Archive | May, 2012

Monkeys on the Runway

30 May

I am fortunate to have travelled quite a bit in my life.  I have napped on beautiful white sand beaches, navigated through the back streets of Europe, seen the ruins of Machu Picchu, drifted along the Amazon.  I have seen the Andes, the Alps, the Rockies.  But none of these compares to the Himalayas.

We took a short 25-minute flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu, flying along the mountain range.  The Pokhara airport is tiny, and the metal detector in the “security” section was broken.  The flight announcement we were told would be made was actually just a man running around telling passengers it was time to go through security.  While waiting for our flight, we saw a small Buddha Air plane take off.  We were told that was our plane.  The small propeller plane made its way to Kathmandu and back in one hour, getting us in the air just in time to see the Himalayas peaking its white tips high into the sky.

The two curtains behind me block off the security rooms at the airport.  There are no x-ray machines and the metal detectors weren’t working, so the men and women were taken into the separate rooms for a pat down.

After we landed in Kathmandu, someone pointed to small figures running across the runway.  I turned and saw dozens of monkeys running from one end to the other and over a high fence into the trees.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see them.  Animals run free all over Nepal.  In fact, Chitwan, in Southern Nepal, has a large National Park that houses Bengal tigers, leopards, pythons and the second largest population of Asian Rhinoceros.  In Kathmandu, large cows with fresh marigold wreaths around their necks sleep unharmed like center dividers in the busy streets.  But for some reason, the monkeys on the runway completely caught me off guard.

Dozens of monkeys ran across the runway and climbed over the fence.

We arrived back in Kathmandu around noon, and seeing the drive to the hotel in the daylight gave me a completely different perspective of the city.  Our first time there, it was pitch black when we arrived, and my mom joked that it was a good thing I couldn’t see where we were going.  This time, I saw the back alleys, the rubble on the side of the road, the pothole-ridden street that led to our hotel.  I was thankful that I had already seen Kathmandu in the daylight, because if this were my first impression, I would have asked the driver to turn around.

The Kathmandu baggage claim.  The men stand on the carts waving the luggage until someone claims it.

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La Bohéme

6 May

Pokhara couldn’t have been more different from my first impression, and it quickly turned into one of my favorite cities.  It’s a small (by first world standards) town nestled on the Phewa Lake blockaded by the Himalayas.  It is actually the second most populated city in Nepal, after Kathmandu, and is a popular tourist destination.  However, it is difficult to even call it a city.  Walking along the lake, we felt like we were in on some sort of secret, like we were being treated with this unspoiled treasure that the rest of the world had no idea even existed.

Phewa Lake at dusk

It is likely that the types of tourists who visit are the reason that Pokhara has maintained its charm.  Although the street signs are in English and the restaurants serve hamburgers, the trekkers and the hippies, not always mutually exclusive, respect the landscape and genuinely love the country.  Many vagabonds stop in Pokhara on their way to another place and end up spending years there, lured in by the bohemian luster.  Dreadlocks and flowing skirts float past you with cheery far-off smiles as you make your way to the next shop with hanging scarves and colorful woolen rugs.  Caught somewhere between 1840’s Paris and a Moroccan bazaar, this little city entranced us too.

We spent two days in Lakeside Pokhara, basking in our post-valley luxuries.  We relished the air conditioner, refrigerator, and wifi, and even the 14-hour long government-inflicted blackouts everyday couldn’t hamper our moods.

Dad and Mom at Phewa Lake

On our first night, I ordered pizza at a wonderful restaurant called Moondance.  I devoured it, thankful for the break from our twice-daily daal bhats.  But after that night of satisfying my Western cravings, I continued to enjoy the Nepali cuisine, which is delicious.  I had had Nepali food before our trip, but I was not prepared for how much I would love every dish I tried.  There are many different types of Nepali foods, the most common of which is daal bhat, but the flavors resemble everything from Indian to Hawaiian.  Some of the spices are familiar; they use garlic and onions in almost every dish, with cilantro, ginger and cardamom permeating even the smallest serving of pickled vegetables.

Even after we left the valley, we continued to enjoy the local foods.  Our daily lunches consisted of chicken momos, a Nepali-style dumpling, and garlic naan.  We soaked up the laid-back hippie lifestyle, feeling comforted to be surrounded by English-speaking Americans and Europeans again, but thrilled by the unique Lakeside Nepali culture.  We spent our time in Pokhara wandering the streets, in the hot sun, visiting the small shopkeepers with their windows draped in cashmere and prayer beads.  Beautiful dilapidated but colorful rowboats floated on the lake like petals on a pond, and the entire Lakeside seemed to be enveloped by a sense of calm.  Our time in Pokhara was absolutely perfect.

Kathy Cooks

1 May

One morning, I offered to cook dinner.  In Nepali homes, the guests do not enter the kitchen, so I really didn’t know how this was all going to work out. Our friend, Shree, has a chicken farm and had been telling us that he was going to bring a chicken for dinner one night. Everyone wanted to taste American food, so it made sense that I would cook. When asked what ingredients I would need, I had to stop and think of what exactly I was going to cook. Chicken with garlic, onions and potatoes, green beans and tomatoes on the side. Sounds easy enough. Now for the spices, do they have any thyme or oregano? What about olive oil or some butter?

In the late afternoon Shree came down from the chicken farm with a live chicken in his arms. He put it in the storeroom to wait until the water boiled, in order to pluck the feathers. With a quick slice, and a dunk into the boiling water Shree began plucking. Since we didn’t have the knives to butcher it, Shree took the chicken to the local butcher. He asked me how I wanted the chicken cut and I told him that any way the butcher did it was fine with me.

I had begun to cook the potatoes, onions and garlic when then the power went out. It was getting dark, and this reminded me of the times when I was using a camp stove. The kitchen does not have any running water or refrigeration and without light it was hard to see what I was cooking. When Shree returned with the butchered chicken, he handed me a small black plastic bag, full of a cut-up chicken, every part of it including the bones and organs.

Nabaraj and Shree returned with the local wine and a few neighbors stopped by to taste American food. We all laughed and had a good time. Even Shailee and Bimala (Shailee’s cousin who lived with them) ate with everyone in the living room. Funny thing though, the chicken tasted Nepali. I think the spices are embedded in the wok. When Shree asked me what the name of my dish was I said “motorcycle chicken.” He just smiled and knew why. I named it that because the chickens are carried, live, to the markets tied to the handlebars of the motorcycle.

Shree, proudly holding his chicken