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My first visit to Nepal

Nepal, though one the neighbouring countries, is never an immediate travel destination for most of the Indians. May be the skin colour of the people is not as exotic as the people of the West.  I decided to go there this summer to study the businesses that support fecal sludge reuse (the human waste that comes out of septic tanks of households) in agriculture. But Why Nepal? Nepal is closer to India but is not like India – it is marred by a different level of poverty and administration. Unlike India, it is landlocked and is in a geographically challenging terrain. Though Nepali is the main language, I can get by with my Hindi, unlike in Sri Lanka.

There is no direct flight to Kathmandu from Bangalore, though Bangalore is one of the preferred education destinations for most Nepalese. My flight was via New Delhi. The Air India staff denied the “through check-in” facility for my baggage. So I had to go through the hassle of claiming my baggage and checking it in Delhi – I lost one hour of my time and I was not too worried. But the lady next to me was really exacerbated by the situation she was put into. According to me, these are the challenges we should willingly accept. Situations like these build character!

I went through the security check only to find that I was carrying an exacto knife and a Victorinox multi-tool in my carry on. Somehow the Bangalore security had missed it. I had to forego those knives though I had an established record of not using them to threaten any passengers during the flight from Bangalore to Delhi!

I had reserved a window seat to enjoy the beautiful views of the mountains of Nepal as the flight entered Kathmandu. But my c0-passenger wanted his aid to sit next to him and hence requested to me to sit in 31E instead of 10A. I agreed, thinking of my old parents and the people who had agreed to give up seats to allow me to sit with my parents during the long flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco. As soon as the plane took of, we hit an air pocket and the flight seemed more like a bumpy ride in a jalopy.

The flight lasted for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The beautiful green mountains surrounding a huge plain came into view when the flight descended to 4000 ft. The landing was smooth but the braking was hard. It could be because of the shorter runway. We taxied to a concrete patch. Weather outside was 29 C.  A red decrepit Air India non-AC bus picked us up and dropped us to the entrance of the building which was just 200  meters away. The red bricked building had narrow passages connected like a maze. Blue pennants announcing Nepal glory welcomed us – Nepal – The country with the second largest water source, the country with the largest number of world heritage sites, the country which was never under any foreign rule ! The emigration officer just looked at my passport and let me in without any stamp on my passport. Indians do not need any VISA to visit Nepal.

Going down to the baggage claim, I realized that Nepal airport is not a fancy place with air conditioning. It had fans running everywhere. It took a long time for the bags to arrive while I made some small talk with a lady from Bangalore on her Manasa Sarovar pilgrimage. She insisted that I visit Manasa Sarovar during my stay here in Kathmandu as it would save me a lot of money (INR 1,25,000 to be precise). I am not sure whether I will be able to find any free time even to do any short hikes, if not a grand hike to Annapurna circuit or Manasa Sarovar.

At the exit of the airport, the currency exchange centre had put out a board listing the conversion rates – 87 nepali rupees per dollar, 1.55 per INR. I went to the prepaid taxi booth and asked for a ride to Jhamsikhel.  775 NPR. I had only USD and some INR on me. Paid 520 INR instead of 10 USD I was asked for.

I got out of the airport to get into a rickety white taxi. The driver asked me to hold the lid of the boot while he loaded my bags.  I sat in the front only to realise that there is no way to clamp my seatbelt. The car rode into the town with jerky movements  through the haze of the dust and smoke raised by the vehicles in the front.  A few people were walking or riding motorcycles wearing masks over their nose and mouth to prevent the ill-effects of pollution. Soon, a  rally led by about 40 motorcycles with red pennants blocked the traffic. The taxi driver honked, veered through the oncoming traffic and finally made it to PulChowk.

Kathmandu valley comprises of three cities – Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. My accommodation was located in Jhamsikhel region of Bhaktapur. The roads in Kathmandu region are narrow and are being widened at places. I heard that many buildings will be razed to make way for asphalt. Addresses in Nepal are as abstract as they are in India. The driver had to call the guest house twice to get the directions to reach the place. The directions were all landmark based! It reminded me of my friend Ayan Ghosh’s statement:

I think the reason I love old cities is they have more crosswords. Each crossroad asks questions, makes you stop, take a decision and stick by it. In every lane we discover new things and think what did I miss on the other lanes? I must come back. I must give more time. This is why I have never enjoyed planned cities. They are too linear, too defined. You just walk from one end to the other and you have seen it all. But life is more like an old city than a highway.

I finally reached my guest house located in a narrow alley.  It is a residence converted into a guest house. The adjacent houses are so close to one another that I could  hear the sound of dish washing, TV, children playing, and my neighbours gossiping. It’s a shame that I don’t understand Nepali 🙂

Photos related to my stay in Nepal can be found here on Flickr

My life’s default plan!

Here’s what I have to say about my default plan:

  1. Get my PhD by May 2016
  2. Work as an independent researcher till 2027
  3. Travel around the world on a bicycle from May 2037 till May 2047
  4. Start farming in a rural area near the mountains of Western Ghats or the Himalayas. Teach children when I am not farming. Read when I am not farming or teaching. Write, when I am not farming, teaching or reading 
  5. Hope for a peaceful life and a not so painful death!

What is it that I would miss?

When I go back to India for good, what is it that I will miss the most? It is the public library system. I am very attached to Berkeley Public Library(BPL). I go there at least once a week, sometimes just to ogle at the stacks of books! It is nothing compared to the Gardner Main Stacks at UC Berkeley library, but BPL is still a great public library. I can check out up to 50 items. Through Link+, I have access to all California public library books. I choose the book online and it is delivered to BPL for pick up  I can now borrow audio books and ebooks too. With a valid California ID, one can walk into any public library, become a member instantly, and borrow books that moment.

This reminds me of my childhood days back in Chitradurga, my visits to the public library named as (Sri Krishna Rajendra Library). The library was attached to my preschool – Rotary Bal Bhavan. On Saturdays we were allowed to play in the shared compound. I was not too curious about the library then. When I was in 7th grade, I became more observant of the reading habits of my cousins from Bangalore. During their visit, I went to my public library where they borrowed books under my father’s name. I also decided to try out a book. If I remember correctly, it must have been some Hardy Boys book. I looked at the last page, some 223 pages in all, 14 days borrowing period. That means I had to read 223/14 = 16 pages everyday!

Reading English books was a torture. My medium of instruction was English but that did not help me much with my spoken English or the ease of reading English books. I was good with basic grammar (we were taught eight parts of speech, and few tenses, nothing more). But my vocabulary sucked and I was not familiar with the writing style of English novels. Each page took me close to 15 minutes. I forgot the names of the characters. Names confused me as the author would use first or last name depending upon the situation. It was hard for me to relate the names with gender. I wrote down all the names of the character, the mutual relationships on a paper and frequently referred to them. I never finished a single book till I reached college.

When I was in Bangalore for my 11th and 12th grade education, I visited Shankar Circulation Library, a private library near 8th cross, Malleswaram, with my cousins. My first English book I read end to end was some Tintin comic book. I don’t remember  its name. I was 16 and I did not understand that comic fully. My classmate VIkas Raykar was a great inspiration. He had many but different books at his place and no television. I was very surprised to find someone who liked books more than television.

It’s been 12 years since I stopped watching television. I commuted for two years on my bicycle to Arghyam listening to podcasts and audio books everyday! Daniel Bachhuber introduced me to Radiolab and Google Reader! I soon got hooked to podcasts and RSS feeds! My life is filled with books and podcasts now. I read when I have free time. I read to procrastinate my research. My reading interest has now expanded to  fiction, non fiction, humour, history, and comics! Ever since I have discovered audio books, my life is filled with more joy! BTW the book “How to read a book” has been amazingly helpful!

As you can see, I have a lot of catching up to do! If you started reading at a very early age, you are fortunate. But I don’t envy you. There are many people in my country who will die without reading even a word their entire life! (30% of Indian population is still illiterate). I now have friends on campus and outside who keep inspiring me with their reading zeal. I find goodreads more interesting than facebook for that reason.

I am in love with Beyondpod and Poweramp apps on my android. Beyondpod allows me to download all my podcast subscriptions (link my podcast subscription here). Poweramp provides me with a great interface to play my audio books and audio files. Coolreader is my favourite ebook reading app on my android tablet.

There is one other important aspect of my current life in Berkeley which I will miss a lot, may be the most. It is the conversations I get to have with people here.  I am almost afraid to go back to India for this reason. What if I don’t find similar set of people back in India? May be that is what life is all about! Trying to find familiar things in unfamiliar places! Even if I decide to stay in USA, my social circle will dissolve soon after grad school! I should learn to cope with change!

Any Human Heart – A great book about the realities of life!

I was weeping yesterday while biking to campus listening to “Any Human Heart“. I finished reading the book today. I must admit that this is one of the amazing books I have read in my life. I was moved by almost every situation of the life of Logan Mountstuart (LMS), the protagonist of the novel. I empathized with LMS. The writing style of William Boyd brings out a very true self of LMS which is more or less a reflection of most human beings.

I want to mention two things from his journal. First, the scene when he looks at the pictures of Stella and Freya, LMS’ dead daughter and wife, and thinks about all the happy moments of his past. He is happy that his life was filled with such joy and happiness. At the same time he feels he will never be that happy again in future. It made me wonder, what is it like to reach a point in life where future is just a constant decline of everything – health, wealth, love, happiness, and friendship! I am living my life with a huge hope of a better tomorrow. I am not sure what it is to live a life of utter hopelessness!

Second, LMS talks about his vision of future – had he imagined his old age to be this way? I am now thinking about my vision of my own future. What do I see? May be I should give it some serious thought and see whether I can align my actions to reach the place where I want to me. Sending email to myself or creating time capsules is a good way to link my past and future. I will soon start working on that!

In any case, the book was melancholic! I felt privileged to have access to someone’s intimate thoughts, thoughts that are very similar to mine. I wish I had the courage to write them all down with the rawness the author has done! Love, friendship, betrayal, conceit, deceit – the main ingredients of life, are usually tempered by opportunity, kindness, and empathy to form a life story worth telling! Death of LMS seemed like the death of a close friend, the death of my inner self!

If I consider the average life expectancy of an Indian, I am through 40% of my life. My 33rd birthday is not faraway! May be it is time to take stock of my blessings, my goals, and start acting on them! It is amazing how a book, a story can inspire us all. I will be more committed to my journal writing. I will try to keep my blog posted with my thoughts about life and my struggle to fix myself! I don’t want to look back at life and repent. Yes, I may not be able to take right decisions at every point in my life. But I want the sum of my good and bad decisions to be positive towards the end. But as we all know, Life has a will of its own!

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi