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

Category: Nepal Page 1 of 7

Cary’s update from Nepal and South Korea!

Cary is in China now as you read this, and I am in Manitou Springs, Colorado! Both our last two weeks have been eventful, but I dare say that hers were more interesting. On the eve of her departure to Chengdu, we WhatsApp video called from our respective locations around the world…me with Martha, and Cary with Shawo Choeten, whom she was visiting in South Korea. (Cary and Shawo were wearing masks because Cary had a cold.)

Here is a little news from Cary…

I spent a very focused week at the Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath doing kora and studying Tibetan. Very focused! I visited Pasang Lama and his lovely family and gave them a gift from Mom. We’ve known them since the girls were toddlers and now they are very smart middle-schoolers.

Happy to have finally arrived at the Seoul airport!

Because of a flight cancellation, getting to Seoul from Kathmandu was as grueling as the week in Boudha was relaxing and restorative. What would have been simple turned into a 2 1/2 day ordeal, 3 flights, changing airports in Chengdu, and an overnight on a bench in the Beijing Airport for 9 hours. My immune system, great in Nepal, wasn’t up to the stress of hopscotching across China, and I caught a cold.

But that didn’t stop me from enjoying my visit with Shawo Choeten, whom I’ve known since his first days at the TCV School in Suja, back in 2008. Shawo just received his Masters from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, and is now taking a gap year before continuing on to get his Ph.D.

Besides working on a paper that he will be presenting at a conference in Oxford, England, this summer, Shawo also teaches Tibetan online to Korean students.

We have spent hours conversing about life, culture, language, and society and also enjoying many tea houses, coffee shops,, and restaurants along the way.

I’ll be coming back through Seoul, again, after my month in Chengdu. I have no idea what the internet situation will be with Wifi access and blocked websites. I’ll let you know in January! Sending love to all of you!

 

TAKE 2 – DISCOVERING NEW MAGIC IN AND AROUND OUR BELOVED BOUDHA….

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!

DISCOVERING NEW MAGIC IN AND AROUND OUR BELOVED BOUDHA….

The Boudhanath Stupa, where Cary’s heart lies

I cannot count the number of times I have posted photos of the Shechen Guest House and the Boudha Stupa, our home-away-from-home in Nepal. And you probably can’t, either. But it’s a place that never remains static. This hub of Buddhist culture in Kathmandu weaves its magic, giving us daily discoveries and insights as we circle the stupa, push the large prayer wheels, and wander the streets and alleys. It was our base camp during this two-month adventure, to which we returned after exploring Prakriti, Lumbini, Swayambhu, Thamel, and Namo Buddha. Now we want to share our new friends and new experiences in this small area we have come to know even better this time around.

As I mentioned, previously, we decided, just for fun, to stay at other hotels in the area this year. Our first choice came as a result of trying to find Tenzin, an old friend and former Tibetan student we knew from the TCV school in Suja, and whom we had connected with in 2018. His mother had opened a small restaurant on Phulbari Rd. and Cary walked up and down, trying to find it, but to no avail. However, she discovered the luxurious Pema Boutique Hotel, owned by a Tibetan, and just ten minutes from the stupa. It seemed like a perfect choice. Perhaps they would know Tenzin’s whereabouts. Bingo! The first person we asked, Nyekap Lama, the owner, knew Tenzin, personally, and even bought homemade tsampa from his mom for the hotel restaurant. He called him on his cell phone and within 30 minutes we were having coffee together in the lounge. Later that night we had dinner together and caught up on the last four years.

The Pema Boutique Hotel was luxury incarnate. Soft beds, soft pillows (not the usual hard neck-breakers prevalent in Nepal), a shower that made you feel as if you were standing under a steaming waterfall, and an elevator, which was a great help transporting our heavy bags.

 

We will not keep you hanging on the ledge for the rest of our adventures, but we accidentally published this before it was finished! So we will temporarily leave you luxuriating at the Pema Boutique while we finish the rest of this post! Stay tuned!

 

IN AND AROUND NAMO BUDDHA RESORT

Part 2 of our visit to Namo Buddha Resort, Dec. 13 – 22.

There is a lot to see around Namo Buddha! Ingrid put us in touch with her favorite guide, Binod, a delightful young man who took us on two challenging hikes out of the resort. The first was down a steep trail through the woods. We passed a simple rock stupa in honor of Rudi, Ingrid’s husband, that overlooked the hills and valleys. A moving memorial to a man who loved this land and culture so deeply.

As we continued down the hill, Binod pointed out numerous native plants as well as invasive pine trees introduced into Nepal by Australia years ago for reforestation. But they have created fire hazards and negatively impacted the water supply. There were native trees covered in epiphytic orchids which would be spectacular to see blooming in the spring. Cary enjoyed sharing observations and ideas with Binod, since she, like him, was an organic farmer.

Click on photos to see full-size.

Soon we headed up a hill overlooking a small village dotted with houses, gardens, and a plethora of farms animals.

Binod showed us a native fruit that was used as soap up until modern commercial soap was available.

The people we met while going through town were cordial and always wanted to know where we were from. At one point we sat down for a rest, and a man at the house nearby brought us a plate of fruit. When Cary offered some rupees, he declined to accept them. It was a very friendly atmosphere, all the more because of its spontaneity.

In the village, we passed two elderly women sitting by the side of the road. Binod laughed when one of them pointed to me and said in Nepali, ”Look at her. She is old, but she is walking.” I realized how much I take for granted: my good health and the fact that I am, indeed, walking!

We climbed up the other side of town and stopped in a small restaurant overlooking the valley. We ordered tea and chow mein (“no spicy”). Our repast was eminently peaceful and relaxing, fulfilling our highest expectations.

The next day we ventured further afield. This time we left the resort through the main entrance and turned into a narrow dirt road we had not yet explored. After some ups and downs, we passed an almost-completed huge luxury hotel & time-share complex, which has caused a great deal of consternation among the locals and the ecologists. The concern is about the impact that this resource-intensive operation will have on the groundwater supply for the whole area. Next to the hotel was farmland that had been bought by an urban Nepali, and fenced off for their residence. We had never seen such an imposing chainlink fence, and it showed the stark difference between the rural community and urban newcomers.

We wandered up and down hills and enjoyed the views of the terraced farmland, so typical of Nepal.

One of the interesting stops along the way was an area with a small stupa and one-story school. We arrived as some students were heading home shortly after noon. Binod told us that they were third-graders who had just finished their exams for the day. Exams in the third grade? I don’t remember that!

Along the road we noticed more and more colorful stucco houses.

At last we reached Binod’s family home, nestled with a small group of houses (owned by many of his relatives), and surrounded by beautiful flowers and an extensive organic farm. Getting there was probably our most strenuous hike of the trip!

Upon our arrival, Binod ushered us onto his rooftop.

Binod then proceeded to climb up a passion fruit tree, pick the fruit, and make us a delicious drink. It was, indeed, special and had a most unusual taste.

He also cooked us potatoes and onions from the garden, seasoned with tumeric and cumin, and topped with churro rice (rice that has been rolled out like oats). So simple, and so delicious!

After lunch, Cary and Binod spent a lot of time checking out the wonderful diversity of plants…sugar cane, turmeric, ginger, yams, passion fruit, and tree tomatoes to name a few.

While Cary and Binod were exploring the garden further, I spent my time getting acquainted with Anju, Binod’s lovely 22-year-old niece. We talked while she washed our dishes at the outdoor pump. Having just graduated from college, she was taking exams in the hopes of winning a scholarship to graduate school. Her interests were in the field of language, literature, and general liberal arts, and, eventually, she hoped to become a teacher. I have no doubt that she will succeed.

Our conversation was shortened when Binod realized how late it was and said that needed to head back so we could be home before dark. He called a taxi, but the price was ridiculous and we chose to head to the road to see what came our way. Off we started…just maybe we’d be lucky.

On the way, we visited Binod’s father, who lived close by. We had fun interacting with the school children hanging out at the brightly colored community mill, and then walked through the village on our way down to the main road.

Suddenly, Binod, ahead of us, spotted the school bus that carried his youngest son home from school. It was stopped lower down on the hill, letting children out. Since he knew the driver and felt he could intercept the vehicle, he started running, and was able to flag him just in time. Cary and I began to run, too. Whew! We could not believe our incredible good fortune! As we stepped into the bus, a gaggle of excited children surrounded us enthusiastically. It was total cacophony. Never had I felt so welcomed!

Two teachers sat near me and were eager to hear about our time in Nepal, and one said his mother was my age but couldn’t walk. My age seemed to be a focal point wherever I went. Each time we stopped, the children who left waved at us and some even shook my hand. We were finally left with two little boys who enjoyed practicing their English with us.

I felt exhilarated and peaceful at the same time as I trudged up the steps to the resort. This was a day of surprises and great joy!

We enjoyed occasional interludes with the World Cup during our trip. I have never been a dedicated fan who can sit for hours watching any sport on TV, but I have to say that the excitement and energy produced by this particular passion for football (soccer) was catching and I couldn’t help getting a bit carried away when certain countries were matching with others. History played a role in loyalties and the rivalries were particularly riveting…especially the run that Morocco had against its former colonial invaders. After triumphing against Spain and Portugal, alas, it was beaten by France.

The final was during our stay, and evening festivities were held in Lasho Hall (the conference meeting hall) where an enormous screen had been set up. The fun was watching the reaction of the Nepalis, who were divided in their loyalties and gave a rousing show as the game progressed. They were almost more fun than the game! The dance celebration after Argentina won went on a long time!

Some of our most relaxed times were while we were sitting at a long table on the porch off the upstairs library above the dining hall, reading and writing.

The sky was blue, the clouds stunning, and the sun soothing, I just sat there and feasted my eyes on the lush forest surrounding us. No noise, just a few birds flitting about. I must say that the birds fascinated me, especially the blue-throated barbet that lived in the fig tree.  It had a big yellow beak, brownish chest and back, greenish-yellow underparts, and blue-blackish head. Just imagine its piercing call, lasting more than a minute, at which time it often elicited an answer of the same duration from another barbet a short distance away. We had fun timing the birds and wondered if this was a mating call or just joy at eating a delicious fig! What a treat to find such peace and humor in this chaotic world.

Ingrid did not forget her promise to teach us how to make the pumpkin soup we so enjoyed. On our last day, we were invited to the kitchen to watch the chefs expertly chop, saute and make the soup. Secret ingredient? Cashews added to the garlic, onions, celery and ginger, which was sauteed before the pumpkin was added. We left it simmering on the stove to enjoy later. Cary is now on the search for the lighter-colored, firm variety of winter squash they used (which they call a pumpkin). Here are the steps…

 

One of the absolute highlights of our stay was meeting the other guests, who came from all over the world.

We met several Nepalis who lived abroad, but came home regularly to visit family, especially so their young children could visit their grandparents. Suman and Prativa lived in Jersey City, New Jersey.

 

 

Breakfast was extensive and a great time to get to know people.

Cheryl and Gillie, two jovial women from Brisbane, Australia, each had two sons ages 17-20. They were very excited over the fact that the boys were climbing together in the Khopra Ridge area of the Annapurna Circuit while they were at the resort. It was so much fun to show them our photos from 2018 when we did the same trek, and share where their sons were.

Two young German women, Anna and Katye with whom we spent several hours talking…at dinner and by the fire…are both involved in peace programs in their professional lives, and aware of the dangers inherent in the rise of right-wing parties in their country, as are we in our own country. They were also extremely interested in hearing about why I went to Germany in 1949 with Quaker workcamps to help rebuild after the war, and the people I worked with during that difficult time. It is admirable, I think, the way Germany has faced its past and the years of the Third Reich, rather than pretending it didn’t happen or wasn’t as bad as it was, as we have done with some of our egregious mistakes going back to slavery. But with all the serious conversation and expression of deep shame over the past, both women displayed a spontaneous sense of humor, and filled the atmosphere with joyousness and optimism wherever they were.

Anna and Joe, from England, are an energetic couple who cycled to the resort from Kathmandu (yikes!) in all that traffic, followed by steep climbs. Joe feared he was going to die. Anna, who is determined, and a bit of a daredevil, like Gillie from Australia, had to admit that it was a rather perilous experience so agreed to go back in a jeep. Anna has taught in a private international school in Kathmandu for seven years, and Joe is a teacher in Dorset. Our conversations ranged from politics in the world today to the making of gingerbread houses at Christmas, a specialty of Cary’s years ago. It’s as if we had known each other for years!

These relationships were brief, but not superficial, which made them that more meaningful. We hope to keep in touch over the years.

Thus ends our epic stay at the Namo Buddha Resort. We close with a photo of us with Ingrid, who we so enjoyed getting to know, and look forward to seeing again on a visit in the future!

The final blog post of our travels in Nepal will be about more of our adventures in and around Kathmandu. Namo Buddha will always be in our hearts!

NAMO BUDDHA RESORT: HEAVEN AT THE FOOT OF THE HIMALAYA

Before we share about our wonderful stay at the Namo Buddha Resort, we want to let you all know that we are back on Whidbey Island! We returned Dec. 27th and have spent several weeks readjusting. Now we are catching up on our last few weeks in Nepal. Enjoy!

“Oh no, we’re not going through that traffic, again,” I said, as the driver headed toward Dhulikhel on the way to Namo Buddha Resort at the foot of the Himalayas. I didn’t think I could endure another draconian ride over Mahankal Road, still filled with potholes and teaming with cars, motorcycles and intrepid pedestrians.

“Not a problem, Madam, I know short roads.” (I assumed that was a short cut.) And down a nearby alley he shot, making his way, skillfully, through incomparable traffic on the narrow, winding streets. I felt like a passenger in a getaway film. If I’d had a million dollars I’d have given it all to him! I was discovering that there’s nothing like a skilled Nepali cab driver. Bless them all!

We circumvented Dhulikhel and turned onto a curving road through lush countryside. In just over an hour we had made our way up a hill to the entrance of the most luxurious resort of our trip. Now the fun started…climbing from a simple dirt parking lot up a series of steep, hand hewn stone stairs, through a labyrinth of paths leading to picturesque cottages nestled on natural terraces in the woods. Thank heaven there were rustic railings on most of the stairs.

What a view of the Himalaya greeted us on a gloriously sunny clear day!

I was intrigued by the beauty of the walkways and the artistry of the buildings, all in the Tamang tradition, that the owner, Ingrid, and her husband, Rudi, had conceived and built fifteen years ago. Read more about their vision for a sustainable resort HERE (pg. 32.)

At first I had thought these were Newari. To my untrained eye, the architecture reminded me of the houses, painted coral on the lower half and cream on the top, with carved wooden roofs and shuttered windows, that I had seen on several treks in the mountains. Now I know that style is from the Tamang, a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group of Nepal, Southern Bhutan and North India constituting just over five percent of the Nepalese population.

Click on photos to enlarge.

See more photos on the Resort’s website HERE.

With great joy we stepped into our beautiful cottage. This was the beginning of an amazing nine days!

Having left behind the crowds at the Boudha Stupa and the congestion in Kathmandu, it was sheer delight to return to the peacefulness of the woods. We couldn’t wait to explore this elegant setting. After settling into our cozy cottage, where I slept on the first floor and Cary had a large room in the upstairs loft, we made our way to the fire pit. Here guests gathered to get warm and socialize while waiting for dinner.

Ingrid and her staff were the epitome of hospitality, and, after half an hour of warming ourselves by the fire, ushered us into a comfortable dining room where exquisite vegetarian food was served. It couldn’t have been better, from the imaginative soups and entrees to the pie and homemade ice cream desserts. Ah, finally “no spice.” We neglected to take photos of the artistic entrees as we were too busy eating them!

Walking back over a gently-lit walkway, closing the shutters of our cottage, and snuggling into our beds, we knew we had found a home away from home. And we didn’t have to cook! Breakfast was ample enough that we made sandwiches from their home-made sourdough bread, omelets, and yak cheese for lunch, sometimes accompanied by a salad fresh from their garden.

The next day was spent getting to know the territory. Cary had read about the water buffaloes on their website and was eager to see them. We soon learned that you don’t want to get too close to water buffalo unless you want to get sprayed when they snort!

Getting in and out of the cottage took a little doing as the locks were traditional Tamang style – with a rod at the bottom of the door. Good for keeping limber.

Namo Buddha Resort is also an organic farm, with their vegetarian menu based on the seasonal produce. We loved their “pumpkin” soup so much that we wanted to learn how to cook it. Stay tuned for this cooking class in our next blog post. Cary was very impressed by how the farm integrated into the landscape, and how well cared for it was.

Our first long walk was to the famous Namo Buddha pilgrimage site and adjoining Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery. The walk was partly in the woods and partly on dirt roads. A colorful archway marked the entrance to the monastery.

We climbed the hill of steps and wound around, arriving at the historic place where an early incarnation of the Buddha was purported to have been eaten by a tigress to feed her hungry cubs. An example on his part of ultimate generosity and compassion.

We also circumambulated the stupa at the very top of the monastery.

A short walk away was the mother tiger’s den where she lived with her cubs. We sat a long while, breathing in the tranquility of the moment. It was such an entrancing place that we forgot to take a photo of the larger than life-size diorama depicting the Buddha offering his body.

Reluctant to leave, we finally made our way down, eventually finding the original stairs built before the monastery was constructed. They were cut into the hillside, covered with moss and ferns, blending, perfectly, into the deep, dark forest.

 

After we reached the bottom, we walked through the small town of Namo Buddha, with a stupa, and teaming with restaurants, guest houses and small stores.

As we approached the end of the main street, a thoughtful young man noticed me and offered me a seat at a small table covered with jars of pickles made by his mother. He brought me a cup of tea from his shop. Just what I needed at the end of a long walk! Age is sometimes very helpful.

In our next post, we will share about other hikes we took, the marvelous people we met, and more!

 

THE RETURN TO SWAYAMBHUNATH AND THAMEL

This year we tried something we’ve never done before in Nepal: stay in an AirBnB. We lucked out big time. In a small neighborhood near Swayambunath and Thamel, we found one that was the entire ground floor of a large 3-story home, complete with garden, lawn, parking area, and staff quarters. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area, and gorgeous living room…all for $24/night. See the listing for the Manjushree Apartment here. The hosts, Devendra and Rama, are AirBnB “superhosts,” and indeed they were. Their hospitality couldn’t have been better. Cary was hoping for a local Nepali experience different from staying at guest houses and hotels. Here we had a whole apartment! It was in an area that didn’t cater to tourists, so we really had an experience of how urban Nepalis live.

Devendra had an amazing green thumb. Adjacent to the house was a large vegetable garden. On practically every free surface around the house were pots of vegetables and flowers. On the roof, he had numerous cactuses growing dragon fruit, something I’d never seen. He was diligent about composting and saving seeds. It was a marvelous example of urban agriculture.

Click on photos to enlarge.

They invited us to a sumptuous breakfast our first morning, and each morning after that brought us delicious coffee. We also enjoyed superb veggie momos made by their neighbor.

Rama, Cary, me and Devendra in front of the entrance to our wonderful apartment.

On our first morning we met Buddhi, our favorite guide from Crystal Mountain Treks, to go visit Swayambhunath, often referred to as the Monkey Temple. Unfortunately, the taxi driver brought us to the back side of the stupa, which doesn’t have the steep stairs we wanted to walk up. But, we failed to remember what we had been told in Lumbini about Saturday being the Nepali day off. Upon arriving, we were swept up by a crush of locals out to enjoy the beautiful afternoon at a holy place. Partway up, it was obvious this was not the right time to see the stupa, so we retreated to have lunch at a lovely coffee shop.

We returned to the stupa two days later, and directed the taxi to drop us off at its front entrance.

We made it!

They don’t call it the Monkey Temple for nothing!

This woman sat for a long time communicating with the monkeys.

At the top, the main stupa was ringed by many smaller stupas and structures, and by people selling religious items and souvenirs. So many nooks and crannies! Prayer wheels abounded, and incense and butter lamps burned. This is one of the most elaborate stupas in Nepal. There were many people quietly doing kora, and others spinning the prayer wheels. I remembered standing and looking out at the Kathmandu valley in 1986, and having such a sense of awe.

We left the stupa by going down the back way, and returned to our new-found coffee shop. What endeared them to us was that they actually left the spice out of our lunch….best spring rolls so far!

Next stop, Thamel. I was eager to get back to the hotel I remembered from 1986 when I took my first trek to Everest Base Camp. Sure enough, there it was, the Potala Guest House, better than ever. It has been refurbished and has an excellent restaurant. The manager who greeted me had been there as a young man when I first came to the hotel.

The shops adjacent to the hotel were still there, but the number of taxis and motorcycles had definitely multiplied. To wander around Thamel you need lots of time and lots of fortitude. After about an hour of shopping, bargaining, and navigating narrow sidewalks with traffic brushing too close to our legs, we decided that we had had enough of Auld Lang Syne. I was sorry to spend so little time in Thamel, but it has changed a great deal and is far too busy for me. But I was really gratified to see a couple of the old multi-colored rickshaws pedaling their way through the streets. Had I decided to stay longer, I would definitely have taken a ride. I always feel connected to the people that I meet there, and enjoy the interactions with the shopkeepers. We all love the sport of bargaining!

On the first evening of our stay at the airbnb, Devendra helped us find a little family-run restaurant around the corner. After the first meal, we decided that “The Dhaba” was our go-to place. It was run by Rajiv, a jack-of-all-trades, and Sunita, his wife, who made the most wonderful butter naan and chapatis. We also became friends with the jolly chef who listened to us when we said “no spicy, no pepper.” He would come out after he had cooked the meal (in record time!), and make sure everything was all right. We ate there every night. Most of their business was for breakfast and lunch. We were one of their only customers in the evening, so we had plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. They put up English Al Jazeera and CNN news for us on the TV, and when Cary wanted palak paneer they went out and bought the palak.

Kusum

As we had seen in Sanu’s family in Lumbini, the baby was cared for by all members of the family. Kusum, who was only 12-years old, but seemed more like 19 to me, spoke excellent English which she had learned from her father who had worked in Dubai. She talked with us at great length about her plans for her education. Like several young women we have met during our trip, she was interested in business management and finance. Kusum impressed us with her energy, her drive, her intelligence and her joyfulness. Hers was another of the loving families we have met during this trip.

Sunita made the delicious butter naan in the barrel outside the restaurant.

This is another family who touched us deeply, and with whom we plan to keep in touch.

After our stay from Dec 2 – 5, we returned to Boudha.

MORE LUMBINI….A MAGNET FOR BUDDHISTS WORLDWIDE

As you read in our previous post, it is challenging to cover the number of temples that have been constructed in the Lumbini Complex to showcase Buddhist traditions from many countries. All of these attract a crush of world travelers, which can sometimes detract from the spiritual energy that pervades.

One of the most moving structures was the Peace Pagoda, built by the Japanese monk Nichidatsu Fujii, who, after WWII, spearheaded the building of 80 Peace Pagodas throughout the world. The Peace Pagoda in Lumbini was built in 2001.

Click on photos to enlarge.

 

The Peace Pagoda is on the north end of the Lumbini Complex, which was designed by the Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange. From there, you can look south along the center axis; the Maya Devi Temple is at the southernmost end.

 

Next to the Peace Pagoda is the Crane Sanctuary… cranes also being a symbol of peace. Sarus cranes are sometimes difficult to find, but Sanu knew where to walk to see them. If you look closely, or enlarge the photo by clicking on it, you can see them in the center.

On the way back, we saw local villagers illegally cutting grass for thatch roofs. The area is an ecological sanctuary, but it also displaced locals who still come and harvest what they need, with the authorities often turning a blind eye.

The Drigung Kagyud Temple, built by the German Tara Foundation, is one the grandest temples. With immaculate grounds and figures depicting the Eight Great Events in the Buddha’s life, it has a Disneyland feel. The interior and exterior of the temple are elaborate and impressive. Because of this, it is the second most visited temple after the Maya Devi Temple.

One of the wall murals depicted the Buddha, in a previous lifetime, offering his body to a starving mother tiger. Little did we know that later in our trip we would go to this very site, called Namo Buddha.

It was very hot. I was afraid I’d pass out from the heat….time for a tea break! Thankfully, Sanu took us to the tea shop where his wife worked. It was located on the southernmost end of the canal bisecting the monastic zones, at the beginning of the promenade that led to the Maya Devi Temple.

The architecture has the distinctive Lumbini barrel-vaulted arches.

At the base of the canal, in front of the tea shop, was the eternal flame, another symbol of peace, particularly beautiful at night.

On the way to the Maya Devi Temple was a large statue of the Baby Buddha with his finger pointing upward, donated by Thai Buddhists.

The next day we continued our tour of the Western Zone. On the way, we passed large tarps of rice drying on the side of the road. Plus, the inevitable trash. Alas.

There’s a certain gratitude you have when people are interested in your name and country and age, but when you are pushed and pulled and have cell phones shoved in your face multiple times a day, you run for cover! To many people, our height and the color of our skin made us celebrities since there were so few of us. We were trophy photos. Massive groups of Indian students on school field trips mobbed us. People would rush over and want selfies or group shots with us. If this is what it means to be a celebrity, I wish to have no part in it!

We were flattered that many of the teachers wanted to know where we were from, and talk to us about various subjects, but then it often morphed into picture taking which I soon called “photo mania.”

For some measure of sanity, and to remember this phenomenon, Cary asked Sanu to take photos of the people taking photos of us.

By the last day, we would run and hide when we saw school groups at temples, and this curtailed our visits. For the first time, we experienced the paparazzi! Sanu started protecting us, saying forcefully, “No photos!”

In addition to selfies, Tik Tok has become a rampant plague in Nepal. Monasteries have taken to putting up signs forbidding Tik Tok videos on the premises. Here is such a sign on the Cambodian Monastery grounds.

Dodging the school groups, we still managed to visit many of the temples built around this large body of water.

The Newari Vajrayana temple was profoundly peaceful in its simplicity and elegance. It was one of our favorites.

The Korean temple was massive and imposing, and the interior was still unfinished after a decade of work.

The Korean temple was not the only unfinished temple. Many others were under construction, as were the roads. I’m sure every year will bring new surprises and satisfaction to those who visit from around the world. I, for one, will be happy when the temple complex roads are paved!

A few final words about our wonderful hotel, the Buddha Maya Garden. Its name doesn’t include Garden for nothing. A well-tended organic farm behind the hotel provided fresh veggies to the restaurant. Fruit trees planted 25 years ago are now mature and productive. We’ll have to return in mango season! Particularly fun was to see the huge wild bee nest in the tree next to the restaurant…lots of pollinators!

Staying for a week also meant we got to know the staff, who were so helpful.

On the last day, Sanu picked us up at 5 pm to take us to his home. We had grown very close during our week in Lumbini and were eager to meet his family. We started on the bumpy road to Lumbini Village and stopped in a small market to buy fruit as a gift for the family. We had been surprised to find the town so run down, but as we approached Sanu’s home, the road changed to a recently built narrow, smooth concrete road winding through a labyrinth of square one- and two-story concrete homes with large doors open to outside porches. The neighborhood children ran out to greet us enthusiastically.

Being greeted by the neighborhood children.

There were endless relatives, all eager to greet us. I was inspired by the love and care Sanu’s family had for one another.

In this video below, Sanu introduces his two children, Prinsa and Prince, and wife, Jyoti, as well as his extended family. Little 7-month old Elen is the daughter of his sister-in-law, who was cooking. The sisters-in-law alternate cooking duties, which they said was good for family harmony, and everyone looks after the baby.

Sanu’s grandfather had bought the land, and all the relatives contributed towards building the home they now shared. I really loved the grandfather, who had just came in from the fields where he tended the water buffalo. He was handsome and gentle. His wife, who had generously given Sanu the money to buy his tuk-tuk that helped with the family income, was also charming and personable. There was much hugging all around.

Next came a delicious dinner of dal bhat (no spicey!). Dal, rice, veggies and egg were cooked on outdoor stoves in the back yard, and Grandma made the chapatis. Sanu sat cross-legged with us, and tried to show me how to eat with my fingers, but I was hopeless. They kindly provided Cary and me with spoons. Needless to say we had a great time eating and socializing. As in most eating situations in Nepal, we have discovered that the guests go first, and that has always made me slightly uncomfortable. But that is my problem. They feel it’s a privilege to honor us, and we certainly felt their hospitality.

What we’ve most enjoyed about this trip is sharing in the strong, loving ties within the families we’ve met.

The ride home was chilly and a sadness washed over me, knowing that I might never see Sanu or his family again. But we are connected by WhatsApp, and I plan to keep in touch. This night will stay in my heart forever.

We left the next day for Kathmandu.

Goodbye Terai….
Hello mountains!

 

 

 

 

 

 

LUMBINI, REVERED BIRTHPLACE OF THE BUDDHA

It took a 35-minute domestic flight on Buddha Air to get to Lumbini, and we only needed to arrive one hour before flight time. Security was the most casual we’d ever experienced. In the domestic terminal, instead of separate gates for each destination as in our large American airports, there was one waiting room for everyone. When they called our flight, we boarded a bus and were driven out to the plane on the tarmac. Efficient and simple!

It was a beautiful flight, with the western Himalayan range out our window the whole way. What a jolt it was, upon arriving, to find ourselves surrounded by flat land as far as the eye could see. But what did we expect? This was the Terai, the breadbasket…rather, ricebasket…of Nepal! We were struck with how it felt more like India than the Nepal we were familiar with.

Here we could see up close the burned fields of rice straw, an agricultural practice that contributes to the polluted hazy air throughout Asia every winter.

The road from the airport to Lumbini had recently been upgraded for both tourism and ease of transporting agricultural exports to the new air cargo center. It was smooth and had two lanes with a median strip the whole way. Ample room for the light traffic that now included bicycles and animals. Right away we felt a relaxed and unhurried atmosphere.

Our room at the Buddha Maya Garden Hotel was complete with balcony and view of palm and fruit trees, and could not have been better.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Minutes after we arrived, we decided to go see the Maya Devi temple. It seemed so simple…walk one kilometer along the road to Gate 5 of the Temple Complex, then turn left and walk another kilometer to the temple. Besides, once we turned off the highway, there would be no vehicles allowed on the beautiful wide stone walkway through the wetlands and native forest.

When we arrived at the Maya Devi temple, we discovered that not only did foreigners have pay a husky fee to enter, but everyone had to remove their shoes and leave small backpacks behind. Plus the sun would soon be setting….better to head back to the hotel!

On the return walk, the realization dawned that one km in Lumbini is a lot longer than we imagined. Could it have been the unexpected steps, drainage holes in the sidewalk you could pitch into if you weren’t attentive, and other uneven surfaces? You bet! Walking took time and, to coin a phrase, extreme mindfulness. We were used to this in Kathmandu, but didn’t expect it in Lumbini. Our dreams of doing a walking tour of the temple grounds soon dissolved.

The Indian cooking which was heavy on oils and spice laid Cary out for about a day. Once again we had to be wary of the mouth-burning tendencies of this area. Thus began the training up of numerous helpful waiters with whom we formed friendships, to help us communicate our need for “no spice! no pepper!”

Saturday is like our Sunday when schools are closed and many people have a day off. Not a good day to visit the temples! Fortunately this coincided with the day Cary was down for the count.

Sunday morning, the hotel connected us with Sanu Chaudhary, an electric tuk-tuk driver who became our superb guide. He knew his way around and was able to expedite our journey through the complicated labyrinth of temples.

Many countries in the world have built temples at Lumbini in the style of their Buddhist tradition. Read more info HERE. Sanu started our tour in the Eastern Monastic Zone.

 

We had to take our shoes off before we entered every temple, and I was really nervous, having had new shoes stolen in Dharamsala at the Dalai Lama’s teachings in 2007. So far, so good…I still have my shoes!

Myanmar Golden Temple

Click on the photos to see captions.

The Cambodian temple was one of the most enthralling and stunning in the complex. The design, artwork, carvings, and colors were exquisite.

Last temple of the day was the Thai temple.

On Monday, we finally returned to the Maya Devi Temple. Sanu knew a back way where we could get close without a long walk. First to see was the oldest temple adjacent to the Buddha’s birthplace, a Shakya temple with connections to Mustang, where there was a day-long ceremony for lay people to take the Pratimoksha vows. A Nepali temple was next to it.

It was only a short walk from here to the Maya Devi Temple, the actual site of the Buddha’s birth.

First we needed to purchase a ticket (600 Rs for foreigners, only 20 Rs for Nepalis), and then stash our shoes with someone who gave us a number for safekeeping. This removed my concern about losing them. I must admit, however, I found it uncomfortable to walk over some of the walkways in my stocking feet.

In ancient times, a temple was built around the spot where Maya Devi gave birth to the Buddha. The white structure was constructed to enclose and protect the site in 2003. For more details on the archeological history click HERE.

A wooden walkway went around the inside, and it was fascinating to look down and see the original temple walls that had been built around the holy site. Several people were busy cleaning the rocks and collecting money that was thrown as offerings onto the foundation. There were long lines of people waiting to see the stone marking the Buddha’s birthplace, and view the bas relief of Maya Devi. No photos were permitted inside.

Neither Cary nor I understood the exterior design of this special place…it looked like a hotel or an ocean liner. But the deep peacefulness of the grounds and the actual marker stone rendered any architectural questions insignificant.

Next to the temple is a sacred pool, marking the place where the Buddha was first washed after birth. To the north of the building is the pillar set by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC memorializing the Buddha’s birth place.

Sanu told us that dusk was the best time to visit. Many pilgrims would be chanting and worshiping. We took his advice, and, indeed, it turned out to be our favorite time.

How wonderful to be able to experience the calmness that prevailed in this holy place in the evening. There were no crowds. There was no confusion. There was just peace.

 

I think you’ve had enough temples for today! So, we’re saving the last batch, plus our final days in Lumbini, for our next post.

DHULIKHEL….MAGICAL AND INNOVATIVE

I first met BP Shrestha in 1986 when he was running a small guest house off the main square of Dhulikhel. A close friend, Amy Noel Wyman, asked me to deliver a donation to him for his work with school children in the rural areas. This was the beginning of our friendship. I reconnect with BP every time that I return to Nepal, and this year, once again, I was able to see innovation, progress and change in his community.

A book has been written about his accomplishments: “Bel Prasad Shrestha, The Man Behind Dhulikhel,” which you can read HERE. The book is a collection of essays about his work, and includes the chapter I wrote about him in my book.

BP was mayor of Dhulikhel from 1987 – 2003. With the vision of making life better in his village, he recognized that without clean drinking water no other development was possible. He gave us a detailed description of the hoops he had to jump through to get a drinking water system for his small community, when even Kathmandu had not been able to accomplish that. He shared that Dhulikhel did not have a lot of money, but he realized that it wasn’t the amount of money they had, but the determination they had to fulfill the goal. There were people from Germany who listened to him, looked at what Dhulikhel wanted to accomplish, and decided to help. “They recognized our need and our deep belief in the possibility of accomplishing our goal,” he said.

Once the water treatment plant was up and running, this made way for the founding of Kathmandu University and the Dhulikhel Hospital.

BP was instrumental in bringing tourism to Dhulikhel when he launched the Himalayan Horizon Hotel in 1982. During the pandemic, a beautiful new wing was added overlooking terraces, the infinity pool, and the mountains. Interestingly enough, many hotels in Nepal took the opportunity to build or remodel during the pandemic, when there were no customers.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The highlight of our tour of Dhulikhel was the stunning, recently built, Nepal Technology Innovation Center where we were lucky to have the project manager show us around. All the furniture and laboratory equipment were scheduled to arrive the next week. Part of Kathmandu University, this will be where intellectual and academic ideas and research will be transformed into practical solutions that are then tested and grounded in real-life applications.

It was a fascinating design incorporating outdoor space between the buildings with walkways and terraces. What a inspiring place for research!

We were thrilled to get a chance to meet with students from the Shree Shree Khandapur Secondary School. They were still using quonset huts, built after their school was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake, but the new school had been rebuilt. The students welcomed us enthusiastically and were thrilled to meet us and practice their English.

These were just a few of the places we saw on our tour through Dhulikhel this year!

We can’t thank BP enough for his hospitality, and are looking forward to when we get together again.

Who knows what BP will come up with next year!

THE BUMPY ROAD TO HEAVEN!

We read a lot about the Prakriti Resort and Organic Farm in the foothills of the Himalaya, where we planned to spend a week. They told us about their wonderful organic farm and their hiking trails. But we didn’t read their website closely enough to be aware that to get there, we’d have to drive through the Shivapuri National Park over bumpy roads that rivaled the rutted grandeur of Mongolia. They did not say that a neck brace would be helpful. Cary, who heard me say yet again “This is the worst I’ve ever experienced in my whole life,” rocked and swayed from side to side and went with the flow. We were told by the driver and those who ran the resort that the roads were not paved so as to protect the wildlife habitat in the park. I took it in, but thought to myself that trying hard just to stay alive doesn’t give you much time to appreciate the wildlife they are hoping to preserve. But this discomfort soon passed when we stepped onto the grounds of the resort, and into our wonderful, peaceful room with its exquisite view of the mountains. As we arrived, the air was redolent with the smell of marigolds, something I had never before experienced.

Click on photos to enlarge.

It was obvious by the end of the first day that this resort was a very popular spot where Nepalis could go to get away from the city and enjoy good food, companionship, celebrations, and parties. The BBQ room had an unusual open flame grill where we joined some parties, energetically dancing to lively Nepali music, as well as sipping local tongpa, a fermented millet drink. We had the fun of joining several groups who, when they found out my age, started clapping, pinching my cheeks, hugging me, and calling me Grandma. I continued dancing ’til I thought I would fall. The next morning when I arrived at breakfast, I greeted my new friends with “Good morning from Grandma,” to which they applauded. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more friendly welcoming group of young people. I was more than happy to be their “Grandma.”