Nepalese Card Game

During our DIY trek in Nepal, we spent a night in a grungy little town called Chisapani, as Kenny described here. The mountain lodge where we spent the night had little to recommend itself, aside from its being less dirty than the other options, and its lively community of trekkers, guides, and porters assembled in the restaurant downstairs. We spent a few hours hanging out with this diverse crowd, during which a Polish gentleman taught us a fun card game that he had learned from his Nepali trekking guide. A Brit who joined the card game later told us that it was similar to a game he had learned in India from some Israelis, and the version he had learned was called Yaniv (in fact, the game play is similar to Yaniv, but there are some key differences: e.g. we start with only 5 cards, and a player needs 5 points or less in his hand to declare himself the winner).

The Brit taught us some important rules that the original Nepali game did not include:

  1. If a player “declares” but one of the other players has an equal point total in his hand, then the declarer loses the round (and gets a 30 point penalty).
  2. If, after discarding, a player draws a card with the same value as the one he just discarded, he can “slap” it down on top of the discard pile. He must be fast enough to slap his card on the pile before the next player discards.

We never learned the Nepali name of the game, but it will forever be known to us as The Nepalese Card Game™.

After that night in Chisapani, we forgot about the game for a little while, until we arrived in India and decided to teach it to Sean one night. Sean was instantly hooked, and the game quickly started filling many of our free hours. When Archana returned home from Germany, she was also quickly indoctrinated, and eventually became the most obsessed of all of us. Over time, many of Sean and Archana’s friends joined our card-playing parties as well.

We added a few rules of our own over time, most notably a rule involving jokers. Jokers are wild, but they come with a price: if a player has a joker in his hand when someone else “declares,” then the joker carries a penalty of 40 points. Since we usually play to 100, this is a significant risk. We’ve had a few particularly brutal rounds in which both jokers appeared in a single player’s hand. The addition of the jokers has made the game much more dynamic and fun.

Over many hours of playing the game, we also developed some theories on strategy, and Sean plans to publish the authoritative strategy guide some day. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how many hours we have all sunk into this game, including most of last weekend in Kerala, where we even taught our boat captain how to play. I expect many more hours of cards on our upcoming Goa trip.

IMG_0304
A typical night in Bangalore, hanging out on the floor in the apartment, playing Nepalese

DSC_6161
Kenny keeping score in Kerala. There are piles and piles of score sheets strewn about Sean and Archana’s apartment.

Little Vid does Nepal

Little Vid’s globetrotting adventures continue. You can follow all the action here.

DSC_4894
Little Vid enjoying the valley views on our hike from Bodhnath to Gokarna Mahadev in Nepal

DSC_5103
Little Vid conquers a wild dog in Lalitpur’s Durbar Square

DSC_5108
Little Vid atop the Vidya Mandir!

DSC_5111
Little Vid getting a hands-on tutorial in mudras

DSC_5178
Little Vid is Hindu, but she respects her Buddhist brethren

Walk like an Israeli

Just about everything in Nepal is negotiable. Even in “fixed price” stores, it often means that the “fixed price” is just an explicit starting point for the haggling process. And when it comes to taxis,  the meter is simply decorative. You need to negotiate price before you get into the cab or you will get fleeced. Even then, we had a case where after we were dropped off a cab driver tried to renegotiate his fare!

Today we were arranging for a taxi ride from Patan to Bhaktapur (should be around 450-500 rupees).  Opening bids ranged from 800-1000 rupees. We quickly went back and forth with a few drivers, and hopped into a cab for 500 rupees. He was a jolly fellow, and after a few minutes of silence he asks “where are you from?” We tell him “USA” and he explodes into laughter. When he finally calms down, we ask him what was so funny. He said:

I thought you were Israeli! The Americans and British, they usually just pay the asking price. But the Israelis! It’s 300 rupees, 200 rupees, back and forth!

What we actually trekked

While we followed some of our original plans, our DIY trekking wound up on quite a different route. Turns out that the weather forecast was preaching false hopes on the clouds clearing, but the temperature was warm enough for quite pleasant hiking:

10/07: Hike from Bhaktapur to Changu Narayan. Wait out the rain and then hike to Bramhakhel. Catch a bus to Bodnath; overnight in Bodnath
10/08: Hike to Gokarna Mahadev temple, via the Kapan Monastery; overnight in Bodnath
10/09: Bus to Sundarijal, hike from Sundarijal to Chisapani (~2300m); overnight in Chisapani
10/10: Hike from Chisapani to Nagarkot via Botichaur; overnight in Nagarkot
10/11: Sleep in, cab from Nagarkot to Bhaktapur; overnight in Bhaktapur

Chisapani to Nagarkot, the Scenic Route

After our restless night in Chisapani, we rose at 6am for breakfast at the Galaxy Hotel and met up with Caroline, a Dutch girl we had met during dinner at our hotel and who planned to join us for our walk to Nagarkot. We had heard that Nagarkot, on the eastern edge of the Kathmandu Valley, was a wonderful place to catch sunrise views of the Himalayas.

Upon departing from our hotel, we were faced with a choice: the shorter route to the right, which would reputedly get us to Nagarkot in about 6 hours but via the same road as motorbikes and eventually cars; or the longer route to our left, which would weave through small mountain towns before joining up with the busier road. We opted for the latter route, assuming that it would be more scenic, and that our early wakeup afforded us some extra hiking time. Our LP recommended Bhotichaur as a good spot to stop for lunch (or even for the night if we decided to split our hike).

DSC_5021
The peaks of the Himalayas were briefly visible from Chisapani as we departed

DSC_5029
Kenny and Caroline, happy trekkers

Our chosen route proved to be much slower going than we could have predicted. The road wove endlessly back and forth between countless “villages” of two or three houses each, and by 11am we were famished but there were no dal bhat houses to be found. Various locals we met along the road assured us that Bhotichaur was only 45 minutes away. Over two hours later, we finally rolled into town and found that there were no lodges where we could even get a bite to eat. By a stroke of luck, we bumped into a few Americans who were visiting a medical clinic that they had helped finance in town, and they had an interpreter who was able to convince a local woman to whip up some dal bhat for us. We added a fried egg, and it came to about 200 NPR for three (less than $3 US total). It was the most delicious dal bhat I had ever tasted.

DSC_5033

DSC_5042

After lunch I became a hike fascist, and imposed a speed requirement on my companions, in hopes that we could still make it to Nagarkot before dark. It became easier to track our progress and adherence to my aggressive schedule because we actually started to see distance markers as our road widened and we passed through a few larger towns.

Even with my whip-cracking, and an extremely rushed breathless walk up a huge winding hilly road, we barely made it to Nagarkot before dark, and when we did, the “town” did not quite meet expectations. It was less a town and more a smattering of hotels scattered across a hilltop. To make matters worse, we had apparently arrived the same night as a convention for former substance addicts, and all of the hotels were fully booked. After some searching, Kenny and I finally secured the last room at The Fort Resort, one of the fanciest hotels in town and by far our most expensive Nepal lodging at $90 US after discounts. Although I must say, after our sleepless Chisapani experience and our grueling hike, a little luxury felt warranted. And staying in the nicest hotel in town ultimately seemed fitting, as I said to Kenny, “if we’re going to stay in a shitty resort town, we might as well stay in a resort.”

We have no idea how far we traveled, but we expect that our Chisapani to Nagarkot stretch exceeded 30 km.

One Night in Chisapani

Yesterday we hiked from Sundarijal through Shivapuri National Park to Chisapani. It was a fun ~14km hike (1000m elevation gain) with gorgeous valley views (full photo set here):

DSC_4994

DSC_4989

Lonely Planet very aptly describes Chisapani as a “grubby little truck stop without the trucks.” The draws of Chisapani are the Himalayan views and the availability of overnight lodging. After checking out all of the hotels in Chisapani (there are only 4 to choose from), we took the nicest one in town: a top floor double at the Galaxy Hotel with a private deck, expansive mountain and valley views from both the deck and the bedroom, large private bath with a sink and “hot and cold” water, a friendly host, and a bustling restaurant/gathering room downstairs. Total cost: 100 rupees (about $1.35).

Of course there were a few catches:

  • All meals in town were to be eaten at the hotel. This is how they generally supplement the room costs in Chisapani. Not a problem, as the food was tasty and the dining room warm and social (we played a local card game with a Pole and a some Nepalese porters). Thus, total cost of room (after dinner + breakfast + bottled water) = 950 rupees. Still pretty darn cheap.
  • There were no lights in the room. We didn’t notice this until almost dark. There are a few wires poking into the room where someone had maybe thought about wiring the room for lighting. Fortunately we had our headlamps.
  • The toilet was Nepalese (squat)-style, though it was the only one I’ve ever seen with a Western-style flush. Not a bad feature, but to get it to work you needed to manually open the supply tubes to the tank which would then spray water all over you and the bathroom. Chalk another one up for half-finished room features.
  • No towels.
  • Everything was slightly damp (probably from the recent rains combined with lack of ventilation).
  • No blankets/top sheet, and linens that hadn’t been washed in who knows how long. Unfortunately we didn’t have a sleeping bag with us, so this was by far the most inconvenient hitch. Covering the pillow with an extra shirt plus sleeping in warm clothing was our closest approximation, and the result was it was like a night’s sleep on a red-eye (maybe 3-4 hours at best).

While the rain had ended there were still lingering clouds that obscured most of the Himalayas. We did get some nice shots of the valley though:

DSC_5019

Bodhnath

Bodhnath (or Bodnath, Bouddha, or even Bouddhanath) is a small Tibetan town, just outside Kathmandu. There isn’t much to do besides walk around the stupa and sit in cafes overlooking the stupa, but it is a quiet and peaceful place, and a welcome change from the craziness of Kathmandu.

We stayed for two nights, and although is was raining for much of our time here, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Because it’s a Buddhist town, most of the restaurants are vegetarian, which was a lovely change, and a few of the restaurants even feature very creative takes on veg food. We had a fabulous veg feast at the Stupa View Cafe and became regulars at the Saturday Cafe.

Tomorrow we’re heading out on a hike through Shivapuri National Park up to Chisapani (and then eventually down to Nagarkot on the eastern edge of the Valley).

DSC_4851
The stupa

DSC_4854
Bodhnath is a town full of monks

DSC_4971
View of the stupa from the Saturday Cafe

Saturday Café

Rating:

Over the past few days we’ve spend a lot of time at the Saturday Café. We were first wooed by the baked goods at the takeaway stand downstairs. Their bakery stand wouldn’t have been out of place in Seattle or Portland, with its assortment of organic grains and juices. Fresh-baked quality whole wheat bread is near-impossible to find in Nepal, so we grabbed a loaf to snack on.

Later that night, we returned for dinner on their rooftop deck. They have a fine stupa view, though it disappeared when the heavens opened up shortly into our meal.

Their menu is primarily soups and snacks, with momos and a few entrees also on offer. I ordered the hot and spicy tofu stir fry. The peppers and onions were fresh and crispy, and it was served with a large portion of brown rice. Unfortunately the sauce fell flat. Mildly spicy at best, and mostly flavorless and uninspired.

DSC_4848

Lauren ordered the vegetable noodles, which were much better. They had a a good kick, and a large mix of veggies (carrots, onions, assorted greens). On par with a solid yakisoba in the states.

DSC_4849

Saturday Café offers free wireless, so we lingered after dinner, waited out the worst of the rain, and caught up on some blog posts and photos. The staff were very nice, and very chill.

Last night, after a disappointing dinner at Rabsel Garden Café, we were back for a late evening snack.  The momos had caught my eye. We’ve been having a lot of momos lately, but the choices at Saturday Café were unique, including the spinach and paneer ones that we ordered (no pics as we left the camera home that evening). The noodle wrapped around spinach and paneer resulted in a good texture, and while the flavors of the momos themselves were fairly weak, the accompanying dipping sauces perked them right up.

I also ordered the mango sorbet, and was reminded as to why I shouldn’t order frozen desserts in Nepal. Turns out that there are two options for refrigeration here. The first is your standard 40ish degree fridge. The other is a below zero freeze-fest. My sorbet was served in a bowl, but was a block of mango ice. It was in the “hockey puck meets flower” shape of those plastic containers you get from the ice cream truck. While it was tasty enough pureed mango once it slowly defrosted over the next 30 minutes, I wouldn’t recommend expending the effort.

On our last morning, we got up early to catch a bus to Sundarijal and Saturday Café was the only place that we knew was open at 7AM. So we had our final breakfast there. :)

Their porridge is served with apples and raisins, which is not as good a combination as the more common banana approach that we had enjoyed at a different cafe the morning before. It took care of the problem though.

DSC_4974

I had the spinach omelet, which is served with their house-made bread. The omelet was a standard Nepalese-style with spinach mixed in.

DSC_4976

Overall, Saturday Café is a relaxing place to hang out. The deck is pleasant, the staff are very nice, and the food is decent. Prices are a little high for what you get (though still very cheap relative to the US of course), and it’s definitely worth stopping by the bakery for some hiking snacks.

Saturday Café
Bodhnath, Nepal
+977 2073157

Daily: 7:00AM – 8:30PM (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Stupa View Café

Rating:

Today for lunch we took advantage of the brief respite from stormy weather to check out the Stupa View Café. They advertise the best view in the city, and their 3 level rooftop deck did not disappoint.

DSC_4866
View from our table

Given the prime location and tourist target, the prices are reasonable (cheaper than the equivalent restaurants in Thamel). As with most places in this Buddhist town, Stupa View is all vegetarian. Conveniently enough, the items we were most interested were all pulled together in their “Potpourri” assortment:

DSC_4867

All five of the included dishes were enjoyable. The best dish (which Lauren was hankering for over the next few days) was the Oriental Lentil Balls. Well-seasoned lentils with a light peanut sauce and crispy on the outside, they were the kind of dish that can put meat to shame.  The fried aubergine was lightly breaded, flash-fried, delightfully crispy, and served with a creamy tzatziki. The pizza was decent, though it was the weakest dish of the bunch. The fruit salad was a refreshing conclusion to the meal, served with fresh fruit in tamarind with mint.

DSC_4864

Fried Aubergine w/ Tzatziki Fruit Salad with Caramel Nuts
Mushroom Pizza
Elephant Feet Oriental Lentil Balls

 

Overall an excellent meal and the next time we’re in Kathmandu/Bodhnath, we’ll be sure to enjoy some oriental lentil balls on the roof!

Stupa View Café
Bodhnath, Nepal
+977 4480262