu has a large extended family, we walk to all his relatives (all within a quarter mile radius) and join in the ceremony. It’s a lovely family occasion and everyone welcomes us blessing us with ‘good health’, ‘good work’ and ‘good environment’.

By the end of the morning we have a small red rice field balanced on our forehead.

The rest of the afternoon is pretty relaxed. Bishnu was still sick so rested at the house whilst Goma’s and the girls visit another village. T and I stay home and relax.

Over the course of the afternoon more distant relatives visit and Bishnu applies tikas and gives blessings. We ended the day with more meat.

The next day, Saturday 20th, would see us travelling to Pokhara for our yoga retreat so we pack and get ready for our next location.

Getting The Hang of This Home Stay Thang.

Day 2

Morning routine:

At the house there is no indoor tap so we need to collect water from spring every morning. The spring is a 5 min walk along the rice fields and takes some balance.

7am: Breakfast of tea and crackers/ + homegrown bananas.

7.30am: 30 min walk through terraces to burn off breakfast

9am: ‘lunch’ of rice, dhalbat and curry.

Curry for breakfast is a new concept for us and takes some adjustment.

Walk into the town to meet the teachers and check out Khudi.

The actual town of Khudi is around a 20 min/1.5km walk down a rough track. We pass other farms and houses along route and soon become a talking point with the local kids. “Namaste”, “What is your name?”, “Do you have sweets?”

We spot a local restaurant at the start of the town next to the bus stop with roof top and good WiFi. This would be a regular hanging out place to kill time, research and upload pics and blog posts.

As this is our first day, we walk to school with Bishnu to meet with principal – we understand that our plan for teaching for 3 weeks is now down to 1 day (our last day) due to the following:

  • Exams- 5 days
  • Sports day- 2 days
  • Holiday- 15 days

It took us a couple of hours to re adjust our expectations from passing on our pearls of wisdom to simply living in with a family and contributing to the community with help in the house, farm and whatever else they needed.

We sit with teachers, Trey with the computer teacher and me with the craft teacher to see if there is anything we can help with.

Whilst I learnt about the arts and crafts that they have done, Trey learnt an interesting method of cleaning a computer which involved gasoline and a toothbrush.

We both leave feeling confused and frustrated with the situation but we have errands to run so we choose just to get on with it.

After our school visit we got the white knuckle bus to Besisahar to get new sim for Trey’s phone and to discuss how we should rethink the plan for the month. The rough plan looked like this:

  1. Stay in Khudi until Sports Day was completed in case the school needed help
  2. Take six days between this and the start of the festival to trek on the Annapurna Circuit
  3. Spend the festival of Desain with the family which apparently involves slaughtering a goat, making tall swings out of bamboo, giving gifts and eating.
  4. Go to Pokhara for a five day yoga and Meditation retreat
  5. Head to Kathmandu for a couple of days to try to find some space invaders and to to finish up the month here.

We arrived back to the house in darkness around 6pm as the power was out. This happens a lot. Like, every day- our headlamps are coming in handy.

Evening routine:

5.30-6.00pm: Ginger tea and a snack of fried rice, crackers or both

8.00pm: Dinner of dhalbat and rice with curry


Day 3

We are amazed by Goma’s incredible warmth, insisting that we eat more food, and that I drink water to gain weight ;-). She has a warm smile and cheeky laugh.

By day three we’d got used to morning food routine and started to feel a ‘little’ more comfortable with cold showers and an outside squat toilet.

The evening of day three, however, sets us back a little as we hear something on the roof-screeching, scurrying around, and causing the ceiling of our room to shake.

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s just a mother rat being chased by it’s babies who want milk.”

The chasing continued for around 20 mins after which either the mama rat gave in or the babies got bored.

Day 4

We walked to the local hydro plant, waterfall and dam with Goma. Apparently China is investing in the area with the hydro plant and the nearby dam. Apparently China and India are investing heavily in hydro to have influence in this shared neighbor. Despite the huge amount of electricity being produced, we still have power outages daily.

The walk took a couple of hours and was along a dusty 4×4 track so by the end we were ready to take in some shade at a local tea house. En route we saw the start of the Annapurna trekking route and the guest houses which was helpful ahead of our trek.

Day 5

Went to the school again to try our luck at some kind of help. Sounds a little desperate doesn’t it? Sadly the only assistance we could offer was to help with their printer for the margin settings and to offer up alternatives to Adobe Illustrator for logo design (Word/ insert/ shapes/ text box if you’re curious).

We later went to Besisahar on the white knuckle bus to get trekking permits and cash from the ATM (tried 4 got lucky with 1).

Back home to the farm T helped with animals by putting the goats away in a wooden crate to keep them safe from the local wild tiger that’s found in the nearby woods – I kid you not (no pun intended).

Day 6

Went to school, again, to try to help with their sports day.

We walked 1.5km with the kids (including daughters we live with, Sandha and Smritti) along another 4×4 track through rivers to get to the field. There we watched the mini football tournament – unfortunately there was no option for us to help.

At 5pm when the sun was setting we walked the girls back home 3km.

T and I decided that we would start trekking the next day.

First Impressions of (We don’t really know where we are)

**it just got real. After repacking what we needed for the month into our backpacks we headed on out around 6am to ‘beat’ the traffic.

After a 10 hour van ride through crazy traffic (3 hour jam choking on dust) and Nepalese smog, rough roads we arrived in the town of Besisahar.

Our driver let us out of the car and we met a few people that didn’t speak much English (our driver didn’t speak any either). Turns out that one of those people was the mother from our home stay and the others were her parents. Her name is Goma and she has a very warm welcoming smile. We followed her along the busy road with no apparent traffic rules, got a SIM for my phone and headed towards the bus stop for our next part of the journey. No it wasn’t over yet.. Rain started on and off (a late monsoon apparently), and then we hopped on a bus headed to Khudi.

The road was a crazy 4×4 track, with our packs in our laps we swayed and bounced radically. At times it was like a theme park ride which plunged occasionally to the left and then to the right as if to scare.. it worked. We drove through 3 waterfalls and 2 shallow river crossings (I counted).

After half an hour we jumped out at the side of the road next to a random house/shed. There was a guy who spoke a bit of English and asked if we wanted a porter to help carry our bags to the house. Having no idea where we were going, we said yes.

Turned out to be a 20 min walk uphill through terraced rice fields, and finally we arrive at our home stay. Boy are we glad we packed our backpacks and not our bougie rimowa’s as we watched a dude in flip flops carry our packs up a narrow slippery path.

We’re in the house with the blue roof, building to the right is the barn.
View from our room

There we met the father (Bishnu), and the youngest daughter (Sandha). The home is split into three small buildings, one is a barn for the 3 goats and 1 buffalo, another an outhouse (squat toilet with bucket for water) and shower (both serviced by a cold water tank on the roof – no hot) , the third a very small, hand built wood and concrete 4 room house (2 up/2 down). Kitchen is one of the rooms downstairs. Doors look hand made to the size of the openings and there is no glass in the windows (or at all), instead wooden window frames with iron work in the windows. My guess is that the house is maybe 600 sq ft?

There is electricity, but this is the type of place that wouldn’t surprise you if it didn’t, and possibly was built without it (Bishnu handbuilt the house 10 years before). There is one bare bulb per room with an outlet below each bulb.

We sat down on the porch as honored guests. Told to leave our boots on which is clearly a no-no. Bishnu put hand made flower wreathes over us and applies flower pollen or paint to put tikas on our foreheads. We are welcomed as family members.

The rain really started to bucket down, as we were led into the kitchen and served tea and sliced fruit. We were also served slices of bare white bread which Goma picked up in the village – it turns out they go down to the town about once a month so I believe the bread is a real luxury.

We were shown our room as Goma squatted on the floor of the kitchen rinsing rice in metal bowls with her hands for our dinner. Our room has two beds, a window without glass, and a single light bulb. It’s above the kitchen and I believe we likely have 2 times as much space as everyone else in the family.

Both of us are taken aback with how humble this life is. We thought Kathmandu was a contrast to Paris, but this is taking it to the next level. We are here for a month… We’re both rather uncomfortable with the idea, we think it is just because it is so different from what we know. But at the same time, we’re sure we’ll adjust quickly and likely be sad to leave in a few weeks time.