Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Mighty Kaligandaki

For all our adventures so far, from Fuji-Q to scuba diving to the Nevis Swing, Karen and I haven’t gone whitewater rafting on this trip. In fact, we’ve never gone rafting together. In fact, I haven’t been rafting since the big family vacation out west when I was 15, and Karen’s last trip down a river was a couple decades ago.

We’re all grown up now, and we’re going rafting in Nepal.

My thanks to Paddle Nepal photog Garrett, for capturing the photo of my big moment. I was impressed with Paddle Nepal’s safety standards and customer service- highly recommended for your next trip to Pokhara.

Add rafting to the list Next Stop: World adventures. Yes, we’ll be going again, before a couple decades pass.

The Ghost Dog of Pokhara

Ken calls me the Dog Whisperer Light. I am drawn to many dogs I see on the streets in Nepal, and some make a beeline right to me. They know I’m a sucker for some dog love. As long as they’re not too mangy and I have hand sanitizer in my purse, they’ll get some petting from me.

It was the beginning of our two-week stay in Pokhara, a city where we planned to rest and catch up. So it was important for us to find a place to stay that was comfortable. We wandered from boring hotel to boring hotel, rejecting everything we saw and getting deeper into a residential area.

He seemed to appear out of nowhere: a beautiful brown and white dog sitting on top of a stone wall. He was very clean and civilized compared to most street dogs. His eyes said, go ahead, pet me.

As we enjoyed his soft coat and friendly demeanor, a woman dressed in a sari approached us from behind the stone wall. Very quietly she asked us, “Are you looking for room?” Ken replied half-heatedly, “Yeah, maybe, what do you have?” She said, “Oh, a small villa… like an apartment… with a kitchen.” Kitchen? That was the one word I needed to hear! After inspection of the room, we said yes, we would like to stay here. And we did, for 13 days. And I cooked.

Villa Papillon is a small guesthouse run by Bishna and Niru, who live on the first floor with their son and Bishnu’s mother. Their property, in the family for decades, includes the original farmhouse and barn, the newer house where the family lives, 4 guest rooms, and a sizable organic garden of corn, fruit trees, and medicinal herbs.

Niru & Bishnu in the garden

Turns out the ghost dog beckoning to us from the stone fence was Rambo, the family pet. A typical farm dog, he keeps the yard clear of rodents and works as a guard, patrolling his fence and the road outside the home. Whenever I wanted to pet him, he was ready.

The guesthouse was a great location to relax and get to know a little more about Nepali life. Twice we enjoyed dal bhat dinners with the family and learned more about their way of life, Nepali politics, and how kids are educated.

Dal bhat by lantern light

While life isn’t always easy (with daily power outages, political unrest, strikes, and torn-up streets), this family lives with grace and finesse. Nothing seemed to slow them down. Choosing not to own a car or motorbike, they walk to the markets for their needs. They make a good wage renting out rooms at a very reasonable price. Their two cows and lush gardens provide food for them to eat and sell and give them their joy for living. It was peaceful to be around their calm energy.

Grandma is no slouch. Despite a recent illness, she works in the garden with her grandson.

The owners' son Eradhye and a friend work on their homework

Eradhye is an accomplished artist. To our surprise, he allowed us to choose one of his watercolors to take home with us.

If it had not been for Rambo, we would surely have walked past this delightful guesthouse. Thanks for pulling us in, ghost dog.

MRP A-OK

Producers of soft drinks and packaged foods do us a big favor in India and Nepal (finally, we catch a break!). They print an MRP on their packages, a maximum retail price.

Why is this a big deal? Because information is power, and the MRP gives us hapless tourists an idea of whether or not we’re being ripped off. Some shops simply charge MRP, while others ask for double and hope you don’t notice.

Sometimes the increased price is justified and we pay it, like when the goods have to be carried to remote locations on people’s heads. Just once, we encountered a supermarket that charged MRP minus 3%, in an effort to win customers. They won us, and we returned a couple times. Take a hint, the rest of you!

Some US products have an MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price), like the “$18,300 starting MSRP” for a 2012 Ford Focus. Of course, when you see that, you offer less than $18,300 for your new car. And don’t let them tell you that some guy carried it in on his head.

Happy New Year (Again)!

Just outside the bustling metropolis of Kathmandu is the sleepy town of Bhaktapur. Sleepy, that is, unless you show up on New Year’s Eve.

The people of Bhaktapur filled the streets, enjoying their city as much as we did. The town’s focal point, Durbar Square, is chock full of shrines and temples, one of which is known for its erotic carvings (this gallery might not be one to share with the kids).

Hello Kathmandu, Goodbye Tour

We finished our 15-day tour just as we started it, with a walking tour through the most chaotic part of town. Looking at our photos from New Delhi and Kathmandu, you’d think they we were the same place. Honking horns, garbage, cows, decrepit roads, dust, and 8 bajillion people. Thankfully, along the way we enjoyed the sights and our tour group too.

Navin brandishes a traditional Nepali knife

Our guide, Navin, was a cool dude, not your typical Indian man. He would look more at home in a music club in Amsterdam. He was relaxed, worldly, and knew his stuff about India and Hinduism. The members of our group got along fairly well, thankfully, as we shared many meals and some long bus and train rides. Ken and I have been together nearly every moment for the past seven months, which has its challenges, and the opportunity to socialize with other people was welcome.

The whole gang

This tour covered a wide range of activities and styles: sightseeing, boating, hiking, sleeping in tents, eating at posh restaurants, visiting temples in mid-worship, and conducting our own puja ceremony.

The tour did exactly what we wanted it to. For two weeks, we didn’t think about finding transportation, booking hotel rooms, or deciding about where to eat. We were fairly insulated from the barrage of headaches that is part of being a tourist in northern India. Was it perfect? Not exactly. Having been a tour guide in the past, I have some pretty strong ideas about how a leader should communicate and conduct a tour. For instance, the pacing of some of our walks was a bit frantic. I prefer a slower pace- I wanted to have a chance to spot wildlife in Chitwan National Park, rather than power walking past it (though seeing that one-horned rhino was cool). I guess on the upside, we got some serious exercise.

Will we join a guided tour again? Perhaps. There were some places we were ready to leave much  sooner than the tour did and others where we wanted to stay longer. That loss of control was a small sacrifice for the joy we felt shutting off our planning brains for two weeks. Thanks, Navin and our fellow travelers, for an enjoyable tour!

Karen’s Critters: Chitwan National Park

After crossing from India into Nepal, our guided tour made a stop in Chitwan National Park. Created in 1973, the park protects endangered rhinos, tigers and crocodiles, among other animals. The plan was a 2-day hike through the park. Most people visit the park on elephant back, to protect them from potential wild animal issues and to see above the tall grasses that grow there.  We were going in without elephants.

The first morning, as we headed into the park, our tour guide Navin told us that a local villager had been killed by a tiger the day before. The villager was in the park cutting grasses for his livestock when the tiger got him. We looked at each other with sad faces. Navin exclaimed, “This is great, it means the tiger is around and we might see him.” Hmmmm, I think I would rather miss this tiger. Then our park guides gave us a rundown of how to react if we are charged by a rhino, tiger, sun bear, or elephant. If it’s an elephant, you can forget about saving your life. Oh boy.

Armed with all this frightening information, tip-toeing about the jungle, we heard something rustle in the grass…

It was exciting to have a close encounter with a one-horned rhino.  We spotted some deer, crocodiles, and lots of interesting birds too. It was a nice hike, boat ride and rest along the edges of the park. And it was okay-fine with me that we didn’t see a tiger.

Our fellow rhino-dodger, Lisa, took the optional elephant tour of Chitwan.

She snapped some great photos of a one-horned rhino, giving us another view of what was hiding in the grass while we hiked.

Going in for the close-up view

A great view of the rhino's segmented body armor

(Thanks for loaning us the pix, Lisa.)

Next Stop: Rewind

Although we are back in the USA, our blog is about to go on a trip. You see, we’re two countries behind on our blog updates: we have yet to post our adventures from Nepal and China.

It’s time to catch up. Let’s get this DeLorean up to 88 miles an hour and travel back in time to April 4, 2012. Next Stop: Nepal!

How to Lose 18 Pounds in 60 Days!

Announcing my patented, exclusive, guaranteed Next Stop: World Diet! You too can lose inches from your waistline and get rid of your butt completely. Muscle tone? Gyms? Who needs ‘em?!

Just follow this simple plan:

  • 4 days of stomach illness with no food
  • 30 days with little appetite
  • 24 days without booze
  • 48 days of being bored by lack of variety on menus
  • 6 days hard farm work in 100 degree heat
  • 13 days hiking, 6 days at altitude
  • 3 days rafting and kayaking

Don’t delay- call today! Operators are standing by!

WARNING: Pounds may return if you visit Hong Kong, Penang, or anywhere that serves Tibetan bread.

The Most Popular Song In The World… Revealed!

And we have a winner! The scientifically-verified <sic> Most Popular Song Ever In The History Of The Universe is “Hotel California“, released by the Eagles in February 1977. Dee Braaksma is the lucky recipient of 135 Nepali Rupees!

OK, I’ll admit it, Travelex wouldn’t buy back small bills… but hey, they sure are colorful.

As we heard “Hotel California” over and over and over, I wondered… why? I mean, sure, it’s a big hit: it reached #1 on the pop charts (on my 7th birthday, 5/7/77), and Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it the 49th greatest song of all time. The Eagles’ greatest hits album is one of the biggest-selling albums ever. But our readers’ guesses of “Dancing Queen” or “Hound Dog” seem just as likely to repeated ad nauseam.

Maybe the song’s ubiquity is the rest of world’s sly commentary on our home country. Co-writer Don Henley said that ”it’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.” Glenn Frey commented, ”That was a dark, strange period of my life.”

Or maybe it’s simply a catchy ditty with vague lyrics and a hummable refrain. Let’s close with just a few of the 487 times we heard “Hotel California.” Thanks for playing, everyone!