Friday, November 7, 2014

A Memorable Trip To Nepal After Thirteen Years

A Memorable Trip To Nepal After Thirteen Years

Baudhanath Stupa. Baudha, Kathmandu, Nepal.

A big part of this past summer—June 27th through August 21st—I spent in Nepal with my wife Radhika and daughter Zina. They had both been to Nepal in recent years, but for me it had been 13 years since my last visit, and I am recording here some of the highlights and impressions from the trip.

Upon arriving in Kathmandu we were received by my bother Suraj, his son Nirajan,  and my cousin Shanta Thokar along with his son Samir and his friend Prakash Shrestha at the airport. After that we went directly to our house in Gyaneshwar, where my brother and his family live. Ever since I first lived in that house, which Charles Henri Ford rented in 1973 and later bought, I’ve thought of it as “Charles’s Hermitage”, since he always referred to it as The Hermitage. It is a very old house, much of it in disrepair now. Since I last saw it, the area has become more crowded and modernized, and Charles’s Hermitage looks like a real antique sitting there now, surrounded by much newer and taller buildings. 

The rice paddies around the city have all but disappeared and everywhere you look are houses, built with money mostly sent from abroad. (Many, many Nepalese people have gone to other countries to find work as laborers and they send money home.) When I was young, there were hardly any modern buildings in the country but now there are many. Kathmandu has become a concrete jungle like New York City. There are also big disparities in how people live in Kathmandu, which has a lot of shantytowns and real poverty, but a lot of very luxurious homes as well. I saw people living in tiny shacks made of paper right in the road, and if you look between or behind the new luxurious buildings, you’ll see houses made of rotten metal and tires and plastic trash bags where very poor people live. Shantytowns have existed in Kathmandu for a long time, but now there seem to be more. As the population grows, so do the classes: upper class, middle class, lower class and sadly, some people have no class at all. Most of the politicians live in luxury. I visited a few houses belonging to people I actually know that were so luxurious—with marble floors and beautiful bathrooms and expensive Western furnishings—they made our house in Queens seem like a dump in comparison. Two especially unfortunate things about Charles’s Hermitage were a shortage of water and mosquitos. There was barely enough water to flush the toilet, and the plug-in mosquito repellent only worked when we had electricity. That meant that nighttime was bad for us but good for the mosquitos!

But what mattered the most to us was seeing all of our family members who welcomed us with such happiness. We were all very glad to see each other, and the phone never stopped ringing. The very next day of or arrival we went to wedding reception party of Radhika’s niece Roshani Lama, where we met many of our friends and relatives. After few weeks, we met our good friends Penny Rana and her husband Hemadri Rana. They were our guest when they were in New York a week before we left for Nepal. I had known Penny since her childhood when she used to be our neighbor in Gyaneshowr. They took us to tour Bhaktapur and Nagarkot, and they treated us with lunch at Nagarkot. They also invited us to dinner at their house in Baluwatar some weeks later. On July 12th, I hosted a get together party for my friends and relatives at Lotus Banquet Hall, Kaldhara, Kathmandu. Many of Radhika’s family, friends and relatives came from Boudha to attend. I had invited several former diplomats from New York who now live in Kathmandu. Among them were Mr. Madhu Raman Acharya (former Nepalese Ambassador to the United Nations, NY) and his wife Dr. Geeta Acharya, and Mr. Madhuban Paudel (former Ambassador to Kuwait) and his wife. Several people I have known from New York were present at the party. The Nepalese cyclist Furtemba Sherpa came with his family, and a number of entertainers—actors, and singers whose music I’ve listened to for years—and in total, about 400 people with known and new faces were present. Also on the guest list were members of the Tamang Media Group in Nepal. I used the occasion to present them with a donation of money, raised by about half a dozen people including myself, on behalf of the Tamang Society of America. It was a very enjoyable party for all. The only sad thing was that we had planned to bring all of the relatives and neighbors from my village of Phakel, and booked three buses for that purpose, but on the day preceding the party one of our neighbors in the village died, so the people were not able to come. 

I went to visit my village four times, all four of those trips riding the back of my brother’s motorbike. How different that is from the way it used to be, when we walked on pathways and the trip from Kathmandu took almost a whole day. On the motorbike it only took an hour and a half. The village itself has changed very much since I left, starting with the fact that there is a road now. There is also electricity and running water, things that were unheard of when I was growing up. These days everyone has a decent house to live in, everyone has cellphones and many houses have televisions. 

On my third trip, I gave a party in the village and invited all my relatives and neighbors to make up for the one that they missed. This time I took my wife Radhika and daughter Zina to visit my village, which was their first visit ever. I also invited singers Prem Lopchan, Roj Moktan and Sanjeev Dong as a guest to the party and they generously performed at the party with their songs. The event was very entertaining, and all of the guests had fun. When I asked Zina what she thought of my village, the one thing Zina didn’t like were the toilets, which are squatting-style toilets flushed with water from a bucket. When I was growing up there, of course, we just went into the bushes when we had to answer a call of nature. It reminded me of something years ago in Charles’s Hermitage: we installed a Western style toilet in the house, but many of our visitors had never seen such a toilet. So they climbed on it and squatted, or they straddled it, which was not very comfortable, so I replaced it with a squatting toilet. 

Me and Radhika at the party we organized in my village of Phakel with former Member of Parliament Mr. Bir Bahadur Lama.

Radhika was not particularly impressed of my village at first, but eventually she came to like it. It is similar to the one where she grew up, Kakani, her mother’s village. Both our home-villages are in high altitude, full of nature and fresh air. Kathmandu can get very sticky, humid and hot, and the air quality isn’t good either, so going to one of our villages, where everything is dry and light, feels completely different and very pleasant. In Kakani, Radhika’s mother owns a plot of land. Radhika along with her brothers and sister-in-laws arranged for busts of her parents to be made and erect on a small plot of that land. She had invited fifty or sixty people from Kathmandu for the occasion of unveiling the busts, with a Buddhist ritual ceremony conducted by several monks. Radhika and her brothers and sister-in-laws also gave a after-party for the guests there after the ceremony.

Busts of Radhika's parents erected in Kakani 

Another nice memorial in Radhika’s family, to which she contributed, are the seven or eight water fountains in Asapuri, built in her parents’ names by her brother and uncles. People use those fountains for bathing. Traveling to Asapuri was a very frightening experience. We took a bus and the only route was very narrow and steep dirt-road. The bus seemed to be driving on the edge of the road and it really looked as if it might go straight over the cliff, and some of the passengers on the bus actually cried. Zina was one of the terrified bus passengers who cried. Had we known how scary and dangerous the ride would be, we would have brought her in one of the cars on the trip instead.

One thing that has not changed in the village is the presence of goats and chickens running around, and the attitude of the roosters is the same as their ancestor roosters who lived there when I was young. Much of the surrounding forest has not changed as well; in fact, I think it might be denser than it was years ago. The farming styles have been modernized so people don’t graze their animals in the forests anymore. Mushroom farming, as well as growing cabbage, cauliflowers, carrots and all kinds of other vegetables have replaced the corn and millet growing of the past, and now the farmers have trucks to carry their produce to the cities. I will always remember, as a kid, the way we carried our produce on our backs almost all the way to the city, walking. All the young people in the village now have motorbikes, and the paths we used to walk on are no longer used, so they have become overgrown with bushes. One of positive consequences of this is that without so many people and animals using those paths, leeches have all but disappeared. When we used those pathways, the leeches would smell us coming. They’d lie waiting on the leaves and grab on as we passed. I’m not sure if they are disappearing for that reason, but it would seem that with less blood drinking they are not reproducing as much. Even so, I did get bitten by one of the few leeches still hanging around. It itched like mad for weeks!

During my Nepal trip, I also had chance to visit Pokhara, a beautiful city approximately 200 km west of Kathmandu. One of the members and previous secretary of Tamang Society of America, Amar Tamang, who from Pokhara, had recommended me as chief guest to honor students graduating from local high school organized by Nepal Tamang Bidharthi Ghedung, Kaski, coordinated by Deepak Waiba. So we traveled there, where I had the privilege of meeting board members of Tamang Ghedung Sangh, Kaski District, and signing the certificates of appreciation for Tamang students. I also made a donation of a little sum of money as a contribution to their organization. My brother and I made the trip together, and he wrote me a fine speech in Nepali. I made another trip to Pokhara with my family and stayed three or four days. I had a good time there. I have always liked Pokhara. It is better for walking, because it is surrounded by mountain peaks and very pretty when it is not cloudy, and the city itself is less crowded than Kathmandu. It is also not as muddy or dusty. When it rains, the water runs off, it doesn’t flood, which means no mud after the rain and no dust from the mud when it dries, whereas in Kathmandu rain means lots of mud and after that, lots of dust. Many people wear masks because of the dust and pollution in Kathmandu, where the traffic is very heavy as well. I must give them credit, though, for expanding the width of the roads in Kathmandu, although it would be better if certain rules would be applied to motorcycles there. They go every which way, and I had no desire to ride one in the city.

At the ceremony organized by Nepal Tamang Bidharthi Ghedung, Kaski, as chief guest to honor and present certificates to Tamang high school graduates.
Photo by Suraj K. Tamang

I felt very humbled to receive a number of honors during my trip, including one for a contribution I made to Chhyorten Tashi Tamang Monastery in Kathmandu. They presented me with a unique certificate which was printed in a Thanka. It was handed to me by the head monk of the monastery Tulku Losang Namgel Rimpoche. I was received by the President Navaraj Lama, Vice-President Man Bahadur Lama, General Secretary Hari Bahadur Lama, Treasurer Kumari Maya Lama along with founder Karma Siddhi Lama and all of the general board members of the monastery with Khada in the ceremony. I was also invited by Nepal Tamang Ghedung at their headquarter in Putalisadak for briefing of their Tamang Cultural Building Construction Project. We had brief discussion about their prospective project of the cultural building. As I am the coordinator of Tamang Cultural and Buddhist Center, a project of Tamang Society of America, I presented them with brief introduction of our project of building a Tamang Cultural Center in USA. The meeting was very fruitful, and we exchanged ideas and views of our projects. Buddhist Monastery is something my village does not yet have, and I know that people are hoping that I will help to build one. Few years earlier, I donated money to construct a crematorium in my village, for which I was honored by the village committee on one of my visits. If the villagers initiate the construction of the monastery in future, i will be obliged to help with my ability. I was also invited at the 20th anniversary of Tamang Prasaran Diwas organized by Tamang Sanchar Samuha’s Central Committee where the president of Tamang Sanchar Samuha, Jagat Dong, presented me with Certificate of Appreciation for Tamang Society of America. At that ceremony I met Dr. Ganesh Yonjan (former ambassador to Japan), Amrit Yonjan (a Tamang Culture  and Linguistic Scholar), Kumar Yonjan (President of Nepal Tamang Ghedung) and many more popular and respected Tamang figures.

Receiving Certificate of Appreciation on behalf of Tamang Society of America presented by Tamang Sanchar Samuha. Kathmandu.
Photo by Prem Lopchan

At the end of July, I made a special trip to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, with my family, my brother, a few relatives and singer Prem Lopchan, total of ten people. We took two cars for the trip, five people on each, which were graciously provided by Sanjeep Dong and Radhika’s Uncle Bir Bahadur Lama, who were with us on the trip. Lumbini lies down in the southern flatlands, the only area where I felt a little like I was a on an American road trip with straight, long roads, but before the long roads we took a very roundabout way full of sharp turns. We had a good time in Lumbini, which is full of monasteries and tourists from all over the world. Every country has built their own monastery there, and interestingly, the best and most accurate monastery, according to Buddhist religious rules, belongs the Germans. We visited the palace in Tilaurakot that belonged to Buddha’s parents, or the site where it was supposed to have been in. Now it’s just a bare ground, but you can see bricks in the earth which imply where the rooms once were. The actual birthplace of Buddha was about 34 miles far away, where his mother gave birth to him under the trees. The local guide showed us where the gates had been in the palace, and which way the young Buddha went when he took his horse and left to seek truth and become enlightened. 

Birth Place of Lord Buddha. Kapilvastu, Lumbini, Nepal. 

After Lumbini, we stopped at a famous wildlife sanctuary, where some of us wanted to ride an elephant and some of us didn’t. It was raining nonstop. Radhika didn’t go, nor did her uncle, but Zina and I went. I was barely able to protect my camera in the heavy rain, which made riding the elephant not very enjoyable, but I caught a cold afterwards. We didn’t see a single wild animal, except one sleeping little deer. We were supposed to see rhinos and tigers, but in the pouring rain they had all gone into the bushes to sleep. 

Our visit to Nepal flew by and our many planned events took up most of our time, so we didn’t get to visit all the places we would have liked to, or visit everyone we wanted to see. But in this way, we left something to look forward to for our next trip. Meanwhile, it’s always nice to return back to New York where there is light with the touch of a button and the toilet always flushes. 

A brief journal of my visit to Nepal was written by Ngima Pakhrin and published in Everest Times, a nepalese paper of New York, on Oct 16-31, 2014 issue. I want to thank both Ngima Pakhrin for writing and the Everest Times for publishing the journal. I also want to thank Romy Ashby for helping me to translate this blog post and Samir Tamang for helping me in the final editing of this blog post. 

Finally, I want to end this by thanking all of the family, friends, well-wishers and supporters who made our home coming trip so nice with their warm welcome. We are very grateful to all of you and we look forward to seeing all of you again.

Indra Tamang

Copyright Indra Tamang, 2014, all rights reserved.