Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Kathmandu – Day 7 – the Kathmandu Domestic Air Terminal – and back

Kathmandu International Airport is modest, particularly in comparison with its glittering neighbor, Suvarnabhumi International Airport  in Bangkok.  It has a small traffic control tower, a simple customs process,  a short walk through the terminal to the taxi queue, a nicely landscaped divided entry highway which leads into town a reasonable distance away. It reminds me of the Oakland CA airport in the 60’s from which charter flights through to Europe through Iceland – competent and manageable.

So my arrival in Kathmandu through this gateway did not prepare me for my attempted departure through the Kathmandu DOMESTIC Airport, which was much more reminiscent  of  Oakland’s Greyhound bus terminal before anti-smoking ordinances were in effect, assuming that tule fogs had shut down all routes south and stranded five busloads of would-be travelers.

There is no such thing as curb-side check-in at the KDA – and if, like our group, you have several weeks worth of baggage, you would do well to tip your taxi driver or one of the unofficial airport porters to assist you to carry your bags.   You will need to pay an airport fee of about 200 Nepalese xxx and be able to show your receipt at the security gate.  You will be responsible yourself for getting your bags into the airport, labeled for your destination, and onto the conveyor belt at the security gate for X-raying. Then you will step through the security portal (Note that “Gents” go through a different portal than “Ladies”, in case you need to be patted down) and must then make sure your bags get into the proper pile to be loaded onto the airplane.

If there is fog, there will likely be several plane-loads of travellers waiting to embark.  Seating is limited and the benches appear also to have been handed down from a Central California bus terminal; their chrome armrests and cracked vinyl reek of authenticity, if not more.

If you are flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara-  the jumping off point for most treks on the Annapurna circuit – there are a few constraints.  The first and most important is that the Pokhara airport has no radar capability, so if the area is fogged in, it is not possible to land an airplane.  Also, it is not possible to land a plane after dark, as Pokhara electric service is limited.   Between October 15 and November 15 there is usually clear weather, so this is the peak season for trekking and for flying.  But if there is fog you will wait for it to lift – as we did.

Many of the waiting travellers will be smoking, as there is no such thing as smoking restriction in public areas in Nepal.  No, wait!  There IS a N0 Smoking sign in one area – and there are seats!  Uh oh!  it is the area next to the two public lavatories.  That’s why there are seats – the reek of the lavatories is perhaps less injurious to your health than the cigarette smoke, but it doesn’t make much difference, as there is nothing except the small sign preventing the smoke from the smoking section to invade the sacrosanct area.

There is a small snack bar offering candy, crackers, chips, soda, water, a limited selecton of souvenirs, and a very limited menu of hot sandwiches or rice bowls.  Since the flight to Pokhara will lasts less than an hour, you may forego these treats. Or if you find yourself waiting through lunchtime, as we did, you may give in.

I would like to be able to tell you about the boarding process, about the state of the Yeti Airlines plane we were to fly on, and about the Pokhara Airport, but unfortunately, you will have to learn about these from another, more fortunate traveler.  After SIX HOURS of waiting,  at 2:50 the nice young thing at the counter confided in DB ” We can’t fly after 4 PM because there are no lights at Pokhara, so the flight will be announced cancelled at 3.  Go quickly and get in line to re-book your flight and reclaim your luggage.”

So the three of us jumped into action – DB managed the baggage, I hit the Airport tax counter for a refund for the three of us, and DM stood in line to rebook.  DM also located the free phone and had a business card for our hotel, so we were able to secure our room again.

So now what?  We were  exhausted – 7 hours of airport noise and announcements and babble bracketed by unbelievable traffic and brown air, and no assurance that we would not have to go through it again the next day.  Stay tuned for Day 8!


Tip for travelers in Nepal – make sure to arm yourself with plenty of baksheesh  in the local currency before embarking – we needed an extra trip to the ATM after our experiences.

Houston Environs – Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos…

But, Odetta’s old song notwithstanding, there are swathes of pink and white showy primroses, fields of yellow buttercups, creamy bull thistles, and blue trillium, plus lagoons filled with white spider lilies, nesting eagles, spoonbills, egrets, and more than a few lounging alligators of various lengths and fearsomeness – all in Brazos Bend State Park, about an hour southwest of Houston.

I had never been to and scarcely heard of this park. It was amazing. We biked for almost 10 miles on well-maintained dirt, gravel, and cement trails, passing by lagoons full of bird life, meadows full of floral color, and shaded forests hung with swamp moss. Another beautiful day with air cooled by early fog, clearing to blue skies with puffy clouds worthy of a Magritte painting.

By the time we had looped around the final lagoon and returned to Start, we were very ready to sit on something that didn’t bump and re-hydrate with fresh grapefruit, mango, tangelos, and yogurt.


By the way,  the April issue of United’s Hemispheres inflight magazine features “Three Perfect Days in Houston.”   Their take on Houston includes a lot more and a lot fancier eating and drinking than I have mentioned, but the article hits several of the same high spots within the city.  If you don’t have a Knowledgeable Friend to provide a private B&B experience, or the thought of biking gives you palpitations, or you are on an unlimited budget, this article offers a decidedly different, yet over-lapping take on Texas’s largest city.

Nepal – in and around Kathmandu – Day 6

The holiday is over, and the people of Kathmandu have returned from their families and festivities to normal – and so has the pollution level in the city.   We steered through appalling traffic and dust and made our way outward and upward into the foothills.  The further away from the valley we got, the clearer the air, but the haze was still evident until we were well up the foothills.  It is hard to know how to fix this problem – like all cities in developing countries Kathmandu is a magnet for people looking for education, opportunity, excitement.

We headed for Dawainkali –  the temple dedicated to Kali, goddess of death and destruction.  “We are lucky you took a break day,” says Shaku, our guide.  “If we had come on Monday as planned, there would be little to see, but Tuesday is a day for sacrifices.”  We look at each other dubiously.

We arrive at the site, and walk up a cobbled street past blocks and blocks of people selling items for sacrifice, ranging from bouquets of roses and garlands of marigolds to chickens and baby goats. Not so many souvenir sellers – these stalls are for genuine Nepali worshippers, not just for tourist show.

At the site two long queues of people writhe around the shrine.  In addition, paths are set aside for non-Hindus and others excluded from the temple to observe the proceedings.  Shaku confided that she was very unhappy not to be able to participate, as she was  the wrong time of the month; women in menses cannot enter the temple.  However, she directs us to the best vantage point, and we are able to witness the decapitation of a goat as well as the axing of a number of chickens and coconuts.

Once the sacrifice is made, the blood is sprinkled on Kali’s image, and the devotee is free to reclaim the chicken, goat, or coconut.  Just outside the inner shrine is a shed where the animals are plucked, gutted, and dismembered for later barbequing.  The marble floor of the area was stippled with blood drippings and mud – the thought crosses my mind that if I slip and fall I will probably have to be air-lifted to Delhi for blood purification.
Next we climb up a steep hill of steps to a second, less blood-thirsty shrine overlooking the first, where the worship of Vishnu goes on inside  while at the same time at a corner of the plaza has been set up as  a small temporary Buddhist shrine , festooned with prayer flags, and a group of Buddhists are devoutly reciting scriptures under the tutelage of a white-garbed teacher.  A nice example of Nepali’s peaceful coexistence of religions. (Maybe it’s only the Muslims and Christians whose evangelical fervor makes trouble?)

On the way down we stop for tea and sai, a sort of Nepalese donut.  Since we eat with our guide, the entire set including a Coke came to 70NP (the going rate for a Coke alone in Thamel is 80NP). However, the Nepalese make no secret of their double standard in pricing;  all the museums and historic sites charge foreigners and tourists 3-5 times as much as ‘citizens of the SAARC” – which includes India, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan, etc.  This seems fair for the historic sites, as the funds are used for maintenance and restoration, and even at restaurants the tourist rate is still very reasonable – we have not paid more than $6 / person for any dinner.

Next we visit a relatively new Buddhist stupa founded by Thai Airlines in memory of the crew members and passengers of a Thai Airways flight between Bangkok and Katmandu that crashed in 1992.  Golden buddhas, and a good view of smoggy Kathmandu below.

Our final stop is at a traditional Newari village, where  women in traditional costumes are threshing and winnowing rice using woven trays – tirelessly filling the trays and tossing the rice to the wind to allow the chaff to float away.  Where were the men?  Groups of them squat on street corners playing cards with dried beans for markers.  “It is a festival time for them,” explains Shaku – but evidently not for the women.

Back through the dust and pollution and traffic to our hotel – this time I use my neck scarf as a face mask and it was better.  We bid our escorts good by with generous tips (I am not the wife of an ex-tour guide for nothing.)

Our third friend has joined us, and we have been moved to the Holy Himalayan Hotel’s equivalent of a penthouse suite -two rooms, one with a king bed and bathroom with a tub, the other with twin beds, a balcony, and a small kitchen.   The cost is actually less per person.

For dinner we follow the recommendation of my sister’s colleague and hit  Fire and Ice Pizzeria.  Like other restaurants in Thamel it was founded by people who came to hike and stayed – the pizzas are as authentic as can be made with Nepalese ingredients, and the place is packed.

We sat at table with a charming young Belgian couple who had just completed much of the Annapurna circuit and had also gone to the Chitwan national wildlife park – another of the World heritage sites in Nepal where one can enjoy bathing with the elephants,  canoeing through the rain forest, spotting rhinos, and dodging crocodiles.  Maybe next time.

Note to travelers in Kathmandu:  If you want to get seated promptly at a restaurant, arrive at 6PM or shortly after – by 7PM the joint was jammed and jumping.

Second note to travellers in Kathmandu:  if you want to get your check in a hurry at a restaurant that is jammed and jumping, fugeddaboudit.

Third note: When you get the bill, be sure they return the credit card BEFORE you sign the chit.

Houston – Day 3 – Quirky Museums and a Museum event

Every city, I suppose, has its hidden gems – unusual museums that focus on some limited aspect of life and exceed your expectations because of the genuine love and enthusiasm for their subject.  This day we focused on two in Houston, plus some additional urban gems, all within biking distance of my Knowledgeable Friends’s central Houston digs.

First, the Museum of Printing History, a true gem. I expected a dusty little place with some etchings about Gutenberg and some old typewriters, maybe. Instead we found a bright new one-story building which included a working copy of Gutenberg’s first press, hand-crafted to match the original, on which the docent, with the aid of several amazed and delighted Cub Scouts on a field trip, printed a duplicate of a page from the Gutenberg Bible. Next, we proceeded to a replica of Benjamin Franklin’s printing press, on which the docent with similar aid, ran off a copy of the Declaration of Independence as originally printed in Philadelphia. Awesome!

In a separate gallery was a stop-you-in-your-tracks exhibition of poster prints, some for sale ($500-$700 ea) of posters designed and printed by the Swiss artist Hans Erni.

We had to breeze by a series of front pages of historic events ranging from the bombing of Fort Sumter through the sinking of the Titanic to the election of Obama – each one worth careful perusal to find out what ELSE was going on that day.

Next, the Art Car Museum. This was similar to the Kinectic Sculpture museum in Ferndale, but based on the annual Art Car parade in Houston. Since the vehicles did not have to dive off a 15-foot sand dune or be paddled across Humboldt Bay, they are not subject to the limitations of gravity or flotability. Amazingly silly. My favorite was the giant rabbit with sharks fangs about to devour a basket of little bunnies, chicks and lambs.

We biked over the freeway and picnicked elegantly on chicken-mango-yogurt salad on AkMak crackers in White Oak Park, a reclaimed railroad right-of-way with spectacular views of downtown Houston. Passing through central Houston on the way home, we stopped to rest at Discovery Green next to MinuteMaid Park and the Toyota Center (homes of baseball and basketball respectively) and discovered a Vietnamese Music Festival in progress. We saw a Vietnamese hip hop group in action, sharing our view space with  the Lion Dancers who had evidently performed earlier, their  t-shirts contrasting oddly with their lion-dance.

This evening, back to the Houston Fine Arts Museum for a gala premiere –  the first US showing of France’s  biggest movie blockbuster of the year in France . It is called The Intouchables, and will not be released in the US until this summer.  The Weinstein Group (which distributed The Artist in the US)  has already purchased the remake rights (maybe with Dustin Hoffaman and Eddie Murphy?) The audience was jammed with French speakers, the film was introduced by the French consul at Houston. Apparently this film has been seen by at leat one in 20 Frenchmen. (Variety hated it.)

So – everything from Cub Scouts to couture – a truly metropolitan day!

Nepal – Day 5 – the Wonder of Bhaktapur

What makes a spot qualify as a Wonder?  Not just beauty or history or size – it must induce a certain giddy glee at the sheer audacity and over-reaching achievement that makes you want to laugh with pleasure.  The Great Wall made me feel like this.  So did the Taj Mahal, and Chichen Itza.  So did the Katmandu Valley’s Bhaktapur.

Unlike the other World Historic Sites we had seen, Bhaktapur embodies a sense of order – not just in the relative homogeneitiy and symmetry of its large public squares, but vertically, as its pagodas reach toward the sky on carefully sequenced plinths representing logarithmic orders of power. (Is that cool or what?  Never have I ever simagined logarithmic progressions embodied in material form, and certainly never expected to see an embodiment in a 400-year-old brick-and timber Hindu temple.)

Maybe you, like me, had never heard of Bhaktapur, much less seen a picture.  Here is the Nayatopola Temple which so impressed me.

This temple is the tallest in the Kathmandu Valley, and in my eyes the most beautiful and interesting.  The  guardians on the five plinths are carefully selected:  the first level shows two legendary champion wrestlers, the most powerful humans in Nepali lore.  Above them, ten times more powerful, are two elephants.  Above them, and again ten times more powerful, two  royal lions.  Above them, again ten times more powerful, two griffons from Nepali myth.  And representing the final level of guardian power, two goddesses.

Inside the temple is an image of Durga, the blood-thirsty avatar of Parvati, Vishnu’s consort.  Only priests are allowed inside.  The temple rises five stories tall, each roof seeming about to take wing.  The final spire points the way to heaven.

I can’t stop thinking about the concept of the levels of power, and the thinking that enabled this representation of Man’s humble place in the universal order in such a masterfully graphic way.  Not only does it take my imagination from the human to the divine, but leaves five more orders of power and divinity which are invisible and unknowable, beyond our ability to conceive.  I can’t think of a better monument to the limitations of our knowledge of God.

Houston Environs – Galveston

Up at 7:30, bikes on the car, then onto Highway 10 for a nostalgia excursion to Galveston, the affordable beach getaway for my family years ago.

Galveston is essentially a barrier island – every few decades the island is scoured by hurricane winds and storm surge waves – the most recent being Hurricane Ike in 2008.  It is amazing how much that is old and charming has survived the gales and sea water.  Three major storms have attacked the island since I visited it as a child, yet it seemed much more lovely than my memories.  We cruised the island on our bikes under sunny blue skies, beginning in the Strand area, which is the oldest part of downtown.  We saw lots of brick store-fronts and wrought – iron balconies a la New Orleans, and dating to the same period.  This part of town was probably much too seedy for me and my family in earlier years;  it has been spruced up with bright paint, murals, jazz clubs, restaurants, and a family-friendly trolley line a’ la New Orleans also.

Down one brick-paved street loomed the huge Art Deco train station dating to the days when Galveston was the largest port in Texas;  down another loomed an equally bulky Carnival cruise ship.  The harbor was hosting myriad types of maritime vessels, including Elissa, “Texas’s Tall Ship”, a couple of oil barges, the Carnival Cruise ship, and an oil drilling platform moored at its own dock and turned into a museum courtesy of Exxon.

Then through an older neighborhood of beautifully maintained Victorians in candy colors over to the Sea Wall – a huge wide expanse of avenue, concrete seawall, and beach which stretches 10 miles along the 27-mile long island. The seawall was built in response to the Great Storm of 1900, when 15-foot waves had inundated the island and killed over 8000 people – still the deadliest natural disaster in US history.

 The pieces missing from my childhood memory were the tourist piers which had stretched out into the water offering all sorts of shells, shirts, and other souvenirs. There were lots of pilings, but only one pier, and that one reaching in a tentative curve rather than the long fingers I remembered. Then we came to a historical marker – here is where Murphy’s famous pier was, before Ike. Everything I remembered had been swept away by Ike’s 20-ft storm surge, which swept over the seawall and engulfed the island.  But Galvestonians are tenacious: the old Galvez Hotel sported fresh landscaping, and at the far end of the seawall a new Playland is under construction.

Evidence of the devastation of Ike is everywhere if you begin to look. Live oaks that were planted after the Great Storm of 1900 and survived both the Pretty Big Storm of 1915 and Hurricane Carla were poisoned by the saltwater of Ike’s tidal surge.  Some local artists carved the remains into shapes of mermaids, dolphins, egrets, etc. – these spontaneous artworks are now a tourist attraction.  Many buildings still show the scars of watermarks at chest level or higher.

After lunch at the Saltwater Grill in the Strand area we walked to a quilt exhibit in the adjacent Federal Customs Office, now a museum in process of restoration.  Another easy walk through historic neighborhoods took us to the “Bishop’s Castle” – one of the huge piles of Texas granite and Sandstone which has been preserved from the wreckers along Broadway –  formerly the elegant center of town.

This home, built for a local railroad lawyer and his family of four boys and three girls, was a Statement Home in its day, each room featuring a different exotic wood, each fireplace a different exotic granite, each window topped with glowing stained glass. Imagine a family of nine – Mom and Dad shared a master bath, and all seven children shared the second bath. The five servants plus the nanny shared the servant’s bath in the basement. I was imagining a Galvestonian version of “Upstairs Downstairs” – it would be fun to write!

The house was abandoned after the storm of 1915 and Galveston’s subsequent slide from an elegant port city to a “sin city” dominated by gambling and prostitution. Fortunately, the house is located across from the Catholic cathedral;  the church bought the home at a tenth of its building cost as a residence for the bishop, hence its salvation from the wreckers.  The Bishop had one bedroom converted to a chapel, replaced a rather racy stained-glass window with one depicting St. Theresa, and made himself at home.

My KF had secured a tape of the documentary “Voices of the Storm” – a Ken Burns -style documentary of the Great Storm of 1900 as told through letters and oral histories, illustrated by old photos and etchings. Every place has its history, every history has its stories to discover or imagine. I’m thinking – how to describe Galvestonians, this friendly group clinging to their barrier reef, restoring and rebuilding again and again?  They might call themselves tenacious, loyal, deeply-rooted.  I suspect their insurance agents might use a different set of adjectives – say… mulishly stubborn? Unable to learn from experience? Fighting a losing battle against Nature?

On a beautiful blue-skied day, with the restored Victorian trim sparkling in the sun, it is hard not to love the termerity and audacity of these islanders.

Triumph of the Garage (Los Altos Town Crier, April 4, 2012)

My mother told me awhile ago about my great-great-grandfather’s workshop, where every nut, bolt, and screw had its own special compartment, every tool had its own particular hook.
This awoke a hunger in me. Unlike many of my neighbors, we have always been able to park two cars in our two-car garage, but negotiating the way from the car to the hall door was hazardous – successive layers of cleaning out the trunk in order to go to the car wash, unloading from a camping trip, shifting material from an old office to a new one, and miscellaneous craft supplies had gradually encroached upon the shelving and floor and sink to the point where we could barely exit the cars once parked.
Once I started to work at home, “organize the garage” made it onto my weekly todo list. And there it sat, for week after week. “We’ll do it on the next rainy weekend” I told myself. It has been one of the driest winters on record. “We’ll do it when it’s warm enough to leave the door open so we can see what we are doing”. It has been colder than normal for weeks on end..
Finally something snapped. I went out and measured the space. Then I drew a plan, with height and depth and width of shelves needed. (Turned out not to be completely accurate, but that’s another story).
Having a diagram in hand seemed to trigger a switch in my husband’s brain: “Aha! A reason to cruise all the home improvement sites on the Internet! Awesome!” Before I knew it he had checked out wire,, wood, aluminum, PCV , and pre-formed plastic shelving at OSH, Loew’s, Home Depot, etc., and was presenting me with options: “Do you want any cupboards? Do you really need a 22” inch wide counter – that’s an odd dimension. You want 24” deep shelves, but comments on the Internet say things tend to get lost at the back – if we get taller units we could get by with 18” deep, don’t you think?”
Wow! What had I unleashed? Next thing I was swept into the car for a trip to the nearest home improvement mecca, where the most recommended shelving was in stock.
The chosen shelving was the prefabricated plastic kind where you tap the pieces in place with a rubber mallet and a block of wood – my husband set to with gusto. There must be something atavistically thrilling about pounding things into submission – the shelving was assembled in no time.
Now the hard part – emptying out the existing storage, purging what was not needed. and reloading.
The”existing storage” consisted of two rough units knocked together from planks and covered with peeling contact shelf liner – I had salvaged it from a curbside when we first moved into the house. I optimistically put it out on the curb again for free-cycling along with an extra soldering iron, out-moded hot glue gun, macramé flower pot holder with ceiling hook, totally unused paint roller and pan, furniture gliders, wall shelving hardware and support (with shelves) and other redundant or outmoded items. All disappeared within hours except for the storage units, which my husband eventually had to whack apart and deliver to the local landfill.
After a weekend of merging and purging ,we’re done. The garage is still not up to my great-great-grandfather’s standard: we don’t have a container for every nut and bolt or a hook for every tool, but at least we have dedicated shelves. (Who knew we had so many different kinds of lightbulbs?)
And finally – a floor! We can drive into our garage and get to the hall door without danger of tripping over anything!
Could the attic be next?

(Published in Los AltosTown Crierpril 4, 2012

Kathmandu – Advice for travellers

1. Bring a reliable alarm clock:  You will need this for the mornings when you are asked to get up at an incredibly early hour to view the sunrise on the Annapurnas.  The Annapurna Range is long and large, and the sun rises every morning, so you will have many opportunities to do this.

2. Bring granola bars:  For those mornings when you get up before the hotel breakfast service is operational in order to see the sunrise on the Annapurnas.

3. Pack warm layers: For those mornings when you get up early to see the sunrise on the Annapurnas and the temperature still hovering in 40s as you drive out to the place with the optimal view.  It will be in the 70s by lunchtime so be prepared to peel like an onion.

4. Be philosophical:  On those mornings when, like us on Day 5, you wake at 4AM, dress in warm clothes, eat your granola bar, drive on empty freeways and one-lane dirt roads to the acclaimed vantage point…and the fog is in.   I saw the sunrise pink the top of the fogbank, but not a sign of the Annapurnas.  Such is life.

5. Study up on the Hindu pantheon:  It helps a lot as you check off the seven World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley if you are up to speed with the various incarnations of Vishnu and his consort, together with their assorted supporters, favorite modes of transport (Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, rides a shrew) and associated holidays.

6. These are active worship sites; don’t be squeamish about local customs: One shrine, beautifully decorated with hand-painted tiles featuring peacocks, was splatttered with blood from a recent sacrifice;  another temple was adorned with unbelievable elaborate wood carvings, and strings of dried buffalo intestines.

7. Bring your camera’s battery charger with an international adapter :  an auxiliary battery will not do the trick.    My fellow travelers and I had almost 2000 pictures to share AFTER we had culled the worst shots.  (But if you forget, everything you need is available in Thamel – for a price.)

8.  No matter where you go, there you are:  On Day 5 at the Holy Himalyan Hotel I  struck up a conversation with the lady at the adjacent free-for-guests computer who had just returned from a trek of the Annapurna circuit.  After a few rounds of “Where are you from? … You’re kidding!” it turned out that she works for my sister.   Later, it happened that  the only other American couple at the guest house in Tadupani lived on the same street as my son in Sacramento, and the only other guests at the teahouse on the way to Ghorepani actually lived on my street 4 short blocks down.  Good thing I wasn’t mis-behaving!

Day 4 – Kathmandu by Foot

So much to see, so much to try to take in.  Just walking here is a challenge, as the streets are about 10 feet wide with no sidewalks –  so pedestrians compete for space with each other, sellers whose wares have spilled onto the street, fleets of honking motorbikes, taxis, and truck of all sizes.  Somehow everyone seems to get where they are going, no raised voices, no fender benders, and we have seen only one scooter wipeout with no injury.

Our tour took us back to the Durbar Square, where we retraced a number of steps which we had hurried through yesterday, and also spent a good amount of time in the musty, dusty Royal history Museum which used to be a royal palace.  It is hard to imagine royalty in these small, low-ceilinged rooms with dark wood timerbering and exposed brick.   We burned out on reign after reign of pictures of royal tours and certificates of honorary degrees.  So we found a rooftop restaurant at the Royal Park Guest House at which to have lunch and watch the passing parade four floors below – delicious, simple, and fun.  On the wall of the entry were framed newspaper articles about the owner’s daughter who had been the first Nepalese woman to summit Mt. Everest, and later did it again with her fiancé to get married at the top.

South of Durbar Square is  a succession of older neighborhoods with shrines every 20 yards, little hidden plazas and squares, cute children asking to have their photos taken, and mercifully less traffic.

An glimpse of international politics:  we had just been wondering what was done about garbage in these narrow, clutered streets and courtyards when we saw our first garbage truck – decked with the flag of China – a good will gift from Nepal’s resource-hungry next door neighbor. As we spent more time in Nepal, we noticed more and more of such “gifts” – schools, medical laboratories, museum sponsorships – from Korea, Germany, China, India.  There is a string attached – in return these countries seek permission to build hydro-electric power plants in Nepal’s pristine mountain areas – and route the electricity to factories outside of Nepal. 

Every neighborhood has its own shrine and stupa, tucked away in coutyards accessible through low archways or narrow alleys.  We saw all sorts of shops, ranging from the tourist knock-off centers (we snagged a reversible fleece branded “Patagonia” on one side and “North Face” on the other.) to stores that seemed to sell exclusively locks and keys, or exclusively thong sandals, or exclusively pots.  No supermarkets, no Wal-Marts – I wondered what the Nepalese would make of our emporiums.

For dinner we ranged out to the  Krua Thai restaurant in Thamel – another winner, on a rooftop overlooking the Thamel street circus but relatively quiet, and with excellent food. On a balmy night, with festival lights everywhere, a second-floor rooftop restaurant is easy to love.

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