Monday, March 29, 2010

Mike's Breakfast

Beautiful, isn't it? I was introduced to the original Mike's breakfast the very first time that I arrived in Nepal, 18 years ago. I had met a trekking guide from the US who hiked in sandals, smoked like a chimney, and was reckless enough to ride a motorcycle on the busy unpaved roads of Nepal. But, he had a good heart, and was a shepherd to every stray that crossed his path. I was one of those strays.

Here I am. I'm dressed in brown to camouflage the dirt. Hiking boots, very practical, and Transition lenses because of the high rate of cataracts in the Himalayas.

Mike's is another hidden place, about a mile from Thamel. Expats always visit if they know where to find it. I was just lucky. It is on a jumble of a corner and looks like a parking lot in front of a dusty wall from the outside. I have visited Mike's every time I have gone to Nepal, it has a calming atmosphere and delicious food! Sadly, I was told that Mike passed away two years ago, but his friend maintains his restaurants.

Here is my traveling companion, Tania Kurkaa, who owns a bead store, The Pear Tree, in Brookline, MA. She is sitting in the art gallery that is up stairs at Mike's Breakfast dreaming about having her wedding in this beautiful place. An excellent traveling companion!

Back out on the street again, you see the dirt and the rubble and the trash, but just as often you find hidden treasures and little surprises. Decorated doors and windows, beautiful gates, and this charming park, Nagpokhari, which literally means, Snake Pond.

This was our first morning in Nepal. From here we ran around visiting suppliers and letting people know that we were in town. One of my suppliers offered to show us her workshop. That's for the next post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


The front entrance of the Kathmandu Guest House

The front entrance of the Kathmandu Guest House

The Kathmandu Guest House inner court yard. Photo from the balcony outside my room.

Guests enjoying lunch at the Kathmandu Guest House, inner court yard. Photo from the balcony outside my room.

Photo of the balcony outside my room. Fresh garlands of flowers, called mala, are placed on statues of deities and their steeds.

If your surroundings are chaos, then you must find an inner sanctuary in which to clear your mind.

After the disturbing ride from the airport, I entered Thamel. It is traveler central. Every kind of entertainment, restaurant, hiking equipment, knick-knack, clothing and more are available here. It is impossible to walk the streets of Thamel without being harassed to buy something or smoke something. Taxi and rickshaw drivers constantly ask where you are going even if it is apparent that you are not going anywhere.

The Kathmandu Guest House is dead center in this jumble of mercantile ecstasy. Fortunately, it is gated. A guard is posted at the front and allows approved vehicles inside. And once inside, the noise dissipates and the clutter gives way to sculpted beauty. The guest house used to be a Rana Mansion, built in a very traditional style with buildings on the outside and an open garden space on the inside. It was converted into a hotel by Karna Sakya in 1967 and originally had 13 rooms. Now it is a 121-room hotel, still, I think that they have managed to keep the charm.

There are several hotels that offer beauty and escape from the streets of Kathmandu, but for me, this one offers the right balance of comfort and anonymity.

Monday, March 22, 2010


The River Bed
Shanty Town on the River. Yes, People live here.

The Woman sitting on the ground is selling snacks.

Every vacant lot doubles as a dump.

Goods going to market on unpaved roads.

These men are making new mattress to sell.

These are the ordinary everyday scenes of life in Kathmandu. You may be able to click on these and explore more deeply.

I'm back from Nepal and am slowly digesting this surreal journey. This wasn't an ordinary trip for me. This time I felt you with me and I was trying to be the conduit for your senses. I took photos for you, and narrated the details of my experiences to you in my mind, jotting down notes occasionally. I wasn't as much in Nepal as I usually am; this time I was like a spectator watching myself travel through Nepal.

A discussion about pollution was not really the way that I wanted to begin describing Nepal to you, but it is the current reality of Kathmandu, and I want you to experience Nepal as if you were traveling with me. It has been a few years since my last visit to Nepal, and pollution was the first most portentous assault on my senses when I arrived. It has always been dirty in Kathmandu, filthy really. The dirt from unpaved roads kicks up into the air and even the hairiest nostrils can't keep it from getting into one's lungs. This time, however, the exhaust fumes from vehicles mixed with burning trash piles, including plastic, burned my throat and stung my eyes and left me choking. Every evening I spent some time hacking up the dirt and blowing black mucous from my nose.

With a few years passing since my last trip to Nepal, I could more easily compare how shockingly gritty life had become in the valley. Every day, a brownish haze hung in the air over Kathmandu. Above the haze the Himalayas were still visible, but as our plane flew lower, the Himalayas faded and were barely perceptible. I didn't see them until I was well above the valley again. Years ago, I could at least catch a glimpse of the snow covered peaks from time to time within the valley.

Exiting the airport, I was greeted by the usual crowd of hopeful taxi drivers carrying hotel signs. There is always the chance that someone might arrive in Nepal completely unprepared--that is how I arrived the first time, 18 years ago. But that type of rambling world traveler is not as common as they were before our great travel fears and the economic crisis. I was graciously received at the airport by one of my shipper's chauffeurs. It is not quite as glamorous as it sounds. Still, it was a relief not to have to haggle over a taxi with broken seats and no suspension immediately after the exhaustion of a two day journey from the other side of the world. Someone did grab my bags without asking me, and then they asked for money after having carried the bags a couple of feet. I know the drill. I could have said, "Put them down!" But, I didn't. I gave him a few rupees and settled into the truck, happy to be on terra firma once more.

Plastic bags and candy wrappers, snits of rubber and string and paper covered the dirt outside of the airport where grass used to grow. I would often see cows wandering the streets here in the past, but I saw none the day I arrived. Instead, I saw women with small children peddling snacks to the locals. Their open baskets of roasted soy beans and nuts were unpackaged and open to the elements. They sat amidst empty cigarette packs and trampled plastic water bottles, more plastic bags, broken bits of brick and general rubble. Their children crawled over them next to the busy road. Motorbikes, taxis and trucks wailed on their horns, shrieking without restraint into the ears of these children. The children were deaf to the cacophony, absorbed in playing with balls made of black rubber bands, sticks and dirt.

One old woman sat on a hill, her cloth-covered bottom sitting in the dirt, her top open, exposing her breasts. This is not a common sight in Nepal. People are modest here. The elderly woman sitting in filth with her breasts exposed was an image that haunts me still. Perhaps she was out of her mind with no one left to care for her. Only tenuously here, her body was in the material world but her soul had moved on to the next plane of existence. I have seen the look before, in places of great despair.

Lament for Kathmandu, by Butternut Squash

Oh Kathmandu!

Your holy rivers overflow with human excrement.

What demon has treated you so cruelly?

That unholy stain, damned spot!

A poor washer women beats her clothes on a rock

in fetid water.

To my friends in Nepal, I love you, and I know that this is not all that Nepal has to offer. But it is the truth that postcards and pretty pictures never tell.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Arrived in Kathmandu

You take the utmost care in washing the food you eat.
Have you ever thought about disinfecting the mental food you consume?

-I just found a beautiful little book of quotes called "Words of the Spirit, thoughts to live by" they are compiled from discourses from Para Pujya Ma.

I am here in Kathmandu and have brought my camera, though unfortunately, I am unable to use my USB port and have no card reader, so I will have to paint the pictures with my words for now.

Kathmandu, has changed very little since my last visit except that things are slightly more expensive and there is even less electricity and more garbage. People seem to have given up on the idea that government will be solving their problems any time soon. As a result, there are more electric generators at shops and restaurants.

I spent much of yesterday visiting with old friends and business acquaintances asking them questions like, "Why can't I find good turquoise any more?" The old charm of the jewelry is rapidly disappearing. I see far less solid silver work and more mixed metal combinations. According to one supplier, fewer Tibetan traders are able to get visas to leave Tibet. Only the very old people are allowed to travel. The result here in Kathmandu is that it is very difficult to find the good turquoise to make Tibetan style jewelry with. We see ugly dyed blues and pieces with out interesting veins and contrast. The change in the silver work is a result of the sad state of the world economy. The cost of silver is quite high right now and no one wants to pay what it is really worth so we see silver fronts on pendants and brass backs or just plain thinner lighter work.


Unexpectedly, a good friend decided to join me on the trip. She is a wonderful companion. She is well traveled and has that open minded flexibility that one must have for this kind of travel. I will have to ask her if she minds being a character in my blog before I tell you more about her.

Yesterday, we arranged our journey to the village school. My friends have planned what sounds like a wonderful trip. We will go by jeep up the mountains to the north and a little west of Kathmandu. We have to hike for 45 minutes carrying sleeping bags clothes and books. Perhaps it will take a little longer for me to get to the village school where we hope to talk with the children and arrange a letter exchange with the the children at my boy's school in Ohio, USA. We will stay over night in someone's home in the village. The next day, they would like to take us further north to a place called Tato Pani, the name means hot water and it is probably the highest hot springs in the world. It is not the same Tato Pani that is on the Annapurna trek. After that we are going even further north near the Tibetan border to visit a beautiful village and see a spectacular view of the Himalayas. I promise that I will take photos and if I am not able to upload them now, I will when I return.

If you have any photos of school children in your area, could you please send me a few photos to Don't forget to tell me which country you are in. I would like to have some images to share with the Nepalese students when I arrive. We leave for the village early 5:30 am Sunday morning March 7, 2010 in Nepal, so if you have them please send them today.