Saturday, June 30, 2012

travel in nepal(3)

Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel and Bookpleasures is honored to have as our guest author and writer, Sally Wendkos Olds.
Sally has written about family, children, women, relationships, sexuality, psychology, health, and travel, and has authored several books.
Sally has also contributed articles to: McCall's, Ms., New York Times Magazine, Redbook, Woman's Day, and many other major publications.
In 1993 Sally and artist Margaret Roche trekked to the remote village of Badel located in the eastern hills of Nepal. They were the first western women to go there.
Norm:
Sally, could you tell our readers something about yourself and why you wanted to trek to Badel? How many times have you returned since your first trip?
Sally:
I had travel in Nepal twice before with my husband, Mark, who was fulfilling a boyhood dream by going there. In 1987 we went to the Annapurna region and in 1991 to the Everest area, and I fell in love with this little Himalayan kingdom.
I became entranced by the remarkable sweetness and cheerfulness of the Nepali people. In spite of their poverty and hard lives, none of the Nepalis I had met showed bitter, hostile, or even resigned faces to the world. I wanted to learn more about them - and I wanted to learn what they could teach me. I eventually did both.
Mark, whose knee gives him trouble, did not want to go back to Nepal. Through serendipitous circumstances (which I describe in the book) I met Margaret Roche, an artist who had also trekked in Nepal several times, and we decided to go together to a remote hill village and stay with local families. We went to Badel for the first time in 1993, and we returned together three more times, plus one trip each on our own. I have now been to Nepal seven times.
Norm:
Where exactly is Nepal, as well as Badel? How easy or difficult is it to travel to Nepal and what can travelers expect once they are there?
Sally:
Nepal is a narrow, crescent-shaped country about the size of Florida, with a population of about 27 million. It lies north of India and south of Tibet, separated from it by the Himalayas, the youngest and highest mountain range in the world. It's easy to get there if you don't mind multi hours in the air and in airports changing planes. Getting to Kathmandu, the capital, from North America involves about 20 hours of flying time. Badel, in the eastern hills due south of Mount Everest, is reached by a 35-minute flight from Kathmandu to a small airstrip in the village of Lamidanda, and then by a three-day trek, since there are no roads into the village.
Kathmandu is a lively, crowded city of half a million. It's full of the roar of motorcycles; the beeping of horns by taxi drivers swerving around sacred cows resting in the middle of busy thoroughfares; and men and boys trying to sell you carpets or hashish or the all-purpose nostrum "tiger balm," change dollars on the black market, or take you for rickety rides in bicycle rickshaws.
Much business takes place on the street - and also in the many shops and in the restaurants serving cuisines from around the world. Religion too takes place in the streets, dotted with Hindu and Buddhist shrines and temples.
Norm:
I noticed you had written an article about a Himalayan Seder-Passover in Kathmandu. What was this all about?
Sally:
For about the past dozen years a group of Lubavitchers from Brooklyn (New York) have held an annual Passover celebration on the grounds of the Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu, flying over some 250 frozen kosher chickens, countless jars of gefilte fish, and scores of boxes of matzo.
Israel and Nepal have cooperated with each other since 1960, and Nepal is a popular travel destination for young Israelis, especially after they complete their military service. About 1,000 Israelis come to this seder every year, and in 1993 I was lucky enough to be able to join in.
Norm:
As many of our readers are interested in romantic destinations, could you describe some unique and romantic destinations in Nepal, and would you recommend Nepal as a romantic destination?
Sally:
I would recommend Nepal as a romantic destination for any couple who enjoy visiting exotic cultures and getting to know each other in a totally new environment.
* Those who like hiking, camping, and the beauties of nature can experience all these in Nepal. Kathmandu, the capital, offers 5-star hotels and simple guesthouses, top-flight restaurants, gorgeous Himalayan vistas, artistic splendour, and fascinating sight-seeing and cultural opportunities.
* Pokhara, in the geographic center of the country, is known for its stunning natural beauty, with a gentle climate, tropical flowers, a sapphire lake, and magnificent mountain views.
* At Chitwan National Park in the south, you can ride on elephants, go white-water rafting, see tigers, rhinos, and some fifty other kinds of mammals, as well as 400 species of birds.
* The world-renowned Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge provides luxurious accommodations and food, and a number of more modest lodges are in and just outside the park.
* Along popular trekking routes you can either camp out in tents or stay at teahouse-lodges, some of which are high-end, while others are humble. Tour agencies can make all your arrangements for any of these destinations, or you can go independently and hire your own guides.
Norm:
You are the author of a book entitled, A Balcony In Nepal: Glimpses Of A Himalayan Village. Could you tell us something about the book and what made you want to write the book?
Sally:
The book is about the way of life in Badel, a remote hamlet in Nepal's eastern hills, and how Marge Roche and I were affected by our visits with the people there.
Through our guide, Buddi Rai, the first university graduate from Badel, we were able to meet and talk with the village midwife, headman, school- teachers, shamans, and other citizens. We learned about marriage, birth, death, and many other customs. Some of the people we met have been immortalized by Marge's graceful drawings and water- colors, which are in the book.
At first we thought this way of life would go on forever, but now I wonder whether we may have witnessed the twilight of a changing way of life. The nine-year-old insurgency in Nepal by Mao-inspired guerrillas, has affected village life and sent many villagers to new lives in the cities. Still, some aspects of life in Nepal's many regions without electricity or roads will probably endure for years. And once peace returns, the inherent sweetness and friendliness of Nepal's people will, I am sure, have survived intact. I have to add here that although the rebellion has sparked violence in many outlying areas, no tourists have been targeted, and visitors from around the world continue to come to Nepal to experience its many treasures.
Norm:
As a follow up, can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?
Sally:
For this book, unlike the other nine I have written, most of my research involved living in the country and observing the people and events around me. I was what anthropologists call a "participant-observer."
Although I took a few lessons in the Nepali language before I left the U.S. most of my conversations with local people were translated by Buddi, our guide, who speaks excellent English. My sources were right there in the village. I did expand my knowledge of Nepal's history and culture by reading scholarly books, most of which I purchased in the excellent English-language book stores in Kathmandu. Through them I learned about the Gurkha soldiers, the many different ethnic groups in Nepal, the succession of rulers, and other aspects of the country and her people. I'm happy to say that A Balcony in Nepal has been republished in India for the Southeast Asia market and is now available in Kathmandu.
Norm:
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while traveling to Nepal? How did you overcome these challenges?
Sally:
The main challenge was the physical one. Before every trek I trained for months. I hiked on hills and walked up and down flights of stairs (up to a total of 1,000 steps), so that I would be able to master the endless hills of Nepal. (You don't have to be a super-athlete, however; I was 53 years old when I first went, and 70 on my last trip.)
I also needed to be immunized against a number of diseases. And I always took with me supplies of medicines, including antibiotics against intestinal and respiratory illness, some of which I did experience. I also took out travel insurance in the remote possibility that I would need to be helicoptered out of a remote location.
Once there, as in any Third World country, I was careful about what I ate and drank, and I made sure to get enough rest after the strenuous days of trekking. For the most part, I'm happy to say that I stayed in good health and returned safe.
Norm:
Since the first time you traveled to Nepal, what changes have you noticed over the years with each of your return adventures?
Sally:
When I first went to Kathmandu in 1987, the streets in Thamel, the back-packer neighbourhood where I have always stayed, were dirt roads; now they are paved. Garbage pick-up was a matter of stray dogs and sacred cows eating from piles in the streets; now trucks come by every morning.
The number of gourmet restaurants, high-end shops, and 5-star hotels has mushroomed over the years. Communication with the outside world has become more widespread with the advent of email and the Internet, and the cities are full of inexpensive cyber-caf├ęs. In the villages solar power has enabled the use of house lights and television sets.
One change in Badel was brought about with Marge's and my help - we raised money to fulfill Buddi's dream to start a library in his village, and we saw it in operation. Another change I wrote about in the book was the plastic surgery that corrected cleft lips in two village children - and gave them new smiles and new lives.
Norm:
When did your passion for writing begin? What kept you going?
Sally:
As a child I wrote poems and stories, and in college I majored in English Literature, but my real passion for writing did not begin until after my first child was born, and I began to write articles about infant care. I went on to write about women's and children's health, and other subjects including the civil rights movement, in which I was involved.
My first book was about breastfeeding, a topic close to my heart, since I had nursed all three of my children and found it a fulfilling experience. The Complete Book of Breastfeeding was published in 1972, has gone into three revised and updated editions, sold about two million copies, become a classic in the field, and is now being read by the daughters of the women who read the first edition. Sometimes when I have a bad day at my desk I look around my office and see the covers of the ten books I have written, and I get the confidence to go on with whatever I am struggling with at the moment.
Norm:
I understand you are familiar with some wedding venues in Vietnam. Perhaps, you could describe one or two and indicate why they are unique?
Sally:
In February 2005 Mark and I visited the city of Dalat, the "jewel" of Vietnam's central highlands. It was a popular hill station when the French controlled Vietnam and is now a favorite honeymoon spot for Vietnamese couples.
Dalat has been called Le Petit Paris, the City of Eternal Spring, and the City of Flowers. It boasts a miniature Eiffel Tower, a beautiful lake, lush gardens, a golf club, and hotels ranging from modest to magnificent. Side trips include a tour of an emperor's summer palace; a visit to a village populated by the Lat ethnic group; the Valley of Love, with paddle boats, canoes, and motorboats for rent on the lake; and a ride on a cog-railway train to a village with an ornate pagoda.
Norm:
What is next for Sally Wendkos Olds?
Sally:
These days I am juggling three kinds of activities: interviewing fire-fighters for an oral history project; presenting slide talks about Nepal and China and preparing one about Vietnam; and working on the manuscript of a novel that I just resurrected from my file cabinet.
Norm; Thanks once again Sally and good luck with all of your future endeavours.
Norm Goldman is the Editor of the book reviewing site Bookpleasures.com and the travel site,
Norm is also a travel writer and together with his artist wife, Lily, they meld words with art focusing on romantic and wedding destinations.