Friday, November 10, 2006

Peace at last?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

King sacks government, declares absolute power. A royal coup in Nepal; democracy suspended and political leaders arrested, phone and Internet links have been disrupted. Watch this space...

For more updates, follow nepalnews.net.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

I had some good news from Nepal this week. My friend, formerly my tour guide to the 'medieval city' of Bhaktapur (see some pictures of this magical place here) has found work to do for a school for underprivileged kids in Nepal. It's good that he's found something which really
fulfills him, and it sounds like a great project. (He also claims I inspired him, which is rather
flattering and I'm not quite sure how to take - I just tried some ideas out after all, and gave them some money to help out with them. We'll see. But I like the idea that he is working on now!)

As an educated man, he also doubles - or is that trebles? - as a translator, reading and writing letters and emails for friends and people in the community, in English and Nepali. (This reminds me a bit of how, in Britain in the age before mass literacy, communities such as villages would depend on one or two educated people to communicate with the outside world - whether by reading the news or pamphlets, or by composing and reading letters This was as recently as the middle of the nineteenth century ; census forms from before that time are full of Xs rather than signatures, as so many people were unable to write their own names - reading a little genealogy can be instructive! )

Back to the school and paper projects...
I'm starting to see all of these ideas as being like seeds of growth. The more seeds are sown, the greate the chances that eventually at least some of them will flower.

In other news, there may be a ceasefire there - both sides seem to want to find a way out of this impasse, but from the point of view of diplomacy, maintaining the initiative for either side, and 'face', combined with a lack of trust, this is difficult for both sides.

Winning the peace. 'Peace is not just the absence of war. Enduring peace will not come just with the cessation of hostilities, it has to touch the mind and spirit of the people with means to ensure social and economic justice. This may be the reason why peace in Nepal has remained so elusive, and with each day that passes the culture of violence takes root in a hitherto peaceful society. '

Some Gurkhas win the right to be British. 'Dhana Lal Gurung was captured by the Japanese in 1941 while he was fighting for the British in Malaya. Taken to a prisoner of war camp in Singapore, he spent four years breaking rocks, carrying sacks of salt and enduring immense hardship ... “It was bad enough to have suffered in the POW camps,” says a still-sprightly 86-year-old Dhana Lal, “but when we found that that the white prisoners received much more compensation than us, that really hurt.” '

We came, we saw, and we fled. What's it like to live in a war zone? 'What happened to us happens to the people of Bajura every day, and they get it from both sides'

Some stories of the disappeared.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Namaste! is a nice weblog about an American Christian family who spent some time living in Nepal. Please take a look at the photo gallery; also the piece 'The Danger of Getting Too Close'.
This struck a chord with me. In the short time that I have been associated with Nepal, I have come to empathise with the sentiments in this piece. The Nepalese are desperate to improve their lives, and see the West as a sort of paradise, where we can cure Aids, cure cancer. A Nepalese friend had a hard time understanding that we could not cure many diseases in the Western world, and there is poverty and suffering here too. The West is no paradise (for one thing, the strong sense of community which Nepalese people live with - where everyone helps everyone else - is totally lacking, which I think is one reason why stress and depression seem to be more widespread in the Western world - I started this discussion some time ago as to reasons why this might be).
The Nepalese are intelligent people; linguistically, mathematically. But their world is totally different from the West. Everyone seems to want to jump on the bandwagon of charity; but like giving to beggars, this ultimately helps nobody to break the cycle of dependence.
To stay sane in Nepal, you need to keep a chip of ice in your heart.
Some good articles in the Nepali Times: check out this piece on Maoist radio, and this piece on the human rights of the Kumari (the little girl who becomes a living goddess until puberty - 'How to reconcile a little girl’s rights with the need to protect a national tradition').

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Update :- Nepal Handmade Paper Products is still around. Please check the website.

Plep has been invited back to a more extensive trip of Nepal in 2005. Whether I got or not all depends on the political situation. Please keep following the Nepali Times and Nepal News as there have been numerous strikes and actions in Nepal, including a recent blockade of the capital by the Maoists for a period of one week (which collapsed under national and international pressure; yet again the Nepalese people showed their mettle); and riots targeting the Muslim community following the beheading of Nepalese migrant workers in Iraq (possibly the Maoists were involved in this two).

Also in the news - the campaign by several ex-Gurkha soldiers for UK citizenship.

I will try and keep this blog updated with news and current events as I still have an ongoing interest in events in this country.

If you are able to, I can recommend Jonathan Gregson's 'Blood Against the Snows' as an excellent primer on the history of the royal family of the country, from its origins in the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley by the ruler of Gorkha in the 18th century, through the plots of the Shahs and the Ranas of the 19th, to the democratic reforms of Kings Tribhuvan and Birendra, and the royal massacre of 2001.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Many Faces of Lord Ganesh, by Shashi Tharoor.
'Ganesh, or Ganapathi as we prefer to call him in the South, sits impassively on my bedroom shelf, in multiple forms of statuary,
stone, metal and papier miche. There is nothing incongruous about this; he is used to worse, appearing as he does on innumerable calendars, posters, trademarks and wedding invitation cards. Paunchy, full-bodied,
long-trunked (though with one broken tusk), attired in whatever costume the artist fancies (from ascetic to astronaut), Ganesh, riding his way across Indian hearts on a rat, is arguably Hinduism's most popular divine figure.'
'Few auspicious occasions are embarked upon without first seeking Ganesh's blessing. His principal attribute in Hindu mythology - a quality that flows from both his wisdom and his strength - is as a remover of obstacles to the fulfilment of desires. No wonder everyone wants Ganesh on his side before launching any important project, from starting a factory to acquiring a wife. My own courtship violated time-honoured Indian rules about caste, language, region, age and parental approval; but when we got married, my wife and I had an embossed red Ganesh adorning the front of our wedding invitations ... '
'... In late September 1995, word spread around the world that statues of Ganesh had begun drinking milk. In some cases, statues of his divine parents, Shiva and Parvati, were also reported to be imbibing these liquid offerings, but Ganesh it was who took the elephant's share.Early on Thursday September 21, the rumours started in Delhi that
the gods were drinking milk; it was said that an idol of Ganesh in a suburb of the capital had swallowed half a cup. Within hours, the frenzy had spread around the globe as reports came in of temples and private domestic shrines in places as far removed as Long Island and Hong Kong witnessing the same phenomenon. At the Vishwa temple in London's Indian-dominated Southall district, a 15-inch statue was said to be drinking hundreds of spoons of milk offerings; the august London Times reported on its front page that "in 24 hours 10,000 saw it drink". At the Geeta Bhavan temple in Manchester, prodigious quantities were ingested by a three-inch silver statue of Ganesh. Hard-bitten British tabloid journalists, looking for a fraud to debunk, filmed and photographed the phenomenon and professed themselves flabbergasted. "I gazed in awe," confessed the man from the Daily Star; his rival from the Sun "gawped in disbelief" ... '
Thanks, Dinesh!

Back home. The journey back took around 36 hoursin the end. Will be back to normal in the next couple of days.

The trip was recorded at NePlep.

Some final thoughts :-

Chess is very popular in Nepal, and becoming moreso, among young and old. You see people playing in cafes, on street corners. This is a good thing. Chess, of course, originated in South Asia.

Shopping for Buddhas. Extract from Jeff Greenwald's great book about his life in Nepal.

'Kathmandu's First Escalator'.
'The second mob waited at the escalator's summit, delighting in the huge joke of relative motion. These sophisticated voyeurs - many of them seasoned escalator veterans themselves - shouted with glee as each of the hapless riders was propelled, panicked and staggering, from the apparently motionless safety of the escalator onto the utterly unexpected menace presented by stable ground. '

Letter from a Lhasa Merchant to His Wife.Essential reading.
'A beautiful novel from Nepal, translated to English without missing any substance in all means.'
'The novel is introduced with the translator's special note. It is in the form of al letter a Newar merchant in Lhasa to his wife in Kathmandu. Its spiritual theme is that the letter didn't burn in the
flame that consumed her remains.'

The political situation in Nepal is a big challenge. So take all this with a pinch of salt and as the observations of an outsider :-
After the democratisation of 1990, both leftwing and relatively conservative parties had a shot at government - possibly due to lack of experience, and clashes of personality, people have lost faith in the parties. Both the Maoists and the new king (after the massacre of the royal family) have turned this to their advantage, to push their own brands of absolutism, and real democracy is
becoming increasingly marginalised. Even the parties' agitation (or 'stir') against the 'unified command' (read - militarised government) is the party leaders is not in doubt (many of them spent time in prison), but their
ability to set aside their differences is.
The Nepali Times is the paper which does by far the best job of covering Nepalese politics and society.
Each society is different, but there may be lessons to be learned from Nepal for other parts of the world : democracy cannot
be imposed until a country is ready for it (after all, it took Britain, France and America many centuries and much struggle to even start the process, which is still ongoing, uneven and fragile).
Be wary of the outside powers - Are the US and UK trying to use Nepal to encircle China as part of the new doctrine of pre-emption? What is China's motivation (the Maoists claim to despise China for embracing capitalism, but then again the
Maoists do a lot of decidedly un-socialist things themselves)? What about the Maoist connection to the much-feared Naxalites of India (particularly violent leftwing terrorists, influenced as much by Nietzsche as by Marx; their methods and ideology are quite similar to the Nepalese Maoists)?
Religion is an important component of the culture of most countries, but perhaps Nepal will be well on the road to development when the neediest do not feel the need to sacrifice goats at the Kali Temple when they could use them as food, or donate money that they really need themselves to temples for festivals. A recent report (covered in the Nepalese paper media) cited excessive spending on temples and religious festivals as one of many reasons for poverty and lack of development among Newars (so in this case, religion is quite literally the 'opium of the people'!).

'Sherpa who had worked on a trek with me had come to my hotel for his salary, and unwisely, I had paid him in view of the hotel staff. After he had gone, one of them had approached me; "Why do you give this man money? He is a dirty peasant. I am
educated, give me some money also…" It is hard to explain to someone when logic goes that way. '

Mixing Maoism and tourism.

Friday, November 14, 2003

This really probably is the last update here before I return home and to plep!

Last night was interesting. I had the chance to visit another Nepali home, and a very different perspective from the local cadre I visited a few days ago. I was invited by a member of Nepal's small Muslim community, who runs a shop at the hotel where I'm staying.

Islam came to Nepal with the Moghul conquest of India, and even reached the Kathmandu Valley. More recently, with the partition of the Indian subcontinent and particularly the war in Kashmir, Kashmiri Muslims have settled in Nepal, joining the local Muslim community. My host was a Kashmiri, and his wife a Nepali Muslim. Like many of the Kashmiris in Nepal, he is a trader; the Kashmiri community has opened businesses and thrived here. In fact, Nepal is a good place to come to get Kashmiri textiles - not as cheap as you would buy them in Kashmir, but probably much safer.

As it's Ramadan, they were unable to break their fast until sundown, and then food. Delicious meals shared by everybody (in the tradition of Islamic hospitality). Their home consists of one floor of a modern apartment block, in a central but quiet part of town. His wife sold me some of the beads she makes with the women's collective in Patan, and then family photos - brothers and sisters in Manchester and London, and a nephew in Chicago (married to a blonde American!). A picture of Tower Bidge on the way. They are of the liberal 'old school' of Islam - greatly disturbed by how formerly sensible friends have joined the ranks of the devout, the 'greening' of Pakistan, and the rise of other forms of fundamentalism - the Hindu supremacism of the BJP in India, the Marxist fundamentalism of the Maoists and Tamil Tigers (as opposed to the more benign Marxism of the local cadres in places like Bhaktapur, who are working to develop their communities), and what George Soros called the 'supremacist ideology' of the US. All these forms of fundamentalism and intransigence feeding off each other.
He was more sceptical about the prospects for democracy in Nepal than other Nepalese I've met - his position being that education should come before full democracy, and Nepal isn't ready for that until problems of illiteracy, women's equality, the caste system etc. have been addressed.

Eid in Nepal. Part of a site on Nepalese religion.

Today - a good look at the Himalayas, halfway to the Chinese border.

Cultural note - many Hindu women in Nepal wear nose studs, but Newari women never do.

The wealthiest people I've seen in Nepal have been ex-Gurkha soldiers (British army, although increasingly used by other nations, such as Brunei). Despite the controversy over Gurkha pensions being less than British army pensions, they are still way above the Nepalese average, and the Gurkhas have been able to build huge, beautiful homes (which would easily cost half a million pounds or more in the UK - here they cost around 20,000 - 50,000 US$).

Lovesick, homesick or simply sick of Tibet.

Students forced to work for Maoists.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Soros to campaign against Bush. His 'life's work'.
Via dumbmonkey.

Pleasant morning, visiting a Vishnu temple and some local villages. The carving of Vishnu was being fed milk from the temple's sacred cow.

Tomorrow (Friday) will be busy - more walks in the countryside, followed by a Nepali cultural evening. Saturday I will be heading back to the Kali Temple. So, I may not get chance to update as I will leave early Sunday and the journey back home will take approximately 24 hours (including the stopover).

Therefore, this may be the last update here - check plep early next week!

Bookshops in Nepal will often buy back books at half price. So, you can buy two books, sell them back, and buy another.

Nepali Songs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A good day. Visited the old Newari town of Bungamati and caught some air in the hills. More about Bungamati Temple here. Bungamati is another of those little medieval towns built around courtyards and ponds, where everything (and I do mean everything) is done out in the open. An interesting visit, followed by a pleasant lunch.

Bungamati: The life world of a Newar community explored through the natural and social life of water.

As well as being a separate ethnic group, the Newaris are considered to be a caste in Hinduism. Brahmins and Chhetriyas are the two highest castes in Nepali Hinduism, but as the main group in the vicinity of the largest city and most developed part of the country, the Newaris have much of the political power here. The upper castes still have a lot of power in the countryside, however, as they are the largest landowning groups.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Templed out. Today did a tourist thing and visited Pashupatinath Shiva Temple, Swayambhunath Stupa and Boudha Stupa. Of course, every visitor to Nepal has to visit these places but there's a not-so-subtle tourist trap element to it all.

More tomorrow, or Thursday.

'This is not a school, it is a cemetery.' (Nepali Times) 'Bhubaneswar Sharma, a grade four student, did not know who had come to his school that day and wasn’t worried. A while later, he learned that security forces had arrived in the nearby village, but the rebels convinced those present that it was their comrades. The Maoists had already begun their ‘people’s resistance program’ after ending all classes. The rebel’s area commander Agni Sharma, who was the chief guest, left immediately after the program, probably after being tipped off about the army’s presence. Suddenly, soldiers in civvies opened fire inside the school compound. There was pandemonium with students trying to flee or hide below their desks. Four students and six Maoists were killed. The army says rebels tried to pass themselves off as students by using their uniforms ... '

Fighting for a foreign queen. 'Of the 246 young men gathered at a school field in Those Bazar here recently, only one or two stand a chance of fulfilling their dream of fighting in a foreign army. The are two more rounds of selection, and the physical tests are gruelling. Some 25,000 Nepalis appeared for the selection this year, of these not more than 230 are finally recruited into Britain’s Gurkha regiments. '

Refugees doubt the new repatriation agreement between Nepal and Bhutan will ease their way home.
'Shanti Ram Acharya has 12 dependants, all living at Khudunabari camp. Though all of them have been ‘lucky’ to make it to Category I (bonafide Bhutani), he is having second thoughts about applying for voluntary repatriation that begins on 15 February 2004.
“We wish we could go back, but there are a lot of uncertainties. Yes, we have been assured that we will be given citizenship immediately after repatriation, but what about land, houses and property that we lost?” he asks.'

“The UN is ready to help in any way.”
'Matthew Kahane has spent 33 years within the United Nations. The recently-appointed UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal talked to Nepali Times about how the world body could help broker peace in Nepal, oversee Bhutani refugee repatriation and restart development.'

Unified command deployed in highways.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Today was an interesting day.

First of all, another trip to Bhaktapur and a visit to a Nepali home. The house belonged to a new friend active in local politics and development projects in the town. To describe the home :- a 200 year old cottage in a square that is so typical of Newari towns. Built on three levels - the store room on the ground floor, the kitchen on the first floor and the bedroom on the second floor. Small rooms (to conserve heat I think - my last house was of a similar size and age). The levels were connected by uneven wooden staircases, rather difficult to navigate in the dark. Cup of tea and a chat about politics (Nepalese and British), the chances of the CPN (UML), China, issues of caste and race (caste is always a touchy subject in Nepal), Sri Lanka, the war in Iraq, tourism in Nepal (despite my earlier misgivings about beggars etc., he was convinced tourism was a good thing for Nepal, both economically and culturally), etc. Useful and informative.

Then a trip to a small-scale rice paper manufacturer, providing employment for about ten people. They make the most amazing pieces of craft as well, especially things such as pocket diaries (with every page different). Also kites - kiteflying is a very popular pastime here. Also recycled art. All painstakingly handpainted. Very reminiscent of some of the items for sale at Indigo Arts. I'm convinced that many people would pay good money for this sort of thing, and it'd be good to see them getting a web presence soon.

Then up into the foothills for a good look at a fourth century Vishnu temple , then back home.

The Newari pagoda style was copied by China and Japan. One interesting point - temples for most of the Hindu gods are square (I think Jung saw the square as an expression of wholeness, or the Self). The major exception is Krishna, who can be housed in octagonal temples.

I'll be back in the UK on 17th November (another long stopover in Abu Dhabi), though will try to update again before then.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

La Folia. 'An effort to list all derivations and interpretations of the famous theme La Folia.' Via MeFi.

The Wingnut Debate Dictionary. Thanks due to madamjujujive.
One notable cultural difference between Nepal and Western countries: 'comfort' words such as 'please' or 'thankyou' are rarely used (there is a word for thankyou - 'dhanyabad' - but it is generally used rarely, and on quite formal occasions). This isn't rude, it's just that the cultural 'rules of conduct' are quite different. (Nepalis who speak English use such words with foreigners, presumably to make them feel comfortable, but unless their English is very good, they aren't always sure about the context of those words, and can seem a little bemused when they are used in return; this is a concept which goes beyond mere dictionary translation).

5000 years of Indian art. A series of articles and images on Indian art and aesthetics.

The concept of beauty in India.

The unparallelled beauty of the goddess Parvati.

To those who may have been concerned about the animal sacrifices yesterday : the whole procedure (the animal was throttled, then had its throat cut, in the open air) was over very quickly, in a second in most cases. This is presumably more humane than factory farming, or foxhunting.

Radio Nepal.

Nepalese killed in shelling in Jammu-Kashmir; Maoists killed in skirmishes; Nepalis held in USA.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

May not be around for the next couple of days - more daytrips planned.

Today I went up into the Himalayas. The ethnic groups are generally different from the Newaris of the Kathmandu Valley; whereas Newaris
have a distinctive, communal style of architecture where houses
are built around the town square, other ethnic groups live in houses
which are more spread out. There is also a distinctive style of painted houses, somewhat reminiscent of the painted houses of Africa.

Painted houses of Nepal and India.

On the way back, there was time to visit the Kali Festival where Hindus from all over the Kathmandu Valley of every race come to worship Kali, the goddess of destruction. There were long queues of people sacrificing fruit, flowers, rice, spirits, chickens and goats to the goddess. Apart from the heavy security presence, and large crowds in front of the temple, the atmosphere was quite peaceful.

Festivals of Nepal.

Finally, a visit to a Tibetan refugee camp, built in 1960 (the main business being fair trade carpets).

Madhubhani painting, 'an on-line exhibit of folk paintings by women artists who live in the Madhubani district of northern India' (but also in parts of Nepal).

Janakpur Women's Development Centre. 'Janakpur is now famous for its colorful paintings on paper, yet this "tradition" began in the first days of the JWDC when, under a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, a talented group of women were selected to learn how to transfer their wall designs to paper. They travelled from their villages to the Center in Janakpur where, without losing their originality, they developed skills in composition as well as in the use of color and line.'

Far from home. The Gurkhas in the British Army.

Nepali Times: Preserving Gurkha history.

The MoD's history of the Gurkhas. 'Robert Clive's decisive victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 firmly established British supremecy in India thereby opening the door for expansion of the Honourable East India Company. Some 10 years after Plassey the British started to come into contact with a unique and vigorous power on the northern borders of its newly won territories in Bengal and Bihar. This power was the city-state of Gorkha led by its dynamic King Prithwi Narayan Shah. Gorkha was a feudal hill village in what is now western Nepal, the village from which the Gurkha takes its name. Prithwi Narayan Shah and his successors grew so powerful that they overran the whole of the hill country from the Kashmir border in the west to Bhutan in the east. Eventually, as a result of boundary disputes and repeated raids by Gurkha columns into British territory, the Governor General declared war on Nepal in 1814. After two long and bloody campaigns a Peace Treaty was signed at Sagauli in 1816. '

Each year, 20,000 young men compete for just 200 places in the Gurkha Regiment.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Tomorrow I will be going for a day trip into the Himalayas! So, I'll update again in a few days.

There are many, many Internet outlets in Kathmandu. The connections are mostly pretty slow and a bit spotty, but there's no problem getting online. A lot of them also serve as 'phone booths' (in the one I'm sitting in at the moment, there's a queue of people who want to use a phone to call relatives); and also photocopying and laminating shops.

As everyone knows, Nepal used to form part of the Asian coastline, until what is now the Indian subcontinent collided with the Asian mainland, throwing up the Himalayan range. Ammonite fossils from this distant past can still be found in the Himalayas. These ammonites have a religious significance in parts of the Himalayas.

The Himalayas and Nepal: Some Visual Evidences of the Himalayan Formation. 'Eternal Flame of Muktinath Temple '
'There is a blue flame burning inside a Buddhist temple situated above the Kali Gandaki valley. It has been continuously burning for many years. The people call this flame "the Eternal Flame of God". '
'This is actually a natural gas seepage coming from the layer of slate that formed ammonite fossils. The gas was formed when the slate layers were compressed by tectonic forces and leaked through the rocks. '

Saligrams (or ammonites). 'Sri Saligrams is considered the direct symbol of Lord Vishnu, They are found only in Mukti chhetra and Damodar Kunda (north-west of Nepal). '

Prince Charles: I am royal at centre of rumours. With a little intelligent Googling, it's not too hard to work out what these rumours are.

Tomorrow I will be going for a day trip into the Himalayas! So, I'll update again in a few days.

There are many, many Internet outlets in Kathmandu. The connections are mostly pretty slow and a bit spotty, but there's no problem getting online. A lot of them also serve as 'phone booths' (in the one I'm sitting in at the moment, there's a queue of people who want to use a phone to call relatives); and also photocopying and laminating shops.

As everyone knows, Nepal used to form part of the Asian coastline, until what is now the Indian subcontinent collided with the Asian mainland, throwing up the Himalayan range. Ammonite fossils from this distant past can still be found in the Himalayas. These ammonites have a religious significance in parts of the Himalayas.

The Himalayas and Nepal: Some Visual Evidences of the Himalayan Formation. 'Eternal Flame of Muktinath Temple '
'There is a blue flame burning inside a Buddhist temple situated above the Kali Gandaki valley. It has been continuously burning for many years. The people call this flame "the Eternal Flame of God". '
'This is actually a natural gas seepage coming from the layer of slate that formed ammonite fossils. The gas was formed when the slate layers were compressed by tectonic forces and leaked through the rocks. '

Saligrams (or ammonites). 'Sri Saligrams is considered the direct symbol of Lord Vishnu, They are found only in Mukti chhetra and Damodar Kunda (north-west of Nepal). '

Prince Charles: I am royal at centre of rumours. With a little intelligent Googling, it's not too hard to work out what these rumours are.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Yesterday I went to Patan and Bhaktapur, the other two big towns in the Kathmandu Valley. Bhaktapur in particular was well worth the visit; it's a few miles from Kathmandu, a medieval town fairly off the beaten track (no electricity). Patan had many many interesting temples and other features too, as you can see. My guide was a secondary school student in his twenties, originally from Lumbini, in the far south of Nepal. He had moved to the Kathmandu Valley to study and work. (And they are feeling the effects of the war and the subsequent downturn in visitors to Nepal).

In the Kathmandu Valley, there are many many children who make a living selling trinkets or acting as guides (yesterday I was followed around by a small boy who was exceptionally bright and knew a great deal about the different styles of architecture and temple in Patan; he could also speak five languages). Of course, this brings in good money for their families, but shouldn't they be in school?

One interesting freature of Newari architecture is the way the towns have developed - essentially as town squares which grew into one another.
In central Kathmandu, there is a street basically devoted to selling meat and fish, somewhat reminiscent of the medieval shambles.

The Newari style is not the only type of architecture in the Kathmandu Valley; Indian and Tibetan styles are also very much in evidence.

Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust.

Patan Museum.

The Legend of the Yeti.

Yeti@Home. 'YETI@Home is a scientific experiment that harnesses the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the search for giant ape-like creatures (YETI). We, the YETI team members who founded this experiment, are experts in the field of cryptozoology (the study of animals that do not exist).'

242 species of birds found in Banke.

Americans in Nepal warn of rebels; UK army chief on Nepal visit ; Maoists say US making Nepal a base to watch Indian, China.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

'The photo gallery features images from Nepal. This gallery will grow with time to provide a window to the various dimensions of Nepal - cultural, social, religious, ethnic, and geographic. As the photo gallery evolves, we will provide background information for each image. ' Via NepalNet, 'an electronic networking for sustainable development in Nepal'.

Tomorrow I am going to visit Patan, and will hopefully be back online in a couple of days.

Nepal: Bringing the bank to the village. Microfinance in Nepal. 'How would a $40 loan change your life? For Sabitra Karna, such a loan transformed her hardscrabble existence into a future filled with new hopes and possibilities.'
'Three years ago, Ms. Karna joined the Ram Janaki Women Centre in Kolaharuwa Village on the plains of Sunsari District in eastern Nepal. She borrowed 3,000 Nepali rupees ($39) and bought two calves.'
'After raising the calves, she sold them for 5,000 Nepali rupees ($65) and used the profits to care for her three children and build a small hut on borrowed land. '
'Her loan repaid, her confidence strengthened, and her creditworthiness established, Ms. Karna is now thinking big ... '

The Newari alphabet. 'The Ranjana script, which is also known as Kutila or Lantsa, is one of the many alphabets derived from the Brahmi script, and has existed since at least 953 AD. It was used until the mid-20th century for ceremonially important manuscripts and is still used for posters, wedding invitations, greeting cards and banners.
' It is one of the few syllabic alphabets in the world which is actually widely used (other examples are Khmer and the Japanese hiragana and katakana. Via Omniglot, a guide to written language.

The story of the saree. 'The Indian Saree (a.k.a. Sari, Seere, Sadi) boasts of oldest existence in the sartorial world. It is more than 5000 years old! It is mentioned in Vedas, the oldest existing (surviving) literature (3000 B.C.) Patterns of dress change throughout the world now and then but, the Sari has survived because it is the main wear of rural India. 75% of the population (now a billion as per official estimate) wear versatile sari. We can certainly call this cloth versatile because it could be worn as shorts, trousers, flowing gown-like or convenient skirt-wise--all without a single stitch!'

NCM Business Magazine: Microfinance in Nepal. 'During the last decade of the 20th century, it has been accepted that micro-finance is one of the most significant contributors on poverty alleviation. In the developing country like Nepal, it has no doubt a prominent role, to accomplish the same mission. It was first used in Bangladesh by a person named "Younus" who used to provide loans to the poor people without any collateral and the interest rate was much less. The repayments were available to over 97% of the total loan. Even the interest would be provided as crops and fruits. '
'Micro-finance is the banking term used to refer to different methods for giving poor people access to financial services. More than 20 years' experience of micro-financing around the world shows that poor people with little education are reliable borrowers who invest wisely and are willing to save if given the chance. '

Historical and philosophical origins of Tibet. 'THE SUBLIME Avalokiteshvara, having conferred layperson's vows upon a magical monkey, dispatched him to meditate in the snowy realm of Tibet. There, beside a black rock, while he was devotedly contemplating loving-kindness, compassion, enlightenment-thought and the profound Dharma of emptiness, a rock-ogress, suffering on account of her karma, approached him, and before she departed, made manifold indications of her carnal desire for him. Later, disguised as a woman, the ogress said to the monkey, 'Let us be married!' But the monkey replied, 'As I am a disciple of the sublime Avalokiteshvara, it would contravene my vows to become your husband'. 'If you reject me, I will kill myself!' exclaimed the rock-ogress as she threw herself at the monkey's feet. On rising, she addressed these words to him ... '

World Tibet Network News: "Some 3 Thousand Tibetans enter Nepal annually". (More at Tibet.ca.).

Indigo Gallery, Kathmandu. 'Twenty years ago Indigo Gallery was founded to foster the traditional arts of Nepal, particularly the Newar school of painting as exemplified in the ancient scrolls known in Newari as "paubha". A recent expansion into an old Rana/Newar private home has enabled the gallery to expand into the field of sculpture, taking advantage of gallery owner James Giambrone's 25 years of experience working with the traditional bronze casters of Patan. The gallery has hosted exhibitions of modern painting, sculpture, photos and textiles; recently the gallery has added a series of evening slide shows and lectures on diverse subjects pertaining to the art and culture of the Himalayan region. We have recently moved into new space and now carry bronze and repousse works of art, photographs, Wangden Carpets and ethnographic arts. '

Kathmandu Post: A celebrity saint. Article about Mother Teresa.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Community Arts Project: Readings in Public Art. From around the world, from the UK and US to Kathmandu.
Banknotes of Nepal.
Great pictures of the Himalayas. 'My name is Mogens Larsen and I´ve been trekking four times in the Himalayas - two times in India and two times in Nepal. The photos you see on this site are all from these treks. '

Gods and goddesses of Nepal. Indra, Bhairab, Saraswati and the rest.

Introduction to Hinduism. Pictures and articles about the major deities.

More on the caste system in Nepal.

The Kathmandu Post. A 'bandh' is a general strike; for the last two days, the Maoists have organised a 'bandh' in the Pokhara area.

Nepal News.

One more thing of note - much of Nepal is without electricity, even in the Kathmandu area. To a Westerner's eyes, the sight of looking out over such a large city at dusk and seeing much of it dark is strangely eerie.

Oh, and the Nepalese currency is impressive-looking indeed - images of the 'pink rupee' here.

Another update in a few days!

The Caste System in Nepal. 'One integral aspect of Nepalese society is the existence of the Hindu caste system, modeled after the ancient and orthodox Brahmanic system of the Indian plains. The caste system did not exist prior to the arrival of Indo-Aryans. Its establishment became the basis of the emergence of the feudalistic economic structure of Nepal: the high-caste Hindus began to appropriate lands-- particularly lowlands that were more easily accessible, more cultivatable, and more productive--including those belonging to the existing tribal people, and introduced the system of individual ownership ... '
Kathmandu Durbar Square. Article and images. 'The Kathmandu Durbar Square holds the palaces of the Malla and Shah kings who ruled over the city. Along with these palaces, the square also surrounds quadrangles revealing courtyards and temples. The square is presently known as Hanuman Dhoka, a name derived from the statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, near the entrance of the palace ... '

Greetings from Kathmandu.

The trip over was quite pleasant, despite six hour stopover in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi airport was pleasant enough, and rather manic even at 2 in the morning (something to do with Ramadan perhaps?), but it was a stopover I could have done without.

Anyway, here I am in Kathmandu, in an Internet shop near Durbar Square, recovered from the flight and also, it seems, from the cold which was bugging me for about a month before the holiday. This happened before, when I moved to Australia - possibly moving to a warmer climate has something to do with it. It's about 20 degrees C here, pleasantly warm, and sunny.

One highlight of the trip so far was the view of the Himalayas from the flight in. Sort of amazing, to see the snow-clad peaks rising from the clouds in the distance. Other interesting things of note - cows wandering in the street; little streetside shrines, of Ganesh, Bhairab (the 'destructive' manifestation of Shiva) and other Hindu deities; curry for breakfast; Durbar Square itself, a collection of temples and little sidestreets full of all kinds of stuff - shops, and houses.

In the local news, the Maoist rebellion is ongoing. Despite the US State Dept. issuing a warning not to visit Nepal, the Maoists are -not- targetting foreigners, and in fact organised trekking groups in the Himalayas seem to have reached some accommodation with them where they pay a small 'tax' to the Maoists on passing through their territory. (As the trekkers provide employment to local people, it's possible that the Maoists deem them to be politically acceptable). There are reports, however, of local farmers being forced to donate food to the Maoists, and of the Maoists denying local young people the right to travel to India (a country which in the past has provided employment to Nepalese youth). Also reports of the Indian authorities, in turn, treating those Nepalese youngsters who do manage to make the trip as suspected Maoists and returning them to the country!

What motivates the Maoists? Is there any evidence of support from China? Or did they create themselves, despite taking Mao as an inspiration? Well, only the other day the British Chief of Staff visited Nepal, and yesterday the US State Dept. declared the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to be a 'terrorist group'. This following on from its travel advice to US citizens not to visit Nepal earlier in the week. The Maoists seem to be a breakaway faction of the more mainstream, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist. Nepal is one of the very few countries in the world (along with Chile) which has had an essentially Marxist national government which came to power through the ballot box (of course, several countries - such as France - have had Communist Parties participating as junior partners in elected coalition governments and several others - such as India - have had Communist governments elected at a regional or state level).

For most of the twentieth century, Nepal was an absolute monarchy, and in fact was completely closed off to foreigners until 1951. Historically, Nepal has been dominated by two families - the royal family and the Ranas. More on the Ranas here. The Ranas were an aristocratic clan who dominated ministerial posts following the Kot Massacre of their political rivals, committed by one of their number. It was only in the late Fifties, following Indian independence and the revolution in China (and subsequent influx of Tibetan refugees to Nepal - an event which changed the demographic landscape), that Nepal's changed role as a 'buffer state' between the two uneasy giants of Asia allowed the royals - under King Tribhuvan - to regain their former position. When Tribhuvan died, his son continued to rule Nepal under the 'panchayat' - or 'consultative council' - system, whereby political parties were banned. So, historically, Nepal has been very closed, very hierarchical, much of this with a religious justification, and veyr poor.

In 1989, political unrest by both the Congress and Communist Parties meant that Nepal made further moves towards democracy. But even now, a number of parliamentarians are appointed by the king. Another issue is Nepal's very rigid caste system - and in particular the marginalisation of the lower castes and untouchables (Dalits) in areas such as education (many Dalits are completely unaware of the organisations which work on their behalf, and in fact there is a current news story of a lower-caste boy and upper-caste girl who have been banned from their village for having an affair; this with the support of the majority of the villagers, and with the father of the girl making death threats against the boy; despite caste discrimination being illegal in Nepal, there doesn't seem to be anything the authorities can do about this!). The royal massacre of has given the Maoists a further impetus. Finally, corruption is an issue - it is believed that until 1989 up to 50 percent of all aid to Nepal may have been routinely creamed off by officials and members of the royal family; it is also suspected that Nepalese royals may have played a role in the illegal traffic of Nepal's artistic treasures.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Plep's Nepal weblog. This page is for updates on the Nepal trip, for the purposes of keeping people updated.

Plep can be emailed at eep4nn at yahoo co uk.

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