Saturday, May 24, 2008

Out of season

Mellowed out

Everything's so mellow now here, now that "season" is over.
Unseasonable rains, perhaps a hangover from Cyclone Nargis, have made what's normally pre-monsoon mugginess quite cool and breezy. All the high-energy level goal-oriented tourists are gone (gotta cross alllll these things off our list so we can say we've done them all!). Now there are more long-termers ("I dunno, just thought I'd see the country, experience it, you know...."), NGO workers, doctoral students and English teachers. Actually they were always here, but now you can see them.

Looking Kathmandu
"Great, I'll see you at 11," I told my friend Shanda, whom I hadn't seen since an ashram in India, where we were all chastely attired in white sannyasi gear. "But I have to warn you - I'm looking verrrry Kathmandu."

In this case, Looking Kathmandu meant I was wearing a screen-printed hand-dyed t-shirt blouse with hippy bell-sleeves and a flaming Yin Yang symbol on it, a day pack made of Guatemala woven fibres, and some long dangly scarf thing from my hair. Kathmandu had finally gotten to me.

People who go to India hoping to relive the 60's are about 20 years too late. The
place to come is Nepal, specifically Kathmandu. It's one of the last places on earth you can still live in a guest house for as little as $1.50 a day, or if you should choose, wear tie-dye, dreadlocks and bikini tops without causing scandal or harassment, and without the sneering judgmental stares that is so much a part of foreign tourists' India experience. (Before anyone gets huffy, I take surveys. It's unanimous.)

(I can always tell when a woman has just come from India - she's still wearing the full punjabi suit and chunni. And I can always tell when someone hasn't been to India yet - they are still wearing spaghetti-strap tops and short skirts.)

At one point this winter, hashish (nominally "illegal") was more readily available than gasoline or electricity. Countless embroidery shops on Freak Street still churn out designs of the Freak Brothers, magic mushrooms and marijuana leaf logos. Multi-headed, many-armed Buddhist and Hindu god icons in shop windows merge seamlessly with posters of vintage psychedelia. And the ultra-specialist Bong Shop on Bhagavati Bahal is *not* a place run by Bangladeshis.

Other major Asian cities have been taken over by Hindi film music, techno and hip-hop sounds. That won't get you far in Kathmandu, where "Born to be Wild," "Purple Haze" and "Break On Through" blare from every bar in Thamel.

Oh, we also have demonstrators - lots of them - and a confrontational police force.

Yes, the dream lives least the consumable, marketable elements of the dream with occasional flashes of utopian idealism, before the stick comes down.

Back in the real world
Back in the other Kathmandu (the newly politicized city where it still takes 10 days to get 5 days' work done) , it's surprisingly mellow, too. Following the earthquake in Sichuan Province (China/Tibet), the Tibetan government has asked all protestors to refrain from demonstrating for at least the coming week, in deference to the quake victims. However, the hunger strikers continue at Swayambhu. Here's a photo of some of the Kopan nuns taking their turn (they are on 24 hour rotating shifts).

The International Herald Tribune
ran an article declaring the "Chinese" earthquake has overnight turned the Chinese oppressors into victims and put a damper on the Tibetan voices of protest. What most people don't seem to realize is that Qiang prefecture/Sichuan province is part of northeastern Tibet, and thousands of Tibetans were also affected by the situation.

Equally disconcerting is the thinly disguised glee with which people are pronouncing the Beijing Olympics "safe" ("Earthquake mutes Tibetan voices").

All the same problems of inequity pre-existing in these areas of Chinese Tibet will extend to the post-quake situation (unequal access to resources, Han favouritism and so on).

Here is the statement from Students for a Free Tibet Delhi on the situation.
It is encouraging to see the incredible rescue efforts and increasingly open media reporting taking place in China, but we have heard almost no information about relief efforts in the affected Tibetan areas. However, on the day the earthquake struck, the regional government issued an urgent official document entitled “Combining work on anti-separatism and safeguarding stability with disaster relief work.” Considering the Chinese government's history of systematic oppression and disenfranchisement of Tibetans, we are gravely concerned that Tibetans impacted by the disaster will not receive equal consideration and assistance

Now playing: War - Low Rider
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Vote, dammit

Well, only one person voted on the ICONS category of photos (thanks Brother Martin). I guess my photoblogs are getting boring.

This is what it looks like when you 're actually getting important things done and deadlines met....boring. I dislike doing it for the same reason I always hated going to bed on time - there's always something more interesting to I just kind of go till I fall over, like a little kid.

After I finally fall over, I'm too tired or sick to do anything exciting. It's only then that administrative things finally get taken care of.

Now playing: Certain General - Hello My God
via FoxyTunes

Mustard flowers in bloom outside Panauti, Kathmandu Valley 2005

The next category is Landscapes. Admittedly mine is not a landscape camera. But I think I did all right with these 'uns. ....

Along the Indus River, Choglamsar Ladakh. 2007

In Nubra valley near the Hunder sand dunes, Ladakh. 2007

Okay, just one more Ladakh photo....maybe someday if I get sick enough (!) I will have to move to Nubra Valley and write a book.

Now playing: The Gun Club - Preaching the Blues
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I always really liked Teilhard de Chardin, the French mystic. This quote came to me today via Rob Brezsny.

By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers . . . This palpable world, which we are used to treating with the boredom and disrespect with which we habitually regard places with no sacred association, is a holy place." -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, *The Divine Milieu* "Let the body think of the spirit as streaming, pouring, rushing and shining into it from all aides." -Plotinus

----This is an experiment - I'm trying out blogging directly from Email.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Yet another in a series of photo blogs, designed to force you to vote on which pictures I should submit to the photo competition.

This time the category is Icons.

Inner sanctum at Mahabodhi temple, Bodh Gaya India. 2007
Karumariamman temple, Bangalore. 2003Each lotus represents a footstep of the Buddha. The Mahabodhi temple Chankamana (meditation walk), Bodh Gaya 2007.
Astamatrika Bhairab mask waits to be "awakened." Patan, Nepal 2006.
Vintage colour print of the Dalai Lama, Swaymabhunath, Nepal. 2006

Now playing: Patti Smith - Space Monkey
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Local friends

Another photo blog....

Thanks to Ashini and John for comments on the photo entries. I can't really "see" these photos anymore, they're part of my brain now....;-)
Burmese monks visiting Bodh Gaya, Bihar. 2007

Another category in the competition is Local Friends. In addition to all the Smiling Peasantry I posted a few days ago, I would probably enter some of these.

Somebody help me weed out this glut of imagery....Tibetan folk dancers waiting for the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India 2007.

If it's Monday, this must be Shiva: this kid dressed as Shiva every Monday and Ram every Thursday. Koregaon Park, Pune 2005This woman in Pune's Shaniwar Wada had to get her husband's permission before being photographed. 2005

I offered to buy the flowers for this striking little Telugu girl, just to get this photo. Vijayawada. 2006. Too bad about the mobile phone sign, they're everywhere in India now....Ladakhi Muslim schoolgirls waiting for the bus, Nubra Valley 2007. Possible upper-right quadrant crop?

Marigolds for sale in Ason Tole at Dasain time, Kathmandu - 2006.
Amma Garu who ran the idly hotel in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. 2006, and her granddaughter.
Krishnakumari was all ready waiting for the school bus one morning. Her mother had just drawn this muggu. Brodipet, Guntur AP 2006.

Gurung woman selling cilantra and turmeric, Kathmandu. 2007
This is a fun shot, but not sure it could win a competition. Marathi men in traditional dress, Bombay, 2005

Now playing: Ali Farka Toure & Ry Cooder - Soukora
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Real life experiences the name of one category I am entering in a photo competition.

Needless to say, I have a surplus of such images (not to mention the experiences themselves).

Help me narrow them down.
Young monks dressed as the Cemetery Lords, Thiksey Monastery Cham dance, Ladakh 2007.
Newar Astamatrika dancer just before donning his mask and entering trance. Patan, Nepal 2006.

Some of these photos will be familiar to long-term viewers here. The deadline is 30 June.Ladakhi ladies serve tea at the Dalai Lama's teachings, Choglamsar Ladakh, 2007

Tibetan Buddhist nuns blindfolded for the Dalai Lama's Kalachakra initiation, Andhra Pradesh 2006. Rajasthani dancer and musicians visiting Nepal's Bhaktapur, 2006

My friend Mohanlal and a visitor at the inauguration of the new Murugan temple, Parayakadavu, Kerala. 2005
Washing the buffalo, Pune. 2005

Makar Sankranti musicians in the street, during the Kalachakra, Andhra Pradesh. 2006
Sadhu doing puja in the Ganges, Rishikesh, 2006.

Now playing: Digital Underground - The Humpty Dance
via FoxyTunes
Now playing: Billy Preston - Outa-Space (Single)
via FoxyTunes

Mysteries of the subcontinent

No one's ever been able to explain the rubber bicycle tires lying on the thatched (and corrugated tin) roofs.

And what about the painted trees? Trees with their trunks painted white.

My great-aunt Evelyn used to have all the trees in the yard painted white from the "waist" down. I had only seen that in the American South. Imagine my surprise at seeing it all over India.

Rachel asked someone about the trees and they said "those trees are government property and can't be cut down." But like everything in India, I expect there is more than one answer.....

Now playing: Digital Underground - The Humpty Dance
via FoxyTunes

Friday, May 16, 2008

Smiling peasants make your day

First world images of the majority

I'm preparing to enter another international photo contest - two, actually.

One appears to be (judging by past winners) really big on smiling peasantry. Toothless old ladies in traditional headdress. Happy poor people. Friendly natives.

I admit to having a lot of these cliches in my portfolio...should be a shoo-in. ;-)

Here are just a few I have shortlisted.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Coming attractions

Lamawatch continues
Dharamsala via Kathmandu
Now playing: Tenzin Dhondup - About the DraNyen
via FoxyTunes

I am very often asked, "When will the Dalai Lama be appearing publicly in India?"

This is question I always welcome; my eyes light
up like a little kid on Christmas morning.

I should really write the Complete Guide to Seeing HH in India - how to get a seat, what to bring and not to bring, how to register, where to stay and so on. It does require some planning, but unlike in the west, his public teachings in India are always free. (That's right. Five or 10 days with the Dalai Lama - for free.)

You can always get His Holiness' latest schedule updates at the Official Website.

And it pays to check every few weeks - there are always changes. He's in Germany now, but I am happy to report that HH will be back in Dharamsala later this summer.

It's very, very hard to believe that it will have been nearly ONE YEAR since I've actually seen him....but that's the way the river flows sometimes.

Teaching in Dharamsala (H.P.), India from August 4 to 6:
His Holiness will give teachings on Atisha's Lamp for the Path To Enlightenment (jangchup lam kyi drolma) at the request of a Korean group.

Teaching in Dharamsala (H.P.), India from September 25 to 27: His Holiness will give teachings on Je Tsongkhapa's The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (lamrim chenmo) at the request of the The Tibetan Buddhist Center (Singapore). Contact: The Tibetan Buddhist Center (Singapore), 02-28 No. 1 New World Center, Singapore 209037 Singapore Tel: +65 6491 1027 Website:

Teaching in Dharamsala (H.P.), India from October 1 to 5: His Holiness will give teachings for Chinese Buddhists.

Lhasa letter

Another vicarious I getting lazy?
Lhasa via Dharamsala, India
via Kathmandu

My American friend Amy asked me "what are you hearing from Lhasa these days?" I was sorry to say I didn't have a direct contact to Lhasa, and that the Tibetans here report a near-total news blackout. The blog of Tibet activist Jamyang Norbu, though, has an anonymous letter on current living conditions in the city.

Norbu is a well-known author, one of the more lucid writers on the Tibet issue and former Tibetan freedom fighter. His blog is well worth a

Walking the streets of Lhasa, seeing big tea houses unusually empty and many shops still closed, makes you aware of how scared people are these days. Very few people stop on the street when they meet friends, because every gathering of people is cause for suspicion. A lot of people still stay at home because they are scared they will get arrested for no reason if they go out.

When you finally find someone not too scared to talk to you, you hear consistent, dramatic, disturbing and daunting stories that give you nightmares.

Now playing: Snow Lion of Peace
via FoxyTunes

Blatant self-promotion, but for a good cause

I was thrilled to learn, late last night, that my photo of an elderly Tibetan demonstrator in Dharamsala had won in an international photography competition.

(Okay, I didn't get first place, I got first commendation - but we all received $200, and besides the winning picture - of a woman
interviewer in a burqa wielding a microphone - really was better.)

The contest, themed "Women and Communication," was organized by the Canadian organization World Association for Christian Communication.

Here are the specifications:
Photographs that capture women communicating; women's communication rights in action or photographs illustrating how women use communication to empower themselves.

Other winning photos hailed from Afghanistan, Honduras, Thailand, Maldives and Argentina.

In most of the other photos, the women were acting through various outlets of modern media (radio interview, public address, graffiti). In addition to carrying the flag, this woman was visibly praying. Like many elderly Tibetans, her mouth was constantly in motion breathing mantras. I am continually amazed at the Tibetan community's sincere belief that prayer is a definite, pro-active force in changing things.

This woman was probably a young girl at the time of exile and has grown old in India, hoping for return to her home. The day was pouring down rain and quite cold; still she made it out to what had in many ways become a very routine event with little or no signs of progress (that is, the annual Uprising Day vigil), to pray for change.

My gratitude to the woman in the photo, to WACC, to Rita Banerji of 50 Million Missing for alerting me to the contest, and to Cheryl Hurwitz of New York City who was visiting Dharamsala that day and was kind enough to loan me her camera.

Now playing:
Lama Gyurme & JeanPhillipe Rykiel - Calling the Lama from Afar via FoxyTunes

Pricey rice

In a food mood
Now playing: Michael Stearns - Opening / Nepal Morning
via FoxyTunes

World food shortages and skyrocketing food prices have been in the news a lot lately. In a primarily agricultural country like Nepal, I read things like this and wonder how it got that way.

What kind of convoluted system of subsidies, trade agreements (or
disagreements), embargos, poor planning, population increase and price-fixing results in a place like Nepal (terraced rice fields everywhere) not having enough rice? My friend Brother Martin knows a lot more about this stuff than I do (at least in the American context).

It also leaves me wondering how people (in places like Ladakh, as well, where rice definitely does not grow and every grain has to be "imported" up the Leh-Manalai Highway from lower India) have become so dependent on white rice.

In Nepal, there are lots of locally grown alternatives...buckwheat ("dhido"), barley ("tsampa") and corn maize ("aato"). Tsampa grows best in Ladakh, along with millet and several varieties of fast-growing wheat.

It's become a downmarket thing in Nepal to eat Dhido - according to Culture Shock: Nepal people don't even like to admit having a
taste for buckwheat. I've only ever seen it served in one restaurant, and I had to special order it.

And before some know it all writes in and says "Corn is not an Asian crop" --I know that.... but it does grow darn near everywhere here now. Literally every vacant lot in urban Kathmandu seems to be sprouting corn sometimes. I will leave it for someone else to decry the effects of introducing a non-native crop.

According to this IRIN News report, India banned export of the cheap rice. It might make sense to ban exporting it to western countries, but to Nepal, the poorest nation in SAARC?

Nepal has been largely dependent on low-cost rice and vegetables from India. The ban on exports since October 2007 of non-Basmati (cheap) rice from India had caused a huge problem, said Ragan.
According to local traders, India's supplies roughly meet 25 percent of Nepal's food requirements.

The Ministry of Agriculture estimated that the production of summer paddy would be 17 percent higher this year, but it is likely that rice prices will still increase by over 20 percent because of the lack of food imports from India, according to WFP.
The government's Central Bank of Nepal estimated that the price of rice had increased by over 30 percent in the last three months. However, owing to lower incomes, people in remote hilly areas were most exposed to the price hikes.

cost of rice has increased from Rs 5,000 [$80] to Rs 8,000 [$127] for a 100kg sack. Just imagine our hardship," said Sunita Chettri from Dolpa.

And if anyone has an answer to every diet-conscious traveller in Asia's constant question - that is, whatever happened to natural, nutritious brown rice instead of refined white rice? - please tell me!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Letter from Almora

"Now Tibet is not so far"
Letter from Almora

Now playing: Tenzin Dhondup - About the DraNyen
via FoxyTunes

Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue, a key figure in the Return March to Tibet, writes from their most recent stop in Almora, Uttarakhand. This letter was forwarded from the group Return March to Tibet.

(The photo was taken at last
year's long life puja for His Holiness in Dharamsala.)

Tenzin writes:

When I packed my sleeping bag that early morning before sunrise for this long journey, I placed a white (khatak) scarf at the alter of His Holiness and said I have decided, whatever happens, I will make my way through. Walking for almost 70 with 300 people covering more than 900 kilometers through Himachal, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP, we reached Almora town yesterday in the Kumaon Mountains in the north Indian state of Uttrakhand. From here Tibet is not very far.

The March to Tibet began from Dharamsala on 10th March, the same day similar uprisings happened all around the world, organized by Tibetans and Tibet supporters, even in Tibet – a global Tibetan uprising. We started with 100 core marchers, on our way many more joined us. As we leave Almora tomorrow into the high mountain valleys towards Tibet, we are 300 marchers and eight support marchers who are foreigners from different countries, some of whom have been with us from Dharamsala.

All along the route the Indian people have welcomed us with warmth, cheered our spirit and in some places offered us water and shelter. At most places we spent our nights in Ashrams, Gurudwaras and schools, sometimes on empty grounds on the roadside....

The Marchers wake up at 4 am, after washing and packing sleeping bags, tents and mattresses, we have breakfast and start walking at 5 am. Usually walking for 6 to 7 hours a day we cover a distance of 20-25 kilometers, sometimes walking even 27 or 28 kilometers. The logistics and kitchen team move ahead in trucks and set up the camp. At many places water is luxury. .....
Most marchers are monks from the monasteries in south India; some old people who escaped from Tibet along with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959, the eldest one being 78. The youngest are two 17 year old boys, born and brought up in India and have never seen Tibet. There are several young mothers who left behind their family in the care of their husbands. ... ongoing Tibetan protests in Kathmandu are highly appreciated understanding Nepalese police brutality.

We are now starting the last leg of the March. From Almora to the border is now barely 200 kilometers, and it will now be cold as we ascend higher into the Himalayas. I know returning to a homeland that is still under foreign occupation is not easy. Chinese military will of course guard the border with machine guns, even Indian police will find an excuse to stop us. Confrontation is inevitable, but we are not stopping. We may even have to camp at the border for a long time, might have to call for international support and participation. We march into uncertainty.

The March to Tibet is a process for us to return to our homeland and reclaim our right to be in our native land in freedom. Whatever happens, we have deep commitment to non-violence; we will not retaliate. We may be beaten, jailed or even shot at, but we are not giving up. And for me there is no other plan in life other than this March. For all of us marchers, this is our life commitment.

For daily updates and photos about the march and to read personal stories of the Marchers please visit:

We have a number of non-Tibetan support Marchers who have been walking with us for a couple days or longer, and some right from the beginning.

If you are interested in joining please contact our coordinators: Sherab Woeser (cell phone: 0091-9418394426) and Lobsang Yeshi (cell phone: 0091-9410936742 / 9756969141).

If you are far away or can’t join us, you can help spread the word. Donations of sleeping bags, shoes and mattresses can be of great use. Your financial contribution can help feed the Marchers and give water to keep us going. I count for every Tibetan’s contribution towards this movement.

Bod Gyalo! (Victory to Tibet!)

Tenzin Tsundue, on the way to Tibet
May 13, 2008
Almora, Uttarakhand State, India

Two Embryos Hypothesis Loan

Fun with Chinese Spam
Still in Kathmandu

Recently I began receiving emails in Chinese script.

I was wondering if it was misplaced spam, or perhaps replies to some of
the things I had written about Tibetans (according to the Sitemeter, I do have viewers in PRC).

The emails turned out to be a particularly dadaist kind of spam. (Even Britney Spears uses the word "surreal" now...someone has to stop.)

The latest one said this:

不動產二胎。缺錢找我。住宅貸款。二胎設定放款。代辦支客票貼現。 第一成功資融:0938-580-107 企業週轉金。救急速撥。1胎借款。放款快速。企業週轉金。 第一成功資融:0938-580-107 缺錢找我。代辦支票借款,公司戶支票。工商融.免保借款。建物所有權狀。誠信經營。

According to the AltaVista Babel Fish, this translates as:

Real estate two embryos. Is short of money looks for me. Housing loan. Two embryo hypotheses loan. Charge d'affaires passenger ticket discount. The first successful capital melts: 0938-580-107 enterprise circulating capital. Rescues dials rapidly. 1 embryo loan. Loans fast. Enterprise circulating capital. The first successful capital melts: 0938-580-107 are short of money looks for me. Charge d'affaires check loan, company household check. The industry and commerce melts. Exempts guarantees the loan. Building property rights shape. Good faith management.

- perhaps a Chinese version of the now-infamous African "Extremely urgent and confidential" scam.

Viewer Mail

A viewer named Per was nice enough to write in with the news that evidently, the Leh-Manali Highway is only "officially" open...not actually open.

(Those of you familiar with Indian travel will understand the difference.)

Evidently buses are not yet running up to Leh. (Per's message is under yesterday's Comments.)

Per also says the government bus is a good way to travel the Leh-Manali highway. My friend Dhami says the same. I guess the trick is to get a *tourist* government bus....not the budget government bus with wooden seats.

And as always on these trips, you absolutely must book early and get a seat in the front section of the bus, the farther forward, the better. Otherwise you will very likely not only be puking but literally flying up at every bump in the road, banging your head on the luggage rack (which is made extra low to accomodate Asian heights) and then slamming back down on the seat.

Of course, this (being in front) puts you within range of the deafening and constantly-employed horn. Take your pick!

You must also take your pick between sitting by the window (more fresh air, also more pollution, but if you are tall, knees will be wedged in the entire time) and sitting in the aisle (more leg-room, since Indian buses rarely accomodate people over 5'7").

Another subcontinental bus trip tip: Anti-nausea medicine is over the counter here. Get some.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Open for business

Head out on the highway
News from Ladakh

It's open! The Leh-Manali Highway, magical, dramatic and sometimes torturous route from Himachal to Ladakh, is now open after six months of Himalayan snow.

For those of you who don't know, travel to Ladakh means either a flight on Air India or Air Deccan (about $150 one way) or about 2 days in a jeep (or bus, god forbid) from Manali to Leh.
The fastest jeep trip I ever heard of was 18 hours almost nonstop. When you're not throwing up, the scenery is supposed to be breathtaking.

Ladakh, being out of the monsoon shadow, is one of the few places not affected by the heavy rains and high humidity so common in this season in the rest of India. (Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur in Himachal are others, I am told.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Name game

Tapaiiko naam ke ho?
Kathmandu, Nepal

Someone needs to write "The Rules" for Nepal. Several spring to mind, but this one popped up first:

Rule #1: Every place is required to have more than one name, all of which must remain in use interchangeably.

All these synonyms reflect the diverse, multilingual and colourful history of the place. So many different communities have come through and given their own names to places and things.

(In its Indian form, the multi-name rule appears as: "We can't decide what to call this street - our national pride dictates that we give it an Indian name, but everyone uses the old colonial one anyway, damnit." So, all the signs say the new, "correct" name which does you absolutely no good since no one in the real world uses them.)

Nepal, like Thailand, was never a colony, and never faced that particular problem.

So, Kathmandu (which is actually spelt "Kathmandau" in Nepali script) is also known as Kasthamandap, Kantipur, and Catmando (attempted transliteration of the Nepali spelling).

According to the NY Times and the Economist, it's Katmandu - no H. However, in Nepali script the T is the dental TH. "Kathhmando." Someone needs to tell those guys they are misspelling our name.

Along the same lines, Patan ("PAT-ton," not "Pah-TAN" as foreigners are forever calling it) is also called Lalitpur and sometimes even referred to as Yala (its old Newar name).

Bhaktapur is often referred to as Bhadgaon or, by those really in the know, by its Newar name, Khwopa.

Thimi, the fourth largest city in the Valley, is equally recognizable by the name Madhyapur; sometimes even called Thimi-Madhyapur.

Nobody calls Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath or any of the other -naths by their full name. They are commonly called "Swayambhu," "Boudha," etc. --Except on the maps and in all books, where they are referred to by their full names.

Oh, of course there is one exception - Muktinath. No one calls it "Mukti."

The mountain commonly known as Mount Everest is also Chomolungma (Tibetan) or Sagarmatha (Nepali).

Durbar Marg is more commonly called King's Way, and will be even if they get rid of the King. Or maybe the Maoists will call it the Shining Path.

If you ask directions to what the signs proclaim (in English) to be "Naya Sadak," you will be met with blank stares. Everyone calls it New Road.

The place commonly called "Buddhanilakanth" is evidently supposed to be Buranilakanth. These names have completely different meanings, but are used interchangeably.

Deities must also have more than one name. This gets really confusing because the same gods, or at least what appear to be the same forms of gods, are worshipped and respected by several communities, each having their own names for the deity.

So, for example, Seto Matsyendranath ("White Lord of the Fishes") who lives in the gorgeously ornamented courtyard at Jan Bahal, is also Jamali, and also Avalokiteshwara (Sanskrit), sometimes corrupted into Lokeshwar - who is also Chenresig (Tibetan).

Rule #2: At any given time, there must be a festival or religious or political holiday.
This one is fun, and virtually guarantees that you never know when the bank will be open. Maybe next time.

Thanks to Eric for correcting my Nepali!

Monday, May 05, 2008

What does it mean?

Nepal nomenclature

Often people in India ask me, "So what does the name Nepal mean, anyway?"

I always have to say, "They really don't know."

A., a friend from Berkeley, expressed disgust at this (with what I have come to regard as typical West Coast arrogance). "I don't really believe that they DON'T KNOW!"

Oh sorry, I guess I'm just really stupid....and the entire four years I've been travelling here all the things I have read are wrong. It's just ME that doesn't know...someone much smarter out there actually does know.

So the next time someone asked (Y., and Indian-American friend in Delhi), I gave two of the several theories: "Some believe it was derived from the Newar, the original inhabitants of the Valley [Of course, this raises the question - what does the name Newar mean?] .

Others say it is a Sanskritic word from 'Nepalaya' - that is, place where the traditions are observed."

Which it certainly is. This is a country in which the Prime Minister of the supposedly secular state now receives prasad (a blessed item - in this case, a sweaty sacred handkerchief) from the ancient god Bhim, instead of the King, who had traditionally received it.

"The place where traditions are followed," repeated Y. That seemed to satisfy him.

The fact is, though, they actually DON'T know for sure what the name Nepal means.

Here are just a few of the popular theories, according to Wikipedia.

The word Nepal is believed to derive from Nepa (नेपा:); the old name of Kathmandu valley was Nepa in Nepal Bhasa, the language of Newars, who were the early inhabitants of the valley, long before the unification of Nepal.

[Again, what does the name Nepa mean? Viewer mail welcome.]

Other toponym theories include: -
Nepal" may be derived from the Sanskrit nipalaya, which means "at the foot of the mountains" or "abode at the foot", a reference to its location in relation to the Himalayas. Thus, it may be an Eastern equivalent of the European toponym "Piedmont."

It has also been suggested that the name comes from the
Tibetan niyampal, which means "holy land".
A third theory suggests that Nepal came from combounding the words NE, which means wool, and PAL, which means a tented house; long time ago, Nepal used to produce a lot of wool and the houses were used to store the wool - hence the word NE-PAL.

The name, Nepal, is also supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit word "NEP"(नेप), with the suffix "AL"(आलadded) to it; though still under controversy, NEP were the people who use to be cow herders - the GOPALS (गोपाल) - who came to the Nepal valley for the first time from the Ganges plain of India.

According to Nepali scholar Rishikesh Shaha, the ancient chronicles report that, a sage (muni) named Ne became the protector (pāla) of this land and the founder of its first ruling dynasty. The name of the country, Ne-pāla, therefore originally meant the land 'protected by Ne.'[1]

Everything I need to know I learned from a T-shirt
The popular 1970s Hippie etymology (which can still be found on t-shirts) was: "NEPAL stands for Never Ending Peace and Love."

My vote is for: "Never Ending Politics and Load-Shedding."