Nepal – Be Here Now

I was lying awake on my first night in Nepal on this particular trip, and my mind was going round and round as it has a habit of doing, when I realised something. I had seen photos of the intrepid tourists who had braved their friends’ worries, their governments’ advice and maybe even their own fears, and had defiantly travelled to Nepal anyway after the earthquake in April and taken photos of themselves holding placards stating something like ‘I’m in Nepal and it’s safe’. This is great, and I don’t want to diminish the power of these photos – ultimately travelling to Nepal or not is an entirely personal decision, but seeing other people there, enjoying the sights, activities, food, drink and culture is surely encouraging.

I wanted to do something a bit different. I wanted to take photos of my friends in Nepal holding a similar sign. These people work in hotels, restaurants, shops and other service industries related to tourism, and have all been affected directly by the earthquake. Some of them have lost friends and relatives, some of them have lost houses, some of them are worried about losing their livelihoods – a result of the fact that far fewer tourists are coming to Nepal than would usually be expected.

That’s enough from me – these photos say everything I want to say as far as I’m concerned. This is an amazing country that has been badly wounded by recent events, but it is far from moribund. I want everyone who reads this blog (and the fact that you’re reading it probably means you love travelling as much as I do) to seriously consider visiting Nepal – whether you’ve been ten times or you’re a Nepal virgin. And if you need any help, get in contact with me or any of the people in these photos. They will all be more than happy to welcome you to their beautiful country.

http://www.hotelmanang.com

http://www.abcadventures.com

https://www.facebook.com/womensdonepal

http://www.lsrpokhara.com/

Yakka, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Yakka, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Ramesh, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Ramesh, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Bhim, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Bhim, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Narottam, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Narottam, of ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Meena, office assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Meena, office assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Surya, senior teacher at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Surya, senior teacher at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Apsara, top waitress at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Apsara, top waitress at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Bijay, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Bijay, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Sunita, shop assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Sunita, shop assistant at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Rustam, managing director of the best travel agency in Nepal, ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Rustam, managing director of the best travel agency in Nepal, ABC Adventures, Kathmandu

Nanda, computer operator at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Nanda, computer operator at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

The absolutely wonderful Ram Kali, founder of Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

The absolutely wonderful Ram Kali, founder of Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Anup, International Manager at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Anup, International Manager at Wsdo Nepal, Pokhara

Friendly snake, Pokhara

Friendly snake, Pokhara

Tej, owner of LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Tej, owner of LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Pradeep and Prem, Kathmandu

Pradeep and Prem, Kathmandu

Parmeshwor, laundry owner, Kathmandu

Parmeshwor, laundry owner, Kathmandu

Kuber, maintenance man who can fix anything at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Kuber, maintenance man who can fix anything at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Ganesh, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Ganesh, waiter at LakesideRetreat Pokhara, Pokhara

Friendly elephant, Pokhara

Friendly elephant, Pokhara

Prem, world's best tea maker, Kathmandu

Prem, world’s best tea maker, Kathmandu

Sunil, at Pilgrim's Book House, Kathmandu

Sunil, at Pilgrim’s Book House, Kathmandu

Raju and Prajen, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Raju and Prajen, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Raju, senior receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Raju, senior receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Krishna, shop owner, Kathmandu

Krishna, shop owner, Kathmandu

Mukesh, the yak shawl man, Kathmandu

Mukesh, the yak shawl man, Kathmandu

Krishna, best waiter ever, at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Krishna, best waiter ever, at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Mahesh, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Mahesh, bell captain at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Friendly dragon, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Friendly dragon, Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Pradeep, world's best driver, Kathmandu

Pradeep, world’s best driver, Kathmandu

Mukund, scarf and shawl expert, Kathmandu

Mukund, scarf and shawl expert, Kathmandu

Deepika, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Deepika, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Prajen, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Prajen, receptionist at Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Henary, internet cafe owner, Kathmandu

Henary, internet cafe owner, Kathmandu

Delicious veg thukpa at Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Delicious veg thukpa at Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Dipika, receptionist at Hotel Manang Kathmandu

Dipika, receptionist at Hotel Manang Kathmandu

Shatrudhan and his daughter Neha, from Mithaila Women Craft, Kathmandu

Shatrudhan and his daughter Neha, from Mithaila Women Craft, Kathmandu

Archana, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, the best thakali food in the world, Kathmandu

Archana, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, the best thakali food in the world, Kathmandu

Milan from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Milan from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Sanjiv, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Sanjiv, from Mustang Thakali Chulo, Kathmandu

Subarana from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Subarana from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Kedar the wonderful mask maker, Kathmandu

Kedar the wonderful mask maker, Kathmandu

Ramesh, world's best F&B manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Ramesh, world’s best F&B manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Suresh, world's best Operations manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Suresh, world’s best Operations manager, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Gyanu, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Gyanu, from Hotel Manang, Kathmandu

Nirmal, Saroj and Adarsh from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Nirmal, Saroj and Adarsh from Unique Cargo, Kathmandu

Ananta from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Ananta from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Kiran from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Kiran from Amrita Crafts, Kathmandu

Dibya from Paper Park, Kathmandu

Dibya from Paper Park, Kathmandu

Mum with Deven, actor, model, lyricist, the owner of the Manang Hotel, Kathmandu and, most importantly, our very good friend

Mum with Deven, actor, model, lyricist, the owner of the Manang Hotel, Kathmandu and, most importantly, our very good friend

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People who make a difference – Craft Aid UK

Here in the UK, we’re all used to reading about the great work charities do, and many of us also donate money every month to various organisations so that they can continue to help people all over the world. Recently I’ve read reports and heard conversations about charity fatigue. We’ve probably all felt it – I for one try and avoid those people on the streets who just want a moment of your time so they can convince you to support the charity they’re working for. There’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing, but I already give money to as many charities as I feel able to, and I feel guilty when I talk to these people and I can’t do anything more. Sometimes you just need to meet someone who can make it all seem real again.

A few years ago I met an inspirational woman who is doing something really positive to help street children in Uganda, among other projects. Lara has so much energy it’s unbelievable. She has a more-than-full time job and, with her husband David, runs Craft Aid UK in her ‘spare’ time (www.craftaiduk.com). I first met Lara at Ruislip Duck Pond market (www.duckpondmarket.com), where she sells lovely necklaces, baskets, animals and various other craft items made in Uganda to help finance the charity. Needless to say, quite a few of these items now grace my flat 🙂

Lara (on the left) with me at my wedding reception

Lara (left) with me at my wedding reception

Craft Aid works in tandem with a project that runs a home for street children in Kampala, supplying vital materials (mosquito nets, mattresses and clothing), and also providing grants. Paying the children’s school fees is also a hugely important part of the work they do, and others can get involved by sponsoring a child. Some sponsors have actually travelled over and met the child they sponsor – making it all real and personal. Surely an amazingly worthwhile trip.

Handcrafted animals

In addition to their work in Kampala, Craft Aid also work in a village with the amazing name of Kammengo-Ffunvu (THAT confused the spellcheck!), about 90 minutes’ drive from Kampala. In 2011 the charity installed a water supply in the village and, following their fundraising climb of Kilimanjaro in 2013, a multipurpose building has now been erected.

Please go to the website and read all about the charity and projects, and come and visit Lara and her products at one of the events that they attend!

Beautiful birds

Beautiful birds

My second home

In January 2006 I went over to Nepal for a 10-day holiday and loved it all so much that I went back to live there, moving back to London in June 2007. I now visit at least once a year, and Nepal has become a second home to me. It’s just one of those places that gets under your skin.

Ason market

Ason market in the heart of Kathmandu

Friends who have come with me have liked it, but it hasn’t had the same effect on them. The only person who had a similar reaction was my mum, and she now comes over with me on every trip. We also run a small business bringing over craft items, which we then (try and!) sell at local markets over here. Our main, and favourite, market is the lovely Duck Pond (www.duckpondmarket.com) – we have been at the Ruislip version since the second market, and we now also have a stall at Pinner.

I am off back to Nepal on Sunday for 18 days (not like I’m counting or anything!), and am also fitting in a 5-day trip to Bhutan. It’s only 45 minutes on an amazingly scenic plane trip. Hopefully I will get to see Everest again too 🙂

It will be our first trip back since the earthquake in April 2015 so it’s going to be good to see friends again. We had a panicky few days trying to locate people, but Facebook worked wonderfully well, allowing people to tag other people who they knew were okay. Most of our friends were incredibly lucky, but we do know that others weren’t. It’s going to be great, but it’s also going to be sad. I’m just glad we have the luxury of being able to go back.

Fishtail mountain in Pokhara

Fishtail mountain in Pokhara

The elusive Takin

I’m going to Bhutan for 4 nights at the end of August while I’m in Nepal. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and it makes sense to do it now instead of as a special trip; it’s just an hour’s flight from Kathmandu to Paro. Unless you’re an Indian citizen you’re not able to travel independently in Bhutan, so I’ve been in touch with a travel agent who is busily sorting out flights, visa and hotels for me. I am really looking forward to my trip!

The takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and I really hope I get to see one, although that is highly unlikely. According to Wikipedia, the takin, also known as the cattle chamois or gnu goat, is a goat-antelope (sounds like nobody is quite sure WHAT it is!). But one thing I know is that it’s cute, and if I had a garden, if it wasn’t an endangered species, and if Franco probably wouldn’t get annoyed, I would bring a couple back. Not sure I quite like this bit so much though ‘Rather than localised scent glands, the takin has an oily, strong-smelling substance secreted over the whole body’ (Wikipedia). Hmmm, maybe I’ll take a bottle of shower gel with me, just in case I bump into one (literally). Apparently they’re rather tasty, but I couldn’t eat anything that I wanted to hug. Just a photo of the elusive beast would be good…

Golden_Takin

The Golden Takin (courtesy of Wikipedia)

What I’m reading: ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ Haruki Murakami

I am an avid fan of military history (I am fascinated by Napoleon but at least I don’t think I AM him…) but as I haven’t read any fiction for a while I decided to treat myself to the most recent Murakami novel. I am a big fan of his writing (both the fiction and also his book about the sarin attack, ‘Underground’) but I was disappointed by the last, pedestrian novel (IQ84) so I’ve been eagerly awaiting Tsukuru Tazaki. I started reading it on Wednesday night and got two-thirds of the way through – going to work the next day was not easy because I just wanted to stay at home with a lot of cups of tea and finish it. It’s not ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, which has got to be one of his best novels (in my opinion, the best), but it’s entertaining. The book has the usual cast of odd characters, with strange events (and, of course, beautifully shaped ears…), weird sexual encounters, music and cooking. Tsukuru and his five friends were super close until he left to go to university in Tokyo. When he returned home during the holidays they collectively ignored him; after many phone calls, one of them finally told him to leave them alone. He spends the rest of the book finding out why, in part so that he can lay the past to rest and reassure his new girlfriend that he is no longer haunted by it. It certainly does keep you turning the pages. I know some people have been disappointed by the denouement; the loose ends aren’t all tied up neatly, but I personally think that’s a good thing. All in all it was a good read and I enjoyed it.

Meet my little furry friend

We adopted Elvis the degu (octodon degus if you’re a Latin aficionado…) just after we bought our flat in July 2013. Degus normally live in pairs, but according to the man in the pet shop Elvis has to live alone. I’m not quite sure why, but we think he was probably the runt of his litter, as he is smaller than most degus I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and also has a nip out of one of his ears, so no doubt he had a traumatic upbringing! He came to live with us and right away it became apparent that we had one issue – books. Now, we read a lot, and we have a lot of books (I’m not a fan of those new-fangled kindle things. I spend all day at work staring at a screen – why would I want to do that in my own time?!?! Apart from when I’m writing blogs obviously…) Elvis has a thing about old books in particular. I think he must love the smell and, more importantly, taste of these particular books. He has munched my old and decrepit Penguin copy of Anna Karenina (it wasn’t in great condition BEFORE Elvis, but that isn’t quite the point).

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Elvis also has the strange habit of attacking feet when the owner of the feet is on the phone. I wonder if he is able to hear the other person’s voice and so gets confused and feels threatened. He dashes toward one of the feet and goes in for a quick nip, before running away as quickly as possible. If it wasn’t quite so painful it would be funny. He does seem to have a mild foot fetish in general actually. It’s the first thing he visits if you’re sitting on the floor. Maybe they’re the most fragrant bit of the body in his opinion…! Elvis, the little happy chap, loves snoozing in his hammock (yes, hammock). I thought it was a bit odd at first too but he absolutely loves it. So much so in fact that we have two hammocks, so that while one is being washed the other one can be snoozed in. Unfortunately I can’t get a photo of him in the hammock though, because as soon as he sees the camera coming toward him, he jumps out. Another photo of him will have to do!

The first go

For weeks now one of my friends has been nagging me to start writing a blog. I’m having a bit of an interesting year (in both the usual and ‘English’ sense of the word), and I enjoy writing (in fact I do it for a living), and so I thought why not. Now I’ve started I’m not sure whether anyone’s going to want to read a word I write, but there’s only one way to find out.

So far this year I’ve managed to go on my usual annual trip to Nepal (in March, narrowly missing the Turkish Airlines crash, which meant we lost a week of our holiday), visit Rome (fascination with Roman buildings and history), get married (in May, for the second time!) and be accepted on the MSc Control of Infectious Diseases course at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – I still can’t quite believe the last one, even though I have the official letter at home. The course starts at the end of September, 5 days before my 39th birthday, and so I’m leaving my medical writing/editing job on the 30th July. During the 2 months between then and the start of the course I’m going to sit in a cottage in Somerset for 3 days and read and think, and go back to Nepal for 18 days (also hoping to get to Bhutan for a few days during that time). In my spare(!) time I run a crafts business with my mum, importing (mostly) fairtrade goods from Nepal to sell at local markets, which is one of the many reasons we go over every year.

I live in Brentford (not Brentwood!!) in a flat full of books and pictures and stuff I’ve brought back from travelling. Luckily there is also some space for my husband, and my degu Elvis. We don’t have a TV, which leaves more space for books.

Unbelievably, that’s the first mention of books. Books are one of the reasons that I get up in the morning – another is travelling. Both are incredibly important to me. As is super-hot curry, and a nice glass of Shiraz, or two. However, I am not a fan of cooking (or washing up!) so I prefer to go out and eat. This is easy round us, as there are lots of good restaurants nearby, although we usually end up in one of two of them. Creatures of habit, definitely.