Sunday, 18 February 2018

The House that Buddhi Built

This is the house that Buddhi built.



 As some of you know, I went to Nepal soon after the earthquake in 2015 - invited by friends who wanted me to see that the country was still up and running and open for business. And it was - hotels were still open; guides were ready with their kit to take trekkers up the mountains; restaurant kitchens still smelled of oil and chillies. There was damage - and an urgent need to get on with the rebuilding - but more than anything the country needed its economy to get back on its feet. And that meant the return of tourism.

But I couldn’t avoid seeing the damage, the families living in tents in Kathmandu, the homes propped up by poles or bits of corrugated tin. And among these damaged home was Buddhi’s.

Let me tell you a bit about him. Some years ago he took me into the mountains. I hufffed and puffed up the slightest incline and he was beside me for every step. He phoned ahead to find me the best rooms in the tea houses. And when I flagged he took my rucksack and carried it. He is funny and kind and he kept me safe.

And he has a hearing problem. He was born with only one ear, and his hearing in that ear is beginning to fade. Life as a guide is becoming impossible. He cannot take a big group (and get the big tips), and has to rely on single trekkers or couples. It is barely enough to keep his family - and certainly not enough to rebuild his broken house. It would cost £1500.00 to replace it.

And so I wrote After the Earthquake and all proceeds went towards a new house for him, and appealed to anyone who had a penny or two spare, and we raised the money. I thank you all. 

But really, we did the easy bit. We didn’t carry bricks up the mountain. We didn’t work in the blazing sun, nor in the monsoon, to build the walls and put on a roof to keep the family dry. We didn’t wield a paintbrush go make this new home look beautiful. Buddhi did all that himself.

I won’t show you a picture of Buddhi’s old house, nor the drawn look on his face when I saw him just after the earthquake. But this is how happy he is now.


Sunday, 11 February 2018

A walk by the lake

Nepal, as you know, is home to the Himalaya. I can gaze at their snow-capped enormity from the rooftop in my apartment in Pokhara. It is also home to tigers, rhinos and leopards, to drongos and vultures and soaring golden eagles.

And it has beautiful lakes and rivers. It is an easy drive from Pokhara to visit Begnas or Rupa lakes, to sit by the still waters with a plate of mo-mos and watch men fishing from low-lying canoes. But, closer to home, Pokhara has a lake of its own - Fewa Lake - and I’ve spent many happy hours wandering beside it. 
   
I take the dusty path into the park, pause to watch an indeterminate number of young men playing cricket on the football pitch, and then turn to stroll beside the lake. The water is murky - and I know there are problems with weed and falling water levels, but from the path it looks unruffled and peaceful. I reach for my camera ... making sure that the picture doesn’t include the young woman who must wash her hair in this lake. 

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I stroll on, with an detour round an army base, to rejoin the lakeside path beside the ghat where pilgrims gather to take boats across to the little temple on an island.    




Buses turn round here; hawkers sit beside white clothes filled with trinkets: necklaces, earrrings. Women sell oranges (it is the orange season here and they are wonderful); a man offered fresh-cut coconut. One man, his limbs grossly distorted, begs beneath a holy tree. There is even a public toilet, 5 rupees for a ‘short stay’ and 10 if you need longer, and a little whiffy, so I’ve not investigated.


I leave the general mayhem behind and wander on north. When I first visited Nepal this was nothing but a narrow path. Now it is paved, with plenty of garden cafes to sit with a lemon soda or mango juice (and maybe cake) and watch the world go by. Local families walk here, stopping to buy juice or nuts or water from the Tibetan women who trade beside the water. 

There is a fish farm - the water in the concrete pools is stagnant and surely unused, but there are nets in the lake and local restaurants offer ‘Fewa Lake’ fish. I shudder to think what else might be in this water. For, looking closely, there are still makeshift shacks here where people live. Women do their laundry in the lake, and drape shirts and trousers and blankets over fences and hedges to dry. What water must they use for washing themselves? And for cooking? I pass a couple of outflows but don’t investigate them.

It is a conundrum. I love this lake, and walk beside it almost  every day. I love its ripples and its green reflections and the crowds heading for the temple. But, although I will not photograph them, I cannot ignore those who eek out an existence on its shores.

But I do love its little boats. Shall I go boating? ... maybe not today.




Sunday, 4 February 2018

The Day I Jumped off a Mountain.

For young people who spend their holidays looking for adventures on white water or leaping off bridges attached to an elastic band, my jumping off a mountain will seem tame. But, in general, I prefer to keep my adrenalin under control. The most alarming thing I do deliberately, here in Nepal, is cross the road in Kathmandu. That is enough excitement for one day.

Do why did I jump off the mountain on a zip line?   It looked fun ... is that good enough?

Nerves began to breed as I filled in the disclaimer form. Who is my emergency contact? (Oh Emergency Contact people, do you need to know I’m doing this?) Provide the details of your travel insurance. (Does my ‘no dangerous sports’ exclude a zip line?). 

Then, please, sit, the jeep will come for you soon. Watch the video ... of people launching into nothingness ... But still I didn’t say, I’m sorry, I’ve changed my mind. Even though my stomach was so full of butterflies by then it had clearly decided that this was a Bad Idea.

The jeep to the top of Sarangkot takes about 45 minutes. The driver knew every bend and pothole, and paid only fleeting attention to anything coming the other way. With every metre we climbed, I knew I was going to come down it much, much faster.  

We stopped,, eventually, and I had a five minute climb up sandy steps, stopping twice along the way to ‘look at the view’ (catch my breath). Everything was getting a bit surreal. The cloud was thin up here; the valley looked slightly muffled. Paragliders circled the mountaintop. Kites flew high on the thermals. An eagle flew across the hillside just below me.  

I was led to a metal platform and strapped into a canvas seat, my feet pressed against a metal gate. I was beyond thinking by then. A man with a huge smile gave me the same instructions five times, presumably in the hope that they would, at some point, go in. Pull this rope if you see a yellow flag and that rope if you get stuck. Neither of which was reassuring.

And then, the gate had gone and I was on my way down the mountain. 

It was BRILLIANT!

For two minutes I dropped 600m over 1.8km. But the statistics don’t tell you how it feels. There is little sensation of speed - rather the sense of rushing through a resistant wind (the wind did make me sway a bit). My eyes watered but I didn’t care. The forest drifted by beneath me, thick and green. Beyond the forest, the river - with its sandy shoreline and women washing in the glacial water - and on I flew till, oh no, I could see the landing site. I wanted this to go on forever. 

But there was a man waving a yellow flag and, miraculously, I yanked the right rope and my hurtling journey eased to a stop and I was pulled in to a small concrete platform where I was unbuckled and bounced off to greet the friend who had taken pictures. 

So here I am, swinging high across the valley. I know it’s not elegant, but believe me - this was magic.