Day 1/2, A 1 act play with 4 scenes

Please note no Internet access for ten days.  Will be sending posts I’m roughly chronological order…….


View from the plane flying over Annapurna range

Scene 1
Hotel room,  Pokhara,  the early  morning  before  the trek. 

Awoke in discomfort at 3 am.   The food and its attached bacteria  I ate the night before  aren’t  happy with me.  They are  twisting and turning and writhing and jumping up and down and wanting to escape the confines of my  gastrointestinal tract.  I’m wondering if it’s a one time jail break or a full blown prison riot.  Sadly,  it’s the latter.
Leaving at 5 am to go to the airport.  Drag my sorry ass into the shower  take some appropriate drugs and hope for the best.

Scene 2
Airport,  Pokhara,  7 am. 

Flight finally boards,  I’m hoping the plane is better held together than poor me.  It’s the same type of plane we flew to Lukla on ( see my other blog post http://trastavere.wordpress.com here).  Flight is uneventful.  Arrive in Jomsom,  about 40 miles north of Pokhara but with a bloody great big mountain range in the way.  Hence the plane rather than the 13 hour jeep ride. 

Scene 3
Lodge at Jomsom 8 am.
Eat breakfast.  Toast.  Hope it stays down.  Doesn’t. It just keeps moving on through…  Pretty town.  High desert and windier than hell. Start walking up  the river valley to our rest stop for tonight. 

Scene 4
Ancient village of Kagbeni. 1pm

Make it to Kagbeni after windy and dusty 7 km hike  and need sleep desperately.  No food = no energy.  Decide to go to bed.  Room has attached bathroom with hot water,  no less,  but is colder than a Minnesota winter blizzard.  I dump the dusty trekking gear and get in my down sleeping bag with two extra blankets  fall asleep,  punctuated by treks to the bathroom.  3 hours later feel a bit better. 

Postscript…  The bad guys finally vacated the premises the day after…. No problems for the rest of the trek. 

Annapurna, Nepal, Pokhara, travel

All you need is love

I’m in Pokhara after a 9 hour bus ride for less than 200 miles.  God knows why we didn’t fly.  The roads  are beyond atrocious  …  But it’s pretty here


Lake Fewa,  late afternoon

and in the end,  that’s all that really matters,  the aesthetic.  Assuming there’s  food  water and shelter surely a beautiful something,  anything,  is reason to bless the day.


Our bus,  at a rest stop

I  can look and find it even on a thoroughly uncomfortable stuffy  bus ride,  with a ticket that says “Air Conditioned Luxury Bus” but isn’t,  where the question is met with an indifferent shrug yet a smile.  Because it is the smile that’s the payoff,  right? 

I’m sure there’s not much disagreement that love is a form of beauty.  Even though the building below is,  well let’s call a spade  a spade,  ugly,  it surely was named beautifully


It’s an orphanage  in  the middle of the journey somewhere. 

And I found some of that love on the t-shirt of one of the kids, 


I  Love Nepal the t-shirt says.  Sure,   not hard to do.  It’s a lovely  country with much beauty amidst the ugliness.  And much ugliness amidst the beauty. 

Dust.  Nepal is dusty.   It’s pervasive dust,  choking,  irritating,  cloying,  filthy,  penetrating and definitely ugly.  It’s just not right to see  a once green urban  tree struggle to  photosynthesize wearing its coat of grey or the dawn sun always colored blood red,  or the views of the majestic mountains surrounding Kathmandu and north of Pokhara obscured by thick haze.  Blame geography  as much as traffic or lack of sidewalks or the desiccated landscape  9 months of the year. The topsoil of the entire North Indian plain  ends up blowing towards the Himalayas and relief comes  only from the monsoon rains. I bought a mask


Yeah,  call me Darth

It helped with the dust immensely.  And it had the curious side effect of feeling like I was in my own private burqa (it’s actually a niqab but lets not split hairs) in the  sense I could feel protected and anonymous at the same time.   Safe almost.  Isn’t that the whole point made by supporters of the tradition?  I say  walk  a mile in their shoes before you have an opinion..

I saw pretty yesterday  walking around the back streets of Kathmandu away from the trekking area.  Incredible falling down  architecture


And the biggest laundry basket I ever saw


Obviously an ancient public spring/bathing area  put to timeless  use.  Even with all the dirt in the air the women (not the men)  mostly look fresh and clean in their traditional clothes.


A devotee at a Hindu festival with lots and lots of candles

And a bit of  cultural tolerance..if you look at it that way


In Nepal it’s  not a specifically Jewish symbol…  And ironically the Hindu cultures also use the swastika cross  but with the arms pointing  the  correct way,  not the perversion of  the Nazi symbol.

Cooks will fall in love with this photo. 


There’s a whole area of the street markets devoted to spices.   Just next door was a seller of dog muzzles,  fabric pouches designed to stop your friendly guard dog barking its head off all night.   Strangely enough he also sold tape measures. 

We are leaving tomorrow at 5.30 am for the 20 minute/50 mile flight North  over the Annapurna range to the start of the trek.  If the weather is bad the flight will be canceled (it looks good now at 8 pm)  and we’ll have to take another bone jarring 12 hour drive instead…  I hope for a great view of the range  as we fly over and  expect to see a whole lot more  beauty on this  trek as I  continue my love affair with this incredible land. 

Kathmandu, Nepal, Swayamphu World Heritage Site, travel

All in a day

Yesterday I took a break from touristy Thamel and equipment shopping and decided a museum was in order.  I also wanted to spend time with my friend’s kids and give them a day out with a hopefully educational bent.  For those of you reading who are my children or who are familiar with my media business  (you know who you are haha) you know that imparting knowledge to  children is as much food for my soul as a good salad and a well balanced pinot is  nourishment for my body.

So much for my conceived plans.  The nine year old didn’t want to go.  She wanted to spend time with mom,  so Subham,  the 13 year old boy and I set off for the Natural History Museum on the other side of town.  I had this idea that a kid born and bred in Kathmandu would know the local geography somewhat but that too,   I was to find out,  was another  misconception. 


This is a road.. Well a future one anyway. 

The roads in Kathmandu are in a state of disrepair,  to put it mildly.  No one seems to know why they are dug up with some grand plan in mind (probably sewers and sidewalks)  and left for years half finished.  Corruption,  graft ,  bad planning,  budgets…  Take your pick.


This is a gleam in a planner’s eye,  I assume. 


And this a little further along.  5 years the locals said (in this dormant pre-road  state!) 

We set off on a real traffic choked road (i. e lots of potholes but a bit of asphalt)  and grabbed a taxi to go to the museum..  Now Kathmandu is not London and there’s maybe only 5 or 6 museums.  The driver assured Subham  (my Nepali translator too)  that he knew exactly where it was as my young companion didn’t have a clue),  a fare was negotiated ($2.50 for the record). And off we jounced.  10 minutes in we end up on a very wide completely torn up road to the National Museum (closed anyway) and it became painfully apparent after aimless drivng for twenty minutes more that the taxi driver (who wouldn’t even acknowledge he was lost)  had no comprehension,  either geographic or linguistic of the words “natural”  or “history” and certainly not together..  He was obviously loathe to display his ignorance and ask anyone either. That make him a typical male?  It took me jumping out of the taxi at a stop to go ask another taxi driver the way. 

At the museum entrance he asked for twice the fare. Long way he said. It was actually shorter if he had gone  straight there but I gave the rogue half the extra he asked for and told him to go learn geography,  culture and English,  in any order he chose. 

My poor 13 year old was a bit upset as I am sure his mother told him to look after me and he knew he had abjectly failed.  Well perhaps in Nepali terms but I assumed him vehemently that everything was fine. 

The museum turned out to be a  very large shed-like structure full of stuffed animals. 


An enormous stork.. 


A monkey out on the town


Flat animals (must be endemic)


Three guesses (it was gorgeous)

More of a research lab for the local University..  But it held our interest for half an hour. 

We walked up the adjacent  hill to the Swayamphu stupa.  Although overly commercialized with sellers of religious bric-a-brac the world heritage site was rather lovely. 




And I love this one…  Look at the top of the head… 


But the highlight for me was a meditation hall with several monks playing music and praying.  The lovely thing about Buddhism is that it welcomes you in to have your own experience.  Subham , being a good Hindu,  wouldn’t go in the room. 


I sat for a quiet twenty minutes,  feeling peaceful.  The last time I meditated in Nepal I fell off a mountain (yes,  you can ask)  but this time I was a bit more careful and only slipped on a step


while I was taking a photo..  They were kinda steep… 


Going down sir?

We walked back home on those pseudo roads above with the benefit of no traffic  other than the occasional foolhardy motorcyclist,  until we got to one of  the market areas where we took tea..  Subham hadn’t a clue where he was or indeed how to get back to his neighborhood. But being the superb navigator that I am…. 



The poor kid was tired out by the time we got home but just right near the  house on  a building site I saw a bunch of kids… 


Heavy Lego?  I guess you play with what’s available.. 


Kathmandu construction is generally  brick…  And the unregulated brick kilns contribute to the foul air.

At least I’m in far better shape for the trek now..  I’ve walked maybe 20 miles in last 3 days… 

Nepal, travel

Where’s Waldo


Zoom in..  You’ll be horrified. 

Prepping for a trek in Nepal is pretty simple.  You really only need to bring your well broken in boots and a few personal items. Although  trekking companies give you comprehensive lists of gear to bring  it’s all available here and at about a quarter to half the price of the US or Europe.   So no need to schlep vast amounts from home, just  come to the world’s largest emporium for hiking equipment. 

It’s a bit of a knock-off a knock-off racket.  Nepali companies copy designs from the world’s leading equipment companies like North Face,  Mammut,  Columbia and so on,  build the gear and embroider the branded names.  To the  unskilled eye they look real and frankly,  the quality isn’t half bad.  For the casual trekker it’s fine.  But they go one step further; now they are knocking off the  Chinese copies of the Western brands!

Temptation  rears  at every turn of the road with dozens of shops selling the same stuff.  I’ve now bought three pairs of trekking pants!  Anyone need a backpack cheap? 

I suggested to one  factory owner he start his own brand and sell a little bit less than the fake brands.  He immediately offered me a discount on a  fourth pair of trekking pants! 

But they are all very pleasant and somewhat low key.  Not a bad shopping experience. 

The list includes all the normal gear for trekking  and you are also  suggested to buy water purification tablets and drugs too such as broad spectrum antibiotics,  codeine, diamox for altitude sickness.  Off to a pharmacy I go. Yes the photo at the top of the page is indeed a pharmacy.  Zoom in and see if you can find anything.  How the owner keeps track of things is beyond comprehension.  But he knew exactly what pile to burrow through.   I’m now fully  equipped and ready to conquer Mustang! 


India, Nepal, travel

The bumping


I’m Mumbai –  Fly Me!

It was time to leave my friends in Powai and head off for my flight to Kathmandu.  Conveniently they live only 4 km from Mumbai Airport,  known as BOM on your luggage tag.  And until last  year it really was a BOM,  because the old international terminal was a disgusting mess and a bomb would have been an improvement! 

The first rickshaw driver must have been having some kind of  trouble with his license because he refused to take me,  telling me he could only go to the domestic terminal.  He passed me off to the next guy in line who didn’t have a problem.  Off we went. 

It was 9 am and  a good 2 hours before departure.  Now a rickshaw ride through snarled Mumbai traffic is  a bit like a pinball table minus the flippers,  weaving and bobbing around stalled cars,  disgorging buses, potholes the size of small cars,  open sewers,  piles of  bricks and trash,  kids on bicycles and little old ladies who are either blind,  careless or protected by one or more gods in the  Hindu pantheon. And there’s the ever present feeling of bouncing from car to bus to truck in the clogged traffic.    I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint-hearted or those with a bad ticker of any sort especially as the driver kept turning around to talk to me. I found out in short order he’d been driving rickshaws  for 20 years, two school age  kids,  wife didn’t work,  lived in a slum,  will vote for Modi (almost certainly India’ next Prime Minister ) hated his job and   wanted to lose weight.  I told him he should walk 5 km a day and  do yoga.  He laughed and asked me about weight lifting.  I guess I’m a stupid foreigner.  Indian men of his caste don’t do yoga perhaps…  How was I to know? 

He took the short cut to the airport entrance road behind the  police station and about a thousand rusting bicycles stacked against the rear wall with goats wandering hither and yon and we left India,  well THAT India,  and entered the brave new India,  the granite and steel  India,  the architecture of the future India,  the spotlessly clean and hyper efficient India that frankly  I wasn’t sure I had seen before.  I tipped the fat driver generously (well percentage wise,  the entire 4km trip was about 80 cents,  so I gave him double the fare)  and told him to eat lots of fruit and lay off the naan bread  as a parting shot. 

I entered an elevator the size of a bus coming up from the drop off point and walked to the check  in.  Oh I was in a good mood ,  I was even humming a tune.  My jaw dropped as I entered.  This was a stunning building looking like a series of inverted ufo’s with graceful fluted  pillars holding up the structure.  I could definitely see the essence of the  architecture of Rajasthan and the classic Hindu temple motif but it was so powerfully subtle it did not detract from or clash with the modernity.

Sauntering jauntily up to the Jet Airways counter I was was told the flight was oversold,  no seats left.   But,  but,  but,  I stammered,  I have a paid seat.  That’s a first for me..  At least with a full fare ticket.  Bumped… 

I begged,  pleaded,  implored,  threatened and even involved the name of a dead Nepali government minister for a fictional but vitally important meeting. Get me a seat.  Bump someone else,  it’s 2 hours before the flight,  not everyone has  checked  in yet…  No dice.   They had,  according to the counter agent..  We’ll give you 4000 rupees as compensation and see you tomorrow.. 

After going on like this for 10 minutes my bluster finally worked and I was told to come back in half an hour which I negotiated down to 15 minutes. I got my seat.  And the plane had about 10 empty seats when we took off. 

So the building might have been space age but the systems weren’t,  obviously.  Same old India dressed up in a shiny new suit.  What’s the expression?  Silk purses from sows ears?  No matter,  if only LA or JFK had a terminal like the new BOM

Alighting in Kathmandu at ramshackle Tribhuvan made even the old BOM look good..  But I did get through immigration in about 4 minutes and I wasn’t bumped from my taxi into town. 


In a box


Harmony Villa Infinity Pool and Flooded Rice Paddies at Sunset.   Lodtunduh,  Ubud,  Bali,  March 2014

This shot captures the exactness of the line between here and there..instead of calling them infinity pools,  we should call them definity pools.

But this photo has very little to do with the present moment.  It’s merely a reminder of beauty and the art of light and shadow,  of reflection and timing.  Of definition.  And I love it.  I hope you do too. 

The now is a tired happy man lying in bed after a nine thousand mile journey half way around the globe.  I made it to Mumbai,  breezed through late evening traffic from the airport in the aptly named air-conditioned cab (“Cool Cab”)  to the home of my dear friends in the northern suburbs. 

The nature of jet lag has been expounded on by authorities far more worthy than I along with innumerable remedies that work in part and by individual circumstance  but waking up after 4 hours sleep doesn’t make it any easier.   It’s not the dislocation of clock time  so much as the need to adjust all of  ones  bodily functions one by one…  When to eliminate,  when to  eat,  when to shave  and so on.  We may consciously disavow routines but we run better as an organism with them.. Which  leads me to ask do our fellow prokaryotic life sleep? How are they affected by this time shift?   Are they rumbling in the oven of my intestines going “I’m hungry,  I need naan bread”.  Indeed they are..  I follow the school of thought that they run me, and thus I must bow to my masters and go stuff my face! 

India, travel



A huge rock outcropping between two high rises in Powai, Mumbai. I don’t think they’ll be building there for a while. Note the ever-present Mumbai rickshaw. It’s just, well, ever-present.

I screwed up..  Really I did.  I left my camera in the apartment. The plan was to take photos of my day and write about them. I was so exhausted that first few hours on Indian soil that I even  forgot I had a  phone camera. I ended the day with a picture of a rock and a haircut’s before and after.  I promise I’ll do better next time.

Dawn broke cool,  breezy, cleansing somehow through the pervasive dusty  haze .  A curious  Mumbai crow,  glossy black and deep blue,  sat on the iron railing of the the window frame.  I lay in bed watching it (him/her? How do you sex a crow?) as it watched me,  head turning this way and that in that strange jerking motion common to all  birds,  the organic stepper motors kicking in as presumably instinct or desire attracted a look in a different direction.  I looked at its head and wondered about its peripheral vision,  the eyes  being set on either side  so widely.  It was a strange communion,  my sleepy gaze and the sinister stare of this half pound scavenger.  I got out of bed and it hopped to a higher railing,  doing a sort of feng shui defensive dance swiveling to the open sky behind.  Every now and again an ant ran  across the window sill and opening that black shiny scimitar of a beak,  the crow would devour it  like a  tapas snack.   After a few of these morsels,  the crow yawned;  I did too.  We were obviously tired of each other.   It  flew off and I stumbled into the shower to drive me into a semblance of wakefulness.  Good morning Mumbai!

Refreshed somewhat and hungry,  I  went off in search of my own tapas.