Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Paying to Volunteer - Scam or Legitimate Social Program?
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Sarita was only 13 years old when her parents sold her to the owner of a hotel in Kagbeni, high in the Himalayan Mountains in the Lower Mustang area of Nepal. For the next year, she slaved in the kitchen, preparing meals for the 10-20 men who stayed at the guest house. She was paid 8,000 Nepali rupees for the year, about $91 USD. Sarita hated the work, but without any means to pay for food and lodging, she was trapped. Then one day she met Nicky Chhetri, who along with her two siblings, Dicky and Lucky, had opened Three Sisters Trekking Pokhara Nepal. Nicky was scouring the mountains for underprivileged girls who would agree to be trained as trekking guides. If Sarita could find her own way to Pokhara, Nicky promised, she would be given food, lodging, education, and specialized training that would allow her to become one of the first female trekking guides in what had, up till then, been an exclusively male profession.

Three Sisters Trekking Company and Hotel

Three Sisters Trekking Company and Hotel

The Chhetri Sisters had seized upon the idea of female guides because many trekkers, especially women, reported feeling unsafe on the trails when accompanied only by male guides and porters. They battled Nepal’s male-dominated society, never giving up on their idea regardless how many times they were told that only men could be licensed as trekking guides. Finally, they gained permission and set up their own school in the top floor of an older building on the north end of Pokhara, using the remainder of the building to house the girls. Read More

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley
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At least one person dies each year at the Bisket Jatra Festival (Nepali New Year) in Bhaktapur, Nepal. This year, I was nearly one of them.

Last year, I had planned to attend Bisket Jatra for two reasons: it is the most elaborate celebration of Nepali New Year in the entire country; more importantly it was the only one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley that I had not yet visited. But the gods conspired against me. By the time I had been embarrassed at Boudhanath Temple and forcibly ejected from Pashupatinath Temple, I cut my losses and fled to Pokhara, leaving Bhaktapur for another time. This year, nothing was going to stop me.

Thousands of people cram into every square inch of the square

Thousands of people cram into every square inch of the square

Bisket Jatra is celebrated over nine days in mid-April in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, center of the Newaris who were early inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. For two weeks prior to the holiday, crews decorate an enormous wooden chariot in the center of Taumadhi Square in preparation for carrying the sacred image of the God Bhairav. Considered to be a dangerous deity, Bhairav is symbolically tied to his seat with scores of lengths of reed, which are painstakingly woven around the prow of the chariot where he is seated. Read More

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley
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My second annual visit to Nepal’s capital city was less stressful. I knew what to expect and was familiar enough with the city to find my way around. This time I vowed to see all five remaining UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu that I had missed the previous year, beginning with Swayambhunath Buddhist Stupa. I hopped on the back of a friend’s motorcycle and we wove our way through Kathmandu’s massive traffic jams to the hilltop site.

Swayambhunath Buddhist Stupa in Kathmandu, more commonly known as Monkey Temple

Swayambhunath Buddhist Stupa in Kathmandu, more commonly known as Monkey Temple

Swayambunath’s main feature is the Maha Stupa, reputed to be more than 2,000 years old. It’s brilliant white dome, which represents the spotless pure jewel of Nirvana (freedom from the endless cycle of reincarnations), is topped by a 13-tier golden spiral tower. Between the dome and the tower the traditional all-seeing eyes, painted on all four sides of the stupa, gaze out over miles of the city. It’s stylized lotus mandala base is said to be built on the precise spot where the Chinese saint Manjushri saw the flaming lotus floating on the lake that legend says once covered the Kathmandu Valley. Desiring to worship the lotus, Manjushri cut a swath in the hills that surround Kathmandu with his giant sword, draining the lake. Read More

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley
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Each time I arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal I am awed by the kaleidoscope of silk saris that enliven its dusty streets, the canted brick buildings with old wooden doors painted in rainbow colors, and the stoic women vendors who patiently squat next to paltry piles of produce amidst the squalor. But I can only take so much of the seething crowds, the pollution, and the ear-splitting horns of motorcycles that streak through the narrow lanes, passing just inches from pedestrians who share the asphalt. After a week, my senses are overloaded and I flee to serene Pokhara. Because I’ve had to experience Kathmandu in bits and pieces it has taken me three years to see all seven of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in and around the capital city, but this year I finally visited the last remaining site on my list.

Kathmandu Durbar Square, one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Kathmandu Durbar Square, one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Kathmandu sits in the center of a valley that is roughly shaped like an oval bowl that legend says was once a lake surrounded by hills. One day, the Bodhisattva Manjushree visited on a pilgrimage and saw a bright flame coming from a huge lotus in the center of the lake. Wishing to worship the flower, he cut a deep gorge in the hills with his sword, allowing the water to drain from the valley. Over the ensuing centuries, three separate kingdoms arose within the fertile valley. The rulers of each constructed magnificent medieval palaces surrounded by plazas known as Durbar (Palace) Square. Today we know these royal cities as Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan (Lalitpur District). In 1769, Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered and unified the three kingdoms, creating the country of Nepal. Read More

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It is 4:45 a.m. and I have been awake for an hour. I tossed and turned for a while, unable to get back to sleep. A few minutes ago the birds began twittering with a vengeance and I finally gave up any attempt at sleep. Though I am normally a sound sleeper, I am sometimes restless under a full moon, and last night’s full moon was magnificent. My little niece, Himrekha, excitedly called me over to the kitchen door at dusk.

Didi (older sister), the moon is moving SO fast!” she exclaimed. We watched it play tag with gauzy clouds that alternately obscured and revealed the giant yellow orb as it climbed above our neighborhood rooftops. It reminded me how fast the world is moving and, alternately, how slow life moves here in Nepal.

Full moon rises over my neighborhood in Pokhara, Nepal

Full moon rises over my neighborhood in Pokhara, Nepal

The euphoria of last week, when everyone believed that Nepal would get its long-awaited constitution, was shattered in the waning hours of the deadline, when opposing political parties failed to reach consensus. At the stroke of midnight on May 27th, the Constituent Assembly (CA) that was charged with drafting the new constitution ceased to exist, as Nepal’s Supreme Court, irritated by four years of bickering and deadline extensions, had declared further extensions illegal. Just minutes prior to its dissolution, the Prime Minister declared elections on November 22nd of this year to create a new Constituent Assembly. Read More

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Today is the day Nepal’s new constitution is finally supposed to be promulgated. It has been four long years in the making and over the past several weeks I have ping-ponged from despair that it would be impossible to meet the deadline once again this year, to riding a wave of optimism as I joined a peace march where citizens demanded that the long-awaited document finally be drafted and adopted.

Last Thursday morning, thousands of Nepali in Pokhara, Nepal marched in support of a United Nepal. Their cry, “Himal, Pahad, Terai,” (Mountain, Hills, Plains), was in response to violent demonstrations that have plagued the country over the past week, as some of Nepal’s more than 100 minorities demanded a new form of government that would divide the county into States based on ethnicity and identity. If their demands are successful, this tiny Asian country could be thrust into an era of tribal feuding that has not been seen since Prithivi Narayan Shah unified warring tribes into one central Himalayan kingdom in 1769.

Marchers opposed to ethnic separation proposed by Maoists walk miles in support of a United Nepal

Marchers opposed to ethnic separation proposed by Maoists walk miles in support of a United Nepal

Basu Tripathi, owner of Adam Tours in Pokhara and an organizer of the event, along with the local Chamber of Commerce, explained: “We all want prosperity for Nepalese Society. This is a great gathering of industrialists and tourism entrepreneurs and social people. Let’s not split mountains from the hills. Let’s not split hills from the Terai. Nepal is a unique combination; let’s keep this country prosperous, let’s keep this country integrated.” Read More