Thursday, August 30, 2007

Treasures of the Dragon

Coming soon to a coffee table near you?
Leh, Ladakh

Every little bit of good news helps. Three of my images have been chosen from my gallery in the "first round" of selection for a coffee-table book called Treasures of the Dragon. It's the third in a series of successful books, published by China Stylus. The first two were called Legends of the Dragon and The Dragon's Playground.

Probably, this means that if I am lucky, only one of the images will make it to the actual book. I am up against pros with real cameras, DSLRs and so forth. When people compliment my photos (which I appreciate greatly), I feel like adding, "Yes, and just remember, it was all done with a $300 point and shoot ultra-compact with a lens the size of your pinky fingernail." That is, a pinky nail without French tips.

If I can sneak in an upload here in upload-less Ladakh, on this page should be one of the nominated images. This is a masked Tibetan "chaam" dancer or "lama dancer" at Bemchen Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Houses of the holy

Of monasteries and militaries
Leh, Ladakh

The past four days I've been on an exhausting tour of central Ladakhi monasteries (and I only saw about six of dozens that are here).

It's a wonderful change from the neo-Indian and Nepali monasteries, the vast majority of which were built post-Tibetan exile (from 1950s onward). A 1967 monastery would be a really old one in most of India (a few exceptions include the Nyima monastery in Rewalsar, Himachal - it's about 100 years old). These neo-monasteries are naturally built of reinforced concrete, tile and have glass in the windows - like all recent buildings in India.

Here, the monasteries average about 15th or 16th century. I decided early on that anything post 16th century was just a bit too new to make the visiting cut. Here in Ladakh there are so many to choose from.

These are the ultra-traditional monasteries, built of stucco, straw and wooden poplar beams, planned as a holy fastness high on distant hills, purposely isolated and difficult to reach.

My Tibetan friend Jamyang Norbu (in Dharamsala) told me how weird it was for Tibetans to see so many monks and monasteries right in the middle of a popular place like Dharamsala or Kathmandu. "Gompa" (Tibetan for monastery), Jamyang said, "means silent place. Lonely place. Monks should not be coming into town, eating in cafes, watching Tibet the monks were real monks. They stay in real gompa---" away, he explained, from the temptations and distractions of town.

It would certainly be difficult to get into much trouble at one of these gompas, unless it was for touching the sand mandala before it's finished. Usually the gompas rise up mirage-like from the desert, on a rock outcropping. These days, the Indian military presence guarantees an odd juxtaposition - most every monastery on its hill has a military base as a neighbor, down in the dusty valley. So, while you are chanting for world peace and turning prayer wheels, you have a birds-eye view of the military base with its dun-coloured barracks and olive soldiers trudging through the sand, dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape.

Most tourists like to get a small group of 4-5 people together and hire a taxi (ie, small van or jeep) to hop from one monastery to another. They are "close" on the map...which means, at least 10 kms away from one another down dusty, bumpy, largely unpaved tracks. This costs at least 1000Rs or $15 a day.

This does save time, and physical energy, but I like just getting the local bus (10-15rs), from "downtown" Leh, to the gompa in question, and trudging up the hill to the medieval fortress. Getting the bus means that I am more on my own time. I hate the feeling of having a driver waiting (they are always impatient, as though they have something better to do) and having the clock ticking. You just have to make sure, if you stay for the evening puja, that you don't miss the last bus back to Leh - usually at 6 or 7pm.

If you do, it's no big deal. In many gompas, you can just stay overnight, then catch a morning bus onto the next gompa. The primary monasteries unwind southeast and northwest of Leh along the National Leh-Kargil Highway. With the help of the local bus and a map, you can actually go gompa-trekking.

Admission to the gompas varies - about 15-30Rs per person, and they charge the same for foreigners as for Indians, which is refreshing.

So far I have visited Spituk, Phyang, Stok palace, Thiksey and the motherlode of Indian Buddhist artwork, Alchi Chuskor. My neck and shoulders are aching from looking up and craning my neck at wall paintings for hours at at time. You must bring a torch, because most of the gompas are not well lit, and do not expect to be able to take photography (flash or otherwise) in most of them - especially not Alchi, with its unique irreplaceable paintings. You can view a few photos at The Alchi paintings have a fluid Indian style so different from Tibetan Buddhist art.

At Spituk, the monks were completing a sand mandala, part of the special puja they are doing to find the new incarnation of their beloved high lama who passed away in 2003, Bakula Rinpoche. At Phyang, an enormous festival with thousands of people was in process, as the head of the Drikung Kagyu school was bestowing a special long-life blessing and phowa (transmission of consciousness at death) teachings that are given only every 12 years (in the Year of the Pig).

At Stok palace, the remnants of the Ladakhi royal family still live, where they were exiled by the invading Indian Dogras some 150 years before. After 900 years as an independent kingdom, Ladakh has been a part of India ever since. The king passed in 1987, but the Queen Mother Gyalmo Diskit Wangmo and her son, the crown prince, are still there. The palace caretaker declined our request for an interview. Little does he know, I am not so easily dissuaded!

Hello Croatia!

Viewer Mail
Leh, Ladakh

In response to my last Friday's post, a reader named John writes, " is actually a Croatian website."

Sorry! Who would have thought HR would stand for Croatia? Anyway, thanks John, I stand Croatially corrected. This link must all be the doing of my friend Anna who lives in Croatia.

Raising raison d'etre
Robert in California writes, "There is a lot of information missing from your blog. It is not clear what you are doing or why you are there."

What could anyone possibly want to know that is not already covered in the Profile or posts? As I said, "India is where you go to lose yourself." That says it all.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hello Hungary

Still Leh'd back
Leh, Ladakh

I noticed I was getting a lot of hits from Hungary and traced them back to Forum.Hr, which is evidently a place where Hungarians get together and talk about nearly anything. Some nice person named Tragacz posted my URL as a "blog about life in India and Nepal" (at least I think that's what it says). Nagyon köszönöm, Tragacz!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Leh'd back

A Lazy day in Leh
Leh, Ladakh

You can always feel the energy drain when HH leaves town. He consecrated some Buddha relics, gave the Avalokiteshwara initiation and failed to complete the Lam Rim teachings, on purpose I think, so he had to promise to come back next year.

I'm ready for a few days just sitting around doing laundry (clothes are full of dust and dirt), downloading photos, and reading books, instead of getting up at 6am fighting crowds and breathing diesel fumes from the huge lorries (trucks to you Yanks) delivering western crap all day long.

Here's my reading list:
Ladakh: Crossroads of High Asia by Janet Rizvi

Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge (the author was in town and I got to meet her yesterday! So good to meet an academic who has actually helped people with her work)

In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple

37 Practices of a Bodhisattva: HH Dalai Lama's Commentary

I think I have talked the net guy into letting me upload a few photos when no one else is around. Will try again tomorrow.

I spent my 90rs internet budget today just goofing off.
These internet personality quizzes are so addictive.

Which Simpsons Character Are You?

You Are Lisa Simpson

A total child prodigy and super genius, you have the mind for world domination.

But you prefer world peace, Buddhism, and tofu dogs.

You will be remembered for: all your academic accomplishments

Your life philosophy: "I refuse to believe that everybody refuses to believe the truth"

What Should You Major In?
(see Mom, I told you....)

Your Scholastic Strength Is Deep Thinking

You aren't afraid to delve head first into a difficult subject, with mastery as your goal.
You are talented at adapting, motivating others, managing resources, and analyzing risk.

You should major in:
Foreign language

This is great, because at one time or another, I think I actually have majored in all of these.

The next one is something I've been wondering all my life. Finally, an answer.
What Planet Are You From?

You Are From Mercury

You are talkative, clever, and knowledgeable - and it shows.
You probably never leave home without your cell phone!
You're witty, expressive, and aware of everything going on around you.
You love learning, playing, and taking in all of what life has to offer.
Be careful not to talk your friends' ears off, and temper your need to know everything.

This one was a bit of a surprise. I figured in the classical 5 Hindu elements, I would be Space.
What's Your Element?

Your Element Is Air

You dislike conflict, and you've been able to rise above the angst of the world.
And when things don't go your way, you know they'll blow over quickly.

Easygoing, you tend to find joy from the simple things in life.
You roll with the punches, and as a result, your life is light and cheerful.

You find it easy to adapt to most situations, and you're an open person.
With you, what you see is what you get... and people love that!

and finally...What Kind of Writer Should I Be?

You Should Be a Comedy Writer

You're totally hilarious, and you can find the humor in any situation.
Whether you're spouting off zingers, comebacks, or jokes about life...
You usually can keep a crowd laughing, and you have plenty of material.
You have the makings of a great comedian - or comedic writer.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Big sky country

Great wide open
Leh, Ladakh (India)
My lower back is really, really sore from sitting watching the Dalai Lama all day, my eyes are burning from the arid dusty air and I am too tired to think of a third thing to round out this paragraph. Oh yeah! My nose is full of crusty stuff.

His Holiness is teaching the "Lam Rim" scripture. Because I am sitting in the press section, have yet to hear the English translation. Maybe I will skip over to the "Foreigners" section tomorrow
It is wild to see the Dalai Lama in a Buddhist place. Usually, he appears in predominantly Hindu places and the Buddhists commute in. Here, most everyone is Buddhist. There are easily 30,000 people at every day's teaching.

Man, there is a lot of space out here. And a lot of dust. And a lot of sky!

It reminds me of a Halloween craft we did in kindergarten. We made a "starry sky" picture out of silver glitter, dropped onto blobs of glue, on black construction paper. But too much glitter always comes out of the tube, at first. We had to knock off the excess glitter into the waste can, and what was left was the "night sky." (Later I added a big yellow construction-paper cutout crescent moon.)

The night sky in Ladakh looks like the paper, before we knocked the extra glitter off. There are almost too many stars. I have a hard time identifying large constellations I know. But, a crescent moon rose last night.
Not of yellow construction paper, but a wafer-thin silver sliver.

Air conditioning of the gods

The most fun thing on this trip, so far, was also the cheapest. Returning from the teachings, the entire Choglam-Sa highway is packed bumper to bumper. I have to wait for the crowds to thin, and taxis want an outrageous 250Rs back to town. So, yesterday my German friends and I just hopped on top of a public bus, on the luggage rack. What fun! Who needs air conditioning, overpriced taxis, seat belts? Ten rupees for a panorama view of the valley and mountains. It really was much better than the hot, stuffy taxi stuck down among the exhaust fumes, or sitting inside the crowded bus itself. Of course, we had to constantly duck under the prayer flags that had been strung up across the roads for the Dalai Lama's visit.

Far from the madding crowd

One reason Ladakh does not "feel like" India is that it is just not crowded enough. Not that I am complaining. But at first, I really could not figure out what felt so weird. Almost lonely. Then it dawned on was more like parts of southwest America; Arizona or New Mexico, to be exact.

My friend Gary warned me years ago that all the sensory overload of India would burn a hole in my brain, so that when I finally went somewhere quiet, I would miss the noise and clutter. Gary, you were right. I found myself looking around the relatively empty roads of Leh going, "where is IT?" and realizing I couldn't even define IT.

Another thing that doesn't feel like India is the absence of Hindus. There are a few. But I had been here five days before I saw my first Hindu temple ( a little tiny shrine).
It looks like one of the orange pyramidal ones the BJP put up in Buddhist places, just to say "we're here!"

Leh is the kind of place you can see minarets of a mosque superimposed with
Buddhist chortens and prayer flags, or sit in the Buddhist gompa and hear the Muezzin's call to prayer, and it feels totally normal.

Ladakh List
Definite must-brings for a trip to Ladakh:
3-Lip balm, even better, sunscreen lip balm
4-Umbrella, or big floppy hat as sun protection

5-Eye drops - since I wear contacts, the aridity and dust is wreaking havoc
6-Trekking boots or chunky walking sandals
7-Jacket - evenings get nippy, though days are warm
8-Face moisturizer, which you will also have to put
inside your nose to keep it from crusting over, especially at bedtime
9- ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts, available at any pharmacy here for 15Rs). ORS have exactly what your body needs to replace fluids (potassium, sodium chloride etc) and are a literal lifesaver.

10-Lots and LOTS of water. Your water bottle can be refilled for 5Rs at the ecofriendly Dzomsa shops in town. If you feel weird, lightheaded, fatigued and cranky but don't know why, you are probably dehydrated.

11-Flashlight. The power goes out frequently, and if you are lucky the walk home to your guest house will be down a country road with few street lights.

12-Toilet paper. Guest house bathrooms do not have it, but will sell it at an inflated price.

Things that are totally useless here:
1-"Nice" shoes

2-Deodorant - you won't sweat-- or if you do it immediately dries into salt crystals on your skin

3-The talcum powder and astringent that are so needed in humid lower India. Again, you won't be sweating much

4-Tank tops, sleeveless blouses, singlets etc. show too much skin for local standards, and besides, you will either get a sunburn or freeze to death.

5-Your cell phone, unless you have post-paid. In Delhi, they happily sell you (ha ha) a SIM card saying it is good for all India. What they don't tell you is that in Ladakh and Kashmir (not Jammu), you must have a post-paid account; that is, you must be a resident with proof of address for billing. The prepaid cards are no good here. Of course, all tourists and most internationals have prepaid cards.

6-Alcohol. A disaster at this altitude, and not widely available anyway - rightly so.

Also, be warned - Internet is run by a cartel ("Ladakh Cyber Cafe Association") that has fixed prices at an obscene 90Rs an hour ($2.10). Not the place to play around tweaking the widgets on your homepage. And "photo uploading not allowed" - so, sharing the photos of this amazing place is quite difficult.

I appear to have missed all the really big Lama Dances with masks and costumes. In case you want to catch one, here is a calendar for next year.

Jeep 54 Where Are You?
Getting my press clearance to take photos of the Dalai Lama, when I am in a relatively podunk town like Leh or Bodh Gaya, means making friends with the police. Fortunately, this is easily done. I am the only foreign media person at these entire teachings, and probably one of the few the police have met all year.

What's not so easily done is catching the right guy in the office. The Superintendant of Police closed at 4pm (!) and the following day, Friday, was a holiday. God knows why, probably literally - in India, an unexpected holiday usually has something to do with religion. So I had to go to the main police station ("we never close").

It was an adventure but unfortunately, by the time I sat down to write about it last night, the net connections were down. Now, I am too tired. Maybe later.

The intrepid anthropologist in me never tires of poking into people's social dynamics. I discovered that among ethnic Ladakhis, there are both Muslims and Buddhists, and they feel themselves to be quite distinct from the ethnic Kashmiris. "He is
Kashmiri," one Ladakhi Muslim officer hissed to me, pointing out a Muslim guy on the street dressed in stereotypical beard and kurta-pyjama.

The kurta-wearing "Kashmiri" turned out to be another police officer, who helped me to get the pass, after a few bossy questions delivered in the usual accusatory style ("why did you not come earlier??") of the Indian "mainland."

Indeed, a lot of "Kashmiris" seem to have taken refuge here only as a resort from the violence in "Kashmir" proper. And they don't consider this Kashmir. One of the first things the kurta-wearing officer asked me was "Have you been to Kashmir?"

I thought we were in Kashmir, Sir.

"No, I mean Srinagar, real Kashmir. You should leave here immediately and go to Kashmir. Gulmarg, Dal Lake...." Then he started reminiscing about his homeland. Clearly, he felt Ladakh to be a hardship posting.

Lost tribe
I have also spent some time interviewing and photographing the "Indo-Iranian" Buddhists of Ladakh, the Brokpa people. Originally, they came from what is now Pakistan in Gilgit region. They speak a language called Dardi and have been Buddhist for many centuries. The Brokpa are supposed to be the last "Aryan" indigenous Buddhist people. (They actually call themselves Aryan, which in this case, just means originally from Iran.)

Since I can't upload my own photos, here is one cribbed from a Ladakhi tourist website.

The Brokpa traditional dress worn at the Dalai Lama's teachings is really distinctive, and their features set them well apart from the Mongolian-looking other Ladakhis. I am curious about the form of Buddhism they practice; it must date back, at least in part, to looooong ago when northwestern former India (now Pakistan) was Buddhist. Guru Rinpoche, the bearer of Buddhism into Tibet, was originally from Swat Valley, Pakistan.
Tibetan scriptures still refer to that area as "Ugyen" or "Oddiyana."

I went to the biggest bookstore in Leh looking for a book about the Brokpa. "Who?" said the Kashimiri Muslim guy at the desk. I pointed to a photo of one on a postcard (sold as proof of quaint tribal life in Ladakh).

"Oh, the Aryans? No, no books about them. Something-something in various books here and there, but nothing just about them." If they don't have it here, they don't have it anywhere.

Maybe no one could talk to the Brokpa. All the other foreigners take pictures of them from a safe distance with powerful zoom lenses. I guess there is one advantage to having a cheap are required to make contact with your subjects.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mountains of the moon

Lunar landing in Ladakh
Leh, Ladakh (Kashmir)

Joollay (Greetings in the local language) to all from sunny Leh, Ladakh. I can't wait to see my first yak! So far, it's only been donkeys and a few cows on the road.

Everything you have read about the stark moonscape of the surroundings here is true. It seems far too good (ie clean, quiet and peaceful) to be a part of India. You do feel a military presence at the airport, and in parts of town, because of proximity to China, but there is no real tension.

In fact the culture here is so distinct, it took seeing the vehicle license tags that say "JK #" to remind me that in fact, Ladakh is technically a part of Kashmir, that Indian state whose beautiful, lush name is now so associated with strife and violence. Ladakhis (predominantly Buddhist, many of ethnic Tibetan origin, speaking a distinct language) have little in common culturally with Kashmir, and there is a movement to form a separate state within India (Union Territory of Ladakh). It will never happen, IMHO, as for obvious reasons India is not keen to fragment the region further.

The tiny Rinpoche Bakula Airport is easily the cutest one in the land. It resembles a Tibetan monastery's visitor centre. We had to register as soon as we trooped off the plane, but all that meant was filling out a form ("Registration of foreigners, State of J&K) handed to me by a cute little Ladakhi lady in traditional dress. I didn't even have to show my passport.

Here they still employ the old disembarkation method, like in a 1940s adventure movie - we de-planed down a gangplank right onto the runway, surrounded by high winds and dramatic mountains. There's a definite "wow" factor, but we were discouraged from taking photos by the soldiers ("This technical airport ma'am," a reference to the sensitive location). But the soldiers mostly seem bored with their jobs, and amused by all the foreign tourists.

When we flew in this morning over Tibet-like navy blue and grey mountains, with snow peaks in the distance, it was cloudy - had the cozy, cottony feeling of a winter day. I thought I would not be able to see the famous Ladakhi blue skies, and collapsed from altitude (blood singing and heart pumping through my ears, gasping for breath) on my guest-house bed. (Shanti Guest House in Changspa - $5 a day, clean, quiet, family-run, shared bath with hot water only 2x a day. The inside looks like a marble Indian maharajah's bungalow, the outside like an old Tibetan house).

The padlock and key they gave me to lock up my room look like something from a Tibetan artefacts museum - a hand-carved, hand-molded piece of silver metal with an abstract key like an ancient amulet. Works just fine, though.
When I finally awoke at 5.30pm, the sun was glowing off the mountains and I could see what looks like an ancient monastery far, far on the peak of an Arizona-like jagged hill. Most of what I've seen of Leh so far is like a big garden. I realized that I had no mental concept of what Leh would look like and sure enough, when Francesca (Italian taxi mate) and I drove through town, it was over before we knew we were there. "There is no there there."

All the medical advice says to take it totally easy the first 2 days, so I am dutifully following. We are at 11,500 feet elevation and it's about 65 degrees in daytime. So nice to be in a place with no bugs and no sweating or humidity.

HH the Dalai Lama arrived today (actually, he already came on 31st July, but went to a place called Diskit to give teachings and is back now) and will begin teachings in Leh on 16th-19th. I expect he will give me that same look when he sees me perched with my camera (half glad to see you, half "are you STILL following me around??").

Independence Day
Let me just say, flying international is a hassle everywhere these days, and it was an extra-extra hassle flying from Nepal to India and then within India on the eve of the 60th Indian Independence Day celebrations. Triple and quadruple checking, interminable lines, lots of delays. I am quite amazed that I got on board with my nail clippers (though they did catch my sewing scissors, which had to be deposited with a crew member for security).

The papers are full of celebrations, historical retrospectives and congratulations, and the mood around Delhi was a cautious mix of pride and severely paranoid double-checking, and rightly so.
No one wants this moment in Indian history to be marred by terrorist action. All Delhi hotels are prohibiting any unauthorized visitors (that is, unregistered visitors to a room) -period -until after August 15. And every cybercafe had been instructed to demand not only that I show my ID, but present a photocopy of my passport. That's okay. I am actually heartened that they are taking it all seriously and doing their jobs.

According to the NDTV Independence Day polls, most Indians surveyed felt that "Corruption" was the #1 shame of India today. Other contenders surprisingly far down on the list included poverty, untouchability and dowry scandal. Gandhi is still ranked as India's #1 Icon, getting 58% of votes; the only person who came close to him in votes was Mother Theresa who got a pitiful 17%. The nouveau-riche modern Indian industrialists also offered in the poll (Mittal, Tata etc), whom the press so incessantly tout as modern Indian heros, seem to not have made much of an impression on the public.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Off to Ladakh

Delhi, India

I was in Delhi just long enough to chill for 24 solid hours in the placid darkness of an AC hotel room, meet a fellow IndiaMike-er ("TNog") by chance in Saravana's, and book my JetAirways flight to Leh, Ladakh.

It was so simple and painless, it almost took my breath away. Ladakh has always seemed so distant and exotic, it's hard to believe it has an airport that accomodates jet planes.

Ladakh, literally "Land of High Passes" - Whee-ha! Twill be my first ever experience above 10,000 feet. Altitude sickness, here I come!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wireless In Kathmandu

News for Kathman-Dudes
Kathmandu, Nepal

I am happy to report that Kathmandu has a bunch of new wireless options. Of course, they are not without their special regional brand of complications.

In descending order of completeness:

1-Hotel Annapurna, a 5-star on Durbar Marg, has the best all-round wireless service in their Coffee Shop. The service is FREE for all customers. Translation: You can buy a 100NRs pot of tea and sit there in the AC being waited on hand and foot for hours, using the wireless. There is never a problem with the connection and there are plenty of places to plug in. Plus, one of the cleanest bathrooms in the Eastern Hemisphere. Open till 11pm ish. They do tack on a service charge to the bill, so no need to tip - but the service is excellent.

2-Cafe Galleria is a new spot on Thamel JP Marg. AC, clean and mod, not much to eat but overpriced teas and coffees - but the wireless is free, and again, never a problem with the connection. Open till 10pm ish.

3-The Roadhouse Cafe, just across the street from Galleria in Thamel (not the one in Patan) now has wireless at 30NRs/hour; however, in their zeal to go mod, they neglected to install any extra plug points. Therefore, the entire place is wireless...but there are only 3 or 4 plug points and most are hidden behind heavy tables. Great planning, guys. Nice ambience, relaxing, open till 10pm. They switch of the wireless unless requested to "on" it. Last week it wasn't working at all.

4-Himalayan Java on Tridevi Marg still has their wireless, now at 40Rs an hour, but the waiters have a crappy attitude and about 15% of the time the service is down. Great coffee drinks, though. They say they close at 10 but actually kick you out at 9 and are not nice about it. They do have a few more plug points available than Roadhouse. Traffic from Tridevi Marg gets very loud and stinky around rush hour.

5-New Orleans Cafe: their "Free" wireless, which their flyers tout as available from opening time till 7pm, is not so "free" when you get your bill. They charge you for plugging in to "current" - regardless of the amount of time spent! As Asian travellers know, it costs about 50NRs a MONTH to plug in a laptop, of course. Some regulars have worked it out where they just don't pay it. Great food, nice ambience, waiters have crappy attitude. Sometimes problem with connection - and often verrrry slow.

The New Orleans branch at Boudha also claims to have wireless now. I haven't checked it out. It is by far the nicest ambience in Boudha but they do close verrry early- 8pm or even earlier.

6-the famous Kathmandu Guest House has overpriced wireless (about 50 NRs per hour) in the terrace. Great surroundings, decent food, indifferent service and the last time I bought the password, I couldn't get it to work. And, they wouldn't give the money back.

7-I am listing DREAMS GARDEN (on Tridevi up the road from Himalayan Java) last only because I have not tried it out first-hand. This beautiful former Raja's private garden, aka "Kaiser Mahal," has been restored and now charges tourists 180NRs entrance, but it is a real class act of restoration inside with Versailles-type folly gardens, fountains and flowers. The wireless in the restaurant is 30NRs an hour. Open till about 8pm unless there is a special event. In order to get your rupees' worth on the entrance you need to go early.

8-Also, the Yak & Yeti, Kathmandu's original five-star on Durbar Marg, has wireless, but I haven't checked it out.

I should add that when I read of the conditions "on the outside" - that is, in Greater Nepal - I feel bad complaining about wireless. District officers kidnapped, beat up and held hostage by Maoists, witch hunts against helpless rural women, all kinds of medieval stuff. Puts things in perspective. We don't have it so bad here in town.

Or, even compared to Delhi... where 3 out of 3 places I went for wireless were "not possible today meddem." And India fancies itself as a tech capital.

You're OFF the Air!
The Mao-Baddies are busy working toward the Constituent Assembly November deadline. Their latest contribution to democracy: helping shut down an independent FM radio station yesterday afternoon.
Read the full story here.

Oh, did I say the Maoists did it? was the "labour union" (which they orchestrated and formed) or maybe, the Young Communist League... but NOT the Maoists themselves. Let's split our hairs correctly.

The MEEZ Generation
Just for fun, check out my 3D ID at And, if you want to get your own (prepare to want one) for free, just enter my "code," sirensongs.

The Big Rot Candy Mountain
Last year at this time, I posted a blog with the identical subtitle. Not much has changed. Every couple weeks there is a garbage strike - usually people locking up the dumping /disposal area until they get paid or bribed to reopen it.

The result: accumulated mounds of filth rotting in the sun and, alternately, monsoon downpour. Dogs dig through it, crows pick at it and amazingly, poor people still rifle through it looking for stuff. Outbreaks of cholera have followed in some areas of the city.

It's yet another use for my handy dupatta scarf (covering my face from the REEK and STENCH of the de facto dump). Don't leave home without it!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tailgate party

My other car is an elephant
Kathmandu, Nepal

Indian bumpers and car-art used to have the names of the driver's or vehicle owner's favourite god ("Jai Sri Krishna," "Jai Mata Di" and so on). There is still a lot of this colourful devotional folk art on the roads. Car owners sport the name of their favourite deity or saint, the same way drivers in Tennessee emblazon the name of their favourite NASCAR driver.

Nowadays, though, they are just as likely to have the names of the vehicle owners themselves ("Ramesh and Priya").
Signs of the times.

While sitting in traffic for countless hours of my precious life that will never come again, I came up with a few that I thought were more realistic. No, you cannot steal them.

Some of these are in-jokes...but I'm too fed-up to explain them. (Why fed up? Don't ask, just don't ask.)

Since I still haven't figured out how to transfer these graphics to the blog, you can see the cool illustrated versions I created here. I said, NO, you cannot steal them.





Bullocks, Elephants, Monkeys,
Goats, Horses, Burros, Sheep, Pigs, Dogs, Cats, Crows,
Chickens, Peacocks & Water Buffalo
...but not pedestrians.


and again and again and again...

7. WWRD-
What Would Rama Do?



-the following available only in South India:


...and for our newly opened Afghani branch, maybe London too:
I'm a suicide bomber