We continue our adventures in and around Boudha! See HERE for the beginning of this post that we inadvertently published!
A highlight of our stay at the Pema Boutique Hotel was meeting Nyekap Lama’s sister, Thinley Wangmo, who had just returned from the United States where she was one of two Nepalis selected to participate in the IREX Community Solutions Program, “a professional leadership development program for the best and brightest community leaders worldwide.” Community Solutions Fellows complete a four-month fellowship with a U.S. nonprofit organization or local government agency. The participants then bring back the skills and experience they gained to their home country.
Wangmo is making a difference in women’s health and education in her local community of Humla, Limi, northwestern Nepal. Her first successful project was with EcoPads (reusable sanitary pads). When she asked what other ways the women needed support, a majority expressed a strong desire to learn how to read and write. Less than 10% of the women in the village are literate, and now Wangmo has a 5 year goal of 80% literacy in Nepali and Tibetan. Her work is very inspiring and you can read more about it in this Limi Female Literacy Program Proposal.
After two days at the Pema Boutique, we returned to the Shechen Guest House and continued our routine of early morning Kora, after which we often visited our friend and favorite pashmina shawl lady, Nitu. Her store was always interesting, and full of people from a plethora of ethnic backgrounds. Nitu was very versatile. She could put together combinations of traditional Tibetan or Nepalese dresses and floral scarves, or knit a special hat for any occasion or head size in the blink of an eye. No matter how many times we perused her domain, we couldn’t resist buying just a few more of the colorful shawls for our friends back home. And even when we weren’t buying, we had fun!
As you know. traveling is a wonderful way to meet new people and the Shechen Guest House is one of the places that attracts interesting people from around the world. On our 2018 visit we spent a lot of time with Ani Choetso (Maria Montenego), a nun from the Midwest, who, before the pandemic, spent much of her time in India and Nepal. A particular highlight was our visit to Pashupatinath. She is now in the U.S. caring for her mother, and we decided to WhatsApp her and send greetings. She was overjoyed, and when we told her we were going to Patan, asked us to buy her a bumpa (ritual vase with a spout) from a shopkeeper friend, and have it sent.
Patan, also known as Lalitpur, is one of the oldest cities in Nepal, and has been all but swallowed up by Kathmandu. I had been there on my first visit to Nepal in 1987, and, again, in 1999 after the Annapurna trek, exploring its ancient temples and hand-lain stone walkways. Alas, it is no longer the place of peace and tranquility I had remembered so fondly. The ancient structures are still being repaired after the 2015 earthquake, and many side roads have been dug up to install water and sewer lines. This has made the narrow roads in front of many small stores selling religious objects and traditional specialties almost impossible to navigate. Walking is hazardous. And the motorcycles are now crammed on the side streets…those that are still passable!
Thankfully, Sujan, owner of the thangka shop where Ani Choetso was buying the bumpa, met us at the entrance of Patan, and guided us through the convoluted streets to his shop. It was obvious to us that his business had suffered a great deal during the last years of the earthquake and then Covid, but his attitude was positive and his shop, Classic Tibetan Thangkas, beautifully appointed.
The one redeeming feature for me was the Golden Temple (a Newari Buddhist monastery), its carvings and statues still preserved, and its atmosphere calm and reflective, the direct opposite of the outside world. We spent a good deal of time walking around its indoor courtyard and balcony before returning to the fray.
This will give you an idea of some other temples and buildings around town….
To conclude our adventure in Patan, I must give a shout out to the Nepali cab drivers, who remain unflustered in the midst of chaos! For an American who gets nervous on a one-way street, to see cab drivers sharing the street with oncoming traffic, pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicyclists and weaving in and out, sometimes even making a u-turn on an impossibly busy main street, is mind-boggling, and, frankly, nerve-wracking as well. The drivers even tried several short-cuts in the hope of avoiding the crush of traffic, but they didn’t pan out. Getting to Patan and back by cab took an inordinately long time, which killed our desire to go anywhere else in the vicinity. This is why Sujan wisely had acquired an electric scooter!
That evening, after our favorite dinner of Swiss Rosti at the Rabsel Garden Cafe at the Shechen Guest House, we bumped into a beautiful dark-haired woman from the Basque country. Multi-lingual and with energy to burn, we saw, immediately, a kindred soul, ready for adventure, and undaunted by those who warned, “It can’t be done at this time of year…it’s too dangerous.” Itzy, short for Itziar Insausti Mujica, had arrived at the guest house, and was impressively calm, even ‘though the airline had lost all her luggage. Unfortunately, all we could offer her at the moment was a toothbrush given to us at one of our hotels, and a lot of sympathy, having been in the same situation more than once.
She was headed for the Dolpo, a formidable climb at any time of the year, especially in the winter. She was also making this pilgrimage to honor her father who, she feared, was in the last days of his life. A professor with many talents, she has always had a close relationship in her work between art and nature, which is spiritual as well as intellectual. This year she was taking time out to volunteer as a substitute teacher in the high regions of the Himalaya, to relieve Nepalese government teachers, who found the climate too cold and forbidding. She was the second person we met who had volunteered to help in this way. And spoiler alert, she made it!
Our next interlude was at the brightly decorated Mandala Hotel with its Tibetan decor. It was located at the end of a short alley off the main kora. The hotel and Shangri-La Restaurant staff were cheerful and welcoming, and excited to share with us stories about their late-night parties where eager football (soccer) fans, all men, gathered.
The World Cup was still in full swing and the enthusiasm was palpable. One Tibetan waiter, Tenzin, regaled us with minute details of each game, appearing at our table at every meal to give us the latest update.
And along with the entertainment, the food was great! Not too spicy. Our favorite was a kind of sweet and sour tofu with vegetables, that we keep trying to duplicate here at home. We’re almost there!
We stayed on the top floor in the Mandala Suite, which was bright and sunny, but did not have the suave elegance of the Pema Boutique. And there was no elevator. Who needs trekking when it’s 78 steps up to your room, done several times a day? Looking down into the staircase well was terrifying. God help you if you have an imagination and poor balance.
The space was huge and included a living room, kitchen, and bedroom. From the bedroom you looked out onto a beautiful balcony, which was shaped somewhat like the prow of a ship surrounded by a white picket fence. Directly ahead of you were the eyes of the Stupa, and, to the north, a view of snow-capped mountains. Early one morning Cary was able to zoom with her temple on Whidbey Island, while watching the sun rise above the Stupa. How special is that!
During our evening meals Itzy joined us. Her luggage had been found and she had arranged for a guide to cover most of her climb. We eagerly followed her adventures, as well as her time with the school children, in the texts she sent us.
Sadly, Itzy had to leave early due to the death of her father. The night she returned to Boudha, however, she was able to book the same Mandala suite where we had stayed. It was comforting for us to know she was in a familiar place during this time of grief.
We moved back to the Shechen Guest House for our final few days, and to say our farewells to our Boudha “family.”
We couldn’t resist a few more visits to our favorite coffee shop, the Himalayan Java, where every time we went we paired up with another interesting person or persons and spent at least a couple hours getting acquainted. And this year we found a coffee shop new to us, The Caravan. It had great artwork and Tibetan and Nepalese handmade articles I couldn’t resist! It also had great coffee, and the best carrot cake!
We were lucky to connect one last time with Tenzin, who joined us for lunch and, later, took us to an interesting Farmer’s Market tucked away off the main drag. It was similar to summer markets here on the island, where people sell their fresh produce, handcrafts, and homemade jams and jellies. There were places to sit and sip a cup of tea or coffee, or enjoy special treats while catching up with friends. It was fun to get a feel for the community as a neighbor and a friend.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Tenzin. We have always had a special bond and wish him a successful and productive future as we would a member of our own family.
In late morning on Christmas Day, we gathered in the garden to welcome Pasang and his family, about whom I’ve written several times over the years. The weather was perfect for an outdoor party! There was no Christmas tree this year, but we celebrated with a sumptuous chocolate cake for our guest house friends, and a tasty lunch with Aashika, Asmika, and their parents, Ranjita and Pasang.
The conversation was lively and the girls really enjoyed the stockings we filled with nut bars and fruit. Aashika is now almost a teenager and arrived looking very glamorous with her thick, wavy black hair hanging down and not in its customary pony tail. That would come later when the games began. We had our usual interesting conversation about her schooling and her future dreams. She is increasingly fluent in English and acts as the family interpreter. I am sure she is the reason that Pasang’s English is so improved!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen more perfect table manners or decorum from children of any age, and even after the kids started running around in the garden, great respect was always shown toward the adults.
Our old friend, and the previous receptionist at the guest house, Tenzing, joined us with her four-year-old niece, Yi-meon, who was clutching her favorite toy, a small ceramic unicorn, that soon was featured in a spontaneous game of hide-and-seek, started by Aashika. Everyone, including some of the guests, soon got into the act and took turns covering their eyes and counting. You wouldn’t believe the imaginative places the children discovered to hide the little critter. It was a memorable Christmas, indeed, full of fun, joy, and love.
Our Christmas was made complete later that day, when we had dinner at a gorgeous indoor-outdoor restaurant as guests of our favorite trekking guru, Jwalant Gurung, Crystal Mountain Treks, and his lovely wife, Banda. We were joined by two of their friends, whom we had met on our last trip. Our farewell celebration went on until late in the evening…so late that we had that peaceful, moonlight cab ride we had been yearning for our entire trip. What a perfect ending. How we will miss our friends and our Nepal!