Tuesday, January 23, 2001

"Heading for the Annapurna Circuit midwinter-"
Kathmandu, Nepal
Tuesday, January 23, 2001

1st Trip to Nepal: Letter Two

Greetings you sun-lovers!

I meant to write much sooner and have run out of time again.
Must make it short as email is very expensive.

We're headed for the Annapurna trek tomorrow morning, a hellacious bus ride awaits us! and then three weeks of spectacular mountains, buddhist temples, villages and vistas.

We spent last week in the Terai, a lowland subtropical savannah. It was surreal. Slept in a mud hut listening to elephants bugle at night, wild peacocks calling to one another. Spent the days tracking rhino and tigers. Saw crocodiles and rode elephants.

I swear to god it's the truth!

Hopefully the pictures will make it back!

I think of many of you often and hope you are all well in your lives...thankyou for making me feel connected to life in the states, it feels so far away!

I can't wait to share more stories!

Doug Thurston--can you let dad know i'm okay? he never gets on email. Thanks! can't wait to hear Amanda's Bangladesh adventures.

Chuck--you were so right about the tripod. I can't imagine not having it or the ungodly sack of film. Good choice--thanks!

take care everyone and enjoy the rest of winter and what your lives hold for you every day,


much love, Rachel

Sunday, January 14, 2001

"Entering the Kingdom Of Heaven..."
Kathmandu, Nepal
Sunday, January 14th, 2001

1st Trip to Nepal: Letter 1

Okay gang...

We flew past Everest yesterday. Carving a jagged silhouette against a sullen blue sky. Dwarfing the rest of the middle Himalayan hills like black giants.

When we descended, a brown smoke enveloped the plane til we could no longer see the mountains, even the buildings in Kathmandu were obstructed. The smog is worse than a hot day in L.A. and more bleak than an Indiana winter.

Nothing could prepare us for the poverty here. Most only hear about the romantic side of Nepal but the difference between Thailand and Nepal is as great as that between Manhattan and the Bronx or Laguna Beach and the ghetto. I'd forgotten that the third world is a spectrum and we're pushing the edge.

When we stepped out of the airport we faced a fence of nearly a 100 men who seemed to envelop us. We were passed from one to the next after having prepaid for a taxi.

I can honestly say I haven't felt that internally distressed or vulnerable as a woman in years. They all pushed against us and surrounded us or followed us. Not a single female or foreigner from our flight was in sight. We were led to a group of broken down cars, a couple of men took our bags and began loading them into the unmarked car. Another man asked us where we needed to go and said no problem. We got into the car feeling a little relieved until he disappeared and another man jumped into the driver's side and started to drive us away. The car kept sputtering and dying. We finally started moving through the hoard while an old toothless man hung onto mom's window gesticulating that he needed "baksheesh" or money for food.

For a couple of minutes the driver refused to acknowledge our presence. We felt like prisoners. We talked to him and he didn't respond. He didn't turn around or say a word. The road went from bad to worse until we were driving along dirt past crumbling buildings, rickshaw like cars and bikes, no foreigners in sight.

The city looked like a bomb had gone off. I haven't seen an area more poor since we drove through towns in Botswana, Africa years ago.

He finally spoke to us without turning around. Saying he would take us to another hotel.

I thought my mother was going to bite his head off.
"No!" she barked, "Pheasant Lodge."
The whole car shuddered and I winced, nervous that a woman showing such aggression might really tee the guy off.

The road improved slightly until we were in the right part of town...though the roads have no names, no stops, no lanes, and no obvious direction. very very disorienting.

He just stopped the car, told us he didn't know our lodge and said we could find it on our own. As soon as we were out of the taxi, we were again besieged by touts and beggars. Unfortunately, everyone here speaks and understand English very well so you can't talk to each other without being spied on. Spanish became our secret weapon as we stepped into a store to collect ourselves. The door seemed to be an invisible force field that kept the touts away until we stepped on to the street again to get our bearings.

We eventually found the hotel, dank, dark, and dismal as it seemed. "Are we in Russia," I wondered?

We're slowly getting our bearings and becoming more accustomed to Kathmandu. It's rich in sight and sound and the Nepalese are very friendly, very sharp, and have a most funny sense of humor. Unfortunately, you have to stay a little on guard.

I have no idea how to describe Kathmandu. Labyrinthine, dizzying, exotic, medieval. The streets are so narrow it feels the buildings are going to squeeze the sky out and collapse in on us, like something out of the movie "Brazil". There's no rhyme or reason to their direction. A million signs, vendors. It's all dirt and color and sound. Mopeds, tiny cars, bicycles constantly running inches past you. a steady stream of people, if you pause too long you'll be approached by more beggars or talked to by merchants standing in their doors. Alleys moving every which way. A million things happening at once. You could get very lost very fast.
The only place to really breathe is up on the rooftops where you can eat in restaurants or get a good view. It's such a strange anachronism to see internet cafes and westerners walking around wearing North FAce, or a random Italian restaurant in the midst of such strangeness. And the westerners don't seem to acknowledge each other on the street, we just pass by each other as if we were ghosts in a dream that we're merely passing through.

I must go out now before I write a novel,
we may be headed south to the Terai, a subtropical savannah in Nepal where we might ride elephants and see rhinos,
surreal isn't, it?