Monday, June 28, 2010

Posters Needed!

We stopped for milk tea beneath the flowering tree to rest and take in the view.  Next to the path, a small stone building with several children playing outside caught my attention.  I don't know at what point every child in the world became my own.  Perhaps it was at the birth of my first son.  I just know that when I see children now, I can only see my boys at that age.  'What if that were my child?  What if we were born into this situation?'  These are the questions that are always on my mind.

I have a feeling that JR and I are similar in this way.   We walked over for a closer look.  This building was the school, the post office, and the home of the teacher.  While the children were outside playing games, an older man, who looked like he had just awoken, was inside making tea for himself.  By virtue of his ability to read and write, he was both the teacher and postman.  JR suspected that not much education actually happened in this facility for lack of resources.  The teacher may have tried to teach the fundamentals of reading and writing but not much else.  Clearly, there was no education happening at the moment that we arrived mid-morning on a school day. 

The man was very accommodating, allowing us to photograph his bedroom/office and the classroom and students.

 This is where we stopped to rest.  It didn't look like a restaurant, but they were certainly prepared to take care of the needs of those traveling along the path.

The school and post office was directly in front of us next to the path.

Outside, the children were playing.

Here is the teacher on his bed in his office.

In the corner of his room was his source for heat in the winter time, and his means to cook his food.

My camera provided the light for the photos.  The only other lighting in the school was natural light from the windows.  Here is the teacher's desk.

Look how beautiful these students are.  They posed for the camera and then raced over to see their pictures.

Sometimes at these high altitudes, which can be very dry and cold, I see mothers take the mucous from their child's nose and rub it on the child's cheeks to protect them from getting painfully chapped cheeks.  It makes them look a bit grubby, but there is a reason behind the dirt.

Benches to sit at and tables to write on.  This is very good.

But the condition of the chalk boards, not so good.

And the posters...


If you are feeling touched, and inspired to help, here is the address.

Write to:
Gonggang Primary School
Gonggang Chilme VDC
Ward No. 6
Dist. Rasuwa
Zone: Bagmati

They have no posters, books or teaching materials of any kind.  They may also not have any tape to put up the posters. They do not have the organizational capacity that the other school I am helping has.  In this case there really is no better way of helping.  We can only send a package of materials and cross our fingers that it arrives safely.  These children would certainly be happy if we tried.

I did send a package of printed material to rural Nepal recently.  It was clearly marked 'printed mater' and it arrived safely in about 2 weeks.  I would not send money, or other valuable items for political reasons.  It is also against the law to proselytize in Nepal, so no religious materials please.

If you are teacher, or a parent, or you have some posters or light weight educational books to send,  please do.  It could be life changing.  Feel free to pass the word.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Going Down

Click on all of these twice.
Meditate deeply.
When you take flight in your dreams.
You can meet us here.
And we will soar together!
When you wake, please write to me about what you saw.

The journey down, was a quiet meditation.  I concentrated only on placing my feet on stable ground.  Peace!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Morning Prayers

Modern sleeping sacks are very constricting. It is impossible to roll over without taking the whole sack with you. When I crawled into my sleeping bag, I was fairly toasty and ready for sleep. A few hours later, I realized I was not sleeping well at all. My feet were very cold. It is also true that it can be very difficult to sleep at high altitudes if you are not acclimated and we were high enough that I could have been suffering a little altitude sickness. In any case, I was wide awake by the time Belief and Atit came politely rapping at our chamber door. It was still quite dark outside, even though I think that they let us sleep in, until at least 5 am.

I was eager to get back into the warm bath, so I jumped up and pulled on my swimming suit hastily. It was a most remarkable coincidence that I had a suit with me at all. The day before I packed for Nepal, a friend had sent me a box of books to donate to the children at the village school. She included pencils and stickers, which came in very handy, and surprisingly, she sent me a new swimming suit that she had bought in the wrong size for herself. I would normally never pack a swimming suit for Nepal. Pools are hard to come by and I am suspicious of the water quality. But the suit was there in my hand, and so I threw it into the case. I had no idea that the my adopted family would be taking me on a trip up to the hot springs at Tatopani.

Tania needed a little extra time for her morning ablutions, so the boys and I went ahead of her to the baths. As we approached, I heard the deep, sonorous harmonies of "Om mani padme hum." At the far side of the tub, beneath the spigots, were three monks each with a sacred white head covering. They chanted all the while as we disrobed, the boys stripping to their underwear. I was a little concerned that my feminine flesh would be disturbing to the monks but the boys didn't appear to have any reservations. Tania followed the chants and soon found her way to the tubs well. She peeled down to a bikini and entered the water as discreetly as possible. We stayed very quiet so as not to disturb the morning meditation. I settled in on the right side of the tub and watched enraptured as the sun, rising in concert with the melodic chants, began to lighten the sky behind the mountain peaks. As our surroundings brightened, to my amazement, I watched the monks transform completely. It was soon clear that these were not men at all but women with very deep voices. Nuns, perhaps, I thought. A few moments later I could see that the sacramental vestiments they wore on their heads were actually white plastic bags meant to keep their hair from getting wet.  Sacred and holy all the same, but still a very good reminder that events are not always as they appear, especially across cultures.

The View from the hot springs

Looking at the View
I'm sitting outside our guest house in the early morning after our bath.  We are having milk tea and waiting for breakfast.  Here you see me writing the Lyrics to 'A Froggy Went a Courtin,' for JR to teach his students.

Our gear is packed and ready for the hike back down.  Tania and JR are standing in front of the kitchen building.

This is what it looks like inside the kitchen.  Actually it was very dark inside, but my camera has illuminated the view for you.

Goodbye, Tatopani.  Goodbye, Spectacular View.  I hope I will come this way again someday.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brilliant Night at the Top of the World

I had wrapped my forehead in a red bandanna to keep the sun from searing my scalp on our climb. Heat and exertion caused me to peel down to an undershirt, but soon as the sun fell below the mountain peak, a distinct chill settled into the valley. I quickly pulled my long sleeved shirt on again.

The last slow steps of our journey were made at twilight. We came to a little plateau with a small cluster of homes at its edges. Stumbling up out of a rocky field, I noted that there was no railing for the steps up to our guest house. It would have been ridiculous for a hand rail to exist at the end of such a long precarious hike, but still, I wanted it to be there.

The guest house was sparsely decorated and it looked very clean. It reminded me of hostels I have visited in the Swiss Alps. There was some concern when we were back in Kathmandu that we should have our own bedding because there might be lice and bed bugs. When I saw the place, I had no such concerns. We dropped our sleeping bags and clothes on the wooden beds, which were covered with a thin cotton filled mattress and a comforter. Then we returned to the dinning room where we spread ourselves out comfortably on the long benches. It was dark and quiet outside. Aside from the six of us, there were no other guests.

TN and JR ordered dinner for us. Butter cookies and barley wine came out immediately, followed by steamy fried puffy pink shrimp crisps! This is something like a shrimp potato chip. At the top of the world, a thousand miles from the ocean, in a place where every consumable had to be carried miles up on someone's back, I was greatly impressed by the home made shrimp crisps. After snacks, we had another excellent meal of dal bhat, which kept coming until we were stuffed.

It was an incredible high, literally and figuratively, as we were at 2,400 meters or 7,874 feet. TN admitted he wasn't sure that I would make it, but I did and I was feeling triumphant. The altitude made me feel a little light headed and, except for the ankles and knees, my body felt fantastic.

TN and JR had been telling us as we climbed the mountain that the hot springs were medicinal. 'People came from all over Nepal to be cured of many ailments, including arthritis and all manner of skin diseases,' they said. JR told me that his wife, who had stomach problems, made a pilgrimage to the hot springs once a year. She felt much better for about 8 months, and then she would start to plan another trip. Any arthritic person who was able to make the climb to the hot springs would certainly think themselves cured simply by virtue of their arrival, I thought. As for Tania and myself, the idea of jumping into a public bath with skin diseased people, possibly lepers, wasn't all that appealing, but we decided to see what the situation was before we got too worried about it.

After coming all that way, I was eager to see the hot springs, even in the dark. To my surprise everyone else was willing to wait until morning. Tania was so tired that she decided to go to bed even though it was only 8 pm or so. JR, TN, Belief and Atit accompanied me over to the baths.

The night sky took my breath away. It was a moonless night, filled with billions of dazzling stars. Even in the southwestern US, I have never seen so many stars so clearly. The last time that I saw stars that clearly was when I crossed the Tibetan Plateau. Though it was dark, there was enough starlight that we could see where we were going. JR offered his arm so that I wouldn't trip on the stones and in a couple of minutes we arrived at three stone baths with stone spigots in the traditional shape of an open crocodile's mouth. Far above us was where the natural hot springs originated. By the time the water traveled down the pipes to the spigots it was steamy but comfortable enough to stand under for a short period of time.

Similar Crocodile Water Spigots
No longer concerned that skin diseased people might have just recently vacated the bath, I decided that I wanted to soak my ankles and knees in the hope that my legs would be able to carry me down the mountain the following day. I removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my pant legs and climbed the icy cold steps to the bath. No one would climb in with me at first, but then Atit decided to wade a little as well. The water was a muddy yellow color. I could not see through it. My feet stepped carefully on the smooth stones while I held on to the wall. All was quiet except for the sound of water spilling into the bath. The brilliant stars reflected in the steaming water. I could have stayed for hours! Alas, I decided that I could not to make everyone stand out in the cold waiting for me. So, after ten minutes, I climbed out, dried my feet on my shirt and put my shoes back on. When I got back to our room, Tania was already breathing deeply. The boys said they would knock on our door at 4 am so that we could really take a bath.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Climbing to Tatopani

About 2 hours from Dunche, and 9 hours from Kathmandu, we finally reached a place where vehicles could no longer travel. Ahead of us were rocky treeless mountains and beyond the mountains the radiant snow covered peaks of Tibet.

From the road a dusty path took us to a hanging bridge that must have been very recently created. I have been across bridges that had no netting and wooden slats rotted through. Where there were holes, a flat rock bridged the gap. This bridge however was very sturdy. At this time of the year animals could be herded through the river below, but in the rainy season, the bridge would be the only access to trade with civilization.

Just beyond the bridge we encountered an old chorten. It was inscribed with prayers for the deceased. The proper way to show respect is to pass the chorten to the left circumambulating clockwise just as you would travel around a stupa.

Suddenly, the path took a sharp, steep turn to the right and we began to climb the rocky steps. It wasn't too difficult at first. I took my time placing my feet carefully so that I wouldn't slip. But soon I felt unstable in my knees and ankles. Even though I was carrying nothing but a walking stick, the climb was very difficult for me. I am at least 40 pounds overweight, which everyone in Nepal generously offered to cure with vegetables, herbs, work and yoga. I stopped often and about a half hour into the climb I decided to take my pulse. It was 170 beats per minute.

About 10 years before this journey, I broke my ankle in three places. I still have a metal plate with screws holding it all together. When I broke my ankle, it was on a most ordinary hike in the Maryland woods, nothing like these gravel covered rocky steps clinging to the side of the mountain. A simple misstep and I had to have 4 people carry me out of the woods strapped to a board. "What would happen if I broke a leg up here?" I wondered out loud. JR told me that if I broke my leg on the mountainside that they could not help me in Dunche, they would have to take me all the way back to Kathmandu. He said that they would call for a helicopter. That would be fine for me, I thought, somehow we would figure out how to pay for the rescue, but what of the thousands of people who lived up in these hills?

I know that everyone was concerned about me. They never raced ahead even though I think it would have been easier for them to climb more quickly. They were especially worried when I began to feel dizzy, and they asked if I wanted to stay with one of the families living on the side of the hill. Could I do it? Could I climb all the way to the top? Yes... yes, I was doing it. One step was not too much to bear and what is a journey but one step at a time? JR sang folk tunes behind me and I focused on the glittering rocks and the beautiful terraces, and in that way we climbed. Although it was difficult and painful, the pain would be but a moment and the beauty would be just as fleeting. I was being honored by my extended family with this most precious gift of seeing a place that only a tiny fraction of the world will ever see first hand.

It takes a native 1 and 1/2 hours to climb that mountain. It takes a fit young American 2 hours to climb to the top. It took me 4 hours, but I did it. Life is not a competition, not even with ourselves, it is a journey made up of precious moments, each one to be savored as it is presented.

The village by the river at the center of the picture is where we began our climb.
By the time we arrived, it was already dark.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blue Sky, Clear Water

Heading for the Tibetan Border



I tried very hard to take a good picture of Dunche for you. It is the largest village in this region, the one that you can find on a map. Our vehicle was shaking so violently that this was the best I could do.

It really isn't a very large village, but it is an important one. There is a military check point there where we had to show proper permits to enter the region. Not far away we saw policemen on training exercises running uphill in formation carrying their guns. There is a history of political conflict here. It is also very close to China, formerly Tibet.

Long past Dunche, there were many smaller villages. At the confluence of streams, wherever there is water and a bit of flat land, you will find people trying to eek out a living. If it does not have a house on it, it is because a home was not sustainable there. The power lines that you see are bringing electricity to these tiny villages from the hydroelectric plants. They actually have more reliable power up in the hills than they do in the capital of Kathmandu.

Water is the key to life in this terrain. As the glaciers disappear from the Himalayas, there is less water for the terraced farms. Without the vegetation the terraced fields turn to brown dust and erode. I saw hundreds of abandoned fields. There were whole sides of mountains that had turned brown and barren dotted with empty broken dwellings. In one area, I saw a brown abandoned mountain that faced a lush green productive mountain. Viewed from the valley, it was a very striking contrast. The difference between these two mountains was irrigation.

One of the best projects that I have seen in Nepal were little fish hatcheries. I saw several large concrete ponds on the mountainsides. All they need is a good spring to feed the pond and they could raise a Japanese variety of rainbow trout to eat and to sell. Many of the hatcheries had restaurants right next to the road serving the fish they raised.

Speaking of fresh fish, after 4 hours of bouncing around, it was time to stop for brunch. We were getting very near the area where we were going to begin our hike. There was no fish for us though. We had the usual: milk tea, lentils, rice, vegetable curry and eggs.

Tania, Belief and JR are above, I think TN is sitting behind his younger brother.

The housing and clothes were much different in Langtang. They had a more Tibetan flavor to them. There were Buddhist symbols carved on the doors, and prayer flags and chortens were all over the village. Neat rows of clean houses decorated in primary colors lined the streets.

Tania found a Cyber Cafe all the way up here with a good connection and sent a quick note to her employees in Brookline, MA, about what they need to do for an upcoming sale. We don't really get away from work any more, do we?

This whole area looks newly built.

A Chorten; you really need to click on these photos to see the details.

The buildings that you see across the river are a Tibetan Refugee camp.

A better image of the camp.

More beautiful children looking for something to do by the side of the road in the small village where we had brunch.

We were getting very close to the beginning of our hike up to the hot springs. That will be in the next post.