Tag Archives: running

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.

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: Week 4 Updates

This woman probably sells the same thing on the same corner day after day. I wonder if she ever gets bored?

Somehow, I’ve already been in Kathmandu for four weeks.  My days here are packed and that’s just the way I like it.  I’m settling into the fast-paced life of a magazine editor and have even become accustomed to six-day work weeks, which I was bemoaning just two weeks ago.  Six-day work weeks make my one day off, Saturday, so much sweeter.  I’ve been thinking about what it will be like when I return to the US next year and start working five-day work weeks (here’s for hoping, anyway).  It will be luxury! Pure luxury!

My apartment is shaping up quite nicely.  I live in an area called “Sanepa” which is on the opposite side of the Bagmati River as Kathmandu.  Technically, I do not live in Kathmandu, but I live in Patan.  The Bagmati River is the divider between the two cities, but the urban creep quickly blurred the lines between Kathmandu and Patan a long time ago.  In my neighborhood there is a large concentration of foreigners living and working.  This area is also a central to a number of NGOs and foreign schools, so there are many fellow expatriates living around here on long-term assignments.  Kathmandu’s British School is right down the street from my flat, so there are usually school-aged children walking around during the afternoon after gets out.  If I’m home in the evening, I usually stand on the rooftop of my building with my land lady and neighbor, Gita.  Whenever she sees a foreign woman with a baby walk by, she tells me that she can’t wait for me, too, to “have birth.”  “Baby cute!” she says.  I quickly change the subject after telling her that, with hope, I won’t be “having birth” for some time.  After I change the subject she bemoans her dark skin and I fruitlessly try to explain the concept of tanning beds and tanning lotions.  Thus far, I’ve made no headway on the subject.

The other news in regards to my apartment is that I finally got four items of furniture: two comfy chairs and two tables (one for a desk and one for the kitchen).  This was a major breakthrough thanks to the local tea shop owner, Basanta.  Basanta’s place is the hang-out spot for all my Nepali friends.  His shop is a musty, dark place that has the best tea around.  We sit there for hours and drink endless cups of Nepali tea and sometimes coffee.  Although Basanta doesn’t speak English, he knew through my Nepali friends that I was in need of furniture.  Last week I showed up after work at Basanta’s and, lo-and-behold, there was a stack of used furniture for me! It was a miracle (a very reasonably priced miracle). I was so excited for my new furniture that I told him I would immediately hire a taxi to transport the items to my flat.  Basanta brushed off that suggestion as nonsense and pointed to a medieval horse cart that he had in his shop.  “What?” I thought.  “He can’t be serious.”  But, he was.  Basanta quickly piled all the furniture on the horse cart, lashed it on with frayed rope, and off we went to my place.  It took us about 45 minutes to push the furniture-heavy cart through the streets. We were winding through main streets, highways, alleys and everything in between.  We caused quite a major traffic jam when trying to cross the main chowk (street).  To top off the adventure, it was monsooning out and a complete mud bath in the street.  We arrived at my house soaking wet and caked with mud.  But, furniture!  Glorious furniture!  I don’t think I’ve ever been so appreciative of anything.

Work is going quite well.  We’re doing some fun work with web development and I’ve been doing some great stories.  (I’ll post links to my stories once they are published).  A huge part of my job is reading. I read ALL day.  I read stories submitted by freelancers, stories already published, stories from other news sources and stories from anywhere else I can find.  I feel that I’m learning an incredible amount about Nepal from all these stories.  It’s fun to go out exploring and then be able to apply the bits I’ve learned from all the reading.

My running regime is also going well.  I’ve perfected the morning run route.  Yesterday was a holiday from work, so I had the day to myself to relax.  I was excited for my day off, but the constant monsoon rain quickly squelched my excitement.  I was stranded in my house, about to go crazy from my forced hermitage.  Finally, around 3:30 p.m. there was a break in the rains.  I immediately slipped on my running shoes, which were still soggy from the day before, and hit the road.  This was my first attempt at afternoon running, and I was actually pleasantly surprised.  Afternoon running is quite different than early-morning running just because there are exponentially more people out and about.  But, from my morning runs I’ve learned the art of blocking out things going on around me.  I don’t block out everything of course, mostly just the awkward stares that I get from people.  Not many people run here, and if they do, it’s usually early.  Afternoon runners are almost non-existant.  So, I got a LOT more stares on my afternoon run and a number of annoying “comments” from men standing around or motorcycling by.  Luckily, I couldn’t understand the comments and I’m sure if I could they would either be a) annoying or b) offensive.  Well, I guess the language barrier is good for something.

In general, I’m falling into my Kathmandu routine, which is quite fun.  Being an expatriate here is never boring, I can say that much.

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.