Wow. What a week away!
My vacation with Sarah to Nepal was exactly what I was hoping for. I needed a break from the usual hectic travel I’ve been doing around India, and I found it on this vacation.
We landed in Kathmandu around 1:45 p.m. on June 7.
We glided through a health check for swine flu (people in masks asking us if we’d been in infected countries in the past 10 days), bypassing a wall covered in names of plagued countries (basically, every country in the world was named on the wall). Then, we tried to figure out a way to get the Nepali rupees or American dollars we would need to pay for our 15-day tourist visa (about $25/person). The tourist visa counter wouldn’t accept Indian rupees, and the foreign exchange counter wouldn’t exchange Indian rupees… and there was no ATM to be found. In the end, I finally cashed in two ancient travelers’ checks (purchased when I moved to Thessaloniki, Greece for the summer after freshman year of college), for American dollars, and we made it through immigration, picked up our bags, and met Sarah’s friend Emilie.
Emilie and Sarah, reunited
Sunset over Kathmandu
Emilie is working for a few months for an Israeli NGO called Tevel B’Tzedek. She is based in a big house on the outskirts of Kathmandu, though other 20-somethings (majority Israeli, with a handful of Americans thrown in for good measure) work in the villages. After relaxing on our first afternoon/evening in Kathmandu, we spent the next morning at Emilie’s big project in Kathmandu, a day care center for 0-3 year olds, whose mothers are day laborers. Without this day care, the mothers would have to carry their children on their backs as they do backbreaking work, like brick-making and construction work.
After we visited the day care and played with the kids for a while, we went out for Nepali chaat (street snacks) at a little hole-in-the-wall place in the day care neighborhood.
It was pretty tasty, though I have to say that I’m ultimately a devotee of Mumbai chaat. Now and forever.
We headed down to the touristy area, Thamel, for some touring, shopping, and a fantastic pizza dinner. The streets are not nearly as congested as Mumbai, though the roads can be a lot worse in terms of potholes, narrow lanes, and garbage. Overall, Kathmandu feels like a very big village, complete with long power outages and limited access to phones and Internet. The air, though, felt a lot cleaner than Mumbai (even though it probably wasn’t!), and it was cooler. We didn’t need air conditioning at all through the week, and we didn’t even use a fan at night (…not that we had one…). It was a nice break from the balmy, clogged, toxic air of my home base this year.
Temple in Durbar Square
Temple and prayer flags
In awe of the shopping opportunity...
The next day, we hiked up a lofty hill to go to Swayambunath Temple.
Quite the hike
Turning the prayer wheels
Buddies and Buddhas
We then went back to Thamel for an Israeli feast, at the popular Israeli backpacker hangout, OR2K.
Emilie and our falafel feast
On our third full day in Nepal, Sarah and I got on a 6 a.m. bus from Thamel out to an unknown destination in the hills and valleys of Nepal. After a four-hour bus ride, we finally arrived at The Last Resort, a hill station resort located across a long steel cable bridge, 160 meters above a rushing river.
Bridge I jumped from
A debriefing, and about two hours later, I found myself back on the bridge, roped into a harness, ready to hop off of the bridge for the canyon swing (the highest in the world!). I bunny-hopped off of the bridge and swung into the canyon, launched back and forth for about five minutes before I slowed enough to grasp a rope extended to me. I reeled myself in, climbed a steep ladder, and unhooked, began to ascend the hill I’d just jumped off of. The trek back up was steep and slippery, rocky and unsteady, and long – the return trek was almost scarier than stepping off of the bridge!
About half an hour later, I was back on the bridge and ready to jump off again! This time, I did what I never thought I’d be crazy enough to do: I stepped off of a bridge essentially attached by my ankles only to a rubber band (albeit a strong one!); I bungee-jumped. Here’s the view down 160 meters – the third-highest bungee in the world:
I scootched forward on the platform, dragging the heavy bungee cord tethering my ankles together, and like a (very terrified) penguin, waddled along until my last step was into the air. I fell face first and plummeted with arms spread wide, screaming until there was no breath left. The bounce back up was intense, and as I sped toward the ground again, I jerked and spun, and with no way to stop the spinning, the ground spiraled beneath me as I hung from my ankles. Losing feeling in my face and hands, still suspended upside down, I prayed that my ankles would continue to hold up and that the cord wouldn’t let go. After a few minutes of turning red in the face, the bungee master slowly lowered me toward the ground as I reached out for a long bamboo stick reaching up into the air for me. About 10 feet from the ground, the Last Resort people flipped me onto a table and freed my (now bruised) ankles. Then there was just the hike back up the mountain and the suspended feeling of success…
Here’s the brief but entertaining video taken by Sarah as I leapt off the bridge the second time:
What a day. I’ve never felit so scared or victorious!
The next few days were pretty mellow, following my leaps off of a bridge. We spent a lot of time shopping and eating, relaxing and reading, and we spent some time outside of Kathmandu, relaxing by (what in rainy season is) a river.
Rocks at the river
All in all, the week was relaxing and enjoyable, a chance to see a different country and take a break from India, and a wonderful time to meet new friends and spend time with Sarah before she left for Hungary for the international JDC camp in Szarvas. Returning from Nepal, Sarah and I took a couple of days to do some special things, including an all-you-can-eat lunch at a great sushi restaurant, a little shopping (what else?), and a manicure-pedicure treat. She left on Thursday night, and the apartment (and India) feels lonely without her. She returns from Hungary on July 12, just under a week after I leave India to return to the U.S.
By the way, my flight is confirmed, and I’ll be coming home on Air India flight 141 from Mumbai to JFK, on June 7, arriving in New York at 7 a.m. Just about two weeks from now…
Bizarre how the year is coming to a close… but more on that later.
For now, I’m going to make some dinner and enjoy a movie with my very close college friend Kristin (a Teach for America teacher based in St. Louis, Missouri), who is visiting en route to a month of teaching in Chang Rai, Thailand.
Me and Kristin at last year's Columbia University commencement
Hard to believe how quickly time/life flies by, hm?
Until next time…