Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

SCROLL BACK TO LAST DECEMBER AS WE MAKE OUR WAY THROUGH DELHI TO KATHMANDU….WE’LL GET THERE YET!

On December 5th we headed for the small airport in Kangra, two hours from Suja, where we boarded a plane instead of taking our usual long taxi ride back to Delhi. I have to admit that it was a lot more comfortable and afforded us quality time to chat with a new-found friend, an anthropologist and her extended family, as we waited four hours for the plane to arrive. Patience is a virtue I am finding indispensable when traveling in Asia. “On time” is not finite. It can mean most anything!

I never tire of the classy new Delhi airport and its elephants who greet us:

Our adventure in Delhi with a prepay taxi driver from the airport was classic. Not only did he not know the destination—a very popular hotel close by—but he refused our meager tip, throwing a fit when we wouldn’t reward him half of the entire fare. We should pay for his mistakes? To our surprise he followed us into the hotel lobby, where nobody had any small change due to the monetary crisis. Even fellow Indians seemed appalled by his aggressive behavior. Fortunately, Cary unearthed a fifty rupee note and thrust it into his outstretched palm. With an ‘haruumph’ he stomped away.

At dinner we met a charming gentleman living with his wife in Shanghai. Their plan is to adopt Chinese children and move to Australia. He then told us about the more than fourteen million “ghost children” living in China…second or third children, mostly girls, who were born after the one-child policy was instituted in 1980. These children are not recognized by the government, have no official identity, cannot get an education, cannot legally marry, and cannot get medical services. They live outside the institutions of a regulated society. It is an horrendous problem known to very few people outside the country, but there is extensive information about it on the internet. Yet, until government policy changes, these children will continue to live in the shadows.

The next day we flew out of Delhi, and it turned out to be a sad one for voters, especially women, in the southernmost state of Tamil Nader, whose capital is Chennai. The much-beloved chief minister, Jayalalithaa, died, triggering mass grief and leaving a political power vacuum in southern India. As I’ve written before, there is much interest in politics and political personalities in India. It’s a young democracy full of problems, but it citizens are intensely vocal and active!

Before boarding Jet Airways for Kathmandu, we met the head steward and one of the stewardesses, both from Sikkim, and started chatting. They showed a great deal of interest in the post-earthquake situation in Nepal and our desire to make a contribution, however small. In a gesture of compassion they gave money for one of the schools in Solukhumbu and asked Cary to light butter lamps at the Boudhanath stupa for those who were still suffering. It’s gratifying to see such generosity from total strangers. These new friends also arranged for us to sit on the side of the plane with the best view of the Himalayan range. Is it any wonder that Jet Airways is our favorite airline?

Here are a few shots of the vast display of natural wonder we observed from 30,000 ft.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How great it was to get back to Kathmandu and be met by Buddhi, our guide, and Ram Hari, both from Crystal Mountain treks. The director, Jwalant, had returned to  the mountains to help deliver supplies for his ongoing school rebuilding projects. The Kathmandu Valley as we evidenced on our drive to Boudha, was in a constant state of repair, from road widening and resurfacing, to shoring up a crumbling infrastructure, to house building. And traffic had resumed its chaotic spider web after the gas shortage of last year had subsided.

Click on photo for slide show.

The Shechen Guest House staff greeted us with open arms and we spent the rest of the day and the next checking out the continued construction around the temple, the refurbished stupa, and our favorite shopkeepers. The stupa had just been consecrated after a year and a half of restoration, and it was magnificent.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At dusk we walked kora and delighted in the variety of faces and native dress of the people walking alongside us, fingering their malas and murmering their chants. Cary lit butter lamps for the Jet Airways flight attendents, and for many friends who requested prayers from the Boudha stupa.

As we left, the colored lights, strung all around the stupa, had come on and a half-moon hung in the night sky.

I’m glad to relate that, finally, I’m getting used to the roaring motorcycles outside the stupa grounds. I just keep walking slowly and let them dodge me. I’ve been lucky so far! It’s hard, at time, to keep your cool, but easier than trying to second-guess the drivers.

Early the next morning, December 8th, we headed for Phaplu, a ten-hour jeep ride over roads ranging from marvelous (built by the Japanese, and similar to the fly-overs outside Delhi, built by the Chinese)…

…to horrendous (result of monsoons, landslides, and the 2015 earthquake), with a superb driver who seemed clairvoyant as he wound around the narrow mountain roads, unable to see who was coming, but squeaking by buses and maneuvering sans guardrails to keep us from diving over a cliff. I tend to be dramatic, but so would you…had you been sitting in the front seat!

There were times when the road was washed out and we simply went through streams onto higher ground. There were also those drivers not so skilled, who found themselves stuck in the river. Here are some photos of our journey as it unfolded.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we made our way into the hills we beheld a panorama of the world’s most famous Himalayan peaks. This is the first time since my Everest Base Camp trek in 1987 that I saw Everest, Lhotse, and the Nuptse Ridge all lined up. It was thrilling! White, crisp, clear with piercing blue skies.

Nearing our destination, we were treated to another array of stunning mountains, Numbur Mt. being the most outstanding. It seemed to follow us for the next few days.

At 6 PM we arrived in Phaplu in the Solukhumbu region, and stayed at The Everest Hotel.

Our traveling companion was a young woman, Passang, who had come to fill out the necessary documents for a student visa to study in the U.S. She was hoping to receive a scholarship to Knox college in Illinois. Passang spoke excellent English and had a knowledge of government and history not unlike so many other young people we’d met in Nepal and India. She also knew a lot about our election and was concerned about our new president and his impact on the world stage. She wondered, also, how she would be accepted in the United States, as a foreigner.

Tomorrow our trek would begin. But tonight it’s a hearty meal and a very comfortable bed!

GLOBAL WARMING, CLIMATE CHANGE…CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL, IT’S HERE!

Before I get back to my adventure last December in Nepal, let me interrupt the story for an important symbolic cry from fellow citizens to call attention to this serious threat to our planet. I think it’s important, and part of our duty as citizens in this time of turmoil, to point out moments of effective citizen action and ways we can speak up for change.

Science is being discounted and industrial profits are riding the wave, while our new president seems bent on upending the Paris accords and eight years of struggle to prevent, or at least slow, the destruction of the planet. Forget people, forget wildlife, forget native habitat. Short-term profit is god.

After all that’s been written about the danger to us and future generations, starting way back with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, to scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson, to Obama’s fight to lower greenhouse gases and find alternative energy sources, you’d think our politicians would have gotten the message. Seems not to be so, hard as that is to believe. As a result, and in an attempt to dramatize the danger, concerned citizens and scientists are marching, shouting, and taking action. Whidbey Island is no different.

Here in Langley we gathered an enthusiastic and dedicated crowd of people, who marched through town on April 29th, adding our numbers to millions of concerned Americans around the country. The message is loud and clear!

My favorite placard was this:

followed by the one I inadvertently walked off with, thinking it was up for grabs. The owner dashed after me and informed me otherwise.  My upcoming birthday and the message seemed both satirical and humorous.

Click on the photos for a slide show.

 

THE BIG APPLE: EXCITING, SLUSHY, BLUSTERY, AND BEAUTIFUL!

Cheryl and Steve

And, I might add with a hint of nostalgia, sunny. If you are from the Northwest, ten days of sun, no matter how high the snow, is a treat that lifts the heart and soothes the soul. New York City was like Christmas on the first day of spring. I treated myself to endless theater, one opera at the Met (Fidelio), and visits with as many friends as were available, from Cheryl Galante at whose elegant Maplewood home I crashed at the beginning and the end of my trip, to James Wilson, whose third floor walkup in Greenwich Village kept me in shape for more Himalayan adventures. Then there was Fidelio at the Metropolitan opera, where my niece, Margaret Magill, plays in the orchestra, an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art preceded by an extensive walk through Central Park, and theater with Phyllis Bitow, Terri Pedone, Paul Sharar, Barry Hamilton, Grandson Adam Bixler and his lovely girlfriend, Allie Francis, and, on my last day, lunch with Gary Shippy and dinner with Allie’s vivacious and interesting family.

Wearing heavy hiking boots and a down jacket to the theater is a first for me, but everybody else was doing it, so I fit right in! Some theater highlights include the new musicals, A Bronx Tale, starring the outstanding Nick Cordero, Ground Hog Day, with its crazy sets, frantic action, and pyrotechnics, War Paint, with Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole bringing down the house, and Spamilton, an hilarious takeoff on the writing of Hamilton that left us laughing for hours and fit in with the city-wide celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. I had heard about this spoof from my friend, Judy Wyman Kelly, who had one of the actors, Juwan Crawley, in class. What fun we had!

Juwan Crawley and me

The Present, the first play of the young Anton Chekov, starring the inimitable Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh (a Sydney Theater company production), The Man From Nebraska, a rather subdued piece from Tracey Letts, C.S. Lewis, the Reluctant Convert, Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, with a sardonic Kate Burton and a droll Kevin Kline, and The Glass Menagerie, with Sally Field and Joe Mantello completed my theater experience for the time being, but there’s always next year….

Unfortunately, because of the delay in my flight due to the big snow storm, I missed several other close friends, including my buddies from the Plainfield Symphony, but I’ll be back. You can’t keep a theater addict away from NYC for long.

Here are a few shots of Central Park in the snow and our visit to the Seurat exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. You’ll recognize the landmarks and the paintings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the museum, we saw a Seurat exhibit, and many other paintings from the French Impressionist era were on display. Everyone you go are beautiful statues and artifacts. Here is just a sampling.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the way to the theater we walked through the park again.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I can’t resist a couple of photos of Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera at dusk, and me with the chandeliers I love so much! Click on photo to start slideshow.

I also can’t resist a few backyard shots of Maplewood. You’ve gathered by now that I love the snow!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we descended through the clouds on our approach to Seattle, what should await me but a splendid rainbow. This is what makes all that rain palatable! It was good to get home to peaceful Langley.

Happily, through the raindrops, I was greeted by a few signs of spring, plus a mystical stroll on the shores of Puget Sound, just a five-minute walk from my home. Ain’t it wonderful?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dusk on Puget Sound…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IT’S OFF WE GO THROUGH BACK ROADS, SMALL TOWNS, AND SILENT FORESTS TO SUJA

Ashwani squired us once more through the labyrinthian back country to our first stop, another TCV school in the town of Gopalpur, where we visited Tashi Lobsang, the student sponsored by my close friend in New Jersey, Phyllis Bitow.

He is thriving in this beautiful setting in the forested Himalayan foothills, and gave us an exhaustive tour of the grounds, gardens, and his living quarters. Tashi loves the pristine and immaculate ambiance of his environment, he says, and is throwing himself into his academic work with fervor. We left him as he was going for “self study” in a computer class.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was taken by these plaques with various sayings painted on them as reminders of the wisdom of the past from all around the world. Some were in English and some were in Tibetan script. It was a beautiful sight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our final stop before reaching Suja was in Palumpur, a major center for commerce in Himanchal Pradesh. It was bustling, despite many stores and small markets being closed because of the financial demonitization.

Ashwani suggested his favorite eatery, The Joy Family Restaurant. Wow! What a great choice…coffee shop, ice cream parlor, hamburger joint, sweet shop, you-name-it…all rolled into a veritable hole in the wall. It was narrow and brightly decorated, and had been run for forty-seven years by the Narang brothers, uncles of Nmang, a charming young man, who helped steer us through the formidable menu.

Their famous specialty, chat patri, worried me, since it was cold and had yogurt and some uncooked vegetables in it. But Cary put on her brave suit and ate every bit of it…to her delight. My loss.

Later I was told its ingredients: fried wheat puff pastry, potatoes, yogurt, green and red sauce, a type of lentils, sweet and spicy, smooth and crunchy. And served cold. The rest of the food was a bit spicy for me, but I indulged in some of the best Indian sweets of my long life. If you’re ever in Palumpur, don’t leave without paying the Narang brothers a visit. Ashwani knows them well, also, because he buys their ice cream for his shop in Bir!

By 3 PM we had arrived at the Suja TCV school, another favorite home away from home. The new sponsorship secretary, Tenpal, was expecting us, and we spent the rest of the evening on a sentimental exploration of the campus, noticing many changes and improvements. As always, the children greeted us warmly.

Click on the photos for slideshow.

We stayed in our usual room, and were treated to colorful sunsets every evening. What a welcome!

The next two days were varied and full of emotion. I missed so many old friends…students as well as teachers whom Cary and I have known and loved over the years. It almost seemed like the end of an era. People graduate, move away, start their lives anew in far away places, and relocate, as several of the teachers have, in other countries. Also, the population of the school has shifted radically over the past few years since the Chinese no longer allow children to leave Tibet, so the school enrollment is down. Even though there are students from the Buddhist enclaves in Ladakh and the Yolmo in Nepal, it’s different. And the offspring of the original group of refugee children are starting to attend, but they have immeasurably more resources and, thus, advantages over those who fled across the border on their own. Nor do they have the same feeling for Tibet as their homeland, for they have never been there. Yes, life is impermanent and we have to adjust to changes in whatever form they take. And educating the children is so vital and important, no matter where they call home.

There are still two students at Suja who have Whidbey Island sponsors that we wanted to visit. As we wound our way through the living quarters we could see that it was washday.

Tsering Phuntsok is now class 10 and in the boy’s hostel. We hadn’t seen him in a couple years and he has grow from a child to a young man in that time.

Lhakpa Dolma is a little younger, and becoming much more confident and less shy than in our previous visits.

Her dorm was next to the girl’s covered basketball court. She shares her simple and cheerful room with over 25 other students.

Cary had fun sharing highlights from a Seahawks game with Tsering and Lhakpa. Tsering’s sponsor had given him a Seahawks hat (foreground) and she was explaining just who they were. Neither had ever seen football before, so it was fun to watch.

In between visits with the students, we visited the town of Bir, heading down the familiar path, enjoying the warm sun as we walked through the yellow fields of winter wheat, over a bubbling brook, and past brightly painted homes where livestock stood tethered and small gardens flourished.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ah, but so much had changed. No longer was my favorite café, Buckstars, open, and the lovely monk who ran it when he wasn’t painting sand mandalas had gone back to Sikkim. And our dear friend, Sonam Hara, who was the director of the Tibetan Primary Health Care Centre, was now living in Canada, and his wife, Tsering Somo, had resigned from teaching at Suja and was leaving to join him.

Of course, we had to search for an alternative place to buy the superb Indian cappuccino, and we found a small outdoor restaurant way on the edge of town where we indulged.

We were so happy to see Tsering Somo again before she leaves for Canada. We shared lunch at a different Joy Cafe (that we can also recommend!) in Bir. Even a revered teacher is not immune to the hypnotic power of the cell phone!

Before leaving, we took a casual stroll around town, stopping in Ashwani’s store to reimburse him for the 10,000 rupees he had loaned us upon our arrival in India, and buying papaya from the smiling lady who is our favorite fruit vendor.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was with mixed feelings of joy for Tsering’s opportunity to be reunited with her husband and sadness for the end of an era at TCV Suja and our social life in Bir that we strolled back through the fields to the school.

The countryside outside the school is very peaceful and pastoral, unlike any other place I’d been in India, and so we took a long stroll down a country road, past some small shops and through a small Indian village. The houses were large, brightly colored, and interesting, with balconies or shingled slate roofs. Some were new and grand and others more of a farmhouse. Animals were tethered in front, usually, and mounds of hay adorned the fields. Women in colorful saris greeted us. And children clustered around, wanting photographs. The boys played cricket in a large field by the river. We felt very welcomed and very much at home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Following a sumptuous dinner of veggies, chicken (bones and all) and fruit, we once again spent a quiet evening watching the sunset from our balcony. The dogs seemed to have calmed down for the moment and we were able to enjoy the singing and chanting at the nearby hostel.

I shall be back with a report on our subsequent adventures as we make our way through Delhi and on to Nepal for a visit to Kathmandu, Boudhanath, and Dhulikhel, and for a ten-day trek in the Solukhumbu district of the Himalayas. This will be the first time I’ve been back to that area since 1987. But, first, it’s off to the East Coast to check on friends in New Jersey, and to devour as much as I can of Broadway’s Great White Way. Seems I’ll be flying into a blizzard, which suits me just fine, since I love snow…unless I have to land in Philadelphia. It was March 12 when I wrote this and it was not supposed to snow in the old haunts on my selected weeks. The best laid plans….

DHARAMSALA, WE LOVE YOU, CHANGES AND ALL!

We spent four days reacquainting ourselves with McLeod Ganj, a peaceful hillside town which has great religious significance to Tibetan Buddhists, and is also a haven for people who want to get away from big city hubbub. Luxuriating in the sunshine, we took long strolls through the countryside, visited the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Upper Dharamsala, connected with old friends, perused the markets for my favorite billowy pants and outrageous earrings, and became acquainted with the crew that was laying the foundation for a new hotel on the side of the hill (where else?) near the Pema Thang.

Simple 2-person shovels with one person pulling while the other dumps, bamboo scaffolding, and the endless labor of women is building Dharamsala.

During our stay we watched the progress of the construction.
Click on the photos to start slideshow.

I couldn’t resist a few shots of other sites while walking through town. Building was going on everywhere!

It was actually a relief to move on up the hill and get away from the “busyness.” Here is the corner where you can catch a taxicab. It’s so relaxed compared to most of India. Or how about a lazy walk down the street? It’s quite beautiful to see the rows of houses built into the hillside.

As we were walking to dinner on our second day we bumped into an old friend, Thinley Gyatso, about whom I’ve written in the past. We first met him in 2011, when he was doing translation work for a Swiss NGO. Last year we visited the restaurant he had started in Dharamsala to help young Tibetan refugees get work and begin a new life in India. He just sold the restaurant and now lives near Dal Lake by the Upper Dharamsala TCV school, continuing his writing and translating. We spent a very highly charged evening of political discussions with him as well as an afternoon at his home following our first visit to the school.

On our third day we had a delightful reunion on the outside deck of the new Pema Thang restaurant with a former TCV student, Karma, who is now studying at Men-tsee-khang, the prestigious school for Tibetan medicine in Dharamsala.

It’s wonderful to see the students every year and watch them develop into dedicated, compassionate, determined professional people, who want to make a change in the world. They’re young, and, yes, idealistic, and they will make a difference. The same can be said for Shawo, Cary’s sponsored student, who now is studying at a university near Seoul, South Korea, on a full scholarship.

We also had a lovely reunion with Phuntsok Gyalpo, whom Cary has known since 2007. Phuntsok tutored her in Tibetan during her retreat at the Pullahari Monastery in Kathmandu. Many of his family have emigrated to Australia, but he is staying in Dharmasala to care for his elderly parents.

One motto that is universal in all the TCV schools was displayed prominently on the embankment in front of the school. It is at the heart of all Buddhist teachings and is key to the underlying philosophy that fuels the life work of these institutions and its participants.

That afternoon we took a taxi for our second visit to the TCV school in Upper Dharamsala. It is quite beautiful, situated near Dal Lake and nestled behind large pillars with a winding road leading to the main athletic court, behind which are academic buildings, dormitories and offices.

We visited with Lobsang Tenzin, the former TCV Bir sponsorship director. It was fun to see him in his new office with his two children. On the way we were delighted to bump into Ngodup Wangdu, former director of TCV Bir and now director at Dharmasala TCV.

We met, once again, with a delightful young woman, Boshey, sponsored by Jim and Rebecca Sundberg in Langley. Boshey is taking advanced business and science, and gave us a tour of the school and her dorm. I’ve never climbed up and down so many stairs in my life, except on the Inca Trail in Peru!

I was surprised at how small the rooms are, housing three students, but each had her own space where she could neatly stash her books and belongings. The buildings were of thick cement and, like all such building in India, susceptible to mildew. There is, obviously, not enough money to clean and repair such a huge building complex. But the education these young people receive is excellent, which is the primary focus. Boshey walked us back up several banks of stairs and to the entrance, where we found a tuk tuk to take us back to town.

On our last day, we decided to go the back route to town and avoid traffic. We struggled down a rugged rocky path through the gorgeous Chonor House, passing the Kongpo House, where we had stayed in previous years, and ending up at our favorite café. There we bumped into another old friend, Caroline Martin, dancer and world traveler, whom we had met in 2007 at our first Dalai Lama lectures. Small world!

Halfway through breakfast we heard drumbeats and lots of excitement out front. It was international AIDS day. A boisterous parade of men and women were marching and dancing through the streets, dressed all in white. They looked at first glance like the KKK, but they were actually promoting condoms for safe sex. Let’s give a cheer for transparency !

The group was sponsored by Kunphen, meaning “universal benevolence.” It is the only Tibetan NGO, and provides treatment programs for alcohol and drug dependence, and HIV/AIDS. The emphasis is on care for the suffering.

On December 2nd we said goodbye to magical Dharamsala with the life-threatening traffic. There was that one last look at the valley and the temple from our balcony, and the fond farewells with white katas from the hotel staff draped around our necks. Then it was down the winding road, a stop at the Namgyal Temple to light our last candles, and on to Bir.

I wonder if I’ll return next year, and, if so, how many more hotels there will be? And whether I can attend one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. I hope. I hope.

ASIANA, HERE WE COME! FROM BUCKETS OF RAIN TO BASKETS OF SUNSHINE….

A good reason to go to India and Nepal in late November. We also needed to get away from the chaos of the recent election and concentrate on the chaos of Asia. But, alas, that was not to be. We were bombarded on every side by, “What happened to your country? What is going on? Why did you do it? (Who… Me?) Not even in the high ridges of the Himalayas did we escape questions about our election results. I couldn’t help noticing that many of our Nepalese and Indian friends knew more about our government and its legendary philosophy than a good portion of voting Americans. They were used to feeling helpless in the face of quixotic leaders and national disruption. But they thought we were different. Amazing how we are beginning to adopt Third World strategies and rhetoric as the weeks unfold. Meanwhile, moving right along….

This was our first foray onto Asiana Airlines through Seoul to Delhi. I kept thinking, “I must have forgotten something, because my bags are so much lighter.” Yes, they were. At last I had put into practice what I had learned thirty years ago on my first backpacking trip around the world. What you take you carry. There ain’t nobody else gonna’ do it!

Never before had I flown over Russia, and it was exciting to look down at the pristine wilderness—mountains glistening with ice and the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the North Pacific Ocean rolling out before us in rapid succession.

Luxuriating in our business class seats, thanks to Cary’s skillful maneuvering of our frequent flyer miles (they’re all gone, now, folks), we slept our way to Delhi, so were wide awake at 1:15 AM when Ashwani, our Indian friend from Bir, picked us up and drove us to Dharamsala.

Many of the roads and “fly-overs” leading out of Delhi are new, having been built by the Chinese. Still, we had the predictable wild ride when we reached the outlying areas, racing around the hills and taking chances by passing trucks on curves with the usual Indian aplomb. But I always enjoy the drive up the steep hill (seven kilometers) from Lower Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj, past numerous tall buildings hanging onto every cliffside, and ending as we come upon the Namgyal Monastery where the Dalai Lama lives. It was like returning home when we moved into the Pema Thang Hotel, high on a hill overlooking town. It was already Sunday, November 27th. We had skipped a whole day!

A lot had changed since last year. A new parking garage had been built on the cliff opposite the Ten Yang Café, our favorite coffee shop, and the road to town had been freshly cobbled. Businesses seemed to be flourishing with new ones springing up along the way. But it was still perilous to walk on the sidewalk-less roads, dodging cars and trucks and wishing horns had never been invented.

Click on photo to start slide show.

Excitement prevailed on our first morning. The Dalai Lama was returning from Mongolia and within the hour would arrive by motorcade at his temple gates. Huge crowds lined the streets, many of them Tibetans, dressed in their native garb. The Chinese had forbidden them to stay in India and go to the Kalachakra empowerment at Bodhgaya, but the Dalai Lama had promised them a special spontaneous lecture that afternoon, and they were thrilled. We were also privileged to attend the lecture.

After the excitement of seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama, we headed up the street to see if we could change some money. Little did we know what was in store for us! We had heard about the demonitization of the Indian rupee before we arrived (stripping a particular unit of currency of its status as legal tender), but had no idea of its impact on foreigners and Indians alike. Fortunately, Ashwani, our taxi driver, who runs a small convenience store in Bir, had put aside 10,000 rupees in 100 rupee bills for us, knowing we would be unable to get small denominations when changing money upon arrival. What a favor that was!

All 500 and 1,000 rupee notes had been taken out of circulation and the government planned to replace them with new ones. This was Prime Minister Modi’s surprise move in the hopes of eliminating black money—illegal, untaxed money that is earned on the black market—and moving the country to a digital economy.

Unfortunately, it was ill-planned, according to many people, and sorely affected the poorer segments of the society and those who needed small bills to do business. Lines at the bank wound through the street and down the hill, reminding me of our gas crisis in the ‘70s. And by the time people had waited for eight or ten hours, there was no more money left. Chaos was the operative word.

We headed for our usual money-changer. Forget it. He was closed. No money. Eventually, and luckily, we were able to find a shopkeeper that had a side business in exchanging US $ cash for rupees. Where they found all those 100 Rs notes we will never know, when the banks and regular money changers had run out.

We used some of our precious rupees at a lovely handicraft store owned by a charming Indian/Kashmiri woman, Sunanda. As with so many of the businesswomen we met, she was well-informed, highly intelligent, and had a wide circle of friends around the world. Her handicrafts were lovely and one of her handwoven runners is now gracing the dining room table in Cary’s new home at Upper Langley.

You may remember my writing about another friend I’ve known since 2011, Bilal Ahmed Gunna, who runs the Paradise Arts shop, with beautiful Kashmiri tapestries and rugs, and says that I’m the toughest bargainer he’s ever met. High praise, eh!? Here is a photo taken in 2014.

We stopped by his shop, eager to see him again, but he was in Srinigar getting married, and his friend, Jacob, was holding down the fort. We talked for a long time with this charming gentleman, getting an overview of Indian-Kashmiri problems and the custom of arranged marriage and family life from his perspective. We live in a varied world, indeed.

As we always do on our first day in Dharamsala, we walked kora around the temple at dusk, and headed up the hill, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To leave a comment or read one, click on the title of the post.

NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT….

What a play Shakespeare could write about the craziness that has enveloped our country in the past few months. So many of my friends from around the world are writing passionate letters, worried about their future and that of the United States. Join the crowd. Pick up the paper, watch the satirists, do the research, and make your beliefs known by your actions.

I returned from a delightful week in Denver, CO, to witness a spirited march on January 21st here in Langley, where over 1,000 people spoke their minds in a city that only has about 1,000 citizens. The crowd went all the way up the hill at First Street!

Seattle (on the Other Side) was around 175,000 and my grandson, Thomas Bixler, and my niece, Rebecca Magill, told me of the astronomical numbers crowding the streets of Washington, DC. Ditto for seventy countries around the globe. You’ve all seen the pictures and read the stories.  Here are two of Rebecca, her daughter, Amaya, and husband, Paul Benzaquin.

In an attempt to find serenity I enjoyed two hikes while in Colorado. One at Sawmill Pond in Boulder with Bonnie Phipps and her husband, Bill Moninger, and the other with my daughter, Martha, great grandson Theo, and grandson-in-law Zack. My, that’s a mouthful!

Sawhill Ponds Hike slideshow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hike in the Denver Rockies slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I always like to leave you with a good taste in your mouth and here’s a poster I saw at the South Whidbey Commons this week. It proves that the Asians are not the only ones to enjoy and depend on the soothing and social repercussions of coffee!

A CHILLY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL….

It’s been two weeks since we said goodbye to our beloved Himalayas and headed back to the comfortable community of Langley, WA.

Now I’m delighted to be able to go to Denver, Colorado, for an unexpected visit with my daughter, Martha, my granddaughter, Cally, and her husband, and my great grandson, Theo, now 14 months old and walking. From now on I am GiGi. That’s for Great Grandma, of course. I wear the moniker with pride and disbelief. How did a young girl like me ever reach this exalted place/age?

I’ll also visit autoharp greats, Bonnie Phipps and Lucille Reilly, and nephew, David Magill. Then, it’s back to a blow-by-blow report of Asia off the beaten path….

For the first time in all our travels we experienced what to many is a common occurrence: a lost duffel bag full of all Cary’s camping and trekking equipment plus the usual precious mementoes of her Asian adventure. A predictable gnashing of teeth followed. And to this day, still no bag.

Our stay in the Tibetan enclave of Delhi, Majnu Ka Tilla, was dampened by this turn of events, but we still enjoyed our Tibetan friends and spent a day roaming the area after greeting our first Christmas tree at the Wongden Guest House. Click on the photo to start the slideshow.

Another much happier “first” to occur on this trip was our frequent flyer upgrade to business class. It was like another world for us and we thoroughly enjoyed our new privileged status as coddled passengers sleeping and eating and drinking our way around the globe. On the return trip from Delhi to Shanghai to Seoul, we also spent our waiting time in lounges patently and conspicuously  bourgeois. It didn’t escape our notice, however, that we were often frowned upon. Our ratty climbing attire and clunky boots screamed “tourist class” to the spiffily-dressed “models” who hosted China Eastern. It was only after we moved to the more relaxed mélange of Delta hostesses of a certain age that we felt at home in our egalitarian attire and laid back in heavenly slumber for the better part of our trip. Thus, no jetlag. Oh, Gods of the airways, grant us another such experience before we die. I beg of you!

Two days into my return I looked out my front balcony to be greeted by five fat robins perched in a frosty tree. It was a bone-chilling 20 degrees.

Omigod! Why are these robins so fat? Who has been feeding them? Surely they can’t get worms from the frozen ground. Suddenly, my mother’s words came to me: “He’s puffed up like a  robin in winter.” So I looked up robins in winter (how I love the internet! Gives me such a momentary feeling of erudition). And I found out more than I ever wanted to know about them. Even when the temperature is subzero, these little creatures can puff up their feathers and increase the amount of air next to their body to insulate themselves.  It can be 104 degrees under the feathers and 10 degrees outside. How about that? Nature, to me, is unbelievable in its complexity.

In closing, here is my cheerful New Year’s message. It’s from the Tenyang Coffee Shop, our favorite place for cappuccino in Dharamsala, nearby the Dalai Lama’s temple.

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR’S GREETINGS FROM NEPAL….

Here we are at the Shechen Guest House near the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. Cary and I have just returned from a strenuous trek from Phaplu to Shivalaya in the Solukhumbu district of the Himalayas. Hooray…we survived! Hot sunny weather at midday, and freezing temperatures at night were the order of the day. You can’t beat that!

This is the view from Takshindu above Ringmu on our second day of trekking. Stay tuned for more news of this trek and our other adventures in Nepal and India once I return in late December.

Do you remember my photos of the earthquake destruction last year? We returned this year to find the Boudha stupa beautifully restored. It was completed just a couple weeks before we arrived and is magnificent.

This evening we walked the kora (circumambulation) at night. The stupa is decorated with thousands of lights in celebration of a week-long puja of prayers for world peace.

Yes, let’s hope for a glorious and peaceful 2017. I don’t think I could live through another 2016. Could you?

LEAVING UPPER MELAMCHI AND HEADING BACK TO KATHMANDU

As we made our way back from Upper Melamchi, on the trail to Thimbu, we never knew when we’d come around the corner and be faced with a cliff caused by a recent landslide. Several of the old bridges were patched, but still passable, and we even saw a very old stupa that had survived.

Click on a photo to begin slide show.

On the way down to the river we stopped again at the little farm with the straw-roofed gazebo, a lovely place for a cup of tea looking out over the Melamchi valley. It was hard to believe that all seven members of the family had lived in that small gazebo until they could put up a tin shack. All around was terracing for growing sugar cane and barley. We enjoyed the tea, which had sweet buffalo milk in it and, once again, saw the brightly-feathered rooster we had seen on the way up.

Later we had lunch at another rebuilt part-tin and part-wooden house that sat alone in a field. You could see by the doors and windows that the original house had been salvaged. The distinctive thing about this house was that it was located feet away from a huge landslide. Seemed like a miracle that it had not been swept away. We all marveled at the location!

img_1636

Several people joined us for noodles, spinach soup, and great buffalo milk yogurt served by a lovely young woman. As we were leaving, she proudly showed us her pet baby buffalo, hugged it, and urged it—like a proud mama—to get to its feet.

Our porters had arrived at the lunch spot earlier and washed all the pots and pans they’d used for cooking at the camping spot below Ama Yangri’s summit. The secret to keeping them from burning was to cake them with mud before each use. There they were, laid out on the shingled roof of the buffalo pen, sparkling like new!

img_1640

Farther down the mountain, as we were wandering around the destroyed Milarepa’s cave and nun’s hostel, and wondering where we’d stay overnight, a local villager arrived. She was wearing a headscarf, lots of prayer beads around her neck, bloomery pants, and a filmy blouse. To feed her animals, she was cutting leaves which she carried on her back, held on with a strap across her head.

She graciously led us to a small community, where we found a room. Just getting there was a mad scramble over rocks and debris, and when we arrived we remembered that this was a once prosperous community we had passed through last year. We had lunched at a guest house here, next to a magnificent stupa… both now rubble.

p1090207-1

There were no guest houses in the village anymore, but fortunately a family let us weary trekkers use two beds in the back of a tiny store front overlooking the valley.

This was the most barebones of any place we’d been, but the people were a treasure. I noted that all men and women dye their hair black, and when I noticed a man with gray hair, I got so excited that I tried to photograph him…but he demurred. Drat!

A three-year-old girl took to us immediately and introduced us to her two sisters, who were lying on their stomachs on a large pad right in the middle of the path that ran through town, studying their lessons. All the rebuilt houses (mostly corrugated tin) were in a line on this ridge.

p1090202Close by was the town spigot and washing station—a communal area where all the action was taking place. I was fascinated! It was like an open-air bathhouse with people washing feet, clothes, hair, potatoes, and pots and pans…all in cold, cold water. How I shivered when I saw naked children being bathed, but they just squealed and took it in their stride. I was loathe to photograph the bathing, due to respect for the mothers and children.p1090227

I loved taking part in the hustle and bustle and relating to the girls as they read to me from their English books.

As usual, everyone wants to get into the act. We had a lot of fun comparing feet and hands. I’m sure you can spot mine!

I especially enjoyed the leisurely and elaborate dinner, which was cooked on a wood stove by both the mother and father. The meal included buffalo meat and various spices, which were pounded and ground. Fourteen members of the community sat around in the semi-darkness, socializing and drinking mild rakshi seasoned with buffalo butter, while Grandpa and Grandma sat in one corner repeating Tibetan mantras with beads in their hands.

During the evening, children were put to bed or wrapped in blankets to rest near the parents, and older children studied or played games on various electronic gadgets. This seemed so incongruous to me. Again, we were told that Caritas had promised to rebuild the old school, which housed forty-five students from the small community. It was a lovely evening. I felt so privileged to have been part of the gathering.

At nine the next morning we ate eggs while Dawa and Brebin feasted on tsampa. We needed all the energy we could muster, for the day turned out to be strenuous. Shortly after we left we came upon several groups of children headed for school.

p1090234Then we started down the hill, expecting an easy three hours to Thimbu, but, unfortunately, had to take a new trail. The usual one on the other side of the river had been badly damaged by avalanches and there was a great deal of exposure. Believe me, there was a great deal on this side, too.

Check out the terrain we faced before finally reaching the Riverside Guest House where we had stayed last year.

About three hours into the descent we came upon an area where the Chinese had started to build a tunnel to bring water from water-rich Melamchi to water-deprived Kathmandu. All we saw was a lot of abandoned equipment, plus a bridge where one section had been hastily repaired with large logs (a dicey way to get across, to say the least). High on a cliff was an interesting colony of bees. Look for the honeycomb bags dangling off the rock. Don’t ask me how anyone gets the honey!

p1090289

 

An Italian company had taken over when the Chinese were fired from the project, but the earthquake put an end to their plans.  Damage to houses and equipment was everywhere.

At last we arrived at the Riverside Guest House, where we had stayed last year. Miraculously, the main building was standing, because it was made of cement. All the stone houses were in rubble…the large dining area, kitchen, and beautiful outbuildings. For several months the owners lived elsewhere, fearing that the steep cliff just across the road might collapse. Fortunately, it did not.

img_2166-1

The hostess was glad to see us and shared with us tales of the catastrophe. The day of the quake they were serving a party for sixty-five people. When it started, the guests ran everywhere…into the river and away from the buildings. Great fissures appeared in the ground and a large one opened up in the courtyard, right under the feet of the old grandmother. She fell into it and was pulled out just before it closed. How about that for a close call? Pretty horrific.

I honestly don’t know how people live with such disruption…their home in shambles, their business gone, wood from the destruction piled haphazardly, the detritus of possessions everywhere, shoes on the windowsill, blankets and clothes inside a thatched-roofed gazebo, bricks and stone piled where buildings had once been. And, yet, they soldier on.

So I guess I shouldn’t complain about mounting that awful metal stairway to the third floor, once again, for the bougainvillia was still blooming, the room had been freshly painted pink, and a rug and new tarps were on the floor. Yes, and the view of the turbulent Melamchi River still delighted me. We never had felt more welcome anywhere! She gave us a pile of blankets from another room where they were being stored. Said the mice were getting to them. We didn’t see any mice, but enjoyed the high ceilings, ample space, good beds, and small sink for washing and brushing teeth. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the toilet paper. Talk about luxury! I have say, however, that we missed the huge spider that had kept us company last year….

That evening we gathered in the small makeshift kitchen and were treated to home-made mo-mos, a Tibetan delicacy. It was dark, but I managed to get a few shots of the small stuffed noodles as they were being prepared.

The next morning, after saying our goodbyes to our gracious hosts, we took off over the rugged roads back to Kathmandu.

I’m going to end my story here. I’ve tried to take you with me to several small villages in the Helambu/Yolmo and tell the story in pictures of the average Nepali during the horrendous days after the earthquake. But all of us can only absorb so much and I fear that I have pushed the limit while at the same time only scratching the surface. That is the conundrum and the drawback of blogs. No matter how hard we try, brevity goes out the window. Sobeit.

Cary and I spent another week in Nepal and revisited a number of famous landmarks such as Patan and Bhaktapur to see first hand what had happened after the earthquake. And we spent time with several old friends I’ve introduced to you over the years. I filled up another forty pages of my journal with observations about the conditions in the country after the earthquake, but this is what happens when you feel passionate about a place and its people. There’s so much to say and so much you want to share. And so little time. Nepal and its people are in my heart and in my soul.

p1090360

Back at the Shechen Guest House at the end of the trek

Cary and I leave, once again, for India and Nepal on Nov. 25th. I look forward to sharing it with you in 2017. Happy New Year!

Page 1 of 23

© 2017 Meg Noble Peterson & Site by Matt McDowell