26 Jan

KATHMANDU

Rebuilding from the Earthquake

The easiest, cheapest, and most efficient way to see Kathmandu is to share the hire of a car and driver.  Four of us paid $10 each for an entire day.  Our first stop was a heritage city on the edge of Kathmandu called Bhaktapur. It was a festival day so all of the shrines were having a sacrifice.  I did not attend but one of the guys said it was pretty gory, and the blood is spread all around. This Unesco Heritage site had a huge amount of damage from the earthquake but they are slowly getting the heritage buildings and shrines rebuilt.  We went to see a demonstration of the singing bowls used for medical treatments here. They are different size metal bowls and if you have a sore knee they set the bowl on your knee, then hit on it with a big soft hammer. They believe the vibrations will cure your ails. They told us it works well for headaches but I have trouble believing that, and I was not about to test the theory.

He said this made his knee sore!!

Things just fell apart

Next stop was Pashupatinath Hindu Temple. This temple is on the Bagmati River, the start of the Ganges River.  Here we saw the cremation gats.  They are platforms where the bodies are placed, then wood is piled around the body and it is set on fire. The ashes are swept into the river.  The body is first placed on the purification stone.  Each family member pours a cup of the river water into the mouth to purify the body. The only problem with this is the river is beyond polluted, filthy water with garbage everywhere. One of the fellows I was with heads up the water purity department in Ireland.  I can not write what he had to say about that part.  The closer the gat to the temple, the higher caste the person belonged to. There are creepy Holy Men who try to charge a bunch of money for photos. I wanted a photo but was afraid to get close to them  They are weird and they stink. A wide set of stairs line the opposite bank of the river.  As only men are allowed by the gats I presumed these were family members attending the funerals.  Our guide said people just come and sit there to watch the cremations. Burning bodies do not constitute entertainment in my life.

Body Burning

Cremation Gats

 

 

 

 

Viewing Gallery?

Creepy Holy Men

We stayed in Thamel, the old section of the city.  There was no evidence of the terrible earthquake of   Nov. 2016.  One kilometer away, at Durbar Square, the heart of Kathmandu, the earthquake damage was incredible. Most of the square was damaged, and anything left standing looked like it would need to be torn down. Gurka soldiers guard many of the places that are unstable. We did see many signs of foreign assistance. Modern construction methods are being used in hopes of preventing as much damage if this should happen again.   Kathmandu was certainly an interesting place to visit and lived up to my expectations of interesting and exotic.

21 Jan

KATHMANDU IS ENDLESS INTRIGUE

Manual Labour is the Norm

Some Streets are so Narrow

People Carry Big Loads

Thamel Streets are Busy

The name alone has always intrigued me. I thought it sounded so foreign and mysterious, and I knew it was a place I had to visit. I had hoped to be able to go overland from Tibet to Nepal but the land border has never reopened since the earthquake. A short, but expensive flight took me from Lhasa to Kathmandu. I found Tibet so similar to Mongolia – but Nepal was totally different – just like India. It was a great easy destination – everyone spoke English and any kind of food you could imagine was readily available. I was getting pretty sick of yak meat. I had made arrangements with my guesthouse to meet my flight. I came out of the airport to a couple of hundred people holding signs with names on them – but no one had my name.  A young man offered to call the guesthouse for me, and they said they would send someone, and they did. Old guy, older car, crazy traffic, but I arrived safely in Thamel, the old section where all of the backpackers stay. I had chosen a bit of an upscale place, based on the price ($13/night). They advertised hot water and internet – they did not have either, and it was hard to find, so I moved the next morning. Second place was very central, cost $10 a night, but the hot water was barely warm. Second day, no water at all, and no internet – so another move, half a block. Third place ($7/night) had fair internet, and if I wanted warm water I had to tell them so they could turn the “geyser” on. That did work, but not so well. My friend from my Tibet tour had got upgraded to a posh hotel ($40/night) half a block from me. He had endless HOT water and big fluffy towels, so I showered at his place every day – problem solved. People come here to trek, and shops sell all kinds of knock-off hiking gear. Tour agencies, souvenir stands, shops selling cashmere, and cafes make up Thamel. Tiny streets – you often have to step into a business to let a car pass – motorbikes, and old guys peddling even older rickshaws. I would hope guys working for the electrical company earn lots – huge messes of electrical wires everywhere. Travelers from all over the world, friendly locals and very safe – an ideal destination. Flying out was certainly interesting. SEVEN times I was taken behind a curtain and given a very full body pat down by nasty old ladies. They certainly made sure there was nothing in my underwear but me. Next post I will tell you about the sights.

Old Rickshaws

Cashmere is Cheap

 

Electrical Nightmare – Power Outages Often

Love the Colours – no idea what is is

 

21 Jan

Place I Stayed in Delhi India

I was doing a quick stop in India to go and see the Taj Mahal.  I looked for a hotel near the airport.  Hotel Le Princess was rated 3 stars and cost $12 a night.  I would only be there to shower and sleep.  The staff were excellent, and very helpful.  There was no cafe but they had a room service menu.  When I called to order something to eat the young fellow came to my room to make sure he had my order right.   The location was not great if you planned to go out at all, but I did not, so it suited me fine.  Would be a one star anywhere else.

21 Jan

Second Place I Stayed in Kathmandu

I decided to move to a place with hot water and internet.  I met my friend for dinner and there was a B&B right across from the cafe.  I went to inquire and was told I could move in any time the next day to Pariwar B&B Ganesh Man St., Thamel.  I was assured they had hot water and good internet.  The cost was to be $9/night.  When i arrived the next morning the owner tried to convince me I should take a deluxe room instead.  I declined and was told my room was being cleaned and would be ready in 15 minutes.  Two hours later I was still waiting as my room “dried”??  I finally got moved in 3 hours after my arrival.  The owner was quite pushy trying to sell me tours.  The hot water was warm, the next day it was cold, and then there was no water at all.  I was told it would be fixed right away but 5 hours later there was still no water, so I moved again. The room was okay but nothing special.

21 Jan

First Place I Stayed in Kathmandu

I reserved a room at Hotel Himalayan Travellers Inn because they offered free airport pickup.  It is located at Thamel Marg, and cost $13. When I arrived there was no one at the airport to meet me.  A young man outside the airport offered to call them for me, and they said they would send someone.  An old fellow with a very old car arrived about 20 minutes later.  As we got close to the hotel he asked me for a tip….. when I asked at the hotel if I should tip him they said I should not.  My room was advertised to have wifi and hot water – it had neither.  It was difficult to find.  I met a friend for dinner and we got lost as he walked me home.  Room was not great for clean or comfort so I only stayed one night.

21 Jan

Place I Stayed in Zhange China

I went to Zhangye to see the famous Rainbow Mountains.  I stayed at the Zhangye Liangmao Hotel $12.  276 DongDaJie St., Zhangye, China. This was a perfect choice as it was located in the heart of Zhangye.  I spent a day at the Rainbow Mtn Park and the rest of my time I just walked around the very interesting area.  It was obvious from the stares not many foreigners visited this area, but everyone smiled.  Staff at the hotel did not speak English, but were kind and when I used the translate app on my computer they gave me any help I needed.  The room was clean and comfortable.

14 Jan

Place I Stayed in Hohhot China

I was just doing an overnight in Hohhot China.  My train was arriving about 9:30 pm and I was leaving the next day at noon.  I reserved a non smoking room at Pengcheng Hotel, 100 M North to  Dazhao Plaza. $13. It was not a long taxi ride from the train station, and when I arrived I was thrilled to see I was next door to a large temple.  The entire hotel smelled like a huge crowd all chain smoking cigarettes.  When I opened the door I am sure a cloud of smoke came out of my room.  I went back to the desk and showed my reservation for a NON SMOKING room.  The man came back to my room with me, and I was expecting him to move me to another room.  No, he removed the 5 ashtrays from my room!  I guess it was then a non smoking room.  It was late and obvious I was not going to win that one.  I had to run around in the shower to get wet in the morning – not much water.  Location was worth the problems, I was able to visit two big Chinese temples in the morning before I had to return to the train station.

14 Jan

FREE TIBET – WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT???

 

 

I am sure you have all heard about protests and demonstrations to “Free Tibet”. I had certainly heard about it – but did not understand it, until I visited Tibet.
My first indication of a problem came when I was researching getting a visa for China. Warnings everywhere, “Do not mention Tibet or your visa will be denied”. My friend from Ireland applied 3 times, with Tibet in his itinerary, and was always denied. He re-applied with his other passport – did not mention Tibet, and got his visa. I will try to give you a quick synopsis of my version of the situation.
In 1949 China invaded Tibet and has occupied it ever since. Tibetans do not have the same freedoms of speech, movement or religion as the Chinese living in Tibet. There are now more Chinese than Tibetans in Tibet. Chinese earn higher wages for the same work and have access to better education and health care etc. In an effort to calm the situation, in 2011 the Dalai Lama gave up his political leadership and moved in exile to India. Any Tibetan in possession of a picture of the Dalai Lama is subject to imprisonment (and torture). One of every five Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese.
Tibet is by far the most devout country I have ever visited. Buddhism is their life, and everything revolves around their religion. Our guide told us every Tibetan home puts out offerings on their shrine before sunrise every morning. I questioned “Every? home” and was given a very decisive “yes”. Our ten days in Tibet and our interaction and observances took away any doubts any of us had as to their devotion. Our hotel in Lhasa was large, and full of monks. The monasteries are the centers of resistance and the Chinese do whatever they can to control this. Every monastery now is full of surveillance equipment. The monks at our hotel were in Lhasa for a mandatory “political re-education”. Since 2015 they have been forced to prove their “Dedication to the Communist party”. Refusal means death. The number of monks at each monastery has been greatly reduced and is strictly controlled. A common form of protest is to set themselves on fire, and we saw fire extinguishers everywhere we went.
At the beginning of our tour our guide was able to get a message to one of our group. He had a “coded answer” to questions we asked that he was not free to answer. Some of our group were going to trek the 2 kms. from our guesthouse at EBC to the base of Everest. One of the guys asked our guide if he could speak freely then – and his message said  “There are cameras and microphones everywhere” – and there were – even there! Our visas, permits, passports etc. were checked many times each day. We were forced to have a police officer with us at all times.  I believe things we said on our bus were recorded. There are thousands of undercover police. Lonely Planet guidebooks were confiscated on arrival. Life in Tibet can certainly be described as “Big Brother is Watching”. Our guide did manage to get a message to us that said in spite of the situation a monk will always be more powerful to any Tibetan than any government official or police officer.
In Bangkok I met a Danish friend of mine who is much more well versed on Asian history and politics. I was discussing Tibet with him and he told me China “saved” Tibet. People would donate all of their food and supplies to the monasteries, then many starved to death. Monasteries were rich, locals were poor, no education or heath system. China’s control changed that. I guess there are two sides to every story…….Our wonderful guide asked our group to tell the world about Tibet  – so this is my small contribution to him, and his country.

14 Jan

Last Place I Stayed in Kathmandu

Once again I was promised internet and hot water as I checked into Hotel Api, Narsingh Chowk Marg, Thamel.    They did tell me I needed to turn the “geyser” on for half an hour to heat the water.  I was able to get it slightly warm.  My friend had been upgraded to a good hotel as his travel agency had screwed up, and he was only one block away, so we decided I should just shower at his place – endless HOT water, and big fluffy towels – heaven!!  The staff at the hotel I stayed at were excellent – always checking to see if I was okay and if I needed anything.  At $7 a night I was just fine – and the internet worked most of the time – never very fast – but it did work.  The location was great.

13 Jan

PROFUSE APOLOGIES

As you are all aware I have had a glitch in my website/blog. Of course it happened after I got on the road, and where I had poor, or no internet. My techie skills do not even make the “very limited” range so I had to hire someone to do the repair. The first person I hired simply made it worse. Now I have hired someone else. I know you all just received a bunch of emails for blog posts that did not exist, and made no sense. I am still working on getting this fixed and hope to have news within the day to say it is back to working properly. Thanks for your patience! Once it is fixed I will play catch up as I have seen and done so many amazing things on this trip. G