Nepal: The Last 96

The last 96 hours in Nepal went like a flash. Actually, I’m lying, it dragged out like 2nd period French and by the time we got to the last 12hrs we were both ready to leave the dust and noise behind.

Below are the highlights of the last few days of our time in Nepal.

After the yoga retreat we moved to another area of Pokhara which was called Lakeside. Our hotel was centrally placed and right by said lake with spectacular views of the Annapurna range. We had 3 things on our list:

  • International Mountain Museum
  • Spa visit: Massage and Pedicure
  • Cooking lesson

Here goes:

The International Mountain Museum turned out to be a great way to spend a couple of hours. It was a 20 min ride from the hotel and in a scruffier part of town, but the museum itself tracked mountaineering in the immediate area as well as Everest with details of mountain tribes, equipment used and the flora and fauna of the areas.

The Spa visit was more of a win for Trey who had a deep tissue massage and a pedicure from a very capable women. My lady, I believe was a trainee who had watched someone on YouTube give a pedicure, once, possibly a while ago. She didn’t seem comfortable with a nail file and was a little heavy handed with the clippers. Still, I left with all my toes and some nails so it wasn’t all bad.

For the cooking class, we had wanted to learn how to make Daal Bhat (lentils and rice) as well as Momo’s (dumplings) and were all set to take a class with a local lady who gives the proceeds of these classes to a children’s home that she works at (I am a sucker for this kind of thing so naturally I chose this) when at the last minute it was cancelled and we were paired with a guy who could do one dish but not both (he also worked for a children’s home so our money was going to a good cause). So we had a dilemma! Momo’s are complex to make but are a one trick pony of a dish whereas with the Daal, you also get to make curries which is a staple and can provide the base for many other options…. ahhhhhh dilemma.. In the end we went with Momo’s and turned up on time eager to learn the magic.

That’s momo magic right there, that is!

Now, I know that you will be surprised to hear that this class was not well organized or managed (it was late to start, with no recipes to follow, and no measuring of ingredients: all the factors that irritate and make it hard to replicate) but we stayed the course and learnt some crucial folding techniques which make you look like a pro so I guess I should stop whingeing. We left the class with full stomachs and the promise of the recipes by email later that evening. Amazingly, they came the next day with detailed measures. My advise for you is if you want to do a lesson is to shop around before you book and check the number of reviews.

From Pokhara we travelled to Kathmandu. We had two options for travel: 10 hours by bus or 22 minutes by air. Ha – you expect me to travel again by bus in Nepal? We flew. It was glorious and we even had time for a drink and a bag of nuts in the air before we landed.

Q: How many people does it take to check you in at the airport?

Kathmandu: Oh boy we were ready to leave at this point. Kathmandu is a giant dust bowl of noise, fumes and rubbish. I’m sorry if this comes across as negative but I really struggled to find one redeeming feature of this city apart from the fact that we were reunited with the rest of our luggage after a month of wearing hiking gear (it hadn’t been lost, we packed what we needed for Khudi and stored the rest in Kathmandu). However the thought of getting changed and getting more clothes covered with more dust seemed like a bad idea so we stayed for in our hiking gear for another 24 hours until an hour before we left for the airport.

Curiously, the internet is a bit spotty

We spent most of our time in the Thamel area of the city (a 30 min walk from our own guest house) which consisted of outdoor shops (some legit, most knock off), trekker guest houses and Internet cafes. The area was *somewhat* sheltered from cars so gave us a reprieve from the fumes. It also gave us a place to fine tune our research and book the next stage of the trip.

Final comment: Our last 24 hours was an anticlimactic end to a month which earlier had given us a rural homestay in Khudi, amazingly generous hospitality from our host family, stunning views and unbelievable trekking on the Annapurna Circuit, great yoga, great new friends and fabulous food. The month was a game changer.

Between the highs and lows of the month, We choose to focus on the above nuggets of goodness instead of the dust and chaos of the final 24 hours.

The real final comment: Space Invaders: You thought I’d forgotten about them. We found a couple of them in the Thamel district of Kathmandu but my app wouldn’t recognize them (shitty GPS) so we will take it up with the app just as soon as we get back.

Next stop: Tokyo, Japan.

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

Atmashree Yoga Retreat, Pokhara, Nepal

Spoiler : there are no pictures for this post. You’ll just have to believe that Trey’s headstand was legendary and my plough pose: simply sublime.

6am – Meditation (chanting, ringing bowls, silent walk, pre yoga nap)

7am – Shatkarmas: Morning cleansing of body (nose, stomach and chest all with salt water- google it – the nose cleanse is amazing)

7.15 – Herbal tea (drinking it and not sticking up our nose)

7.45am – Yoga (Hatha, Vinayasa, Ashtanga) – 90 mins, mellow class – lots of focus on breathing techniques and stretching.

9am – Breakfast (Vegan or Vegetarian options / no bacon sandwiches or full English here)

10am – Rest

12pm – Meditation: Yoga Nidra, Singing Bowl Meditation (also known as pre-lunch nap time)

1pm – Lunch – DhalBaat, rice and curry

2pm – Free time

4.30pm – Herbal Tea

5pm – Yoga – As above yoga but tougher and more dynamic. Longer more intimidating poses. #speedsalutations

7pm – Dinner – Delicious Nepali food

8pm – Meditation (Chanting, Intense Meditation / Japa Yoga)

9pm – Retire for the evening – actual sleep.

Cost: 6 days / 5 nights: Room/board/classes and full instruction: $310.00 pp (excl flights). Compare this to the cost of retreats organized from San Francisco [6 days in Peru for $2950.00 pp (excl flights).

Atmashree yoga

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.