Archive for the ‘Kathmandu’ Category

What to do in Kathmandu? Mustang Photo Exhibit

in activities, Kathmandu, Nepal

On Wednesday, I was at Baber Mahal Revisted on a writing assignment for Friday, the weekly paper I do regular restaurant reviews for. While there I took a few minutes to check out the new photo exhibition that had just opened the day before at the Siddhartha Gallery.

If, like me, you are fascinated with Mustang, the remote area in northern Nepal with a unique Tibetan culture, you should make the time to visit and see these photos. Taken by Italian photographer Luigi Fieni, they are are a record of 16 summers he spent in Mustang while working with conservation projects there. There are stunning photos of scenery, beautiful gems of local people, and on the top floor a photographic record of the restoration of ancient murals by ordinary people.

The exhibit runs through November 12, 2014, it’s free, and well worth a visit: Siddhartha Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited, Kathmandu. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday 11 am to 6 pm, and 12 noon to 4 pm on Saturdays.

Something new for me today

in daily life, Food, Kathmandu, rice

I stood off to the side, watching the fun, laughing with them, taking photos. They were working, but it felt like a party.

The thought crossed my mind, “I should try it sometime.” And I told myself that, yes, I would next time I got the opportunity. I’m not sure why I thought that the next time would be better than today, but I did.

She must’ve read my mind, because not a minute later my friend called out, “Have you ever tried this? Why don’t you do it?”

But the mud, my clothes, I wasn’t dressed for this…

The next thing I knew I was kicking off my shoes, rolling up my leggings, and stepping into the deep, squelching mud.

Someone passed me a bundle of seedlings. “Two at a time, two at a time,” they kept calling.

And that’s how I found myself this morning, planting rice.

The mud was not just between my toes but over my ankles and crawling up my calves. The paddy had been dug up before being flooded, and bending over, I stuffed the rice seedlings–which look exactly like long blades of grass–two at a time into the oozy earth, trying to space them evenly.

“This isn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” I thought, “and it’s certainly a lot more fun.” Then I finished my bundle and looked up and realized that the field looked much the same as when I’d begun, and the small paddy was barely a fraction planted.

The rest was taken up by more experienced hands than mine, but I came away with a newfound appreciation for the time-consuming, backbreaking effort that goes into producing a plate of rice. –A job that here in Nepal, is still done mostly by hand, at least in hilly areas, where the paddies are small and often terraced.

Yesterday was National Paddy Day; by this time most of the rice should already be planted. But the monsoon has been patchy so far, inconsistent, so not all farmers have been able to plant out yet. On the cover of today’s edition of The Kathmandu Post there’s a photo of a woman preparing her fields for sowing, but they’re too dry to plant in yet. The Himalayan Times has a happier photo on its front page of schoolchildren playing in the mud while planting rice at a festival to celebrate the National Paddy Day.

The field behind my house has played host to two neighbourhood weddings over the past few weeks, and when I got home this afternoon three men were tilling it — two by hand and one with a small mechanized tiller, removing all traces of the partying and leaving smooth furrows behind. As I watched them the rain rolled in, first lightly and then so heavily that they abandoned their work and ran for cover. It’s been raining ever since and, cozy in my house with a mug of coffee, a makeshift prayer came to mind as I watched the rain fall: A good monsoon, and a good harvest, for all those hardworking farmers that most need it.

The rain is still coming down.

 

These ladies are experts...

These ladies are experts…

 

...this one, on the other hand, not so much :)

…this one, on the other hand, not so much 🙂

Power on, power off

in daily life, electricity, Kathmandu

The strange thing, after you’ve lived in Nepal for a while, about getting extra power when you least expect it, is the euphoria of it, the feeling like you’re living on borrowed time or have been given an unexpected gift, and you’d best make the most of it. Tonight–for whatever reason–the power stayed on for an extra eleven minutes past the scheduled time when it should have gone off. It’s usually pretty punctual. Unless there’s been a good rain, or perhaps a special holiday, and they decide that they can afford to just leave it on for the day.

Perhaps this is the moment to explain, for those who don’t know, that Kathmandu has scheduled power cuts, referred to as “load shedding.” The city is divided into groups, with a schedule published that lets you know when the electricity will go off where you live. Mine is Group One.

This state of affairs can be circumvented, of course, with generators or solar panels or UPS devices; and while I can’t afford these at the moment I honestly don’t mind. While there are, most certainly, moments when the power going off is frustrating or interruptive, I’m used to it, and it doesn’t bother me. I enjoy following the rhythms of my neighborhood, listening to the thick silence or surrounding sounds that suddenly seem stark and clear when the electricity’s off, particularly at night, and waiting for the cry of a child, somewhere nearby–“Bhatti aio!” – “Power’s here!”

And even though I miss my fan on a warm night like tonight, when a strong breeze blows in the window and moves across my body it provides a moment of joy, and gratitude, and unexpected bliss.

Joy

in daily life, Kathmandu, writing

Yesterday a good friend came over and we had lunch together. We’ve known each other for years, and we talked the way you only can with someone you’ve known, well, for that long. The power was off for the scheduled electricity cut, and we ate in the kitchen, a breeze coming through the back screen door there. And I thought how lucky I was to be there, in that moment.

Yesterday I also heard that the anthology I have a story published in, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Alzheimer’s and other Dementias, is a bestseller; not ten days after its release, they’ve already had to order a second printing. And while my part in it is very small, and certainly nothing to do with its bestselling status, as a writer it was an encouragement to my own dreams. It made me happy.

Tonight it rained, a heavy rain that we’ve been needing in Kathmandu for weeks now, to clear the dust and bring down the heat and water the earth. Some might say a small thing, but it isn’t really. None of it is. It’s wonderful, and we should enjoy every bit of joy, large and small, that crosses our path. One of many things living in Nepal has taught me, and for which I am very grateful.

Gardening Thoughts

in daily life, Kathmandu, Vegetables

A few days ago I dug into the garden. I’d just got home and went out there and started pulling weeds and turning soil. I think I’ve been subconsciously putting it off because it hasn’t worked out so well for me in the past. I’ve always rented here in Nepal, and I’ve often had to move abruptly and unexpectedly. Sometimes it was my choice, of course, but often it wasn’t; a true example: “I have just bought this house from the owner. Can you be out in a week?”

So even though I love planting and watching things grow, it’s hard to commit when I don’t know how long I’ll be living in this house. And I remember how I felt when I saw the new tenants of a place rip up the avocado sapling I’d planted. Of course my many pots of flowers, herbs, and small trees always come with me when when I move, but I haven’t had much success growing vegetables in containers, and I want to grow more of what I eat.

I’ve come to love this little pink house, and I hope to be here for a long while. Last year I planted out two small avocado trees in the back patch that I’d grown from seed, and it’s time now to get serious with vegetables.

Two lettuces and some garlic survived from a half-hearted attempt a few months ago, and I think they were happy to be free of their weed-bed. For starters this time around, I planted a bunch of mixed salad greens, and two different kinds of peas and some sprouting potatoes. The salad was from a packet, but the peas were local varieties that I’d saved and dried. The potatoes; tiny ones that I’d ignored while cooking and which had begun sprouting all by themselves in their bowl on the dining table.

There’s more to come; I’ve determined not to let worry and uncertainty stop me from leading the life I want. If and when I should have to move, I will have enjoyed this time in my lovely pink house to the full.

A little bit of Japan in Kathmandu

in art exhibition, Food, Japan, Kathmandu, restaurants

Yesterday, by serendipitous chance, I was near the Japanese embassy and saw a banner outside announcing an art exhibit, Sharaku.

Of course I had to pop inside.

The exhibition contained high-quality woodblock prints, posters by graphic designers, a few sculptures and porcelain items, and two large paintings, these last being my personal favorites. Another great display was three wooden music boxes, the likes of which I have never seen before. They were very tactile and fascinating to touch and listen to.

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From the handout I learned that Toshusai Sharaku was a well-known artist from the Edo period; his specialty was woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) of Kabuki actors. The woodblock prints in the gallery were reproductions of his work, while all the other items–from the graphic posters to the paintings and porcelain and yes, even those music boxes–were re-interpretations of his work by Japanese artists working in a wide variety of mediums. Fascinating to read about, and I found it interesting to have experienced the full impact of the the works before reading about the artist and displays.

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All in all, while not a large exhibit, it’s a great way to spend half an hour, especially considering that there’s not a whole lot of this type of art in Kathmandu. And did I mention that it’s free?

The Sharaku exhibit is on display at the Japanese Embassy through March 11, 2014.

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And if, after having had your fill of Japanese art, you feel a hunger for something more…filling, just a few minutes walk from the Japanese Embassy up Lazimpat (going north) on the opposite side of the road you’ll find Kotetsu, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants. While they do have a full menu to choose from, I usually go for the bento lunch box, which costs 500 nrs. and changes every day. It’s a great way to sample unusual Japanese flavors and textures, all of which are delicious. The relaxed atmosphere and seating arrangement that allows you to watch the chefs at work is also fantastic.

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On a completely unrelated note, yesterday’s copy of The Himalayan Times informed me that “The Ministry for Home Affairs has fixed the number of public holidays other than Saturdays for the year 2071 BS.” The year 2071 refers to the Nepali calendar, which is lunar based; we still have a few weeks left of 2070; the new year, 2071, will start in mid-April. The number of holidays allotted is 50 (in addition to those 52 Saturdays, Sunday being the first day of the week in Nepal). This led me to wonder, is this number of public holidays a lot or a little? I’ve been here too long to tell; Nepal has myriad holidays and religious festivals, some of which are only marked by certain ethnic groups. But considering that Nepal has only a one-day weekend instead of a two-day one, I think it’s just right. So many years, and so much left yet to learn.

Kathmandu View

in Himalaya, Kathmandu

One of the things I love about Kathmandu is how you can turn a corner while driving home in traffic and come upon a view of the Himalayas like this one. Isn’t it fantastic?

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About the name-day event

in children, Food, Kathmandu, Newari Food, Newars

For the curious, here are a few more details about the photos in the last post, which I took on December 29th, when invited to the name-day ceremony for the new baby girl of a Newari family who are good friends of mine.

This event is held on the 9th day after a baby’s birth. While I can’t claim to understand all the nuances of the day, the simple explanation is that it is a religious ceremony performed by a Brahmin priest where the baby receives its auspicious religious name. This is not what the baby will actually be called, nor even her legal name, but is nonetheless a very important part of culture and society. You can see the name written in Sanskrit on the pipal leaf.

Also involved was lots of incense and ritual offerings of banana leaf bowls filled with flowers, rice, fruit and other foods, each laden with symbol and meaning.

At the end of it all, delicious celebratory Newari food. A young member of the family really, really wanted one of my peas!

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