Welcome to Nepal - Crossing over from India to Nepal and Traveling into the Eastern Hills
October 18 ...


Welcome to Nepal.  What a change from India.  Accompanying pictures are at www.icelu.com/nepal_1
(there is an underscore " _ "between "\nepal" and the "1" ) I've attached a few more to this email relevant to the story that I left off the web. 
   My last email was from Varanasi where I was ill and overwhelmed. I left Varanasi for Nepal with my health much improved. The prospect of this travel was daunting since I didn't know how it would work. Like stepping out into thin air. I took a train from Varanasi to Patna, a 6 hour ride beginning at 9:00 pm. and arriving 3:00 AM.  Being at the railroad station in an Indian city at 3:00 am is daunting.  Then I'd have to figure where to catch the bus to Nepal and which bus to take.  I've tried Hindi without much success.  Luckily I was rescued. On the train  I met two Nepali students, Depok and Sujit,  heading home for the holidays who agreed to let me tag along with them.  Arriving in Patna (3:00 am) we had tea at one of the the ubiquitous outdoor stands and waited around for a while.  Depok thought no busses left til 6, but they talked with a taxi driver for about 10 minutes and he drove us to a bus depot where we caught what the boys thought was a bus to the border. That trip was from 4:00 am til noon. Turned out the bus didn't go to the border but a town a few hours away. Riding the bus is the Indian experience I had vaguely imagined. Busses fill with people until no more will fit. We are talking physical possibilities. There is no personal space. I deem it one of my greater accomplishments that I was able to adjust my mind to sitting absolutely cramped for 8 hours and observe the world around me with interest and wonder. After I accepted that there would be no rest stops or food  and accepted the various discomforts that arose, I found I felt great. My fear was that I would feel overwhelmed and sick as I had in Varanasi. The opposite happened. I felt better as time passed and I accepted the situation more fully. While the bus is packed, there are little adjustments that people are making all the time. They are not selfish adjustments but a subtle give and take that are helpful. Women and children are afforded more space. Old people are accommodated as well as possible. I was surprised that Depok and Sujit, my student guides, complained regularly.

We got off the bus in an Indian town. Sujit got a shave, I think because he was going home to his family. And then they found a restaurant that served Nepali food. Rice, lentils, vegetables, fried lentil cracker and yogurt. My recent stomach troubles made me afraid, but there was little choice. The food tasted very good and I felt better after. Then another bus ride for 2 more hours. Depok had expected it to take 30 minutes.

We came to the Nepali border. The world slowed down. Depok got us a rickshaw. No motor traffic crosses the border here. Since this was a border crossing little used by foreign nationals I had been preparing myself emotionally to be turned back. We rolled across the border in the rickshaw and didn't see a government official. There was an official looking building and though Depok agreed, yes, I should check in there,  he made no effort to slow the rickshaw. The message was clear. Let sleeping dogs lie. Nepalis seem to have little regard for government and avoid it as much as possible. Shortly after that we had to leave the rickshaw and cross the bamboo bridge (picture on web). The motor bridge had washed out in the monsoon. This is the Nepal I remembered.

Let me tell you how wonderful it was to have quiet after 3 weeks of India. I find India fascinating. How the people make that culture work is miraculous. I approached it foolishly. I was not prepared mentally, emotionally or practically.  Next time, understanding better  how it works,  I will be able to appreciate it less clouded by my discomforts and confusion.

The bus we took from the Nepali border to Sujit's village took 45 minutes.  It was no less full than in India. The Nepalis handle the adversity less well: I saw people getting angry with each other, being crammed together.  They seem less used to it, less accepting, and less skilled at the give and take. But generally the mood was festive. The crowds are because of Desai, the festival when family gather at their grandparents' homes.

Depok had invited me to stay with his family in Janapur before continuing on to Dhankuta in the morning which was an enormously welcome invitation. I was really ready to escape the (tourist <-> tourist industry) subculture. We went to Sujit's home and never left. Look at the picture of Sujit and Depok walking the path to Sujit's home. Talk about decompression. Quiet, slow, village life.

At Sujit's home I was first engaged by his oldest brother, a Doctor at the Hospital in Kathmandu, returned for Desai, and then his second oldest brother, a science and math teacher at a government school near the Tibetan border on the China road, talked to me for a while. Then we had the family photographs which are on the web. Observe that men and women do not photograph together, just as they do very little else together.    After that I was invited to the evening Puja, where one of the brothers got permission for me to photograph the alter? Hindu ritual is quite beyond me. Then we had dinner. We exchanged email addresses all around and promised to write and send pictures.
    Electricity and telephone came to Sujit's home 10 years ago.  Sujit's older brother bought the family a television last year. They mostly watch tapes of Hindi music and dancing.  The house is made of concrete instead of the traditional mud and rock.  The grandmother, 70, has a traditional wood stove, chulo, which she covers with a mixture of mud and cow dung ( lipnu) like she has all her life.  This is just in a corner of the court yard.  The women don't have to "lipnu" the dirt floor every day now because it is concrete.  Talk about labor saving.  The house has a toilet.  Sujit's father works at a bank, and his 3 sons are college educated.  They are Brahman.  Sujit says that the people in the Terai, the flat part of Nepal next to India, have been discriminated against by the politically powerful hill tribes. He's right.  He doesn't think it will change.  When I suggest that since 55% of the people live in the Terrai, when the Democracy begins that will change, he doesn't belive it.  People here, even the educated, don't seem to grasp how Democracy works  - or how to participate.

In the morning Sujit and Depok escorted me into Janapur and put me on a bus for Hile,  my first destination in the hills. (I write Hile, "Heille", sometimes, since it is pronounced Hillay. A ten year old looking over my shoulder corrected my spelling, but I don't want to go back and fix them all.)  I was feeling wonderful. The morning was too beautiful. (See the web pictures of the morning leaving the viillage.) A problem arose with catching the bus though; by the time the busses reached us, they were all  full.  Since I was feeling good I suggested we ride on top of the bus. Depok and Sujit thought that an excellent idea. It's much more pleasant on top than inside, though the boys reminded me repeatedly to keep my head down as there are low hanging wires. When we arrive at the bus depot in Janapur the boys talk to the bus driver and the conductor who promise to take care of me. It turns out I need to change busses in Idhary. I get the front window seat, where I can't be squished so much and I get to look out the front window. Luxury. Well, not exactly:  I settle in for another 8 hour journey without food or rest stops. I am learning though, and buy pieces of cocoa nut and bananas from the venders that meet the busses at every stop.  Coconut and bananas appear safe and taste very good.

Traveling across the southern, flat part of Nepal I observe:
    - Lush farm land filled with rice.
    - Stretches of empty road without another vehicle in sight.
    - It appears that vehicles are fairly recent since the animals are not educated
        and I see several which have been hit.

Another way this is not India is that women speak to me. They smile. They flirt. “Not married? Don't you like Nepali women?”  One encourages me to see the festival they are going to. A fellow riding next to me invites me home. We discuss logistics and decide it's not practical. The only other Westerner I observe on this trip is a woman who looks American, very self contained and assured riding on the back of a motorcycle – side saddle, Indian style. Power line towers parallel the road. They are modern, not jury-rigging as in India.

I change busses in Idhary. It's very easy. I'm finding my Nepali works fine. People are delighted that I can talk with them, though they often want to use their English.

I arrive at Dharan, the last city in the Terrai before the road goes up into the hills. The bus isn't traveling on. There are no busses traveling on tonight. It's 5:00. Dharan is familiar territory. This is the place I started walking to get to my village in 1971 . I'm astounded. At that time it was a collection of ramshackle dirt buildings: a poster child for poverty. There were no paved roads. Dharan today seems closer to Langley than that recollection. Store fronts of TVs and sports shoes, Internet cafes and ice cream shops, Paved roads and sidewalks. I can't believe cement sidewalks. I bump into 4 medical students from Holland who are interning at the local hospital and they send me to a simple hotel with a TV in my room that gets CNN and the BBC.

The next morning I caught the bus to Hile, where I stayed for 3 days, - walked the hills, talked with the locals about how they got to Hile and waited for one of the internet shops to open. They never did.  Most businesses are closed because of Desai. Today I came back to Dharan where services are much better. Many of the pictures on the web are from Hile. It's beautiful. It's also a boom town. Think of the pictures of Seattle during the Denny regrade. When I was here before there were a dozen buildings. The whole village was Tibetan refugees. In those days I walked from Dharan. It took 12 hours. The bus took about 2 and half.  I had thought I might like to walk the road. I'd expected that there would be lots of Nepali people who couldn't afford the bus who would still be walking. Not so.

I was rather dismayed at Hile on arrival. It's a bustle. The beautiful hills that I loved to walk above the village are now an Army camp with what looks like hundreds of soldiers.
   Still I headed up to the hills above town hoping to get above the army base. On the way  I was waved over by a group of men who were sitting around drinking roxi. This is Desai, and roxi (local distilled alcohol) is part of the celebration. I declined but talked with them. (Photo attached. Notice the army camp perimeter in the background).  Their family had recently moved up to Heille from villages a few hours off. They are in the process of building new homes. We chat awhile and I continue my walk to the hills.  I get above the army camp and it is still beautiful.  (Attached photos) This time of year the clouds cover the long views. Without clouds you can see 40 miles up the Arun River valley to the high mountains.  Coming down I'm invited into one of the men's sister's home. He has a niece about 15 who speaks pretty good English. My presence is a sensation. Family members pour into the house. (See the picture img_0749 in the web: "invited for tea"). I tell my story. They love that I can speak Nepali, but everyone wants the niece to practice her English. When I was here 37 years ago a few people could read English but they didn't have a clue about pronunciation. Her's is good. The TV is playing in the corner. I ask if they watch English language programs. The Discovery channel. One of the girls has a cell phone. Several have email addresses.  37 years ago when I walked here I  felt I had walked back in time a thousand years, - now Hile is 20th if not 21st century. My wildest imaginings did not expect this.  I'm told the cell phone tower in Hile will become operational in a couple months. The electricity and telephone infrastructure are very much better than in India. The road from Dharan is a beautiful 2 lane highway with a white stripe down the middle. Vehicles stay on their own sides of the road. I understand the British built it.  It's a marvel of drainage and water management.  Dirt roads and electric lines branch off  in a web of infrastructure far out into the hills.  Boys on crotch rockets with girls riding behind occasionally pass by.  There was a boy rollerblading in town. I stand out hardly at all: cargo pants and running shoes are common for men and boys under 30.  The ten year old who talked with me while I had breakfast said his school has 3 computers and they have the internet.  So is this good?  I say yes.  People cook with gas rather than wood.  There is indoor plumbing.  There are more trees around than when I was here.  I think that's because fewer animals are grazing the hills and fewer people are using wood for cooking. (They're not motivated by environmental considerations. It's easier.)  Young people have life options beyond farming.  And I think there are few people are one bad crop away from starvation.  
The experience around taking pictures is transformed.  Just as in the past whenever I take out my camera people want me to take their pictures; they want to see the pictures immediately and then they want me to give them a copy.  In the past I couldn't, they were badly disappointed, so I didn't take anyone's picture, with their knowledge. Now I take their pictures and show it to them on the camera's lcd. Then I get their email address (they, or a friend, has one) and I send it to them the next time I'm at an internet cafe.  Everybody's happy.  Preparing for my trip I was wondering why I had so few pictures of people.  Now I remember.

    Oh, yes, the political situation seems stable.  There are lots of soldiers, check points and bunkers. There is something disconcerting about young men with guns, but when I talk with them, they are sweethearts.  Nothing macho or aggressive. They are, as they say, just doing their duty.  I've got the story of how the Maoists came into town a couple years ago. A couple soldiers were shot, and they robbed the bank.  Everyone hid in their houses, I'm told. People recount the story as though it's a good yarn.  They don't apparently feel they were threatened.  This was something between the Maoists and the government.  There seems no sympathy for the Maoists here. Other than the bank robbery the people I've talked to have not felt the Maoist insurgency in any practical way.  On the other hand nobody I've talked to believes the government, or democracy will work.  They think the political factions are corrupt, out for themselves and nothing good will come of it.  They have little confidence or interest in the elections.  I guess if you've always had a King who handled everything you'd have little idea of what to do to participate in the government.  I ask if they would rather have the King.  They said they would like a King, if he were a good King.  They clearly don't think the one just deposed was.  On the other hand, it appears everyone in Hile has a plan to succeed economically.  And it looks like they are.
    Today I'm back in Dharan using the internet and getting a plane ticket from an airport in the Hills (Tumlingtar) to Kathmandu a week from now.  I don't think I need the 18 hour bus trip from Hile to Kathmandu for the cultural experience, (wimp - I know it would be an adventure.  Why are the difficult experiences the most engaging and rewarding?)
   Tomorrow I pick up my plane ticket, catch the bus back to Hile and then down to the Arun river.  Yaku Birtha, my village, is on the other side of the river. Since there is  no bridge I cross by boat.    I'm still expecting on the other side, beyond cars and electricity, I will walk back in time again.   We will see.


Being Offered Roxi

The hills above Hile

The clouds build and change in minutes

The far hill is 4 to 8 hours walk away.  Electricity is new in these hills.

A family in Hile to which I was invited for tea and English Conversation.

No roads when I was here 38 years ago.

Building Boom.  The building is my hotel.  There is a patio on top with a great view.

Local soldier.  There are more than a hundred in Hile.  The Maoists aren't returning, I don't think.
He was shy but happy to get his picture taken.  I sent it to him by email.