Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nepal - January 5, 2009

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This morning we were told to put our bags outside our doors at 7am for an 8 o'clock departure. But as we were doing so, Bupendra came by and told us to put them back in again: Nepal was closed. (A whole country was closed?)

All the roads were closed and the border was closed again. The cable was off, so there was no way for us to find out what was happening.

At breakfast, though, Bupendra got a phone call--all clear. So only about fifteen minutes after our original schedule we piled into a psychedelic bus right out of the 1970's and drove to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Along the way we saw long stretches of Nepal, farm country punctuated by villages and the occasional small city.

While we are not seeing indications of great wealth, there is no sign of the grinding poverty of most people in India. Here the people are enterprising. There are far fewer beggars [we encountered only a handful in tourist areas, and none elsewhere], and no indication of homeless people [at least we did not see anyone sleeping outdoors]. There are more schools--every village has two or three--and more kids in uniforms and backpacks.

Yes, it is dirty here, too, but it is the same perpetual dust due to being half-way through the six months without rain. What we are not seeing are the piles of garbage that are everywhere in India. There are shacks and straw huts, but they are outnumbered by small brightly-painted houses.

So far the food is not as uniformly good as it was in India. Today's breakfast was mediocre. Lunch--in a horrible stinky place along the road--was no choice, same rice and dal for everyone, and overly spiced. The vegetable plate I had this evening, though, was beautifully displayed and quite good.

The temples at Lumbini are beautiful, built by Buddhists from different countries.

Lois doesn't understand the point of preserving the ruins of a temple built at the place Buddha is purported to have been born. Eric tried to explain that it is the same as the curch in Bethlehem built over Jesus' supposed birthplace, but she doesn't get that, either.

We finally got a chance to buy some souvenirs. Both Lois and I bought singing bowls, which we can get to work sporadically--it takes practice. She also bought a prayer wheel, and I bought a small Buddha for Dudley, my Zen cat.

The fog lifted and the sun came out this afternoon, and we are hoping for better weather for the rest of the trip. It was after dark and there were stars out when we arrived at the lodge in Chitwan National Forest. Not a light was on--and from the very little, very dim lighting we saw in homes and businesses along the way, it's obvious that electricity is very limited here. The power has gone off several times since we arrived in Nepal, so it's a good thing we brought flashlights. Once we found our rooms we also needed our flashlights to find our way to the restaurant, as the paths are not lighted.

They have a cat and a dog here, real pets who joined us for dinner. So nice to be able to safely pet them without worrying about disease.

This is only the second cat I have seen on the trip, and I have formulated a theory that they live in the country, but stay away from the dust of the roads. As fastidious as cats are, I don't think they could stand to be perpetually dirty.

We saw our first rabbit today, too, a white bunny belonging to the woman who ran the refreshment stand at the Monument for World Peace. The poor bunny was supposed to be white, but it was all grimy from hopping around the parking lot.

Tomorrow we take our elephant safari into the forest in search of rhinos, spotted deer, sloth bears, crocodiles, and maybe tigers.

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