Monday, April 28, 2008

Where to eat

...In Kathmandu

Whenever I write one of my "useful" posts, a certain segment of readership says "I like your informational posts, but why don't you write about your own experience?"

If I write about my own experience and include a bunch of subjective observations, a different sector says "I don't really care what you are thinking," (someone actually wrote and said that....) "I want to see and experience other worlds."

Okay, well here is a post you can USE.
Budget exotic food in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is chock-full of world class restaurants of every stripe - Japanese, Italian, Korean, Russian (yes, Russian), Israeli, Chinese, Indian (north and south), Mexican, Tibetan, Thai, even an Irish Pub. Still haven't found a Greek restaurant here, though.

Here are a few favourites around the Neighborhood (Thamel). Really, most of the best food is there....even though you get swamped by flute salesmen and Tiger-Balm vendors.
There are an alarming number of Korean restaurants in Thamel, including the excellent Korean Picnic and another one whose name escapes me - oh, it's Hotel Everest Villa which is part of a Korean-partnered hotel. Both Picnic and Everest Villa are near Kesar Mahal. But my favourite is the little tiny Han Kook Sarang, in the same courtyard with Tamas Lounge and Pink Palace opposite the RoadHouse Restaurant.

At Han Kook, I never fail to have the Tofu Kim Bab (Korean for sushi). For a mere 100NRs (less than $2.00), I get the sushi-veg roll, soup, kim chee (pickled cabbage) and two side vegetable dishes - usually red beans, potatos or spinach.

My personal idea of heavenly cuisine is at Momo Tarou. Again, there are many excellent Japanese restaurants in town...but I like this small, friendly place near Bhagavati Bahal just above Thamel Chowk.

Which to get for my victory dinner after the Indian Embassy - the eggplant sauteed in miso with sesame seeds, or the avocado sushi? I got the avocado maki above (minus the Asahi beer) for 250NRs (about four dollars US). Ah, the sting of wasabi and the sweet tang of pickled ginger.

Momo Tarou also has all manner of Japanese udon and noodle dishes, as well as some Nepali fare.

Darn, I forgot to take a photo of my daal-bhaat-aato at the Thakali Kitchen on Z Street today (not to be confused with Thakali Bancha Ghar or other similarly named joints). Daal-bhaat is of course the national Nepali dish - daal (lentils), bhaat (rice), aloo piroo (spicy potatos), gundruk or wilted spinach and another vegetable side dish, usually with yogurt for dessert. But the Thakali Kitchen serves their thali with maize or corn grains instead of rice (just ask for it - it takes a few extra minutes) which makes great change. For 85 Nrs you get a refill-able tray of daal, aato (corn) and vegetables.

For those who miss south Indian cuisine (yours truly), Dudh Sagar on Kantipath near Bhothahity is a good bet, though not nearly as good as the sweets shop in Pulchowk that inexplicably turned into a tandoor joint this year. Idlys, vada, uttappam, and dosa - all the rice-based dishes of the south - are all available. Don't expect Saravana Bhavan quality though...and there's no fresh lime soda. But it's clean and very affordable. My favourite is the Paneer Special Uttapam (a sort of thick rice pancake with chunks of cottage cheese in the batter). I make sure I say "mirchi nahi chahiye," or they will sprinkle it with green chilis, which I can't stomach.

Speaking of good old SB's...guys, if you can have branches in the US and Malaysia and Singapore, why not Nepal?

Karmapa Chenno

The K-Man Cometh
News from Woodstock, NY

It's finally happening.

Those of you who are not on the dharma "circuit" have no idea what this means.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa (Orgyen Trinley Dorje), the 22-year-old incarnate Tibetan Rinpoche widely believed to be the coming successor to the Dalai Lama (in terms of leadership in the Tibetan worldwide community), is finally coming to America - after years of hemming and hawing by the Indian government.

It's no exaggeration to say that Karmapa's dramatic escape from Chinese Tibet a few years ago, at the age of 16, could not possibly have been made up or embellished even by Hollywood. (Read Mick Brown's Dance of 17 Lives for the best account.)

Nor could the ensuing controversy over who was the "real" Karmapa (a rival emerged a few years later) have been invented by the most creative screenwriter...nor the ensuing dispute over his ability to take his traditional seat at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim, north India.

In hopes of not offending China (who, after all, had already recognized him as the Karmapa, raised and groomed him for their own purposes before his escape - rather embarassing for the Chinese), the Indian government has severely limited the Karmapa's movements within India. The young incarnate lama has yet to travel overseas. So, this is big news.

Once the American press sees this guy, they are going to go wild. He is so young, cool and charismatic - here's a photo of him entering the Dalai Lama's Kalachakra temple in McLeod Ganj last year. (check out his Matrix shades. ;-) )

Karmapa to Visit America

--WOODSTOCK — The young Tibetan Buddhist leader that the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery on Meads Mountain Road was built for will finally come to America in mid-May. The 22-year-old Karmapa’s visit comes as the 49,000-square-foot monastery built for him comes to completion. The tour begins May 17 with a Manhattan apearance before the entourage comes to Woodstock May 19-22.

All monastery events are by invitation only. Public events will be held in New York City and New Jersey.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

We did it!

On Election Day (April 10), Lulu, Caitlin and I successfully achieved the dream or fantasy of so many visitors to Nepal.

We didn't summit Everest or get an audience with His Majesty the King.

If you've been here, you cannot have escaped it: the cheesy keyboard-inflated chanting of the sacred Buddhist manta, "Om mani padme hum" (hail to the jewel in the heart of the lotus).

Of course, the mantra is fine. It's the horrific saccharine music that drives everyone nuts - plus, the fact that the recording goes on for some forty minutes.

We were on our way to get the best yogurt shake in the whole world (at Just Juice n Shakes, Thamel) when the neighboring music shop started the dreaded tune.

Somebody, sometime, somewhere must have told them that "tourists like this..." either that, or they genuinely like it themselves, which a) I find hard to believe and b) is possibly even more frightening than the idea that tourists are supposed to like it.

"Oh no, are they starting that music?" said the normally very mild-mannered Caitlin.

"Maybe we can get them to shut it off."

"NO WAY, they lovvvvve it.....they play that crap all day long! Over and over!"
The girls were not to be dissuaded. "Can you change the music?" Caitlin asked.
"Turn the music up? Okay, " said the guy, not listening, and tried to increase the volume.
"NO, NO, we just want you to turn the music OFF."
"Yes, that music. We don't like this music. We HATE this music. Please play some other music."
Finally the guy handed Caitlin the remote control. Here she is victoriously switching off the hated sounds:

...and here are the girls following their audio victory...and the best yogurt shake in the world.

Escape From Kathmandu

Power Places Part Three
Bhaktapur, Changu, and Kathmandu, Nepal

The morning after the insane tug-of-civil war that is Bisket Jatra in Bhaktapur (half the town goes to war with the other half the town trying to pull the chariot apart, or so it would seem), I met a couple of Americans who also wanted to go up to the hillside temple of Changu Narayan (one of the "Power Places of the Kathmandu Valley"). It is believed to be the very oldest temple in the valley, and also has the oldest inscription yet located here - from the 3rd century AD, in Licchavi script. (The Licchavis were one of the Indian Hindu dynasties who came up from Magadha way, I think.)
Lynette, Dave and I decided to do the ultra budget thing and catch the local bus up to Changu, rather than pay the inflated taxi prices (300NRs or five dollars! please, it costs 600 to go all the way back to Kathmandu. Changu is only 15 minutes away by car).

There are about five different bus stops (or 'bus stands' as they are called here - "tourist bus park," "Mini bus park" etc) in Bhaktapur, so to determine the right one, we had to wander through the hand-hewn brick and wood labyrinthes of Bhaktapur asking directions, which is part of the fun. "Changu bus stand?" is the best way to phrase the question. When we just said "Changu?" people pointed in the direction of Changu itself, which doesn't necessarily help you get the bus.

The road to Changu from Bhaktapur (the back road, not the driveable highway) would be a very nice walk - taking about 2 hours - if we had started early enough in the morning. As it was after 11am, it was already boiling hot. Don't be fooled by the clothing you see on the local people - they have the maddening ability to wear long sleeves, synthetic fibres, and even several layers, in the pre-monsoon swelter and barely break a sweat.

When we finally located the place everyone insisted was the "Changu bus stand," a taxi driver pulled up and did his very best to persuade us that in fact, there was NO bus to Changu. "No Changu bus. No bus. No bus today. Taxi, 300 Rs only." (By the way, the bus is 10NRs.) Instantly the shop owners, whose shop we were standing in front of, tried to get in on the act. They too insisted there was "no bus."

I had gotten the driver down to 200NRs and was trying to beat him down for 150 when we noticed a small crowd of people - women, children, and elderly - gathering on the corner diagonally opposite.

"I bet THAT's where the bus leaves from." I hopped across the smelly grey open sewer ditch and strode across the road. "Changu Bus?" I asked the young girls in kurta-surwal. They all nodded.
The taxi driver, as usual in such situations, displayed no trace of shame or embarassment at his "no bus" lies, shrugged and sped off.

The bus was so crowded, we elected to sit on top. This is by far the best and best-ventilated way to travel, especially in hot sweaty summer, but is considered unorthodox for women. As foreign women, Lynette and I were somewhat exempt from the etiquette and clambered up the metal ladder to the bus roof - where the view is unsurpassed.

We were joined by half a dozen young boys till the tiny luggage-rack railing was crammed with humans. I made sure to get in the middle, sharing space with an empty red metal gas cylinder and a worn spare tire, where it seemed less likely I'd fall off. We need not have worried about falling - the bus creaked along slowly through wheat fields up the hillside.

Our fellow roof-riders seemed well-informed about the upcoming US elections and wanted to know "Who will be the next president of your country?" As usual in this part of the world, the name "Cleenton" evoked the most recognition - a trusted brand name on the subcontinent.

Changu Narayan has got to be one of the most reasonable entrance fees in all of Asia - 60NRs or exactly $1.00 US to see the oldest temple in the Valley (and the one best noted for its sculptures).

The last time I came was in September during the misty post-monsoon. I walked down from Telkot through damp pine forests that felt more like Scotland than Nepal. This ascent couldn't have been more different, in the hot dry season. However, it did mean this time I could take photos.

The isolated location of Changu Narayan means it's the least visited of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Valley. It also means there are fewer tourists, which is both good and bad. It's never crowded, but ALL the attention of the shopkeepers, begging kids and touts was focused on US, the lone foreigners.

Changu displays a familiar Nepali combination - a rich upwelling of devotional energy manifested in myriad curlicues, psychedelic flourishes and startling chimeric beasts that defy description...lots of decay...and lots and lots of pigeon doo. In fact, a case could be made that the pigeon droppings rival the air pollution for destruction of the monuments. I can't support killing the pigeons outright, but I would definitely get behind a plan for pigeon birth control. (A few pigeons taking flight from the square in the morning light is nice. Hordes of them all over is a health and architectural hazard.)

Despite the fact that I can't read it, I think the stone below is my favorite part of Changu. In the ancient and now disused Licchavi script, it supposedly relates the story of how a Licchavi king dissuaded his mother from sati, or widow's ritual suicide on the funeral pyre of her husband, and instead persuaded her to stay with him among the living because he would miss her. (Some proof that, despite what many would like to claim, sati was real, not an invention of the British or anti-Hindu propagandists.)

Narayan is one of the names of Lord Vishnu, who represents the "preserver or maintainer" form of the Godhead. This is the aspect of god traditionally meant to be embodied in the King of Nepal, though the current candidate seems to have been asleep at the switch. Though we weren't able to see the murti or statue inside ("Hindus only"), there are plenty of surrounding toranas (engraved and embossed metal archways), friezes, and sculptures. Most of them depict the various DasAvatar or ten earthly incarnations of Vishnu, including Lord Krishna, the dwarf manifestation whom I think was called Vamana, Parashurama, Narasingha the man-lion avatar disemboweling a nonbeliever (below), and what looks like Vishwarupa (the overwhelming all-encompassing universal form of God), a masterpiece of mind-boggling Hindu psychedelia depicting the three worlds (of the underworld, men and gods, below).

Despite having been damaged during an attempted robbery, the detailed cosmology of Vishwarupa is well worth a few minutes' contemplation. I'm afraid the photos really don't do the sculptures justice. There is a legend accompanying each of the statues - I know most of them and was able to bore Lynette and Dave with my know-it-all stories, but there is no printed guide available so you should bring a guidebook with details to Changu Narayan.

Isolated in their gilded cage are small statues of a former Licchavi King and Queen, possibly the ones who built the actual Changu Narayan temple (the site is believed to have been used for worship long before the building was erected). This is a common feature of Nepali temples - the patron king and queen immortalizing themselves in the kneeling posture of devotion, hands folded in salutation, facing the deity.

After a dreadful and very overpriced lunch at the neat, tidy garden style restaurant near the front gate (don't be fooled by the appearance - they do have a bathroom, though), we elected to walk the hour and half back down to Bhaktapur town, through the pine forest (the best part), windy wheat fields, and dusty small towns.

We knew we were near "town" when speeding vehicles threatened to knock us off the road into the ditch, and choked us with their fumes. Back in Bhaktapur, we were greeted by still more clanging cymbals, beating of drums and tooting of flutes. Was Bisket Jatra STILL going on?

It turned out to be a different festival. The Maoists, along with a local affiliate Newar identity party, were celebrating their electoral victory with traditional music, traditional dance, red banners and portraits of Stalin, Mao, Marx and Lenin.

Dattatreya Temple square (also called Tachupal) was once surrounded by Maths, or Hindu ashram-style centres of residential learning. Students came from all over the region to learn traditional Ayurvedic (herbal) medicine in the ornately carved wooden buildings. Now, Pujari Math is a woodcarving museum, and another of the Maths has been transformed into a high-priced tourist restaurant.

New gods were being worshipped in the old square. It was high time for a shower and a pot of tea. We drifted through the narrow streets floating among political icons, Buddhist statues and Hindu gods back to the Bhadgaon Guest House.

---Thanks to Sudarshan for correcting some of the deity information.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Throw something against the wall

...and see what sticks
Kathmandu, Nepal

Here, it's just a cool photo of flying monks from Shechen Monastery. I will start posting again soon, I promise.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Applied anthropology

"I was born a poor black child...then one day I heard my first Mantovani record, and realized - *these* are my people!"
- Steve Martin

White people just can't catch a break. If you stick with Strauss and the Civil War, you're a closed-minded ethnocentrist. However, if you express interest in some other culture, you're some kind of orientalist. I guess we should all just stay home and read De Bible, maybe join Daughters of the American Revolution.

I went out to Bhaktapur to exploit the natives this week. Here are some photos. Thank god I'll probably never make any money from them...then I'd be a neo colonialist.

::Bisket Jatra is a nine-day blowout festival in Bhaktapur, the second Every day features a different event. This is the raising of the Lingo (Lingam), a sort of Maypole equivalent (fertility/phallic symbol). When the Jesuits arrived centuries ago in their attempts to convert the Newars, they were so happy to see the lingo - they thought Christianity had already come to Nepal. Boy were they wrong....
::One of the focal points of Bisket is the tug-of-war chariot pull between lower Bhaktapur and upper Bhaktapur. This ancient chariot gets nearly pulled apart like a rag doll. I've seen at least a dozen Hindu chariot pulls and I've never seen anything like Thursday night's chariot wars.

::One of the guardian elephants (nearly life-sized) on the steps of Nyatapola Temple, overlooking the Bhairab Mandir in Taumudhi Square.

::Yummy daal bhatt - the Nepali national dish - at the Newa Family Restaurant in Sukul Dhoka - highly recommended. All this for 110NRS (about $1.50).
::The elaborate medieval style lock on a temple door.

::The Newars created their own brilliant art, wood carvings (above), metal work and Paubha religious paintings. However, most of what sells in places like Kathmandu, Boudha and Bhaktapur is Tibetan, or should I say "Tibetan." All this is junk created by Nepalis and sold by Nepalis. The real Tibetans are all in hiding from the police these days.

A real Tibetan, for instance, would probably never leave a sutra lying out uncovered as seen above...or sell it for a souvenir. Tibetan script itself is considered sacred, not to mention religious writings.

I went to visit a Thangka shop (Thangkas are Tibetan traditional religious paintings) called "Refugee Camp Thangka Painting School."

"Where are the refugees?" I asked. Of course, there were none. All the paintings are done by Tamangs, also Himalayan Buddhists, who learned the art from Tibetans after the 1959 exile.

I asked where all the Tibetans were. One painter guy told me "they're all staying in their rooms these days...they are scared of the police." It didn't seem to bother him at all that his own painting master was being persecuted and driven into hiding.

::Despite its image as an overwhelmingly Hindu traditional town, Bhaktapur also has at least one mosque and many Buddhist viharas, including one Theravada Buddhist vihara supported by a Thai donor.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nepal Bhasha 101.5

Yesterday I reviewed some of my Nepali phrases with the sweet, shy kids who work at my guest house, Sunny Guest House in Bhaktapur.

In addition to saying "Nepalis are generally easygoing," I could have added, "and generally too humble and polite to correct you even if you are using their language incorrectly." Turns out some phrases I have used with success had unecessary or inappropriate words tacked on.

It's confusing, because the people are generally soooo polite, any attempt at all to speak Nepali is normally met with "you are speaking very good Nepali!"

Even when it's not exactly true.

This is in sharp contrast to India, which is more like France in that you'll get jumped on instantly and in no uncertain terms for language infractions.

However, we did get one bit of Viewer mail that had some more aggressive suggestions for learning Nepali. Does sarcasm usually work when attempting to assist someone genuinely interested in your culture, I wonder? Very Indian of you.

....or, perhaps I should attend school in the West and spend thousands of dollars to learn the correct attitude with which to approach another culture. One must be carefully taught to interact with natives, after all. Genuine, innocent unbridled enthusiasm not welcome in high-brow circles.

Fortunately, as I said, most (I have met a lot of them in four years) Nepalis are delighted at a bideshi's attempts to learn the language.

Phrase for today: "Ma Sunny Guest house maa Baschhu." (I am staying at Sunny Guest House.)

Et tu, Tawang?

Another one bites the dust
News from Arunachal

Wellll, it seems Nepal, or the Nepalese Autonomous Region of China, is not the only Chinese "client state" toeing the line from Beijing, when it comes to permitting Tibetan protests.

This just in from

Authorities of (the Indian state) Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China, have declared the state 'sensitive' and 'a risky place' to hold any pro-Tibetan demonstrations.

Thanks Gods someone isn't taking it lying down.

"We are proud to be Indians, and the government should protect the interest of the people who have been living under the constant fear of a Chinese incursion. The 1962 Chinese aggression in which the People's Liberation Army came down to occupy Indian territory beyond Tawang and Bomdila in West Kameng district should not be allowed again," Padma Shri award-winning monk Thupten Phuntsok said.

"The people of Tawang and Tibet have a strong bond of religion and culture, and the government should also permit peaceful demonstrations in protest against the scores of Tibetans killed, tortured and maimed in Tibet by China," he added.

MLA Tsona Rinpocha from Tawang district said the policy of successive governments towards protection of the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh had been 'weak'.

This isn't just the usual paranoia, folks:

He cited the razing of a Buddha statue and occupation of seven kilometres of local grazing grounds in Samdurang Valley by China since 1986 to drive home his point.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nepali Bhasha 101

Handy Nepali Phrases
Bhaktapur, Nepal

Nepalis are generally easy people (unless they are agitating for a separate Nepali-speaking state in Sikkim, I suppose....or unless they are extorting money from local businessmen....or sacrificing animals...or kidnapping wealthy Indians...or beating up Tibetan protestors. Okay, I'm out)

... well, what I was going to say before my generalization was so rudely interrupted, was "Nepalis are generally easygoing people and Nepali is an easy language to learn." It's like a softer Hindi, with all the sharp edges rounded off. Just put Os where Hindi has As, Cha or Ho where Hindi has Hai, Na where Hindi has Nahin, and the suffix -nus where Hindi has -jiye and there you go - you're speaking Nepali.

(Not exactly, but pretty close.)

Oh yeah, and to speak Nepali, you have to drop the obligatory bossy attitude of Hindi. And the nasality. You have to smile to speak proper Nepali. You have to look down your nose at someone to speak proper Hindi.

It's Nepali and Hindu new year, and just days after the election, the mood here in the traditional Newar town of Bhaktapur is just delicious. Today was the last of a luxurious week of holidays declared because of the election. The new year's tradition is to wear a brand-new sari or other outfit (for unmarried girls, that is anyone under 20, it's a new kurta-salwar set; for young men it's a WWF t-shirt and brand new stonewashed jeans) - wear your new new year's clothes and stroll around town arm in arm with family, chatting and stopping on the corner to eat homemade ice cream. (It looks homemade to me... I stick with the juju dahi or King's Curd for which Bhaktapur is famous.)

Naya barsha ko shubh kamana! will win you a lot of points right now. It means "happy new year."

First of all, you have to get used to addressing hierarchically, and as family. There is a definite pecking order involving age, caste and other status markers; but for foreigners, who this mostly means acknowledging seniors, peers and youth.

Elder men (elder to you) are addressed as Dai, or perhaps Kaka (uncle). A man your age or younger is Bhai. A very elder man is Huzoor-bho (respected father). Elder women are Didi (big sister), Kaki (auntie) or Huzoor-amma (respected mother) , very elder women are Ajima (grandmother), and young ladies are Bahinee (daughter).

"Huzzoor!" is the most respectful way to answer the phone or address an elder or superior. It just means something like, "respect." Otherwise, people normally say "Namaste" here to foreigners. People here actually say namaste and put their folded hands, up like praying. Only a few people in tourist places do that in India.

Let's start with practical things.

"Kalaam koti yo?" means, "how much is this ink pen."

Common numerical responses include "das rupiyah," (ten rupees)
"pandara" (pron. 'pundarra') = 15 rupees
"bis" (beese) = twenty
"tis" (tees) = thirty
Ek sau (one hundred) or Ek sau pachas (150).

"Mahango chha!" means, "your price is too expensive!"

"Duitaa (dwee-taa) kalaam tis rupiyah dinus." = Please give me 2 ink pens for thirty rupees.

"Shasto price dinus" = give me the cheap price.

The shop owner may counter with "Yo shasto price chha." ("This is a cheap price." To which you retort indignantly, "Shasto chhaina!" --(it's not cheap! )

Theek (pron. teak, like teakwood) chha! means, okay, all right or good!
Theek chhaina (pron. "chinaa") naturally means, "this is not okay." I find myself saying this more often than I would like....

and the classic Nepali phrase,
"Ke garne? " (pronounced "kay garnay")
means, "what to do?" and translates as, "I give up - it's someone else's job. " Or, "this is NOT going to get fixed or done today so relax and forget about it."

Dinus (deenus) is polite for "please give." Linus (lee-nus) is polite for "please take." In "street" Nepali these polite forms are little used - there are more truncated forms - but I prefer them. I figure as a newcome to the language I should be more polite.

Oh, that reminds me of the useful polite command forms, which usually end in -nus (noose).

Bussnus = Please sit. I often have to use this as shopkeepers tend to jump up the second they see you even look in their doorway.
Sodhnnus = please listen.
Bolnus = please tell me
Lekhnus = please write. And so on.

"Nepal maa, saarbhai jaan dehri ramro" = Here in Nepal, everyone is very good. Another diplomatic point-scorer.

"Taxi khali chha?" = is this taxi free?
Answers: Chha! (yes it is!)
Chhaina! (pron. chinaa) - (no it's not!) - and these are usually uttered with an exclamation point.
"Maa airport jaanchu" means, I am going to the airport.

"Meter maa theek chha?" means, "will you go on the meter?"

"Tapai ko naam ke ho?" = what is your name. But for children, you should use the diminutive "Timi lai naam ke ho?"

"Yo deva naam ke ho?"
is one I use all the time when visiting temples. It means, "What is the name of this deity?"

"Yo bus Bhaktapur jaane?" means, is this bus going to Bhaktapur?
Bhai, yahe (yahay) rokiyay is a polite way to tell your taxi driver "stop here, brother."

"Bholi parsi chhaina -- Ahilay! Ahilay!" is very useful indeed. ("Tomorrow tomorrow NO - TODAY! TODAY!)

"Tapai lai vetera malai dehri kusi lagyu" is "I am very pleased to meet you."

More practical ones:
Koti kero bundho garne? (what time do you close here?)
Koti kero kullchha garne? (what time do you open?)

Of course, you have to understand the answer - but everyone knows number up to ten at least. (Nothing opens before 10, or Das Bhaje.)

Speaking of which, it's ahht bhaje (8pm) and time to close here in sleepy Bhaktapur.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Yes, the Nepal constituent assembly elections were held today.
No, so far there are no signs of "trouble" within the city.

Yes, it's been a week since I blogged anything.
Yes, I am having "problems" (mostly health related....horrible migraines and backaches).

Yes, five different bombs went off in the city of Kathmandu this week. I was a block away from one of them on Wednesday (in New Baneshwor. I went to renew my mobile account).

No, no one has been hurt yet in these bombings. They appear to be "scare tactic" mini-bombings - in Asia, if you really want to hurt someone it's not hard, it's a very crowded place. Wednesday's bomb was thrown from a moving motorcycle.

Yes, I am feeling really terse and headachey, so will sign off now.

No, I don't expect any trouble related to the election least not for a few days. The trouble will start after a few days when the votes are counted. Anyone who comes out behind is going to "contest."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Scenes from an embassy

Embassy embarassment
Kathmandu, Nepal

Pro-Tibetan Protests in front of the Consular section of the Chinese Embassy (Hattisar) had become an almost daily routine.

As of Tuesday the 1st, protests began in front of the actual Chinese Embassy building in Baluwatar (conveniently located down the block from the Prime Minister of Nepal's residence).

Here are some scenes from Monday's protest in Hattisar. Typically, the marchers approach the embassy's giant metal gates, holding banners and posters. The Nepal Police accost them, preventing them from approaching the gates. At this point the protestors sit down, "drop" or refuse to move, and the police drag them away.

On Monday, I noticed there were no monks in attendance. I asked a young English-speaking Tibetan girl about this. She, with her mother, was watching in tears.

"Some of them are monks," she said. "But they can't wear the monk dress. Police are arresting all monks and nuns on the road just for wearing the robes." So the monks were protesting in plainclothes. Indeed, I did notice quite a few protestors had the close-cropped monastic hair.

While the protestors shout and scream "stop the killing in Tibet, " "we want freedom in Tibet" and "Dalai Lama Zindabad" the police eventually apply the lathi (bamboo canes). Reporters and observers who'd been to many of the demos told me the police violence, while still including hair-pulling, even some face-punching, and lathi whacks, was actually reduced from that of a few days ago.

UN human rights observers in their trademark blue vests stood by watching. But they were denied entrance to the rooftop of a private house (next door to the Chinese Embassy) for better rooftop viewing. The Nepali homeowner said he "had been told not to" let anyone watch from the roof.

There were at least 2 dozen media members, both professional and amateur, in attendance, not to mention loads of ordinary Nepalis with cell phone cameras. Office workers peered down from the safety of first-floor windows while ground-floor shopkeepers slammed their metal gates shut.

Protestors were piled into police vans and trucks, and taken to various police stations where they were jailed until nightfall.

Just when the police would drive off with a truckfull of screaming protestors, another scuffle would start up down the block, with another group appearing seemingly out of nowhere. This went on for about 2 hours - groups appearing, sitting down, getting rounded up and dragged off, trucked away then another small group appearing elsewhere.

I read one report that claimed "protestors attacked the Chinese Embassy." I find that hard to believe, as they are not allowed anywhere near the enormous metal gates of the compound.

Passing the torch

Updates - from....
New Delhi, India

April 17 is the day the Olympic Torch comes through New Delhi, on its way to Beijing. This will be a major day of protest action and here are suggestions from the March 10 Uprising organization on how you can get involved.

Already, one Indian torch-bearer (a Buddhist from Sikkim) has withdrawn from participation.

Posted: 02 Apr 2008 05:27 AM CDT
When China ’s Torch Comes to India on April 17th - Speak out for Tibet .
We, the undersigned Tibetan individuals and organizations, appeal to all Indian citizens and, in particular, those people chosen to be Olympic torch-bearers, to speak out for the Tibetan people when China ’s Torch comes to India on April 17th.

At this critical moment, when countless Tibetans are suffering under a violent military crackdown by the Chinese government, we need to show that global citizens support the Tibetan people’s right to be free and to live their lives as they see fit.

The courageous actions taken by Tibetans inside Tibet over the past few weeks demonstrate that Tibetans have suffered unimaginably under a half century of Chinese rule. They are now risking everything and crying out for freedom. By speaking out when the Chinese government brings the Olympic Torch to India you will send a strong message to Tibetans, to the Chinese government, and to the world, that Indians support the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people’s nonviolent struggle for freedom and justice.
There are so many ways for everyone to take action.

Torch-bearers can:- withdraw from the relay;
- wear a Free Tibet shirt or hold the Tibetan flag as they run with the torch;
- issue a statement in support of the Tibetan people before the Relay.

Indian citizens can:- join or organize a protest as the Torch passes through Delhi;
- wear a Free Tibet shirt or hold a Tibetan flag as the Torch passes by;
- plan a solidarity action in your town or city on April 17th.

As the Chinese government runs the Olympic torch around the world and attempts to whitewash its human rights violations and legitimize its illegal occupation of Tibet , tens of thousands of Tibetans and supporters will be speaking out to expose China ’s lies. Please join this global chorus of voices calling for justice for Tibet !

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mandala meanderings

Down in the Valley: Another Cultural Minute
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
I haven't been meandering too much this trip....been in bed with a screaming migraine the past 3 days. But I would like to continue my Power Places of Kathmandu Valley series.
Tantric Hinduism was mostly wiped out or went underground in India, the land of its birth, centuries ago - by a resurgence of Brahmin orthodoxy and religious reforms. But it remained and remains alive and well in Nepal.
This has mixed results; the lovely sensual artwork celebrating human sexuality, along with the many bloody animal sacrifices.
The entire valley (and every city within the valley) is arranged as a mandala; that is, a ritual circular design with "power points" at key positions.
Here are my photos of a few more of the "Power Places of the Valley."

Chobar Adinath at first appears to be just another charming Newar style pagoda temple. But it's sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, and inside the walls are covered with brass plates, pots, pans and photos of individuals. These are all homages to the deceased. The result feels very intimate; like being in someone's living room with the eyes of their ancestors peering down.

Dakshinakali, a Hindu temple located in a deep dark crevasse near Pharping, is the best known animal sacrifice temple, not only in Nepal but possibly in the world. It's not so much a temple building as a sprawling complex of bridges and platforms. Situated atop a small river, the water literally flows red most days (as you can see in the lower left-hand side of the river photo). Chickens, goats, sheep and so on are sacrificed by the dozens daily. Creates a powerful aura, but be prepared.

The hills and woodlands surrounding the grotto are strangely peaceful, green and beautiful, and if you climb to the hilltop, a quiet, less bloody Goddess temple awaits you. In general Dakshinakali is certainly a powerful antidote to the popular ideas of Hinduism as a nonviolent religion.

Pharping Vajra Yogini is just about the polar opposite, vibrationally, of Dakshinakali. It's a hillside temple to a Buddhist goddess, and unfortunately doesn't allow photos of the main deity figure. But the wooden pagoda structure gives a welcoming, cottage ambience, so that you really feel you are visiting the "house" of the devi. The Vajra Yogini is a very prominent figure in the region so if you are looking for the Vajra Yogini temple, be sure to specify which one - there are several.

I could never get a photo that managed to capture the serenity of Pharping Sesh Narayana, a Vishnu temple which is nearby the Vajrayogini and up the road from Dakshinakali. Again, it feels more like a charming collection of cottages, surrounded by a goldfish pond and placidly grazing cows, than any formal house of worship. It's a very enchanting location. The small waterfalls and pools seem appropriate for a temple dedicated to the reclining "Adi Sesha" (ancient serpent) form of Lord Vishnu.

Time to go eat dinner. I guess there will have to be a Power Places Part 3.