Monday, November 30, 2009

Passport & Customs

On the flight into Tribuvan, the lovely Korean Air hostesses pass out multiple papers to be filled in. One paper states that if carrying more than 2 pens or pencils, one should proceed to the "red channel".

Oh boy, I am so over the limit, but I'll take the green channel. I mean why make a fuss over a gross of pencils and multiple pens?

Arrive Tribuvan Airport and line up to purchase VISA. Although mis-stated in several documents and on web, low and behold I get the VISA I longed for - 3 months - $100. 
(I had read that I could get 3 months for 100 bucks, but the print out application from the web only went up to 2 months for 80 bucks, which I checked off. So the customs officer says "2 months?", at least that's what it sounded like, I assented and he asked for 100 bucks. Oh well, I thought everything goes up. However then I glance at the stamp and it's for 3 months - 100 bucks!

Commence to luggage pick-up. Grab 2 bags off carousel, head to long line at customs. What? Seems as if I am being waved to. At least I think they mean me. Now what? Another wave, RIGHT THROUGH CUSTOMS, no luggage check?

Thank you Lord Buddah, Lord Krishna, Ganesh, and everyone else out there.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cultural Mores

How To Be a Gracious Guest
  • Dress for women is always modest. Shorts are frowned upon and men should always don a shirt
  • Always pass religious objects on the left
  • Since the feet are considered unclean, tuck your feet under yourself as pointing them towards any object or person is not in good taste. Never place them on furniture nor step over someone else. Remove shoes before entering most homes.
If one accidentally touches someone with one's feet he/she is supposed to say 'BISHNU, BISHNU' and while saying that, he/she first touches the other persons body (not on the head) with their right hand then immediately touch their own forehead. The indication is 'Oh God, forgive me'      (Source: Brilliant Treks and Adventure Ltd)
  • The very easy manner in which we may touch a child's head or give it a loving tap is totally taboo in Nepal. The head is considered the most spiritual part of the body, thus untouchable.
  • When handing money to someone, always use your right hand, and grasp your right elbow with your left hand, or place your left hand on your chest. (You see this in Korean, and Asian dramas all the time)
  • Always use your right hand for shaking, eating or passing something 
  •  Give or receive things with both hands; even a business card.
  • Remove all leather goods before entering a Hindu temple. (Shoes are easy, watchbands can get you!)
  • Never touch anyone else's food and always pass food containers with only your right hand - the clean hand, the left is used for other purposes.
  • Nepali's drink without letting the container touch their lips.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Flying to Pokhara

It's Thanksgiving and I thought all I was going to have to do was stuff that turkey and serve that feast.
Well, not so. Lobsang, the school secretary just emailed me that he could pick me up at the airport if I could inform him of my flight and arrival time.
Yeeks, I haven't booked it yet. On to the web. Nepali Air is listed in Lonely Planet, yet I remember something about a goat sacrifice in front of a plane while on the tarmack. Yes, that made international headlines.
In September of 2007 Nepal's state-run airline confirmed that it had sacrificed two goats to appease a Hindu god, following technical problems with one of its aircraft. Nepal Airlines said the animals were slaughtered in front of the plane - a Boeing 757 - at Kathmandu airport.
Checked out some online reviews of NA, and decided to look into Buddha Air; it's a newer company and flies domestic. Good schedule, several flights a day, but ooops, what was that limit on luggage weight - 20 kilograms?
Where's that conversion chart? Ok, that's 44 pounds. I have 3 pieces, 1 large one -70 lbs, (which I will be paying Korean Air and additional $50 ) Mmmmm that's equivalent to 31.8 k., and then there's the mid size bag weighing in at 48 lbs, which is 21.8 k., total of 53.6 which begs an answer "How do I get this "stuff" to Pohkara?"
PS Made reservation online for myself on Buddha Air, received email, responded with above question, now awaiting answer.
Now back to setting the table.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

To be or not to be:

An Iphone carrier: no - too many possibilities of exorbitant charges if any app looks for connectivity; $3.49 a minute for talking too steep
(see great article in LA Times for traveler who didn't know better!)

An Ipod carrier: yes, mustn't feel too naked too soon and those layovers in Seoul...

Digital audio recorder carrier: yes because it runs on batteries, triple A, and if my laptop is down I can still record the moment/event/discussion/thoughts

New Nikon digital camera carrier: Yep, I went for the dive, the deep one. However a large problem looms; manual instructs not to use a volt reduction transformer to charge Nikon battery. So then, like, you can't take this camera out of the country? What's up with that??? (Don't sweat it, remember I am a risk taker)

Flashlight and headlight carrier: Super definite on taking two torches; plus lotsa batteries.

Drug carrier: Indubitably: Cipro, Lomotil (acute diarrhea fixer upper),and Tamiflu, from my doc and Oxycodin from my med cab - just in case of kidney stone pain.

Time to lighten the mood a bit...

School yard with Machapuchare Peak, taken by Alison Domzalski, 
an influential catalyst for this journey.

See more of Alison's photography at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Culture Shock: Gadhimai Fair

Excerpt from The Economic Times

Kathmandu:  The most controversial (and centuries old) religious fair in Nepal's Terai plains, where thousands of birds and beasts are doomed to be slaughtered next week, has fallen into more disrepute with the death of four visitors, including an Indian..after consuming adulterated local moonshine while three other Nepali men died Friday...
The Gadhimai Fair, held every five years and drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from India and Nepal, has been one of the most controversial religious events in Nepal where, according to animal rights activists, commercial considerations drive the festivities.
Dozens of shops selling illegal local spirits have been set up on the fair ground to cater to the visitors, most of whom are poor and uneducated villagers from Nepal's Terai as well as the Indian states...The deaths come on the eve of mass slaughter of birds and beasts ...The temple authorities say 500,000 buffaloes, goats, chickens, pigeons, and other birds and beasts will be killed for two days.
They claim a slaughterhouse has been built at the cost of over RS 5 million to kill the animals and about 250 butchers have been hired. Nepal's government, struggling to survive in the face of new disruptions threatened by the former Maoist guerrillas, has refused to ban the slaughter despite warnings by animal experts that the massacre could trigger swine flu, bird flu and cattle diseases and gravely affect the environment.
(Many celebritites) urged the Nepal government to stop the slaughter, and the pleas have been disregarded for fear that a ban would inflame Hindu religious sentiments.
Animal rights activists from Nepal have also warned the government that the killings, which turn the fair into the "world's largest killing fields" - will adversely affect Nepal's image in the eyes of the world, projecting the Himalayan republic as a barbaric nation.

Excellent follow up story of one person's plea, and an explanation of how it got to this:

Picture source:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Vocabulary: Load Shedding

"We will try and bring down the power cuts to 8-10 hours a day this winter,"  Minister for Energy Dr. Prakash Sahran Mahat claimed... (
Yes, at uncertain times every 24 hours - TV screens darken, music ceases, machines stop humming, lights go out, and you better know where your flashlight is.

Inadequate rainfall, mountain snows not melting, poor maintenance of existing hydro-power plants plus the inability to construct new ones or import additional power from India have created a severe shortage of electricity for several years now.
In the evening whole sections of Kathmandu are illuminated by trekking headlamps, (I have one packed already), gas or kerosene lamps and candles. Hotel rooms can be particularly difficult to navigate as there are none of those familiar "emergency lights" and pitch black darkness reigns.

note to self: place flashlight under pillow every night

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Math: The Universal Language

This morning, sitting on the front stoop, reading the NYTimes, The Rubik's Cube As Math Teacher, caught my eye. It seeems that Seven Towns Ltd., the company that owns Rubik's Cube, has developed a user friendly curriculum and is now selling classroom kits for educators. It suggests that this puzzle solving toy helps students with "geometry and algebra, following directions, memorization and perseverance." 
Wow, I thought, and not to mention that math is an international language understood by all. The entire universe is just a bunch of number patterns. I placed a call in to Renee, one of my bff, retired administrator, and put her on assignment. She is gong to write the letter which I just cannot squeeze in at this time, and try to hook Seven Towns into donating a classroom set for the Pema Ts'al Sakya School.
Hey this is their chance to get a toehold in Southeast Asia. And if they have read "Three Cups of Tea", they might be able to imagine themselves as part of the larger picture of education as a universal good.
So thanks Renee for signing on, I will await your updates in Pohkara.

Twelve days to blast off.  (Korean Air Logo) You know so I'll know I've got the right plane.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Money, Money, Money

The currency of Nepal is the rupee. Today the exchange rate is 67
rupees to the dollar. So one rupee is about one and a half cents.
Also very helpful, the notes diminish in size in correlation to their descending value.

Some common prices:

Bottled water 1 litre - 
15-25Rs ---26c - 46cents
Dove soap -
55-65 Rs. ---- 82c - 97cents
Cup of tea -
5-20Rs ---- 8-c - 29cents
Bottle of Coke/Pepsi -
15-20Rs ---- 26c -29cents
Moisturizer - 
150Rs ---- $2.23
Beer -
105-120Rs ---- $1.56-1.78
T Shirt -
400-600Rs ---- $5.90-9.00
Jeans -
700-1400Rs ---- $7.30-26.60
Lunch -
250Rs ---- $3.72
Dinner -
350Rs ---- $5.21
English Newspaper -
5-7Rs ---- 8c -11cents

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What about those other flags?

Throughout the Himalayas, strung from this to that you will see Tibetan prayer flags. They can be vertical, darchor meaning increase life, health, & wealth 
or horizontal, lung ta meaning wind horse but they always come in 5 colors that are placed in a specific order.

Blue - sky
White - air
Red - fire
Green - water
Yellow - earth

As the breeze flows by and the flags gently sway...
all the blessings from the prayers printed on the cloth 
are transported around the earth
for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fact Sheet Kathmandu

Found this helpful and interesting fact sheet on the net.
Kathmandu is known as: 
capital of Nepal
City of Temples
Total Population: approx. 1 million
Median age of Marriage: male 22, female 20
Life Expectancy: male 58, female 57 Nepal is the only country in the world where the male has a higher life expectancy
Drinking Water Problem: Kathmandu has a never ending water shortage problem. Do not drink water straight from the tap as underground water pipes have high deadly metal arsenic contents. Boil water, filter using standard water-filter before use.
Pollution: Kathmandu is Nepal's most polluted city caused mainly by emissions from industries, vehicle fuel combustion, re-suspension of road dust and also due to inefficient waste management. The city's air is vulnerable due to its bowl-like topography preventing air particles being disbursed. "Some wear masks, and some don't, but if it feels right for you, wear it while walking in Kathmandu!"

And I know from traveling that I must use only boiled or bottled water to brush my teeth plus no singing in the shower - keep mouth firmly closed. 

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
Fact Sheet Source:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Three Nights and Four Days $180

Kantipur Temple
After copious days and hours on the Internet, and thumbing through Lonely Planet (best written tour guides for the world imho), I contacted the Kantipur Temple in Kathmandu. Oh and one more thing, many, many readings of actual travelers' reviews on Trip Advisor. "The building is beautiful, the garden and roof-top really nice to chill out away from the madness of the city..."
Through email I requested my dates, but most especially the airport pick up was on my mind. I will be carrying 2 50 lbs bags and one 25 lbs bag, myself and the oversize pocketbook used for air travel.

The much longed for response arrived :

"We will be airport at 2 pm to pick you on Nov. 30.
Looking forward to see you."

Now if I could just speak, never mind write Nepali, one tenth of his English ability.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Boy Scout Motto Time: BE PREPARED

Kathmandu Airport
Traveler's advice about the airport leaves one a bit, well, wanting to be prepared.
"have a plan before you walk out of the will be astounded at the mob of people shouting and trying to take your bag to a cab.. isn't aggressive in a rough way but definitely intimidating...beware of people who follow your cabby and want to carry your bag. They are not with him and and will expect to be tipped."
"Fill up your travel visa (with photo attached) beforehand and get ready for exactly US$30  for visa fees..will save a lot of time ( at the airport) me."
"When leaving the airport have all your luggage in a firm grip. You will be stormed by men who want to carry your suitcases and backpacks to any expensive taxi they see, and expect a rather large fee for this 'service'. Be rude to them if that is the only way to get rid of them! Even if you are not a good negotiator, don't pay more than 200 rupees for taxi-ride to  ...hotel. If haggle is your sport you should be able to get it for 100 rupees."
And the best one...
"When we were checking in to our flight back..few uniformed guys at the baggage counters, openly demanding a bribe to let baggage thru without paying excess baggage charges..also to jump the queue..In fact we had forgotten to X-ray our bag since we thought we were running late. The guys at check-in didn't seem to think it was a problem..checked in our bags without X-ray screening. A few weeks later, same flight..was hijacked to Kandahar, ...not surprised that the hijackers chose to board at Kathmandu."
And if you'd like a visual:
I'm not sure all my luggage would fit in this vehicle.
And my last reading"..recommend taking a prepay taxi for one primary reason, your safety...present cost 500 Npr. ($6.32) The fee includes a record of your trip , of which you and the service desk have a copy. This ensures that if anything happens to you or your luggage while in transit, there is an official record."
Jeeze that's comforting. An official record that I did leave the airport with a cabby in such and such a cab.

However once I arrive at the hotel -

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not My Usual

A Day in the Life of 
a Pema Ts'al Student

Wake-Up and Wash          6:00 - 6:30
Morning Prayer                 6:30 - 7:10
Breakfast                        7:10 - 7:30
Break                             7:30 - 7:45
Memorization & Studying Prayer
                                     7:45 - 9:45
Tea Break                        9:45 - 10:15
Morning Classes              10:15 - 12:00
Lunch Break                   12:00 - 1:30
Afternoon Classes             1:30 - 3:00
Tea Break                        3:00 - 4:00
Self-Study                        4:00 - 5:00
Daily Oral Test & Teaching Prayers
                                      5:00 - 7:00
Evening Prayers                7:30 - 8:00
Self-Study                        8:00 - 9:00
Wash                              9:00 - 9:20
Bed Time                         9:20 - 9:30