Bandipur to Nuwakot – Aug 31st

Sitting on the highway by the Trishili River Bridge on our way back toward Kathmandu via Nuwakot. We expected to have a 4 hour drive to Nuwakot but have spent an hour here already.

Fortunately we have stopped in a scenic place.

We have just left Bandipur where we had a very wonderful stay with friends of Namaste Shrestha (our host). Bandipur is his ancestral home. We were fortunate to eat in the home built by his father. For 2 nights we were treated to wonderful meals prepared by his nephew’s wife. Namaste was born in the house. As we parted in the afternoon, they offered us Kathas and marked our foreheads.Update: It is now 6:05 and though we are moving, we are still connected to a long line of traffic. In one small town it was a competition to get to the head of a line. Everyone is a “loser” but everyone has the hope of moving faster than the next vehicle. Cars, trucks buses and motorbikes spread out on the wide, potholed and muddy side lots where shops and restaraunts sit. This traffic is the definition of gridlock. The 2 lane road was turned into a 6 lane river of gridlock with cars in jumble, pointing in multiple directions. In an attempt to get ahead, vehicles made paths around one another but when it was time to merge back into the narrow 2 lane roadway they came to a face off with one another (literally face…to…face. The hot sun and moist air wrapped the people sitting by the side of the road; some had taken a break, some were local observers, some jumped in and out of buses and minibuses. I saw children sleeping in their mothers arms, babies being changed. Some trucks had given up and were sitting by the side of the road, the drivers lounging in rear compartments.

It is a mass of people trying to move from east (Kathmandu) to west (Pokara) and west to east. Some are trying to get to connections to China and parts south, India and the Terrai.

End of the day.
We ended our day at 10:15pm in Nuwakot. The sun had set on us as we were released from the traffic snake. The cool air was refreshing and we kept our windows down. Finally we took time for the bathroom and an evening snack by the side of the road. It felt so good to be sitting still.

The last hour and a half of our long day was taken on the northern cutoff where the traffic promised to be less – toward China. While there was some traffic relief, we immediately came head on with a entourage of large trucks coming from China. The line of trucks wouldn’t have posed as much challenge on a US highway. But here the road was narrow (think Independence Pass) and rough (think Forest Service road to a trail head). Finally, we happened upon a dump truck going our way and moving fast. We stayed on his tail, tucking in behind when trucks approached. He became our protector. Ironically his tail gate said “Good Luck”. And he was.

Through it all, we got to our hotel (Hotel Satanchuli Nuwakot) safe
and sound and ready for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately we arrived so late that the place was completely dark and locked up. After 20 or 30 minutes we raised a local to go and fetch the proprietor and he took us to our room. Not such a clean room but there is air-conditioning and a place to sleep. Ahhhh… I’m learning that Nepal is full of surprises. One should minimize expectations and take things one day, one minute at a time. It’s all good.

The next day at breakfast I found out the rules of the Hotel. I tried to resist any hooliganism. 

Welcome to Nepal – Aug 25

After an 8 hour flight to Delhi and another 2 hours to Kathmandu, we have arrived in Nepal – our home for the next 5+ months. Our changeover in Delhi was quite comical, in that we had to pass through security from our arrival gate to our departure gate. I’m not sure what they thought they might find after the first flight. Fortunately we did not have to change terminals and fortunately we had plenty of time because it took almost 45 minutes to get through the check. This was due in part because of our uncertainty as to where to go once we got off the plane. This made us late to the line. Second we had to go back out because we had to have our boarding pass initialed by an “official” before we were allowed through the security check. We weren’t the only ones caught by this detail. A young man in front of us had to go back as well. He appeared to be Nepali and he gave the official a very, very hard time for the inconvenience and silliness of the requirement. The official explanation, “I have been here for over a year and it has always been this way”. I just had to laugh.

As you might expect, we were very tired when we arrived in Delhi but fortunately they had padded lounge chairs that allowed us to lay down, put our feet up, and get a short nap. Not knowing if we could drink the water from the fountains, we hesitated until we could purchase water. Unfortunately we only had dollars and weren’t sure what rate of exchange we would get to purchase bottled water. In the final analysis, I think the water was probably fine and the exchange would have been fine but we waited until we found a Starbucks where we were sure we got a good deal. Easy to measure value when the product is everywhere. I think we’ll get more decisive as time goes on and we aren’t so tired.

The flight to Kathmandu included many children passengers. I don’t know if it was due to all the children but the overall atmosphere of people seemed much more boisterous than flights I’ve taken in the west. I felt like I was on a bus or train to Nepal rather than a plane. A little boy, sitting behind me, was intent on engaging me in play which I enjoyed for a time but discouraged in the end. He played peek-a-boo over and around the seat, dropped things over the seat and tried to shut my window cover. Despite a 30 minute delay, sitting in the plane and waiting for some mystery “repair”, the flight was good and pretty uneventful.

We had major turbulence pulling through the clouds out of Delhi but it was smooth cruising until we finally caught a glimpse of the Himalayas. Due to heavy monsoons the rivers were wide and the land was green where it could be spotted through the clouds.


Landing at Tribhuvan airport, we jumped on a bus from the plane to the terminal and were quickly introduced to the heat and humidity of Nepal. Fortunately the airport was air-conditioned so we could relax and figure out the number of stops for declaring our visit, filling out our VISA papers, lining up for VISA approval and payment, lining up for VISA acceptance, lining up for security check out of the terminal (that one made me scratch my head) and gathering our bags at the baggage stand. Interesting that we never were checked by customs for what we were bringing in to the country. I kept waiting for that one.

At long last we emerged from the terminal, passed the rows taxi stands where we were offered rides, and spotted our host, Namaste Shrestha. It was such a relief to see him waving to us from the parking area. Immediately he offered us the traditional garland of Marigolds as he helped us in his car. Fortunately for us we had met and his family at our house in the US. We had moved out to let his daughter Namrata and her husband Ben move in.

Before we left for Nepal, a friend told us to throw away all expectations because we could never anticipate the intensity and character of Kathmandu. While I was prepared to be surprised (oxymoron?) the traffic and activity of the street was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my travels. Think Mexico on steroids. Many sections of the street have been excavated for water projects. There was one section that felt like a rocky road in the backcountry of Colorado or Utah. Namaste had to slow down to navigate through it, all the time watching the traffic all around. Through the potholes, a mass of humanity on foot, motorcycle, automobile and bus, wind their way. While I tried to capture it all in a photo, it will take some time and positioning to make a picture do justice to the frenzy of activity. Despite the passing motorcycles and buses, people on foot may use a hand gesture or nothing at all to cross the stream. Perhaps I’ll learn the art before I leave.

Our Nepali experience begins.

England – August 16-24

This week we have experienced the iconic overcast, foggy weather of the London and Cotswold region of England. We’ve only been rained on briefly including one downpour, but the clouds have remained throughout most of our stay. While there have been many adjustments and confusions in the navigation of hotels, transit, and exhibits, we have gotten along very well through it all. Strange how we can adjust and find comfort in such a short time. Perhaps it is our collective un-conscious that remembers and makes it feel like coming home here in England. I’ll have more to say about adjustments as we dive into Nepal. Suffice it to say we have enjoyed the people, the language, the humor, food and drink of the land of Eng.
Landing at Heathrow at 10:45pm UK (4:45 pm Midwest) made it fairly easy to begin. We were wide awake and not too drowsy when we landed. It was an easy trip through the tube to our hotel on the outskirts of Heathrow (the Hilton Garden). We got assistance from a very nice tube employee who got us the best deal on fares (the Oyster card). His pleasant nature has been the norm for our interactions since. The English we have met are truly gracious people, doing their best to get along. We had a deep sleep in our comfortable bed at the Hilton with a little help from Tylenol PM. We slept so long in fact that we missed breakfast in the hotel. One thing to remember in England is that shops and restaurants have limited hours and you have to pay attention to the time.
Our hotel in London (Henry VIII) was much more austere than the one at Heathrow. The space was so tight that we had to move and pack in turns. The staff at the hotel were incredibly kind and helpful though they couldn’t improve the size or the ventilation in our room.
We made our way around London using the Tube. The Oyster card is a pass that provides easy movement with a proximity reader opening the gates in and out of the trains. It can be reloaded as need be and cashed out when we leave. How great is that! We also made use of the Hop-On-Hop-Off double-decker bus. It provided a commentary to listen to through headphones as we passed historic spots. True to the name, we hopped on and off to visit some of the interesting sites and used it to get from place to in a pinch.
One of my favorite activities during our time in London was a 4 hour bike tour of historic sites, led by a witty and capable man who had served as the Queen Mother’s medic for a time. He was a walking encyclopedia of information with a political bend that suited us. He was clearly a fan of the Monarchy and gave us great insight into the relationship of the Queen and the Parliament. I was a little intimidated at the prospect of riding a bike through the streets of London but he was adept at navigating the alleys and bike paths to keep us safe. Biking is so much better for seeing sites and people. We even managed to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
Our journey into the English Countryside took us into the Cotswolds. While London is full of notable sites, we have been relieved to be in a more tranquil environment for a time. While in the Cotswolds we have sampled some incredible food, wine and beer from some of the many fine restaurants.
One day we took a train and bus trip to Oxford, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born. We switched between guided tours and wandering the palace and the gardens surrounding the palace. What an incredible life Churchill led. Seems that there were expectations for leadership from the time of his birth as he grew up on the grounds of the battle of Blenheim, in the family of the Dukes of Marlborough. This was a battle fought in 1704 between British, Austrians, Hungarians, Hanoverians, Prussians, Danes and Hessians against the French and Bavarians. Today, it is difficult to imagine the combination of privilege, insulation and expectation that were his life. The Victorian architecture and “gardens” (a park really) of the Palace were quite the sight.
 We returned to London for our final full day and half in England. We toured Westminster Abby and attended the the Globe Theater where we will see King Lear. Westminster Abby has been the home of coronations and funerals (most recently Princess Diana). It is a veritable who’s who of graves of writers, scientists, kings and queens. Curiously Charles Darwin, the nemesis to the stories of of creation, is also buried in the Abby.
The Globe has been rebuilt in the style of the original round. We attended an evening show. The crowd was a fun loving bunch. We enjoyed the show as the day dimmed into night. To top it off we walked across the Thames on a bridge leading to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Being in London for the second round hasn’t been intimidating as before. Now we are familiar with our station (Paddington) and the area around it. Getting to the Globe was easy on the Tube even though it is on the opposite side of the Thames from where we stayed.
The most challenging part our travels has been the luggage that is our constant companion. Traveling to Nepal required more provisions than a simple trip to Europe. As we packed this morning, I was reminded of each piece. I was determined to bring my camera and some computer equipment with me for the journey. It seemed a shame not to have it available for telling the story of our trip. There is no doubt that the DSLR camera, lenses and chargers, computer, iPad and the like add to the pounds of my baggage. My only concern at this time is whether the weight and the manner in which I’ve divided it will be acceptable at the Jet Airways counter tomorrow evening. There may be need for a rebalancing of the load even though I’m under the total weight for my fare.
This afternoon we are off to Heathrow where we will board for Kathmandu via Delhi, India. It will be a long flight. Tomorrow we will arrive at our much anticipated destination, dream. No more speculation.
To see many of our photos from England, click here:

In Flight to London – Aug 16

Joni and I left O’Hare in Chicago at 9:00am this morning, to Board our 787 flight to London. Knock on wood… we have enjoyed very good circumstances so far. Our flight in from St. Louis was less than half full so we boarded early and landed early. Our connection through O’Hare was 8 gates down from where we came in. Our flight to London also left on time and while it is a large group of people, everyone has been polite and well behaved. Joni and I have a 3 seat location with an empty seat between us and we’ve just finished a very tasty breakfast of eggs and potatos, with coffee and a croissant. We just joked that we could get used to travel like this for a few months. It would be like saying I could bike forever after 30 minutes of downhill cruising. 🙂
It IS amazing how comfortable they have made airplane travel. While they don’t allow the leg room that they once did, they do provide some great comforts; movies and music to choose from, pillows, blankets, food, drink (including free beer), headphones, in flight maps to show you exactly where you are. In short they provide all the distractions and sensory desires a human needs for taking your mind off where you are.
As I watch my fellow passengers reach for their favorite distraction, I’m drawn to wonder distractions benefits and shortcomings. Distractions are an interesting process of the human mind. Using one thing to take one’s mind off the present can be beneficial if/when we are experiencing chronic or severe pain. It is a useful tool for a parent to distract a 2 year old when he throws a tantrum – more effective than arguing with them, that’s for sure. As a young man I used to run long distance. On one hand, I learned to settle my mind and body into the rhythm of my stride and my breathing. I would settle my thinking and open to the view around me. Despite this centering experience, there were times when I would be looking for ways to take my mind off of the effort and pain I was experiencing. I would manipulate my experience in a way that would make the distance bearable. The best outings were the ones where I was relaxed and open and didn’t “try” (or need to distract) so much. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the sweet spot was simply to relax and let be in the expanse of the experience open in front of me.

The passengers on this flight (including myself) are in a stressful situation. We don’t want to think about the discomfort we are feeling or the possibility that we won’t make it to our destination at all. We are cramped in a tight space with a large number of strangers, with different customs, different language and different colored skin than our own. Rather than contemplate these unsavory details most of us look for outlets. I say most because I believe there are people (I’d call them “realized”) who don’t require or desire distraction.

This exceptional person remains open to the experience, settled in his/her breath, appreciating the present moment without need for an “escape”. Some may doubt that this person really exists but I have had the good fortune to meet people who have this presence of mind. I can’t say that it is an obvious feature; something that is easily detected. I can’t say that I can see into their experience either. All I can say is that I have felt some sense of this presence in myself when I sit with them for a time. They don’t have to sit perfectly still or quiet for this to arise. They are intelligent, articulate, even busy people. But as they move about and talk they simply exude this confidence and grace. I feel this when I see the Dalai Lama and with my meditation teacher Tsoknyi Rimpoche.

As I sit here and contemplate my day, my pending arrival in London, my journey to Nepal, I want to remember this way of being. Paradoxically, I desire to find a gap in my desires.

On the Road

We’re outta here. At 1:00 on Saturday, July 29th Joni and I left the Roaring Fork Valley to begin our sojourn to Nepal. It has been an intense few weeks to get to this point of departure; finishing all the last minute touches on our house and turning it over to our friends and new occupants, and then living with friends and family for a week.

Packing for the trip while cleaning the house was a checker game moves, shifting piles of old/new, keep/discard, cleaning the house section by section, packing bags, moving furniture, cleaning another spot, and so on and on. There was the Nepal pile, the US travel pile, the storage pile, the work pile and the final business pile. Moving things around had it’s ups and downs as things were NOT always where I remembered them to be last. Fortunately nothing important has been lost (and least not that I know of).

The most heart wrenching good-bye was to our dog Beau. He is the sweetest dog on the planet. I’m positive of that 🙂 He has had many chapters and many homes in his life. While we torn about leaving him, we know that he is in good hands; continuing to live at our house with caring people. Not only does he have the new residents (Ben and Namrata) to take care of him but he also has the caring eyes of Luanne who lives in our apartment. I’ve never met anyone as focused on animals and their welfare as she is.

Thanks to our friends and family, we had places to stay in Glenwood and Carbondale after we turned over our house on the 23rd. It was a challenge to live in a temporary location with things in the car, still at our house, and in our temporary residences. More challenging than the things were the mental “things” we had to juggle and complete. There was tying up the business of our home, health work, finances and community. All required more concentration and energy than the physical “things” we had to pack. Banking, insurance, selling the car, working, Dr’s appointments and prescriptions – were all things that had to be done in person.

Our last goodbyes from the Valley were woven in to the Carbondale Mountain Fair festivities. We had a chance to see the annual, summer, rainbow-of-tie-dye arrive, visit the vendors, see friends and family for last good-byes and watch some great music.It felt fitting and fortuitous that we were present for the blessing of the Fair, provided by the Ganden Sechen Monks. They come to our Valley every summer to deliver teachings and familiarize people with the culture (and the plight) of Tibet. It is connections like this that inspired our trip to Nepal to serve the nuns at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling Monastery.

Right after the blessing we were treated to music by our friend Frank Martin. Frank’s music and the songs that he writes, while they sound like classics, tell a the story of the people land and events of our time. 

The song, “Blue on Blue” is special to me as it was written about Alaska on a trip that Joni and I shared with Frank’s wife Paula and him. It tells the story of diverse people, traveling on a ferry to Valdez. Similar to the song, I can imagine Joni and I on buses, trains and planes, talking with new people from all over the world, sharing a brief moment in time, and realizing how similar and connected we are.

After the Fair, we wedged Frank into our RAV4 in and amongst our packed bags and boxes. This first leg of our trip – to Colorado Springs – took us to Joni’s mom’s house. We exiting the Valley over Independence Pass, where we got to wave goodbye to the Colorado Mountain jewels. The narrow road was a foreshadowing of the roads we will travel in the Himalayas, winding around corners, with deep canyons dropping off the side. Here we go…