Things we take for granted

We are sitting in our hotel room where, about an hour ago, the electricity went out. I had my trusty headlamp accessible, and we left for dinner. Now we are back an hour later and the electricity is still out. Our laptop still has 5 hours of battery life, so

…as if on cue, the lights came back on as I was typing this post. :)

Anyway, blackouts are a pretty common experience in Nepal (we’ve had at least one everyday, though they are usually over in a few minutes).

P.S. My wife (sitting next to me) offered a partial list when she saw the title of this post:

  • Clean drinking water from the tap
  • Hot water
  • Western toilets
  • Real showers
  • Sidewalks (I’ll explain later for anyone who hasn’t been to Thamel, Kathmandu)
  • Fixed prices
  • Smoke-free restaurants
  • Malaria-free mosquitoes

Everest Hardwear

The Thamel area of Kathmandu is where most tourists congregate (it’s a zoo – the only crazier tourist center I’ve been to is Khao San Road in Bangkok), and one of the main attractions here is shopping. There are only a few types of stores here: music and DVD shops; Nepali and Tibetan craft stores; clothing stores selling flowy skirts and pants; and stores selling trekking gear for tourists to stock up before heading out to Everest or the Annapurnas. The trekking gear shops feature a number of recognizable brand names, including The North Face, Patagonia, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and my favorite, Everest Hardwear (in the style of the Mountain Hardwear logo). On close inspection, none of these items are the real deal, but the quality is actually quite good and prices are cheap. We needed a day pack for our upcoming DIY trek around the Kathmandu Valley, so we picked up a red “North Face” bag that we think will do the trick. Now we just need to pare our packing list down to 25 liters for 5 days. Eek!

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Swayambhunath

We rose early this morning to beat the heat and the crowds for our walk to Swayambhunath, a temple complex on a hill in northwestern Kathmandu. The hill’s most famous feature is a stupa that has been completely overrun by monkeys. Being a big fan of monkeys, I was excited to check it out. I had never seen a monkey temple before, although I heard that monkeys once piloted a ship from here to Monkey Island!

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The early morning walk to Swayambhunath

To our surprise, the monkey sightings started as we arrived at the foot of the hill, and continued all the way up the long staircase to the stupa. I had fun playing wildlife photographer, snapping as many action shots of the primates as I could get. At times it was even more fun to watch the tourists react to the monkeys than to watch the monkeys themselves.

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Monks and other devotees circling the stupa and spinning the prayer wheels

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Tourist kitsch for sale at the top of the hill

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This monkey seemed particularly curious about the nutrition facts on his carton of juice

We saw even more monkeys as we made our way down the other side of the hill. The staircase that we descended dropped us off directly opposite where we had started, so we walked back around the hill and then continued on to Thamel. Along the way, we passed several smaller pagodas and shrines, which exist in high numbers in this holy district of Kathmandu.

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Mischievous monkeys

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Kenny and me under the prayer flag canopy

The Monkey Temple is certainly very touristy, but definitely an essential part of any visit to Kathmandu. Tomorrow we’re planning to follow the LP’s Kathmandu walking tour, and then move on to Bhaktapur in the afternoon.

Yin Yang

Rating:

We arrived in Kathmandu this afternoon.   While the past three days of Nepali home cooking have been fantastic, we decided to change things up tonight with some Thai food.

Yin Yang is located just off the main drag in Thamel, in a garden courtyard that is a pleasant oasis from the constant noise, traffic, and hawkers outside. The chefs hail from Thailand, and the food is supposed to be authentic.

We ordered Panang Chicken and Phad See Iw “hot” on their scale of “mild”/“medium”/“hot”.  Due to our skin color, Lauren and I are usually treated with spiciness kid gloves in Asian countries (much to our frustration). However, tonight the Panang Chicken had a decent amount of kick to it, on par with a Thai Tom 3-star. The clay pot kept the curry piping hot throughout our meal.

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The Phad See Iw was served in the same manner as in Thailand, i.e. “spice it yourself”. Just like our noodles experiences in Thailand, our Phad See Iw was quite bland initially and we asked for the spice rack. Four spices later (one each for salty, sweet, hot and sour), the noodles were excellent.

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There’s nothing better to wash down your spicy food than a cold Everest Beer! Everest tasted like most other Asian beers I’ve had (Tsing Tao, Chang, Singha, Tiger, Saigon).

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Overall a delicious Thai meal with attentive service in a lovely setting. What more could we ask for?

Yin Yang
Kathmandu, Nepal
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3 Days at Ananda Yoga Center

Upon arrival in Nepal, Kenny and I ran a few quick errands in Kathmandu and then made our way to Ananda Yoga Center, in the hills about 20 minutes outside of town. I had read about the center in our Lonely Planet guide, and we were both eager for a few days of relaxation and asana practice.

What we found when we arrived was different from what we had expected in a number of ways, none of which were necessarily negative:

  • Aside from the two of us, there was only one other student at the center. She arrived just minutes before we did, and had registered for the month-long teacher training course.
  • The center is run by Sannyasi Shivgiri, an adherent of Bihar Yoga, which is a branch of yoga that was completely unknown to either of us. This wasn’t a problem, just took some time to acclimate.
  • The asana practice was certainly more basic than the “Level II” hatha yoga classes that I’m accustomed to from Seattle. However, even over the short time that we spent at the center, we noticed that our teacher ramped up the difficulty level. I suspect that if we had stayed for the full month, the practice would have progressed to a fairly high level of difficulty.
  • The accommodations were decidedly basic. A bit more so than we expected. We had been warned to bring a bed sheet and a towel, so this was really not a problem, but it was a surprise initially. Once I discovered the flush toilet down in the common courtyard area, I was much happier about the situation. The water in the shared shower was quite cold, but I coped with that by showering during the hottest part of the day, and only once. ;) This would’ve been more of an annoyance if we had stayed longer, especially because the weather deteriorated after we left.

There were a few things that far exceeded expectations as well:

  • We absolutely adored Ganga, our asana teacher. Not only did we thoroughly enjoy her two daily asana sessions (especially once I got past my reservations about the difficulty level), but she made us feel like part of the family in every interaction, especially at mealtimes with the whole extended clan.
  • The food was delicious and plentiful. Lunch and dinner always consisted of dal bhat (the national dish of Nepal, namely lentils and rice), but by no means does that mean the meals lacked variety. Every dal bhat was accompanied by a different veg curry, pickle, and some spicy delicious vegetable on the side. Breakfasts consisted of fruit, curd, and some kind of cereal (semolina, corn and wheat, etc.). Ganga and the rest of the family would never be satisfied until we had eaten seconds or thirds of everything.
  • 6am mantra chanting turned out to be one of my favorite times of day (never would’ve guessed that one!) The best part of the chanting session was when Shivgiri’s adorable granddaughters would rush in (usually a few minutes late) to join us. They were the most enthusiastic singers of the group.

Khan Chacha

Rating:

For dinner on our first night in Delhi, Meera recommended that we try out Khan Chacha, a hole in the wall that serves grilled meats either straight up or as roomali rolls. A roomali roll is meat with onions and yogurt sauce wrapped in a large roomali roti.

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There are basically three choices at Khan Chacha – Seekh Kebab (ground mutton), Chicken Tikka, or Paneer Tikka. Normally 1-2 rolls make a meal. Given that this was my last meal before Yom Kippur (and I didn’t really have a proper lunch), I ordered one of each roomali roll. Lauren had the chicken and paneer tikka rolls.

They were absolutely delicious! The Seekh Kebab was the spiciest and got me sweating a bit. The chicken was charred, very flavorful, and medium spiciness. The paneer offered a softer texture variation along with very mild spices.

So far this is my favorite “fast food” in the region, and we’ll be sure to come back on our return trip through Delhi!

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The Salim brothers at work making kebabs

 

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Happiness is double fisting Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka rolls

Khan Chacha
New Delhi, India

Dussehra in New Delhi

Tonight, after our Yom Kippur break-fast, Meera took us to the neighborhood celebration of Dussehra, where the locals celebrate the victory of good over evil on the final day of Navaratri.

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We settled into a nice vantage point behind the large crowds, where we could observe the festivities and still make a quick escape at the end.  Over the next hour, a parade of characters arrived to act out the story of Rama destroying Ravana and saving his bride.

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The whole evening is a build up to the burning of effigies of Ravana and his two brothers.

Rama symbolically shoots an arrow into the effigies to light them on fire. First the brothers go down.

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Then the evening culminates with Ravana going down in flames.

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Gamar Hatimah Tovah

We are in Delhi for Yom Kippur. After a delicious (though non-traditional) pre-fast meal of kebab roomali rolls, we headed to Delhi’s sole synagogue: Judah Hyam (note the probably unintentional but brilliant double-entendre of their URL).

The Jewish community in Delhi is a small mix of locals and ex-pats. The service was intimate, and everyone was very friendly. There were a few differences from your typical American services though:

  1. There was no English during services. Not that there was Hindi either. The entire service was conducted in Hebrew, and there were no sermons to be had.
  2. The prayer book used was Sephardic. I’d never been to a Sephardic service, but the arrangement and choices of psalms was noticeably different.
  3. The tunes being chanted (outside of Adon Olam and Oseh Shalom) were completely different then any service I had partaken of. It was similar to my Mom’s descriptions of the Catskills (lots of very fast, guttural Hebrew).
  4. The torah scrolls were held inside of upright cylindrical boxes. To read the torah, the box was placed vertical on the bimah, the clamshell opened up, and the scroll is read while still vertical.

Hope that everyone had an easy fast and a happy new year!