Twitter Updates

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life in Chennai #14: Beating the Heat Part 2 - Adapting

Friends and family have all been asking me how I am doing with the heat, with the summer and the answer, very truthfully and surprisingly, is, “I’m doing fine with it”. I’m glad it’s summer, happy it is here and enjoying the days, not pining for cooler climes or a change of season. And that surprises me as much as anyone.

I’ve got a few close friends here and talking this past weekend, we all noticed the same thing: somewhere along the way, we’ve actually gotten used to the heat. Oh, the days it hits 44 degrees C are not days you feel particularly motivated to go for a jog or run errands around town all afternoon, but they’re not days we wish we were dead either. We’ve found tricks and tactics (like in my last post) to deal, but it goes beyond that. We’re actually physically and mentally adapting to the new range.

It is weird to notice that and funny too. This past weekend was cooler than it’s been, lovely and pleasant, nice at night. We were happy and giddy over the comfort and freedom and spent lots of time outside…it was 38 degrees. We’ve completely adjusted our range of what is normal, what is nice, what is hot and what is cool. I first really noticed we had adapted when I caught myself using “only” to describe anything under 40 degrees and not meaning it in jest. Similarly, you stop noticing being sweaty and sticky. You stop describing it as “gross” and, really, just stop describing it at all. You get along with it psychologically so that you do not feeling trapped inside or unable to live life.

I seem to be physically adapting also. The first week back from Nepal was definitely like getting smacked by a truck and I definitely felt my body struggling with the heat and worried about the months of summer left. Sweaty and damp, I didn’t sleep well those first few nights. But that seems to have gone away and I feel fine now, normal. I’m actually sweating less and being bothered less than when I first arrived in India despite it now being much hotter. I’ve even kept my beard and find it OK, maybe because the short hair aids evaporation? Beats me, but it isn’t any more itchy, annoying or damp than the rest of me. I am feeling OK without a/c at home and even no longer feel the need to turn on the fans all the time (although I am thankful we have a/c at work as without any airflow and catching the mid-day sun, the office is truly unbearable without some form of cooling). I am really jazzed about this, all the more because I wasn’t sure how I would do. I do well in the cold – my body generates a lot of heat – but was never as good with wilting heat, so this is a new trick for me.

A year ago, I would have described 38 degrees as killer hot and dreaded a day out in it and today I find it pleasantly cool and a nice respite. I now have a high of 44 degrees in my spread of acceptable temperatures I know I can handle. How cool is that? It is really amazing what you can get used to and how you can redefine your range of comfort.

Life in Chennai #13: Beating the Heat

When I discovered that it was now impossible to get cold or even room-temperature water out of the taps (even the “cold” tap only gives very warm water) I realised that India’s summer, is an entirely unique animal. With temperatures rising weekly well into the 40’s, the summer heat, like everything in India, is not something to be fought and overcome; instead you adapt yourself to it, surrender to it.

Which makes the title actually a bit of a misnomer: because, in truth, there is no way to actually beat the heat in Chennai. It is like the Star Trek Borg: Resistance is Futile. Even the refrigerators have given up and are claiming rights under the Geneva Convention. The only option is to adjust to it and find a way to learn to love it, or at least grin and bear it. And failing, that, make light of it all, ‘cause it ain’t gonna change.

It is a bunch of little changes, new rules of life you have to get used to, that make it funny. Like for example having now to plan to get chocolate – you can no longer just pick one up any ol’ where. If you want to get a chocolate bar to eat at home, you now have to arrange to get it from a store within a few blocks of your house or else it will literally melt into a puddle before you get home and you really have to buy it from a proper supermarket with a/c to even get one that is still solid enough to eat without a straw at all. It is accepting new inconveniences like that the power goes out twice as often these days and that you can really no longer get or buy anything “cold”. The best refrigerators can do is “cool” and with the frequent power cuts, you cannot rely on even that (a major consideration for buying anything perishable). So your chocolate is goo, your juice warm and your shower hot. I don’t even want to talk about ice cream…

So with these funny little things in mind, I’ve been pulling together a list of how to adapt, how you have to adapt to the summer heat in India. Enjoy!

  • Have 3 showers a day. Enjoy your free hot water. I haven’t used the water heater since I’ve been back and don’t expect to for months. On the down side, after a day of work, sweaty and grimy, a solar-heated hot shower isn’t exactly what you were looking for, but that’s just the way it is.

  • Be one with the fishes. The hardest I think to get used to, but the most important to mentally deal with, is that you are wet and dripping with sweat all the time. Day, night, at work, at home. It is truly amazing how much water can come out of your skin with so little work. You’re never dry. I’m about to grow gills. Hopefully it’ll help. I’ll report back.

  • Walk slower. I understand fully now why people move slower in the tropics.
    Drink lots of water. Lots and lots and lots of water. My God! I can’t believe how much water I’m drinking. We’re thirsty all the time, putting back glasses like we’re doing shots.

  • The IV drip backpack. That is the perfect solution to the water and salt intake challenge – just carry around your own personal, portable IV plugged into your arm. This is my grand idea, admittedly potentially born of fever, but I’m convinced it could make me millions on the convenience factor!

  • Get well acquainted with your pharmacist. Talcum powder, prickly heat, fungal cream, rashes, antiseptic ointment, skin care, and things you never had or needed before become everyday occurrences.

  • Dance in the afternoon thunderstorms.

  • Get used to living your entire indoor life under a fan. Sleep under it, eat under it, work under it; it becomes your little column of relative comfort. What is really funny is that I finally understand what paperweights and all those stupid corporate desk objects are actually for and finally find them useful. Everyone at out office needs 3 or 4 or risks losing any paper you inadvertently set down to a jumble throughout the room.

  • Half the expiry date. I don’t care if the milk says “best before” a month from now. Expect that it has been un-refrigerated without power at some point and play it safe. Buy fresh and finish everything in your fridge within the week. It is actually a healthier lifestyle anyway.

  • Wear as little as possible. This is where the Indian custom of modesty and working in an office gets in the way, but at least you can sleep naked.
    Be thankful they don’t report the humidex “with the humidity, it actually feels like…” here. It feels like soup, that is what it feels like. Hot mulligatawny soup. ;-)

  • Be pre-emptive about your body getting worn down. Understand that living and processing is taking more energy than before so minimize how much you stress it. It means being more careful again, considering avoiding street food, juice vendors, tap water and snacks from the wallahs again because the chance of them making you sick is just so much higher these days. I hate this one. I’ve never been good with my own advice and still break this regularly, if perhaps not quite with as much abandon as before.

  • Accept that no matter what you do, you will get sick at some point. It doesn’t matter if you have an iron gut, super immune system or take acidophilus. You are not Superman. The bugs here are stronger and come in so many nice varieties. So accept your mortality.

  • Sit up straight. Seats make your back sticky and wet.

  • Remember that people pay a lot of money at gyms and spas for thing you experience by just going outside. Steam bath, sauna, hot name it. I’ll even buy you a cucumber from the stall down the street to wear on your eyes.
    As it is said in the movie Dogma, “No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater... than central air.” I hate a/c, but it is a very necessary evil.

  • Go on vacation. This is why the British and Moghuls before them built the hill stations. They were onto something. Join the masses of anyone who has the means to get their ass up some elevation. Sadly, I had accomplished this for April, but stupidly came back. Damn do-gooding... ;-)

  • Pray for the cooling monsoon rains to come. Oh, that’s right. Tamil Nadu doesn’t get the summer monsoons. It’ll stay hot through Aug. Oh well. For everyone else in the country, monsoon just started in Kerala. Enjoy the cool…and the floods. Whoever said you could win?

But in all seriousness, know that everyone goes through it with you. Everyone looks a little wilted on those really hot days, everyone crowds around the fans at the restaurant, everyone is damp. So stop whining and learn to love it, or at least laugh at how many silly situations this presents.

For those others that have or are living here, post your tips and your own observations of the silly ridiculous things you have to do to deal. ;-)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Life in Chennai #12: Mango Season

I am in Heaven. The fruit season has changed once again and it is now mango season. Mmmnn, mangos.

Part of the streetscape here is fruit carts lining the roads with whatever is in season. First it was sweet, mini bananas on every corner. You can still get them, but their best days are past. In March it was watermelons, plump green piles and red wedges suddenly everywhere. Sadly, those have passed too, but now,in fully compensation, it is the yellow, green and red-tinge of mangos that colour the carts and shop displays.

I love mangos and am eating as much as I can – so good and so much better than anything you can get in North America. I am also discovering the many types of mangos. There is actually a mango tree just outside my window. I am conspiring on how to get through the bars and reach out far enough to grab some. There is actually a jackfruit tree down the street. I had never seen jackfruit actually on the tree before. They really are giant fruits. I wonder when their season is?


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Travelling #13: Traffic and Travel on the Trails

“You know what, we haven’t seen a single wheel since we arrived,” comments my trekking partner Harsh one day.

And as soon as he pointed that out, I knew he was totally right. In 10 days in the region, the last wheel we saw was on the airplane that dropped us of in Lukla – no wagons, bicycles, cars, trucks, carts or even a hula hoop. In a region dominated by sinuous, deep valleys and sharp peaks, much of the lattice network of “roads” and trails are rough and even the smooth, stone-paved ones have numerous stairs. A wheel, that time-worn invention of convenience, simply does not have a place or advantage in this vertical world.

Instead, due to geography and culture, the region is entirely run on the strength of humans and yaks. Despite the advances in technology, here it still makes sense for the entirety of trade and movement of supplies to be carried out by these twin foundations of the supply chain. Between the two, they carry up everything necessary for villages and for the significantly added needs of the thousands of visiting tourists. Foodstuff and beverages for the guesthouses and homes, gear for the tourists, supplies from detergent to light bulbs, and all building materials get carried up, load by load, up from Lukla or to a lesser degree over the high passes along the ancient trade routes from other valleys and even still from Tibet.

You quickly become part of this arterial flow of goods and people up and down the valleys and passes. They become your traffic on the trail – the honk of horns, grinding of gears and diesel cloud replaced by the tinkle of yak bells, the soft slap of the flat shoes or flip-flops of the porter and the cold, dry air that stings your nose if you breathe in too sharply. It is quiet and it is slow. Everything is measured by where one can walk in a day and no more. That is the world. It is amazing how fast you get used to the pace.

yak train heading to EBCOn the trail, their oncoming presence is always known by the jangle of the bells around their neck. At the villages and settlements, their soothing tinkle provided a constant and pleasant backdrop through the thin walls of the guesthouses and often welcoming you to the morning as your alarm clock as well.

The yak is a foundation of the Himalayan and Tibetan economies. As well as providing a beast of burden for supplies and farming, the provide high-quality milk, meat (usually only when Yaks die naturally, due to Buddhist restrictions on slaughter) and strong, warm wool. For many of the rural, poor and nomadic families, they are their life. I saw this very strongly in Tibet last year, more so than the tourist-modified Khumbu region.

Yak over Khumbu Glacier (c) SriharshaYaks are funny creatures. They are surprisingly docile, not the brightest tools in the shed and have to be the laziest, most distracted beasts of burden imaginable. Big and bulky and with long, pointy horns, you might think they would be aggressive, but truth be told, whether by conditioning, breeding or just plain disposition, yaks are generally quite skittish. The ones on the trail in Nepal were usually reasonably calm or dazed enough, but the ones I saw last year in Tibet would bolt if you looked at them sideways.

Herding yaks down the trail seems like it would be an easy job, what with the yaks doing all the heavy lifting, but it actually looks like a really tiring job as it is quite literally and exactly like the visuals of the expression “herding cats”. They have to be constantly driven at all times to keep them from drifting aimlessly off the trail or in fact to keep them moving at all. They don’t seem too concerned with getting anywhere quickly. Really unconcerned. They plod down the trails in a daze and as slowly as they can get away with. They often have to be kicked into gear by their owners as if they just forgot all of sudden to move. I have not seen one go more than 10 feet without strong encouragement by their drivers via poke, prod, smack or curse. The yaks rarely complain, actually hardly seeming to notice, and continue on with whatever they were doing like someone on a ‘24’ Season 1 DVD marathon. I don’t think they mind the weight on their back. I think it is just that standing and grazing is their natural state of being and moving holds no interest or inspiration for them.

waiting for yaksThe result of this on the trail is that you can find yourself stuck behind one for a while. Since they are big, bulky creatures who obviously do not know how to go single file or pick a lane, despite their non-aggressive nature they naturally get right-of-way on the Khumbu highway system. This is fine if you’re approaching them, as you can simple step off the trail and let them pass with a smile and a “Namaste!” to their drivers, but if you come up behind one going the same way, it can be quite some time before you can manage to pass. Resigned to their pace and how much work it is to get the yaks moving in a semblance of a straight line, the drivers cannot afford to aid the passing of every trekker or porter. So you wait and find a passing lane as you can. On the plus side though, when you’re going uphill, the forced slower pace can be a nice excuse to snap some pics.

At narrow points and bridges though, opposing directions of yaks and people can get bunched up and stuck, a “yak jam” (which is not something you spread on toast). You just have to chuckle at it all and wait your turn as the drivers wearily, but good-naturedly coerce a placidly unhelpful group of large animals to negotiate whatever twist, obstacle, bridge or blockage has them stopped and milling again. Ah, the funny things that become your world on the trail.

In truth, I should say that many of the yaks we encountered on the trails are not proper yaks at all, but are actually crossbreeds. In the lower regions, the cross-breeds are actually the more common and trekking, you won’t likely see a real yak for several days. The name pedagogy is rather complicated depending on what type of crossbreed it is (yak-cow, cow-yak, male or female offspring) and the language (Nepali, Sherpa, Tibetan)so I won’t try to sketch it out, but they are variously called Dzomo, Dzo, Dzopko, Dzopkia, Mdzo-mo, or Dzum. So in the southern regions, most of the “yak” caravans were actually Dzopkia whereas higher up, we encountered more full-blooded yaks better suited for the cooler temperatures and thinner air. The crossbreeds have much shorter hair and are generally smaller whereas the full-blood yaks look more like big, walking carpets.

By far more numerous on the trails than the yaks and responsible for the lions share of the goods transport are the porters.

Typical Porter Load (c) SriharshaA porter will carry on average anywhere from 30 kg to a whopping 80 kg of weight and rumours swirled that they would cart as high as 100 kilos when building materials needed to be moved. And all this weight is carried fully off a strap across their forehead. Yes, their forehead. Strong backs and strong spines these men and women have. Most items are carried in V-shaped wicker baskets piled increasingly high and strapped down firmly to ensure it is balanced and doesn’t slip, often towering above their heads. When portering for tourist groups, they will take your heavy duffle back or pack, tightly tie it to 2 or even 3 others into a bulky rectangle, add something else on the top and then hang it off their foreheads. And off they go, slow and steady. Or sometimes not even that slow. The tourist porters often went quite slow since they had a closer destination to go to and very likely all day to reach it, but those carrying supplies to the distant villages would sometimes pass you at a good, solid pace as they carried 50 kg or more a distance in a day you planned to do in 3. Humbling to say the least.

Group of porters (c) ShriharshaOften however, you’d also pass groups of porters going really slow up the steeper stretches, taking a break every 5 minutes to rest and you can tell they are carrying a really tough load, even for them. The worst we saw were the guys carrying the plywood wall panels. All the guesthouses are built of them – thin, completely un-insulated, but I suppose the lightest wall material they could use. But light as they individually are, those panels, in stacks of 5 or 6 panels of 5x10 each has to be laboriously carried up, balanced on the back, over the rough trails, stairs, rocks and dust by a small, determined army.

porter carrying his heavy loadSimilar to the yaks, these heavily-laden people go at their own pace and their own path, taking the route of least resistance, whatever that appears to be to them. With head down they may not see you until a step or 2 away and even if they do, conserving momentum and concentration, they have to just keep moving. So like with yaks, as the more nimble and lighter on the road, you have to do the dodging or just step to the side and let them all truck by.

The need for breaks to take the weight off has let to a series of interesting innovations though. The porters with baskets use this waist-high walking stick with a T cross on top, which is sized to perfectly fit underneath the basket, so when they need a break, they just slip it under their back and stand there with the load off. Brilliant! For those without this option, you quickly notice benches and conveniently cleared flat boulders purposely laid all along the trail for the porters to rest on. Coming across a nice bench in a village didn’t seem that unusual, but discovering them out cut into some random hill miles from anywhere seemed odd at first. Places to get water too are similarly laid out. The entire community is structured around the needs of the transport system, as you would expect of course thinking about it. It is just that it is different and unusual at first.

The other thing you quickly note is the footwear most of the porters are using or the lack thereof. The most popular seemed to be basic flat sneakers with the second being flip flops. Yes, they carry giant weights up trails and over snowy passes in flip flops. At least they don’t seem to often go barefoot these days although I did see a couple examples of porters in the snow without socks. Some, often the tourist porters and those part of organised group tours where more money gets circulated, have runners or trail shoes, probably the most useful. Very few wear solid hiking boots, but if your ankles are strong enough, the cushioned and less stiff shoes are probably the more comfortable option.

So these were our traffic, our companions and our amusement on the trail every day. By hoof or flip-flop we saw our rice and macaroni, our treats of coke, beer and chocolate, our walls and mattress, our cooking gas and, for many trekkers, their packs, gear and supplies slowly work its way up beside us. Everest Base Camp had a constant train heading up and down to feed its temporary village of canvas and tent.

A whole world at walking pace. And no wheels for more than 2 weeks. It was wonderfully refreshing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Travelling #12: What’s in a Name?

Harsh and I are sitting in the common room of our guesthouse poring over the trekking map in front of us. On it are strange and exotic names that are gaining comfort on our tongues and are becoming attached to real places and things on our journey. We revel in our new knowledge; discussing with fellow travellers of going to Loboche versus Dzongla or whether we can see Makalu from Kala Pattar becomes as normal as discussing London or Central Park. Here in this world of valleys and villages, they are normal, everyday parts of our lives.

As we gain comfort in the sounds and meanings of the Sherpa, Nepali and Tibetan names, these words on the map become things of substance, framing our journey, demarking our time and enriching our stories. They become our map.

The blank edges of the map of our mind quickly gets filled. “Lake” becomes “Tso” and "Pass becomes “La”, giving a picture to the Cho La we are to cross in several days. “Tse” or “Ri”, meaning peak/mountain, becomes synonymous with high places such as Cholatse and Pumori. And to make matters easier, as is common with English names, many mountains, ridges and features use the cardinal coordinates or other physical things in their name. “Lho” is south, “Nup” is west, “Shar” is east and “Chang” is north. So the famous towering mountains we see surrounding Mt. Everest, 8501m Lhotse and 7861m Nuptse, simply become “South Mountain” and “West Mountain” respectively. I’ll let you figure out what the mountain Changtse translates as.

Mount Everest itself has many names by many peoples: Chomolungma, meaning “Mother of the Universe”; to the Tibetans, Sagamartha, meaning “Head of the Sky,” to the Nepali. The Chinese call it Zhūmùlǎngmǎ.

As we travel, our guide fills us in on the meaning of other words and names that add clarity to our travels. The Dudh Koshi river is called that because “Dudh” means milk and its glacier-fed waters are a milky-white; the village of Phortse Tenga is called that because “Tenga” means rapids, in similar fashion to the US and Canadian co-towns Niagara Falls; and the famous lookout you will climb if you do the trek, Kala Pattar, means “black rock” for reasons obvious when you see it.

From all this, the place we were in has meaning, a new language to annotate and describe it with. We climb Gokyo Ri and later over the Cho La. From Island Peak I look down at the ice-covered Imja Tse and up at Lhotse Shar towering above me. We pass Buddhist chortens and stupas on the trail, knowing we are to pass on their left. We debate with new friends whether the mountain in a photo is Cholatse or Arakam Tse. We meet travellers coming up from Pangboche or down from Locboche and know where those are.

I brought home my map as a precious souvenir from the trip, awash in all these names and many more. Places that now have meaning and memory and stories of my own. As I spin tales of my wanders and pokes through this area, these will be my narration.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Travelling: Nepal Pics are Up

OK, so I've gotten my Nepal pics sorted, culled down and posted up on Flickr, so check them out.


For those who have trouble with Flickr due to slow connections, I'm going to try to post a couple photoblog series here, but in the mean time, here are a couple shots to whet your appetite...

Prayer flag pole with Lhotse and Everest 8000ers Lhotse and a shrouded Mt Everest behind a prayer flag pole at Tengboche Monastery.

Prayer flags over Swayambunath (Monkey) TempleStrings of prayer flags overtop the Buddhist Swayambunath Stupa in Kathmandu.

Sadhus at Pashupatinath Temple Two brightly coloured sadhus posing at the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.

Me on Gokyo Ri Me on top of 5360m Gokyo Ri in front of the 8201m Cho Oyu.

Silhouetted group leaving Dzongla Silhouette of another trekking group leaving Dzongla in front of Ama Dablam.

Me on Island Peak summit Me on top of 6189m Island Peak with giant Lhotse (8516m) towering behind.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Travellering #11: My Favourite Haunts in Kathmandu

As I was asked by someone the other day a recommendation of a place to go in Kathmandu, I thought I might as well post a list of my favourite spots and endorsements…

My Favourite Spots in the Thamel district, Kathmandu
(in no particular order…)

- Helena's restaurant for it's 5th floor rooftop patio where you can order chai and look out over the city...
- The New Orleans Cafe for its pretty courtyard and good coffee and food...
- The Organic Cafe for its excellent fresh and healthy salads...
- The Full Moon Café (bar) for live jazz Thursday nights, casual cushion seating and a fun, mixed crowd (I was becoming a regular there, see post!)...
- Fire and Ice restaurant for their excellent pizzas...
- KToo restaurant is good for steaks if you're hankering for one...
- My favourite Internet café was the large one next door to the Full Moon Café because it was large (always a computer available), cheap and the connection seemed the most reliable...

- I stayed at the Potala Guesthouse for $8 USD a night for a single room (double bed) with attached, private bathroom. You can get cheaper and you can get more expensive of course so it pays to look around. The doubles were $10 USD, which was a fine deal I thought. I liked the place and the staff was friendly and relaxed. I did not however, really care for their restaurant.

And I like all the restaurants when the power goes out as they've got candles everywhere. It adds atmosphere and many were actually nicer and cooler that way than with the lights on. It would be great for a romantic date actually!

As well as the often unplanned ones, the district apparently has regular “load shedding” outages every Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons from 4 (or 5?) to 8pm (it was like clockwork) so you could actually time a date to one. I’m serious.

I cannot easily tell you, however, how to get to any of these places without you being there and knowing a little of the streets. Most of my directions by necessity will be based on landmarks such as “go right up the street from the Kathmandu Guesthouse” or “it’s right across from the North Face Official Store” (Fire and Ice). Just the way it is in the twisting streets and alleys of Thamel. If you're in town and can't find a place, let me know and we'll find a system that works for both of us. ;-)

Where are your favourite haunts? Did I forget or miss a great place? Add your comments. I’ll check them out next time I’m there.

My Endorsement of my Trekking Agency:
If you are interested in trekking or other recreation activities, as I posted before, I unconditionally recommend the agent and guide I had. They were excellent, helpful, easy going and good natured. I would (and probably will) use them again so I recommend them to anyone.

Puru the guide manager who co-ordinated the whole trek was flawless in planning and executing the trek and did an excellent job in hosting us for the whole time we were in Nepal. And Mr Shreeram Adhikari, our excellent guide, was such fun to trek with and highly knowledgeable of the local terrain. We could not have had a better person take us around this beautiful country. You can reach Puru or Shreeram at their mail ID given below:

Puru – tpurushotam {at}
Shreeram - shreeram20 {at}
And the company website:

Happy travels and if you’re there, have an Everest beer for me!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Travelling #10: Homecoming to Chennai

I’m home. And sweating.

It is 38 degrees and 95% humidity. I think with the population of 7 million sweating, we must be pushing it up to 100. I shouldn’t whine though. Actually, outside, with a breeze, it isn’t too bad in the shade if you’re stationary. But I’m at work and the power is out, so no a/c, no fans and no breeze, where I’m sweating just thinking (with an obvious solution therefore presented). Ah India, welcoming me home! A week ago I was standing above 6000m with a bitingly dry wind at -15 and now here I am at sea level, 95% humidity and pushing 40 degrees. Quite the change.

I realise that I have slowly lost some of my adaptations and resistances while away. I am finding it will be a few days before that slight fraying of nerves at the constant chaos and bump of bodies goes away. But I smile at the remembered charms I always liked. I missed the bumblebee-coloured rickshaws and I missed my masala dosa. I missed good Indian chai as the touristy places in Thamel in Kathmandu were hit and miss with it (I blame the indiscriminating tourists). I missed my housemates and our lovely maid, who was apparently quite upset Monday morning when she discovered I hadn’t arrived on Sunday as planned and worried I was lost (so nice!). I missed the wallahs everywhere and I missed the lushness of Chennai – say what you will about its grime and dirtiness, it is at least a very green city with palm trees and flowering plants everywhere. I sit eagerly staring out of the auto on the way to work soaking it all back in.

So it is back to India for another 6 months and back to re-start my project. It has been nice to be off travelling and trekking and meeting people (and I promise to get more stories up on that soon), but it is also exciting to be getting back to work and back to doing what I’ve set my career as doing. I’m excited to restart the learning curve 2.0 and to start Tamil lessons (supposed to have been arranged while I was away, fingers crossed). After 6 months, who knows – my visa lets me stay here until mid-October when I may be doing this all again... We’ll see.

Travelling # 9: Ah, India, I Love Ya…

The waiter has just convinced me to have a second beer. Apparently they just got in a new batch of “chilled” bottles. That is enough to sway me from my requested coffee under the logic that the coffee can still be had after. Although I don’t really intend on to drink it fast enough to take advantage of its refrigerated state, a cold beer sounds nice. “Cold” is a relative term because in India, nothing is every really refrigerated to the state of cold. It really is only possible to get something mildly cool. So I drink my mildly cool beer and rapidly melting ice cream. I’m treating myself.

It has been a long day and it’s not over yet. It is 2am Sunday night (and 28 degrees outside) and I’m at the Delhi Airport 24h restaurant hanging out because it gives me something to do other than doze unsuccessfully in the transit lounge. I’ve got until 4am before I change to the domestic terminal and start to check-in with my new ticket reservation. As there was not one at the airport, it did not make sense to get and pay for a hotel room for less than 4 hours of sleep so I am stuck practicing my patience.

My flight was delayed from landing because of “weather and air traffic” at Delhi International for long enough that we had to divert to an alternate airport and refuel before rejoining the queue. So we landed 4h late and I missed my connection to Chennai. Not being another that night, here I am stuck until morning. Maybe it was because the new Airbus A380, the new Super-Jumbo, had landed touring the airport, but that would be a rather ironic. I think the airport was just behind because it gets that way.

I’m not down 5 minutes when I know unmistakeably I’m back in India. India is unlike anywhere else and it reminds you of that from the moment you land. Whether it is the pushing and hurrying to get through any line or off the plane to the colourful accents and friendly smiles whiling doing so, India immediately welcomes me back with all her charms. We get off the plane to heat a good 15 degrees hotter than when I got on. On the tram from the plane a man obliviously stands close enough to me to be a blanket despite there being a large space in front of him. I smile to myself: lack of personal space – check! Standing in line at customs a different man crams up so close behind me he could rest his chin on my shoulder: do not queue except by sheer force – check!

I track down the Air Sahara desk and start the laborious process and negotiation to get put on another flight. It is not that they are unhelpful or unwilling per se to get me a new ticket, it is more that unless I force them, their goal is to avoid the hassle and not to do anything. Indian bureaucracy is amazing at giving the air of being really, really busy and making you feel like you are asking the world when you are only asking what is normal. Sometimes you’ll get that “tisk” suffering-style air, often they’ll happily and cheerfully help you do something, anything else other than get what you want, but in either case, they through years of training and upbringing, make it as difficult as possible. Thankfully I got the cheery types.

The first guy usefully concludes after I explain my situation and showing him my ticket, “you missed your flight.” Yes. I know this. That is why I’m here. I need a new flight I explain. Hmmn, he ponders, giving the impression I’ve asked him something odd he is not qualified for (which is ridiculous, this being the “Help and Reservation” desk).

There is a short diversion where they helpfully almost get me to go to the domestic terminal (and hence become someone else’s problem) and I have to come back. They use the other classic tactic of suddenly creating a “hurry, hurry” rush where they indicate that if I get to the domestic terminal quickly, something miraculous might happen. I nearly fall for it, but come to my senses before getting a taxi there (Rs 100) when I ask if there are actually any flights tonight I should be hurrying for (No).

Eventually, and still very nicely, between 3 of them, they start to help. I’m asked to wait and my practiced, Indian-honed patience is put back to the test. I can do this. I’ve already survived 5 months and the visa process. These things happen, flights get delayed all the time everywhere, but these guys make it as painfully slow a process as possible.

3 hours later (4 since I landed), I’ve got a new reservation, but still no ticket. Apparently the computers were down for a while and they had to call Mumbai to arrange it. They can’t print a ticket, but assure me I can get one at the domestic counter when I arrive. I’m dubious, but this is the best I can do and they are closing as it is midnight. So I’ve got 4 hours to kill. Yeah for the 24h restaurant instead of the lounge.

Up in the restaurant, I pull of my shoes (the flip flops were the lighter to pack) and settle into a reasonably comfortable seat-couch with my ipod and snacks: little joys of coffee, 2 beers, lamb curry, French fries and ice cream.

4am I catch the shuttle to the domestic. I get bumped through 4 windows and 2 airlines (my original flights were on Air Sahara, but my new one is on Jet Airways, apparently now the same company) before finding myself in front of a senior man who’s name I’ve got written on my well-marked up e-ticket paper who apparently can endorse my ticket. I was getting nervous with all the passing of the buck (and hate being that buck), but despite a fair bit of travel from one side of the airport to the other, it hasn’t taken that long (they were at least efficient at passing the buck…). The man, with a long queue in front of him endorses it with a minimal of story and I apparently can now check in with this. OK. I’ll try it. But my luck holds and I don’t have much trouble at the desk and with a boarding pass in hand, I nearly run to the security before someone changes their mind. The Indian way of doing things, with a hierarchical ultimate decision-maker rather than any sort of efficient and transparent system, always leaves you uncertain, but does eventually work if you’re persistent, friendly and persistent…

One of the bizarre thing about South Asian airports is the security checks – they are both annoyingly numerous and worrying inconsistent. First you have to submit your bag through an x-ray machine to even get into the airport and an assault-rifle armed security guard sternly inspects your ticket. None of the staff appear to be monitoring the x-ray machine closely or have time to spot much before they are through, but benefit of the doubt I suppose. They then tie or wrap or sticker your luggage indicating that it has been scanned. The idea is that you now cannot open it without ruining the marking, but this only works for normal suitcases. Bags, backpacks and odd-shaped parcels with their multiple openings totally blow this measure. My trekking partner Harsh for example went the whole trek with the “security scanned” wrapping on his backpack without it doing any measurable inconvenience to him loading and unloading its contents. Oh well.

You next go through the normal security screen except they don’t seem to use the metal scanners they’ve got, rather manually wanding every passenger. At the Kathmandu airport they open and inspect everyone’s carry-on baggage manually despite having x-rayed it (now twice). So what was the point of the x-ray? He pulls everything out of my backpack and shoves it back making me thankful I didn’t bring back any fragile gifts. They stamp the sticker on your bag to say they have been scanned. This is checked several times. Then the Kathmandu airport outdoes it all when at the stairway to the plane, the airline now repeats the scanning and bag inspecting process. Where do they think we all came from? We only just got through the security into the small waiting lounge! I shudder to think the security is that lax that they need to inspect everyone again so soon. But inspect they do and again my bag, like everyone’s is dug through and emptied. At least at every checkpoint I get a compliment on my hat, racking up another 7 between Kathmandu and Chennai. Such is travel these days. Gotta smile. At least the meals were decent, so there’s one up over the Canadian carriers.

Homeward bound, albeit a little slower than hoped, but I make it. India ho!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Trekking in the Sagamartha Region # 1: Our Flight

We had to start the trek with a little excitement. Up at 4am for a 6:30am flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. No problem. But then the guy who was supposed to pick us for the airport up doesn’t show. So we’re a little behind, but OK – taxis are outside and at this time in the morning, it is a fast route to the airport. Then disaster strikes: I’ve left my cowboy hat, my prided Lhasa hat, is the hotel lobby. I brought it specifically for the trekking and high-altitude UV and I very childishly just really want it. So snap decision: I’m going to try to go back for it. It’s 5:40 exactly for a 6:30 flight…15 minuts trip each way, but the driver assures me we can do it in 10. Plenty of time! So I’m going to risk it and go back for it. Silly of course, illogical and risky, but there it is. I believe I can make it so I am going to try.

With extensive bullying of his horn, generous use of back-alleys and speeds of the type my parents surely do not want to know about (the driving really doesn’t bother me, an adaptation from having been in India), we make it true to his word: round trip in 22 minutes exact. Back at the airport 6:02. No problem! We had plenty of time. This isn’t exactly an international flight. Whew! First adventure over and hopefully our last real gaff.

The 25 minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is great. An 18-seater, we each get a window. The flight is, in a couple words, casual and dramatic. If you have one of those ingrained fears of flying, then you might find this a bad experience, but luckily not being afflicted with such things, I thought it was great fun. The security check is very limited. We are not assigned seats, but each stoop and wander up the aisle in whatever order we enter. They pile any excess bags loose in the back and the plane starts down the runway as soon as the door is closed. There is no, fasten seatbelt notice, no captain's reassuring message or pre-recorded safety announcement mimed by the smiling air stewards. Instead, the pre-flight checklist consisted of the stewardess handing out candies to suck on and cotton balls to put in your ears (or the reverse, according to your tastes). They trust you to buckle your own seatbelt (or not, according to your tastes). And we’re off just like that.

Looking through the windows at the mountains you can imagine why they might not bother with safety checklists: given the proximity of the surrounding mountains and our height off the valley floor at times, we don’t have far to crash. We fly through clouds much of the way, but as we enter the Solukhumbu region, it clears and there to our left are the mountains, above us and shocking close off our port wing. It is a very odd, but very cool feeling flying through a valley looking out at someone’s house at eye level as if you’re in a bus driving by, rocky pinnacles above you and heavily terraced hill-fields below. We’re all glued to the windows. Then there is a gasp through the plane and everyone on the port side flumbles for their cameras. Rising like iceburgs above the sea of peaks are our first glimpses of the Himalayan giants, all white and gleaming. We’d come to know their beauty well, but here they were like mirages, so amazingly taller than anything else we'd seen.

Lukla AirportLukla appears in front of us, amazing nestled on a step of the valley backed by a headwall of peaks. Looking out the front windshield, we approach the town head on rather than from above and that plays havoc with my perception of what a normal landing should look like. The runway is short, uphill and backed by a natural rock wall, an emergency braking aid I assume. Not for the feint of heart or those with overactive imaginations. But the landing is super-smooth and at the low speed approach and uphill assist, we slow and are parked and out of the jet in 2 minutes flat. Literally in the time we take a couple pics of the airport and our new home for 2 weeks, we’ve got our packs, our guide has met us and we’re good to go. Oh if all flights were this easy!

Things are working out fine. My trekking partner, Harsh and I get along well and have a fair bit in common. He and I met over the Internet (I know, sounds like I’m introducing my date) on the Thorntree forum. He’s a native from Bangalore, not too far from me, so we chatted and figured we could trek together. He’s easy going too and loves photography. I covet his nice digital SLR camera. It doesn't however "accidently" find its way into my stuff over the trip. Our guide, Shreeram (sometimes ‘Shree’, but usually ‘Ram’ for short), is also easy going, smiles easily and tends to break into singing with little provocation. He likes his work, meeting all sorts of people and impressively speaks about 6 languages and can exchange pleasantries in several more. He was the chatty guide among those we met, always asking questions, joking or helping anyone in the guesthouses we stayed at. I also really liked that whenever we happened upon a good vista or the clouds rolled back to display a hidden wonder, he would exclaim, “wow!” displaying his love for the beauty despite having seen it all dozens of times. He carries about 1/3 of Harsh’s gear plus his minimal baggage, but I don’t bother. I’m already nicely packed and am fine with the weight, light compared with what I’ve often carried (no tent, minimal water, no food, no skis, no heavy crampons, ice axe or rope).

I’m happy with our setup of having a guide rather than or as well as a porter where we’re a team, not a tour group. Makes us more actively involved in the trip and of course, for me, a little hard work is part of the experience and value. As much as I know it helps the local economy, I cannot be comfortable with someone carrying what I can carry, my own cultural upbringing and a key component of my enjoyment, so having a guide is a nice balance. And Shreeram is a pleasure and improves our interaction with the locals and region so it works out great. I champion that everyone has their own strengths, abilities, desires for comfort and tolerances so don’t let me stop you from hiring a porter or 6 or going it cheap and just trekking without anyone – to each their own – but the guide route is my recommendation. I’m happy to provide contact info for the Agent, Puru, in Kathmandu as I highly recommend him and our guide Ram as top.

First trek view from LuklaGetting off the plane, putting on the familiar weight of the backpack, breathing in the dry, pure air, I am immediately struck with the feeling of home and contentment. I love the mountains – they are truly in my bones and soul. The scrubby, rocky, treed and alpine landscapes before us remind me strongly of Tibet and BC’s drier Interior (e.g. Lillooet and Chilcotin regions) and I have wonderful memories of both. Every range is different, yet all high and remote places share a sense that they are so much greater and larger than we are, that we are privileged to be able to share the space so close to the sky.

Here we are, Harsh and I grin together: Sagamartha National Park, the Solukhumbu Distict, the Everest Region. Call it what you will. We’ll be calling it home for the next 2 weeks. Uphill we go!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Travelling #8: Renewing my Indian Visa

Although I mentioned my time spent at the Indian Consulate in a previous post, I wanted to more fully recount the process and experience for your enjoyment and for anyone's future use.

Ultimate Lesson: Applying for an Indian visa takes plenty of patience.

This is good practice and warning of course for anyone planning to travel to India as doing much of anything official in India in general takes a good deal of patience.

The process is relatively straight forward actually, just slow.

First Visit:
You arrive the first day and fill out and submit a telex form to be sent to your home country consulate for a security check. The office is open from 9-12. Get there early. Like an hour early before opening. After poking around getting going that first morning, I arrived 20 minutes before opening and the line was already 40+ people long. So you get there, join the queue and that is your life for the first morning. You won't likely get out of there before noon.

Technically the window closes at noon, but they may stay open later to clear the queue (since tomorrow a whole new group will arrive, just compounding the problem). Don't count on it though - I've heard both stories.

On the plus side, if you're chatting and friendly, you've got lots of time to meet fellow travellers in line, all wrying, patiently or frustratingly in the same boat. Half the line will be first-timers like you, the other half are on the second pick-up trip. You can tell which are which because the seasoned queuers have brought snacks, water and books.

So we wait and we wait. Not so bad really, nice people, but it kills much of a day. I amusingly note a few travelers hurrying to get and fill in their telex form. They are either not understanding the pace of this line or are overly optimistic. I suspect they have not been to India before. We fill out the form at our leisure, 10 minutes of doing something in 4 hours of waiting.

I meet a cool girl Aussie girl with the very Indian name Citra, who I end up hanging out with for much of the remainder of my time in Kathmandu and a British mountain bike guide in Kerala named Mike. People from all walks of life. Many of us are returning to India.

I should note for anyone using this account: there are reports of the Kathmandu consulate not always accepting visa renewals. Sri Lanka and Bangkok are known to be much easier places for renewing visas. But that said, no one in our weekly queue had any problems and there were many people like me going or back-to-back visas. I did not get asked any questions or had comments or warnings made. I just handed in the forms and got the visa back. So that was my experience. Take the advice as you will.

The two of us get up there just shy of noon, handing in the telex form & being given a receipt (do not lose this for any reason) and a visa form to bring back next time.

The telex costs NRs (Nepali Rupee) 300. Bring exact change! Let me repeat that. Bring exact change! The telex officer may refuse to process your request if you don't. He just says, "find change in the group. Next" 3 of us managed to combine for NRs 900 so that he only had to issue NRs 100 change for 3 people and that seemed acceptable to him. But heed my warning. When we left, at 5 minutes to noon there were some people still frantically trying to work out the small bills.

Another point to note: how long they'll tell you to return to pick up your telex form. The officer will just give you a slip with a date on it. This is usually 3-5 working days. I think everyone in our cohort were getting 3 days. But the office is not open on the weekend, so if you submit your telex on Tuesday like I did, I got my visa by Friday, only a 3-day period, but if you submit on Wednesday, you'll get Monday at the earlier and may get a 5-day wait so a full week. So plan for a week. Do not make travel plans, buy tickets etc. You can try to use these excuses, like, "I need to fly out xx day so can I please have it by then," but they may not care. Don't count on it and remember that is is people like you that is making the line so slow moving for everyone else.
We take off for some chai and lunch, resolving to come earlier and bring more provisions next time. Seriously though, the consulate should install a chai stand and snack counter and they'd make a fortune. There is a small cafe positioned outside the gate though that does very well as they have a guaranteed crowd every morning sharp. Smart.

Second Visit:
So 3 days later, Friday morning, we return, earlier this time (just after 8), but still in the middle of the pack. We are better provisioned. I've brought bakery goods for breakfast, water, a book and of course I now know half the line from Tuesday. We all joke at our common return to the line.

And again we wait in line all morning. Common theme. I'm OK with it though; I planned my week around it.

Bring your completed visa form, NRs 3050 (again exact change) and 2 passport photos (they only needed one, but ask for 2, so don't risk it).

There is supposed to be 2 lines, 1 for telex forms submission and 1 for pick-up, but that, in our experience, broke down into one common line so you can't cut it.

We get out telex back by 11:30 and joined the next line to submit our forms. We're getting antsy about missing the noon close. Thankfully the generous Consulate Staff of the second window stayed open to clear all the visa submissions. We got through by 12:10 with a long line behind us still.

You can shorten this wait for everyone if you don't ask a ton of very simply answered questions: tourist visas for most every nationality is 6-months. No exceptions. If you are a UK or US resident who I hear can get longer visas, you cannot do it in Kathmandu so don't ask. You can only get those long visas at home. So don't try. Transit visas are 15 days. All visas are valid and active from date of application, not entry. So if you want a full 6-months, you need to wait to very close to your departure date. So me for example, I lose 3 weeks because I applied before my trek. That's the deal. No way around it. If you want one of the other visa types (work, student, etc.), those take a lot of paperwork and time and I have not idea of that process. Don't just show up and try for one, these take pre-planning and research.

Third Visit:
Citra and I again go for lunch and hang out for a few hours, then it is back to the Consulate for visit #3 at 4:30 (arrive by 4) to pick up the visa and your passport. It takes at least an hour for no good reason. By this time, we're old friends with our group. And we leave with a shiny new Indian visa is our passports. We're successful! And I've gotten through in time to start my trek as scheduled.

Total time spend at the Consulate: 9 hours.

They should just install a guesthouse there so we can just live there and not bother walking to and from each time!

So that was a good part of my first week in Kathmandu, twiddling my thumbs. Funny little world.

Hopes this helps someone negotiate the process easily and in good spirits!

Travelling #7: A Place to Hang Out

[Note: I didn't like the flow (or the grammer mistakes) of this one that well so I've edited it. Sorry to the purists.]

"I'll meet you at the Full-Moon Cafe later"

"Full Moon"
"Blue Moon"
"Half Moon"
"New Moon...? "

"Geez...It it's one of those anyway... you'll find it. It is next door and upstairs to the big Internet cafe just up from the Kathmandu Guesthouse (a major landmark)" "Ask around if you have any trouble"

"Meet you there at 8pm. "
"See you around 9pm..."
"We'll be there any time after 8:30pm..."

It is properly the Full Moon Cafe and has quickly become my semi-regular place to hang-out and have a couple beers. It is funny how nice it is to have "a place" you feel at ease and how quickly you can fall into one.

I really like the place. It is a very relaxed atmosphere, raised cushion seating and on Thursdays has a quite excellent live jazz band.

I don't know why sitting on cushions on the floor hasn't made the sell across the ocean in North America. It is so luxurious and comfortable. Everyone I meet in Asia loves the relaxed and casual feel of eating or drinking lounging on cushions on the floor. In India, Thailand, here in Nepal, people of all walks of life seem happy to fold their legs or stretch out and do it, chatting and laughing comfortably at ground level. So why have so few thought of it back home? Hmmn, maybe a business opportunity to file away. Feel free to steal it. I don't care if I make money on it or not, I just want it available. Especially for live music, if you're not standing at a concert, second best is in a concerted lounge position. Think of how nice it is sitting on the grass for summer festivals. It also promotes easy mixing as the tables and seating are not so regimented.

My first foray to the joint was 3 weeks ago before I left for my trek. I was emailing at the Internet cafe. I was alone at that point, my trekking partner not having arrived yet and I had not yet build a crew. Getting out of there I was thinking of finding a place to sit and chill for a couple hours. Wandering out the door to the street I can hear some sweet jazz emanating from the 2nd floor of the next building. Whew, that was a hard & long search. Up I go. Live music, especially decent jazz, is not to be passed up.

The place is small and L-shaped with all the seating on raised, cushioned platforms. I ask a couple in the corner if I can claim a space beside them, kick off my flip flops and settle in with my back nicely wedged in the crease of the bamboo wall paneling and an Everest beer within reach. Nice life.

I doubt Kathmandu is on the International Jazz Circuit, but the boys are pretty good, better than I would have expected. They played an hour and a half set straight (and in typical jazz format this was about 5 "songs") and started up again after only a 15 minute break for refreshment. Cool crowd. Not nearly as busy as I expected. It is not a large place. Mostly locals and people in the know it appears. I can't figure why more tourists don't wander in like I did. Did they not hear the music from the street? It isn't like most of us have any place to be. But who knows, maybe Shakira is playing down the street and I'm missing it. For me, coming from 5 months in Chennai (John McLaughlin excepted) this atmosphere and a place to hang out is bliss.
I make a mental "wish you were here" list of people I know who would really dig the scene.

Comfortably settled against the wall, I am in a very relaxed mood and I draw inward with the music and just chill. And in many occasions, that would be the end of the story: I enjoy the night and the vibe, but struggle with feeling isolated - like there's walls between us - and go home at the end of the night, satisfied, but not quite. But that isn't the story tonight.

I run through the Spanish girl sitting beside me with little rapport and then a pair of Israelis before eventually shifting over to join a couple I had been exchanging grins and laughs with the enxt table over (who were Filipino and not a couple, but I didn't know that then). We chat for a bit, listen to some more music and then somewhere along the way I found myself in the circle of the local crowd like we were all old friends. The Nepali are warm people and treat well anyone one who is open and friendly. They seem happy to include me. One offers me half his sub the restaurant staff went and got for them. I'm the Ferengi dancing unabashedly with the locals to the dance-ish music once the band quit. Many songs, laughs, stories and an extraneous couple beers later, I wander down the street puzzled as I regularly am about how this process all came about and how these things just happen somehow when you're not searching for them.

It is a funny thing. I count myself as a generally shy person, not the first to wander up to a group I don't know and strike up a conversation or hold everyone's attention as I entertain. I find cliques of chatting people intimidating (although here, like most traveling, you have to remember that most groups of seemingly close "friends" are likely only an hour old, but more on that later). And so I regularly feel isolated in an unfamiliar place. And of course sometimes you make connections, sometimes you don't. But though I find it hard to actively meet people, somwhere along the way I often do. It is a juxtaposition that I don't know how to make them happen, but they happen more often than not. Beats me how this juxtaposition fits together, but I thought I'd share it. I think partly is that I'm scared of openings, breaking the ice as they say, but once it is broken or in situations where you don't have to formally break it, I seem to be a naturally good skater/swimmer from there. So maybe if that is the explanation, it is not so mysterious. But then, I've long ago learned I do better, as most of us do, when I just be and not worry and over-think too much.

Anyway, back to my story,...the gate to my guesthouse is, unsurprisingly, locked when I arrive and I can't see a buzzer. Hmmn kink in my plan (what plan? I didn't get 10 feet from the Internet cafe before getting distracted for the night!). Thankfully after pondering my options for a minute, a woman cooking in a stall across the street points out the obscure bell toggle behind the pillar. Oh yes, cream toggle on a dingy, ivory night. Silly of me to miss it. I worry briefly about getting hassle from the watchman as I don't know if they have curfew rules, but after chummily watching a cricket world cup match with the night staff last night, they just smile and usher me in warmly when I ring the bell.

So from there the Full Moon Cafe became a convenient and relaxed place to suggest as a meeting place. Citra, Mike, Raz and I meet up there before heading out for New Years. When my trekking partner Harsh arrives from Bangalore, we chat about our plans there over a couple drinks.

Now that I'm back from trekking, with a new crew met along the way, it again becomes a natural place to while away a few hours.

Last night Adrian (UK) and I were looking for a place for a drink after dinner and again we caught the music from the street. Ah, it is Thursday again (dates and days of the week hold very little attention when you're travelling) and the jazz band is playing again. Well, can't pass that up so up we go. It is similarly quiet for the jazz sets, playing to 10:30. We make friends with the others sitting in our half of the "L", some really nice people with the usual global spread: a couple from the UK, a German guy and Dutch girl, a couple German girls. My Filipino friends are there too and I happily catch up with them. After the band, the dance music cuts in and, as before, dancing starts, this time with a stronger contingent of our foreigner contingent. The place gets really busy and our "fun half" of the "L" becomes a full-fledged dance zone. Most everyone is up at least part of the time. More people join.

This is where I get a good, quick lesson in remembering to not be intimidated by groups of travellers who seem to be close friends and having a private riot amongst themselves. Partway through the evening, a newer joiner to our little dance party asks me how we all know each other, indicting the crew behind me of people laughing, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, calling out back and forth between the tables. I chuckle, looking around. "Well, Adrian, that guy there, and I met trekking, these two [Filipinos] I met here 3 weeks ago, the rest we've all just met here a couple hours ago." In traveller destinations like here, a seeming tight group might only be as long-lived as the lobby of their guesthouse. Close friends may have met last week and laughing groups might actually be new conglomerates of several pairs and individuals that just fell in together like this lively crowd. Such is the way of travelling and one of the most vibrant.

There are several people already that I will miss and as I head back to Chennai, I am going to miss my new hangout place.

If you're in Kathmandu, check it out and have an Everest beer for me!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Travelling #6: Happy Nepali New Year!

Happy New Year!

We’re living it up like it was 2064...

...actually, here in Nepal, it is 2064! Welcome to the future. It's nice. You'll see.

Yup, here they use a different calendar and count today (Sat, Apr 14) as New Year’s Day 2064. Cool, eh?

The calendar being used is the Bikram Sambat shared with Northern India. It is a solar one, so is 56.7 years ahead of the Western Gregorian one.

So the streets were bedecked with flags, shops in the tourist Thamel district were closed early (i.e. before 10pm) there was a parade through the streets, parties were held and dancing was had. Not wanting to waste an extra opportunity to celebrate New Years a second time this year, a few new friends and I stayed up very late (or early depending on your point of view) at an outdoor trance party with a whole whack-load of Israelis (the Israelis love trance more than any other nationality I've come across; me, for dancing, I'm personally more of a fan of techno, drum n bass and house).

What a riot! I love the diversity of the world's cultures. Gives one an excuse to revel every couple weeks. Being a multicultural country, I think Canada should officially adopt the holidays and festivals of every major culture resident. Bring 'em on!

I'm Back

Hello everyone. I'm back from trekking in the Sagarmatha (Everest) region and back in Kathmandu for a few days before heading back to Chennai, India and work. I'm excited to get back working on my project, but must admit being off travelling is very nice...

I'm going to try posting up a storm in the next couple weeks to catch up on the stories, adventures and random thoughts I've missed this past month. Many will be out of date and out of order so bear with me!