Friday, January 28, 2011

A Brief Trip Through the Nepali Countryside - Part 2

Bike Trip continued!

Aside from a near death experience from almost running over a banana on the downhill, curvy part, the bike ride to Pokhara was very nice. Moving from the countryside to the city, we traded saying hello to children every three minutes for saying no to touts every ten steps. Beds were more than 2 cm thick.

I’m mostly going to skip over Pokhara because it’s not so interesting. We stayed in the tourist area, Lakeside, which is one of the few places in Nepal that hot showers exist and you can order food other than dhal bhat, (the national dish, lentils, rice and side dishes) chowmien and momos. It’s a nice rallying point to head into the Annapurna Conservation Area to see the mountains up close.

We began our short trek by buying some warmer clothes, and along the way picking up a Thangka artist who agreed to show us the way for 700Rs/day ($10/day), which is a pay cut for him of about 300 Rs/day. But you can’t paint all the time.

Here’s our guide Dhawa Lama and I. His last name, Lama indicates his cast and explains how he came to be a painter; his parents taught him.

Donkeys! We walked into the Annapurna Conservation Area for three days to a place called Poon Hill. Poon Hill is 3210m high and allows a nice view of the mountains so it’s a popular destination. No vehicles can get there through the stone path so donkeys are a favorite mode of conveyance for concrete, food, or whatever else has to go up and down. Donkeys have been a bit of a theme in my life lately, in fact at the time of our hike I was in the middle of reading (for the second time) Travels With a Donkey by Robert Louis Stevenson.

View from our hotel room, Ghorepani. It’s a 1 hour walk up to Poon Hill from here.

Made it!

View from the base of the lookout tower. I took a soil sample from here.

Sunset from the top of the lookout tower. It’s all downhill from here :-).

Good Night and Good Luck
Reporting to you from
Namo Buddha Agricultural Research Center

Concerning a Brief Trip Through the Nepali Countryside- Part 1

Hello all!

It’s time for another installment in The Strangest Dream :-). This time we’ll sashay forth mostly in the photoblog style. This entry is posted in two pieces because it's especially long-winded.

On Nov. 27, my dad arrived in the Kathmandu Airport. I was there to meet him and whisk him away to a hotel on the edge of Thamel (the tourist neighborhood) where he could recover from his 36 hour flight and 13:15 hour jet lag. In the cab on our way to the hotel we planted the seeds of our plans for the next 6 weeks; how about biking to Namo Buddha Resort, instead of taking the bus?

So, after a few days of rest we bought some bikes, hired an overpriced guide and set out to bike through Shivapuri National park, past the various military outposts guarding the rim of the Kathmandu Valley and back into Kathmandu, staying in the Buddhist section of town. I really got the feeling there that it’s a more sensible place than the rest of the city. More quiet, better run in a thousand subtle ways. But we didn’t stay here long. We picked up our bikes again and went to Nagarkot,

Where the most sensible thing to do is stare at the mountains and wrap yourself in blankets. So that’s what we did! More of those mountains later :-).

But first! A peek into the industrial side of Nepal. By totally disregarding the advice of our somewhat incompetent guide we found a wonderful path through the Nepali countryside, past the brick making factories. Soon enough we arrived at Namo Buddha Resort ( where I cleaned up my work there before heading out for a longer period. Originally we planned to sell our bikes to NBR. But, the evening before we decided to bike to Kathmandu instead of take the bus. Such is the story of our trip, a series of last minute, but never particularly hurried, decisions. In my opinion we displayed some fine traveling pinache :)

Despite our smooth style, we didn’t hesitate to delve into the nerdier side of our natures. Here’s dad poking his nose into a walk-behind tractor/power unit on our way back to Kathmandu. These are popular all over Nepal, made in China. Water cooled, 9.7KW, 2 wheeled diesel. They are the mechanical workhorses for much of the nation. This particular one was attached to a trailer. Quite an economical substitute for a truck!

Two Worlds Meet in Bhaktapur Square.

This is a less myopic view of a square in Bhaktapur. To the right there are people cleaning their laundry in the public spring, clothes hung out to dry by tossing them onto the roof and there is an old temple turned into a cafe. To the left, at a different temple, a cow is looking for something to eat. In the upper right people are playing ping pong, and in the middle a motorcycle is driving through it all :-).

Upon our arrival in Kathmandu we set ourselves up in a rooftop restaurant and watched life in Basantapur Square, Kathmandu’s favorite UNESCO World Heritage Site. Complete with scam artists and play fighting street kids. This photo was taken by combining a pair of binoculars with a camera to create a poor man’s version of a telephoto lens.

By Dec. 19 we had escaped from Kathmandu into the flat, hot region of Nepal called the Terai. When people think of Nepal they usually think of mountains. But the Terai is as flat like the prairies. It’s far enough off the tourist track in some areas that people still remember how to be friendly. And the national parks are fantastic, with so many wild boars, crocodiles, deer, rhinoes and tigers wandering about you have to watch where you step. You’d feel terrible if you stepped on a tiger cub or something awful like that :-). This photo was taken at the river bordering Chitwan National park. These canoes are made of single trees, hollowed out.

Despite these lovely attractions, the Terai is subject to the usual vices of a fertile, flat area with abundant water; more advanced industrialization. There are more tractors, roads, vehicles, pesticides and people than other parts of Nepal. Here we can see a farmer spraying 2-4D, the world’s most popular herbicide. All of this Terai used to be jungle, until the threat of malaria was reduced by DDT applications in the 1950s. People moved in and the jungle was destroyed.

Nepal is a country where many farmers don’t even know that pesticides should be considered hazardous, and only half of them can even read a label. The most dangerous pesticides in the world, Class 1a, like parathion-methyl are officially banned, but used anyways. Personal protective equipment is almost non-existent and the mass of pesticides used went up by a factor of 2.5x between 2006 and 2007 (Journal of Agriculture and Environment Vol:11, Jun.2010, “KNOWLEDGE, PRACTICE AND USE OF PESTICIDES AMONG COMMERCIAL VEGETABLE GROWERS OF DHADING DISTRICT, NEPAL”).

Inside Chitwan National park though, you wouldn’t notice any of this, it’s pristine and beautiful. More dangerous are the Marsh Mugger alligators hanging around the river who eat everything, including humans!

Departing from Chitwan, we biked over the flat Terai for three days before coming to Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha. There was hardly anyone there! When we first went in to see the stone that supposedly marks the exact birthplace of Buddha, we were the only people. It wasn’t long ago that this birth place was re-discovered and confirmed. There are a huge number of stupas going up around the area, not to mention hotels and restaurants.

Pushing off, we took a lift from a bus up 1200m or so to Tansen.

Descent into White Lake.
Next to Tansen is what people call White Lake. Actually it’s not a lake at all, but the clouds sit in the valley in such a way that it looks like a lake covered in fog.

We descended into White Lake by bike to visit an “organic coffee farm” which was neither organic nor producing coffee as their main crop. However, it was attended to by some fun children who took us on a tour of their interesting farm. They produce enough coffee to offer a cup to guests while we talked to the man who owns the place about the reality of trying to make a living farming in Nepal.