Friday, October 31, 2008

Who writes this stuff?

I think the Telegraph needs a new correspondent.

In Nepal related news this morning:

The escape of the Czech forester from Darjeeling has raised serious security concerns in the region especially in the light of Nepal’s lenient immigration policy and the largely porous border that it shares with India....
The problems they believe lie in the fact that foreigners do not need visas to visit Nepal. They only have to get the passports stamped while entering the Himalayan Kingdom.

Foreigners don't need visas? My friends and I will be so glad to hear that!!

Hilarious - of course we need visas, oh boy do we need them. A few laws have permutated recently, but until about this past June, we had to report every 30 days at immigration and get a new one. They didn't even trust us with a few months at a time.

Indeed, foreigners do need visas for Nepal. However, visas can be taken either in advance from a Nepali embassy or, more commonly, at the border (or airport) upon arrival.

It's not just a most visas, it is a sticker in your passport. Tourist Entry Visa. AHEM.
And it costs all of $40 for 30 days, pretty hefty when you consider that six months in India only costs you $60.

When you get to the Immigration queue at Tribhuvan Irrational Airport, just get in line and be sure to have 2 copies of a passport-sized photo, as well as photocopies of your Passport front page. AND $40....the denominations required keep changing. They used to ask for $40 US and only accept US. Now I hear they won't take USD.

And we're no longer a Kingdom! Wake up and smell the incense, Telegraph "correspondent"!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Traveling light

Sort of
Delhi, Agra and Kathmandu

One of the many, many things preoccupying me these past months has been the pending visit of my 2 sisters from America. They arrive in Delhi on 31 October. I haven't seen them in six years.

Since one has been to Turkey and the other, to Malaysia and Singapore, I suppose technically it is not their first visit to Asia. Still, there is lots of preparation for them.

Now if only they had been reading my blog all these years, they would know most of these things. Anyway, I am now answering questions like

"how many hair scrunchies should I bring?"


"do I need to bring sheets, towels and bedclothes?"

In general, I have found travel in this part of the world to be a great lesson in how little you really need. But to answer:

Scrunchies are available on the street here. Bring 3 from home, you will probably lose two.

All the the grungiest lodges have decent sheets and towels. If you are exceptionally picky about towels (ie, need to have 100% cotton - I know I do) bring one from home.

"What kind of stuff should I bring?"

A great many, many things are available here now, particularly in Nepal which has a history of being much easier on the imports than India. But there are a few things that really make life easier:

1--hand sanitizer and wet-wipes. They are in stores here, but you will want them on the plane ride they are ridiculously overpriced here.

2--Something to put your hair back with. Yes, you can get this in the stores but do you want to spend your first night looking for a scrunchie?

Why put your hair back? It is usually too hot or windy to do anything else, and long loose hair on women is associated with easy morals. Besides, as soon as you get off the plane your hair will be sticky with pollution.

3--Ziploc Bags. These do not seem to have made it over here yet, and they have 100 uses.

4--Some kind of washcloth or sweat-and-dirt-wiping rag for your pocket (see #2). Also available here, but you will need it en route.

5--Since we are doing some hiking, 2 pairs of shoes only. A pair of Teva type sandals, and a pair of hiking boots. For some reason, good shoes like this are still unavailable even in hiking-capital Kathmandu. Reebok, Nike and Adidas do have shoppes here....but not the serious outdoor brands like Teva, Merrell and so forth.

What are readily available are a lot of Chinese copies - best avoided. Chinese fakes are fine for some things - but not for your feet. You cannot put a price on how your feet (and back) feel.

6--Again, for some reason, mosquito repellent products containing DEET are mysteriously unavailable here. Bring some DEET sprays (spritzers are best to cover wide areas).

7--A travel mug with a sippy top really, really comes in handy. Yes, you can buy it here; but again, usually the western quality is better (ie, local ones often leak).

I really like having this on long trips or walks round town...I can buy a mug full of tea and keep going, or sit on a boulder or park bench, or wait for a train, drinking tea and watch the world go by.

8--A non-material thing many people forget - actually two things. A whole bunch of passport photos and photocopies of your passport and visas. These come in handy countless times during your travels, for entry permits and all kinds of things.

Another very important thing: make sure you scan and upload your passport and visa to your email account or other online account. After all, if you can lose your actual documents, you can just as easily lose the photocopies. This way, if the worst does happen, copies of the critical documents are available in the ether.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dance the night away

Naach your average dance
Patan, Nepal

Kartik Naach,
the Nepali annual dance cycle depicting scenes from Hindu mythology (but danced by Newar Buddhist dancers) begins Oct. 31st in Patan's Durbar Square.

Kartik Naach is an eight-day series of dance-dramas instituted several hundred years ago by King Siddhinarasimha Malla. Though Patan's population was primarily Buddhist, the Hindu king hired the Buddhist dancers to portray Hindu stories.

Especially popular is the final night, when the tale of Narasimha disembowelling Hiranyakashipu is re-enacted to what can only be called mass hysteria from the crowd. (I would imagine this scenario is especially prominent because it's the namesake of the originating King Siddhinarasimha.)

All dances are free and open to the public, and take place on the Kartik Dabali platform in front of the famous Patan Museum from about 7pm to 9pm.

Here is a photo from the 2006 Kartik Naach depicting Lakshmi and Brahma Padmanabhasana (seated on the lotus from Vishnu's navel!).

I wrote to my Newar Charya dance teacher Raju Sakya about the origins of Kartik Naach. Here is part of his answer;

The King is Siddhinarasingha Malla who instituted and started for 15 days and his son SriNivas Malla elaborate it with other opera and dances for 1 month.But today in this century only for 8 days and some of the dance and dance parts are already lost or dissapeared with modern age. We have to preserve it but it's already missing . Let's hope and try to do revise and research on it.

Happy Deepawali and Nepal Sambat 1129 \Mhapuja.May Mata Laxmi bless us.

Whassup Ode Skool?!

A note from Flickr

Back in February,
you may remember I attended the Tibetan New Year celebration Losar out in Boudha. The Tibetan community, like Ladakh, is a cinch for "beautiful old faces" photos.

One of them was this lovely white-bearded Gandalf of a Ngagpa, or non-celibate Nyingma yogi
. (Nyingma is one of the five Tibetan Buddhist schools and literally means, "Old School.") I wish I could have illuminated his face better, but it was still a good composition.

He spoke a bit of English and invited me up to see his monastery in Helambu (about five days' walk from Kathmandu).

Just yesterday, a
Flickr member named Joakkim wrote in with this note:

Hi I also met Lama Rechung is his name by the way, at his home in Helambu in 98. Read more about Rinpoche at rr_ph_01_eng...

The Rinpoche does not appear to have aged a great deal in the 10 years since Joakkim met him, if the website photos are any indication. There must be something to those Tantric Arts.

Time for a closing cliche: What a small world it truly is.

Here are a couple more photos I took that day. Old school indeed.