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we met some of the last generation of tibeten refugees who fled tibet after china’s invasion. their hardships, their stories, their culture stay with them. and though in nepal they cannot vote, they cannot buy land, and they have limited freedoms, they live. and their faith pours out in a glow of beauty.


Lake Phewa, Nepal ~ © 2009 JDB

It’s time to revisit our travels.  The pictures from Pokhara, 6 hours west of Kathmandu by bus caught my eye today.  It’s a little respite from the chaos of Kathmandu but still delivers an overabundance of westernization like Thamel.  It’s really the gateway city to the Himalaya for most people.  Just over the mountain to the north you can see the tip of Fishtail.

Fishtail ~ © JDB

Fishtail ~ © 2009 JDB

Hotels are all over the place.  We were told it was high season, but Pokhara was a ghost town compared to Kathmandu.  Tours will pre-book hotels so some nicer places may be taken up.  We ended up liking Hotel Blue Heaven.  For $15 US/night we had a private balcony and a decent room with a really nice bathroom (western toilet).  We found the beds to be horrible everywhere in Kathmandu.  Pokhara is no exception.  I’m much better now at sleeping on my back thanks to the thin padding between my bones and a plywood surface.  If you want to stay at a hotel with benefits, go to Chhetri Sisters Guest House.  It is expensive but they train local women as trekking guides, empower local women’s groups and other local endeavors.  There are little secret places like a Buddhist meditation retreat.  Sometimes you just have to keep your ears open and you’ll pick up tips from other travelers.

Lake Phewa is the most predominant feature.  After spending time in the dry and polluted Kathmandu Valley, the lake is a true oasis. You can rent kayaks, sailboats or canoes by the hour or day.  There are secluded hotels and restaurants that you can only get to by boat.  Barahi Temple is on an island off South Lakeside, near the Royal Palace property.  We enjoyed drinking coffee and chai at Mike’s Restaurant.  It was the only place with tables right on the waterfront.

Rooftop of Hotel Blue Heaven ~ © 2009 JDB

The World Peace Pagoda sits atop on of the many high hills surrounding the lake.  We took a trip up the opposite side and gently paraglided back to earth.  From high above the Pokhara Valley you can see the Annapurna mountain range and the glacial rivers running through.  We spotted the Tibetan Village we visited the day before.  Great peaceful experience. We used Sunrise Paragliding which is the only outfit I’d recommend.

Back on land, it’s easy to stock up on supplies for an upcoming trek.  Pokhara has professional outfitters as well as designer fakes.  If you find a cheap down jacket or sleeping bag, it’s filled with chicken feathers.  Make you’re decisions wisely because chicken feathers probably don’t insulate as well as synthetics or goose down when wet or dry.  I doubt anyone would want to figure this out at Annapurna or Everest base camp.

Pokhara has plenty of ambiance, but if you find a good place to eat you should return and order the same thing over and over.  Any attempt to make decent food in Nepal seems to fail.  DO get your coffee and breakfast at Perky Beans in Central Lakeside.  Only place we really enjoyed in all of Pokhara.  Wish we found it on day 1!

Lake Phewa ~ 2009 JDB

We flew back from Pokhara because the bus we took to get there ended up being 9 hours.  Horrible.  I really enjoyed the 20 minute flight back to Kathmandu.  Some things are worth every penny.  Travel in Nepal is unpredictable so don’t feel bad about spending money if you have it.  Plus if you get in line early for the plane (first come, first serve) you’ll be happy if you score a seat on the north side of the plane (depending on which direction you’re flying obviously).  The Himalaya are stunning above cloud level.  Even better if your flight is around sunset.

Himalaya from the air ~ 2009 JDB

And to further complicate the ebb-and-flow of daily Nepali life and politics, we received an email from the US Embassy in Nepal:

Important Security Announcement for American Citizens in Nepal

This warden message is being issued to alert American citizens that the
Maoist Party (UCPN-Maoist) has announced a number of protest events to
be carried out in November.  In the past, some of these events have
materialized and some have not.  The Maoists announced that they intend
to conduct the following:

*   Nov 1, 2009          – Nationwide torch light rally

*   Nov 2, 2009          – Mass gatherings, picketing of local government offices

*   Nov 4-5, 2009       – Surrounding district administration offices

*   Nov 9, 2009          – Declaration of Autonomous regions

*   Nov 10, 2009        – Protesters will picket and block the main roads leading

into the Kathmandu valley and to the airport

*   Nov 12-13, 2009   – Mass gatherings around the Singh Durbar area

Please be cognizant and aware of your surroundings and what may
transpire. American citizens are strongly urged to avoid mass gatherings
and demonstrations.

So we thought about doing some more work with non-profits 8 hours west of Kathmandu, but this killed that idea.  Our original intent was to leave on November 10th.  Funny how that would be the day the Maoists block the airport.  We’ve heard these disruptions can be insignificant and then we’ve heard they can shut down every restaurant, business and petrol station for the entire time.  That would leave us high and dry.  Pushed our exodus to Tuesday the 3rd.  Heading out to Varanasi, India.  Thank you Maoists for helping us with our itinerary…

Annapurna I & Annapurna South

Annapurna I, Annapurna South & Fishtail ~ 2009 John David Becker

To think these beauties standing at 7,900m and above were once at the bottom of the sea.  We woke at 0430 on October 20th to ascend to 10,000 ft atop Pun Hill.  The sun cracked the early morning sky, painting it’s warmth on the mountain faces.  This was the blessing we earned for two hard days of trekking the Annapurna Circuit.  These mountains will continue their journey skyward long past our days on this planet.  We gain strength reflecting on their permanence.  We are modest and humble in the shadows of the Himalaya.

My thoughts and prayers go to my grandfather…

sue fan & jb ~ 2009 john david becker

sue fan & jb ~ 2009 John David Becker

October 22, 2009. 1415 hrs.  Cafe Zorba.  2nd floor.  Central Lakeside, Pokhara.  Protected from the hot sun.  We entered and Nora Jones was playing.  Not expected but instantly comforting.  We linger for a couple hours and the music has long since ended.  I say to Sue, “what happened to the music?” and suddenly Ben Harper’s “Walk Away” comes on.  We instantly stop our reading and enter our separate worlds of reflection.  Sue sings the words.  I stare out over the street scene and the mountains beyond.  A small tear wells in my eye.  At that single moment I felt at home.  I felt the pressure of travel and chaos lift.  I felt the burden of the unknown dissipate.  I felt whole.

Music can calm and transform but most importantly, music can heal.  It was during those three minutes of music that I realized we have entered a time where we truly live in the moment.  Travel can take you to that place.  There is no minute quite like the previous or the next.  Having been on the road and relatively homeless for five months already, we come to think of the place we inhabit at that moment as “home”.  Nomadic life.  We decided that in the past two years we have slept in more unfamiliar places and unfamiliar beds than most people will in their entire lives.  Each one was home that day.  Each place birthed the next moment for us to live in.  Without the pressures of home, the thoughts of bills to pay or the ordinary chores to tackle, all we have to do is survive.  Not a huge epiphany, but sometimes we fail to recognize and acknowledge “the moment” and Ben Harper brought me there.

The other significant and no less important thought at that time was also a slogan.  “Home is where the heart is.”  Sue sitting across from me but in her own space.  Lyrics flowing through her and bringing her to a special place.  I may ebb and flow with our travel adventures.  Anyone should.  But having your travel partner and lover by your side makes everything ok.   Struggles and triumphs all even out when you share true happiness regardless of the external world.  Sue is my home.

Quick update.  We went on a nice but strenuous trek in the Annapurna region.  More on that later.  Just returned to Pokhara last night.  Very tired and very burnt out.  We are currently looking for the quickest way out of Nepal.  I am feeling sickly often and I think it has a lot to do with the horrendous levels of pollution.  Nepal has been a disappointment on many levels.  It’s not the people.  They are typically warm and helpful.  The vast majority of people that congregate in obvious tourist sectors are always looking for something.  Even friends-of-friends are really not helping you as much as they are attempting to make you believe they are able to get you whatever you want at a better price.  It is quite exhausting especially for people who are well traveled.  We find inexperienced travelers here rave about Nepal and the exact opposite from people who have more to compare it to.   I think we can safely say we are still enjoying ourselves, but I find our overall outlook to be negative.  It may have had to do with extended lingering in Kathmandu.  We’ll keep updating as we make decisions.  Still haven’t done one day of volunteering and that system seems plenty broken as well.

laughing little monks

laughing little monks

Joy is infectious.  I mentioned this monastery in an earlier post.  We had a great time.  You quickly realize that the monks are just kids like any other.  Filled with pranks and jokes.  Teasing and bullying each other.  I know there is time when their learning must be disciplined, but it’s also important to just let kids be kids…

travel hiatus.  my favorite kind.

we’re in nepal and india for the next four months, volunteering for VCD Nepal, Pencils of Promise, shooting a lot, playing a lot, and testing out olfactory fatigue.

india has gotten more expensive, but really, the dollar is just not what it used to be.  not even since last spring.  good thing we’re in nepal now, where spending twelve dollars tonight seemed like an extravaganza.  great meals for a dollar or two.  hotels for less than ten a night.  had some delicious masala tea at the kathmandu guest house.  saw a breathtaking view of the himalayas on the flight in (travel tip#1: sit on the left side of the plane flying eastward, right westward).

i’m looking forward to hanging out in the mountains, rolling around a bit in greens and blues, shooting what makes me happiest, being encompassed by a new culture, and potentially learning to not gag while eating lentils every meal.

more to come!

The cosmos has been providing.  Momentum is building for our grassroots project on Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal.  By remaining unaffiliated and traveling on tourist visas, we are finding that it may increase our success in getting intimate portraits of people caught in the diaspora.  Alison Wright published a beautiful book in 1999 on refugees in India, but I know our vision for the project will yield very different results.

Rick Ray (Soul of India, 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama) has been instrumental in giving us advice and connecting us with the right people.  I am very excited about connecting with Sidney Burris at the U of Arkansas.  His TEXT project (Tibetans in Exhile Today) sets out to record the oral history and traditions of Tibetans.  It would be a great project to weave into our plans and may connect us to the refugee communities intimately.

I walked into the Tibet House US in NYC yesterday to check their library.  I was hoping they might have some resources for my research.  The library was inaccessible so I was introduced to Ganden Thurman, the Executive Director and Sonam Choezom, the Membership Coordinator.  They gave me some great leads and solidified a need to continue the project upon returning to NY.

I hope to continue a relationship with the people I meet along this path and feel that everyone has earnestly contributed their time and knowledge for this cause.

Yes, with the summer hiatus over we quickly made our return to blogging and planning. Thoughts of Japan are in the past. Maybe it’s a blessing it didn’t work out. As Sue said in the previous post, we cleared our life for such opportunities and therefore time should not be taken for granted. Read the rest of this entry »


When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. -Barbara Bloom