Our stop motion video of most of our trip!

Colorado to Florida, Mexico, North Carolina, Israel, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, India, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, California and back to Florida! Perhaps it’s disproportionately Colorado, Florida, and Mexico but oh well! hope you all enjoy it!

much gratitude for all of you we got to share our experience with…

tommasina and julian

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You Kathmandu it!

So, we’re back in Kathmandu.  We woke up early in Pokhara, said goodbye to our awesome CS hosts and headed to the bus park.  We were hoping to charter a bus but weren’t certain we’d catch one, because it was the peak of the festival Dashain and we hadn’t pre-purchased a ticket.  Previously we had taken local buses, which involved overcrowding, people on top of you, sweat mixed with dirt on most of your exposed parts and lots of stopping to heckle new recruits.  When we discovered that taking a tourist bus was only marginally more expensive we opted for this choice.  So, when we arrived at the bus park we indeed chartered a bus and it was a totally different experience, like night and day.  They stopped every 2-3 hours to take food, stretch, use the toilet, etc.  Also, all the tourist buses stopped together like a caravan tour.  So, we kept running into the same people at each respite.  Since we’re on such a tight budget of 1500 rupees a day (the equivalent to 20 dollars–this is not actually an easy budget to keep, believe it or not), we didn’t take any food or anything.  In fact at the first stop we cracked some walnuts and almonds with rocks and our shoes while some people gawked.

When the bus arrived in Kathmandu only 6.5 hours later we were impressed.  The local bus had taken us 9 hours to get from Kathmandu to Pokhara.  We weren’t certain what to do next, so we followed these two Swedish dudes to Thamel.  We told them we were following them and they directed us to some hotels.  Each time we came to a hotel, they were exiting telling us the rates and the cleanliness factor, but we proceeded anyway.  We finally decided on one that was sub-par for them, but within our budget.

Three days ago, our second day back, we woke up early and went in search of breakfast.  We found a nice place around the corner full of all different types of traveling folks.  A French woman who just arrived from Madagascar was telling us how quick and prompt the service there was.  So, she was shocked that she had to wait 45 min for breakfast here.  There was a Japanese woman who was also waiting patiently for her food, who chimed in about the duration of waiting she endured.  A cute Taiwanese boy was explaining to the host in broken english that he was vegetarian.  It was a fun experience, but we also had to wait for 40 min to get our veg mo-mos, aloo parathas, and hot lemon ginger (which is essentially ginger and lemon juice in hot water).  

After breakfast we headed to the Indian Embassy to apply for re-entry visas.  We didn’t realise that when we left India we couldn’t re-enter for two months, even though we were warned by our CS host in Delhi.  On her passport there was a special endorsement that made this statement and it was also on our Japanese co-surfer’s passport, but it wasn’t on ours…so we assumed we were okay and proceeded to Nepal.

Once we left the embassy, post submitting forms and payments, we walked to a really old Shiva temple.  I think it was built in the 1400s.  The walk took around 1.5 hours and we got a little turned around along the way, but we found it:  Pashupatinath.  It was a really intense experience.  They were performing funeral ceremonies on the river’s edge.  In Hindu culture, the body of a deceased person is cleaned, wrapped in a fine cloth, has incense burned around the body, then put atop a wood pile and set aflame.  Depending on the caste, there’s a more elaborate ceremony involving carrying the body in a procession around the wood pile, followed by the family members, and then set down to rest.  It was real.  Watching the ceremony really makes you realise the fragility of life, especially because two of the three people were around our age.  I’m very happy that I’m alive and fortunate enough to be traveling at this moment.

We moved on from the ceremonies and explored the rest of the compound.  We apparently were looking lost, so a guide assisted us in understanding the temple.  He was really nice, but the whole time I was wondering when he was going to ask for money.  The information he shared was much appreciated and we learned more than if we just walked around mindlessly taking photos.  He showed us the way out and gave us tips on getting back to the embassy. We confessed to him that we really had no extra money to pay him (and we hadn’t actually asked for his services) and he kindly said, no problem here, but if you could give me your entrance tickets I can get other people in for free.  We happily agreed (and felt slightly annoyed that we didn’t realize we could have bought cheaper tickets too since our tickets were 500 Rs. each! That’s about $8, and together it was almost 70% of our daily budget…).  

So, hurray! we got our re-entry visas!  We thought it was gonna cost us 50 bux, but it ended up only costing $22 for both visas.  Also, we were concerned the applications would get rejected, because on online forums they seemed skeptical of being approved for re-admittance. But for some reason, it’s not actually a big deal.  So, that was a very eventful day.

We’re now staying at a backpacker’s hostel, about a 40 minutes walk away from Thamel.  It came recommended by some people who we met at a couchsurfing meet-up two nights ago.  The hostel is a nice change from our previous digs.  The beds are comfortable, the people who run it are swell, and breakfast is included.  One of the people behind the hostel (Sparkling Turtle) is a 25 year culinary artisan who has been specialising in living foods and vegan cooking.  We took our dinner here last night consisting of borscht and a really excellent dahl.  It was great to have some beets and carrots with no oil and little salt. It made our bellies happy.  🙂  There are two other core members of the hostel, one a Nepalese flutist and the other a young guy from Canada.  The Canadian guy started this hostel with a vision of beginning another one in a more remote area of Nepal out west.  He’s been living out of Canada for four years now, three of which were working in a hostel in Istanbul and one in Australia.  He gave us a great tip about Australia.  Apparently we can work there as a barista or something similar and make 22 dollars/hr.  Our future is looking bright!  Maybe I can get a job using my degree even!

Our spirits are really high now.  We were feeling a little down and contemplating what we were doing until we attended this CS meet-up the other night.  We met so many interesting people.  This guy Evas from Norway is about to begin a motorcycle tour from Neapl/India to Thailand.  He had reservations about going through Burma, but with advice from another CSer, he might go through instead of circumnavigating.  Another surfer, Japhy, who’s Nepalese, rode his bike from USA all the way down to Argentina.  He also happened to have hosted Katherine Williams in LA years ago.  Small world indeed. There were people from Russia, Turkey, Texas, CA, Malta, Georgia(country), and some other places I’m sure.  The person who organised it, Zen, was really wonderful too.  She’s from Malta and living in Nepal with her boyfriend running a tattoo and dread-making parlour.  In fact the meet-up was a dread-making tutorial.  We learned a lot from all these people and got really inspired to continue our journey.

-Julian

Ruminations on Individuality in Pokhara

We haven’t quite forgotten about all of you.  Glimpses of your faces appear in strangers’ faces, and the people I meet often, so often, remind me of past friends.  I have been dreaming about the most obscure of you all (no offense of course) and have been comforted by your presence in my subconscious.  Maybe you’re thinking of me? (Perhaps I flatter myself.) Hm.  Really though.  The way your head tilts when you laugh heartily, or the way you pass people in the halls, also the way you eat with your hands and the way you fall asleep on public transit– I see your peculiarities through familiar strangers, all the time.  In other words, my life has transformed into Facebook’s doppelgänger week.  

Passing time in Pokhara has brought this phenomenon to a head as we’ve realized how much of our individuality is imagined.  Here, most of these travelers have abandoned their societies in favor of becoming a world nomad of sorts (this is highly idealized, and please allow me this generalization–you may include me as well…). Society-less, they adopt similar styles. Backpacks, hiking sandals, convertible pants, maybe dreadlocks, Pashminas, and in Asia, almost every female dons loose ‘fishermen’ trousers. Seeking individuality, they/we fall into conformity in the practical aspects of traveling.  We *need* a few things while we travel but Westerners (again generalization) desire a few things more than we care to admit. More than Spider-pooing outdoors (if you don’t know what this is, pretend I said “amazing vistas”), we prefer clean toilets. More than learning the local language, we prefer signs in English (or our own language). More than trying foreign cuisine, we prefer the bland but familiar, accompanied by filtered water, or coffee (preferably organic).  More than interacting with pushy sales people, we prefer (sometimes unintentionally rudely, loudly) price checking by ourselves, and free WiFi.  Color me jaded, but walking through the streets of Pokhara is like walking in circles of a fantastical traveler’s paradise.  Laundry service, money changing, trekking office, outfitters, Nepali clothing, expensive restaurants boasting European foods, and coffee places repeat themselves exactly with few variations. But this is consumerism; this is capitalism at its finest.  The commodities we desire, we find in quantities that astonish us, except that we fail to realize that this place is not foreign any longer. It is a perfect reflection of Western ideals: convenience, novelty, and cheapness.  Dear friends of ours, we have gone half the world over and found that even here, the landscape is polluted with commodification of experiences.  The outdoors experience is now a profit-making venture by trekking companies; the self-reflective experience (which I anticipate and appreciate most about traveling) is conveniently packaged in the flourishing of coffee shops or expensive meditation retreats; the experience of long-distance communication with friends and family back home now easily achieved by the gimmicky free Wifi available everywhere (however slowly it operates).  We are so obviously included in this category. We are sucked into the free WFi, the need to hire a guide to go trekking, the organic coffee, the availability of familiar cuisine (though at least we go for the South Indian foods)… 

I guiltily charge myself with a certain elitism, for having inwardly praised my own supposed uniqueness and bravery for leaving home for an uncertain amount of time. Friends, forgive me: I am just like you. Even here, I am not immune to the comforts to which I am accustomed.  Just because I pee 9/10 times in an Eastern toilet and dutifully pack out my toilet paper (if I have the luxury of using any) means nothing if I wince and obsess over the cleanliness of the door handles and the communal bar of soap.  Curse my Western biases! I want to be comfortable anywhere living the way the majority of the world lives. I say this, but put me in a bus for nine hours with smelly sweaty people pushing and leaning on me and I find it difficult to maintain my egalitarian mindset.  It takes an extraordinary amount of effort to imagine myself first, filled with white light, with compassion for myself, with love for myself, then extending this white light to everyone in my vision.  It is not with great pride that I admit that I lose patience for that meditative interlude quickly under such circumstances.  

In any case, goodness gracious. What a deep hole of despair I have typed myself into.  I had no idea this was going to emerge from my ruminations on consumerism. I’d like to take this pause to recommend us all to take a deeeeeeep breath and remember our humanity. I am forgiving myself now for whatever ‘failures’ I perceive myself to have committed. This is now a fabulous introduction  for another way to view this situation.  Although we are all one consumer driven by impulse and convenience, *we are all one.* Oh my goodness, this means so much more than we imagine.  This is not a fault of the human race. It is our saving grace!  

Ghulam, the incredibly wise and humble man with a smile like gold, with whom we are staying in Pokhara, is a Sufi.  Yesterday, he shared with us his views on Sufism.  His most important point was that every human, every creature, every living thing on the planet IS god.  Instead of saying we are seeing god, praying to god, extending effort to go exterior to ourselves to find god, we should note that god is inside of us. We merely need to look inside to find this unity of spirit, this divine grace radiating within us. Phew. Reflect on this for a long second (or your life–your choice). Yes. We are not doomed.  And here’s why my reaction to Pokhara is incomplete.  Because relying on superficial perceptions fails to paint a true picture.  On the other side of this lens, beneath the (imagined) expanse of capitalistic scum, lies living, breathing, hearts and desires beating with a purity that is incomprehensible from the exterior view.  

Staying with Ashiq, Ghulam’s son and our official CS host, Ghulam, and his sweet daughter Sumai, has privileged us in this way.  While displaying his incredible handwoven carpets, Gulam told us that it is difficult to find tourists who appreciate the true craftsmanship that is poured into every handicraft in his store.  He estimates 70% of all people have no idea what a quality product is.  He finds that most people buy things based on costs and go for quantity over quality.  He says these things remorsefully because one carpet, 2’x4′, could take him 13 months, of eight-hour-a-day eye-straining work by the loom.  He pointed to the intricate patterns which don’t repeat themselves once on the carpet. Each line is unique and must be read in “carpet language.”  For a man who cannot read or write, his skill at building painstakingly beautiful carpets which began at age 4, is what provides for his family.  His craftsmanship cannot be replicated by a machine.  He shared a story of a wealthy man who was buying a carpet and pointed out a flaw the design.  One side was a little off from the other side. To him, this validated the carpet’s worth as hand-made.  Another trait which is often overlooked is his honesty. He explained to us the difference between the shawls and clothing that he sold.  Many stores offer similar products as his but fail to point out the differences so that they can charge higher prices for a poor quality object.  His attitude towards customers as long-term friends who will hopefully engage in business and friendship with him for years to come, is something that is clearly lacking in many other stores.  But, that doesn’t mean the other stores should be faulted.  The people there perhaps have other dreams that aren’t being fulfilled. For Ghulam, creating beautiful carpets and shawls is his craft and he has great pride in his work.  He spent hours showing us the fine needlework and quality of the thread in pieces–not because he thought we could buy something, but because he said, he would love to show things to us all day.  This humble pride in his work is rarely seen from the surface, (and in general is rare– I don’t remember the last time I wanted to truly share something I created because I was actually *proud* of it.)  Anyways, life is more complicated than I could possibly describe.  From my still-somewhat jaded perspective, noncommodified experiences like CSing and sitting and listening to Ghulam’s ethics of business and life are what makes traveling feel truly rich. 

Pokin’ around Pokhara

Wow, it’s Oct third already.
I really need to get better at updating this blog here.  We’ve been in transit for the last two months, with limited internet access.  Whether that be from lack of connection, unreliable connection, or too busy hanging out with people to get online.  This is the main reason that I’ve not been updating the blog.

So, we’re currently in Pokhara, Nepal with the most amazing CouchSurfing family.  They have supplied us with a room, fed us delicious food and taught us phrases in many languages.  The family is originally from Kashmir, India but have been in Nepal for the last 20 years.  The Father has a shop where he sells locally made garments and accessories, but the real winners are his shawls and carpets.  He has a loom on sight that he makes carpets out of.  He’s been making carpets since he was 4 years old.  The craftsmanship and quality are impeccable.  His wife also makes shawls, which she hand-sews designs onto.  The son, Ashiq, who we CS requested through, has an auxiliary shop in the more touristy part of town that sells similar wares.

Last night we shared an incredible meal with them and watched the Indian version of Big Brother.  The meal was exactly what I’ve been craving.  A lot of rice, dahl, and a potato green bean curry.  It’s nearly impossible to find something likes this in the village we were dwelling unless you’re staying with a family.  All the restaurants serve the same dishes, momos (dumplings), thupka (noodle soup), and another noodle soup whose name eludes me.  So, all I’ve been craving since we’ve been to Nepal is a large portion of rice and some dahl to put atop it.  Finally!

It has been such a clear day thus far and we can see the Himalayas from here, specifically the Annapurnas with jutting peaks erupting from nowhere.  The views are incredible.  The city is in a valley surrounded by hills with a lake in the centre.  In the distance the Himalayas are visible, but only on clear days like today.  So, we are very fortunate to see them.  🙂

We hope to get out on a hike today around the lake and maybe gain some elevation.  ‘Til next time.

-Julian

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!