Oh! My God I Need a Facelift!
That’s right, I need a facelift, or at least the liver spots removed from my hands. I’m well aware these are two distinctly different areas of my body, but they do relate in more ways than you are probably aware. During my last visit to Nepal, I went trekking to Namche Bazaar on the path to the Everest Base Camp. During that Trek, at every guesthouse I stayed, the Sherpa woman guessed my age to the exact year.
“How do you know my age?” I finally asked
“It’s the spots on your hands,’ was the answer.
Although we would be aghast if ask in a western country, it is standard practice to inquire of one’s age in south Asian countries. This year while riding in a taxi in Kathmandu, the driver asked the perennial inquiry “How old are you?”
Having been ask my age at least three times already that day, the driver had finally pushed me over the top and I retorted, “How old do you think?”
‘Well your hands look like someone eighty-five.”
Oh, My God! Eighty-five. Well that certainly backfired.
“Keep your eyes on the road.” I responded, hoping he wouldn’t evaluate my tire-treaded face next.
Obviously, I need to do something about the liver spots on my hands, as it seems to be the main clue to my age. Also maybe an eye job (about $800 in Thailand) to reduce the baggy sacks under my eyes. But a facelift? Eliminating life’s patina? I don’t know? I was recently told about two young Scandinavian women traveling in Cambodia who were thought to be quite elderly because of their blond hair.
Another rather alarming habit that happens to female travelers in India and Nepal is that after a woman looks a certain age she is called ‘mama’ by almost everyone she meets: hawkers, people in the streets, shopkeepers. A title I always find a little disconcerting. But at the Ganesh Himal everyone, the owners, their relatives and all their children as well as the hotel staff call me ‘Bobbie-mom’. At first I was a little offended but now I am so used to it, I take little notice. A silly loving name, but please, don’t any of you (old friends and natural clowns) try it, or I will be highly upset. There is a place for everything and Bobbie-mom is NOT appropriate outside Kathmandu. They are my ‘Nepali Family.’ I am fortunate that travel has given me a number of loving extended ‘families,’ both at home and abroad.
One of the more fascinating events of this trip is that handsome, intelligent young men have surrounded me. Cory, Indra, Kristen (taken by lovely Ann), Tomasz, Tobias, Armand (taken by Lady Eveline), Rhoman, Jack, Iolo and on and on. Where were young men like these when I was 25? Although, during a period of my younger years, I decided that if I didn’t smile, I’d appear to be a ‘spy’ and that would make me more mysterious. Actually, I probably looked like a sourpuss. A look that certainly didn’t attract a many of the opposite sex!
Now I smile, I smile a lot. But there are still no men my age! They are either traveling with their wives (that’s off limits), old, tired and/or fat, traveling with groups of other men (those he-men trekkers), or too short. Where are you? All dead? I can’t believe that! Meanwhile, it’s good I smile a lot as it works for a wonderful social life. I’ve found that it’s easy to start up conversations when one has a welcoming smile. How dumb are the young. Anyway me.
Oops! I almost forgot. I can’t say the man ’well’ has been completely dry. During a visit to Delhi in December 2007, there was this colorful Sikkim Festival, which had a stunningly long parade through out Delhi. I took lots of photos, from the back, both sides, and the front. Old fellows whom I had previously seen in Amritsar with their aged, angular, faces and white beards were again adored in their same blue, red, black and a multitude of other rainbow hued pants with matching colored long coats and turbans. They marched along to the music with their long curved sleeved sabers tucked in their belts swinging along at their sides. Near the end of parade families in cars threw candies out to the children along the parade route, and when I took photos at the very front of the parade, one of the leaders put a beautiful lei of real golden flowers around my neck. The next morning when I came out of Cottage Yes Please Hotel for breakfast in the restaurant across the street, a rather tall, portly Sikh gentleman (I could tell because he wore he traditional turban) was sitting in his Tuk-Tuk outside the restaurant. He stopped me, as I was about to enter. “I saw you yesterday. During the parade,” he paused.
“Yes, a wonderful parade.” I smiled and nodded.
“ I’m a widower. For two years. 67 years old. You’re not married are you?’ He questioned.
“No,’ I responded, a little wary of where this was all going.
“I didn’t think so.’ He continued. His background intelligence was flawless. “I’m not married and you are not married, so I come this morning to invite you to see my Sikh Temple.”
I was more than a little astounded and a bit flattered too. Here without meaning to, I had attracted my very own Delhi Sikh Tuk-Tuk driver. But I had to decline. “What a lovely invitation. But I really can’t, I am flying out in four hours and I need to have breakfast, finish packing and get to the airport. I am so sorry.”
“It won’t take long,” persistently pleasant.
“Thank you, but I just can’t. It’s the time factor.” I shook his hand and went to breakfast feeling really terrible for the man and his gentle kindness. But what could I do? Airplanes don’t wait even for romance. I have no idea whether he was watching when I left the hotel but I suspect he or one of his informers was on task. A nice, tenacious man with a case of love at first sight? And off I flew. But I digress.
Meanwhile, I have a new passion. Riding with my friends around Kathmandu on their Motorbikes. Maya, Rinku and Rhomen take me on daredevil rides thorough the frenetic streets of the city; whizzing though potholes, barely avoiding pedestrians, and out maneuvering cars, cows and other riders; it is quite exhilarating. Whereas, Mukhiya is a much slower, safer driver. With Mukhiya, I feel like a valued package that he wants to protect rather than thrill. But don’t play International Business (a local copy of Monopoly) with Mukhiya as he turns into a viper. He takes no enemies! No matter, Muhkiya’s diabolical personality change, and although I have been riding on Hondas and the Indian motorcycle counterpart, I have often thought I would enjoy owning one of the new energy designed Vespas. Maybe I am closer to it. Beware neighbors and friends.
Upon my arrival a major 26 day Buddhist Puja had begun. This is a once every fifteen year affair in Kathmandu in which a famous Rampouche from Manang comes to lead the prayers and teach. Forty-nine former Manang families were honored to support the puja. My friends Mukhiya and Maya Gurung were one of these. Pujas are prayer events in both Buddhism and Hinduism. They can be but a moment or last for days on end. They can be a simple prayer or an extended teaching experience by a religious leader. Everyday both of them were up at the temple working in some capacity to make sure things ran smoothly. Over 1100 or 1200 worshipers had to be delivered a puffy round bread and butter tea during the break in the Morning Prayer, and a full lunch including soup, main course and dessert was served free daily to everyone who arrived. Most people were there all day, while some arrived at lunch and stayed for the afternoon prayer session.
I attended two days, and on one received a blessing from the Rampouche Lama Sherp Gyalzen; an older lama, I suspect in his 60s. After he asked me where I was from, he proffered an incantation to me in Tibetan as he tapped me gently on the head with his prayer wheel. Although I have no understanding of Tibetan, I am sure it was a positive prayer, and I am probably much better for it. During the last day everyone, laypeople, monks and nuns all received a 300 Nepali rupee gift because so much money had been collected for the cost of the puja, the Manang community and the local Manang Trust and Temple. My friends were at the Manang Temple/Trust every morning at 6:30 and would arrive at the hotel between 6:30 and eight o’clock every evening to do their hotel work. Yet they believed this was their community duty, and Muhkiya and I enjoyed many discussions about the Rampouche’s teachings and the meanings to both of us. Muhkiya is a devote Buddhist, while I a non-Buddhist, am an avid follower of the Dali Lama. (I am again already booked in Dharmsala hotels during what will be my second set of teachings with His Holiness in McLeod Ganj in August of this year. But more about that in late August.)
As you recall earlier I gave you my travel clothes list. In that list I said I was having pajama bottoms fixed to wear either on the street or to bed. Yes, Shiva, a very fine Katmandu tailor, fixed them just as I planned. But my plan didn’t work. With all the really funny clothes tourists wear in Kathmandu I found I could only wear them as PJs. Therefore, it was time to shop. I finally found a pair of lightweight black pants for 1500 rupees – two dollars. Albeit, some pockets had broken zippers and they were too long, but two bucks – Shiva hemmed them for 50 rupees (70 rupees to the US dollar) and I was in business. As for blouses, I found one with an infinitesimal hole near the shoulder in Pokhara for again 1500 rupees. After a wash it seemed to mend itself and works fine. Meanwhile, I lost a little weight and my study gray chinos, the lifeline of my elegant travel wardrobe were falling down to my shoes if I wasn’t wearing a tightly clinched belt. What to do? Even Runku said there was nowhere in Kathmandu with pants with the same quality of material of these great pants (Gap by the way). In Pokhara I saw red pants for about five US dollars and in desperation I spent but I needed to replace my gray pants. Then in Darjeeling, India I saw them, some great pants on sale for about $18 US, a bloody fortune next to my other purchases but I splurged. After wearing them three days I have finally sent them to the laundry, if they wash well, I may buy another pair and leave my gray ones in the hotel when I leave.
The new heavy level of pollution is the major Kathmandu community enemy. Locals as well as tourists wear masks daily. The masks one can purchase have no filters and infuriately, which was not enough for me. As Dr. Robin at the Civic Clinic, and excellent medical facility, stated, “If you had waited one more day you would have been joining us as a resident with pneumonia.” Instead, after checking me for malaria and dengue fever (they always do this in this part of the world), they kept me there for the day and gave me an antibiotic drip. Eventually, they released me with massive antibiotics and told me when I felt strong enough to get out of town, i.e., leave the pollution. Four days later, I flew to Pokhara, the second largest, but sleepier town in Nepal situated on a pleasant lake with much cleaner air. I stayed at the lovely little Hidden Valley Inn in a charming second floor room with private bath, balcony and in room Wi Fi, all for $18 a night. I rested most of the day taking a late afternoon/early evening walk having dinner out. Then returned ‘home’ (when one travels as log as I do, where ever I sleep becomes home) for a quiet evening of reading and Internet.
I returned to Kathmandu healthy, energetic and had planned to leave four days later on April 27th with reservations in Darjeeling, India. I was looking forward to a new venue I had never visited, with my renewed health to enjoy the reputed sunny May weather of the area.
Then it happened: Sonar, Muhkiya and Maya’s fifteen-year-old son had an emergency appendectomy. “Please ‘stay, Maya insisted, ‘at least a week or ten days.”
What to do? The pollution was still rampant. Thamel shopkeepers were still throwing water out on the road in front of their shops to cut down on the dust. There were still the massive number of cars and motorbikes and the black exhaust spuing out from the large trucks that rambled through the city streets. What to do? I compromised and stayed an extra five days.
The hospital was a revelation. The day after the evening surgery, we all waited for hours for Sonar to be released from IC to his own room. There were his parents, aunts and uncles an adult cousin and I all sitting in a hallway waiting most of the day. During part of the wait Rinku, his mother’s sister and my dear friend, and I ran off to the Kathmandu’s largest grocery store mall to buy a rice cooker, and other supplies necessary to feed Sonar during his four days incarcerated in his future ‘lonely’ hospital room. After all, although there is hospital food, Maya’s child could never be subjected to that! She would cook daily right in his room whatever was best for his diet during this trying time. There is a wing, which I did not see, with expensive suits for the very rich and the foreigners, of which there are many in Nepal. But the little room assigned to Sonar had a standard single bed, nothing mechanical, a smaller bed against the opposite wall and a thick plastic privacy curtain across the hallway wall. There were no rules about the number of visitors so the eight of us trouped in. Some sat on the opposite bed, some sat on the two Tibetan style rugs that had been brought from home and placed on the floor. Sonar wanly smiled at us all and Maya began to cook. Sonar was to stay in the hospital for four days, but was out in two and a half – hardy child - and the parade of visitors transferred to his home with aunties, uncles and grandparents coming daily. With the help of both hers and her parent’s young maid with the cooking, Maya not only cooked Sonar’s special diet but also for the family retinue that showed up daily. Upon my initial arrival at the beginning of March, I was invited to a family lunch (these luncheons can go on for three or four days at a time) and there I must have met fifty different people of which I suspect 49 visited the Gurung’s home during Sonar’s illness.
I had wonderful lunches and game times with the family and chats with many members of this lovely family. Our good friend Rhomen was leaving on May 2nd as well and Rinku, Rhomen and I were able to sneak out To Chez Caroline one late afternoon and have a snack, Molten Chocolate Cake with ice cream and a great bottle of pinot noir.
The next morning I had the sneezing, sore throat, and slight discomfort, I always related to a standard allergenic reaction to something I had eaten the day before. But it persisted. The day before I was to leave I went off again to the clinic and found I had another respiratory infection. Not as bad as the first but bad enough to necessitate another battery of Antibiotics. Dr. Robin was not there and the other Dr. suggested that I not fly. He changed the antibiotic regime that I had previously used to a much weaker medication which was a bad move and sent me off with warnings of being stuck at the dust infested Nepali/Indian border with no medical available. Dust in Kathmandu, was a plague for me and April and May are suppose to be two of Darjeeling’s warm sunny months. Unfortunately, I arrived to dreary, rainy, cloudy Hill Station weather. But I had picked the right hotel. The Snowlion Home stay had not only room heaters, but also constant boiling hot water from the shower and bathroom taps. Besides breakfast being included, one could also order in meals from one of the best restaurants in Darjeeling; reheating anything that was the least lukewarm when it arrived on the premises then delivered to my spacious, yet cozy room or in the lounge whichever, I preferred. But the best part of the whole venue was the hot water bottle that was slipped under my covers at bedtime, heating up my whole bed like an electric blanket without wasting electricity.
Drinking cold water is not good for your system any time, but I have learned from these hardy mountainaires that hot water is one of the keys to a long life and helping to heal any respiratory infections. Natural Ginger and mint teas are helpful too.
Manang: The northern Nepali area from where most of the local Kathmandu Buddhist families have emigrated.
I flew from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur in the southeastern part of Nepal, called the Trai, which is thirteen miles from the Nepali/Indian border at Kakarbhitta. A TATA Spacio from the hotel picked me up at about two PM, and 90 US dollars later, we arrived in Darjeeling at six that evening.
The only transportation service to Darjeeling and points north i.e., Sikkim and it’s capital Gangtok, is cars, and a cog train that ends in Darjeeling but is out of commission until June 2011. The nearest air service is about 90 klm away. So one must be in hardy shape to be hanging out around here.