Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cycling in the Valley

There was a public holiday in Nepal on Tuesday, so the guys at KAPEG suggested it wasn’t worth heading up to Dhulikhel until Wednesday morning. That allowed us some unexpected tourism time on Monday and Tuesday after a relatively quiet weekend hanging around Thamel. Led by Kalu (and his mate Paul), a former AYAD volunteer who one of the other EWBers happened to meet at the airport on the way in, Madeline, Di and I took off. Getting out of Kathmandu on a bicycle is seriously crazy. As Jai, who joined us later in the day, put it, “That was one of the most intense mountain biking experiences of my life”. If it wasn’t for the life-threatening nature of it, it might be fun. Although Paul thought it was precisely because of that life threatening nature that it WAS fun. At the end of the day, there IS method in the madness of driving / riding in the city, and you can do it in a relatively safe manner, and the general traffic speed is much lower than that of a typical Australian city, so don’t worry too much Mum.

Once off the main roads, the riding becomes beautiful – nice country roads with lots of small villages and rice paddies filling every other available inch of space. A few of the villages obviously had a thriving weaving industry as we could hear the clack-clack of the machines as we rode by. After Kalu dropped his original plan of reaching the original destination due to an inconvenient mountain, we decided instead to head to a Danish-initiated organic farm. This was the best decision that could have been made as it was a piece of serenity that couldn’t have contrasted more from the wet, muddy, exhausted group of cyclists that stumbled in.

They served an amazing lunch of pasta and salad that we could eat knowing it was safely prepared, along with the best chiya (tea) we’ve had so far in Nepal. We ended up lazing around all afternoon, then realising we didn’t really feel like continuing riding in the rain that was setting in, stayed there the night. Such a relaxing escape from the world… just what we needed before embarking on the challenges of my EWB placement.

The next day (Tuesday) we managed to pull ourselves away from the organic farm, after being joined briefly by a few other friends who took the easy ‘car’ option from Kathmandu. It had rained all night, but as we departed for the ancient town of Bhaktapur to check out its famed Durbar Square, it slowed enough that we weren’t absolutely soaked. It did pretty much set in for the rest of the day after we reached the town, so sitting at a café and observing the square from a café was the best option. We followed that up by a nice walk around and a long lunch (long as in, we had to wait for an hour or two for our food). It was fantastic just strolling around the streets where people were generally just hanging out on their day off – although there was work going on here and there, such as at the chook-slaughtering house. Interesting.

The ride back to Kathmandu took longer than we realised it would and it was getting dark as we finally pulled into Thamel after a long muddy sojourn around the airport. Being the intrepid travellers that we are (and inspired by Jai’s enthusiasm) we showered and headed straight for Boudanath – Kathmandu’s biggest Buddhist Stupa where the full moon is a special occasion. We were a little late for most of the festivities but still saw some dancing and plenty of candles in the serene atmosphere. Dinner again with the gang in a Tibetan restaurant followed by a walk around the stupa with no one else around capped off an amazing couple of days!

This was right next to the runway at Kathmandu Airport. Not fun.

Almost home.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Announcing... Our First Himalaya!

So today it happened... the clouds finally cleared long enough for us to catch our first glimpse of the Himalayas. It happened a few hours after we finally made it up to where we'll be living near Dhulikhel. The view from here is astounding - and will be even MORE astounding once the clouds clear properly. The mountains are 100km away and more, but we are still looking up at them.

Of course, the even more amazing thing that happened today was that Norah Lily was born to Ben and Sarah back home in Brizzy... we are so happy for them and sad to be so far away! See you in 5 months Norah!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First few days in Kathmandu

Landing in Kathmandu...

Mostly our days at the moment consist of sitting in cafes / restaurants in Thamel, Kathmandu. I’m sure a lot of you know it – it’s the backpacker area and the easiest place to find WiFi and a decent feed. I’ve been going through EWB policies / procedures / expectations with the other volunteers and meeting people.

Ride around Kathmandu – We also had a great intro to cycling in this crazy city when Jai (EWB field officer AKA ‘our fearless leader’ here in-country) hired mountain bikes and took us for a ride. The ultimate goal was the Australian Embassy, but we took the ‘scenic’ route along the river – and the poor areas along it. Amazing to see people spending their lives pulling gravel out of the bottom of such a dirty river. I also picked up some rendering tips (see below) - puts our Ross St efforts in perspective!

A short stop at the Australian Embassy for some of the group to vote, and to meet the first secretary. Fresh from a Baghdad posting, he was not keen to let us to far through the front door!

We also visited a few interesting NGO/projects during the day. KEEP Nepal (Kathmandu Environment Education Project), NEWAH (Nepal Water for Health) and another organisation who’s acronym eludes me at the moment. There’s a lot of good stuff happening here – a lot of huge challenges too. One of the guys that presented to us spoke about their work to stop practice such as the sacrificing of a nine year old girl that occurred recently due to a bad season in that particular area.

I've posted a few more photos up here on PicasaWeb (or see below).


Election Night in Kathmandu

Sitting here in an Kaldis Cafe in Thamel, Kathmandu watching the Australian election results come in... wow. Sounds like politics is going to be even more painful for a while in Australia. Similar to Nepal really - neither country can work out who they want to be Prime Minister.

We've had a great few days meeting a lot of people - from fellow Engineers Without Borders volunteers to AYADs (Australian Youth Ambassadors - AusAid funded) to people from EWB partner organisations to other random travellers...

More soon!!