Ye Hai India Darling!

Monday, November 7

Administrative Orchestration

We had to change our flights recently, which in some places would be a simple task, but by the combined powers of Nepali and Indian administration was a formidiable exercise in frustration. We booked our flights home from a Nepali travel agent, who I assume unbooked our flights moments after we left the office. I'm sure no malice was involved, just (as my Nepali friend says) "Nepalese Management".

Tring to rectify this in India proved to be a further comedy of errors, but the kind of comedy that invovled some crying (not from laughter). Some events in this process:

- Finding that recent road works makes access to the Malaysian Airlines office only possible via climbing over a brick wall between two buildings, on a hunch that the office was roughly in the direction we werer heading.
- Have to wait in a numbered queue in the office, where the only customer was us.
- Being told that an international airline can't confirm any seats over the weekend.
- Discovering that this was largely due to the fact that the office was prohibited from making internation phone calls.
- Having to leave and call back on a phone system that disconects after you press '2' for reservations.
- Working out after 2 days of discussion that the office did have permission to confirm our flights, but somehow thought they didn't. It was just a matter of explaining things from the very beginning - slowly, waving your hands a lot and pointing to other customers who would have their bookings confirmed as we waited.

In the end it was the combined effort of Katie calming the rabbid Carl, and Carl's determination (in a calm way) in the face of constantly being told 'no' to a problem that we knew the answer was 'yes'. All in all, considering that this is India, things worked out quite well in the end.

Saturday, October 29

Where do you begin???

You may have noticed that I haven't written much about the children here - especially as this is the main reason for our whole trip. The truth is, I really don't know how to express the experience. We've been taking around the camera, trying to capture the frustration, the complication and the joy of the children of Nepal... I think all we have is a big mess! The issue is so huge it is almost impossible to comprehend. We've visited NGOs, children's homes, shelter's for homeless children; we've talked to kids on the street, in the villages, children rescued from begging who now live in orphanages; we've discussed the Maoists, the autocratic government, the influence of the west, poverty, unemployment, drug dependancy. Everyone has a story, an experience, an opinion...
But at the end of the day, you find an eight-year-old child lying in the middle of a footpath on a busy street. He's clothes are tattered, his face is covered in dirt and he has this vague, washed out expression from having not eaten for days. After much coaxing, he tells you left his village under the influence of an older boy, who is now in jail. He has been on the street for two months and since his companion was arrested, he has been totally alone. He wants to go back to his village but he doesn't know how. He doesn't even know how to get food or shelter.
And so he sits by himself in the middle of a footpath, despondant, given up on the world.
You take him to a cafe, buy him food and a cup of hot milky tea. He is the sweetest boy, whose eyes sparkle once he is revived with food and you engage him in a simple conversation of basic Nepali and basic English. You even manange to make him smile and his face lights up with his big grin. You phone a local NGO who takes in children from the street and provides them with shelter and food until they can help them find a more permant home, or return them to their village.
You breathe a sigh of relief, and hope that, in this whole crazy experience you may have saved one little boy from the drugs, the violence, the sexual abuse and the hardness of the streets of Kathmandu.
The next day you find out that he left the shelter that morning without saying a word. Noone knows where he is.

I don't know if there is an answer. It doesn't mean I am going to stop trying. I hope that the footage we are shooting will help in someway to raise consciousness, maybe even funds, or better still, action to address the problem of the children of Nepal. But at the end of the day, despite all I have seen, I still don't know what the answer is.

Friday, October 28

Nepal - Just a little crazy

We have spent the last week doing some non-trivial things which we will elaborate on some time in the future. But for now I am in a trivial mood as we move towards the end of our time in Nepal. As a tribute to triviality here are a list of odd things about Nepal - though some may seem trifles, they have a cumulative effect that eventually drives you just alittle crazy:

- When playing cards people through out their cards anywhere... there is no pile. It becomes very difficult to tell which was the last card thrown out, especially if you were distracted e.g. while trying to figure out how the hell to play "Marriage"*.

* Note: "Marriage" is not a game to take lightly. It is very confusing and the rules don't appear to be clearly defined.

- Bulk buying is not cheaper. Contrary to popular marketing concepts, in Nepal quite often it is cheaper to buy small items than to bulk buy. For example: Chocolate* - 3 small individual 40g bars are much cheaper than a 120g block. So the bigger blocks lay dusty in the isles.

* Note: Using chocolate was just a random example. It has very little to do with the fact that we may have had some choc-o-binges during our stay.

Related to this was our hotels charges for tea. 1 cup black tea =15 rupees, a small pot (2 cups) was 25, a large pot (4 cups) was 65. Hmmm... For Nepali tea; 1 cup = 15 rupees, a small pot = 30 rupees, a large pot 70 rupees. So we normally order two small pots creating some confusion for the staff. I did try to get the the bottom of this matter, but was told it had to do with profit.

- Headlights are only used as a last resort. Perhaps it's an energy saving fad, or maybe there is something I'm missing, but at dusk (as the light fades) cars and buses hurtle blindly towards each other on the "just about one and half cars wide" roads. At the last moment the oncoming traffic flash their lights as a "I'm very close now" warning. Arrg! Nepal, please turn the headlights on at night! I promise that it will increase visibility and bring prosperity.

How can I not love this country!

Sunday, October 16

Villiages, Mountains and Buffalo Milk

We just came back from our friend's village in rural Nepal. We stayed with his brother in Kalikistan, theoretically about 30 minutes from our his village. Here were learnt a little something about Nepalese estimation. The thirty minute trip to the village took an hour and a half. Maybe that had something to do with our poor state of fitness. Maybe it also had something to do with our mental preparation - worried that it would be a uphill journey we asked our friend what the trip would be like. His idea of "neither up nor down" turned out to be very much "up". Maybe its about definitions, but I'd definately say climbing is related to up-ness. (I also think the buffalo would probably agree too - I have no idea how they got to middle of this mountain - as helicopters are expensive. Maybe they carry them up as little buffalos??).
This experience left me in some doubt for the trip planned for the following day, which was to be a two hour trip to the top of the mountain we were on. Four and a half hours later we reached the top where migratory farming communities live for one or two months of the year. Bit of a slog, but amazing to reach the top and talk to the people there. I was still trying to convince my friend that the top of a mountain is definately defined as "up" and that normal "flat bits" don't require hundreds of steps!

It was about 30 minutes into the 4 and half climb-from-hell that I think about how valuable fitness training is to documentary filmmaking. Why, oh why, is this not preached by the other documentary filmmakers? I keep thinking of those champagne and cheese lunches and the multiple latte meetings that seem to be the staple. Where is the green salad and the gym pass? Is there something I'm missing. This thought takes up about 2 minutes. Only 3 hours and 58 minutes of torturous vertical rock and mud climbing to go! Yay! Maybe I should have made a documentary on the New York bar scene...

To be fair, I think our Nepalese friends were very patient with our lumbering gasping efforts! I did do a little mountain dancing (also known as tripping, slipping and sliding). The views were amazing and the people charming. Everywhere we went, we were offfered food, Chai and hospitality, even if it brought farming to a temporary standstill.

It was amazing to meet people whose life was so unbelievably far from anything I had previously imagined. We would be sitting on a rock, 1000 metres above a green valley, surrounded by mountain ranges, talking (via our translators) with a young woman dressed in traditional Nepali clothes, with a tiny baby wrapped in a scarf and slung over her back, who was watching her family's buffalo graze on the mountainside as she told us about how she had never gone to school because there was no need, and how instead she was married at 14 and now had 3 children. She couldn't have been more than 20. At many points on this exhausting, exhilerating and amazing trek I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming this mythical 'National Geographic' world through which I was roaming (ok, groaning and panting)!

Tuesday, October 4

The Essence of Nepal

We climbed to the top of Swoyambhu, probably the most famous stupa in Nepal - so famous that I'm not going to show you a picture of it, just one of the main inhabitants of the temple.

Monkeys every where. For this reason the site is also (irrevently) known as the monkey temple. These guys are brazen, they strut about the temple grounds and stand their ground when errant tourists wander too close. The temple has catered to monkeys dominance - there is a pool for monkeys to swim in, complete with spring loaded diving ramp. We had to scamble to avoid the spray from drenched monkeys gleefully leaping over our heads. I'm off to plan my revenge... (but if this was a competition I'd put my money on the monkeys).

Monday, October 3


Chillies are very popular in India. The further we moved North from Mumbai the spicier things got (we are talking food here). In Damon (just before we got to the state of Gujarat) we had a Thali (a metal plate with 4-5 types of food on it) that had a whole chilli sitting in all five of the dishes. Rajasthan was even hotter and we found the "mild" dishes touching the top of our palate.

Being somewhat of a sucker for punishment I like to try spicy things, while Katie (more sensibly) tended to avoid the month searing, eye bursting dishes. That is when she can help it. On the flight from Delhi to Nepal we got lunch and it was mostly palatable (for plane food). Katie was tucking into her salad when she discovered a whole green chilli mid-mouthful. I'd spied my chilli early so was surprised at her reaction. She was complaining about the sneakiness of putting chillies into a salad that was largely green beans, and by example she plucked another chilli out and was about to pop it into her mouth. Looks like the dish was a green chilli and lettuce salad. Tasty. My eyes watered from laughing as much as KT's watered from chilli. The Indian across the isle smiled at our antics (and probably at our low chilli tolerance).

Something Magical

Nepal! We arrived safely at Kathmandu airport fully of anticapation for our first glimpse of the city of Kathmandu. The visa arrival lines had a different idea and our excitement turned to frustration as we waited 2 hours to have our two simple documents stamped! Luckly we met a friendly traveller in the line, which helped pass the time.

Finally we escaped into the outside, unfortunately too late to meet our host in Nepal (he had waited over 3 hours for us!). This was our first taste of the magical of Nepal (post airport) I had a good feeling growing inside me as I headed into the heart of Kathmandu (and it wasn't the airline food).
Nepal is an amazing place - the sights, the feelings and the people.... so many smiles are returned as quickly as I can distribute them (prehaps some are laughing at me - but it's all so friendly). ...Except maybe this smile - this is Kalabhairab (my namesake). Kalabhairab is an angry god (if you couldn't tell by his attitude). The god Shiva would ride on bulls, Kalabhairab would ride on a dog, i'm sure a very nasty look dog - not your regular pooch!

Sunday, September 25

Chai, chai and more chai...

The Shekawati region of Rajasthan is slightly off the well worn tourist route.
Apart from the fact they are sadly neglecting their main tourist asset - beautifully painted havelis, which are crumbling, fading and worst of all, being painted over! - you know you are well out of tourist-tout range by the number of genuinely friendly people you meet. Within the space of 24hours, we had been invited into 3 family homes for Chai.
We've been told that Indians believe that "Guest is God".
Unfortunately for us, this is the first time we've seen this belief enacted. It is such a privelege to been invited into an Indian home and it is a humbling experience. You take your shoes of in the doorway, and are led into the communal courtyard, around which are bedrooms(one per section of the family), a very simple kitchen (usually a wood/cow dung fire stove and a huge ceramic pot for drinking water and many pots), and a 'puja' space containing a statue of the family's preferred god (there are some 10,000 to chose from), garlands of marigolds, incense, candles and even food offerings.
When you enter the family courtyard, you first pay your respects to Grandmother, Grandfather, sometimes Great-Grandmother and father, then you coo over the one to five babies crawling around the courtyard, talk about cricket and Ricky Ponting with Brothers 1 to 4, Uncles 1 to 3 and Father. You smile stupidly while Sisters 1 to 4, Aunties 1 to 3, Mother and Grandmother examine your Indian clothes with amusement. At this point you wow the whole familty by asking them their names, and enquirying after their health in Hindi.
Then comes the chai. Manna from Heaven! Indian chai is a superb mix of cardamon, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and pepper boiled in milk with black tea. And for those of you who drink chai at home - it hasn't got anything on Indian Chai!!!