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Wed 15 Oct 2014

Rangoli at Family Home

Rangoli at Family Home in Malleswaram

I arrived in Bengaluru this evening. Its world-class international airport, now renamed Kempegowda International Airport after the founder of Bengaluru, was much bigger than when I was here three years ago. The landscaping around the airport was very pretty, with well-manicured plants and flowers.

There was a phone from which I could make free local calls, and I availed myself of this and called my cousin Sharan to inform him I had arrived and that I would be taking the airport bus to Mekhri Circle. In about 45 minutes I arrived there and Sharan picked me up and took me to his family’s home in Palace Orchards. For the next three weeks I planned to shuffle around Bengaluru to see various family members, many of whom I had not seen since the last time I was here.

Plant in Yard at Family Home in Malleswaram

Plant in Yard at Family Home in Malleswaram

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Tue 14 Oct 2014

Sign at Pokhara, Nepal, South Indian Restaurant. (I decided to pass on this one and have my "Idly Shamber" upon reaching Bangalore -- the real South India!)

Sign at Pokhara, Nepal, South Indian Restaurant. (I decided to pass on this one and have my “Idly Shamber” upon reaching Bangalore — the real South India!)

It was raining when I awoke today and it continued to drizzle throughout the rest of the morning. There was also a chill in the air in Thamel so I did not feel motivated to venture out too far. I had some tea at a cafe with good WiFi, where I reviewed my photos and caught up on my writing.

Periodically I heard gigantic booms of thunder that shook the windows and rattled tourists. All day the sky was a solid canopy of steel grey clouds sending down a steady light rain that ceased for a short time in the afternoon, then began again.

I arrived at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport about two hours early for my 4:30 p.m. flight to Bangalore, India, via Delhi. The airport was much more crowded than the day I arrived about four weeks ago, and it took about a half hour for me to make my way through the initial security screening and join the check-in line.

I was second in line when the Jet Airways check-in clerk suddenly looked up from his computer at the young American couple in front of me, wobbled his head in that uniquely Subcontinental way and said, “Please wait for some time.” With no further explanation he left his post and disappeared into the ether.

A few minutes later it seemed the other check-in staff and baggage handlers had stopped attending to their respective tasks and had begun chatting and sharing out biscuits with each other.

After about twenty minutes the American couple asked another airline staff member if he knew what had become of their check-in agent who had mysteriously disappeared. After being called back and asked by the couple why they had not been checked in, he explained by again doing the Subcontinental head wobble and saying, “Please wait for some time.” They politely pressed for more information, and he responded with, “Bad weather.” With a bit more courteous interrogation they were finally able to elicit from him that air traffic control was not allowing any flights to take off, and arriving flights were being diverted to other airports, due to the weather.

Only a handful of nearby passengers heard this explanation and several hundred others in the terminal apparently had no inkling of the status of their flights since there were no overhead announcements and the video monitors with information on arrivals and departures were equally tight-lipped if you will pardon the expression.

After “some time” (who can say how long we continued our trajectory on this particular warp in the space-time continuum?) a very dapper and smooth-talking Jet Airways employee told us there would be no flights leaving for the rest of the day, gave us a telephone number to call to re-book our flights, and sent us all packing — at least those of us who were close enough to hear him. The rest of the passengers in the terminal may have continued to be in the dark about the airport shutdown, and I do not know whether they are still waiting or whether they finally gave up and went back to wherever in Kathmandu they had come from, prior to arriving at the airport.

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Mon 13 Oct 2014

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Bandipur

Today around 7:00 a.m. I checked out of the Green Hills Lodge in Bandipur to catch the earliest bus going downhill to Dumre. Thankfully the bus was not at all crowded so I was able to stretch out and relax, in stark contrast to my trip uphill a few days ago.

At Dumre I caught the local bus going to Kathmandu, and despite making several stops along the way we made good time on the highway, arriving in Kathmandu mid-afternoon.

Having no other plans for the rest of the day, after I checked into my hotel I hung around Thamel waiting for something interesting to happen. As no such event occurred, I have nothing remarkable to report!

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Sun 12 Oct 2014

Historic Newari House Under Restoration

Historic Newari House Under Restoration

I spent hours taking photos while walking Bandipur’s small, narrow plaza, its cobbled side streets, and a few twisting trails that snaked around on the hillsides. During the day the temperature rose to around 30 degrees Celsius, but at night it cooled down to a pleasant 18 degrees or so — perfect sleeping weather.

The silence of the night was only broken by the gentle, rhythmic chirping of Bandipur’s local cricket families (the insect, not the game!) and the occasional crow of an insomniac rooster.

At breakfast this morning on the balcony of the local cafe, one of the cadre of roosters hopped over, took a few pecks on the wooden floor, then bumped over to the edge of the balcony and began a dialogue with a kindred bird some way off.

I can offer no onomatopoeias to express the sound of this call-and-response duet, but if translated from Nepali Rooster to Normal English, it probably went something like this: Chicken One – “Honey I’m at Ke Garne Cafe. Do you need anything?” Chicken Too – “We need some bread crumbs – can you pick up a few pecks?” Chicken One – “Sure honey, I already did but…unfortunately I swallowed them.” Chicken Too – “Oh well, Ke Garne.” Chicken One – “Oh, and, the eggs are fresh today! Should I bring some?” Chicken Too – “No, I just laid a few new ones this morning, so we should be set for a while.”

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Small Shrine in Daylight

Small Shrine in Daylight

Small Shrine at Night

Small Shrine at Night

Smaller Shrine!

Smaller Shrine!

Animal Near Smaller Shrine

Animal Near Smaller Shrine

Tarkari on Sale Today!

Tarkari on Sale Today!

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Sat 11 Oct 2014

Bandipur

Bandipur

Bandipur is a small, pretty village set on a high ridge in the foothills of the Himalayas. I decided to stop there to break the long journey from Pokhara to Kathmandu into smaller parts. As the bus drives, it is about two hours east of Pokhara and five hours west of Kathmandu.

My guesthouse was more basic than I expected: no hot water, no sink in the bathroom, and the house itself looked as if it had not been changed from its original appearance from when it was built. (I did not know the age of the house but I suspected it would have been over 100 years old). Despite the very rustic accommodations, the place met my three criteria of safety, cleanliness, and helpful staff. And at 500 rupees per night, it was very affordable!

My corner room was bright and airy, with two sets of big windows that allowed a nice cross breeze to flow through. Outside the windows I could look out over some banana trees and see the hillside dropping away, allowing dramatic views of the nearby valley.

View at Breakfast

View at Breakfast

There was not much to do in Bandipur — no museums, no movie theaters, no live music, no bars, no adventure travel companies. It was simply a small, quaint village that attracted tourists due to its idyllic location, interesting architecture and lack of any kind of traffic other than pedestrians. Motorized traffic could drive up the hill to the edge of the village but could not enter the cobbled main square or side streets, and besides, other than the main square the other streets had too many twists, turns and steps to be friendly to anything that rode on wheels.

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While it attracted tourists the village was not overrun by them, and the basic restaurants and guesthouses were tourist friendly, offering English menus, a wide variety of cuisine from various parts of the world, and WiFi (even my rickety guesthouse had WiFi!).

Not a bad place to spend a few peaceful days.

Still Life at Ke Garne Cafe (Ke Garne means "What to do?" in Nepali)

Still Life at Ke Garne Cafe (Ke Garne means “What to do?” in Nepali)

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Fri 10 Oct 2014

View from Sarangkot

View from Sarangkot

Bandipur!

Bandipur!

Bandipur Ruins

Bandipur Ruins

Indeed this morning the skies were clear and I got a good view of the mountains, but the views were much better during my trek since at that time we were much closer to the Annapurna range. While the views here were underwhelming, the true exciting news for today was Good Transportation Karma.

I was not much in the mood for the three-hour walk downhill back to Pokhara. Even though the taxis charged an exorbitant rate — around 1000 rupees for a 25 minute trip — I knew of no other alternative. Unable to find a taxi nearby, I stopped into a restaurant at the top of the hill above the paragliding take-off field to have a masala tea. As I was leaving, I asked the proprietor if there were any buses going to Pokhara. He said there were none, but suggested I walk down the hill to the paragliding field, where I might catch a ride back with one of the vans dropping off the paragliding groups in the morning. Sure enough, as soon as I crossed the field, a big, empty Toyota Hiace van was slowly passing by. I hailed the driver and he took me back to Pokhara for 200 rupees.

After I picked up my bag at the Hotel Nirvana, I immediately found a cab right in front of the hotel to take me to the Prithvi Chowk bus station. Then as soon as I stepped out of the cab at Prithvi Chowk, right in front of me I found the bus headed for Dumre, where I needed to go to get a connection to Bandipur. But it gets better!

Two hours later when we reached Dumre, a local steered me in the direction of the parking area where the shared jeeps to Bandipur congregated. As I was walking up to a jeep, a taxi driver stepped over and offered to take me to Bandipur for 500 rupees. This was probably a reasonable price for the 20 minute uphill trip, but I thought, why waste money and fossil fuel when I can travel with the masses? I told the taxi driver I would rather take a jeep. “No jeeps,” he lied. I told him maybe I would take a bus. He said, “No bus. Bus to Bandipur is full,” and nodded in the direction of a bus pulling away, several meters from where we were standing. I quickly shuffled over to the moving bus, made eye contact with the driver, and asked, “Bandipur?” He said yes, and motioned for me to get in. I scurried over to the other side of the bus and got in as the bewildered taxi driver looked on and realized his mistake.

Anybody who has traveled in Latin America or South Asia knows there is no such thing as a full bus. Even though the bus appeared full as I climbed in, somehow, just like another drop of water is sucked up by those high-tech sponges that soak up a million times their weight (as seen on TV), I was absorbed into the bus. And this bus was not just a sponge — it was a veritable black hole with an irresistible gravitational force, even defying all known laws of physics, pulling in any nearby pedestrian into its vacuous depths.

The bus aisle was jam-packed: people were standing since there were no more seats; a small boy was sitting on a bucket; a girl (maybe his sister) was asleep on some sacks; and there were boxes and bags taking up any interstitial space. Normally the conductor would walk the bus aisle to collect the fares, but since there was no room, I figured I would pay the 50 rupee fare when leaving the bus. Then suddenly I came to the shocking realization that no room was synonymous with full.

I noticed that most conductors on these local buses were skinny youths, but this older man’s physique had strayed somewhat in the other direction, which either hindered or helped his progress through the bus. With his pot-bellied girth he began to steamroll slowly forward, elbowing and squeezing his way through the bus. As he pushed past me on my left, just as a lump in the carpet when pushed down inevitably resurfaces somewhere else, the right side of my Fat American Butt inadvertently invaded the previously unhindered airspace of an unfortunate elderly Nepali man. I was feeling bad about this when I realized that it didn’t bother him in the least, as this sort of thing was likely a daily occurrence for him.

Finally we reached Bandipur at the top of the hill. The bus came to a complete stop and I heard the engine grind down, sputter and turn off, followed by the hiss of the air brakes. Ah, now we can get out of this human compactor, I thought.

A few moments passed, and…no one moved. Just like a full ketchup bottle when turned upside down and struck with the heel of the hand yields nothing — such was our bus. We needed a Himalayan Giant to pick up the bus and give it a good shake or two to dislodge us, but the Giants and other Himalayan Gods were obviously occupied with more important tasks.

Finally, somewhere in the front, Key Passenger Number One, holding everything together like that one strategically placed Jenga block, managed to wriggle him or herself free. (I am sure that if I were nearer I would have heard a popping sound). Then one by one, slowly and not without difficulty, we made our way off the bus.

My Very Rustic Guesthouse, Bandipur

My Very Rustic Guesthouse, Bandipur

Hanging Out in the Guesthouse

Hanging Out in the Guesthouse

Old Newari Houses, Bandipur

Old Newari Houses, Bandipur

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Thu 9 Oct 2014

Paragliders in Flight

Paragliders in Flight

This morning I left my larger bag with the Hotel Nirvana and carrying my daypack I began walking to Sarangkot, a village on a hill overlooking Pokhara. From Sarangkot in clear weather one can get excellent views of the Annapurna range in the distance. Also, I was told that the paragliders took off from this hill and I was eager to get a closer look.

Yesterday I had walked to the north end of Fewa Tal to do some reconnaissance, and with the help of some locals I had located the Sarangkot trail head. When I reached the trail head today, I was able to follow the path in the beginning but after about a half hour I was not sure which way to go. Thankfully a small boy of about six years old pointed me in the right direction. (He even offered to guide me to the top, but I politely declined!).

The climb was quite steep but the trail had flat paving stones clearly marking the way and serving as steps for much of the ascent. After almost three hours walking I looked up at the blue sky and finally saw the paragliders sailing just above me. (When they were very close I even heard their excited laughs). I had fun taking photos of them. Eventually I crossed the small field from which they took off and one of the instructors directed me to the final set of stairs to the village.

Above Sarangkot

Above Sarangkot

I had made a booking at the Sherpa Resort about 10 minutes’ walk from the top of the hill, since my guide-book said it was the hotel that offered the best mountain views. Unfortunately just after I arrived the clear skies turned cloudy and a fog permeated the top of the hill, limiting visibility to only a few hundred meters. The hotel’s owner assured me that the morning would be clear and I hoped he was right.

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View of Fewa Tal from Sarangkot

View of Fewa Tal from Sarangkot

Small Flower on Trail

Small Flower on Trail

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