Journey through India pt.2

Continuing from my last post about India, I would like to focus this piece on another of my favourite destinations and some thoughts on what it was like to travel alone, and why travelling through India was a particularly important experience to have.

Last time I described the incredible beauty of human civilization in the city of Mysore, but the next stop in my travels and this story brings us to the south western coast of India, around the town of Kasaragod in the state of Kerala. From all who I disclosed my travel route to prior to arriving I received the same description. In reference to its natural beauty and prevailing human devotion this area was called ‘God’s country,’ and once I arrived I could not help but agree. Once I got to Kasaragod I was overwhelmed by the heat, and found the first place I could to escape the sun and grab some lunch. This was where I gained my first impressions of the people in Kerala, and realized I was not going to find many who spoke English, but despite the language barrier everyone seemed very humble and helpful. After lunch I caught the local bus south to an area known to outsiders exclusively for having the largest fort in Kerala, but in no time I became the only occupant at the local hotel and proceeded to discover what else made this place so special.

The surrounding area was filled with small fishing villages and every so often along the main road a small town where you could find some local eats. Although the few stores had most modern goods I noticed that they still lacked one piece of modernity we like to take for granted – the internet! This however gave the area a more isolated feel, and combined with its natural beauty, it really felt untouched and unexploited like other areas built up with fancy resorts and crowded with tourists. Meeting people of all ages was a pleasant experience, even if only exchanging the characteristic head wobble and a smile, but those who had some knowledge of English were more than happy to practice. Considering it was first experience with the local language called Malayalam I had very little time to attempt to learn anything substantial, so even I was happy when someone was able to tell me a bit about themselves, their life, or show some interest in my own.

DSC02523My best story comes from my first afternoon on the beach. After taking a swim I decided to walk along the beach toward the fort, which took me through a little fishing village where I discovered the sea was also the local dump and washroom. Feeling slightly phased that I had just swam in the water not too far down the coast I continued along, meeting one villager who I had just witnessed go to the toilet at the seaside. Along with his big smile he held his hand out to welcome me to his village. My initial feeling of mild disgust disappeared once it clicked that he was holding out his right hand, while it was the left that was reserved for finishing one’s business. By the time I reached the south face of the fort the sun had all but drained my energy and I welcomed the invitation by some local high school guys to join them under the nearest tree.

Although everyone was super friendly only two of them could speak to me in broken English. Through them I learned how they were all friends, and while sitting with them I enjoyed witnessing how close friendships really are in India. This group seemed to do enjoy doing everything together including smoking the ganga they told me they buy from the same fishing village I had just passed through. As they proceeded to role and smoke a few joints I learned about their tastes in music, which didn’t fail to include pop titles from the western charts. Even within such an isolated community, among the youth especially, there was still no escape from outside cultural influence. However, they were very much still stuck in their own world, with hardly any knowledge of English, or even the national language of India – Hindi – they retained and expressed a great deal of their own culture.

Where the story gets interesting is about the time men started bolting from the palms beyond the beach where my newfound friends had previously pointed to when I asked where they had bought the weed from. Before long there were police officers chasing these men along the beach and carrying plants and tarps out of the trees. As isolated of a place I thought it was, there still existed the rule of law, and the police clearly did not have a problem enforcing it. All this excitement shortly scared off the group of guys and after waiting to watch the outcome of the police raid I too headed into the palm trees seeking shade and someone selling coconut water to quench my thirst.

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The old fort was named after the nearby town of Bekal and provided an awesome morning walk and view of the surrounding landscape. The southern and western walls towered over the sea, where the morning fishermen slowly made their way along the coast and the occasional dolphin could be seen surfacing. The endless white sand of the beach on both sides of the fort divided the Arabian Sea from the sea of coconut palms that stretched inland for as far as the eye could see. The occasional radio tower or mosque spire was all that extended beyond this canopy of green. This place surely was paradise, and its relative remoteness has kept its natural and cultural beauty in its purest form.

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My last week in India brought me to Jaipur in Rajasthan, Agra in Uttar Pradesh, and the Indian capital of New Delhi. These places are all in the north of India, which itself has a very different culture, and offers a different experience to the Indian backpacker. Whether it was that my heart was still in Kerala or I was getting slightly tired and homesick this point in my travels, I was happy to be on the last leg of my journey. These cities had amazing historical places to explore and I made sure to find some of the best north Indian food, while meeting more of the locals along the way. A contrasting feeling for me was my frustration with being constantly bothered to see, touch, taste, or smell; and the uplifting feeling of striking up an engaging conversation with someone who wants nothing more than to speak and listen.

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When travelling alone I felt I had more opportunity to converse with people because I was never occupied with a companion. While this did mean some moments were more boring or lonely, it gave an incentive to meet the locals and more often be engaged by other people. To travel alone was also like having no burden (other than my backpack), and being no burden. I could go at my own pace and by any change of plan. This usually meant I was out of the hotel in the early morning and wandering the city for most of day. I had broadly researched where to go and what to see, but it was often more of an adventure to set off toward one destination taking the long way, only to find the journey there was most exciting. For any future endeavor I would most likely drag someone along with me, but I’m glad I got to experience backpacking by myself, especially through a country that fascinates me so much.

There is a certain attraction to India because of the extent of opportunity, transformation, diversity, unity, crowdedness, and scarcity. In the grand picture it seems like a hot pot of growth and progress, but it is the existence of such strong belief structures that makes each individual interesting. Family, God, and state are powerful concepts in India, even within such a diverse environment. The Indian family and friend structure provide models for something those of us in the west could learn from and appreciate. The ideas of God and religion remain a prominent part of thought and action in society. And the autonomy and identity of state has reigned supreme in the federal system within India. The diverse collection of political identities is a result of the strength of the state and distinct regional languages, cultures, and more.

For those reading back in Canada, if you thought we have the model multicultural nation, you have yet to understand how countries such as India can stay united. It is a wonder how so many cultures, religions, languages, and histories can come together under one flag. Travelling through the south of India I encountered three official state languages – Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam – each completely different from the national language of India and spoken by populations equal or greater to that of Canada. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to discover these differences and feel a bit more ‘worldly’ in the process. The world is full of fascinating people, each with a unique story, and only when you can meet these people and hear their stories can you fully understand their own context and perceptions. Everyone should take a chance and discover a new country and its people, and regardless of your experience, I guarantee you will come home a little humbler and understanding of the differences or similarities between yourself and others in this world.

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Journey through India, pt.1

My adventures began with the sunrise, as we walked through the rice fields across the Nepal-India border. My two co-workers and I had set out for the Patna, the capital of the Indian state of Bihar, where our train was scheduled to depart at 8pm, headed direct to the southern state of Tamil Nadu. I had acquired an Indian visa less than 2 months earlier and finally had the chance to join two of my Nepali co-workers to Chennai, where I would no sooner say farewell and continue solo for the next two weeks as I made my way back to Nepal.

This first day was to be an adventure in itself, but things started off quite relaxing as we boarded our first bus equipped with a television showcasing a collection of Bollywood films, which provided an entertaining distraction from the endless view of misty fields out the window. But this state of relative relaxation came to an abrupt halt at about the same time the traffic decided to do likewise. Within 20 km of our destination we were told the traffic jam, which safely ranks as one of the worst I’ve ever witnessed, was daily occurrence and our best bet was to start walking. Welcomed by the mid-afternoon Indian sun, our next 3 hours of travel along this 20 km stretch of highway involved 2 more buses, and some periods of hiking when the traffic decided to stop moving forward at an acceptable rate. The source of such mayhem was the fact that the city of Patna lay on the southern banks of the river Ganges, and the only bridge to cross was only two lanes wide and 6 km long. To top it all off, our train was 2 hours late, but by the time we boarded I was just happy to have some place to lie down and enjoy the gentle rocking of the car as our train sped south.

My first experience of the Indian train system would happen to be my longest train ride ever. The journey from Patna to Chennai would take just over 42 hours, but this was only the start. Throughout the next 2 weeks I would have the pleasure of crossing south India from the shores of the Bay of Bengal, to the endless beaches along the Arabian Sea, followed by a swift (36 hour) train ride back to Rajasthan in the north. That is a total of 7 trains, 6 nights sleeping aboard, and a lot of interesting sites, friendly people, and drastic changes in the surrounding landscape and climate.

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After all this travel by rail my impressions of Indian trains has remained quite positive. I chose to travel in the higher class during my longer, overnight trips, which were comfortable, spacious, air conditioned, and clean – what more could you ask for? The repetitive bellow of vendors traversing the aisles became all but normal by my second day traveling, and a welcome sound to the hungry stomach. I passed the time with card games, books, music, conversation, and of course napping. There seems to be nothing the Indian train passenger loves doing more than catching some z’s. I have never experienced such a communal feeling of lethargy brought on by extended train travel, but you can’t complain about the ability to nap at any point you feel like throughout the day; besides, this was probably a welcome break for many people whose lives would again move full steam ahead once their feet hit the platform.

I spent so much time on trains that it has become a prominent part of my memories of this trip. I can’t imagine any other mode of transport could have offered such a pleasant and interesting experience. The little things seem to leave the greatest impressions, of which these trips offered plenty. There is nothing like watching the sunset over an ever changing horizon, or feeling the warm air across your face as you lean outside the open door for a better view of what lies ahead; joining the dozens of passengers along the train who seem to have similar wonders. There are of course the aspects that don’t exactly impress, such as the view of the tracks below you when using the toilet or the policy of dumping the trash can outside the door when it gets full. But all of this makes it a distinctly Indian experience, and one I will not forget.

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I traveled to India to discover its history, its people, its unique culture, and for a chance at an adventure I surely wouldn’t match anytime soon. I’d like to think I learned a lot about each of these things, but the more I feel I know, the more there is to discover. But this is a common feeling for anyone experiencing something new, and I appreciate that I had the chance to do as much as I did, for India is an enormous country, filled with an uncountable number of cultures, peoples, and histories just waiting to be revealed to those both enthusiastic and lucky enough to be able.

Being the history-buff I am, I made sure to catch a glimpse of the vestiges of old empires and lifestyles in many of the cities I visited. From old marketplaces to grand palaces there was always something to keep you on your feet and the camera in your hands. My favourite destination for the amount of heritage sites it had preserved was Mysore. I don’t think anyone’s trip to south India is complete without a stop in this city, once the centre of the Mysore Kingdom, ruled in style by the Wadiyar dynasty for over 500 years. Breathtaking it its architectural detail and ornamental luxury, the Mysore Palace was where these Hindu kings reigned. Located in the centre of the city, surrounded by aging gardens and ancient temples, it’s no wonder this site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in India, apart from the unparalleled lure of the Taj Mahal.

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Mysore is also renowned for its marketplaces, which aside from the abundance of food stuffs, are notable for their silks, essential oils, and wood crafts. The centrally located Devaraja market, over 150 years old and still bustling daily from dawn until long past dusk, was exhaustive in its variety of things available. From the heavenly smell of two dozen baskets fresh cut flowers, to the site of 100’s of kilos of bananas piled high within the confines of a 100 square foot shop, each aisle offered a new site, smell, or merchant enticing passing shoppers to take a closer look. This culture of central marketplaces was present in each city I visited within India, offering a glimpse into the unique local variety of food and goods, along with an interesting background to observe the people who rely on these places for their livelihood or dinner ingredients.

All this talk about food gets my mouth watering for all the local delicacies from the south that I’m already missing. From the fresh cut fruit vendors along the rocky shores of Pondicherry, to the packaged breakfast of rice idly and vada available on train platforms at our early morning station stops, everywhere there seemed to be something new to try. In Bangalore and Mysore, my suggested snack would be masala dosa with extra coconut chutney. In the Muslim neighbourhoods you could find the best street meat ever, from tandoori chicken to beef kabobs. I’m sure going to miss these treats. And a day spent in the south of India just doesn’t feel complete without some fresh coconut water and flesh, bought from the men and women who spend their days on the street corners chopping into piles of the fruit for a living.

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I visited more places than I have time and space to write about, but I hope to continue telling the story of India’s people and it’s fascinating culture in my next post. Thanks for reading! I hope I have begun to spark some desire inside you to see this country with your own eyes, and have your own unique experience.

Update on Life

This past month has been both normalizing and painful (physically that is). I have fallen into a routine of life that the local Nepali could very well relate to, and I feel comfort in this simpler yet richer life. However, the painful side I mentioned includes my capitulation to sickness and physical injury. After 4 months of eating and drinking almost anything without regard for the consequences my habit finally caught up to me and in return I received a parasitic illness only some local pharmaceuticals could cure. I also managed to smack my head on the cold hard ground one night, resulting in a multitude of stitches – clearly my finest moment here in Nepal. But aside from these mishaps, of which one can only expect to experience in life at home, let alone 9000 miles away, I have been thoroughly enjoying a normal life in Nepal.

I say normal in the sense that I have become accustomed to all the things that a new comer to this country would either dislike or find strangely uncomforting. It’s amazing how quickly we can adjust to a different lifestyle or circumstance, and being the open, patient person I am only helped accelerate this process. Already the thought of returning to Canada is on my mind, not for the sake of being utterly homesick and unhappy, but because I realize just how strange life back home will seem after living here for 8 months. This however will be an experience in itself.

Here in Nepal the sense of adventure is still present, but when the things you once thought were so foreign become a necessary scene for daily life, one cannot help search for something new. I have thus decided to leave Nepal behind for a few weeks and take my chances in the vast and mysterious country south of the border. If unfamiliar with South Asian geography, this country would be India, and this will be my first real experience in backpacking. I can only imagine the things I will experience there, but I also know that returning to Nepal afterwards will be a very comforting feeling. This place has become my home, and I will miss it very much when I have to leave.

Rural Nepal: What’s not to love?

This post could alternatively be called life in the village pt.2, but it will be less a fluid story and more a group of snapshots from my time spent out of the city. Escaping the city of Kathmandu becomes an increasing desire the longer I remain. There are plenty of places to explore and little hideaways to discover, but over time these things cannot make up for the unpleasant aspects of city life; particularly the effect on one’s health. Kathmandu is considered one of the most polluted cities in the world in terms of air and water quality. This is something my lungs are reminded of every day. It is even necessary to hold one’s breath when crossing over running water. Luckily, my stomach has yet to be negatively affected by anything I’ve ingested over the past 3 months. The quest for fresh air is shared equally with my ambition to see as much of this great country as I can – and with the vast majority of Nepal being rural – it is to the village I have gone! This is why I love the village (aside from the fresh air):

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The fresh water. Drinking straight from the stone well taps is only advised when you are out of the city. This particular tap has offered up legendarily clean water for generations in this village, with some hiking for miles to fetch it.

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The proximity to the food. With the fields an integral part of the village much of food sold at market is farm fresh. Plus, seeing the work that has been done to terrace the hillside is a sight in itself.

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Again, the proximity to the food… I mean… baby goats are so soft, and love to awkwardly hop around on everything.

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The wild flowers and wild fruit.

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The friends. Here I am at the Changu Narayan temple with my Nepali buddy. Seeing the country with a local friend is the best way to understand the culture and language, and share your own.

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The Family. Nepali people are the most welcoming. My co-worker had me at his home during the elections. His son was my companion for the week as we traveled the valley by motorcycle to visit extended family and the cultural sites.

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The realities. Life is hard for many in the village for human and animal alike. These bones are the remains of a young male cow. Due to the fact that cows are sacred in the Hindu religion (meaning they are not eaten), only the females give milk, and only one bull is needed in the village, male calves are usually brought into the hills and abandoned

And, the View!

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Experiences in Advocacy


Today marks the end of 16 days of activism against gender violence. This was an international campaign to combat violence against women; broadly representing the struggle for equal rights for all human beings. This campaign has garnered support and prompted action from a variety of international development organizations, national governments, and individual activists, such as Amnesty International, USAID, and the organization I am working for, Prerana. Prerana has been heavily involved this past 2 weeks due to their long term support of women’s groups in Nepal; acting as secretariat for some and providing its expertise and resources for socio-political advocacy. I had the opportunity to join my coworkers, members from other NGOs, volunteers, activists, and women from the community at a few key events during this campaign.

One such event is highlighted in the newspaper photo above – taken from an English publication here in Kathmandu called the Himalayan Times. As it states, Prerana, along with other civil society organizations and women’s groups, are attempting to lobby the government to pass legislation outlawing the practice of torturing women who have been accused of witchcraft. This remains to be a prominent social issue, where typically widows and lower caste women are targeted in rural communities. During my second week in Nepal I was invited to a conference where women who had been victims of witchcraft were telling their story in an attempt to pressure the government to act on these injustices. The vehemence of these women’s stories was testament to how awful an experience it must have been. Many of the accused suffer both physical and mental trauma for extended periods of time, and now that more women are raising their voice in anger, the number of cases has increased, both by greater knowledge of these incidents and the backlash within certain communities.

Hearing first-hand what women have battled through to get to where they are today is quite a powerful thing. In Nepal they face a lot of challenges socially, economically, and politically. The rights associated with these spheres of influence and opportunity are being fought for by women themselves and the civil society organizations that envision a more equitable world for them to live in. Although difficult at times to fully participate, I have been welcomed to these rallies and events by everyone involved, and the more I witness their struggle, the more I believe they have the capacity to change Nepal for the better.

Women gathered to promote the 16 day campaign in South Asia

Men & Women gathered to promote the 16 day campaign in South Asia

The public writing words in support of women fighting against violence and injustice at one of Prerana's events.

The general public writes words of support to women fighting against violence and injustice

Life in the Village, Pt.1

As I promised in an earlier post, here is the story of my time in the village. This month I was invited to the homes of two of my coworkers, and my stay in their villages totaled 15 days. I can safely safe that these 15 days were some of the most memorable experiences I will have of life in the average Nepali home. My understanding of everything from family dynamics, to culture and religion, to the celebration of Nepali festivals has grown, along with my appreciation of all of these things. I can’t thank my co-workers and their families enough for inviting me into their homes and teaching me the true meaning of hospitality.

This is how the Terai region looks - flat and mostly cultivated land separated by large rivers.

This is how the Terai region looks – flat and mostly cultivated land separated by large rivers.

This story begins with my journey to a little town called Bhiman within the Sindhuli district of central Nepal. Again I found myself on the back of a motorcycle with all that I needed to live, enjoying the sights and sounds of the eastern Terai region. At times we had to stop and wait for the herds of cattle or goats, or the occasional group of monkeys to finish crossing the road. And again we crossed a multitude of large dry riverbeds, evidence of just how much water the monsoons bring to the country during the summer months. Luckily our travels were without incident and we arrived at my co-worker Ramesh’s home with a warm welcome from his family – even though only his son and niece could welcome me in English.

This was by far the biggest industry I saw during my time in this region. Can anyone guess what they make?

This was by far the biggest industry I saw during my time in this region. Can anyone guess what they make?

One of the many bridges crossing these rivers. I thought it interesting how many were built with co-operative from the USSR.

One of the many bridges crossing these rivers. I thought it interesting how many were built with cooperation from the USSR.

I was in Bhiman to celebrate the festival
known as Diwali (referred to as Tihar in the north of Nepal, and also described as the festival of lights); a five day festival observed by most of Nepal, India, and Hindus worldwide. We arrived in the village on the second day, which is when people celebrate the dog and their companionship. Many place flower garlands on the stray dogs around their homes and some even take them in as pets for the week of the festival. This particular village did not have as many strays as larger urban

centres, such as Kathmandu, where I am sure this practice is more prevalent. On The third day each household and business welcomes the Goddess Laxmi into their home by lighting their home with candles and lanterns and painting a colourful pathway to their front doors from the street. Laxmi is said to bring wealth and prosperity into the home.

Here are the traveling musicians in the front yard. The colourful pathway was created the night before to lead the Goddess Laxmi to the home.

Here are the traveling musicians in the front yard. The colourful pathway was created the night before to lead the Goddess Laxmi into the home.

Candles and lights decorated the homes the third night of Diawali.

Candles and lights decorated the homes on the third night of Diwali.

The holy Kamala river runs behind the village, where with went to bath on Bhai-Tihar.

The holy Kamala river runs behind the village, where with went to bathe on Bhai-Tihar.

The fourth day of the festival is dedicated
to the celebration of the cow and the ox.
These animals are considered holy in the Hindu culture and are also essential to the daily lives of many in the village. On this day villagers paint their cattle with colourful dyes and bless the calves. During the early morning hours a travelling band visited each home, followed by a group of wide-eyed youngsters, playing music in the hope that they would be presented with offerings of rice, sweets, fruit, and money. The fifth and final day is known as Bhai-Tihar in Nepal, and is dedicated to celebrating brothers. The day begins with the men of the village bathing in the river and returning to dine at their sister’s home, or at least have lunch prepared by their sister. Afterward sisters put Tika on their brother’s foreheads and the men present them with an offering of money. Sisters then offer them a plate of sweets and fruit to enjoy throughout the day. These customs may vary by region, but this was my experience in Bhiman.

Here I am with the men in the home who have been given Tika on their foreheads.

Here I am with the men in the home who have been given Tika on their foreheads.

During my time in Sindhuli district, Ramesh took me on a motorcycle ride along the main highway into the hills. Here he showed my where one of the old Kingdoms once ruled and the ruins of a once prominent Durbar Square. This was one of the Nepali defenses used when the British were invading the region. The story goes that all three beings – the plants, animals, and man – were fighting off the British. On the hillside there grows the stinging nettle, a bush that grows long spiky hanging branches which can severely irritate the skin (something I had the pleasure of experiencing on one of our past treks). In addition, the local bees would be used to fend off advancing British forces. All the while the Nepali forces would fire from their vantage points from hilltop defenses similar to the picture shown below. The road to get to this area was incredibly engineered with the help of the Japanese. It continued winding upward along the hillsides for nearly an hour DSC01628redountil we reached the ruins.

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One of the old Nepali hilltop defenses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the southern region they celebrate another festival called Chaat, and for this Ramesh took me to his wife’s mother’s home in Siraha district further east into the terai. My visit in Siraha has been my favourite time spent in Nepal, thanks to the people I met there and the culture that I found. My first day here, I was taken to a family picnic in a random field a 30 minute ride north of the village. When we arrived we gathered firewood, prepared the meat and vegetables, and began to cook one hell of a feast. Once ready we all sat together and ate beyond our stomach’s content. The adults and guests (yours truly) had their fill of whiskey and once finished we danced to some Nepali and Indian music (how they had brought two giant speakers out to this place I couldn’t figure out). Then as the sun gave its last couple hours of light we settled down to a nice game of ‘Flush’; a simple card, where each player antes and is then dealt 3 cards. Starting to the left of the dealer, each player now has the option to bet or fold. The person with the best hand (similar to poker, but with only 3 cards) wins the pot. I lost over 200 Rupees, which may sound like a lot, but in Canadian currency it amounts to roughly 2 dollars.

The gathering around the pond for the celebration of Chaat.

The gathering around the pond for the celebration of Chaat.

Banana trees beside the endless fields of rice, vegetables, and sugarcane.

Banana trees beside the endless fields of rice, vegetables, and sugarcane.

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celebrated along or around a body of water, where everyone from the community joins in to create a beautifully decorated place complete with lights, plants, and offerings of fruits and sweets, all covered in incenses. The festival is about worshiping the sun, so at sundown everyone flocks to the waterside to bring their offerings, play cards and music, and light off fireworks. Some choose to stay all night, while others return just before sunrise. As the sun rises women enter the water and pray.

On my last day in Siraha I was taken to the Nepali circus. After a short ride on one of the sketchy-ist ferries wheels I’ve ever seen we saw a performance in the Wall of Death. I have uploaded a short video below.

Here is a picture of Ramesh and his family, who were nothing bur gracious and happy to have me as their guest. You may notice that no one smiles in pictures, and this is just a Nepali thing, because I can tell you, the Nepalese are some of the happiest people I have met.

Here is a picture of Ramesh and his family, who were nothing but gracious and happy to have me as their guest. You may notice that no one smiles in pictures, and this is just a Nepali thing, because I can tell you, the Nepalese are some of the happiest people I have met.

Nepal Votes!

Today roughly 12 million registered Nepali citizens exercised their right to vote in the second ever democratic election in the country’s history. The atmosphere has been a mixture of apprehension and excitement at this critical point in Nepal’s development. Being here in the Kathmandu Valley has given me a front line view of the action. Everywhere I have visited the main topic of discussion on the streets has been this election and the policies of the political parties in the race. With over 120 political parties to choose from across the country the sheer number of opinions is beyond comprehension by myself and many of the Nepalese themselves.

Despite the threats of continued violence and protests that have lead to the arrest of over 350 people and one death in recent days, along with the attempted boycott and obstruction of the election by a coalition of 33 political parties, this day passed with minor incident. Even with one isolated bomb blast that harmed a young child and the continuing campaign of intimidation by hardline members of this political group, people were eager to hit the polls from the early morning. I joined one of my co-workers and his family as they went to vote this afternoon and witnessed the enthusiasm shared throughout their community.

The elected constituent assembly is tasked with creating a new constitution for the Nepalese, with this assembly then acting as parliament for the next 5 years. Voters may have different ideas for what this constitution should contain and how extensively it should represent the people, but many are hopeful it will be constructed in due measure, so this new government can tackle more important issues. Five years ago in Nepal’s first democratic election this process failed to produce a constitution and the assembly was dissolved after nearly 4 years in debate. By quickly addressing this mandate, parties will have better ability to effect meaningful change in the country.

Some of the most sought after changes are based on reform and development. The government is wrought with corruption and is in sorrow need of a strong authority to redirect precious resources for developing the country. Better control over the way money is spent within government will allow Nepal to improve its infrastructure, create jobs, attract foreign investment, build a more diverse economy, provide social services, and protect the rights of its people – just to name a few positive outcomes. After being here for 2 and 1/2 months I have not only seen the need for these changes, but I have also developed a sense of hope that this election will grant the people of Nepal greater stability within an environment of diversity that, at times, makes the very idea of democracy a seemingly impossible reality.