Feeling bored? Nepal to the rescue!

Monotony – a word without a practical meaning in Nepal. You will never get to use this word to describe life in Nepal. Nepal and monotony simply don’t go hand in hand. In fact, I believe that Nepal should be used as an antonym for monotony. That’s how far apart they are.

I have been in Nepal for a bit over two years now, and I can tell you there has not been a boring moment this whole time. I don’t mean that I’ve been having a crazy party-animal time all along. It’s nothing like that – most definitely nothing like that.

It’s like this: there is always something happening in Nepal that makes life entertaining, exciting, frustrating, difficult and edgy. Let me explain this by using some real-life examples. Since I came here two years and 3 months ago there have been:

  1. More than 20 days of bandh. Bandh is not just a regular strike. During bandh, no vehicles are allowed to ply, and the ones that dare are often vandalized. Same goes for the shops. Often times, shops that open get vandalized. This means that people either need to stay at home and use annual leave, or walk to work. Most walk. You would get no vacation days left at all if you use your annual leave each time there is a bandh in Nepal. Kathmandu is not as bad, but in some places in Nepal bandhs can last weeks at a time. The longest one I’ve experienced so far in Kathmandu was 10 days at the time of parliamentary elections. Talk about inconvenience (and exercise)!
  2. Constitution has been almost reached and then the deadline extended 2 times. Each of these times involved a large number of protests, bandhs, gas shortages, and other annoying disturbances.
  3. SAARC meeting meant closing of the main roads in Kathmandu for several days, and traffic regulation on an odd-even licence plate system. Although, in retrospect, this was kind of nice. Not much traffic, and a very clean city.
  4. Earthquake. No elaborating needed.
  5. Constitution promulgation which, the same as no.2, invited a large number of protests, traffic jams and congestion, bandhs and even some violence. Although, it didn’t end there. Months of protesting and political unrest (read: difficulties in finding common language with Indian minority and politicians) have caused one of the largest inconveniences so far. There is no fuel in the country. No fuel means the following: extremely long lines at gas stations (up for a 15-hour wait, anyone? and you only get 10 liters of gas per week); scarce public transport (because everyone is in the gas station line) resulting in overcrowded buses and people treacherously riding on the roofs; no water as the water tankers cannot reach houses without petrol (bye, bye flushing); food supplies in stores running out (and people running to shop and stock up); airlines cutting down on flights as there’s no aviation fuel… and the list goes on and on. It’s crazy how dependent we are on the fuel. One thing affects the other and the other and so on. Currently, Nepal is a perfect example of what the world will look like when it runs out of oil. Although the world will probably be a lot more chaotic than this. Nepalis are so cool about the whole situation. Me – not so much.

If you ever wondered what it feels like to live an adventurous life on the other side of the world, do consider coming to Nepal. It will not disappoint. I cannot promise you will find spirituality and inner peace, though. You’re more likely to discover ulcers.


Oye, you over there, snap that wire!

Sometimes (read: always) the sequence of events in Nepal is downright bizarre. There is this festival in Patan (a part of Kathmandu) called Rato Machhendranath Rath Jatra. It’s a mouthful, I know. During this festival an enormous (like 20 meter tall – not long – tall) chariot is built from wood and a bunch of other materials I couldn’t recognize from a distance, set on wheels and then wheeled through the narrow streets of Patan. Pulled by people, of course. It’s terrifying. I mean, this thing is 20 meters tall, it’s swaying left and right, and the whole set up doesn’t really seem safe. Not to mention, there are people hanging off from the top of it. Usually, it doesn’t cause much havoc out on the main roads, other than attracting attention from passers-by. However, and it turns out this year is the lucky year, every 12 years this bad boy is wheeled by a longer route for several days. The longer route includes main, more traffic-prone roads. And as the luck would have it, those are the roads I travel each day.

So there you have it. Doesn't look safe, now does it?

So there you have it. Doesn’t look safe, now does it?

Day 1: a warning comes through saying that the chariot will pass that way and the roads will be blocked for the rest of the day. I rush out to get out of the way and beat the traffic home only to be surprised by the sight of men on ladders all along the street. They were taking down electricity wires. It makes sense: a 20m monstrosity is about to be wheeled through. If you’ve ever seen photos of Nepal, you know that there is definitely no lack of wires in the streets, so this was a huge task. So much so, that they didn’t even get to a lot of the wires in time so when the chariot came through, people walking ahead of it would simply snap the wires in half, or the chariot would run through and take the wires down. Traffic was already heavy, but I made it out on time. Later, from the comforts of home, I admired the photos of the chariot posted on Facebook by my friends who live in that area. I felt a tiny bit bummed out I missed it. Quickly forgot about it though, and slept like a baby.

Day 2: got in the car and made my way to the aforementioned chariot-affected area. Never even though that the chariot would make my commute a very very long one. As I got closer to my destination, the traffic got heavier. I silently wondered why: has there been an accident? My question was answered pretty soon: a gigantic chariot was right in front of me, and there I was, in my car inching past it shocked that they even allow traffic to go by this leaning tower. Happy that it didn’t topple over right as I was by it, I continued driving. I have to admit though – it’s pretty fascinating and quite amazing, this chariot. Anyhow, even after passing the chariot, the traffic continued to be heavy. As I was sitting in a jam, annoyed by the guy behind me honking non-stop (what’s your point, buddy? no one’s going anywhere), I realize the reason for backed-up traffic were again the guys on ladders, now hooking the wires back together. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Wait, is that…what…that cannot be… oh my god, it’s an elephant! In the midst of the heaviest traffic I have ever seen in Kathmandu, there was a Zoo elephant on it’s morning walk just strolling down the road, chewing on leaves hanging from it’s back, not caring about a single thing, especially not about the honking motorcade behind it.

If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.

I am back! (didn’t even realize I was gone)

Whoa… wait… four months? I’ve been MIA from my blog for four months? That’s crazy, and seems completely impossible. Time flew by. Life has definitely changed after the earthquake, and days have somehow been going by faster, for whatever odd reason.

Mr. B and I are still around, still doing our thing. Kathmandu is still our home. A bit more scary one than before, but still a home nonetheless. Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, life went back to normal for us over the past few months. We again found our way back to our favorite hangout spots. We again started going shopping, resumed cooking, and living on the top floor of the house. Sleeping up there was a bit scary the first few nights, but it seems like that was a thousand years ago, and these days we sleep like babies (when neighbors are not singing, or when dogs are not barking, or when random guys are not revving their bike engines in the middle of the night…).

So what is Nepal like right now? Lots of places, mostly outside Kathmandu, are still in a very difficult situation, with people living in tents through a very heavy monsoon. Relief efforts are still undergoing, despite the lack of news about it in the media. Life has not been easy for earthquake-destroyed villages in Nepal. If you still haven’t done so, consider donating to relief efforts in Nepal. It will be much appreciated.

The focus of everyone in Nepal has now shifted to the most historic event in Nepal recently – a constitution promulgation. Nepal has been trying to come up with a constitution since the end of the civil war back in 2006, and after lots of back and forth, hundreds of days of strikes and protests, finally the happy day has come. I am watching the signing of the constitution on TV as I type this. It’s pretty fancy. With lots of colorful balloons, flags and horses. This is a really big deal – congratulations Nepal! Oh when I only think back to recent months of fist fights and flying chairs in the parliament – it seems now all of it was worth it. Not to say, it offered for some great entertainment to common folk. Hopefully things only get better for Nepal from now onwards. Apparently, now Nepal will be “an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive democratic, socialism-oriented federal democratic republican state.” A little bit for everyone right there.

For us, Mr.B and I, things won’t change much. All that changes for us are the seasons. We go from all night-long fan, to closed windows and thick comforter. Right now the weather is still hot during the day, but the winter is slowly creeping in. I can feel it in the crisp air in the evenings. Kind of nice, if you ask me. Pretty soon I’ll be sleeping in my socks again. I got low blood pressure; don’t ask.

Recently I had my own personal historic event in Nepal. I got food poisoning. It took me more than two years to experience one, so I suppose I can be proud of that. But this food poisoning thing, let me tell you, doesn’t play fair. It hits below the waist (no pun intended). I got it after eating one of my favorite things in Nepal – momos. Oh the irony! Hopefully, I’ll be able to forgive momos one day for letting me down, and we can be back to being best friends. However, I am pretty confident that’s not happening any time soon. Now, samosas move to number 1 spot on my Nepali snack list. Let’s see how long they stick around.

Earthquake in Nepal – my story

Huh, how do I even begin this? It would be an understatement to say that the past week was turbulent. It was frightening, surreal and shaky. It was full of insecurity and sadness for all who lost everything. It was also full of relief, gratitude and community connection. It was a truly life-changing week.

My earthquake story begins on the first floor of our house where I was clearing up the table after lunch. Just as I was collecting the plates, the electricity went out. Scared that the washing machine that was on will drain the back up battery I started yelling “no no no” and running towards the bathroom. My mother in law had the same thought and as both of us reached the bathroom we heard a very loud thunder and realized the house is shaking. I don’t remember what happened next but she claims I was pulling her towards the stairs. We both ended up sitting on top of the stairs holding on to whatever we could. My husband, who was outside, was trying to get to us, but he couldn’t climb up. In retrospect neither of our decisions at that moment was a smart or safe one, but my mind was blinded with panic and couldn’t think straight. When the shaking subsided a bit, we managed to run outside. We were all unscathed and the house was standing. The rest of the afternoon aftershocks were coming and going. And it was a very scary time.

Later on, when I got a chance to think about everything that happened that, and the next several days, I realized I am lucky beyond measure. I am grateful we were all at home and together when it happened. I am grateful it was Saturday and we decided to stay in for lunch instead of going out. I am grateful our house is well built and sustained no damage. I am grateful that the biggest injury was a bruise on my leg. I am grateful that we have a large garden where we could spend several coming days and offer shelter to our neighbors who do not have that kind of space. I am grateful for the for community that got together and made this scary time a bearable (and sometimes) fun one.

I was amazed at the speed with which the neighbors put our camp together. The tent was up within 15 minutes. Tea and biscuits were passed around and jokes were shared. It was fascinating, encouraging and reassuring to have all these wonderful people around and feel like nothing bad can happen now – we are all together and we will take care of each other. Nepalis are amazing! I had an amazing support from the Croatian embassy and never felt like I was left to my own devices. Trust me, that’s such a good feeling when you are not in your own country.

Even though life goes on as usual for us in my house, I feel saddened by the loss of lives and infrastructure in other parts of Kathmandu and Nepal. The best way to help long term is to support an organization that will stick around even after the initial relief is distributed. I encourage you, my readers, to donate to a reputable organization that you trust and help people in Nepal who were not as fortunate as I was. Thank you!

Nepali roads, mountains, elephants and mice

When winter hits Kathmandu, the last thing you want to do is stick around in the freezing cold. So this winter Mr.B and I decided to do a road trip around Nepal with friends. We thought it would be fun (and it was). We thought driving through Nepal would be awesome (and it wasn’t).

We started off in Kathmandu, obviously, that’s where we live, and then made our way to Pokhara. Road to Pokhara can be a bit scary if you’re on it for the first time, and if you’re coming from a country where roads are wide, straight and divided into lanes. You see, this road is called “the highway”, but don’t be fooled – the only reason for that is that it’s really high up. It’s literally a high way. Other than that, there’s nothing highway-like about it. It’s narrow, filled with potholes and very winding. However, it is sadly one of the best roads in Nepal, outside of Kathmandu. The drive to Pokhara is about 210 kilometers, and in a private vehicle, it usually takes 5-6 hours. I’ve heard that on a bus it can take up to 12 hours. Gasp! The views are nice so I suppose you can enjoy that, and there are plenty of rest stops where you can utilize the squatty potty and buy some water and snacks. Arriving to Pokhara is bumpy, to say the least. The road is wavy and by the time you reach your hotel you are frantically checking whether your kidneys are in place. Although, the view that was waiting for us in Pokhara made up for the whole excruciating drive. I mean, the mountains were spectacular. There is no photo in this world that could describe how close and majestic mountains are. Yes, photos always looks nice, this and that, but seriously, seeing it up close, with peaks higher than the clouds is an indescribable feeling.

Just speechless.

Just speechless.

Pokhara is a fun place if you like to party and hang out in bars and restaurants. There are about a million of those. Well, not exactly a million, but you get my drift.

Lakeside if the happening place

Lakeside is the happening place

We had our share of fun for a couple of days and then in the car again it was. We were driving from Pokhara to Lumbini via Tansen. It would be a special experience, we thought. It would be something different, we thought. And it was. And not in a good way. The distance between the two is about 160 kilometers. Not a big deal, you’d think. It took us 7 hours. Yes, 7 full hours. It was probably the most winding road I’ve ever been on, giving you a roller coaster experience. I felt so sorry for the people on buses that we passed on the road because they must’ve been having an awful time. It was fun driving through small villages, through gorges and canyons.

Good place for a nature call

Good place for a nature call

It was just something different. Though, fun ended when bladders went into overdrive and there were no bathrooms in sight. We stopped several time for a bathroom break and it was always at the bushiest part of the road where we could be hidden from traffic and villagers. I was happy it was winter time knowing that snakes are probably asleep. Anyhow, reaching Tarai, lowlands of Nepal where Lumbini is situated is like entering a new realm. Suddenly mountains and hills become flat lands extending as far as you can see. A sight I never thought possible in Nepal. It was quite refreshing. And you know what, everyone rides a bicycle in Tarai. So fun!

Seeing flat land reminded me of home. How can this fertile land house so much poverty???

Seeing flat land reminded me of home. How can this fertile land house so much poverty???

Loved the bicycles!

Loved the bicycles!

One advice I can give you if you ever find yourself in Tarai, heading for Lumbini – don’t trust your GPS. That lady might have a seducing voice, but she will lead you in some pretty shady areas, trust me. We ended up on a terrible dirt road for about 20 kilometers with nothing but flat land in sight and many extremely poor villages. That sight was so shocking for me. Such poverty I never thought I would witness with my own eyes. People living in mud huts, without anything, literally. It’s something I cannot get out of my head since then. Finally, though, after a long bumpy ride we reached our hotel. We were exhausted, and the place was kind of depressing, so we didn’t really care that dinner was pretty miserable and that we had to change our bed sheets ourselves because reception was too busy. We just wanted to sleep. The next day we took a rickshaw ride around Lumbini Development Trust to see different temples and the birthplace of Buddha. Piece of advice, Sri Lankan temple is not really worth seeing. There’s hardly anything there and I found it ridiculous that we had to take off our shoes when the whole temple was terribly dirty. Maybe they do it so we clean it with our socks!?

Anyhow, rickshaw ride was fun, but looking at the skinny guy driving our rickshaw, working really hard, made me sad. All I could think of was whether he lived in one of those mud huts we passed yesterday. I wanted to give him 10 000 Rupees for a two hour tour. My review of Lumbini: not a place I would go back to. Unless you are a devoted buddhist, there’s not much to do there. The place is kind of depressing, and quite boring. We left in less than 20 hours since arrival.

Off to Chitwan we went. I think we were all the most excited about that part of our roadtrip. The road from Lumbini to Chitwan was straightforward and straight. It was a really lovely wide road, and we all enjoyed the road and views.

On the way to Chitwan

On the way to Chitwan

Until we got off the main road to reach our jungle resort. It was back to the dirt and we all wondered whether our car can handle all the terrible roads it’s been on since we started our trip. It did survive and we reached our final destination. Our resort was wonderful. It was right by the river, in a jungle. Nothing and no one in sight. It was absolutely lovely. Until the mouse incident, that is. We were given rooms in straw roof bungalows, and when Mr.B. and I got into our box-sized room, there was a mouse sitting leisurely on the curtain. The outdoorsy and fearless person that I am (NOT), I began hyperventilating as an intro to my panic attack. Somehow I managed to run outside and wait while the resort staff, with lots of giggles, took care of the mouse situation. That night, I did not sleep. It was a night straight from hell as I waited for mice to flock into our room from all possible crevasses. Of course, such grim scenario did not happen, but just to be on the safe side, we switched rooms the next morning. This time, no straw roof for us. The rest of the stay was just awesome. Elephant ride, canoe ride, jungle safari… it was perfect.

We saw rhinos up close

We saw rhinos up close

We made friends with deer

We made friends with deer

We contemplated having this guy for dinner but decided to pass. After all, he was in a National Park.

We contemplated having this guy for dinner but decided to pass. After all, he was in a National Park.

Views from the resort were spectacular and calming.

Views from the resort were spectacular and calming.

Our canoe was just like this. It was super fun. Luckily we saw no crocodiles in the water.

Our canoe was just like this. It was super fun. Luckily we saw no crocodiles in the water.

We rode on these elephants and later on got to feed them and pet them.

We rode on these elephants and later on got to feed them and pet them.

Before we could say hippopotamus, it was time to drive back to Kathmandu. That drive was completely uneventful. It rained, on a terribly winding and narrow road filled with buses and trucks. You know, the usual Nepali traffic. But we made it to Kathmandu safely filled with emotions, experiences, and impressions. Good road trip. Would definitely recommend, but make sure you take an SUV if you plan on driving. It will save your kidneys.

What’s new in Kathmandu

In some ways this is unbelievable, simply because I never thought this day would come, but honestly, Kathmandu is looking better than ever. When I say “ever”, I am referring to the last two years I’ve been here, so not exactly “ever”, but you know what I mean. Figure of speech and whatnot. The main road in front of our house that has been dug up and dusty for over a year now, is finally getting paved (to some extent). Cement blocks have been laid down and the dust has settled (again, to some extent). There is still a long way to go before it’s finished, but it’s amazing to see some progress after lots of dust and mud for months. The fact that a newly paved road turns into a vegetable market every night around 6 pm, is not important.

After the SAARC summit ended, I predicted all the cleaning work they’ve done around the city will go to waste, but lo and behold, they’ve been keeping everything clean. I am amazed to see the road cleaning truck cleaning the roads almost every morning! A sight that was hard to come by in Kathmandu before. I wonder if the truck will be there only until it breaks down for the first time!? I am not sure maintenance is in place around here. But regardless, this is happening right now and it makes me excited. Flowers are trees are still in places they were planted, and flourishing. Roads are still being built, fixed and arranged. Traffic police seems to be managing traffic better than ever. Almost all the major roads in Kathmandu are getting solar lamps. It’s just great! Kathmandu is slowly, but surely transforming into a more livable city.

However, and yes there always need to be “however”, small roads, the ones that “don’t matter as much” are still a complete wreck. Take our road for example. It used to be a very nice road. All the neighbors chipped in money to have it paved. It was lovely. Then the government decided to change sewage and water pipes. That’s good right? So they dug up the road, but never paved it back again. Just left piles of mud. That encouraged some of the neighbors to start digging as well. Before we knew it, the road was a mess. Hole upon hole upon hole. Muddy, dusty and horrible. Sometimes when I drive home and make a turn from the main road onto our street, I feel like I enter a different world. Like I just traveled through time and landed in Middle Ages. Muddy road, filled with potholes. People huddled around small fires by the road. Stray dogs and half-naked children running around. And no, I am not exaggerating. Hopefully, some day soon back roads will be taken care of as well, and Kathmandu will become a true capital city.

Until then, mask up!

Work on progress - absolutely necessary

Work on progress – absolutely necessary

What am I?

Sometimes I find myself tangled in my own thoughts trying to decipher what group of people in Nepal I belong to. I am not Nepali, clearly. My ghost-like skin always gives me away, though I do like to think of it as aristocratic. But I’m digressing. I am not a 100% expat either. I live in a Nepali household, with a Nepali family. Does that make me half-Nepali? No clue, but in the past year and a half I did move towards Nepali customs more than I expected I ever would.

Let’s examine the evidence:

Exhibit A
My horoscope sign is a Virgo. For all of you who are not familiar with horoscope, let’s just say Virgos are obsessive-compulsive. I also hold a strong opinion that characteristics of a Virgo were tailored according to me. It’s that precise. I cannot be late, or have anything be out of place, untidy, dirty… everything needs to be perfect. But I move to Nepal and what happens!? I start adjusting to Nepali time. In other words, no matter how hard I try, I seem to be late for everything! And the worst part? I’m not even phased by it. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit B
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m bragging, but I’ve always been very polite. I would let people with less items jump in front of me at the cash register, I would let pedestrians cross the road even if I’m in a hurry and others behind me are honking, I would exercise perfect driving culture politely letting others merge into traffic in front of me and wave thankfully to the ones who do the same for me. But I move to Nepal and what happens!? I start driving like I am the only person on the road, pushing and shoving my way through heavy traffic, honking at others angrily and closing every little bit of space between me and the car in front of me so no one can cut in. I also only sometimes let pedestrian cross in front of me. Preposterous! What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit C
I am a huge dessert person. Sweets make me enter a state of consciousness unknown to modern science. When I look at, make or eat wonderful varieties of cakes and cookies, I am in bliss. Nepal disappoints in that area. Most of the cakes here are OK, but not very different from one another. There seems to be no creativity in that department. Maybe that’s the reason the most favorable dessert amongst Nepalis is vanilla ice cream. Yes, vanilla ice cream. The same one I at every summer when I was a child and swore I will never taste it again. Ice cream is even served at weddings! Say, what??? But I move to Nepal and what happens!? After being shocked by this discovery for almost a year, I now find myself ordering vanilla ice cream in all shapes and forms – with a brownie, with an apple pie, and I even eat it at weddings. Even in winter! Gasp. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit D
This last exhibit is most probably the most shocking one, at least for me. When I feel under the weather, as if I’m catching a cold, I usually crave chamomile tea with honey and lemon and some soup. Maybe also porridge or something warm, liquidy and easy to digest. I stuck to that even here in Nepal for the past year and a half. And it usually made me feel better. But you know what happened the other day? I was feeling a bit down, sick-ish at work and all I could think of is how I’m going to rush home, warm up a plate-full of rice and daal and devour it. And so I did. And it felt good. Scary good. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?