Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Fresh chiles (khursani) at the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market in Kathmandu, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Chilies (khursani) at the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market in Kathmandu, Nepal. These exceedingly hot chilies are used in many Nepali recipes. Every Nepali household keeps a stock of these spicy peppers, which can be stored for long periods if ground up and dried. Restaurateurs & residents flock to this wholesale market early every morning to buy fresh fruits and vegetables like the khursani shown above. The market also offers fish from lakes in India, which are Read More

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Six months after the temblor, I flew into Kathmandu to see for myself what life was like in Nepal after the earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless. I knew that my adopted family and friends had all survived, but the images of destruction that had been plastered across the TV screen for days on end suggested that most of Kathmandu had been reduced to rubble. As my plane descended, I surveyed the landscape. Here and there, mounds of bricks were stacked up where buildings had toppled and piles of debris lined the rivers, but unlike what the media had portrayed, the city appeared to be largely intact.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temple (right) in Kathmandu's Durbar Square, before the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temple (right) in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, before the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temples in Kathmandu's Durbar Square, after the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temples in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, after the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

On the ground, the damage was more evident. At Durbar Square in Kathmandu, tears welled up as I surveyed the damage. The Maju Dega Temple, where I had enjoyed many hours of people watching from its upper tiers, was completely destroyed, as was the adjacent Narayan Vishnu Temple. Almost every remaining historic building was shored up with wooden pilings. Centuries-old wooden beams carved with Hindu and Buddhist tantric scenes sat in a tarp-covered heap, waiting for reconstruction efforts to begin. The Durbar Squares (Palace Squares) in Bhaktapur and Patan/Lalitpur, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Swayambhu, Boudhanath, and Pashupatinath, had also sustained damage, though nowhere near as severe as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. Read More

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Girl with kohl-ringed eyes and a red tika on her forehead is all dressed up and waiting to perform the Bhailo dance during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Pokhara, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Girl with kohl-ringed eyes and a red tika on her forehead is all dressed up and waiting to perform the Bhailo dance during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Pokhara, Nepal. While performing, female dance troupes sing the Bhailo song, which is only sung during the Tihar celebration each fall. The female groups roam Read More

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Nepali Woman makes fried Sel Roti rice flour rings over an open fire during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Pokhara, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Nepali Woman makes fried Sel Roti rings over an open fire during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Pokhara, Nepal. Made from sweetened rice flour that is poured by hand into boiling oil, Sel Roti are cooked until slightly crispy. After browning on one side, the ring is flipped over using Read More

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Temple in Kathmandy, Nepal, decked out for the Hindu holy holiday of Dashain

Click on title to view photo in large format: Neighborhood temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, decked out for the Hindu holy holiday of Dashain. Celebrated for 15 days, the national religious festival falls in either September or October every year, depending upon the lunar calendar, with the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth days being the most important. During the holiday, all government offices and schools are closed, as are many private offices, as Nepalis travel Read More

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You will forgive me if stray from my normal travel narrative, but I recently passed an important milestone in my life and I feel compelled to write about it. On January 24th, I celebrated my 20th anniversary of being clean and sober. It is difficult to remember how horrible my life was back then because today I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.

My descent into alcoholism and drug addiction was gradual and horrific. What started out in my early 20’s as fun – having a few drinks with friends after work each day – grew into an obsession that would not allow me to pass a bar on my way home from work. At the height of my alcoholism I was drunk all day, every day, which led me into drug addiction. Alcohol being a depressant, at some point I needed something to get me “back up” so I could drink some more. Cocaine was the solution in the beginning, but it soon was not enough, so I moved on to freebasing crack cocaine.

Barbara Weibel, a grateful recovering alcoholic, now enjoys a life as a successful travel writer and photograper

Barbara Weibel, a grateful recovering alcoholic, celebrates being clean and sober for 20 years at a cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Frankly, I don’t know how I  survived. I should be dead three times over from the things I did to my body and soul. Fortunately, I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Puerto Rico one night to “support” my boyfriend, who was also a raging alcoholic. Most of that meeting is a blur, as it was conducted in Spanish. Although I speak fairly good Spanish, the talk was filled with idioms that cannot be directly translated Read More