Tuesday, 27 October 2009

An elephant just wandered past

Hello all,

Hope you're all well and not finding the clocks going back too difficult to cope with.

I'm sorry I haven't blogged for a while, but the internet wasn't working in Nagarkot, and I didn't have time when I got to Kathmandu. But I do now!

I'm currently in Sauraha, which is where ths vast majority of the hotels and lodges are for people who want to do elephant safaris, canoe rides, birdwatching etc etc So naturally it's very touristy and busy, and it's quite weird to be sitting in an internet place watching elephants wander past up the street. There are also camels, but they look really out of place here.

So what am I doing here you might wonder. Well, it's all to do with the wildlife lodge that some friends and I are building, except it's not being built in Sauraha, it's being built near Jagatpur which isn't touristy at all and will be a nice retreat for people. So I've been visiting the site and seeing how the work is going, but as there isn't much I can do there at the moment, I'm in Sauraha whilst Bhakta and Prakash and Krishna (three of my business partners) are at the site discussing various things. One of these days I really will have to learn Nepali so that I can understand what everyone is talking about!

Anyway, at the moment there are 10 rooms being built, and the dining room and kitchen, with another 4 rooms to be built before we open. Plus a meeting hall (for slide shows), an elephant platform (for getting on the elephants), an elephant stable and miscellaneous other things. There will eventually be a swimming pool, but not just yet. As you may be able to see from the picture, everything is being hand built, which is partly why it takes so much time! Anyway, these are the rooms being built, but they won't look like this when finished - they'll be plastered and painted inside and outside and have verandahs so you can sit in the sun (or the shade) and look at the view.

The first picture is the view looking towards the jungle, whilst the one below is looking towards the Himalayas. The view of the community forest won't be quite like that however, as there's a lot of land clearing to do before opening. In fact there's a whole shedload of stuff to do (including buying two elephants which will cost around 2 million NRS each), but the current plan is to open on January 1st 2010. That may be optimistic, but we'll see.

So that's what I've been doing for the past few days - site visits, discussing various things, and coming up with ideas of where to put various things, how to decorate the rooms etc etc. There isn't anything much I can do to help there at the moment, but there is a website to design and leaflets to design and a logo to design etc etc, so I can at least make a start on them, and once the rooms are finished I can help with the painting and decorating and fitting out.

So Eco Wildlife Lodge is going to be good (remember the name for future reference) and I'm really looking forward to seeing it finished and up and running. There will be more rooms built in future (we're aiming for 24 altogether), and, as I said, there will also be a swimming pool at some point. It's a really lovely site - lots of birds (I saw a White Fronted Kingfisher yesterday), bullock carts wandering past, people herding goats or cows or buffalo, and it's only a 10 minute walk to the river (canoe safaris), and about half an hour's walk to the entrance to the National Park at Kasuri where there's a Gharial (strange looking crocodile) breeding programme, and from where you can go on elephant safaris, or go for a nature walk.
Well, I'll be returning to Kathmandu at the weekend, so I'll probably write more then.
Take care of yourselves,
Lots of love,
Vivienne xxx

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Happy Tihar!

Hi all,

As I think I told you in the last post, this weekend is Divali - otherwise known as Tihar in Nepal - so we've been out and about watching the celebrations. It was also the Newari New Year yesterday. The Newars are one of the many ethnic groups in Nepal, and are mainly found in the Kathmandu valley, and they have a New Year which is different from the Nepali New Year (which is generally some time in March or April), and also different from our New Year. So in Nepali New Year terms the year is 2066 (I think), in Newari terms the year is 1130 (I think) and of course, we in the West are in 2009.

So as well as being Laxmi Puja yesterday - the day when you welcome the goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth) into your home - it was also Newari New Year and there was a procession in the street of various people in Newari dress accompanied by little bands of musicians. All the businesses had also cleaned their premises and decorated them with Marigolds and made decorations on the street outside to lead the goddess inside and give them wealth and good luck. So we had a good time watching everything that was going on.

Today we've been to Boudnath - the big stupa just outside Kathmandu where there's a big Tibetan community. The Nepalis are relatively OK about the Tibetans who've been here for a long time, but they tend to hand any new ones who escape from Tibet back to the Chinese. I think it's difficult for Nepal as they are sandwiched between China and India and have to try and keep in with both sides. Some political parties lean towards India, whereas others - the Maoists in particular - lean towards China. And of course, because China is so powerful these days everyone signs up to their One China policy even though this means that minority ethnic groups are repressed. I guess I would never have made a good diplomat, even had I wanted to be one, as I've never believed in bowing to the will of someone else just because they happen to be more powerful than me. But then again, I've never had to. Anyway, I'm biased - I do like Tibetans and I'm not particularly keen on the Chinese (with some exceptions of course).

Well, tomorrow we go for Bhai Tika at our brother's, and then it's off to Nagarkot for a few days. Pictures will appear on this post at some point, but at the moment I'm not having any success doing it, so I'm afraid you'll just have to wait.

Take care of yourselves,

Vivienne xx

Friday, 16 October 2009

Going Dutch

Hello all,

I have absolutely no idea what I wrote about last time, but I think it had something to do with the school at Nagarkot, and with the fact that Jill was expecting a Dutch volunteer to arrive.

So, to keep you all up to date, this is the news this week. We eventually determined that I wasn't going to Chitwan last week, for various reasons which I won't go into but were infurating at the time. Jill and I, therefore, both went to the airport on Monday to pick up Elise, who is a volunteer at Oxfam in Newcastle who wanted to do a bit of volunteering in Nepal before her boyfriend arrives and they go off on a trek. We took her up to Nagarkot Cottage, and met the new manager there, Shri Krishna, and also the staff, two of whom were at the cottage last time we were there. There have been some changes since we were last there; the "mouse" rooms have now been demolished (we used to stay there sometimes when the place was full with a tour group) and they are starting to build new rooms, and the garden is being extended and a vegetable patch being created. It's still a great place to stay, however, and most mornings this week we've had views of the tops of some of the himalayan peaks which have made a good start to the day.

Jill has been introducing Elise to the school and health post, whilst I've been catching up with some of my students - Rupa and Sakul. We also took Elise down to Bhaktapur one day to show her the local "town".

It hasn't all been restful and fun though, as this morning we had a meeting with the Headmaster and the Chairman of the School Committee and some of the teachers at Shree Gadgade School to look over the accounts for the building of the new school and to ask a few questions about whose money has gone where. It would appear that the government has provided some money, we have provided another tranche (from donations and from selling the calendars last year), and a Norwegian group have provided a third sum. Some of the government's money was spent on the new library as the charity provided matched funding for it. And once we'd done the sums, we worked out that the school has probably spent about 1000 pounds more than they have on the school building. So that's going to be interesting for them! No doubt we will be having yet more discussions.

Today we came back to Kathmandu so that we can show Elise around. Despite having never been to Asia before she hasn't experienced too much of a culture shock so far as we took her straight up to Nagarkot. The busy-ness of Kathmandu, however, may take a little longer to get used to, as will finding her way around.

It's holiday time again in Nepal - the Tihar festival, which is more commonly known as Diwali. Today is crow day, when people put food and other things out for crows as they are the messengers of the dead. Tomorrow is dog day when dogs get the special tika mark on their foreheads and are garlanded with mallas of marigolds (if they stay still long enough). It's probably the only day in the year when dogs are treated really well in Nepal. It is also Laxmi Puja tomorrow which is when people clean out their homes and shops and decorate them with lights and flowers in order to welcome the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, into their homes and businesses. Needless to say, there won't be the usual 2 hour power cut tomorrow! Sunday is cow day, when cows get the special tika mark on their foreheads etc etc, and on Monday is Bhai Tika when sisters worship their brothers.

Jill and I and Elise have been invited to worship our Nepali brother, BP (and yes, he did ask if we wanted to go and worship him), so we are going with him on Monday to his sister's house to join in the celebrations. There's quite a ritual involved, including placing seven different coloured tikas on his forehead, so I hope there will be someone there to show us the ropes as we haven't done it for three years. There is also an exchange of gifts involved, so Jill and I are frantically wracking our brains trying to decide what to buy (Elise has brought some crocus bulbs from Holland and is going to give those to him). At the moment the favourite is Walkers Scottish shortbread (which you can actually buy in Kathmandu) because he likes sweets and liked the shortbread we bought last time. And then it will back to Nagarkot for more meetings.

So that's me up to date for the moment. I'll add a few pictures to this when I get time, and also some Bhai Tika ones, but I have to say that I can see now why people do bring their own laptops to Nepal - every time I put my USB drive or camera card reader anywhere near a computer something or other reports a virus.

Take care all of you and Happy Tihar!



Friday, 9 October 2009

Return to Nagarkot


Those of you who've followed the blog in previous years will remember we spent most of our time in and around Nagarkot, and have had quite a lot of contact with one school in particular, Shree Gadgade School, and also with the health centre.

So this week we've been up in Nagarkot for a couple of days seeing how things were going. We stayed at Eco Home which is where Semanta now is as he owns the place, and also met the chef Kishan, Manoj (both of whom were with Semanta at Nagarkot Cottage), and the two new staff Krishna and Pasang. It was just like being back amongst family again, and we had a nice stay there - I can certainly recommend Eco Home and I'm not saying that just because they are friends!

We had a few wanders round the village, even though it rained much of the time we were there and the paths were very slippery. We visited the Health Centre where Kat worked when she was here and caught up with the news from the "In Charge" Begum, and his two assistants Laxmi and Champa. When we left there was an arrangement for a doctor to visit once a month and hold a clinic, but this has not happened for a few months because the doctor who was in charge of the arrangements suffered a family tragedy. But we had tea there and they were so pleased to see which was nice.

Then we went to visit the new library which has been provided by a charity called Room to Read. It's a beautiful building and has lots of books in both Engish and Nepali and newspapers too. It seems to be attached to Shree Gadgade School, and has a reading area where the younger children can sit on the floor and look at books with their teacher. We met one of the teachers there, Govinda, and the headmaster Uddhav arrived soon afterwards. So we had a good chat about the school and the new building which is being erected behind the library. This is going to be the first phase of the new school, so for those of you who bought calendars or kindly gave donations last year, the attached picture shows where your money is going. This building will have four classrooms, and in due course another four classrooms will be built on top of the library building. The delay in starting the school seems to have been because the money from the Room to Read charity had to be used straight away, so the library had to be built first, but at least the school is being built now, which is good.

Nagarkot doesn't seem to have changed all that much, though there is quite a lot of new building going on. Men are still leaving to go and work abroad because there isn't work in Nepal and they can earn far more abroad anyway - in fact Nepal and its people probably wouldn't survive without all the money that comes in from Nepalis working abroad.
Jill will be returning to Nagarkot on Monday with a new volunteer -Elisse - and they will be staying at our old place, Nagarkot Cottage, for a while. As for me, well I'm not sure what I'll be doing. I was supposed to be going to Chitwan on Friday with Bhakta to see how the hotel building was going, but Bhakta's mother was admitted to hospital in Kathmandu earlier in the week and until she's fit to travel he won't be going back. So at the moment I'm not quite sure what to do - stay in Kathmandu or go to Nagarkot, or do something entirely different. The possibilities are endless as they say!
So I think that's all my news for now.
Take care of yourselves,
Vivienne xxx