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NEPAL | Friday, 16 December 2011 | Views [684]

A last posting from Nepal before getting on the flight back home, so time to write down all those generic impressions gathered over the last few months and empty the mental 'tea cup' to have a fresh view when back in NZ.  Since the first impressions of the country, gathered from the back seat of a 1970's model Toyota driving from the airport through a nearly deserted Kathmandu to the busy and very touristy area of Thamel, more and more things seem now to be 'normal' as our definition of normality has been transformed.

Luxuries like heating in the higher mountain locations, or even here in the chilly evenings in KTM, are fully appreciated because our bodies have adapted to lower indoor temperatures. Expectations of a draught-free, well-lit and comfortable environment are out the window, as it is appreciated that firewood, yak-dung, solar panels and the occasional small hydro-power plant are all resources the country has to offer in remote locations. Even in the major cities like KTM and Pokhara black-outs occur on a regular basis as electrical demands exceeds power supply: the newspapers just announced Nepal is intending to import power from India(which in turn is importing hydropower from Bhutan).

Other luxuries (or shall we call them delicacies?) are fresh fruit, dairy products and crispy bakery products like apfel strudel or cheese croissants. It's very easy to live without when not available, such as during the stay in Macchermo, but when they are offered in the many cafes and bakeries it is difficult to resist. We'd like to emphasize how ever how well the catering has been while in Macchermo: great meals and lots of variety with limited ingredients, and always prepared on one stove only! Loved the freshly baked chappati bread with honey in the morning, and sometimes French fries for dinner!

On the health front life would be easier if we could just drink the tap water, but having heard enough bad stories and fearing severe stomach bugs we are still using iodine tablets or other treatment before drinking water. From experience in Macchermo it is understood that good healthcare is very scarce in remote regions, so we both carry a medical kit of about half a kg in our packs with medication against the most common problems. Most of it is still unused, but at times it has been handy to take a few pills or hand them out to others.

Beyond our first impressions, and by reading the local newspapers, it is clear that life for most Nepali is not easy. A limited amount of regular jobs, many seasonal, and lots of corruption, injustice and uncertainties to deal with. Although the economy is still very agriculture orientated, with many people having their own chicken and buffaloes near the house, every major village or city seems to attract job seekers. Small-scale trading offers some income for many people, but the variety of products is limited and profit margins small. That's probably why ignorant tourists (like ourselves) are always asked to come, look, feel and buy what's for sale: typically a foreigner ends up paying (much) more than a Nepali would. Often the prices are still low, however a cup of tea (probably 5 rupees for a Nepali at a streetside stall) can end up being60 or 70 rupees (nearly US $1.00) when  ordered in a lodge high up the mountain.

In touristy Thamel the beggars favour spots near the entry doors of fancy restaurants or bars, so people leaving (just having paid some dollars for a beer or meal) can suit their conscience by handing out a few rupees. Even the holymen near  the large temple complexes of Boudhana or Patan Durbar Marg are eager to place a 'tika' on your forehead, and subsequently hold out their hand for a big tip. Our policy is that locals should ideally solve local problems, e.g. by handing out the bread not sold at the bakery, or handing a bit of money to those in real need. The problem of 'fake beggars' (sometimes even children) is real here, as it is apparently easier  to just ask for money than to earn it. Off course we did give a small note to the blind man who unaccompanied  entered the bus during a stop to sing a small song (in tune!). When travelling in a country like this you need to make many choices, some of which may be good and some which may be incorrect.

So yes, it will be different to come back to NZ, and pick up the pace and way of life again. Different, maybe challenging, but that's what makes it interesting…! As Christmas is approaching, we might start with some holidays to ease the transition….?

PS: Once we're  linked our PC back up to the internet a small selection of photos will be put on this weblog, so do have a look around Xmas. The only difficulty may be to select these from the 2000+ photos we took. Still amazed how much info can be contained by these small memory cards.

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