24 July 2008

Week 46: The jackfruit is stuck in my throat!

46th-1st in Dhaka 7/16

Today I got back together with Shegufta to work at BUET. She brought the data she had worked on while I was gone, but the BUET computers wouldn’t show it, so she’ll have to bring it next time we meet. While she worked on another set of data sheets, I worked on tweaking my results to make them more usable for me, something I noticed was a problem when writing the paper. I also finished up some visual basic code.

In the evening I headed across town to Naira’s home. As she typically criticizes me for arriving on American time (which is the time that is specified) instead of South Asian time (late), I planned to arrive about a half hour late. Well due to traffic, this grew to one hour. When I got there, she asked me if I’d adopted Bangladeshi time, I said yes. She was pleased but told me tonight they were working on American time, and that tea had already been going for an hour. They had guests from the US, and food had already been eaten. Oops.
I stayed after the guests left, talking with her and her parents, and later her brother and her cousin (both home from Canada.)

Passing through Farmgate on the way home tonight I bought a new wallet. It’s flimsy, but holds money, and will be good for the rest of my stay. Made nearby in Hazaribagh!

46th-2nd in Dhaka 7/17

Collected data at Shahbag for the AM peak period, and then the midday period. In between I went to Mohammedpur, where a lot of my buses start, to collect dimensions on their aisles and doors, and to count seats. I was met by strange expressions every time I asked a bus operator if I could go on the bus and measure things. The last bus I did this for, I ended up talking in the bus with the bus company’s employees about my work and about the bus system in general.

In the evening I went to see a folk play at Dhaka University. My friend Ishita was in the leading role, and she had invited all of us (her family including Ayon, Farhan, Saquib) to see it. The name of the play was Mohua and was based on a Bengali folk tale. Playing the leading role of Mohua, Ishita did an incredible job. The play itself I only understood about 10% of what was said. It was performed in a village dialect, and I had a hard time separating what they were saying. However the acting, just like the last performance I saw from this troupe, her university’s drama club, was what made the show for me. I was able to understand generally what was going on. The characters expressions were what blew me away. The whole play had an eerie mood to it, and the eyes and faces of the performers were full of intensity and had a possessed look, even scaring me at points. The square stage was in the middle of the room, and the crowd surrounded it on all four sides. The play took place on and around the stage, the whole time with music being played in the background. The audience was very engaged, and the play took place so that the characters used all parts of the stage. Sometimes you were behind the action, sometimes right in front. It was an incredible show. (pics: although blurry the action on the center stage was from all directions and very intense, Ishita on the right acting with her male counterpart in Mohua)

46th-3rd in Dhaka 7/18

Enjoying a day at home. Relaxing, writing in my journal, and posting pictures on facebook. Also starting to do some more serious thinking about my next trip to India in September.

In the evening I headed down to New Market. I stopped by my tailor and dropped off my suit jacket which I thought was not fitting the right way. I also picked up the beach shirts that Ben and I had tailored when he was here. They look great. My buttons were on the wrong way, so after I have him turn them around, it’ll be finished.
I then went to the jewelry area of New Market looking for someone who can turn the pearls I bought when Ben was here into cuff links. After some searching found a stall that said they could do it. Together we drafted a design, and worked out a price. They’ll have it ready in ten days.

Tonight I brought my India guide book to dinner at a restaurant. On the way back I stopped at the store in front of my house for some chatting, like I usually do. Hamid, the shopboy, asked what was in my bag, why I would bring the bag to dinner. I showed him that I’d brought the book. Thus started a half hour session of Hamid, his uncle, and his dad poring over the book’s pictures. The two adults were fighting over what some of the things in the pictures were. They were avidly searching for a picture of the Taj Mahal amongst all the photos, but they couldn’t find one, which was saddening for them. They sounded out the English words, and I explained the ones they didn’t know, for all the photo captions. I promised I’d bring the Bangladesh guidebook tomorrow.
Found out tonight that Hamid can’t speak English. I told him if he’s able to speak a few English sentences to me, I’ll give him the US dollar he’s been nagging me for. He then quickly blurted out “I am” “My name is” but didn’t actually complete those phrases. I then asked him “How old are you?” and he answered “I am fine” then I asked again in Bengali and asked him to say the English word for his name. After 10 seconds he quietly whispered “fourteen.” (pics: Hamid the boy who works at the shop in front of my house and I spend a lot of time talking to; how I almost always first see Hamid, eagerly motioning me to come over to him to talk)

Tonight I went out to eat, looking for a good Indian restaurant. I had the realization that I now picture Indian food as separate from Bengali food, when before I would’ve lumped it together. So now when I want a break from Bangladeshi cuisine, I search out Indian. I’m sure if I’d heard of that before, I’d consider it giving up a hamburger for a cheeseburger. So I had Indian food tonight, and it was such a change of pace, despite it being a Bangladeshi interpretation on Indian food.

46th-4th in Dhaka 7/19

I think I’ve missed the worst of monsoon (knock on wood.) I heard it rained non-stop while I was in Nepal and India, and since I’ve been back, it has only rained randomly, and been mostly decent days. I did ask someone if the monsoon was half over, and after some hesitation to make such a bold statement, they admitted that you could say it was.

Sick today. Spent almost the whole day lying on my bed. I’d get up and be real dizzy. Had the chills, then got very hot. Certainly a fever. Sitting down and standing up required lots of effort.

I spent the day waiting for my new credit card to arrive via DHL. I was following the tracking information online, and knew it should be arriving today. Then I saw it pop up on the tracking that the address was not able to be reached and I should contact DHL. Despite Naira’s assurances that DHL is excellent at getting things to you in Dhaka, my worries that they would not be able to find my place came true. So I called DHL and they gave me the number of the driver. I tried calling the driver several times but he never picked up. So despite being sick and exhausted, I set out for the DHL office closest to me hoping they could help me resolve the problem.
There, they called around, found the driver, and the driver said he could be at the office within a half hour. Relieved, I went and got some lunch while I waited. By the time I got back, the package was there. I opened it up to get my credit card, and immediately walked to the nearby HSBC to withdraw some funds. With that, my crisis of being without my credit card ended.

In the evening I stopped by the store in front of my house to show them the Bangladesh guide book they wanted to see. Only Hamid was there. We went through the book together, and he asked me what each map was of, as in which city. After awhile I told him to try and read it himself. I know he knows the letters. He only could sound out two or three of the names, and the rest I had to give him the answer.

By nighttime, after getting soup for dinner, I felt a lot better.In the evening I stopped by the store in front of my house to show them the Bangladesh guide book they wanted to see. Only Hamid was there. We went through the book together, and he asked me what each map was of, as in which city. After awhile I told him to try and read it himself. I know he knows the letters. He only could sound out two or three of the names, and the rest I had to give him the answer.

By nighttime, after getting soup for dinner, I felt a lot better.

46th-5th in Dhaka 7/20

With my new credit card, I was able to buy my ticket from Singapore to Bangkok in October. Glad that is out of the way. Booked on Tiger Airways. Still have to book my flight from Dhaka to Bangkok in September, but that has to be done in person as Bangladeshi airlines don’t have online purchasing.

Spent the morning reviewing the work Shegufta had done for me, and filling in some gaps in my data. In the evening I went to Shahbag to collect the PM peak period of data. It was very hectic. First my stopwatch broke, so I had to use my cell phone’s stopwatch to do all the timing, and it was bit more awkward. As well, it got dark, so I could barely see what I was doing, no streetlight nearby. And all the buses were very packed, and they seemed to come in groups of ten!

For dinner I met up with Toma at Pizza Hut. Despite the fact that she agreed to my invite, she doesn’t really like pizza she said. Oh well, more for me. I had been doodling on some paper when she arrived, and that led to a competition to see who could draw the better crocodile, elephant, camel, and giraffe…but if you looked at her sheet you would’ve thought we were trying to draw a fish, a cow, another cow, and an ostrich respectively.

46th-6th in Dhaka 7/21

I spent the day going through the data and pulling results from it. One thing I spent time doing was using an online route measuring tool (USA Track and Field’s website which allows you to draw your running routes) to measure the length of the bus routes. I’ll be using this data to find average speeds of the buses throughout their routes. It was a big part of my data that was missing.
I also did some work to analyze the bus routes by fifths. Seeing which part of the route seems to be the busiest. Surprisingly it’s the second and third fifth that seem to have the most crowding. Not sure what this means just yet, but it was interesting to see. Perhaps it’s because buses load up so early on that latter stops don’t even have passengers show up thinking the bus will just be crowded. Thus, the only thing that starts happening are alights at that stop, and the bus quickly decrowds. But that doesn’t make sense, as the feedback loop would show people would show up to the stop then. Maybe Dhaka’s routes are just characteristically like that.

Tonight I had jackfruit for the first time. This is the national fruit of Bangladesh, and I’ve only heard bad reviews about it from foreigners, with only Megan giving it a decent review. It does have the sad fact that when it’s thrown away, it starts to smell like rotten onions. Some even feel it smells like rotten onions when it’s fresh. Anyway, jackfruits are huge. They grow off of trees that don’t look like they can hold even one jackfruit, but it holds scores! They are everywhere! People really enjoy them, and I’m always seeing someone carrying one around under their arm.
Tonight I got to eat it. A man who I always see in front of the store in front of my house was standing on the street, and we started talking. He then invited me in to have some jackfruit. I agreed, and was nervous for my first taste of what others before me have hated. He handed me a bowl full of these yellow polyps, about an inch and a half in length and an inch wide, which were the innards of the jackfruit. Inside each polyp was a seed. You just pop it into your mouth and spit out the seed. The consistency and texture were that of bubble gum. I honestly felt like I had shoved half a packet of Big League Chew into my mouth. I ate about five before I couldn’t eat anymore. They were fairly sweet, and the taste was good, but not something I had planned to gouge on the first time. (pics: a jackfruit tree with ripe jackfruits at BUET, jackfruit tree covered in jackfruits, the enormous jackfruits being sold on the street)

Right after I felt something stuck in my throat. Perhaps for the same reason we are told not to swallow gum, the jackfruit was stuck in my throat. I couldn’t cough it up, I couldn’t swallow it down. I kept coughing. It tickled and stayed in my throat despite some water I drank and a cookie I ate. It seemed only time finally got it down, about three hours.

I picked up my backpack from the dry cleaner today. It had gotten covered in mold from the humidity in my room. They did a great job, perfectly clean, like new!

46th-7th in Dhaka 7/22

Today was a day in Gulshan, with lots of errands to run and work to get done, and even see a few people. I had three data collections, one in Gulshan-1 and two in front of Mohakhali Center. These were curbside collections, so it’s constant observing of buses going past and stopping, and counting the people. Not too exhausting, and fun as well. Saw some of the ticket sellers who recognize me and they’re always fun to talk to.

In the morning, after the first data collection, I stopped by the Vietnamese embassy to get my visa for my trip there in October with my friend Amy from high school on our Southeast Asia trip. This embassy didn’t allow us inside, despite it seeming to be just an apartment in an apartment building. A man out front in a guardhouse took the papers, went upstairs. Came back down, told me to wait. Up again, down again, told me to wait, Went up again, came down, told me to pay Tk3700. I thought it was Tk1900, according to the sheet hanging right next to his head, but he just said Tk3700 again, and told me he can’t tell me why it’s more. I sighed and handed him all the money I’d brought. I’ve learned now to always bring about twice as much money to embassies, as the listed visa prices never seem to be just that.
Finally got a receipt for my payment and told my visa will be ready in 6 days.

I then went to Best Air to buy an airline ticket from Dhaka to Bangkok, my final flight out of Bangladesh (sad!) The office, I’d been there before, is in Gulshan-2. Last time they told me I couldn’t book flights for September just yet because the schedule wasn’t set. Well today I asked to book, and the woman told me the schedule still hasn’t been set, I have to wait until August. I was shocked, I could not believe with two months to go, the schedule was not set. Sitting there in mini-shock, her coworker turned to me and asked when I was flying, overhearing the conversation that the flight was not on the schedule yet. I told him September 28, and he looked it up, and he said it can be booked. I looked at her, and she blankly looked at me back and shyly smiled.
They then took about 30 minutes to get my ticket ready. I was the only one customer the entire time, for four employees. Beautiful office. But could not figure out what could take so long. They did want at some point my ticket out of Bangkok, so needing a copy, I went behind the counter to print one off of gmail. Office has no customer/worker boundaries. They then enjoyed reading my itinerary home. Since only one guy was actually doing the ticket stuff, the other three just browsed my personal materials. The one working was also trying to get me more baggage allowance as theirs is much lower than what I will have with me (EVERYTHING.)
Finally I got the ticket. I paid by credit card. And I was set.

At both the embassy today, and the airline office, I was asked, “Why are you doing this so early?” This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this in Bangladesh. First, I’m not the type to leave things to the last minute. But also, I find that travel arrangements here are many times made very quickly. I feel most trips I’ve been to out of the city have been planed just a week before, and everything comes together just fine. I’ve known many people to buy plane tickets the day before going somewhere. And I’ve known many people to be getting their visa for a country the week before leaving, and pick it up the day before.

Second data collection was just after lunch, and after that I met up with Jessica, a girl who came here from Emory and works at ICDDR,B. We had kept trying to meet up after she had initially emailed me before even coming to Bangladesh. We got some food at a nearby hotel, and she brought her other friend Jessica too, they both go to Emory. I then trailed them as they went shopping for fabric, as I had nothing else to do.

I did the evening data collection, and then headed to Nafisa’s aunt’s home. I had dinner with Ishfaq, Ishraq, and her aunt and uncle. Hadn’t been by for awhile as I don’t live on that side of town anymore. And first time I’ve had dinner there for even longer.

Also, I found out that Emily Gifford, my friend from NC State who visited me in Bangladesh, has a blog. She is keeping track of her time in medical school. I posted the link to the sidebar.

19 July 2008

Week 45: Sacrifices for the Taj Mahal (wallets and cameras)

45th-1st in Kathmandu 7/9

Today we headed out to Patan. The Kathmandu valley has three cities that used to be three independent rival kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. They were unified as one in 1769. They are all very close together, thus it was only a 10 minute minibus ride south to Patan. We explored the Durbar Square there, and even saw some of the large chariots that are used for festival celebrating. We roamed the city for a bit, and later found a Newari restaurant, but the lunch ended up being much too spicy for us. (pics: myself posing in front of the wheel of the festival chariot, the two festival chariots we came upon in Patan, Patan's Durbar Sqaure, Patan's Durbar Square)

We came back to Kathmandu just as it started to pour. We ran into the Kathmandu Mall and browsed the shops for a bit. I ended up buying a new memory card for my camera. I only had 128MB, 64MB, and 32MB cards, so a 1GB was a nice addition to the family. After we got a snack (I was the only one who really ate much lunch) at the same place I’d found good Newari snacks yesterday.

Upon getting back I went gift shopping. On my walk I was yelled to by a young man sitting on the curb. Figuring it was another tourist tout, I ignored him, like the scores who shout to us every hour. But he then yelled, “Why won’t you talk to me? Please just give me a chance.” So I did. I turned back and asked what he wanted. He wanted to ask me why all us foreigners ignore all the Nepalis in the street. I’m sure he knew, but I still humored him replied about how we figure anyone yelling to us randomly is just trying to sell us things. After that we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. I told him I lived in Bangladesh and he told me has a friend who lives in Dhanmondi, and I was excited to tell him that’s where I live. It was nice to chat with a guy who wasn’t trying to sell me anything. I did find out that during this off-season they don’t make much money at all, going some days without a single customer. He told me they live this part of the year on the profits they earn during the peak season.

That night Travis and I made a phone call to our friend and fellow band member Chris. It was the first time the three of us had talked together since last summer. (pic: myself/Chris...the phone/Travis)

45th-2nd in Delhi 7/10

We got up early and took a taxi to the airport. We had to pay a departure tax to get out of Nepal, 1356 Rupees. The departure lounge was a room that held about three flights worth of passengers, and we waited until they called our plane to leave. The flight's highlight was seeing the peaks of the Himalayas, which avoided our view all week, poke above the monsoon clouds. (pic: Himalayan peaks poking through the monsoon clouds as seen from a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi)

Upon arriving in Delhi, we bought a train ticket to Agra for tomorrow at the counter there, and then we said goodbye to Emily who was going back to the United States, and Travis and I got a pre-paid taxi into Delhi. The ride in was fun for me, seeing so many bridges, overpasses, and high-speed highways. We were staying near the New Delhi train station in Paharganj. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we got some lunch and went to the train station to buy a ticket back from Agra (getting our bases covered.)

We then set out to see some of the sights of Delhi. Our first stop was Jama Masjid, India’s national mosque. The structure was incredible, and it was wonderful that we were allowed to walk around with no issues. It was even possible, for a small cost, to go up inside one of the minarets. This was an opportunity I could not pass up. The climb up was through a tight spiral staircase, up many stories. From the top you could see out all over Delhi. It was neat to imagine that this was where the call to prayer was made before loudspeakers were invented. This was the most special part of my entire trip to India. (pics: Jama Masid in Delhi, view of the main courtyard from atop the minaret, view of Delhi from atop the minaret, Jama Masjid and the bazar immediately leading up to it)

We then walked to the Red Fort, a Mughal fort that has played a large role in many episodes of India’s history. Inside, the former palace built by Shah Jahan had many marble structures and red sandstone ornamented works. We meandered the area until near to sunset. (pics: view of the Red Fort from atop the minaret at Jama Masjid, Travis inside the Red Fort, Travis/myself posing in the Red Fort, sunset casting shadows at the Diwan-i-Am in the Red Fort)

We then headed south to see if we could find the Gandhi Memorial. We found it, but it was already closed, so we headed west back into the center of the city. We had a hard time getting to where we wanted to go. The city isn’t very walkable, things separated by long distances of roads that don’t have much on them, very different from Dhaka. We were getting very tired, and when we finally got to Connaught Place, there was only one thing on our minds, getting to the McDonalds that we’d seen earlier while coming from the airport. It was found, and it was enjoyed. Always cool to see a menu of a familiar restaurant in a foreign country. The dishes were all chicken or vegetarian. And just as tasty. (pics: spotting McDonald's restaurant's golden arches coming from the airport, Travis emotionally moved to be enjoying McDonald's)

45th-3rd in Agra 7/11

We got up early and took a taxi across town to the train station where we would get our train to Agra. We had chosen to sit in second class for the short three hour train ride, and this meant there were three people per seat, and crowded aisles, with no air conditioning, just an army of fans above our heads. We never got too hot, but Travis, sitting on the aisle, did have people leaning on him the whole time. The scenery out the window was farmland as far as we could see. (pic: fans littering the ceiling of the Indian Railway's second class cabin)

We got to Agra and took a CNG to our hotel. Our driver offered to give us a tour of the city, and pulled out two books of handwritten reviews by former passengers of his tours. We read them on the ride over, and by the time we’d gotten to our hotel, we were happy with what we read and decided we’d ask him to show us around the next day. We planned to meet at 11 AM in front of our hotel.

We ate breakfast, and bought some waters for a short trip today, we were headed out to see Fatehpur Sikri, about an hour from Agra. We boarded a CNG after much touting from rickshaws and other CNGs. We were close to bus station when I realized my wallet was gone. I knew I had bought the waters, so I had my wallet then. I don’t know if I was pickpocketed, or if I dropped it from my pocket, but either way it was gone. I had lost my credit card and 1800 Indian Rupees (luckily I had removed 6000 Rupees and $40 just before leaving the hotel.) After getting angry and going back to where I last saw it, Travis suggested we just stay back at the hotel for the day. It had a nice view of the Taj Mahal from the top, and he said he prefers to take some time to rest on vacations, which we hadn’t done much of.

After ensuring my credit card was cancelled, and assessing my losses, we went up to the roof of our hotel. A day overlooking the Taj Mahal on the roof of our hotel was a great way to recover from a lost wallet. I read a lot in the book I’m reading, Brick Lane, and listened to music with Travis using my headphone cord splitter. We had some snacks and dinner up on the roof, and watched the sun set, lighting up the Taj Mahal in different colors as it set. It was very peaceful. (pics: Taj Mahal near sunset as seen from the roof of our hotel, Travis relaxing at the roof top restaurant where we watched the sun set on the Taj Mahal)

45th-4th in Agra 7/12

We got up early to go see the Taj Mahal. The gates open at 6 AM, and we were there with many other foreigners. Seeing the structure at sunrise is supposed to be a nice way to experience it as the weather is cooler and the crowds are less. It was. We walked in and were blown away. We pulled out our cameras, and that’s when our second Agra tragedy struck. Trav’s camera screen flickered and went out. We finally diagnosed the problem that his screen was fine, but every picture he took was all black. So I was assigned “take as many photos as you can” duty, as Travis takes more in a month than I do all year. I did my best. (pics: myself in front of the Taj Mahal, Travis in agony over the breaking of his camera at the Taj Mahal)

We explored the Taj Mahal inside and out, taking our time to sit in its view, and look out over the river. Going inside was incredible. Inside the dome, the effect a slight breeze outside caused was a reverberating that sounded like the moaning of faithful devotees. The marble work was incredible as well, inlaid with stones and ornamented over every inch. We stayed in and around the Taj Mahal for over two hours. (pics: myself in front of marble inlay at the Taj Mahal, Travis sitting under one of the iwans, mosque at the Taj Mahal, promenade around the Taj Mahal's platform with Yamuna River behind, myself standing underneath one of the arches with the Taj Mahal in front of me, Travis/myself posing in front of the Taj Mahal)

After eating breakfast and checking out of our hotel, we were picked up by the CNG driver from yesterday for our tour of Agra. He took us to several sights in the city not named the Taj Mahal including Chini-ka-Rauza, Itimad-ud-Daulah (also known affectionately as the Baby Taj), and Agra Fort. We also saw a backside view of the Taj from across the Yamuna River, and also brought us to a good restaurant. What was especially nice was he took us to a few places we never would’ve found by ourselves including some temples, a house ornamented with elephants in every which way, and the method in which clothing is boiled and washed on the river. Our tour was not without a visit to a marble shop, which we had the choice to turn down knowing it’d be a trap to buy something, but I really wanted to see how the marble inlays of the Taj Mahal were made, so we risked the pitch and learned how the very detailed intense process was done. (pics: Travis at Chini-ka-Rauza, Itimad-ud-Daulah, riverside clothes washing business hangs out the fabrics to dry, backside view of the Taj Mahal looking over the Yamuna River, view from Agra Fort over the Yamuna River, inside Agra Fort)

He brought us back to the train station, and we took our train back to Delhi, again sitting in second class. Upon arriving, we got a pre-paid CNG to take us to the airport. He initially wanted us to make us pay 40 Rupees over the pre-paid slip, but we refused and looked around, only to have him come back telling us he’d take us. It was raining, and some of the roads were flooded. He pulled to the side of the road at one point, and left us, and came back telling us to get in a different CNG, it was very sketchy since it was dark and raining. This CNG had another guy jump up front with the driver, and at one point this other guy took over the handlebars! Not sure if he just wanted to try his hand at driving, or if he was a student-driver. Either way he was a horrible driver, and even rear-ended a car lightly. These guys had no clue where the airport was (I don’t think the first CNG did either, that’s why he switched us over) and kept stopping, getting out, and asking directions. We saw limited signage, and so I only prayed we were going the right way. Finally getting to the airport, the drivers didn’t know how to pay a toll. They drove up and passed the toll booth, sitting in front of the swing-down bar. They then fought with the toll collectors about paying, and Travis finally said to me “Is this really happening?” as his departure time was fast approaching. Finally they agreed to pay the toll, and drove up to the terminal. They then stopped and pulled off to the side of the road in front of a police checkpoint, saying they couldn’t go any further, saying the police won’t let them. I insisted they go, and convincing them that it was okay took pointing out another CNG passing us by and going through the police checkpoint. Finally, we arrived at the terminal, and I said goodbye to Travis as he set off for his plane back to the US.

45th-5th in Dhaka 7/13

I spent the night in the visitor’s lounge of the airport, which required a 60 Rupees entrance fee to rest there for 11 hours until my flight. That took some convincing of the guards, because you’re only allowed to officially stay there for 3 hours maximum for 30 Rupees. I wasn’t going to get a hotel as the airport is pretty far out and getting there was enough of a headache already. I spent the night in various positions on the benches that don’t allow lying down. At the same time guarding my bag by resting my feet on it. This was my first time sleeping in an airport. In the morning I changed to fresh clothing in the bathroom and brushed my teeth, then headed to the terminal to check in. While waiting for my flight I found a Subway, and enjoyed a turkey, chicken ham, and roasted lamb sub (no beef or pig in India) with plenty of oil and vinegar.

I was very happy to land back in Dhaka. Flying in, I saw that much of the landscape was now under water. I’d heard it’d been raining in Bangladesh non-stop since I left. It felt good to arrive home too, but what was not nice was seeing the mold which had grown on my pillow cases and sheets due to the humidity, and another patch of mold on my wall. Very humid out. Unpacking and settling in seemed to last until bedtime.

At the airport in Dhaka I was able to snap photos of the Aktel ad I was a model for. It was hanging on the baggage claim poles. No one recognized me…obviously it was the beard. (pic: Aktel ad I modeled for is on each pole in the airport's baggage claim area)

45th-6th in Dhaka 7/14

My abstract to a conference in Chennai in September had been accepted two weeks back, and the draft paper was due tomorrow. Thus I had two days to pull my information together and have this paper submitted. I set to work, it took all my willpower to stay focused and write non-stop and tweak my results to produce quality graphs. I left the house only to eat lunch at my favorite hotel. Luckily Moweena came so we could start washing clothes, and have food at home to eat.

45th-7th in Dhaka 7/15

Today was day two of writing this paper. I was proud of my progress. I’d gotten up to the results section last night, and finished the results and conclusion section tonight. Under the advice of Dr. Stone, who I did research under at NC State, the paper was more of a project update, as I really don’t have too much to report yet, just some qualitative descriptions of the bus system and its operations.

I finished around 5pm and submitted it to the conference organizers. It felt great to be done. I met up with Diya at a cafĂ© just after that, and was in good spirits for being done. Spent the rest of the day looking at the photos I’d taken in India and Nepal, and writing in my journal.

17 July 2008

Week 44: The Nepal sampler: a week of trekking, rafting, and sights

44th-1st in Northeast India 7/2

Arrived at the Bangladesh border around 6:30 in the morning. Border didn’t open until 9am, so they had everyone hang out at the bus company’s office there. They had beds, so I laid down and napped for an hour.

Border crossing was a long process. On the Bangladesh side, because we were foreigners, we got interviewed and were the last of our group to be allowed across. On the India side there were four different places we had to go, some twice, to be finally allowed to enter (this was for everyone.) In all the whole process took the whole bus 1.5 hours. We got to Siliguri around lunchtime. What impressed me immediately about India was the simple infrastructure that Bangladesh lacks. There were many bridges where roads crossed over other roads. There were traffic signals that people followed. It was evident that there was more money for development of infrastructure in India.

A quick lunch in Siliguri. We decided, for good, not to go to Darjeeling because of the security situation, but also because we’d rather have an extra day in Kathmandu than have one in each place. So the decision was made, we were off to Nepal!

This involved a one hour bus ride to the India/Nepal border. We had been crossing India at the thin point between Bangladesh and Nepal, only three hours to travel across. At the India side we only had to sign out at a single office, then we had to walk across the border. It was about a quarter of a mile to Nepal over a bridged river and up a short hill. In Nepal, Travis and Emily got there visas, we all got stamped and then looked for a bus to get across the country overnight to Pokhara. Despite a bunch of touts trying to lead us this way and that (tourism country!!) we found a bus that was reasonably priced and that was leaving soon. (pic: Emily/Travis on our bus through India to Nepal)

We sat down, and all of a sudden a man came on telling us to get off and go on another bus, saying this bus wasn’t where we were going. I got off to verify, and found that we were on the correct bus. He kept telling me to come to another bus; meanwhile a bunch of people around us were grinning. I figured he was just another tout trying to trick us. I went back on the bus that Travis and Emily were still sitting on and asked some other passengers where the bus was going, and they verified for me it was Pokhara. Not in Nepal for more than 30 minutes and already almost scammed! My trust was a bit shaken and I spent the rest of the bus ride alert to make sure nothing else happened.

The trip, before the sunset, was very nice. We were traveling in the flat part of Nepal called the Terai. It looks just like Bangladesh just with hills in the background. (pics: Terai of Nepal, sunset over the Terai in Nepal)

44th-2nd in Pokhara 7/3

The bus stopped many times on our 17 hour journey across the country. A few times were at restaurants where we could get food and use the toilet, other times it was just to pee, and other times it was to unload things off the roof. Apparently besides the baskets of chicken we were carrying, we had several thousand pineapples strapped to the top. (pic: putting the chickens on the roof of our bus)

Arrived in Pokhara in the morning and went to a hotel. We chose a trek for tomorrow, got some lunch, walked around the very touristy part of town but its dead empty because it’s the off season. Place must be so packed during October. We went and saw Devi’s Falls, a waterfall that plunges underground what looked to be about 50 meters. Then we visited Gupteshwor Cave right across the road which has a stalagmite which is worshipped as a Shiva idol. (pics: Pokhara's tourist strip, Devi's Falls plunging underground)

From there we trekked up to the World Peace Pagoda on a hill that looks over the surrounding area. It was about a one and a half hour climb in nice weather. Just as we reached the top rain started, not too hard, just enough to make us put our jackets on. But it paused later to give us a great rainbow. (pics: Travis approaching the World Peace Pagoda, Emily/Travis in front of the World Peace Pagoda, rainbow on the rainy trip down, looking down on Travis and the trail and the valley below)

That afternoon the monsoon clouds parted for about one hour, and in that period the peak of Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail Mountain) was visible, as it usually would be in the dry season. It was incredible to see a peak of the Himalayan range poking above the city. We snapped so many photos and couldn’t take our eyes off the snow-capped peak. It was that much more special because we weren’t supposed to be able to see it in this season. (pics: our glimpse of Machhapuchhare)

In the afternoon we met with our guide, Deepak for our two-day trek to Panchase. He seemed like a great guy and gave us information on the trail we’ll be traveling on, and the place we’ll spend the night.

44th-3rd in Panchase 7/4

In the morning our guide met us at our hotel and together we walked to the bus stand to grab a bus to the trailhead about 1.5 hours away. Just as we got to the bus station a cab came by and offered to take us for an incredible price (he had to go that way anyway.) So we said sure and jumped in, despite just walking about an hour across town to the bus stand.

The trail was never really steep, and we had great weather until the last bit of the hike when it started to rain a bit. There were views over the surrounding valleys and mountains. We passed through one village on the way up to Panchase, but passed many people on the trail. As we got higher up, the mountain became more jungle-like, and we saw more and more water buffalo. Visibility as we got up was less than 100 meters as clouds rolled in.
(pics: Emily pointing to where we will hike up to, myself on the Panchase trek, water buffalo inspecting Emily up on the mountain, clouds roll in as we got closer to the peak)

One thing we had to watch out for the whole way was leeches. We were warned that there are a lot during this season, and sure enough, I finished the day pulling fifteen off my clothing, luckily none ever got to my skin. One got Deepak and he had to bandage the spot where blood was leaking. (pics: leech on my shorts, leech trying to grab someone from a plastic chair)

We stayed at a teahouse close to the peak of Panchase. It rained hard from the moment we arrived, so there were no views. We played cards, backgammon, and Uno. Dinner was rice and lentils, some chicken, and a variety of curried vegetables. We slept very well, very tired from the hike.

44th-4th in Panchase 7/5

Today is 10 months!

After a breakfast of millet pancakes, we hiked to the peak of Panchase, one hour extra of hiking from the teahouse we’d stopped at. Deepak was great to do this with us, considering he knew we wouldn’t see any views, but still led us up. At the top there were some temples, a lookout, and many prayer flags. Visibility less than 50 meters. The way down from there was a bit slippery as the rain had battered it all night. We had to take the same trail from yesterday back as the other route we had planned to take was apparently very bad due to recent rainstorms. (pics: myself and the 50 meters of visibility at the to of Panchase, Travis in front of temple on the top of Panchase, Travis and the one village we pass through, Travis/our guide Deepak/myself/Emily after the trek was finished)

We got a bus back to town, showered, and ate a good dinner. Travis and Emily did some gift shopping while I got some Bangladeshi flag patches made.

In Pokhara, the few days we stayed there, I had several sandwiches from the nearby sandwich shop, and had several baked goods too, such as cinnamon buns. Nice to have these treats after a long time.

44th-5th on the Seti River 7/6

Again we got up early today, to be picked up by the company we had arranged to go rafting with. We had chosen to raft the Seti River, one of only two rivers that are raftable in Nepal during the monsoon season. We had a 1.5 hour bus ride to where we would launch. In our group were three other girls from Germany and New Zealand.

I was skeptical after they told us on the riverbank that our two day trip would only have 30 minutes of rafting the second day. I couldn’t fully understand the guide’s English, but he said something about dangerous water conditions. I thought they’d cut our trip short and hadn’t warned us beforehand, nor adjusted the price accordingly. Later I realized that the trip was naturally shorter. Typically eight hours of rafting in the dry season, our trip was down to five because the water was moving so quickly because of the high water levels. Even without paddling between rapids, we moved faster than we would in dry season paddling like mad. So our trip consisted of blasting through rapids then relaxing as the current took us quickly to the next one. It was a unique experience. So in fact, our trip was the normal distance, just in a shorter amount of time, that I thought was cool.
They told us to jump in to swim and the water was warm, but moving very fast. Quickly we were far from the raft, and I couldn’t get back to it without the assisting kayaker’s help. He was great at always picking all of us up. I was a bit skeptical of the trip as we clearly weren’t following the basic 3-boat rule, but there really wasn’t anything I could do about it. I saw one group rafting the river, just a raft and no kayaker with them. I’m sure during the low season the groups are larger, but now during monsoon, the companies will take what they can get and run whatever trip they can. (pics: Travis on the river, the scenery we rafted through - this shot is of the Trisuli, myself on the river, Emily on the river)

Our day of rafting ended just after our river, the Seti, merged with the Trisuli. The Trisuli’s waters were much colder, and much dirtier. It was neat to feel the instant temperature change. Our campsite was just after the confluence, some old tents that didn’t breathe very well in the monsoon heat. A sweaty night of sleep.

44th-6th on the Seti River 7/7

To supplement the measly half hour of rafting we had, they brought us to a mountain stream that fed into the river for all us to play in the cascading waters. The guide told us to slide down the streambed, which he called canyoning. The half hour of rafting was very tame, a simple float down river. After getting out, they fed us lunch, and got us on a bus passing by to Kathmandu. This was the most cramped bus I’d ever been on. The three of us got the back row, Emily in the middle with her bags on her lap. Travis and I sat on either side behind the rows of seats. The rows were much too small for our legs to have any way of fitting, so we sat sideways for the four hour bumpy trip. We were all pretty glad to arrive in Kathmandu.

Emily found her friend John on the street, a guy she met in Kolkata and also ran into in Pokhara. We hung out with John for the remainder of our stay in Kathmandu and he even transferred to our hotel on our last night.

We stayed in Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu, with endless restaurants, gift shops, bars, and bakeries. We had dinner at a roof top restaurant, and later tried an alcoholic drink called tongba made from fermented millet. They serve the millet in a giant jug, and you pour hot water over it. Then sip. We each poured once, and although you can go again and again, once was enough. (pics: Emily unsure what to make of our beverage choice, Travis pondering the tongba)

44th-7th in Kathmandu 7/8

Today we walked from our hotel to Swayambhunath Temple, nicknamed the monkey temple, just west of the city. It was a 45 minute walk to the base of the hill that the temple sits on. From there you have to go up a very steep staircase. The nickname is earned by the many monkeys which live on the hill, and which like to terrorize the visitors; both Travis and Emily got grabbed at. The view from the temple allowed you to see all out over the Kathmandu Valley. The temple’s main whitewashed stupa is surrounded by some Hindu shrines and other smaller Buddhist stupas. (pics: Travis ascending the steep staircase to Swayambhunath Temple, myself/Emily in front of the stupa, monkeys hanging around the hill and temple, Swayambhunath temple complex, Emily/Travis in front of the Kathmandu Valley)

From there we walked to Durbar Square, the center of Kathmandu, where the empire that ruled the region governed from. The king used to live in his palace here, and also one of the buildings houses one of Nepal’s living goddesses Kumari Devi. We roamed this area for awhile, sitting on the steps of the some of the temples and watching as people passed by. There was a lot to look at, neat details everywhere as each temple was completely different up close. (pics: house of the Kumari Devi, Durbar Square of Kathmandu with Travis wandering through it, myself in Durbar Square, view of Durbar Square from above from our restaurant)

We had lunch at a roof top restaurant next to Durbar square. From there we went back to the hotel, where Travis spent the rest of the day. Emily, John, and I walked north in Kathmandu to see what was there, with a rough aim to see the US embassy. We must’ve passed it on our long walk, and ultimately took a bus back down south. They got off and I continued on alone. I got off in front of Parliament, and began a circular walk around the middle of the city, just exploring. Saw the national stadium, a few complexes of temples, the road to the airport, the main city park, the city’s largest tower, the city’s biggest mall, and a fake McDonalds. I had a snack of Nepali (specifically Newari) food, and then headed back to meet my friends at the hotel. We had dinner with a friend Travis knows from Lehigh who is currently in Nepal.(pics: Nepal's parliament, Kathmandu's main city park and mall area)

My favorite part of Kathmandu was how the city seemed so small, easy to get around. I liked seeing the temples, shrines, and pagodas at many of the intersections. It was also a well designed city in terms of transportation. The bus stops had signs saying where the buses go, and there seemed to be excellent traffic flow.