Friday, February 25, 2011

Everest- Going the Long Way

On Sunday morning Donnie and I will be heading to Ratna Bus Park and taking the bus to Jiri or Shivalaya, and from there walking all the way to Everest Base Camp, Gokyo and then flying out of Lukla. In a previous post I mentioned that in my opinion this is the best single trek you can do in Nepal. Although this will be my third trip into the region, I have not done the part prior to Lukla since 2002 and I'm very interested to see how it's different. The last time I was in this region the insurgency had really just started to heat back up after the royal massacre the summer before. I'm interested to see what's happened now that the insurgency is over.

Another opportunity will be to get up and over the Cho La pass. My last trip had me going up and over this pass, but as fate would have it, we were unable to get across the Ngozumpa Glacier. Even after heading south it turned out due to the excessive amount of glacial melt that the bridges to the village of Nha were up forcing us to take the southern route through Phortse and then over the high trail to Pengboche. This time we will be heading up to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patar first then heading south and heading over the Cho La pass from the east, a route that by all accounts is the better crossing anyway.

We will on the return be flying out of Lukla again, which is always an adventure. as cited numerous times on this blog, that steep graded runway ending essentially with a very steep drop is an interesting airport to fly out of. Really it's more frightening flying into that airport, so I guess we're dodging the really sketchy part. Still the morning flights coincide with the thermal ups which can cause you stomach to hang around in the same vicinity of your throat for the duration of the flight spent in the Khumbu valley.

So again for what I'm guessing will be roughly two and a half weeks this blog will be quiet. I'm sure on my return I'll have plenty of stories to share and more than a few posts to write.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Revolution Doesn't End When Figureheads Come Down

There was a good article in Republica today about some Maoist leaders catching hell from supporters who had lost family members during the struggle of the insurgency (Maoist Leaders Speechless Before Martyr's Kin). Now I'm not sympathetic to the Maoist cause, but I am sympathetic to people who fought for what they thought would be a better world and had their trust betrayed by people who used their sacrifices to attain power and then discarded them. Politics in Nepal is not a game of appeasing the electorate, as next to no tax base comes from the people, it's a game of appeasing foreign interests and aid agencies that funnel tremendous amounts of money through various state and just as often non-state but politically connected entities. The result has been that it is very lucrative to maintain the status quo, of not making any political progress and certainly no social progress, or none at a meaningful level beyond what can be advertised as feel good programs for the various concerned entities.

Cynicism aside there are many people, and to some extent even foreign governments, acting with the best of intentions here, but the consequences of their presence and the general lack of any sense of civic virtue among Nepali politicos has created the political doldrums that Nepal now finds itself in. Public apathy, a political sector where corruption is not the exception but the rule, and a government machine that is not dependent on its citizens for funding has created a Nepal very different than the ones most had envisioned when the king was ousted in the mass protests of 2006. One where the words "load shedding" are used to cover up the fact that the government has mandated blackouts for most of the day in the dry season and waking hours with power are rare. It's a Nepal where politicians who achieve high office can't list a single thing they've done for their country, only rattle off ways in which they manipulated internal power struggles to achieve their new position. The revolution, by the real people of Nepal, not just the Maoists, lost its fire after the King a figurehead of the country came down, but then it was back to the usual. It's a lesson that the revolution isn't about just removing the figurehead, you've got to clean house and adjust policy to reality.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

America- Realm of the Devas

Most of the time I'm rather dismissive of Buddhist and Hindu cosmology, most of it seems as absurd to me as when Christian theologians mapped out the heavens, hell and assigned names and  hierarchies to the inhabitants of those places. One always wonders where such insight and knowledge came from, what special divination do these folks have access to that the rest of us don't? So it is then that I have never really taken the whole Buddhist wheel of life too seriously; it talks of the world of Devas who are always warring with demi-gods, of a realm of hungry ghosts, hell, and it populates these realms with the same kind of fantastic beings. While I was in Bhutan though something our guide said made me take a second look at the diagram. 

A Buddhist Wheel of Life

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bryan Adams Can't Save Nepal

So there is a Bryan Adams concert in Nepal tonight. One would think that a concert by a man whose last song you can recall on the radio happened back when you were in middle school wouldn't be that big a deal. This case might gain further relevance when you consider that the song in question wasn't even that good and was attached to a very bad film featuring a very bad Kevin Costner playing Robin Hood. But I suppose if you happen to be a Bryan Adams fan it's your lucky day if you're in Nepal- good for you.

The problem is that the way this concert is being billed you'd think Kurt Cobain rose from the grave and Nirvana was having a reunion concert in Nepal. He's being touted as a legend of rock as if the Rolling Stones or someone with- you know immense talent that didn't sing cheesy soft rock love songs that people stopped listening to almost twenty years ago. This event has been watched with more enthusiasm and worry for national pride than the writing of the national constitution (I only wish this were hyperbole). People have deemed the day of his arrival D-Day, and the Nepali press has followed every development closely.

Newscaster: "This isn't the first bad thing to come out of Canada. Let us not forget about Bryan Adams!"
Canadian PM: "Now, now, the Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions!"
-South Park

As the above quote indicates, to some extent, Bryan Adams was a bit of a joke back home even when the South Park movie came out back in 1999. That was 12 years ago. I'm not really writing this to rip on Bryan Adams, again if you like him or even just want to have fun at a concert than have at it. What is sad is listening to people in the press who equate this concert to economic growth or increased tourism. Look your country isn't going to head out of the gutter because Bryan Adams plays a concert there. Hell it doesn't improve even if someone who really was in demand played in Nepal, economic development isn't stimulated through music concerts.

The sadder comment I've heard is that this concert is the unofficial highlight to Nepal Tourism Year 2011. Look, to be honest, if Bryan Adams was playing at the next town over in most of the west, very few people would bother to drive over to see him, thus it seems a little crazy to suspect that people would come to Kathmandu in order to see him. It would be embarrassing for most people, even if it was true due to a questionable taste in music, to admit out loud that they traveled all the way to Nepal to see Bryan Adams. In short this is not an event for tourists, or one that will increase tourism. If people in Nepal love this guy and are excited to see him, then that's great, but it is also the limit of the impact. 

On another level I get it that Nepal wants to show that it can host an internationally known artist, can provide a venue where he can preform, and provide a high level experience without messing everything up. Yes even in the land of load shedding no electricity we can still hold a major concert event. Logistics, not being south Asia's strong point, has been a nightmare for India as of recent- see the Cricket World Cup or the even more botched Commonwealth Games. Everyone knows its difficult as hell to organize and do anything here, so props to Nepal for pulling this together, I do understand the difficulty. That said, nobody from outside of Asia that doesn't understand the inherent difficulties of doing anything here is going to be impressed. Putting on a concert for a "star" like Bryan Adams is something that even small towns or sea side parks do on a regular basis back home. 

In the end Bryan Adams won't save Nepal- and he sure as hell won't boost Nepal Tourism Year. The amount of national pride and interest that was focussed on this would be better focussed on other national endeavors. Maybe completing hydro power dams so that Kathmandu isn't the only capitol city on the planet that is regularly without power for half the day, or completing a constitution and creating an actual representative government. But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Surpassing Expectations- Why Bhutan Shouldn't Be Missed

The only thing I knew about Bhutan prior to going there is that it had within its borders the very famous Taktsang Monastery, better known as Tiger's Nest. Very few people go to Bhutan, on account of the fact that it is rather hard to get to (it's a small country in the eastern Himalaya) and that going there as a foreigner is very restricted and compared to neighboring countries quite expensive. Last year only 27,000 dollar or euro spending tourists arrived in Bhutan, compare that to Nepal which is also a small Himalayan country that received over half a million tourists and you begin to understand how few people visit this nation. This small nation stands apart from its neighbors from its unique form of Buddhism to the fact that they measure development in terms of GNH (gross national happiness) as opposed to the normal GNP (gross national product). It is also a very small country in population having just over half a million people, a very small number when you consider both its neighbors count billions and even Nepal has around twenty million. These peculiarities and its inaccessibility to most of the outside world have led many people to declare Bhutan as the last Shangri La.

Bhutan is a little different from everywhere else.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Festival at Saraswati Mandir

As I've noted on numerous occasions, Nepal is a country that is never short on hollidays, festivals and celebrations. Although they have a six day work week, I think it would be difficult to find a week that did not have at least one festival in it. Between holidays, pujas, birthdays, Nepali birthdays (different calender), weddings, and every random festival the days of special celebration really seem to add up. In past years you could also add all the political strikes that shut down the city from anywhere from a day to a week or more at a time. As we move into the warmer months weddings start up again and the other morning I was awakened to the sound of a band walking down the street for a wedding procession. I'm curious as to how many people can possibly be getting married on this small dead end street of mine, but I count at least 6 processions since I've been here, it may just be to/from a relatives house, so who knows.

Festival Street Band

The following morning I was awakened to music in the streets again, but this time the music persisted through the morning and seemed to be coming from just south of us. Shortly after Kim left for work she gave me a call to let me know that the source of the music was a large festival taking place at the temple down the road from us. The temple, Saraswati Mandir, is dedicated to the Hindu goddess of Knowledge, music and the arts- Saraswati. Having not seen any festivals there I figured I'd grab my camera and go take a look.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl XLV- Nepal Style

What a great game that was, and congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for a well deserved victory! Getting to watch this game in Nepal accompanied by all the correct food took a little bit of American ingenuity and some sleep deprivation. The obstacles were quite numerous actually, and at several occasions I thought we would miss the better part of the game, but fate was on our side and in the end, Kim Donnie and I all got to enjoy some great food and a very good game.

There are two major problems, the first being the difficulty in finding a way to actually watch the game. Apparently it was being broadcast on some channel according to an article that Kim found, but we don't have a TV, and few- if any- bars would be showing the game, especially when you consider the kick off time (we'll get to that in a minute). Donnie has a TV in his room, but with load shedding increasing to 14 hours/day as of today there was no chance we could watch the whole game even if his TV got the correct channel due to the power outage. was streaming the live game, but internet here is too slow to do live feeds. The solution I had come up with was to stream the audio and put up the play by play board from ESPN for the visual. I spoke with my dad on Skype the night before and we worked out a system where he ran a direct cable feed on his computer and had the webcam facing the screen to send the image back to me. We ran it full size on our screens, and though it was a bit blurry- it was the closest thing to a live feed we would be able to get, and was really rather decent considering the circumstances. Big thanks to my dad for the feed, which he had to check up on every once in a while to make sure it hadn't been lost on my end or his end.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nepal Names a New Prime Minister

After a little more than seven months Nepal will once again have a government. With more than 17 unsuccessful attempts to elect a prime minister, yesterday CPN-UML (communist party of Nepal- United Marxist Leninist) member Jhalanath Khanal was finally elected after he gained support from the Maoists who withdrew their candidate at the last minute, in what seems to be very clearly a political move despite commentary to the contrary. The vote seems to have caught the Nepali congress party a bit by surprise, and this morning the Sushil Koirala was quoted as saying that they will not join the government in will sit in opposition.

What does all this mean for Nepal? Probably not too much. The Maoists will again be part of the government, which is some reason for concern, but as recent events have shown most people within the constituent assembly have no intention of getting anything done, and as it took over seven months just to form a government, there is little chance that there will be anything close to a constitution formed by the deadline that is coming up in May. A large part of the problem is that the people that are within the assembly have political power and aside from a decent legal salary, there is no doubt that many also get plenty of money that is siphoned in by both legal and not so legal means. When the constitution is actually formed half of the people currently in the CA would be out of a job as the normal parliament is about half the size. Not exactly a great incentive.

Mr. Khanal also doesn't appear to be someone to get too excited about. Although he was part of the pro democracy rallies in both 1990 and again in 2006, his actual accomplishments in parliament have been scarce, at least scarce enough to avoid any searches through Google, and various Nepali news sites. His demeanor in a recent interview that was posted today shows that he stands to be more of the same typical politician here. The last question being the most telling, typical denial in the face of a question and just pushing it aside instead of actually answering what seem to be concerns that are well founded by looking through past archives. His most recent claim to fame was being slapped in the face by a disillusioned constituent while giving a speech.  When asked about the incident afterwards he was quoted as saying, "Gnats and flies make no effect."

The guy that slapped him, Devi Prasad Regmi, was quoted as saying, "When I saw Khanal and other leaders, I could not help but slap him, for these are the people who are responsible for ruining the country." The sentiment is shared by many Nepali people, and one wonders how long they will put up with the status quo before there is mass public outcry. When one watches the protests going on through the Middle East and North Africa at the moment you are reminded in some ways of what happened here in 2006. There is the temptation when a tyrant steps down for the population to think that their work is done. Nepal should stand as a reminder that the public must continue to hold politicians feet to the fire or else all they worked for will be done in vain, and those who pretend to lead the country after the worst elements are purged can be just as useless or cruel. 

All this negativity aside we can hope that Nepal does begin to move forward, but my thought is that unless the people of Nepal declare that they won't accept the status quo any longer, it will continue to go on as it has.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Mix of Cultural Events: Tibet, America, Bhutan, & Nepal

This month we've got a few events going on. First up this Friday is Losar, more commonly known as Tibetan New Year. Usually there are some celebrations out at Boudha where the Tibetan community of Kathmandu in large part lives. Kim and I went out there last year for the celebration and there were some tensions between Tibetan's who wanted to parade a portrait of the Dali Lama around the stupa and local authorities that are very sensitive to the wants and fears of the Chinese. I suspect it will mostly be lighthearted celebration and throwing some of that flour stuff up in the air while people cheer and chant stuff in a language that I can't comprehend. I really do love the people out at Boudha so I am looking forward to this.

Next we move back to my native United States as there is the upcoming Super Bowl next Monday morning which we will not be able to watch it appears. The only place that appears to be showing it is Phora, and as we are not members it doesn't look like we'll be seeing it there. So back up plan is in effect and the projector will get hooked up to the laptop which will have to stream the audio and have the play-by-play board from ESPN on. Now in some countries you might be able to find a stream of the full broadcast, but in Nepal the internet just isn't up to streaming live video feeds. The plan is currently to supply plenty of buffalo wings, pulled pork sandwiches, and nachos along with some beer and other light alcoholic drinks. A perfect start to a Monday morning with some football. Looking forward to a good game between the Packers and Steelers.

The following weekend we are leaving for a short five day trip to the small Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan. This country is a little difficult to get to and travel in, as the government sets a minimum amount of money to be spent per day and you have to receive a letter of invitation arranged by a travel agency to visit. After a few weeks of e-mails, scanning passports, and wiring cash we got our plane tickets and letters of invitation. One highlight for me will be visiting Taktsang Monastery, better known as tiger's nest, which sits on the side of a cliff roughly 3000 feet above the nearby valley. This is one of the most dramatically placed buildings on the planet and I've always wanted to go there since I first saw a photo of it. Our trip will also coincide with the Punahka festival which I think celebrates the victory over invading Tibetan forces and the result is lots of dancing, costumes and what should be a good time. Really looking forward to this trip and am not really sure what to expect.

After we get back it will be a week and a half to get things in order before Donnie and I set out to reach Everest Base Camp and the Gokyo Region. Yes I did this Trek just last Sept/Oct, but this time we will be walking in from Jiri, rhododendrons should be coming into bloom and I'll get another shot at going over the Cho La pass that I couldn't get to due to being turned back by the Ngozumpu glacier. I'm really looking forward to the part of the trek from Jiri to Lukla as I haven't done it since 2002 when the country was in the midst of civil war, I'm curious to see what those villages and towns are like along that part of the trail now. I remember many of the villages along that route fondly, and they have been some of the better ones I've stayed in amongst the middle hills of Nepal. That trail is also an endurance tester, as over the course of traversing the many ridges passes and valleys on your way to Everest your total elevation gain is higher than the summit of Mt. Everest, roughly 9000 meters, or 27,000feet. 

So there should be some fun things to talk about and pictures coming up soon, certainly an interesting month or two.
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