In late 2005, Rick volunteered in three projects that would help him decide the kind of international economic development work he would find most satisfying as well as where we might attempt to live. Project number two was intended to be short-term. Friends wanted to institute a micro-hydro-electric program in Soloban a remote village in Nepal where lived the Sherpa with whom they had come to know well from a trek. Previously they had funded the building of the village school plus dormitories for the teachers to live since they had to walk a day to and from where they lived. Rick flew to Katmandu to meet with the prospective engineering firm to assess their capability and their approach. Then he and the friend’s son flew to Lukla, Nepal from where they trekked 2 days to Soloban. Over the course of several days they established that the village was ready, willing, and able to commit to the building, operating and maintenance of this project which would give each home 5 watts of electricity, mainly for lighting so children could study. Rick and his friend’s son were only the 4th and 5th white people the village had ever met so were treated as visiting royalty. They trekked the two days back to Lukla having been assured that the project would be correctly engineered, well-constructed by the village, financed monthly by each home, and maintained by training local people. Below the pictures are a few days’ of his travel journals he emailed to family and friends while he was in Nepal.
DAY 1: December 6, 2005 – Alive and Well in Kathmandu, Nepal
We arrived safely yesterday after a very long journey. Jason (son of family friend and co-traveler) went out last night with a friend who is here in Kathmandu and stayed late while I went to bed early. I got up early to get the flight to see Everest and the Himalayas (not a rock group.) After getting up at 5:30, I got a taxi to the airport. The flight was scheduled for 7:45 but they said to arrive at 6:45 because they might want to leave early due to weather (fog). I got to the airport at 6:30 and they said the flight had already departed, but they had put me on another airline that had a flight at 8:00 am. They walked me through the process of getting my ticket changed and I went into the boarding lounge. The domestic facilities are very different from international and not exactly modern. For security, they just pat you down, and there is only one gate for all flights. Most of the flights go to Lukla or are of the mountain sightseeing variety, like mine. When I got into the boarding lounge, I looked out the window, and it didn’t look good. The airport was really socked in by fog. Since I had heard of people being stranded in Lukla for multiple days by fog, I had some concern. However, after waiting around for almost three hours, our flight was able to go. The flight was less than an hour, but really beautiful. You don’t get really close to the mountains, but they are magnificent. It’s about a 16 seat plane and you each get to go into the cockpit briefly for better viewing. I happened to be there when we passed Everest. The view was really clear, and I have no interest in climbing Everest or any of the others. They’re magnificent from a distance.
Kathmandu is interesting, like all cities I’ve visited in developing countries. It’s hard to describe precisely. It’s much larger and more developed than Ayacucho, Peru where I volunteered in November, and very much older. It’s much less modern than Seoul, but the most modern areas of Kathmandu remind me of the most primitive areas of Seoul. Here, the streets are all paved, but are mostly very narrow; two cars can usually pass each other with two or three inches to spare. The streets can also be in disrepair. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians (no sidewalks) all contend for space on the narrow streets and honking horns are a constant background. There seems to be no center line and I’ve often found myself in a taxi going directly at a car coming in the other direction. They seem to sort it out, because I’ve seen no accidents yet. Kathmandu is a dirty, polluted city. I’m not sure if it just comes from cars because I didn’t see any major industry. In walking around just briefly, I’ve seen lots of temples, both Buddhist and Hindu. I probably will do my serious sightseeing when I get back to Kathmandu. Tomorrow, we’ll meet with the engineering company that will do the project.
In talking with Jason’s friend who has been trekking here for the last few weeks with Dorgee, our guide, he says that the hike to Soloban (the village we’re visiting) is really tough, but the experience will be great. He went there a week ago and was the third westerner ever to visit, so we’ll be the 4th and 5th. That’s about it for now, Your loving husband and father
DAY 3: December 8, 2005 – Temple Touring in Kathmandu
Remember how in Europe one castle or one cathedral starts to look just like the next? Well here in Kathmandu, it’s temples. They seem to have one on every corner, and sometimes they have clusters of them. I’ve done a fair amount of walking and taken a lot of pictures, and I’m definitely feeling “templed out”. Of course they need a lot of temples here because they have lots of gods, and lots of the temples are for different gods. Even if the temples are only for the important gods, the important gods have multiple-incarnations and so they need multiple temples for the multiple incarnations. I had guides at some of the temples I visited, and they seemed disappointed that I wasn’t totally attentive to all of the explanations of the gods, their incarnations, their vehicles (the form in which they travel around earth), their representations and their relationships.One other thing is that Hinduism and Buddhism are both prevalent, so there need to be temples for both religions, except in one case where I saw a temple that had a door for Buddhists on one side and Hindus on the other. Maybe the Jews and the Christians could get together on an idea like that. Actually, in most cases, you can tell the Buddhist temples from the Hindu temples by the nature of their designs, but they are very tolerant of religions here and there is a lot of overlap between the practice of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Yesterday, at the end of the day, I went to the largest and most important Hindu temple in Nepal, which sits on a river. It turns out that the river ultimately flows into the Ganges and that they do a lot of cremations at this temple. We saw a couple of pyres and bodies being prepared but didn’t stay around for the actual cremations.
One other thing you notice about the large temples that are surrounded by grounds is that there are often lots of monkeys and cattle wandering around. In fact one large Buddhist temple is called the monkey temple. Of course, I’m sure you know that when a cow defecates in a temple, they call it holy shit.
In case you’re not “templed out”, a little more information: A lot of these temples were built in the 1300’s and 1400’s, and some go back to the 600’s and 700’s. Most have had significant damage over time and have been refurbished in many respects, but still it’s pretty amazing how old they are. Also there are a lot of erotic images in the temples. Some are pretty symbolic such as the phallic shaped “lingams” and the keyhole-shaped “yonis” of various sizes and and variations. In some temples, these are everywhere. In one case, I noticed a very small lingam inside a very large yoni and pointed it out to my guide. He said the lingam used to be bigger, but it was now small, after sex. Well beyond the symbolism, some of the temples have graphic images of couples in various sexual positions. Many theories exist as to why these are emphasized, but our guide said that they were put on the temples because in olden days kids got married very young and didn’t know what to do, so the images on the temples were kind of a training manual.
So by now, you have heard more about temples than you could ever imagine you would want to. Tomorrow we leave for Soloban, so I will be out of contact for at least a week. Having a fascinating time, but miss you all. Love to all, Your Loving Husband and Dad
DAY 12 – December 18, 2005 – Odds and Ends from the Journey Back to Kathmandu
I’m back in Kathmandu and have a little time in my schedule, so I thought I would send a few comments on random topics.
Hot shower – means a shower head in the wall sending out water (above 50 degrees, but not much) into a large bucket on the bathroom floor. I hadn’t washed my hair in a week so I actually stuck my head in the spray and soaped up, but the rest of my body got just a spritz. The next day, at the Panorama lodge at Namche Bazaar I got a different type of hot shower. They have regular shower stalls and solar hot water, which is hot, but you have to let it run for 6-8 minutes to let it get hot. After this, it is probably about 120 degrees. The only problem is that there is no cold water to mix in, so you have to jump in and out of the shower to avoid scalding. Still, it is preferable to my previous experience.
CURE FOR ONE OF THE PROBLEMS OF OLD AGE
At my age, I find that I have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. I know many of my peers, especially men, have the same condition. I have discovered a cure! The primary Sehrpa meal is called Dahl Baht. Baht is rice, and Dahl is a salty gravy that is poured over the rice and frequently also over vegetable curry. To say that dahl is very salty is sort of like saying the Dead Sea is salty. On both nights that I had dahl baht for dinner, I did not pee in the night. There was so much salt in my body those nights that my system didn’t want to give up any liquids. I retained all of my fluids. I’d hate to see what my blood pressure was.
I have seen a wide variety on this trip. At the top of the desirability list is of course the North American variety that we all know and love. Next of course is the South American variety, which is just like North American except the paper goes into the trash can next to the throne. So much for the indoor variety. The tops in the outdoor variety is the porcelain trough embedded in a concrete floor. Flushing, if necessary, is from a bucket of water placed inside the enclosure. It’s best when there is a trash can for paper in the building. Otherwise, you have to figure out how to dispose of the paper. Options are: 1) burn it, except the airlines don’t let you carry matches or a lighter; 2) bury it, except the ground is frozen and I didn’t bring a pick axe; 3) find another trash can somewhere.
If you’re traveling or the local facilities are not to your liking, your guide can create a “trekking tent”. This is a real tent surrounding a trough in the ground. Everything goes into the trough and when you leave, the tent comes down and the trough is refilled with dirt. In many ways, this is a great solution. However, it takes some getting used to. The biggest challenge is the stance. Pants around the ankles don’t allow too wide a stance, and a narrow stance puts your feet close to the edge of the trough where the sides could cave in. I survived.
The strangest variety I encountered was a variation of the traditional American outhouse. The only difference was a built-up seat made from three pieces of wood in the shape of a triangle. I don’t know about you, but my butt isn’t triangular. Also, the seat wobbled back and forth. Another challenge, but I survived.
As a side note, both my friend and my son have tried to convince me of the benefits of a headlamp, but I had always minimized their usefulness. I’m now a convert. When you’re resting your arms on your thighs, holding toilet paper in one hand, grabbing your clothes with the other hand and trying to aim in the dark, it’s nice to not have to hold a flashlight.
I may have previously described the streets and driving in Kathmandu, but the taxi drivers are the most amazing (surprise, they are in every city). However, the other day, I had the worst. This guy was a madman. He was driving faster and crazier than any othe taxi I’d been in. We nearly hit a number of other cars, motorcycles and pedestrians. Then I heard a big thump. There was a bicyclist who had hit the side of the taxi. The taxi driver and the cyclist exhanged a few words and we went on. The taxi driver said the cyclist was drunk, but the taxi driver hadn’t given him any room to get by. A little later I heard another bump as if something had hit the cab, but we didn’t stop. I was glad when that ride ended.