Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kathmandu It

Last weekend I took a trip up north to explore Nepal, and most specifically, the infamous capitol city of Kathmandu. What do you say about a destination that has been touted as a "hippy hangout" since the 1960's where many came in search of tranquility and nirvana? Or a central hub for trekkers and backpackers as they seek to set down their footprints on Mount Everest? One word: interesting.

I thought that India (specifically Bangalore) contains an abundance of dichotomies: old and new; immaculate and filthy; colorful and gray; ancient and modern--but Kathmandu was all of that and more. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time, but Kathmandu felt more crowded than Bangalore and there was more pollution, more traffic, more condensed tourists areas, and more chaotic energies all around. It felt "primitive" to me and I could constantly feel energies of the past still lingering... like they were still holding onto something unrequited. I'm not sure how to describe it, but the energy just felt "darker". I'm convinced it was the city and its memories. Funny how I felt that way while if you head a few hours up the Himalayan mountains the realities of the modern world melt away as you breathe in the clean mountain air and escape the chaos. Therein lies another of the many dichotomies. Interesting.

I had a chance to travel around the city (not on foot this time, however... had to rent a car
for the day--this is not a walking city, per se) and visited several of the famous Buddhist and Hindu temples. Of note, Swayambhunath Stupa (also known as the monkey temple, and you will realize that from my photo gallery), Boudhanath (which is home to one of the largest "Stupas"--the dome-- in the world), and Pashupati Temple (an ancient Hindu temple). I was able to walk around those areas and snap photos to my heart's content, so that was very nice. I also took a short trip down to the city of Patan, another home to ancient temples in the Lalitpur district. On the way back to my hotel in central Kathmandu, I took some time to visit the busy shopping district of Thamel where I picked up all sorts of souvenirs from Nepal and Tibet. Another extremely busy area, Thamel, like the whole city, is a cacophony of sounds, sights, and smells. Interesting.

Probably my favorite part of the trip was my hotel, the Kantipur Templehouse. The building was a stunning display of Nepalise and Asian architecture, the grounds were immaculately groomed and full of flowers, and the service was excellent the entire time. I took the opportunity each night to eat freshly-prepared foods in the hotel restaurant choosing from Nepalise, Chinese, and Thai cuisine--all delicious! My room was comfortable and spacious, though it took me a couple of days to understand why there would be power outages for hours at a time (we have many outages in India, but generator back-ups so the downtime is minimal), until I was told that the government deliberately cuts power for blocks of time every day to save energy. I eventually adjusted to it and actually enjoyed living my candlelight in the evenings. Interesting.

The weather was not very cooperative for taking a mountain flight up to see Everest and the upper Himalayas (it's off-season), but I got an eyeful of the snow-capped mountains on the flight out, so when you've seen mountains, you've pretty much seen mountains. They were as stunning and beautiful as ever. And I will, to this day, swear I saw what appeared to be Mount Everest (please don't take this dream away from me! :o) It was a wonderful sight to see. Wonderful, and interesting.

So overall, I had an "interesting" weekend! There were many things about Nepal that I loved; and many things that I found fascinating. I do know one thing, however--if I return there again I am bringing three things: a buddy, a backpack, and trekking gear. Everest Base Camp One is only a 12-day round trip journey and my instincts just say one thing about that: "bring it on!"

Now off on my last "big" trip next weekend--Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia--the homestretch of an amazing year. Stay tuned for stories and snaps!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mr. Tood Departs

This past weekend our family of expatriates threw a few parties, had a few dinners, said our goodbyes, and put Todd on the plane back to Minnesota--his contract was completed and was time to return home. What's harder to believe than the fact that Todd has already completed his 12-month assignment for Target India is that I am only six weeks behind him! Yes, I will complete my assignment and head back to Minnesota at the end of October. Funny how time flies...

The events of the weekend included a going away party with a "Minnesota State Fair" theme (everything on a stick!) Tracy and Tom organized this fantastic party with so many of Target India's best team members turning out to wish Todd a fond farewell. There was corn-on-the-cob, homemade corn dogs (yum!), cotton candy, popcorn, cookies, french fries... the list goes on and on. The kids loved the balloons and party favors, and everyone had a chance to get their faces and arms painted (I still have glitter on my hands :o) I felt like I was back on the St. Paul fairgrounds! Sunday brought brunch at Zen, the Asian restaurant at the Leela Palace Hotel--a nice and relaxing time before heading to the airport.

What an amazing year it has been and what an amazing group of expats I've had the privilege to live, work, and play with! Living in our apartment building, Zen Gardens (or affectionately known as the EPC--Expat Central), has been like a college dorm & the Real World meet Indian Melrose Place (I know, that's quite the visual but it's actually quite accurate...) We've all had the unique opportunity to live and work in a foreign country; learn more about the people, culture, and customs that are uniquely Indian; and also take time to travel together, eat together, watch movies, attend concerts, shop, play games, and best of all, laugh together--and SO much laughter!! There's never been a dull moment this entire year.

And so, Mr. Tood (affectionately misspelled by the girl at the food court Domino's Pizza), we will miss your laughter, your smiles, and we will certainly miss watching you do your funky little dance or seeing you twisting your hair... Congratulations on your successful year in India and only the best to you in your new position back at Target Minneapolis. You will be missed.

Now our current expat posse will slowly begin to disband over the next few months... Todd, then me, then Curly (the "other" Michael)... but new recruits are already coming in to replace many of us "old timers" and pick up where we left off. It still seems like just last week when I was getting settled in my apartment, adjusting to Indian food, and looking at my year ahead. This is why it is so important to be present and savor the moments you have.

Life is today--life is now. Live it, Love it, Enjoy it, and Celebrate it! And most importantly, celebrate the people in your life--give thanks often and be grateful. Take the opportunities to appreciate others, for only through your relationships with others do you truly live!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's The People

Today I decided to take another one of "muse walks" and just see what's going on in my neighborhood. I grabbed my camera and decided to walk the "100 foot, CMH loop"--a favorite walking path of the expat walkers (thank you, Todd) which takes you on a nice one-hour walk--approximately 3 miles--around some of the neighborhoods in central Banglore--Indira Nagar, Cambridge Layout, and Ulsoor. On the route you will see everything from cows to coconuts; smell everything from freshly steamed sweet corn to auto rickshaw exhaust; hear everything from fluted Indian music to noisy car horns; an assault on the senses but an amazing experience nonetheless.

After living in India now for over 10 months I must say that my favorite part of this experience has got to be the Indian people. Being a blonde caucasian I stand out easily which still seems to fascinate people--it's like they're not sure who or what I am. They often stare, which at first bothered me. I thought they must think I am a threat to them or that I was trouble, but then I figured out what to do--I smile. When they see me smile I see their faces soften, their eyes glimmer, and their brilliant white teeth peek out of their mouths as a gentle smile comes to their face. It's wonderful!

Everywhere I go I continue to meet amazing people--warm, sincere, polite, and oh so friendly--and when they see my camera they know that I am just as interested in them as they are in me. Kids will come running to me yelling "Hi!" and "Me! Me!", waiting for me to take their picture as they stand and pose, showing me their best angle. Most of the time I don't need to say much... in fact, today I didn't speak a word to any of the people in my pictures--I didn't need to... just that simple smile, hand wave, or a quick salam (done by touching your forehead and bringing your hand down) is all that's needed to communicate in a universal language.

I have only 53 days left in India--and what an adventure it has been. I've still got a couple of trips left--one to Nepal & Katmandu in two weeks (some fresh air in the Himalayas!), as well as a week-long trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with some of the expats--but then I pack up for home at the end of October. So I will continue to soak-in the experiences during my last two months... each experience, each person, each memory another page in my book as my world gets bigger and bigger.

I am so grateful for this experience.