Monday, March 29, 2010

Greeting from IG Airport

well here I am at stupid o'clock using Delhi domestic airport's free wifi. I LOVE it. You just type in your mobile # and an SMS comes straight thru with your logon details. We're off to Guwahati in Assam shortly and Pema, who came from Kathmandu yesterday, is very excited. He was AMAZED at the airport yesterday when he flew in, so you can imagine his excitement as he was driving around Delhi on a Sunday afternoon - wide roads, trees and vaguely sensible driving. It was all quite funny.
The last time I was in the domestic airport here was about 13 years ago so I am pretty impressed with what they have done. In fact I am pretty impressed with everything Delhi has done and even though there is some doubt that things will be finished in time for the Commonwealth Games they are giving it their best shot.
So what have we been doing the last few days - going out is a very short term affair as it is so very hot here you need to be back home by lunchtime or you will melt. We went to a book market yesterday but all we got was hot. Caught up with a few friends, had some drinkies and Robin has entertained himself by coughing almost constantly. Lovely.
I have paid to join a local hotel swimming pool and I am looking forward to that when I get back from Assam on Wednesday - it's about the only exercise option that won't kill you in this heat! And after all the food we have been gobbling down it's a very good idea.
Anyway, better sign off and find the boarding gate. Besides, it's way too early for me to keep nattering away.
Bye for now

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Finally made it to India

Well I seem to have been writing and trying to post this blog for half my life. By rights I should now be in the air on my way to Delhi, but rather unsurprisingly the flight has been delayed and I am bored $hitless in the departure lounge watching a TV ad for a Nepali dance studio – might investigate it when I get back.
Tuesday was a big one for the Boustead-Smythes. Robin was asked to do a GHT presentation at the Australian Embassy for a select bunch of invitees. We were lucky enough to be able to ask a few people (hope you enjoyed it – and sorry to those who missed out). There was a drinks and nibbles party on the terrace beforehand – which went on for a while because so many people got stuck in dreadful traffic. Everyone told us that they enjoyed the presentation and many of them are keen to experience the trail for themselves. After the presentation there were more drinks and nibbles. The poor ambassador must have been wishing we would all nick off so she could go to bed. A big thank you to Susan for being such a wonderful hostess!
Robin spent most of Wednesday giving interviews to various news agencies here in Nepal, so if you keep your eyes peeled you never know when you might come across him in a newspaper.
Robin had a great time out in west Nepal, but did mention that trying to live off the land in a place where people are starving to death seems a little crazy. It was heartening to see in his photos that there are still plenty of forests out west.
Kathmandu went a little bit mad on late Saturday and Sunday after GP Koirala died. I got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam going to the airport to meet Robin (we got stuck in the same one coming back I might add) and then Sunday was a public holiday for the funeral. His body was lying in state at the National Stadium all morning (and I think just about everyone in Nepal went to pay respects) and then about 3pm they loaded him onto a truck for the trip to Pashupatinath where he was finally cremated about 4 hours later than planned. Many people have been shaving their heads as a sign of respect, and there is no other news being reported right now.
However, I did hear a hilarious story the other day, from a chap who is high up in the trekking realms here. You may have heard of a little fellow called Khagendra Magar who is (I think) about 45 cms tall (?) and will soon be named as the world’s shortest man. My correspondent was walking through the corridors of power when he got dragged into a meeting and told “this is about mountaineering- it will interest you.” He sat down and dutifully listened to the proposal which was: put Khagendra in a backpack and carry him to the top of Everest. Seriously. I’m still laughing. He suggested it would be like those people who carry a stuffed toy clipped onto their backpacks.
In our few brief moments of relaxation in front of the idiot box we are enjoying SHAKTIMAAN. Shakti means strong/powerful but Shaktimaan looks more like Mr Mudguts – he is just hoeing into a bag of peanuts now. He has a rather tacky maroon velvet clingy jumpsuit thing with gold epaulette wings – fabulous. He can spin around and fly through the air, and when he isn’t Shaktimaan he is a mild mannered office worker who wears glasses. Fancy that!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friday Fun

Well it didn't start off as much fun - I had the random phone calls from Qatar - started at 12.30 and went for about 45 minutes. Many Nepali people have gone to work overseas and call home on a regular basis, and this fellow was obviously trying to phone home but had the wrong number. Repeatedly. No matter how many times I tried to explain that I didn't know who he was trying to call, and that this was MY phone number which I had had for 2 years, he insisted that last week he spoke to his friend on it. He wouldn't give up so after I hung up a few times, and then let him shout into the pillow since he was convinced he had the right number, the phone got turned off and I managed to get some sleep.
And of course last night was the play at the British Embassy 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. it was a surprisingly good production, and my acquaintance Adele who played Cecily was hilarious. The man who played Lady Bracknell had everybody in stitches. I think it fair to say that a good night was had by all, and the buffet afterwards certainly got cleaned out in a hurry.
Robin called me briefly from somewhere or other yesterday, but the connection was absolutely dreadful, so I said I would call him back. I spent the next 90 minutes trying to do just that. What a waste of time. Friday afternoons/evenings are terrible for the phone system here because everyone is trying to organise their one day off (Saturday) and the system just can't cope. I spoke to Robin this morning and he made it to Simikot about 9ish and is trying to get on the last flight out to get to Nepalganj today and catch the late afternoon flight to cone back here. Of course, I've not heard back so am none the wiser but I will just have to wait and see. The fun of logistics never stops.
And the big local news, apart from the fact the the former PM (several times) GP Koirala is once again 'on the way out' (well he is 87) is that the cops raided the Babylon disco yesterday morning at 8am and found 356 school students (mostly in their uniforms)who were 'dancing, lying on the floor and some were committing lewd acts'. Apparently. The students were outraged that they were arrested and taken to the infamous Hanumandhoka lockup (a most unsavoury place)and their parents are horrified to see their little darlings on the front pages of the newspaper. Well of course. I am outraged that the normal entrance fee is Rs200, but on Friday mornings at 8am it is Rs50 - schoolies special price perhaps. I may have to go there one Friday morning and check it out - NOT.
Oh and a great photo today in the paper of a chap in some kind of patterned overalls with one of those backpack spray thingies squirting a bicycle while the bemused owner looked on. The caption? " A member of the Rapid Response team disinfects a bicycle in Nawalparasi to avert the spread of bird flu". Thank goodness for the Rapid Response Team.
OOOH Robin just rang - he got out of Simikot to Surket and is now about 3 hours drive away from Nepalganj. Time for Basecamp team to try to change his flights from tomorrow to this afternoon. Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Not Happy

Today I am annoyed. Well you would be too if a Nepali Brass Band started up under your bedroom window before 7am! And why, you ask yourself, would they be doing that? Well of course, they were on hand for the grand opening by some bigwig or other of the all new Tourism Development Bank. Bet that’s the only time it’s open before 10am! So what does the Tourism Development Bank do? For tourists, not a lot as far as I could gather. For tourism businesses, no idea. I will scan the papers to see what I can find out. They certainly didn’t give me any free money when I asked for some.
So that wasn’t exactly the best start to the day. Then I couldn’t get any hot water till the power came on at 9am and I could boil the kettle – so I stayed in bed listening to the cacophony below, and considered how many potted geraniums I would need to lob before it was quiet.
Yesterday was St Patricks Day (that well known Nepali patron of getting foreigners into your bar). I could have celebrated it at the ‘Everest Irish Pup’ but I was a little afraid of what might be on tap. So I bailed early and came home to watch videos on the laptop in the dark. Perhaps “Drag me to Hell’ (thanks Kaz) was not the best choice. Gave up on that too and opted for Space 1999. Only the costumes are scary in that!
So anyway, Robin is wandering up and down near Simikot in west Nepal and looking very much forward to getting back soon. He has advised me that he smells bad – like I wouldn’t have guessed that since his last shower was 10 days ago! They have had some tough trails, and tomorrow they need to get up at 4am to go up 1200 metres and then descent 1400 metres across snow, before it melts and becomes a hazard. Gee I’m really sorry I’m missing that.
It is one of my dear Nepali friends’ birthday today – he is very fond of fishing and so I have bought him a handmade Nepali card of Santa in a raft – they aren’t big on birthday cards here and one just makes do as best one can. And what do you buy a 65 year old who has most things he wants? Another vodka of course!
I am also being kept very busy with the Nepali lovebirds who are trying to sort out where they want to study and work once they get married. Sadly, planning and option making isn’t taught in schools here, and people aren’t used to having choices, so they struggle – a lot. So good old aunty has to attempt to extract info from them and then present options and pose suitably probing questions – I knew that the kindergarten teacher training I did all those years ago would be useful for something. But oh the frustration of it all. Like pulling teeth.
Thank goodness for the soothing sounds of the iPod and battery powered docking station – so much better than a Walkman (following on from yesterday!) Do you remember clipping the Walkman onto your waistband and then having your trousers almost fall down from the weight of it? Ha ha those were the days. Not.
Have I told you how much I love my Macbook Air? It is a winner for travelling and the long battery life (at least 5 hours) means I can do stuff like this without power and then just cut and paste once the power comes. So today I have watched 2 TV programmes and done a whole bunch of documents (and I still have 40% power left), and then in 5 minutes when the power comes on a few minutes work and I will still be out the door in time for cocktail hour. And you’ve gotta love that!
See, now I’m not annoyed anymore. And I shall drink to that!
Bottoms Up!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pining for the good old days

I know, it's sad. Yesterday as I was sitting round with some friends, lamenting all the wrong numbers we get on the phone, and the lack of power to do email etc, we got to thinking about how it was in the good old days. I bet there's a few of you who are wondering what I'm talking about.
In recent bygone days, you made a plan to meet someone in say 2 months time, at 3pm on Thursday the 26th, out the front of the such and such shop or restaurant. There was no way you could contact this person in the meantime, as you were both travelling, so you just had to make every effort to get there! Of course, there was no internet, no mobile phones, no ATM and not too many guide books either. So what if you didn't make it? Well, you maybe never saw each other again! So many lost romantic opportunities.
In those days you didn't need electricity to write to people: a pen and a postcard (or even more old school, an aerogramme) was all you needed. You could do it anywhere - at a bus stop, on a train, in a cafe. And the lucky recipient was always excited to find a picture postcard in their mailbox.
If you wanted to know what was going on with people back home, you had to hope that there would be a letter for you from Mum in the Poste Restante box at the main GPO wherever you were. This time consuming exercise involved going to the post office, joining what was nearly always a long queue, and trying to get someone who didn't really read or write your language to find a letter for you in a box of hundreds which were hardly ever properly sorted. But at least you made new friends in the process.
And now to money. Before you left home, you bought up lots of Travellers Cheques. These were guaranteed to not be forged if stolen, as you always had to sign them once when you picked them up, and then again in front of the cashier, with your passport as ID. If you were really lucky and ha an Amex card and a cheque book (a what?) you could go to the local Amex office once every 3 weeks and get yourself $1000. Which went a long way back in the late 80's.
So now I complain that the ATM doesn't work because there is no power, the internet doesn't work cos there is no power, and I keep getting random wrong number calls at 5 am from people I don't know.
Is travelling easier or better now than it was 30 years ago? I can't really answer that but I know it is still the most enjoyable way I can spend my time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Time to explain Kathmandu

Most of you probably have no idea what life in Kathmandu is like for longer term stayers like me, as opposed to tourists who often stay only 1 or 2 nights before and after trekking.
I stay near a temple, so about 4am the temple bell starts being dinged (or donged) by the faithful on their way to work. This is usually rapidly followed by dog fights and tooting horns (the horns continue pretty much ALL DAY). Then the cargo van from across the street arrives to load up before peak hour, and the lady next door starts her pressure cooker about 6am (kitchen window is right under mine). I don't know what the meat item she cooks is but it sure smells bad some mornings! From about 7am the shutters on shops all along the street start going up, and it is almost impossible to get back to sleep then.
Depending on the power schedule, I might be able to get a hot shower, or make a bucket of hot water with my excellent kettle, or I just don't bother. Then time for bed tea - which is a tray of tea items delivered to the room. The only way to start the day.
After a spot of laundry I wander out for breakfast somewhere with my block of Coon cheese - I can't take the yak and nak cheese they have here and the expense is well worth it. Then it's time for 'internetverke' as we call it. Most of my girlfriends here are busy on the net most of the day, and it is always a challenge finding somewhere with a generator and wi fi. Or I just hang out gossiping, arranging meetings, shopping for trekking food, arranging plane tickets, embassy do's and my niece's upcoming wedding. Now that I am no longer an associate member of the American Club (which had all day power, internet plus a lovely pool and gym) I have to be a bit more creative.
Yesterday I somehow managed 9 hours straight internetverke, impressive in a place with rolling 12 hr power cuts. Tourists can just go to the local internet cafe for their 15 minutes of email, but I have so much to do I couldn't afford it!
How am I here organising a niece's wedding? Well many years ago we were adopted into a Nepali family - I am big sister (didi) and Robin is brother (dai). This girl is the daughter of our Nepali brother and so as big sister I get to help in the planning - which is causing more than its fair share of headaches. You see, wedding dates are chosen by the priest for their auspiciousness according to the religious calendar, so it isn't just a matter of pick a date and off you go. The happy couple keep trying to pick a date where Robin and I will be in town, but then that date is never a 'good' one. I can see this taking some more time...
Evenings usually start at about 6pm at my 'after hours office' where I do more networking and gossiping washed down with a refresher before heading out for dinner with whoever I can drag out the door. Now that so many evenings in Thamel are without power till quite late it is pretty tempting to stay out till the power comes back at midnight - but not really a good idea in the long run.
Because I am here so often, many friends (local or foreign) ask me to help them out with something - English for an email or website, helping someone out with sightseeing or trekking stuff, plus of course I have 3 emails, 2 websites, a facebook page and blog to try to keep up to date.
Even when I think I have a fairly free day something springs up, but this afternoon I am really hoping to sneak off for a quick nanna nap.
This Friday I am off to a production at the Sterling Club (British Embassy) of 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. That is my culture for the week..
Well time to hit save now before something happens to the power.
I have given up trying to upload a photo for you today - better luck next time!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greetings from Kathmandu

Well hello you lot. I've made this blog so that I can just sort of rabbit on about what Robin is doing, what I am doing and what is happening with the GHT, both here in Nepal and in the rest of the Himalaya.
Since we got back to Nepal about 3 weeks ago, we had the disappointment of our Tibet trip being cancelled at the last minute and the excitement of seeing just how much interest there is in trekking the GHT - certainly here in Nepal where it all sort of started.
Robin goes a bit stir crazy if he is stuck in Kathmandu for very long, so fortunately he was able to fly out west last week with his trusty sherpa guide Pema, and big Dawa, to research trails out west that he didn't get to last time around. Sadly, there is still a lot of poverty out west, food is in short supply but dust isn't.
Meanwhile I have been here in Kathmandu trying to remain mildly sane while battling with the noise, pollution, touts, limited electricity, and lots of friends arriving back for the season and wanting to catch up. oh dear.
But right now life is good. The sun is shining (so we get hot water) and I can use the internet. I'm never short of something to do or someone to meet up with. In fact getting to India in a couple of weeks will probably be a good chance for me to chill out a bit - although I will still have lots of work to do I think the electricity is a bit more reliable.
So what is the plan? We head to India on the 25th March, then Robin and Pema will go to Arunchal Pradesh to have a look around, before Robin then heads to Bhutan. I will be in Delhi, then come back to the 'du in mid May before I go to Bhutan for a look around and to collect Robin at the end of his trip.
The big news in town now (apart from Tibet being closed which is putting a few people's plans out of whack) is that time is running out for the new constitution to be written. I think it is due in mid May - and if the parties can't agree (which it seems they clearly cannot) the Maoists are threatening to 'assert' themselves. For some reason none of the parties seem to able to agree with any of the others about anything. Which is a shame as it is the regular folk who suffer when the government 'dilly-dallies' (as the papers are fond of saying!)
But, more spectacularly, the prison authorities in Kapilvastu (southern Nepal) are in strife because there was a tunnel dug in January whereby some rascally prisoners escaped, and the prison authorities don't have the money to FILL THE TUNNEL IN AGAIN. Apparently everyone is queueing up to be put into cell number 7! Consequently....
Well enough of my opinion for now.
I'm off to do some more work before the power goes again.