Saturday, June 30, 2007

How Green Was My Ropani*

Green green rice of home
Kathmandu, Nepal

Rice-planting season kicked off to its annual start here yesterday. During the slow, wet, rainy months, the Nepali countryside comes alive with activity. Everywhere are women in vivid red saris bent double, up to their shins in mud, over shimmering squares of fresh, chartreuse green. Even within the city limits, it seems every square inch of spare land, however small, between the new concrete apartment buildings has been planted with rice.

The waiters and "room boys" at my hotel will now begin taking turns, going back to their home villages in shifts. Everyone must pitch in to help with planting season, even if it means taking time off their cash-yielding city jobs.

An Indian friend pointed out to me that all the longest continuous civilizations were the
rice-planting civilizations, the ones whose culture revolved around rice farming. I thought about it, and realized he was right. India/subcontinent, China, Indonesia and southeast Asia - all those cultures have been continuous longer than the wheat or corn-growing cultures. Rice farming is so labour-intensive and requires such continual upkeep - it could never be done by machine, everything must be transplanted by hand - it keeps the traditional societal structure intact. Otherwise, everyone would starve.

I need to get some photos of the countryside while it's still tender and
springy. By September, the colours will have mellowed to dark green, and then golden dun-colours before harvest time.
*A Ropani is a traditional Nepali measure of land.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mystery date

A twist with destiny
Kathmandu, Nepal

...screamed the headlines today.

Supposedly, we're having the Nepali Constituent Assembly election polls on November 22nd. (For those of you unfamiliar with Indian history, it's a reference to Nehru's address given on the occasion of Indian independence in 1947. "We had a tryst with destiny....")

Reaction 1 - I'll believe it when I see it.

Reaction 2 - I will bet money that this date was arrived at only after lengthy consultation with astrologers such as Mangal Raj Joshi and other
traditional soothsayers.

(You think I'm kidding? this is a nation where we
still get public holidays for a solar eclipse. Not that I am complaining, or even criticizing...just observing.)

It's raining a bit more every day. I think my persistent headaches are caused by needing new glasses. Either that, or the humidity and that stupid cover band down the street that keeps playing "La Bamba" every night at 7.45.

Stop the press
Oh, did I tell you the one about the Maoists shutting down some newspapers? They organize (ie, semi-forcibly recruit) "labour unions" on the pretext of caring about workers' rights. Then they got (in this case) the paper carriers, vendors and so on to "strike for better working conditions." Of course, it just happened to be a group of papers they were pissed off at for saying unfavourable things about them. I am afraid this is a taste of more things to come.

The papers are back on the stands today, after a four-day hiatus.

Here are some more photos from the Magic Kingdom. It's too hot right now to wander around taking new ones, so most are from last year. Believe me, very little has changed.

Giant mask of Seto Bhairav (reputedly the original "Little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu"), unveiled only once annually at Indra Jatra time. September, 2006

Mahankali Pyakhan or Great Kali Dancers of Bhaktapur; performing for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad convention in Kathmandu. September, 2006

Kids dressed up for traditional stick dances, Kathmandu, Sept. 2006

Winnowing rice during harvest season, Bhaktapur. October 2005

Crowds assembled in Kathmandu Durbar Square for Indra Jatra, Sept. 2006

Friday, June 22, 2007


And backloggin
Kathmandu, Nepal

Sharing old photos you haven't seen yet was so much fun, I think I'll continue today. Here are just a few. You can see about 200 more on my page.

There is a guy at the next terminal, and his girlfriend is standing behind him massaging his bald head. Of course, they are European. I guess I really am Asian now - it's just too much for me to stomach this kind of PDA.

If it's Monday, this must be Shiva: This young man would dress as various gods on different days of the week, and go begging in the Koregaon Park area of Pune. Monday is a day traditionally associated with Shiva, so he would dress himself as the snake-toting god of destruction and change. December, 2004

To Mahalingam: Waiting on the railway platform for the train from Trivandrum (Kerala) to Kannur. This boy was so lost in thought, he didn't see my camera. May, 2003

Fields of mustard crop in bloom, near Panauti Village. Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, On a clearer day, you can see the snowcapped Himalayas from here. October 2005

This little girl was dressed up for Gai Jatra, an annual festival to honour the previous year's deceased, in Bhaktapur, Nepal. August 2006

Burmese (as they said on Seinfeld, "isn't it Myanmar now??") monks at Bodh Gaya. New Year's Day, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dry spell

Who'll start the rain?
Kathmandu, Nepal

The monsoon season has supposedly begun. No big deal. It rains for about an hour, every other day. That just isn't enough rain. Come ON man, this is Asia in the monsoon! It's spozed to be up to our ankles already!

Maybe it's because the chariot festival of Rato Macchendranath was halted for nearly two weeks. Rato ("Red") Macchendranath is one of the local deities propitiated to bring rain and keep the agricultural cycle on track. Every year they drag a skyscraper-like (really, it's about eight storeys high and looks like a giant rolling Christmas tree) contraption around Patan to honour him. This is supposed to mark the beginning of the rainy season. But this year, the makeshift wooden chariot (which is quite a - did I already use the word contraption?) broke down on May 23 and had to be repaired. It just got rolling again yesterday.

All I have to do is cross the border, and I start thinking like a Nepali ("maybe it's because the chariot broke"). I wish it were so simple. In fact, monsoons get shorter and later every year, it seems....throughout the region. Could it be because they're cutting down all the trees in the Tibetan plateau - which happens to be the weather-generator for the entire south Asia region?

No. Must be just a coincidence.....

Well, if you think we're dry now, wait till China dams and
diverts all the rivers that originate up there. That's where all the water in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan comes from. I predict the next world war will be a Water War.

In the meantime, between rainfalls, it's really, really hot - even here, in the temperate Kathmandu Valley. When I say "really hot," I mean, anything above 80F.

Right now, the planets are aligned in a near-perfect row. It's cool, even from the city, to be able to look up and see the Moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter all in a row. If we were in the countryside I could probably see Mercury too.

Since the days are hot, I 've been spending a
lot of time on organizing and uploading photos. I did so much in the past six months in India, I almost forget till I look at the photos. Here are just a few. (below)

My friends in the United Arab Emirates say they can't op
en there. Well, at least in Dubai you have really good air conditioning .

50 million missing (photos only of Indian women and girls). Get yours at

I've also spent a lot of time online in my role as Co-Administrator (wheee!) of the 50 Million Missing Project, a photo project to raise awareness of the gender genocide ongoing in India. Because of a traditional preference for sons, Indian couples are using ultrasound to detect the gender of a fetus, then aborting it if it's female. This has resulted in a "skewed sex ratio" of as much as 800-1000 (female to male) in some areas of India.

Here's the link to 50 Million Missing (above). Check it out - there are now nearly 3,000 photos of Indian women and girls, from all communities and wa
lks of life, and some great ongoing discussions of the gender-ratio issue, as well as links to news stories about it.

Okay, here are a few shots from my past 6 months in Buddhist India, and a few you haven't seen before from the Kathmandu Valley.

Young Sri Lankan monks read the sutra of Buddha's first-ever sermon at Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, the place where the Buddha first delivered the first sermon. (there has got to be a better way to state that....)

Butter lamps and water offerings at the Kagyu Monlam prayer ceremony, Bodh Gaya, Bihar

Tibetan monks going home after preparing the stupa for the ceremony; Bodh Gaya

Ladakhis in their trademark black robes, walking round the Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath.

Tso Pema, or Rewalsar, in Himachal: site of an ancient Buddhist legend linking the lake to Guru Rinpoche, and home to a number of Tibetan monasteries.

Tiny dancer - these minstrels from Rajasthan had set up shop in Bhaktapur's Taumudhi square, Nepal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

News From Nepal: (No) Business As Usual

The Waiting Land
Kathmandu, Nepal

Whew....after a nauseating taxi ride down the Himalayan foothills into sweltering Delhi, then a 2-hour delay at the airport, I'm back in Nepal, and it's business as usual.

Or perhaps, no business as usual. It's all an ordinary Nepali can do to get any work at all done, as various factions keep things churned up and out of working order.

And, did I mention the nation is broke, and out of petrol (gasoline)? They owe Indian Oil about 1 Billion (with a B) rupees. The joke is that all the strikes are an attempt to reduce gas consumption, since, in fact, we don't have any.

Popular support for the monarchy is at an all-time low (according to news polls). However, the current interim govt. isn't faring much better in the eye of the general public. The same polls showed abuot 59% of the public felt the new government was "same old, same old."

Improvements since I left in December: The Maobadis are no longer extorting donations from trekkers. They are having their own internal problems, what with the rebels rebelling against the rebel leaders. Now that the leaders are officially an enfranchised part of the Establishment, the field cadres don't feel so much solidarity with them - sweating in jungle tents while the Great Helmsmen ride in AC jeeps in the capital. As predicted here a year ago, they've begun to breakaway and form their own general hell-raising groups in the hinterlands.

Another plus: within the valley proper and from here to Pokhara, there are no more government roadblocks. That's because the conflict has shifted to the Terai.

....The Terai (southern Nepal plains bordering India) is becoming the Terror-ai. Literally every few days, there's some bundh (strike), curfew, demonstration, revenge killing or some damned thing holding up life and normal functionality there (and I don't just mean my ability, as a tourist, to travel freely- that's not so important). Ordinary people can't get to work and get stuff done. Stuff doesn't get delivered. Commercial transport from and to all-important commercial neighbor India doesn't go through. People,including the very large number of daily-wage labourers (who live for their next meals, get paid cash daily and get nothing for enforced strike days) go hungry.

The Northern border with China, ironically, is tranquil. Maybe all this agitation on the border is with the intent to rupture relations with India and force Nepal to be reliant on Communist China for damned near everything. What sort of person or party would want such a thing? A Communist party maybe? or even Maoist....?

....Tomorrow, Jimmy Carter is coming. He's been here before, on vacation to climb up to Everest Base Camp with Roslyn. This time, he's coming as an ambassador of peace, due process and proper electoral procedures. Nepalis seem to have an almost mystical faith in outsiders' ability to cut through the haze and bring some clarity to the situation. Interestingly, Carter will meet with both the Prime Minister Koirala and the Maoist supremo Prachanda - but not with the monarch, King Gyanendra.

Major peacenik groupie that I am, I will be camping out at Baluwatar to hopefully catch a glimpse of the man who's unquestionably our finest living President. ....
--Here's a link to a news story about the 2-day All Nepal Strike (during which, a bicycle cannot even move about freely) that was thankfully called off at the last minute.

Kathmandu, June 10 (IANS) After they went on the warpath in south Nepal's Kapilavastu district, calling an indefinite closure and attacking nearly a dozen vehicles, a Maoist group Sunday withdrew its protest following talks between their top leaders and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

The controversial youth wing of the Maoists had enforced the indefinite shutdown in Kapilavastu, revered by Buddhists as part of the ancient kingdom where the Buddha was born and spent 29 years before leaving home in search of enlightenment, to pressure the Nepal Army into pulling out of the area.

Early on Sunday, the Young Communist League torched five buses and attacked seven more vehicles for trying to move out of the paralysed district under the cover of darkness.
...full story at