Category Archives: Nepal

BLOG: Things I Miss About Home

I find living abroad to be immensely pleasurable. I love being an outsider in a culture that is very foreign to me, as being in this position gives me innumerable opportunities to discover and see new things. Living in a foreign place also allows me endless material for observing and writing. There are, of course, some things I miss about home, which is Portland, Oregon, but could more generally just be the United States. There are the obvious things, like friends, family and home cooked meals, but there are also some other things I’ve been thinking about lately that I do not get in Kathmandu.

Here are a list of things I miss about home:

1) Being able to walk in a straight line

Must dodge sacred cows.

I miss being able to walk in a straight line, on a straight path, without having to constantly be on the lookout for obstacles to dodge. Whenever I walk in Kathmandu, I feel like I am in some sort of bizarre, real-life video game where I must dodge things ever 10 seconds including dogs, people, food carts, motorcycles, taxis, rickshaws, feces and 6-foot deep sewer holes in the sidewalk. While it can be entertaining and stimulating sometimes, I often long for the peaceful, straight and uninterrupted paths and walkways of home.

2) Walking on a flat surface
This one is sort of an extension of number one. I miss walking on flat surfaces, like flat sidewalks and roads. In Kathmandu, the sidewalks are in such poor conditions that I often feel that I am “urban trekking,” constantly going up and down uneven pieces of sidewalk, hopping over piles of bricks, spanning lakes of stagnant water and traversing heaps of sand. I miss the flat, wide sidewalks of Portland where there is more than enough room for people to walk.

3) Being anonymous
I know I said in the beginning that I like being an outsider and that’s true. But, there is something to be said for being anonymous in a crowd. In Portland, or most places in the U.S., I can just disappear in the crowd. If I’m walking in Portland’s busy Saturday Market or through a street fair, no one gives me a second look. I’m just another person. Here in Kathmandu, people stare at me EVERYWHERE I go. I often travel unaccompanied and I know many Nepalis may think this is strange, especially in the countryside, but I get stared at intensely even in the city. I miss the ability to be anonymous and disappear into a crowd.

4) Not being stared at
This is an extension of number three. Never being anonymous means always standing out in the crowd. It may be because I have light hair and it may be because I am young-looking and travel alone most of the time. Whatever it is, people, especially men, stare at me all the time. It is a rather disconcerting and uncomfortable sort of stare, a kind of stare that feels like it pierces your skin. The staring by men is a part of this culture that makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and annoyed sometimes. When I am walking, I often try not to notice it, but other times it is simply impossible to ignore. I’ve developed a rather bad habit of very conspicuously staring back at people whose eyes are fixed on me, even to the point where I turn my head so as not to break eye contact as I walk by. I sometimes wonder if this habit will someday have reprecussions, but I sort of want to make intense starers feel the same way they are making me feel. I know I may be an oddity here, but I miss never being stared at in Portland.

5) Being safe alone at night

I know I am not safe everywhere in Portland alone at night, but in most places I feel fine walking by myself. In Kathmandu, I absolutely do not feel comfortable EVER when alone at night. My level of discomfort at night has increased since three years ago. I don’t know if this stems from what is probably my increased level of rationality from when I was 20 years old, or if it is from the constant warnings I get from locals. Everyone says: “No matter what you do, do NOT walk alone at night in Kathmandu.” I’m not the type of person who gets easily scared about travel warnings, but this is one that I will follow. Kathmandu has received a deluge of people migrating from rural parts of the country and perhaps because of this, now has had increased crime rates and problems with drug addicts. Rather than take my chances, I prefer to be home when the sun goes down. So, I miss being able to walk around at night with no problems or fears like I can in Portland.

6) Clean air

Clean Air... Yum


Portland has crisp, fresh and clean air. Kathmandu does not. I miss the clean air of Portland and not blowing my nose to find it black from pollution, dust and smog.

BLOG: Week 8 Updates

Whoa! I’ve already been here for 8 weeks? Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun.

Mostly good updates from my eighth week here in Nepal’s capital. I’ve been quite bogged down (in a good way) with work.  Kathmandu, and Nepal in general, is a writer’s paradise because there are SO many interesting things and SO many interesting people doing those interesting things.  So far I’ve written about/am writing about foreign diplomats, artists, wood-workers, writers, chefs, tea experts, yoga gurus, hotel managers, athletes and more.  My job as a magazine writer allows me the opportunity to meet, interview and write about all kinds of fascinating people, which is what I thrive off doing.

The monsoon is slowly abating here in Nepal, which is a blessing and a curse.  I’m not a huge fan of the rains (I know, I know, I am from Portland, Oregon… But still!) so it’s nice to have some moments of hot sun shining through the rain clouds.  The bad part about the slowing rains is that it means the power supply will also soon decrease.  The power in Nepal is directly correlated with the rains (as far as I know) because it is made through hydroelectric plants.  Without lots of water to power the hydro plants, there will be a decreased supply of electricity.  Last year the power was out a maximum of 16 hours per day in the dry season and I’ve heard rumors that this year will be worse, with up to 20 hours of power cuts per day.  So, there will be no rain but no power.  Luckily for people living in Kathmandu (and who can afford it), many of the restaurants and cafes have generators.  This means I’ll probably be living at the local coffee shop when the power is out for 20 hours per day, caffeinating and charging my electronics.

All was good on the running front until a few days ago when I started getting bad pains in what I think are the tendons on the top of my right foot.  I have a tendency to push myself too fast, too hard and too much.  I predict that my foot injury (please don’t be a stress fracture, please don’t be a stress fracture) is a result of too much running with not enough rest.  I’ve been hobbling about for the past three days, begrudging my swollen foot, hoping that the pain will magically disappear.  The timing not so great (is the timing ever great for an injury?) as the Kathmandu Marathon, of which I was planning to do the half, is coming up on October 2nd.  I’m hoping that with a little rest and rehabilitation, I’ll be ok for the race.  I attended this Saturday’s Hash run but, sadly, went with the walking group.  Walking the Hash was nice and relaxing, but I missed the heart-pounding intensity of the running group.

Tonight I went to a book reception at the home of Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird, who recently released his fifth book called Crossing Mandelbaum Gate (New York Times review here).  I accompanied my friend and writing mentor, Don Messerschmidt, to the event and had quite a good time meeting everyone in attendance.  There were teachers, diplomats, INGO workers, bookstore owners, photo-journalists, USAID workers and number of people who had spent a large portion of their lives traveling and living abroad.  Meeting everyone and listening to their stories was quite inspirational for me, as I am currently considering just what I want to do with my life (development work? journalism? living abroad? grad school?).  I left the event feeling motivated and excited for both the coming year in Nepal and whatever lays ahead after that.

Before the Kai Bird event, Don and I had lunch and an interview with a spectacular Swiss woman with a fierce independent spirit named Ann-Marie.  Ann-Marie came to Nepal in 1962 and stayed continuously until 1990 before returning to Switzerland.  She still returns to the country every year to visit.  This lady was a fountain of amazing stories.  My hand was aching to keep up with her as I jotted down everything in my notebook and I recorded our whole 3 hour conversation on my iPhone.  Ann-Marie came to Nepal after a stint in the Congo because she was craving more adventure before settling back down in Switzerland.  She’s worked with the Swiss government, managed hotels, trekked with Nepali princesses, met famous mountain climbers and diplomats and investigated the origins of Swiss cheese making in Nepal.  I left the meeting with Ann-Marie thoroughly inspired to have equally splendid adventures as she has had.  If I can be like Ann-Marie, who was probably around 90 years old, with that many stories and that much wisdom, then I’ll consider my life a success.

This and That from This Week:

Above: This week I revisited the Trungram Monastery located in Sankhu, Nepal, where I used to teach English to the monks three years ago. It was great to see how all the boys have grown up and improved their English skills.  The above photo is Nima, who was one of the youngest monks when I arrived in 2007.

Above: This week I stood in a cave that my monk friends tell me was hollowed out of a rock in the 12th century by the famous Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa.  Supposedly Milarepa sat mediating in this very cave for 6 months.

The Hypocritical Vegetarian on Butcher Shops in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu I have, sadly, become a semi-vegetarian and it’s because I’m a hypocrite. By “semi-vegetarian” I mean that when I’m out at a restaurant I’ll gladly order a meat dish, or when I’m at someone else’s home for dinner, I’ll happily rip through some juicy animal flesh. I really do love meat. But when I’m eating at home and cooking for myself, which is most of the time, meat is not on the menu.

The reason that I don’t cook meat at my own home is because the Kathmandu butcher shops are… intimidating. There are butcher shops everywhere. There is one down the street from my house and a few more within ten minutes walking. I literally pass dozens of butcher shops on my morning runs. But, no matter how many times I pass a Kathmandu butcher shop, I still cannot help but stare when I walk by.

The butcher shops are generally quite small, probably no more than 10 feet across, open air stalls. In front of the stall is a table that displays the shop’s product, which is most often chicken, pig, goat or buffalo (never cow, for cows are sacred animals here in Nepal). If the animal is large, like a pig or a goat, the sections are laid out in large chunks on the front table: the head on one side, the abdomen and front legs in the middle and the hind quarters on the other side. If it is a goat, the legs of the animal bend unnaturally, every which way. If it is a pig, the shop keepers often rub the whitish-pink skin with a spice that dyes the whole animal a shade of neon orange. Chickens are laid out in rows, sans head and feet, and are blow torched to singe off the tiny down feathers. The store proprietor often stands behind the meat-heavy table with a wand, made of a stick and a plastic bag, that he or she waves around the meat in a half-hearted effort to keep the flies at bay.

Whenever I walk by a butcher shop, I’m always struck by how, well, animal the meat is. The legs and hooves are still intact, the heads are sitting there, staring at me with open eyes, the hair and bristles are still visible on the skin. The “animalness” of the meat at the Kathmandu butcher shops puts me off because of how whole the meat pieces are. When I think about this, it is, of course, horribly hypocritical of me, because when I’m back in the supermarkets of the US, I make a beeline to the meat department and without any consideration pick out a plastic-wrapped package of chicken chunks or pork loins. In the US, the meat section of the store is so sanitized, so clean and sparkly, that it’s easy to forget that the little package of perfectly white, perfectly uniform, perfectly bone-free meat pieces actually came from an animal.

I think if most carnivorous people in the US saw the butcher shops in Kathmandu, they would likely feel the same way. There is blood, guts, hair and eyes. There are bones, tendons, organs and fat strips. Plastic wrapped, pre-sliced, pre-weighed meat packages do not exist here.

As a Westerner, it is easy to look upon the butcher shops here and think: “How dirty! What a bloody mess they are!” But, I think the fact that I am so put off by seeing large pieces of animal, with the heads intact, or that seeing a butcher slash away at a hanging goat carcass makes my stomach knot a bit is actually a reflection of the disconnect we Americans have with our meat. The distaste I feel at the open air butcher shops here is a negative reflection on my culture, not theirs.

Last summer I worked on two WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) farms in Thailand.  One farm in northern Thailand near Chiang Dao that I stayed at had a big business raising pigs. They had around 70 large pigs and would slaughter a few each week to sell at the market and eat themselves. I stood on, squeamishly, and watched the farmers slaughter a pig with a large, blunt machete. (Read the whole story here: “From Sty to Stew: Understanding Hyper-Local Food Systems”)

With gritted teeth, I observed as the farmers sliced open the pig’s belly, took out the organs and swiftly severed the head. I couldn’t help but think: “Gross!”

Shortly after the pig slaughter I was replaying the event in my head. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I’m an avid carnivore back at home. How can I think that an animal slaughter is ‘gross’?”

Seeing an animal slaughtered for food was completely new to me, but this made no sense because I’ve eaten animal meat my whole life. The farmers in Chiang Dao, Thailand, were actually shocked that I had never seen an animal killed before. For them, eating meat meant killing the animal themselves. For me, eating pig or goat or chicken in the US means going to the nice and neat meat aisle. I found that the farmers, who raise and slaughter, and then eat the pig themselves, had a much higher degree of respect for the animal and a much greater understanding of the food they ate. They ate almost every bit of the pig, including the blood and the organs: nothing went to waste. In the US, I’ve never seen an animal slaughter because this “dirty” work is done far, far away from my home, in a meat factory, probably in another state. I don’t know who kills the animals I eat, how the animals are killed or where my meat even came from in the first place. Is it imported from Mexico? Was it raised on a cow farm in Alabama? Was it raised on corn or grass? Was it injected with hormones and steroids? Who knows? This system makes no sense and when I consider it, is actually far more off-putting than seeing a locally grown, grass-fed animal slaughtered by the butcher, who also lives down the street from me.

So, as I walk by the butcher shops here in Kathmandu, and see the dead, glassy eyes of a recently slaughtered orange pig staring at me, I can’t help but stare back. The realness and the wholeness of the animals makes it difficult for me to order meat at the butcher shop to cook for myself, but I think this is not a negative reflection on Kathmandu butcher shops, it is a negative reflection on me and the food culture in my home country. It’s difficult for me to visit the butcher shops here because I am a product of a broken and disconnected food system in which people have no idea where their food comes from. As long as the food comes in a tidy little package, with no eyes, bones, tendons, or fat, I guess no one really cares.


Above: Recently slaughtered pigs in a row.
Above: The butcher slices and dices recently slaughtered pigs.  When I look at this my first instinct is to think: “Gross!” In fact, it’s not gross at all, I’m just used to a food system that raises, slaughters and packages animals behind closed doors.
Above: A recently slaughtered pig.  This pig was most likely raised locally, within the Kathmandu Valley.

Above: The butcher cuts up a pig into different pieces on one of the open air tables.

Above: An orange and bristly pig head at a butcher shop near Thamel, Kathmandu. Photo by: Rick McCharles

Above: Kathmandu residents line up to purchase meat at one of the local butcher shops. Photo by: John Pavelka

BLOG: A (Re)Visit to Trungram Monastery

Yesterday I made a trip outside of Kathmandu to visit the monks at Trungram Monastery, where I spent a good portion of my last Nepal trip living and teaching English. Trungram Monastery is located about 1.5 kilometers away from the small Newari village of Sankhu, which is about an hour by mini-bus from the Kathmandu city center.

I caught a bus from Chabahil area, which is near Boudhanath stupa, one of the biggest holy sites for Tibetans in Nepal. I arrived in Sankhu about an hour later and spent some time walking around the town taking photos of the Newari architecture and the small vegetable markets. Since three years ago, I noticed a marked increase in Sankhu’s size (the population of which is estimated at about 10,000). The town now includes quite a few more small shops and even became host to a Kathmandu Bank.

I hiked up to Trungram Monastery from the town, which takes about 30 minutes and winds up a hill, past rice fields and vegetable gardens. It was a walk I had taken many times before and it felt good to let my feet lead me through familiar territory. I recognized the same small houses, resting huts and water taps from three years ago.

Walking up to the monastery, it seemed to me that very little had changed. The grass was still green and velvety, the paint on the prayer room looked fresh and the big Tibetan Mastiff dog was still chained to the dining room door. I found my good friend Jangchup, a 23-year-old monk who I’ve stayed in contact with through Facebook, in his room. He proceeded to give me a “re-tour” of the grounds, pointing out things that had changed since I was living there. Mostly, the only things that had changed were that a few shrubs were now bigger. Also, the stoic guard who used to live there, a villager who spent most of his days flinging rocks at monkeys with his sling shot, had since retired.

I visited the classroom that I used to teach five classes per day. Class was in session and I said hello to all the boys who were my former students. The monastery currently has a new English teacher, a Dutch girl who stays in the village below. Jangchup showed me the library, which is full of Tibetan writings and philosophy books. Several years ago the monastery purchased three new computers, which are stationed in the library for the monks to use. The computers do not have internet connections, but I was nonetheless impressed at their investment and encouragement of technological proficiency. Jangchup spends some time each day teaching the young monks how to use the computers.

Jangchup and I spent the day walking around the monastery and the village, exploring the famous Vajrayogini temple, talking with the locals and checking out the small meditation caves in the area, where reportedly famous monks used to come to meditate for months at a time. After a few hours of exploration, we returned to the monastery for lunch.

The food, which is vegetarian, was simple yet delicious, just like I remembered. Red-robed little monk inhaled their rice and vegetables, excited to go run around outside after lunch. There were a number of new small monks at the monastery that I didn’t recognize, but most of them I remembered from 2007. Many of the boys looked exactly the same, but a few had grown up quite a bit. Some of the boys wanted to chat, but most are so shy, especially around females, that whenever I gave them a smile, they ran away in fits of embarrassment.

After lunch I went up to the small monks’ residence hall and hung out, chatting with those proficient in English and reminiscing with them about our times together three years ago. They all asked me who I remembered and who looked the same.

“He looks the same,” I said, pointing to Pasang. “He looks different. He’s grown two feet!” I said about Nima. They all burst into a fit of laughter at that remark.

Everyone wanted to know if they looked the same or different. I asked if I looked the same or different. They told me I looked the same, except “more white.”

The rambunctious nature of the small monks was surely the same as it was three years ago. During break time, just as I remembered, they spent their free hour karate chopping one another, running around on the roof of their residence hall, playing with a goat left by one of the villagers and break dancing.

I left in the late afternoon to catch a mini-bus back to Kathmandu and said goodbye to everyone. A few of the older boys who now have internet mobile phones said they had Facebook pages.

“Add me as a friend!” I said as I waved goodbye.


Above: Villagers climbing the steps up to the Vajrayogini temple complex. They were just returning home after transporting baskets full of vegetables to Sankhu to sell.

Above: Jangchup stands in front of one of the meditation caves we explored near Vajrayogini.

Above: Jangchup and I examined some of the fine metal work on the Vajrayogini temple complex. The temple had an interesting mix of Buddhist and Hindu deities.

Above: The puja (prayer) room at Trungram Monastery. This is the place that the monks gather in the morning and evening for two-hour prayer sessions. The prayer sessions are amazing to sit in on. They include lots of deep Tibetan chanting, gongs and horns.

Above: Me standing in one of the meditation caves. This is the oldest cave in the area and Jangchup told me that thousands of years ago, monks would come here to meditate for up to six months.

Above: The boys at the monastery. The majority of the monks pictured here are my former students. (So proud of them!) Anyone under four feet I most likely don’t know, as the smallest monks have only recently entered the monastery.

Above: The small monks sit on the lawn practicing their Tibetan after lunch.

Above: Two of the boys run up and down the hill adjacent to the monastery.

Above: On our way up to the Vajrayogini temple complex, Jangchup and I came across this Hindu shrine on the side of the path. The grounds surrounding it were still wet with fresh blood, as an animal (most likely a goat) had recently been sacrificed to the Gods.

Above: Me standing in front of the Buddha in the Trungram Monastery’s puja room.

PHOTOS: Himalayan Hash Run #2

This past Saturday was the women’s festival of Teej here in Nepal. On Teej women dress in red, head for the holy Hindu sites like Pashupatinath and dance the day away. Part of the Teej rituals (only for the women) include fasting all day. They must not eat any food for 24 hours and cannot even drink a sip of water. (I read a news article about hundreds of women at Pashuatinath who, while celebrating, fainted from lack of food and water this year.) During the 24 hour fast, women pray for a good husband. Instead of fasting and praying for a good man, I laced up my running shoes and headed for the hills with the Himalayan Hash House Harriers. To the chagrin of my neighbor, Gita, I left the house around 2 p.m. after eating a meal to fuel myself for the extravaganza. “Don’t you want to stay?” she asked, eyeing my dirty athletic shoes that were caked with mud from the last Hash run. “Don’t you wan’t to look like a bride?” she asked, pointing to her made-up face. I told her, sorry, but I had some running to do.

This week’s Hash was about an hour outside of central Kathmandu near the village of Sankhu, which is actually where I used to live three years ago when I was teaching English to monks as Trungram Monastery. It was great to be back running around my old stomping grounds. I recently purchased a small, waterproof waist belt that I can run with. My new gear allows me to take my point-and-shoot camera along with me on my Hash runs. Here are some photos from Himalayan Hash #1666.


Above: The Hashers circle up before the run begins.  The GM (Grand Master) in the middle debriefs us before we set out.  Saturday’s run was laid by “The Scholars,” the three young Nepali guys on the far right.

Above: The runners sprint along the river near Sankhu.

Above: A group of us take a breather, trying to find the confetti paper on the ground that will turn us in the right direction.

Above: Some of the Hashers run by a rice field. The women in the paddies are harvesting the rice.

Above: We had to make several river crossings on this Hash. I think I crossed rivers that were at least waist deep about four times.

Above: The Hashers try to figure out which way to go.

Above: The runners check out the awesome rice paddy views from a hill top.

Above: We wait at a “holding” spot for the rest of the runners to catch up.

Above: Me at the holding, sweating and smiling.

Above: After almost an hour-and-a-half of running, the runners came across a group of singing women dressed in red saris, celebrating the women’s festival of Teej.

Above: Paul made a rather impressive and graceful “Hash Crash” when we were crossing some dried up rice fields. The wounds were more spectacular in person.

Above: Somehow, when we were waiting for the rest of the runners to catch up, I got roped into dancing with the Nepali women in the Teej circle.

Above: The women in the Teej circle were singing and dancing when we ran by and continued to do so when we left.

Above: Dancing in the Teej circle in the countryside on the outskirts of Sankhu.

Above: After the run is finished, the virgins get initiated into the group with beer from metal goblets.

Snapshot Story: Female Construction Workers in Nepal

From my observations I can safely say that the construction industry in the United States is largely dominated by men. When passing by construction sites I rarely see a woman and if I do, she is usually holding a sign to direct traffic, not actually doing the manual work.

In Nepal, there exists a more equal balance between the male and female construction workers. Seeing a woman stacking and mortaring bricks at a building site is just as common as seeing a man doing the same job. Nepal lacks many of the big machines that we have in the US to assist with construction, for example, cement-mixing trucks. Everything is done by hand: laying bricks, mixing cement, digging earth, transporting rocks and putting up bamboo scaffolding. I have tremendous respect for anyone working in the Nepalese construction industry, for the intense manual labor that I see on the streets and at building sites looks to me to be literally backbreaking.

After growing accustomed to seeing women, both very young and very old, working construction jobs, I began to notice their clothing. Despite the messy, dirty chaos of their work sites, the women construction workers manage to keep their clothing incredibly clean and bright. There’s no coveralls for them, for they don their delicate and vibrantly colored saris and kurtas to work. There exists a contrast between the femininity of the women and the harsh nature of their manual labor. To watch women workers with their perfectly clean saris and kurtas transport bricks on their heads, smiling and laughing all the while, almost seems unreal.

Nepal’s Genius Security Systems

Sometimes I think that we in the Western world unnecessarily complicate life.  This theory is often confirmed when I am traveling or living in developing countries and I see how they do things here.  People in the developing world often have simple and easy solutions for life’s everyday problems.  Westerners could learn a thing or two from these solutions on how to make life less complicated.

I spend a lot of time roaming the streets of Kathmandu and have noticed that Nepalis have come up with some genius security systems for their homes and businesses.  Now, in the West we often install expensive alarms that trigger calls to the police who then have to drive to the point of break-in.  What happens if the alarm doesn’t go off?  What happens if the police don’t get there in time?  You’re out of luck.

The majority of security systems in Kathmandu are much simpler, but I assume, very effective.  All you need to install a simple, yet genius Nepali security system is some cement, rusty nails and maybe an empty wine bottle or two.  There are two types of security systems I’ve seen: nails and glass.  To install the nails system just put some wet cement around the top of the wall around your home.  When the cement begins to dry, stick the rusty nails in (pointy side up).  Voila! You now have a layer of rusty, pointy nails to deter any intruders.

Nepal Genius Security System Version 2 is the “glass system.”  To install the glass system, simply invite all your alcoholic friends to your house for a weekend of booze fueled revelry.  After all the guests and their hangovers have departed, take all the empty wine and beer bottles and smash them with a hammer.  Then, as with the “nails system,” put a layer of cement around the top of the wall around your house.  Stick the shards of glass in the cement and, voila!, now you have a layer of razor-sharp glass pieces to keep away bad guys.


Above: Exhibit A: The Nails System

Above: Exhibit B: The Glass System

Above: More of the Glass System.

PHOTOS: Krishna Janmashtami Festival

Last Thursday I attended the fantastically colored festival, Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Krishna’s birthday party. Krishna is one of the main gods worshipped by Hindus. The festival, which began before the sun had risen over Kathmandu, was ushered in at Patan Durbar Square with much pomp and circumstance. I have been to Patan Durbar Square dozens of times, but have never seen it as packed as it was for Krishna Janmashtami. There is a Krishna temple located in the main courtyard of Patan Durbar Square, which was where most of the day’s activities were centered.

There were two main lines (one for women and one for men) that wound and roped all around the neighborhood. Everyone was standing in line to actually enter the Krishna temple to give offerings and pray. There were thousands of attendees and I predict that it probably took around five or six hours for those waiting in line to actually reach the Krishna temple. Someone had planned ahead, though. There were several Red Cross tents set up with water and food and first aid kits, which I presume was for in case anyone fainted from the heat. There were several people sleeping in the tents when I passed by.

In my quest to understand the riots and fanfare surrounding this Krishna, I asked all my Nepali friends what kind of god he is and what makes him special. I came away with a number of varying answers, but mostly I came to understand that Krishna was somewhat of a “playboy.” According to one of my sources, Krishna had 1,000 wives. While winding through the crowds at the festival, it soon became apparent that the women’s line to enter the Krishna temple was about ten times longer than the men’s line. My friend told me that many women come to this festival because they want to pray to Krishna, who is apparently regarded as a “women’s god,” and ask him for a good husband. I wondered why all these thousands of women wanted to stand in line for six hours to ask for marital bliss from a god who had 1,000 wives. I decided this was a fruitless question to ponder, so I abandoned the thought and began snapping photos of the spectacle. Here are some of my photos from the event:


Above: The women’s line was exponentially longer than the men’s line. These women probably have another two hours before they get to enter the Krishna temple.

Above: Krishna Janmashtami festival attendees carried long, fluorescent peacock feathers. The peacock feather is significant because Lord Krishna wears one in his headdress.

Above: Pigeons scatter near the front of the line. The festival was held at Patan Durbar Square.

Above: Patan Durbar Square was packed with festival attendees and onlookers. A band periodically squeezed its way through the main cobbled street, banging out a rhythm for devotees to enjoy in the sun.

Above: A woman shades her eyes with her peacock feathers. This group has almost made it to the front of the line.

Above: After the devotees enter the Krishna temple, they proceeded to go around to the back of the complex where dozens of Brahmin priests had set up shop on the ground to give out prayers and tikka (red dots on the forehead).

Above: A Brahmin priest waits to perform another ritual. On his forehead is a mixture of rice grains and red tikka powder.

Above: A Brahmin priest gives a tikka to a devotee. Those who visited the priests after entering the temple paid a fee for the prayer and tikka. Someone told me that they priests work on a “sliding scale.” Attendees paid whatever they had, anywhere from a few rupees up to 100 or more rupees.

Above: The priest’s provisions displayed on a tarp around his feet. The provisions included various powders, pastes, rice grains and colored thread.

Above: A Brahmin priest sits in a line with others of his caste, waiting to give prayers.

Above: The same priest finds someone to bless. Notice his hands that are stained red from all the prayers and tikkas he had given since morning.

Above: Two women receiving blessings.

Above: A priest gives a blessing.

Above: The priest shows a woman how to properly hold the offering, which is a leaf bowl full of rice.

Above: After the Brahmin priests gave tikkas, they also received them from the devotees. This priest has quite the build up of tikka paste on his forehead.

Above: Provisions for the day’s blessings.

Above: Two priests sit on a structure behind the Krishna temple.

Above: As I left the festival, these women near the back of the line still had another five hours or so until they reached the temple. Luckily, they had reached a spot in the line that offered some shade.

Skin Test: A Brief Experiment in Air Quality

There is absolutely no way in hell that I would drive a motorbike in Kathmandu.  An endless stream of obstacles faces the intrepid Kathmandu motorcyclist: taxis, cars, cows, thundering TaTa trucks with 15 different horns (I’m serious), cows, potholes, open sewers, kids, adults, floods, puddles, etc… The list could go on.  Despite my refusal to drive a motorbike myself, many of my friends who live in Kathmandu are seasoned pros in the motorbike driving department, so I often find myself on the back of their vehicles.  Anyone who goes from Point A to Point B on a motorbike in Kathmandu will probably notice a few things:

1) If you’re not wearing sunglasses, your eyeballs start to feel as though they’ve been ripped out, dipped in cornmeal and then placed back into your head.  This feeling stems from the incredible amount of dust and dirt and smog in the air.

2) If you drive across town on a motorbike, then go home and blow your nose, the “residue” on the tissue will most likely be black from the aforementioned smog, dust, dirt and pollution.

3) If you open your mouth at all when riding in Kathmandu on a motorbike, it will likely feel as though you’ve just chewed a mouthful of sand (also due to the dust and dirt in the air).

I’ve noticed all these things throughout the many months I’ve spent in Kathmandu being ushered around on other people’s motorbikes.  So, this evening I got home from a rather long ride.  I was outside of the Kathmandu Valley last night for a magazine story and returned to my home around 6 p.m.  The route that my colleague (who was driving the motorbike) had to take to get me from the village where we were staying to my  house basically took us all the way across Kathmandu city.  When I got home, my face felt like it normally does after a long motorbike in Nepal’s capital: gritty and disgusting, but nothing out of the ordinary for an intercity ride.

I decided to conduct a brief experiment.  I took out one of my facial wipes that I carry for plane rides and wiped exactly half of my face clean and then left the other half as it was after the bike ride.  I proceeded to take a picture.  Now I have photographic evidence of the havoc Kathmandu air (and long motorbike rides) wreaks on the skin.  This picture makes me think that I either a) need to buy a face mask for motorbike rides, or b) I need a facial.

EXHIBIT A of Kathmandu’s Horrendous Air Quality:

Wait, does the smog layer make me look like I have a tan?  A possible bright side.  As you can tell, the left side is clean and the right side has a nice solid coating of air pollution.



Running With the Himalayan Hash House Harriers

My shoes after the Hash.

One of the sturdy Nepali runners, by the name of “Kimmo,” stood in the middle of the river, brown water gushing past in torrential waves. As each one of us came to the river bank, he reached out his hand, grabbed on and flung us, one by one, across the raging waters. One woman was pushed over by the strong current, almost totally submerged. When it was my turn, I grabbed the man’s hand and jumped in the river, which was about waist deep. He helped move me to one side of the river to the other as I teetered, keeping a precarious balance in the waters.

I made it to the opposite side successfully and proceeded to follow the group. We scrambled up an almost completely vertical mud hill, grabbing chunks of grass and roots to steady our ascent. At the top of the embankment, my heart felt like it was going to explode from my chest. I quickly checked my ankles for leeches and continued on, sprinting with the group down a six-inch wide mud wall dividing two rice paddies.

“GET A FUCKING MOVE ON! WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS, A VACATION?” screams the G.M. from behind me, in a thick British accent.

I smile and run a little faster. I slip, almost falling into the adjacent rice paddy, as my right foot become completely submerged up the the ankle in a thick, clay-like mud.

“HA HA!” comes the G.M.’s voice from behind me. “YOU’VE ALMOST HAD YOUR FIRST HASH CRASH!”

Bessie, the G.M.’s black and white shaggy dog, nips at my heals.

“KEEP FUCKING RUNNING!” says the G.M. again. And I do.

This muddy, soggy, wet, monsoon run marks my first with the Himalayan Hash House Harriers (HHHH). There are Hash House Harriers groups all around the world, from this one in Nepal, to Nairobi, Kenya, to Stockholm, Sweden, to Portland, Oregon (and almost everywhere in between).

The Hashers call themselves a “drinking group with a running problem,” which explains the jovial beer-drinking activities that commence at the end of the run. The first Hash House Harriers group was started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1939 by a group of Brits who wanted a way to “rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend.” The Himalayan Hashers, just like their forefathers, are loud and proud and vulgar, and they love every minute of it.

I had heard of the Hash House Harriers before, but didn’t know what to expect from my first excursion with them. I contacted the G.M. (also known as the “Grand Master,” who is in charge of the whole group) and he picked me up at 1:45 on Saturday afternoon. We drove to the location of the Hash (also known as the ‘run’) with two other runners, the G.M.’s driver and the G.M’s dog, Bessie. During the ride, profanities, hilariously raunchy jokes and teasing were plentiful. I had a feeling that this run would be like no other I’d ever experienced.

After getting out of central Kathmandu, we took a muddy and pot-holed road to the location of the day’s run, which was the 1,664th Hash of the HHHH. (Hashes are always given a specific number. The HHHH have been “trashing the Valley since 1979,” so are nearing 1,700 runs since the late 70’s.) To find the location, one is supposed to follow the piles of confetti paper on the ground. Since it was monsooning out and the roads had basically become mud rivers, this was very difficult, but finally we found the spot which was at Phutung, north of Balaju.

I hopped out of the car and joined my fellow runners at the location, which was in a small village near the rim of the Kathmandu Valley. The runners slowly trickled in on bikes, in taxis or in their own cars. There were between 30 and 40 people running in the 1664 Hash, which surprised me, considering the heavy monsoon rains that were soaking us to the bone before the run even started. The majority of the group were expatriates: teachers at international schools, UN workers, embassy workers and NGO workers. In addition, there were probably six or seven Nepali runners. The runners heralded from all over the world: Australia, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Africa, Denmark and beyond. Some had been coming to the Himalayan Hash for a month, others, who are more permanent residents of Nepal, had attended hundreds. Many of the long-time Hashers have Hash nicknames. According to the G.M., these names are earned, not simply given out to anyone who attends. The names often stem from something that happened on a certain run. I met “Lady Chatterly,” “Happy Clappy,” “Dead-in-the-Water,” “Kruel,” “In-And-Out,” “HeBitch,” “Dr. Death” and “Kimmo” on my first day.

After everyone had arrived, we circled up in an open field area and the rules were explained. There is a set course already laid out by the day’s “Hares” (they come early and run the course first). The Hares “lay the trail” by putting circles of ripped paper in various spots on the correct trail. The runners must follow the paper path, wherever it may lead, back to the beginning. The catch is that the Hares sometimes put down “false trails” that purposefully lead the runners astray. When this happens, everyone must gather together and search within a 200 meter radius to find the correct way. It became apparent during the course that the process of finding the paper trail becomes exponentially more complicated when it’s monsooning out, for much of the paper either disintegrates or gets washed away.

After explaining the rules, we were off. The run began with a hazardous descent of a muddy hill into the surrounding rice paddies. We were slipping, sliding and falling on our knees from the beginning.

As the minutes passed, we sprinted further and further into the countryside, winding through the lush green rice paddies and past tiny brick huts. We wound through small clusters of homes owned by the rice farmers and past herds of goats feeding on soggy hay. As we ran by, the local farmers looked at us like we were U.F.O.’s, most likely wondering why in the world these mud-caked, soaking wet, Lycra-clad foreigners were running through their villages and rice fields. In some places, it seemed that the entire village gathered outside their homes to stare and laugh, wide-eyed.

Forty-five minutes into the run, the monsoon rains subsided and the sun made its appearance. I was grateful for this because my pants had become so mud and waterlogged that I feared they would fall off. The sun dried us out a bit and made the rest of the run slightly less slippery.

Over an hour and a half later we made it back to the beginning location. Endorphins were pumping through my body from the intense exercise and I was uncontrollably ravenous. Luckily, a table was set out for us with snacks and drinks. “HeBitch” (one of the Hares for the day) passed around brownies, and I could have sworn that I’d never tasted anything so heavenly in my life.

After twenty minutes of social time and eating, the G.M. demanded we circle up, which is the tradition after every Hash. The G.M. stood in the center making jokes and teasing various Hashers. Then, he instructed the “virgins” (those whose first Hash it was) to come to the center for our initiation. There were three other virgins along with myself. We were given gold goblets filled with beer. Then, the Hashers sing a chant and you must chug your beer before the song is done or else pour the beer on your head. We virgins were all successfully initiated into the group.

That night I returned home exhausted, shedding mud and satisfied. I’ll surely be joining the Himalayan Hashers for many more runs during my stay in Nepal.

My mud soaked shoes and socks after the Hash run. Note: The socks were new and crisp white before the run began.