Tag Archives: exercise

My New Bike: The Bumpy Road to Freedom

Two weeks ago I sat in a surprisingly clean clinic near Durbar Marg (where all Kathmandu’s beautiful and rich people go to see and be seen), listening to a surprisingly young Nepali doctor give me his prognosis

“Tendonitis,” he said resolutely, as he scanned my chart. “No running for six weeks.”

“Six weeks? Are you sure about that?” I asked.

“Six weeks,” he confirmed with a nod.

I limped away from the International Clinic crestfallen with a 5-day supply of anti-inflammatories and a blunted sense of rage that I had so over-run my foot since arriving in Nepal that now I was sentenced to a month and a half of inactivity.

Spurred by my foot injury I decided to buy a bike. Purchasing a bicycle was something I’d been mulling over for about a month (On one hand: Wheels! On the other hand: Kathmandu traffic…). A group of young German volunteers who are working with a friend’s NGO recently arrived in the city and quickly bought bikes for themselves. I’d been envying their cycles for some time, so while walking home the other day, instead of turning right to go home, I turned left to Patan Dhoka (Patan Gate), where I had heard was a good bicycle shop.

I passed through Patan Dhoka and made a bee line for the first bike shop I could find: K.B.’s Cycle Traders. It was a small shop, the outsides covered in a layer of dust like everything else in Kathmandu, but the insides bursting full of new bicycles, both small and large.

“I need I bike,” I told the slick man who bounded up to help me.

“Ok, what kind you like? We have everything. Everything best quality,” he said.

We quickly picked one out, an ‘Everest’ brand mountain bike, and he wheeled the shining cycle next door so the tank-top clad attendants could screw in pedals and attach a bell.

“Best quality,” he assured me as I hand over 6,000 of my hard-earned rupees.

“Where from? China or India?” I asked.

“China,” he replied. “Best quality.”

The bike looked pretty good to me. It smelled of new tires and freedom.

I spend the next three hours swerving through back alleys in Patan, sailing down any patch of smooth pavement I can find, bumping over pot holes and avoiding treacherous open sewers. After two weeks of no running, pumping my legs, breaking a sweat and feeling the air on my face is exhilarating.

After I exhaust most of the streets and alleys in Patan, I cycle over to Basanta’s tea shop, which, however cliché it may sound, I can only liken to the Cheers bar of Kathmandu, but instead of beer, we drink cup after cup of milk tea. As expected the whole crew is there. I proudly drive up and drag my bike inside.

“I got a bike!” I proclaim. It is supposed to be my “Ta-Da!” moment and I’m unable to wipe the silly grin off my face. My friends courteously admire my bike for 10 seconds and then go back to their tea cups and Surya cigarettes.

Basanta, the tea shop owner who seems to constantly be in a marijuana haze and has one very long pinky finger nail painted blue, asks my friends in Nepalese how much I paid for it.

“About 6,000,” I tell them. (Around $83 USD).

He tells them he got almost the same one as me for 4,500 rupees. I sigh, but don’t really care. Nepalis are perpetually telling me how much less they paid for X, Y and Z. I know that paying more is just an occupational hazard of having white skin.

The next day, I spend the morning riding all around the city. I ride from my house in Sanepa all the way across town to the Northfield Cafe in Thamel just because they have good drip coffee and just because I can.

Several hours later, in the mid-afternoon sun I head back to my side of town to meet everyone at Basanta’s. Twenty minutes into my ride I’m in the middle of Durbar Marg, flying down the pavement, dodging motorcycles and taxis, dogs and potholes, savoring my freedom and then I hear a sound. With one swift exhalation, a puff and a wheeze, my Chinese-made freedom evaporates into the dusty Kathmandu air. I have one very flat front tire. Almost as quickly as my Chinese bike had given me liberation from my own two feet, it was gone. China giveth and China taketh away.

“Best quality my ass,” I mumble as I drag my shiny, less-than-12-hour-old mountain bike to the side of the road.

As I heave this hulk of a bicycle, this two-wheeled menace that brought me so much joy in the past half-day, I stew about the bike shop, the bike salesman, my own hurt pride and Chinese products in general. Although I pass by dozens of bike repair shops, I’m determined to walk all the way across town in the sticky 2 p.m. heat to revisit K.B.’s, where I bought the cycle, and make a scene about the bike’s poor quality. I refuse to pay even one rupee to get the tire fixed, as I just paid 6,000 yesterday.

The minutes tick by and sweat starts to bead on my brow as I walk alongside the congested highway with my bike. Walking from Durbar Marg to Patan Dhoka is a lot farther than I thought. Buses brimming full of passengers chug by me, spewing black smog in my face. I weave through traffic and the city’s cacophony of horns, my energy draining by the minute.

As I walk further the deflated tire and tube slowly become unattached to the front rim, which means it’s becoming increasingly difficult to even push the bike. Over particularly rough and broken pieces of sidewalk I resort to carrying the frame on my shoulder. Despite its heft, I chuckle to myself that they actually dare call this piece-of-crap a “mountain bike.” The thing would surely disintegrate within minutes if I actually took it on a Himalayan trail.

I’m now almost completely drenched in sweat, pushing, dragging, heaving, towing my Everest cycle, which is still perfectly shiny and new, minus the front tire. There’s hardly a speck of dirt or mud anywhere to be seen on the frame.

As I struggle, spindly Nepali and Indian men whiz by me on their ancient, rusty, one-speed bikes that work like a charm. Me, wearing my turquoise Dri-Fit Nike T-shirt with a crisp white swoosh embroidered on the front. Them, zooming by one by one wearing cotton collared shirts, threadbare around the elbows, and worn cotton pants, thin as rice paper. They look at me and my shiny new, broken-down bike smugly.

An hour-and-a-half later I finally arrive at K.B.’s, hair wet with sweat, face black with smog and front tire almost completely off the rim. I’ve had 90 minutes to think of all sorts of things I could say to the bike salesman, defaming his business, accusing him of selling faulty products, demanding that he give me two new tires, commanding a full refund.

The salesman bounds out, looking me up and down, a little surprised that I’m back so soon. I glare at him as I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand and shake off the sweat.

“Flat tire,” I say as I point an accusatory finger at the sad-looking front rim.

“Oh! Puncture!” he says, as if I didn’t already know that it was a puncture. He darts around with a kind of bubbly vigor and feigned innocence that makes the past 90 minutes of built up annoyance slowly evaporate with the absurdity of it all.

“Yes. Puncture,” I say.

“Oh! Haha! So funny,” he says as he paces back and forth on his feet. He quickly grabs my bicycle and drags it next door for the same attendants to fix my tire. “So funny,” he says and looks back at me with a wink and a smile. “Just ten minutes, new tire! Best quality!” he says.

I collapse on a stone ledge across from K.B.’s and wait for my tire to be fixed. A sinewy middle-aged man with a pock-marked face swiftly replaces the tube and the tire and tightens a few loose screws while he’s at it.

Just five minutes later, the bike salesman hands me back my Everest. All the scenes I envisioned on my long trek to the shop, the demands and the defamations are long gone. I flash him a smile as he again assures me: “Best quality Chinese!”

“Thanks!” I say and hop on my bike, threading and maneuvering through the cramped lanes of Patan, leaving K.B.’s behind and once again savoring the tinny sound of my bike’s bell and the grind of the gears shifting.

The wind quickly dries the sweat on my face and I pedal to Basanta’s, tire pumped full and pride restored. Freedom at last.

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.

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.

BLOG: Running in Kathmandu

Running Shoes (Photo by ernomijland-flickr)

After being in Kathmandu for two weeks (and half-a-year in 2007) I had come to the following conclusion: walking straight in Nepal’s capital city is an impossibility.  I have tried to prove myself wrong on numerous occasions (maybe this street? No. Maybe that alley? No.), but failed miserably every time.  Walking in a straight line, uninterrupted just would not work.  There are pot holes, open sewers, dead and alive dogs in the street, piles of garbage, maniacal taxis and rickshaws, children, adults, food carts, and piles of poop, all of which prove to be obstacles to dodge while walking.   I found this rather unfortunate because if I am to live here for any extended period of time I need to run.

Exercise, running specifically, is very important to me.  Some people meditate or do yoga to clear their mind.  I run.  Running keeps me feeling good and energetic, but most importantly, it keeps me sane.  I never ever run while listening to music because that hour while I am pounding the pavement is my personal time to sift through my thoughts.  I usually finish a run feeling sweaty and inspired.  Besides using running to maintain my sanity, the Kathmandu Marathon is looming on October 2nd (I’ll probably do the half marathon).  I have yet to finish a half-marathon and I figured I might as well start with a bang and do the Kathmandu race.

While I was wallowing in my sorrows about the impossibility of running outside I woefully investigated gyms.  This would be an absolute last resort, I told myself.  Although I adore outside running, hiking and walking, I Hate (with a capital H) gyms.  Running on treadmills is especially dreadful.  I was at work, complaining about not being able to run, when one of my co-workers suggested that, in fact, it is possible!  The catch: waking up at 5:30 in the morning.

An early morning wake-up didn’t seem too bad, so I decided to give it a try.  My efforts were rewarded.  I have now successfully run outside in Kathmandu for four days and will continue to do so almost every day that I can.  I’m actually incredibly pleased with my morning runs.  At 5:30 a.m. about 80% of the aforementioned obstacles are not yet on the road.  I even pass by some fellow runners every now and then.  I’ve quickly learned to ignore prying eyes (hard to escape in this city) and have charted about three routes that I quite enjoy.  The first day I ran from my apartment to Ring Road, and followed Ring Road for about a mile.  This was okay, but Ring Road is a very busy street (even at 5:30 in the morning) so it was difficult to escape exhaust fumes and gritty eyes.

The second day I found a much more pleasant route that actually goes into the semi-country outside of Ring Road.  I can run up and down hills and through some rice paddy areas where there is exponentially less traffic and rabid-looking dogs.

Being up early gives me a nice window into the morning activities in the area.  Here are a few of the sights I’ve seen while on my morning runs:

*One of my routes leads me to a bridge over a river (Bagmati? I’m not sure, maybe too small for the Bagmati).  Now, forget Caddy Car Wash!  Instead of a hose down of a mechanical car-wash, taxi drivers simply drive their vehicles right into the river, whip out plastic buckets and clean their cars with river water! I was so surprised when I first saw the gathering of taxis in the river that I stopped my run to watch.

*As I gazed at the goings on of the taxi washing, I noticed a gaggle of crows and vultures snacking on a gray, decomposing, headless pig, which was sitting right in the middle of a shallow portion of the river (about 10 feet downstream from the taxi wash area).

*First, I heard a thunderous cracking of glass, metal and plastic.  I turned around just in time to see a pretty horrible motorbike crash.  The two drivers quickly stood up and yelled at each other.  Witnessing the early-morning accident confirmed that I will never ride a motorbike in Kathmandu (unless I am sitting on the back).

*Early mornings are the best times to witness the butchers at work.  Butcher shops in Kathmandu are like nowhere I’ve ever seen: the chopped up pieces of

A butcher's table in Nepal (goat no more).

meat sit out in the open on a table.  Usually the butcher shop owner hoovers over the meat chunks with a wand to dispel the flies.  But, mornings are when the butchers actually slaughter the said animal (usually goat).  My running routes take me by a number of butcher shops.  On Friday I saw a spotted brown goat munching on a blade of grass, looking forlorn, and tied to a stake.  His former compatriot was sitting in three pieces, completely shaved, on the butcher’s table: head on the far left, abdomen and front legs in the middle, and hind quarters sitting askew on the far left.  I felt that the alive goat was not feeling so lucky and could most likely sense his impending doom.