Nepal: Back in the Villages of the Ramja Deurali Area

Safely back from Pokhara to the rural mountain villages of the Ramja Deurali area, David has written an account of his day in an email.

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‘My day started as usual at around 06.00.  It’s broad daylight by then at this time of the year. This is the view from the top of the Health Post building where I have been staying. 

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Shortly after I got up, a troupe of Rhesus monkeys passed through the community forest area behind the health post where Binod and I are staying.  They were all very healthy, as is the forest, with a number of mums and their babies in arms.  One wide-eyed youngster stared at me through the window.

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During my time here, Binod and I have frequented the local tea shop for breakfast and to get a better chance at internet and to download photos. This rather serious young man is Prem who often wanders by while I’m there, taking an interest in my photos and in my camera. I’ve shown Prem how to use my camera and found him to be a good student.

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Yours truly… a photo taken by Prem.

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We’ve given the name of ‘Gani Babu’ to another young village boy who has befriended me. That name translates as ‘wise and knowledgeable boy’. I wonder what his future holds.

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When the weather’s clear, this is the view of the nearby mountains… fantastic.

Today (Sun 21 Aug) is another Nepalese festival day, this time a celebration of departed relatives.  On this day, a senior person in a household gives female relatives a gift of money. Perhaps this is insurance so that they get a worthy send off themselves?!

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My little friend Gani babu, on this occasion, was also given money…. Rp250 by his maternal uncle… no doubt a fortune for this little fellow.

While we were having our tea, a funeral procession passed the tea shop.  It was lead by some male family members carrying a long white banner.  This indicates to everybody that the procession is in fact a funeral procession.  Other family members followed including the senior male who had his head shaven and wears only unstitched cloth as a wrapping around his body.  The dead body was covered with an orange cloth and carried on a stretcher-like frame on the shoulders of two younger men.  It was going to take the procession around 4 hours to reach the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Modi Kholi Rivers where the cremation would take place.

We’d planned to meet three of the data collection girls at the tea shop. They have been working with Binod on his maternal health awareness programme.  We wanted to record them to add to the video presentation that I’m developing for Binod. They arrived ‘on time’ at 11.45 and that footage will, one day, be part of the final video of the program which has been such a success here in the villages.

So much so, that we are being fated by the locals in an unbelievable way here at the moment. They are all so grateful for the intervention program that Binod has brought to their community.  It has become even more pronounced now that we have a departure date (Tue 23 Aug) to leave the village to return to Pokhara on our way back to Australia.

An example or two of the hospitality we are receiving:

Last night we went up to a local village (Thanti) which is about half a km above the tea shop. We went there for me to be measured for a waist coat that Binod insists I need to go with my Dhoti and Kuta!  We left the tea shop about 18.00.

When we got to the village there was an invitation to have some buffalo milk produced by a cow which gave birth 3 days ago.  And when you are an honoured guest, you can’t say no!  The milk is still very rich and is prepared by slowly heating with a little added sugar.  It’s a bit like spongy crumbled feta cheese, is eaten with a spoon and is delicious.  I was served far too much but there is not much I could do except accept and consume graciously.  It filled me up!  The guy (Kaki) who owns the buffalo often frequents our tea shop and continually apologised to Binod for not being able to offer us milk because of his buffalo’s pregnancy.

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Thats all changed now that the baby calf has been born, so we had to promise that we would go back to his house (above) each day, until we leave, to have a glass of his milk.

The next ‘obligatory’ call was just up the street to a tea house which is owned by our friend Hari’s older brother, Baburam.  One of his two delightful boys is my little friend “Gani babu” (learned, wise person).  I wanted to buy him a tea shirt at the material shop, but he was so embarrassed he didn’t want to accept it.  I MADE him choose the one he liked best as I was determined to get him a shirt that he liked, even if he didn’t want to accept it.  He said he didn’t deserve it and that it cost too much.  It cost me AUD4.20!  I guess that is a fortune for a 11 year old Nepali boy.

A chicken was killed for dinner and cooked beautifully in the Nepali way, tossed in a mix of spices before being fried.  It was accompanied by a wonderful array of side dishes that just kept on coming.  Now, remember I was already full of buffalo milk… all this food was making my stomach tighter by the second.  A plate would be finished and cleared away and another one brought.  The last was a plate with a small serving, by Nepali standards, of Mustang grown five-fingered millet.  This is highly prized and is used to make the finest raksi and also a very thick ‘porridge’ with the consistency of grainy putty.  When one is already overfull, this porridge concoction is very difficult to swallow and if it hadn’t been for the luke warm beer, I’m not sure I could have done it any justice at all.  I left the table feeling very uncomfortable.

By the way, Raksi is a traditional distilled alcoholic beverage, often distilled at home. It’s clear like gin and vodka, very strong and it tastes a bit like Sake.  Nepalese drink Raksi to celebrate festivals, religious rituals and social events.

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After that huge meal at Baburam’s house, there was the customary hand washing, watched over by Gani babu, his youngest son. 

We arrived back at the health post at 21.30.  Another programme member (Dandapani) had been invited to dinner as well.  Binod and I had walked up to his place a few nights earlier for dinner and had to walk back in the rain in the dark.  However, Dandapani wouldn’t walk back home after dinner as he feared being attacked by a tiger.  It was OK for us but not for him!  So he stayed the night… Binod has two beds in his room, being the one Roger and Annie used. We didn’t really mind. We all slept very well, and heavily.

More anon

David

Please pass the websites onto family and friends

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Nepal: In Pokhara

David’s time in Pokhara was mostly spent in trying to find a part for the computer. When that failed, he had to order a new computer to come from Kathmandu. In between times he made friends with some locals and had a massage. I’ll add excerpts from his emails and some photos.

” I’ve just arrived back to this view at the Adam Hotel (21.45) after a massage, and dinner at a local bar about a km away.  I had a chicken and mushroom burger with salad and fried potato chips, and an Everest beer… a bit of change from village Nepalese fare! My young waiter, who has been there each of the three times I’ve visited the place, was equally welcoming, and gave me a 10% discount… Perhaps my tips have more than compensated for the discount?!

When I left to walk back it was lightly sprinkling but not enough to bother putting the umbrella up.  There has been plenty of lightning and the occasional roll of thunder.  Perhaps it will develop during the coming hours?  It can do so, but I won’t know anything about it when I crash out for a much needed sleep.

I’m not game to put the kettle on as I may blow/trip the breaker again so I’m content with a ginger nut biscuit, or two, out of a cup which is sitting in a saucerful of water to keep the tiny ants that dart very quickly across the desk, at bay.

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The view from my hotel room.

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Greeted in the morning on my deck by another hotel guest!

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A woman bringing wood across the lake.

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A Pokhara fruit market.

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Another view of the market.

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Peeling a nashi pear with a hand scythe.

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Belamcanda chinensis (Leopard flower)

After word that my new computer had arrived, Binod turned up at my hotel on his motor bike… so I can now add the experience of riding on his bike through Pokhara to my adventures.  He was very careful with me on the way to the computer shop. 

My new MacBook Air was awaiting pickup and setup which was actually very quick.  A problem arose when I wanted to pay for it by credit card.  We had to go to another shopfront because the repair place didn’t have credit card facilities.  Credit cards are just something that is not common in Nepal yet.  Nepalis still very sensibly save up for their purchases and pay cash for them in full.  Wouldn’t the West be in a much better place if we all did the same?  Living beyond our means, except perhaps for a car and house, causes the whole system angst!

I perhaps caused some of the problem because I didn’t want to exceed my daily limit so asked how much the amount was in AUD.  The daily exchange rate was the next problem to sort.  But, finally, everything worked out for the best, I had a new laptop, the store had my money.

Binod is selling his motor bike so a visit had to be made to that establishment.  This took longer than anticipated (things generally take longer than anticipated here), but with a little patience everything eventually gets done.

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After this it was off to Binod’s uncle’s house as it was yet another festival day.  There are more festivals in Nepal that there are days in a year.  Today’s festival falls on a full moon and is referred to as Janai Purima (Holy Thread Full Moon Festival).  Here, respect is paid to the elders of the house when a cord (made up of six strands) is placed over the left shoulder and under the right arm.  

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Also red and yellow threads are wound around the right wrist.  A tika of red coloured rice is also pressed onto the forehead.  I was not left out of this process as I was considered an honoured guest.  My torso now wears a Holy Thread.  When one of the threads breaks (naturally) the rest can be removed.  My right wrist now has threads from Bhutan, Java and Nepal.  I’m beginning to look like a Christmas tree.

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Food was the next necessity, and very mito (sweet) it was too.  Dal baht with all the usual trimmings of lentil soup, and vegetable tarkari, sweet yoghurt and more than sufficient whisky.  What a delight to meet Binod’s uncle and to be accepted in such esteem.

After all that we still had to travel for around 90 minutes to catch the jeep to go back up the hill to Ramja Deurali.  We were going to be late so Binod phoned ahead and had the jeep wait some 35 minutes past its normal departure time for us to arrive.  Such is the esteem and respect he holds in the area.  I didn’t feel quite so bad after waiting another 30 minutes just a couple of 100 metres from our starting point for some extra passengers.  It took us 2¾ for the ride to Ramja where we arrived at 17.00.  It hadn’t rained for a few days but there are still some tricky places for the jeep to negotiate.  I’ve had three different drivers on the various trips I’ve made but this one is particularly careful of his passengers and vehicle.  It makes the whole ordeal of getting to the village just slightly less of an ordeal! “

Safely back in Ranji, David and Binod send their best wishes to all of our readers

More anon.  Jennie

Al photos in this post are copyright to DY of jtdytravels

Please pass the websites onto family and friends

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and

www.binodbindu.com.np 

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Nepal: A Long Walk to Pokhara

Binod and David’s plan to revisit the villages to collect follow-up data for the maternal health awareness project came to an abrupt end when David’s not so young Apple Air computer finally decided that it didn’t have enough room for all of the video David had taken… and he had run out of external USB capability. An important part of the plan is to have an edited six minute video re the project completed before David leaves Nepal. Now… there’s no shop nearby to pop down to to buy some more external hard drive space. So…

What do you do when you have such an emergency with your computer? Hop in the car and pop down to the local computer store and buy more external hard drive space… or just use another computer that you happen to have in the house. Right?

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That’s the scenerio for most of us… but not quite the case if you are in a remote village in the mountains of Nepal. The nearest town to them is Pokhara… and that journey began with a THREE HOURS WALK from Ranja Deurali to the road head at Dimuwa.  It had been raining and the switch back type mountainous track was muddy and very slippery… and David had to carry not only the computer but also clothes for an over night stay because there was no way they would get back to the village that day. 

(David was able to send some photos of this remote area once he made it to Pokhara… I’ve added his comments.)

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David: Nepali doing Harelo Puja (the Land God).  On this day all the planting has been completed so a puja (prayer) is sent to the Gods to appease for any wrongdoing or damage done to the land during the planting season. 

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David: Dividing the goat meat up evenly between 10 families who are going to reap the benefits of the 12kg goat that had been slaughtered just minutes before.

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David: An interested recipient watching carefully that everything was done correctly.

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David: An equally interested recipient.

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David:   Lasiandra sp.  I found this flower with accompanying beetle on the path down from our ‘home village’ of Ramja Deurali to Dimuwa.

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David: Another little purple flower found growing on the side of the path.

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Finally, Dimuwa and the road head came into sight! (Image from the web)

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David: The river near Dimuwa… we crossed this on a long suspension bridge.

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Dimuwa Temple (Image from the web)

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In the village of Dimuwa (Image from the web).

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The next part of the journey took an hour and a half from Dimuwa (near Tilahar) to Pokhara by road.

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David: The view down the valley towards Pokhara… still about 45 minutes drive away.

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David: A hairy caterpillar was on the path.  After taking the photo, I lifted it onto a plant at the side of the path… I wouldn’t want somebody slipping on the poor creature!

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David: There’s one Roadhouse that Binod can’t pass without stopping for a meal. This is the kitchen. A little different from our kitchens at home!

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David: The mortar and pestle that was used in preparing our meal.

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David: The meal consisted of boiled rice, a bowl of lentil soup, wok cooked sarg (spinach) and a cucumber stew with spices.  The fresh cucumber refreshed the mouth after the meal.

At least, when they finally got to Pokhara, the internet was a bit better, so David was able to send me the above photos. I’m not sure of the order of the photos but they give us a small glimpse into David’s view of his time in Nepal from behind the lens of his camera.

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Another plus in Pokhara for David…there was hot water and a western loo in David’s room at the Adam Hotel… but his computer frustrations were far from over as we will learn from his next email contact.

Jennie (for David and Binod)

Please pass the websites onto family and friends

www.dymusings.com

and

www.binodbindu.com.np 

Nepal: Update on Singing Intervention Program

An update today from David and Binod in Nepal after I was able to speak to them at length on Skype. I still find it amazing to be able to chat with someone so far away from Australia, but what is more amazing is the remoteness of the area they are working in. To give you some idea of that, the children of these villages who are under 12 years of age, have never seen a white person before. It’s really remote and well off any Nepalese tourist track.

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The singing and dancing intervention has now been completed in all the trial villages. The program went exceptionally well and the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that this has been a successful way of drawing attention to the health problems of women, especially pregnant women in these remote areas. Although the original intent was to have about 6 songs prepared by primary age students in the intervention villages, the interest roused produced twenty-six songs from groups representing all areas of the communities.

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As well as the proposed 6 songs from primary school age student groups, there were 8 songs from adolescent groups, 6 presented by mother’s groups, 2 from teacher’s groups, 3 from combined students and teacher’s groups, and 1 from the  Female Community Health Volunteer’s group. It was impressive to witness so many men joining in with the project and dancing to raise awareness of the importance role women play in the community and the importance of improving maternal health.

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Also… instead of having to hire a special singing group to go around the villages to present all of the songs, the Principal of a local high school and a group of his male teachers offered to give their time to taking on this task… a very healthy sign in a culture where traditionally it would be hard to involve men in such a project. Their voluntary dedication to this project is much appreciated by all.

Now, that the competition is over, its time to go back to the intervention villages to collect follow up data. In the initial baseline data collection, Binod had collected 1,656 responses. These participants will all now be revisited and the same questions asked again.

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That process means that David will accompany Binod on some lengthy hikes between villages… lots of hiking up, lots of hiking down, lots of crossing fast running streams, and lots of leaches… David’s pet hate.

David is enjoying his time with Binod and enjoying getting involved with the locals in these remote villages. His only complaint has been cold showers and squat loos! He has to have something to enjoy when he comes home!

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Both Binod and David commented that they are continually being told by the older women that they wished this intervention had happened when they were younger and of child bearing age. This is important because these older women are the ones who will now support the younger women.

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In this culture, on marriage, a woman leaves her own family and village to spend the rest of her life with her in-laws. So it is very important for the mothers-in-law to really embrace the project. 1,000 posters have been distributed to all the houses to help the women remember the important steps to follow through the nine months of pregnancy. These are visual in content.

The other item for discussion in our chat was what will happen to the equipment that was purchased in Nepal as part of this project; musical instruments, printer, internet modems, etc, etc. All of this equipment will now be distributed to the schools that have so willingly taken part. That’s another bonus. We know they will continue to sing!

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Of course there are many villages who have not had the program of intervention because they are the control group. David and Binod will now visit them also and the same data questions asked again. But they will not be forgotten or left out. David and Binod are planning to make video presentations of both the competition and the processes used to share with the control villages and any other interested villages. This project is the model and we hope to make sure that there is a large ripple effect across the villages of Nepal. The rainbow seems to add a positive note for the a good outcome for all women in these rural villages across Nepal. 

David and Binod send their best wishes to all of our readers

Please pass the websites onto family and friends

Jennie

www.dymusings.com

and

www.binodbindu.com.np

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Nepal: Women’s Work! Millet cultivation in rural village

As I write this, David and Binod are still hiking from one village to another to participate in the singing competition to promote awareness for the need for improvement in women’s health in rural villages in Nepal. While they do that, I thought we’d take a look at the daily life of these rural women who are the focus of this program. They work very hard from dawn till well after dark to grow food in their subsistence way of life.

Binod has put a couple of videos on You tube that will help us to take a peep at their daily life. Today we’ll look at Millet cultivation. I’ve taken some photos from the video to help tell the story (video links below).

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Todo millet, or finger millet, is important here as it provides nourishing food to these subsistence farmers. It’s rich in protien, fiber and minerals and vitamins,  a good substitute for, and addition to, rice or wheat.

In a world desperate for good, healthy foods, most people have never heard of Kodo. It’s usually looked upon as a “poor man’s crop” or a “famine food.” In the ‘developed world’, it’s often used only as birdseed! But researchers are finding that it has many benefits for good health; it’s rich in iron, B vitamins and calcium and is naturally gluten-free. It’s a versatile addition to the diet with its mildly corn flavour. It has a light texture when cooked and is relatively quick-cooking because of the small size of the seed.

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The shallow root system of finger millet makes it ideal for intercropping between the corn plants. Here, Binod works alongside the women and gets a feel for the work involved in this backbreaking task that takes hours to complete.

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They take a well earned rest and drink.

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Kodo millet is a member of the paspalum family, Paspalum scrobiculatum. It’s an annual grass that has slender, light green leaves of 20 to 40 centimeters in length.

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When mature, the plant has an inflorescence that produces several racemes.

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The harvested seeds are very small and vary in colour from light brown to a dark grey. This ancient seed, originally hailing from Africa, is a staple in the diets of about a third of the world’s population. The seeds need to be ground into flour to be used in cooking.

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To see the grinding process, Binod heads in the pouring rain to a house in the village.

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Here, the lady uses a traditional hand grinding mill, or janto, to grind seeds into flour.

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Seeds are poured into the centre of the mill a handful at a time. It’s hard work.

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A little one takes a nap on Mum’s lap while she grinds the seeds.

A woman’s work in these rural villages is never done!

Binod’s videos bring this aspect of life for rural Nepalese women into focus for us. I hope that you can get these You Tube links to work for you.

Video links:

Participation in finger millet (Kodo) cultivation with community people – You Tube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd3o2tgwcyo

Traditional hand mill (flour mill), (Janto) – the rural village women use this technology everyday – You Tube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6aypieBzMk

 

More of rural Nepalese village life next time.

David (and Jennie)

All photographs and video copyright © Binod Bindu Sharma

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

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More of our travel photos are on

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Nepal: Maternal Health Song Contest

David is now moving through several rural villages in Nepal to witness the singing competition program that University of Newcastle health researcher, Binod Sharma, has set up to try to improve community knowledge concerning the key health messages needed to improve maternal mortality in rural Nepal and to try to increase the number of women accessing health care prenatally and at the time of delivery.

Lack of awareness about the importance of antenatal care and skilled delivery is one of the principal causes of maternal death in rural Nepal. The deficiency of health care systems and an unsupportive sociocultural environment combine to create poor outcomes in maternal care for pregnant women in Nepal.

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Singing is a prominent feature of everyday rural life in Nepal. The aim of this program has been to engage each of the communities and especially the school students in developing health messages using traditional songs to transmit knowledge through the community and change attitudes surrounding pregnancy to improve maternal outcomes.

Importantly, this research will develop an awareness program owned by the community. We expect that this program will lead to improved community knowledge concerning the key health messages needed to improve maternal mortality in rural Nepal and increase the number of women accessing health care prenatally and at the time of delivery.

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The following photos have been taken from a video so are a little blurred but they will give you the essence of the thirteenth day of the singing intervention, a day enjoyed by David, Roger and Annie and the local people in the villages they visited. Of course, there was much hiking to do between villages, through the lovely but hilly countryside.

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A walk, not for the faint hearted… and where there is down, there is also up!!!!!

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.48.49 PMThis lady accompanied the visitors all day and danced to some of the songs. Note the young boys taking part in the background by clapping to the music. Hopefully these ‘motherhood’  messages in song will remain with these boys throughout their lives.

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Roger, Annie and Binod happily joined in the spirit of the dances.

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David had his turn, too!

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In another village, young girls danced for the women of the village.

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Annie really enjoyed her turn with the dancing at this village.

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Some of the men got into the spirit of the dance in this village.

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David’s camera was at work for most of the day, but we’ll have to wait for the outcome of that shoot. I’m sure it will be worth the wait!

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And then, of course, at the end of the day, there was that walk back to the ‘home ‘village.

The full video should be able to be viewed if you click on the following link.

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I this doesn’t work for you, go to Binod’s website and click on ‘updates’… its the video for Day thirteen.

www.binodbindu.com.np

There will be more anon.

David (and Jennie)

All photographs copyright © Binod Bindu Sharma

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

Nepal: #3 Introduction; Maternal Health Awareness Program

After his couple of days in KTM, David flew to Pokhara and then on to the small hill village of Ramja Derail, the red dot on the map, below.

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Pokhara is the second biggest city in Nepal and the village is a further 70 km away.

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This satellite map shows the tortuous road from Pokhara to Ramja Derail.

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Getting there is an adventure in itself!

David is travelling with Roger and Annie Smith from Newcastle… Roger is Binod’s main PhD supervisor.  They are all now safely in the village, but it’s not easy to get photos and information out of there right now. So, I’ll fill in for them today to explain a little more of the reason why David has taken on this adventure. A little background first….David and I are very involved in supporting and mentoring a group of early career medical researchers at Hunter Medical Research Institute and the University of Newcastle in Australia… And one of those researchers is a Nepalese, Binod Sharma.

Binod’s PhD goal is to explore whether tapping into the Napalese village culture of handing on messages through song line, through folk music and dance, can help create community awareness regarding maternal health and well being.  He hopes the outcome will be improved maternity health care and baby welfare in an area where safe pregnancies and good childbirth outcomes have been, to date, very poor. To promote his message, Binod set up an intervention singing and dancing competition.

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To begin with, Binod explained his proposal to the village people. Here he discusses the concept with village health workers.

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He took every opportunity to chat to people as he walked from village to village.

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In the beginning, Binod’s aim was to involve primary age children in preparing lyrics about the importance of motherhood, to traditional music and dance. This young performer is certainly enjoying her moment on ‘the stage’, the bare earth of a village cottage.  She’s cheered on by the village women. (Binod is on the left in the red jacket.)

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But it’s not just the children who are getting involved!

And the banner is bringing home the messages, too.

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Soon, villages were having concerts to show off their songs.

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What has eventuated is a wonderful embracing of the ideals of the competition with people from all parts of these isolated communities, women, men, adolescents and children all engaging in the project… and enjoying the experience.

 

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It isn’t a walk in the park getting from one village to another. The monsoon has washed out roads and trails and the effort of walking for hours is not for the faint hearted. This is a group of teachers from the high school who have volunteered to go from village to village and perform the best of the 28 competition songs that were produced.

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Binod negotiates a fast flowing stream on his way to one of the villages.

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The teacher’s choir sings their message on the banks of rice paddy. The fact that this choir is made up of male high schoolteachers lead by the school Principal is evidence of the way this intervention is seen as very important by all sections of the community.

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The singers and dancers on this occasion are taking a few minutes off from planting the rice… new plants used as ribbons to wave to the music. Binod gets into the action too.

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Binod takes every chance he can to be as involved as possible with the village people. He was born in this area, so this is the lifestyle of his family and ancestors. Learning to use a plough like this is a real balancing act… and a very muddy one!

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The outcome of the intervention so far has been much better than we could have ever hoped. On this occasion 450 people turned up for a concert of the songs… about 100 were expected. This was the biggest gathering in history for this area. So…an excellent start has been made and it is hoped that this community singing engagement develops into long term benefits for women, babies and maternal health in general. More anon.

Hopefully we’ll get some more input from Binod or David in the next couple of days.

David (and Jennie)

All photographs copyright ©  Binod Sharma

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

We are hoping to spread word of this intervention far and wide!

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

Nepal: #2 A Walk Down Memory Lane

 

My time in KTM was brief but this was a chance to have a wander down memory lane after 37 years since I lived here in the late 1970s. (This will be more words than photos… we’ll add photos to flickr after I get home. All too difficult from here!)

So… Day 1… I decided to just wander and see what was what… and I walked more in KTM than I ever did back in 1979. But then, I had a car and driver.

I trundled out of the hotel past all the security guards and through the gates into the narrow laneways that lead to the hotel entrance from Durbar Marg. Durbar Marg is a main thoroughfare that leads to the Narayanhitti Palace, the residence of the former Royal family but now a museum. I decided to head away from the Palace towards New Road. This relatively important shopping street was built after the area was destroyed in a 1934 earthquake. It doesn’t look too new anymore particularly as it has another 37 years worth of dust and grime on it since I was familiar with its shops. It seems to be mostly held together by communication wires all tangled together as in many Asian cities.

I made a few observations. There are many people on the streets with leprosy. Most were begging on the grubby footpaths exhibiting there deformed hands and feet. Begging bowls were mostly empty so not even the locals show much concern. I also observed that, unlike 37 years ago, on this walk I didn’t see one cow and there were only a few dogs. Not the same emphasis to mind your foot steps to miss the dog poop!

At the end of New Road is one of the entrances to Durbar Square where much of the recent earthquake damage took place. Many very significant, centuries old buildings and temples were seriously damaged and/or collapsed altogether. I’m sure you remember the devastation caused to the area from TV news stories at the time.

There were a few barricades across the road but I’d been walking past and through them all morning, so didn’t take much notice, except to watch out for bits sticking out that might stub my toe. By the barricades I went. Whistles blew and all hell broke out! Why? Ah! The barricades are there because Foreigners have to pay to get into this famous Square nowadays. The cost? One thousand Nepalese rupees (AUD12.50). I baulked, knowing what corruption goes on, and in any case, I hadn’t as yet changed any of my hard currency into the local stuff. And to put the charge into some perspective, my whole bill at a 5star hotel which included a bed, dinner, 2 beers and breakfast, was only 12 times that amount. And I’d been in that square many times before with much better memories

So, I about turned and headed back the way I came with a few deviations along the way up narrow streets and alleyways, mostly lined with shops of all kinds. The streets were busy with people and motor bikes.

I decided that I had to change some money. I’d noticed earlier that there were a couple of money changers quite close to the hotel’s front gate of the hotel so I decided it might be a good place to try. And, with my little bit of Nepali, I got a slightly better rate than that advertised. Back to hotel with money now to buy tickets into places on Day 2.

I wasn’t the only one ready to settle down for an early night at the hotel. Some local pigeons were settling down on my window sill railing despite the efforts of the hotel to keep them off. A double row of heavy fishing line has been strung between nails but this just means the pigeons do a tight-rope walk to get to where they want to go. One ‘puffy‘ male is even courting on the tight-rope! Quite dexterous he is too, but then the reward maybe worth it.

Across the other side of the lawn, the big jacaranda trees was busy with grey and black crows looking for a suitable branch to spend the night on. There are also what appear to be small flocks of parrots that fly across the garden. There were never any parrots in Kathmandu in the late 1970’s, in fact Indians used to bring the birds up from the Terrai for sale. Perhaps, just like at home in Canberra where over the last few years Rainbow Lorikeets from the warmer coastal areas have made Canberra home, these parrots find Kathmandu to their liking now too. Global Warming at work? Perhaps.

Day 2 of my wanders saw me up and ready to explore. I decided to visit the Royal Palace Museum, a place I’ve never been into before because when I lived in KTM the King and his family lived in that Palace. But not any more. Nepal no longer has a king.

 

The palace’s name is derived from two Newari words, ‘Narayan’ from the Lord Vishnu temple located near the palace, and ‘hiti’, which refers to the water spout to the east (right) of the main palace gates.

The original palace, built in 1915, was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake… Nepal as you probably realise, is prone to earthquakes.  Among the 8,519 people killed in that earthquake were two daughters of the then King of Nepal, Tribhuvan. After that, a new palace was built nearby, Tribhuvan Sadan. And it was in that building, on June 1, 2001, that the royal family of Nepal was massacred. King Birendra and his Queen Aishwarya, crown prince Dipendra, Princess Shruti, Prince Nirjan and other relatives were all shot while they were enjoying a quiet family gathering.  Official reports state that Dipendra massacred his own family in anger over a marriage dispute involving his intended bride.  His mother had not approved his choice.  The official report of the massacre states that, in an alcoholic and hashish enraged state, Dipendra shot his family and then himself.  However, he didn’t die for three days, and, as protocol dictated, he was crowned King, even in his comatose state in hospital.  His reign lasted for 56 hours.  He was succeeded by his uncle, Prince Gyanendra.  The Tribhuvan Sadan building has since been demolished, obliterating all physical evidence of that awful event.

If your curiosity is raised by this short description of an historic moment in Nepal’s history, I can suggest the book, “Love and Death in Kathmandu” by Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker, Australians journalists who went to Nepal to find out for themselves the real story. It’s also an excellent view of the political way of life in Nepal in the time of the Kingdom.

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In 1963, a new building was begun on the site of the palace destroyed in 1934. It was called Narayanhiti Palace, and it’s that palace that is now the Narayanhiti Palace Museum.

I arrived at the palace just after it opened at 11.00.  There must have been 50 other people all queuing to buy tickets. All, except three other foreigners, were ‘locals’.  This was good to see as there must still be a good deal of respect for the now defunct royal family.  The royals were very much revered by the Nepalese when I lived in KTM 37 years ago.  The king was slowly changing things, giving up total power to other ruling sectors, but this was generally against the people’s wishes.  He was a god, he could do no wrong; hard for us to understand, but that’s the way it was in what was still, in many ways, a Medieval kingdom.  Slowly, slowly he was having an effect.  But that is another completely different story, one that I’m not going to even touch here.

Back to the queue. Tickets cost different amounts depending on who you are and where you come from.  Nepali citizens get in for Rp100 (1AUD = 80 NPR), Students get in for Rp20, Chinese Nationals and SAARC Countries pay, Rp250, while all others pay Rp500.  Kids under 3 are free.  The advantage of being a foreigner was that I was taken to the front of the queue for a quicker fleecing!  Once that was done and dusted, all cameras, phones, in fact everything except wallets and water bottles, had to be left in a locker.  This involved queuing at another little window for someone to take your belongings and give you a key in return.  Rather surprisingly, lockers were free!

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It was a rather long walk up the curving driveway what used to be the ceremonial route to the main entrance of the palace.  I climbed the main steps as had many kings, queens, presidents, Heads of State and other dignitaries in the past  Inside, tourists are allowed to view 19 of 52 rooms.  They are rather subdued compared to many ‘palaces’ I’ve had the privilege of touring in other countries.  There was some ostentation, as would be expected, but there was nothing over the top as seen in pictures of some current presidents in a few African countries.  And nothing like the palaces of the Russian Tzars or French Emperor’s palaces that I’ve had the privilege of visiting.

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There are several photos of inside the palace on ‘images’ on Google. We’ll add a couple to give you some idea of the style. This interesting ceiling is over the throne.

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That was the throne…

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And that was the King who sat on that throne.

The palace was converted into a museum when Nepal became a republic after the 2006 revolution. One of the things that impressed me the most was the fact that even though the royals were thrown out of power by the Maoists, there was no looting and smashing of anything that belonged to the previous regime.  There’s still plenty of the ‘old-way’ of Nepalese Royal life to be seen.

And really, the whole place, inside and out, is not very well maintained.  The inside was musty (it is the monsoon season after all) and it’s a bit dank.  All signs were in Nepali and English, which made the experience for non-Nepali speaking tourists a great help!

The palace surrounds and gardens are nowhere near what they must have been when the royals were still in residence.  The cost to the country to maintain them is still high and no doubt better directed towards helping the Nepalese to build a better country for all.  As long as the entrance fees cover the cost of maintenance, most will be kept happy.  I’m glad I went.

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It took just on an hour to complete the tour and, by that time, thunder clouds were building over the mountains that surround the Kathmandu Valley.  Would they develop into a wet afternoon?  Before that happened, I went back to the hotel to drop off my palace museum leaflet and to collect my old Nokia phone, the charger for which I’d lost somewhere some months ago.  I’d noticed some ‘mobile repair’ shops on New Road, so hoped that one of them may have a replacement charger.  I headed in that direction and hadn’t walked more than a couple of hundred metres when there was what I sought, a mobile phone repair shop, not much bigger than most people’s toilets.  Sure enough, the guy had exactly what I needed.  He went to the trouble of trying out the new charger in my phone.  It didn’t respond, but it has had a flat battery for over three months.  Do you have new batteries?  Of course he did!  I’ll have one of those too, please.  All up it cost Rp700 (AUD about 8).  The charger alone at home was going to cost considerably more than that and I had to order it into the bargain.  In the event, I didn’t really need the battery as the old one is charging nicely now… Murphy again!  But it is in it’s old age and just takes a little longer to respond… don’t we all?

On the strength of that success, I decided to see if I could locate some local beer.  Just a few shops way was a likely prospect.  Pay dirt!  A couple of bottles of cold beer, at less than half the price at the hotel, and I was a happy boy.

Back in my room sooner than I’d thought, I was extra pleased to have missed any chance of getting wet in a thunderstorm… I’ll have plenty of chances to get really wet when I get up into the hills with Binod.

Enjoyed a beer while watching the resident pigeons doing their tight-rope practicing on the wires outside my window ledge.

Lovely buffet in the Sunrise Restaurant.  One thing that has changed in the restaurant is that there are new tables.  I suppose you would expect that after a 37 year lapse in time.  I know the tables are different because back then when we were staying here in 1979, we brought the whole restaurant to a complete stop, or at least my elder son Peter did.   Peter, was 11 months old at the time, was sitting with us at the table. He was sitting in a seat that hung on the side of the table, his weight keeping it in place.  However, as 11 month’s old do, he was finding his legs and, on this occasion, he pushed hard against some under-table framework and shot himself backwards, off the table and straight down onto the marble floor.  There was utter silence.  Then, the shock of what he had done set in, and he cried.  No real harm was done but all the staff raced to his rescue.  His new-found trick was quickly forgotten, by all but his parents… I remember it well.

Another occasion that comes to mind from 1979, was when a waiter dropped a bucket of ice.  He dropped to his knees and scooped the ice back into the bucket.  This would have been OK except that he continued to do what he had set out to do, and that was to put the ice in someone’s glass of water.  Refrigeration, and ice, was such a luxury back then that I’m sure he couldn’t bare the thought of wasting such a prized commodity.  The maitre de was quickly on the scene to remedy the situation.  Seems strange to us, but the waiter probably went home each night to a mud-floor dwelling.  Ice would be precious.

And that reminds me of another situation that occurred after we moved into our house, which I must point out was bigger, and better, than the one we left behind in Canberra.  We had a stand-in cook for a day or two and on this particular occasion it was taking a long time for a cup of tea to arrive.  I went into the kitchen and found the electric kettle sitting on top of the electric toaster  Of course it was taking a long time to boil, but again, this person would have gone home to a single light globe hanging on a cord and no other electrical appliances. These were learning experiences for us!

And here comes another memory.  My predecessor had planted a black passion fruit vine in the garden at our house.  Lo, and behold, it fruited… so I took the fruit and gave it to the cook and said that this would be nice with tonight’s fruit salad.  Tonight’s fruit salad duly turned up with the passion fruit included.  The problem was that the cook had scooped out all the seeds, as he would have done if the fruit had been a papaya. He presented us with small pieces of diced passion fruit skin.  We could do nothing else but try to stifle a giggle!  How was he to know, I didn’t explain to him the vagaries of this, to him, new fruit?  My time in Nepal was full of this type of incident which only made for a better experience, a life changing experience, that hopefully, has made me a better person to understand that there is always another way of doing things.

Those clouds have eventually released their load with thunder and lightning. Dinner time beckons and I’ll leave my memories here and venture down for a meal. More anon of the real adventure, the real reason for coming to Nepal, when I get to the villages with Binod and have some photos ( and video) of that area to share with you all.

David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

 

Nepal: #1 A new adventure

Having completed our arm chair travel to South East Asia, it’s now time for you to come with me to  a part of the world that’s not on the tourist map, although the country we’ll be visiting is well known as a mountain climbing destination… Nepal. I worked here on a tree planting project for a couple of years back in the late 1970’s. Now I’m heading back to take part in a very different type of project involving the peoples of small hill villages… but I will describe that project as we go along. First just let us check out where I’ll be.

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It’s a bit of a journey to get to Nepal from Australia. I went via Bangkok.

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Nepal is a landlocked country of 26.5 million people. It’s bordered by India to the west, south and east and by China to the north, on the other side of the mighty Himalayas.

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As most of you will be aware, Nepal is home to Mount Everest, the highest place on earth. The country has in total, eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains.

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But, on this occasion, it’s not to visit those mighty mountains that I’m venturing to Nepal. I’ll  be visiting some humble, small mountain villages which are part of a very special cultural awareness project being run by a Nepalese medical doctor, Binod Sharma. This project constitutes Binod’s PhD thesis, through the University of Newcastle, NSW, and Jennie and I are very happy and proud to have Binod as one of our special group of medical researchers at the  Hunter Medical Research Institute.

I’ll be doing the adventure and Jennie will be co-ordinating the stories, photos and videos that Binod and I send back to Australia in an attempt to get this fascinating story out to as many people as possible. So please pass on our web site to friends and family.

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And to get there, we will have to drive up some pretty amazing tracks. This photo was taken in the dry… it’s now very, very wet after the monsoon rains… we’ll see.

But first I am having a couple of days in Kathmandu, the capital, 1,400 m of elevation and a population of just over 1 million.  This city  was my home for a couple of years and it’s where my younger son, Andrew, was born. I wonder how much different it looks after that tragic earthquake? So it’s time for a trip down memory lane before I fly to Pokhara and ‘head for the hills’ with Binod.

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On the final approach to landing in KTM.

The flight to KTM from BKK was totally uneventful, as I like flights to be.  There were only 6 of us in a 30 seat section of the B777.  I don’t remember what type of aircraft Thai used to fly into KTM back in 1979 … but the rather exciting descent to the airport, after crossing the range surrounding KTM, hasn’t changed.  The descent takes place over 5-6 km in a matter of minutes rather than the usual 30 minutes of gradual descent under ‘normal’ conditions.  Engines revving, then throttling back, constantly changing, makes for a rather unusual landing into Tribhuvan International Airport.  The KTM valley is after all only 15km long by about 9km wide.  And the mountain gap through which the planes approach the valley is around 9000 ft high!  I can remember, when living in KTM, watching arrivals from BKK come over the pass with their landing lights on.

Some things at the Arrivals Hall haven’t changed.  The guy checking the luggage tags on exiting the terminal wanted $5 for the honour.  He didn’t get far.  

The man from the Hotel Yak and Yeti was waiting for me when I emerged from the terminal.  All good.  But I have to confess that I found the arrival all a bit emotional!!!!  Lots of very happy memories including the birth of my son Andrew.

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The Yak and Yeti still looks very grand… and no the red carpet was not for me. However, staying here is a real treat for me … photo from the hotel’s web site!

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I’ve been given a lovely front room with a very warm welcome from staff. A plate of fruit; 3 apples, 2 bananas and a mango arrived with a plate of 6 in house-made chocs.  My note to them about having stayed here before in 1979 when we first came to KTM seems to have worked.  I can look out onto a couple of large jacarandas, 3 Magnolia grandiflora and an equally large Callistemon all of which I seem to remember from 1979.

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What I don’t remember is the outdoor swimming pool… but then again, I wouldn’t have had time to get into it anyway.   And is it my ideal temperature of 28 degrees plus!!

The phone rang not long after getting here saying that my host, Binod, had called from Pokhara and would I like to return the call?  I did but he didn’t answer.  About an hour later he called again with a welcome to Nepal chat and asking if there was anything I needed that he could help with.  We discussed the different times of my flight and that of my travelling companions from HMRI, Roger Smith and his wife Anne.  Binod thought his travel agent in PKR could book us all on the same flight. So that’s all good and we should have time to reach the village before dark despite the atrocious condition of the road after the monsoon.

I’ll ask Jennie to add a link to Binod’s ‘you tube’ video of his last trip up from Pokhara and you’ll see what I mean… more push than ride! (See link at end of post)

Still no luck with FaceTime to Australia.  It took hrs to get connected to internet as the quoted log off was also the log on!!!!  Why would I try logging off before I logged on?  Where am I?  Free internet only seems to work in the lobby area where I am parked to write these musings.  It costs more from the room. It’s free down here and what an excuse to have a Gorkha beer.  There are Everest and Nepal Ice varieties still to try.

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The hotel doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1979.  Still lots of atmosphere with oodles of carved wood everywhere set off against the terracotta bricks. Very Nepalese.  The murals on the wall behind Reception still look bright but they’ve probably been touched up in the 37 years since I’ve seen them. (another hotel web site photo)

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The Sunrise Restaurant, that octagonal room in the garden, is where breakfast is eaten.  One amusing feature of this place is outside the large picture windows where a wall has been built up to almost window level to create a kind of window box effect.  Nothing wrong with that except that there is a a strip of grass about 450mm wide between the edge and the windows.  A one plant-wide strip of garden bed against the outside edge finishes the scene.  At the moment this is planted with balsam.  Problem? …the grass has to be cut by hand; there is no room for a mower.  So there must still be plenty of cheap manpower around … no need to change a system that has no doubt worked well for over 37 years.

My room is in this ‘new’ section; the old neo-classical part seems to be for the top restaurant and spa.  That can’t take up all the area though, so perhaps the Casino is there as well.  Probably should investigate… just for a look see, of course.

Some things have not been renovated! The Gents in the lobby area brought back memories with its rather dark floor and walls covered in a spotty charcoal, pink and beige marble.  The vanity top is black along with all woodwork being painted black also.  For a highlight or two, there are plain black wall tiles imbedded into the marble.

I’m in the downstairs lobby to write this and there are interviews going on right next to me, presumably for a job.  All very intense with new applicants arriving every 15 minutes.  Obviously an outsider doing the interviewing and not somebody from the hotel. I can think of worse places to conduct interviews.  There seem to be more smiles though when a female turns up!  I think the interviewer is Indian, but I’m not suggesting anything!

The lovely barman has just told me that during Happy Hour the 3rd beer is free.  What a bummer!  Free. And, I can have it anywhere, in the restaurant, my room, the spa, anywhere as long as it is ordered before 19.30.  I’ll do it just to please him!!!!! The peanuts and hot chilli Twists, those look-alike and taste-alike snacks, are OK as well.

As those interviews finish, another interesting situation is unfolding a few seats away from me. There’s a small group of ladies… one is an English lady, probably in her mid-forties. She’s prattling away at a great rate of knots ‘telling’ 3 Nepalese ladies, probably of the same age, something.  It’s just not the way to go about things here!  Slowing down the presentation and talking ‘with’ and not ‘at’, will work wonders and get better results.

Talking of results… I seem to have arrived in Nepal just in time for another change of Prime Minister… the eighth in eight years. Sounds familiar to an Aussie! Maybe this time there will be some stability. The voting was a clear majority — 363 in favour and 210 against. He’s Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a Maoist leader, so it’s a swing back to the left.

Dahal, the new PM is reported to have said that he would maintain balanced relations with Nepal’s two neighbours, India and China. He was greeted soon after his election by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who invited Dahal for an official visit to India….. things have been very strained between those two countries for a long time. And the Chinese ambassador presented Dahal with a bouquet, assuring continued support and good will. So it remains to be seen what will happen now.

We’ve just had a brown out, around 30 seconds of no lights and whirr of AC, followed by the generator kicking in and the lights and whirr continues.  My third beer has just arrived, it’s 18.10, so perhaps it’s time to head to the restaurant for some dinner which will be followed by an early night.  I think I’ve earned it!

But before I sign off, and just to get you into the mood for the exciting adventure to come, take a look at Binod’s video of the ride up to the village from Pokhara… link below.

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That’s Binod in the red jacket. Amongst all the stuff to be taken up to the village are three new mattresses for Roger, Annie and me. Binod said he’d look after us and it appears he is true to his word.

https://youtu.be/1uSbMz97fgE

More anon

David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

 

 

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Indonesia: Exploring Around Ubud; Bali

The last ‘formal’ part of our whole adventure in SE Asia was a day spent travelling into the countryside around Ubud.

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Narrow, winding roads were encountered for most of the journey.

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The name ‘penjor’ is used to describe these tall bamboo poles.  They are decorated with coconut leaves which have been cut into intricate shapes.  They are used by Hindus in Bali for every important ceremony.

Penjors are the representation of mountains, particularly Mt Agung, the highest mountain in Bali.  The Balinese see them as a symbol of the universe.

Galungan is a Balinese holiday marking the beginning of the most important recurring religious ceremony.  This is the time when the spirits of cremated relatives return to their former home ancestral home on Earth.  It occurs at different times each year as it is based on the 210 day Balinese calendar.  Their living relatives have the responsibility of welcoming the departed back home by saying prayers and making offerings.  Offerings are made up of root crops, such as sweet potato, fruit of any kind, grains, leaves, traditional cakes and 11 Chinese coins

Penjor are erected to show devotion to the God of the Mountain.  The Balinese know that mountains contain forests and that these forests hold a lot of water.  This water eventually ends up in rivers which in turn supports all their irrigation needs.

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We drove to an area of beautiful rice paddies.

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Another view of the terraces on which the centuries old paddies have been constructed.

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The rice was in excellent condition.  It was not far off flowering.  In an attempt to assure a good crop, this small woven bamboo platform held offerings to the gods.

DSC04997.JPGThe paddies stretched off into the distance.  Pockets of land were still covered in forest and coconut palms dotted the paddy bunds.  This method of farming constitutes a very sensible form of agriculture compared to the Western broad acre form of agriculture.  It is, however, very manpower / woman power intensive.

DSC05002.JPGWe came across these demon-gods stored in a covered area attached to a temple.  No doubt they are paraded through the streets on important festival days.

DSC05008.JPGEach family home has a number of ancestral shrines such as these.  They contain the ashes of deceased relatives.

From the rice paddy area we drove on to Lake Bratan.  It is known as the Lake of the Holy Mountain due to the fertility of this area. It is 1200 m (3937 ft) above sea level.

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This out-rigger boat had seen better days.

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On the edge of the lake is Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Pura Bratan) which is a major water temple.  The temple was built in 1663 and is used to make offerings to the river goddess Dewi Danu as it is the main source of irrigation water for all central Bali.

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The main temple, of 11 stories, is dedicated to Shiva and his consort Parvithi.

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The temple complex is surrounded by very well maintained gardens.

DSC05029A Javan Pond Heron (Ardeola speciosa) wading through water plants looking for its favourite food of fish, insects and crabs.

Next, we drove to Tabanan, about 20 km, (12 miles) from Denpasar.  Here we were to look at the Tanah Lot Temple.

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To get to the temple, visitors have to run the gauntlet of hundreds of ‘tourist shops’.  One, however, had a couple of civets on display.  These were of interest to us as a result of our earlier visit to the plantation where the civet’s scats were collected to produce the ‘most expensive coffee in the world’.

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The pointy-nosed animals wouldn’t stay still for a second for a good photo.

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On the way to the shore we passed this gate to a shrine.

Tanah Lot is actually a rock formation which in Balinese means ‘Land Sea’.  On it is built Tanah Lot temple, one of seven sea temples dotted along the SW coast of Bali.  Believed has it that the temple dates from the 16th Century and that the site was chosen because of its beautiful setting.  It is dedicated to the Sea God.  It is believed that venomous sea snakes guard the temple and that the temple itself is protected by a giant snake.

DSC05067In 1980, the Japanese government gave the Indonesian government a loan of about USD130 million to help with the restoration and conservation of the temple along with other significant projects around Bali. It’s a very popular place to visit!

DSC05064Detail of the top of the temple.  Only Hindus can actually visit it.

DSC05070.JPGPura Batu Bolong is another of the Pura Batu Bolong and is within sight of Tanah lot.  It sits upon on a rocky promontory.

DSC05063.JPGOne of the very ‘touristy’ things to do in Tabanan is to be within sight of these temples at sunset.  It was a partially cloudy day with clouds hanging on the horizon so it was decided that it was not worth waiting until sunset.  It had been a long day already.  We headed back to Ubud.

Unfortunately, I have to tell you folks that this is the last post for my Bangkok to Bali trip.  I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I did.

But the good news is that my next adventure is about to begin…. this time to Nepal to visit some hill villages west of Pokhara for a very interesting project.  So,please, keep following my posts for all the latest happenings.

David

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