Delhi and Pharping, Nepal

We’ve made it to… Nepal! Nepal? you ask. Yes. Of course. It should be
obvious that Julian and I are really making this up as we go, so when
we heard that our dear friend Travis was getting ready to leave Nepal
to go to Ethiopia, we thought we should hop over and visit his
monastery and town before he left. Little did we know this “hop” would
be more like 51 hours of straight transportation via train, and four
different buses with no proper meals, bathrooms, or showers. The
roughest part was definitely being on my period. Having emptied my
moon cup in several very grimy locations, I am confidently an
extremely empowered female. Too much information? Welcome to my
reality.

Anyways, we spent four peaceful days in Delhi with an amazing CSer
host Saha. He was very accommodating, generous, and calm. Our third
day was the day we had been planning to take the bus to the border,
but we woke up very late (due to long but fascinating conversations
until 3am). Upon seeing my worried face, Saha said “Hey, just calm
down. You can stay an extra day, no worries here.” We realized
that—duh—we have no deadlines, so what’s the point in rushing? Good
lesson.

(At some point we’ll have to write about Europe, but there’s just
toooooo much to do it now.) To start from the beginning of our
post-Europe trip: From the Delhi airport, we took the metro to Govin
Puri station where we were supposed to meet up with Saha. Holy cow,
the Delhi metro is absolutely insane. People are SO pushy. So, the
metro cars from the airport to Delhi central station were empty and spotless.
We both agree: the nicest metro we’ve ever been in. But once you
travel within the city, every car is completely packed full of people.
At least that’s what you think. Julian and I were so bewildered
seeing the cars so full that we waited up a train to see how people
managed getting on and off. It’s almost like pushing uncooked lentils
through cheese cloth. That’s a horrible analogy but the only way to
get on or off is by sheer force or luck of being near the door. The
second time around, somehow we managed to push our way on with our big
backpacks. Luckily, (I think) people made more room for us since it
was clearly our first experience on the metro. Also, very few women
ride the normal metro cars; they opt for the “Ladies” cars which are
often pleasantly full of seated women. I think I had more room so men
could stare curiously at me(/us) in addition to some courteous space
for being a “lady.”

Once we arrived, we exited the metro station and began looking for a
phone or internet café to call or email Saha. This was Julian’s first
moment in the craziness that is India, so try to see it from his
perspective. Constant beeping of rickshaws, buses, and private cars;
street dogs; street vendors shouting their wares; offensive smells and
then some intriguing ones; people walking, sitting, begging, sweeping
everywhere you look; and two policemen observing it all. We had
exited onto a very busy highway with all of this going on, so asking
the policemen where to go or at least how to cross the street seemed
to be an obvious first step. Unfortunately they knew little English
and my rough attempts at drawing a street and miming us crossing it
didn’t work well. One of them finally got it and immediately proceeded
to stop almost 8 lanes of crazy Delhi traffic to escort us across the
street. We shyly followed him as all eyes nearby followed us. We
thanked him and as we did, we saw the other exit of the metro
conveniently on our side of the street. Whoops. Oh well. We managed to
find an internet stand, and a phone place quickly (seriously, I have
lots of gratitude for these modern conveniences!) and arranged to meet
up with Saha.

Even though Saha is not a Delhi native (he’s from Kolkata—so we had
many Bengali culture questions and stories to share!), he still had
some great places to visit up his sleeve. We went to this fabulous
restaurant our first day with mirrored murals on the walls and cushy
couch seats, not to mention great coconut idli and masala dosai. Then
we visited this amazing open palace that was a little run-down but
completely open to visitors to traverse its staircases and secret
passages. It felt like a magical palace in the jungle but was right
in the middle of the city! On our walk back to the main road, we
stopped at a park and saw lots of peacocks and deer. The poor things
were kept caged in for people to stare at. The deer were crowded in a
small space full of their excrement but as we walked we saw they
actually had a ways to roam but were staying in one area. Hmm. There
was also a rabbit compound. Sad. Later, we shared some coconut wedges
with a man at this elaborate Hindu temple. This foreshadowed the
fresh coconut water we enjoyed on the rickshaw ride back. The way it
should be: coconut water straight from the coconut. Finally, we were
feeling refreshed.

That night we met up with a Japanese CSer staying
with us, Yosuke. The five of us, including Saha’s German roommate
Carolyn (I *know* this is not how she spells her name! sorry.), made
for quite a multi-culti affair. To top off the night, we watched
Siddartha.

The next day, we visited the Ba’hai Lotus Temple (so after seeing the
terraced gardens in Israel, I’ve now been to two of their temples!
Funny.) It’s strange how so many religions converge on the idea of
universal religious acceptance. Why is it necessary to align yourself
with any religious label then? Anyways, after a quick lunch at a
restaurant at Nehur Place, we stopped by Old Delhi in what turned into
a few hour shopping excursion. I made the mistake of calling myself a
“fast shopper”—a term which I will never live down to my three
shopping companions! I was trying to get a salwar- kameez set, and
knew that getting it from Old Delhi would be cheaper than anywhere
else but no one had any pre-made kurtas. They were all
ready-to-be-tailored. We exhausted our options though, after walked
through SO many tiny stores and stalls. It is incredible how much
competition one type of store can have! We passed stores with
specialties like: birthday cards, hinges, toilet seats, and used MCAT
books. (I really enjoy shopping for one specific thing, so this kind
of market really entices me. Luckily, we have absolutely no space in
our bags and we absolutely need nothing.) Our next stop was the Peace
and Conflict Day Celebrations at the Delhi Habitat Centre. We watched
a moving documentary on a Indian Hindu journalist’ experience staying
with a Pakistani Muslim family during Eid. The father of the Pakistani
family had a dream to the Taj Mahal, but his visa request has been
denied five times. It’s silly how we restrict the movement of people
with arbitrary borders and rules… We discussed this all in English
which was really considerate of the audience and discussion leaders
seeing how only three of us were (obviously) non-Indian. Later we
watched a short clip on the rape and slaughter of a woman in northern
India which is under military control due to this Armed Forces Act.
It’s not very well known but it’s a perfect example of the government
creating exceptions for its governance. This incredible woman Iron
Chanu Sharmila has been on a ten year fast to protest the periodic
killing of villagers by these Assam Rifle groups. Look it up.

The next day we enjoyed lunch at a Bengladeshi place (not quite as
delicious as our favorite Bengladeshi family’s cooking!) and went to
the City Forest. We sat for a while under this tree where Yosuke
played his Japanese flute and Saha taught me useful Bengali and Hindi
phrases. (Julian watched birds in the distance.) We walked through a
little neighborhood on our way out and all the children came and said
hello. It reminded me of Bangalore with all the sweet children coming
out of the shadows to ask us questions. Then we took a rickshaw to
the biggest mall in India (according to Saha). I’m sure it’s like
this in many so-called developing countries but the disparity between
little neighborhoods and gigantic cement-steel-window complexes like
the mall never fails to astonish me! Wow. This mall was *nice.* I got
sucked in to one department store with lots of reasonably priced
salwars and found myself an outfit. Two hours later Saha pointed out
that I was “so fast!” Ha. We found an “all-veg” doughnut place which
means that there aren’t any eggs in the dough, so we managed to find
icings without any dairy and tried them out. They were a little stale
so we were disappointed but excited for future doughnut finds. Carolyn
met up with us and we decided to head to a bar. There we talked and I
gleaned lots of book, music, and traveling recommendations from the
group. Soon the funny techno music called to us, and we were all
dancing “yoga moves.” We had such a good time!

This brings us up to our bumpy, loud, and
seemingly unending journey to Nepal. It makes me tired thinking about
it so I’m skipping over it suffice it to say that yes, Dad. We did
realize we could fly but! we saved $60. Just don’t ask us if it was
worth it!

Okay, so fast-forward to Nepal. (I’m also going to skip the part where
we got totally ripped off with the transaction fees for changing money
at the border. Life just felt immediately better once we got in Nepal
though. The man at the bus stand let us use his computer and gave us
a map. In retrospect, this does not seem uncommonly nice but at the
time, I felt extremely grateful!) We got off the bus in Pharping
after an hour bus ride from Kathmandu. We found an internet place and
after putzing around waiting for the incredibly slow internet to load,
we stumbled into Travis. He immediately gave me “the most thoughtful
present”: my old belt! He borrowed it in Colorado since his pants were
about 13 sizes too large. He now returned it in completely useless
condition claiming that he had gained weight and his pants fit now.
He lifted his shirt to demonstrate and of course, his pants were
rolled up three times. Crazy kid! Soon afterwards he shared the
supposed source of his weight gain, these incredible doughut-like things
called “sawl roti.” He literally knew every hour when they were made
fresh, and it happened to be right at that moment. We savored these
things, so warm and fresh! We didn’t know that we’d have them every
day, perhaps twice a day, from then on. Gosh. I could go for one
right now! (Only an hour until they are made fresh again!) Okay,
after our snack we climbed up this big hill to the Benchen Retreat
Center where Travis hooked us up with a deal. We are staying a week in
this fully furnished apartment with a view of the foggy, prayer-flag
donned mountains, for around $3 a night. It’s considered expensive
actually. But it is beautiful, and such a retreat from the hectic and
dirty traveling we’ve been doing. Since then, we’ve been meeting up
with Travis during the day and hanging out, but night falls around 6pm
so we say good night earlier so that he has time to get back to the
monastery. The first day, Travis, Julian and I had lunch with
Pema Durgy, an 18-year-old monk and Dukpa, a “little monk” of eight
years at a little family-run restaurant (actually, they are all family
run.) I had the tastiest bowl of veg. thupka which is a
brothy-noodley-veggie soup, and Julian had delicious momos made from
nettle! (seriously, we need to go back to this place!) Afterwards, we
hiked up a mountain to Guru Rinpoche’s cave. He supposedly meditated
here for so many years that his handprint is left on the outside of
the cave wall. I touched it and it felt eerily warm. We continued the
climb to the top of the slippery muddy mountain. Every turn led us to
a more beautiful view of the valley and Kathmandu in the distance.
Coming down turned out to be more dangerous and fun than going up, and
we ended up following Dukpa’s method of just sliding like
snowboarders.

The next day was incredibly rainy, like the first so Julian and I hung
around our ‘retreat’ until Travis met us there. He told us of the
rivers we’d have to cross getting back down to town so we prepared
ourselves to get wet. We were going into Kathmandu, and then getting
a different bus to a Boda with the second-largest Stupa (called
Bodanath Stupa for those google-rs in the crowd) in the world. It
quit raining for just a little, so Travis, Pamadurgy, Julian and I
decided to sit on the top of the bus from Pharping to Kathmandu in
order to avoid the wet crowds below. We had no idea that we were
going to have the most refreshing ride with fresh air and breathtaking views
of the valley as we dropped into the city. It was SO amazing. Once
in the city we had to hop inside since the police will fine the buses
for having people on top. Then we were stuck in the polluted air like
everyone else. The air is so horrible there that many people wear
masks. Julian and I are hopefully getting some soon. One accidental
deep breath of the acrid air can leave you winded coughing. It’s
nasty. Anyways, we were dropped off at the Stupa and spent a few
hours circling it clockwise, as is the custom. I sat for a little and
watched people praying and was reminded of the Western Wall. We met
up with Travis and Pema Durgy (and his two brothers), had tea together,
and went to a dharma bookstore where Julian and I stocked up on
postcards, a Nepal sticker, and a book on love by my favorite Buddhist
Thich Nhat Hanh.

Yesterday was also rainy, but we were luckily staying in Pharping.
Travis, Julian and I ate lunch at another family-run restaurant, this
time on the roof-top (a little leaky but not badly). Once again Travis
and I had thupka, and Julian had mo-mos. We then set off on the
forty-minute walk to Travis’ monastery, passing rockslides due to the
rain on the road. We arrived in time for evening prayer. The bells,
drums, horns and chanting of the monks (mostly younger than 18 years
old) was chilling and surreal at times, and familiar and happy at
others. The rhythms and intonations of the chants changed so
frequently that following the tune was meditative in its own right. I
felt lucky, happy, and safe listening to them. Travis gave us a
little tour afterward but the ominous red foggy skies led us all to
feel that a “Karmageddon” was on its way so Julian and I headed back
to our home. We picked up some veggies—eggplant, ladies’ fingers AKA
okra, chilies, garlic, rice and salt—for dinner and went up our hill.
Every night we’ve made yummy dinner with lentils, rice, and veggies
for way less than eating out. A typical dinner out would cost maybe
150 rupees (around $2) and making dinner costs maybe 40 rupees.
That night, Julian decided to make everything himself and I got to
practice yoga in our meditation room with some spiders for company. We
ate dinner and listened to an Animal Voices podcast on the Ipad as we
did the night before and went to bed. Ah, routinization can be so
comforting.

And today! Today, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day which
meant time for laundry! Wowee, I have never felt so excited to do
laundry. I woke up at 7 to do it! I washed almost every item of
clothing we have by hand using just the bucket of water I filled while
taking a quick shower. Conservation of water is extremely important
here where clean water is hard to come by. Using such little water
was actually easy and we decided that doing laundry like this is
really the best way. Travis was also excited by the good weather and
met us at our house to encourage us to come to the monastery this time
for a proper tour. We left for town, and ran into his friend Anna on
the way. Anna, who has been in Nepal for only three months, has
decided to start a consciousness school in eastern Nepal. She’s
already had land donated for the cause. And, she’s only 25.
Impressive. We’ll hopefully get to help her out somehow. Anyways, we
all went to lunch at a Newari restaurant which had much spicier foods
than typical Nepali places. We enjoyed a long lunch but Travis had to
leave for the monastery for a lesson before leaving for a meditation
in a secluded village tomorrow (so no visit from us today). And as I
type, it just started pouring so we must run back up and try to gather
our laundry. Hopefully it isn’t soaked!!

Excuse the excessive detail. Life is rich and varies so much day to
day that I want to remember as much as possible. I note though that
impermanence is the thread connecting each of these stories. Hmm, yes! love to you all!

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