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October 14, 2010

Wow, I love Janakpur! People is very welcoming. A lot of people stop me on the street to ask the usual questions, where I come from, if I’m traveling alone, what my name is, if I like Janakpur. A few times I was also asked “What is the purpose of your trip?”. The purpose of my trip? I don’t know! But they are not annoying, once they are done with the list of questions they go.

This morning in the shop where I stopped to buy a coke I met a very smart boy. 13 years old, he spoke a good English and told me that the Nepalese situation is not good. Because I told him I live somewhere near Venice, he told me about Marco Polo, born in 1254 or similar, that left Venice to go to China, where he lived for 17 years, becoming friends with the emperor.

By the way, the coke was to kill potential bacteria that I might have ingestited with a weird drink I had for breakfast. Just out of the hotel this morning, desperately looking for something to eat, I saw some people drinking this yellow thing, and I decided to try it. But it was cold, I should only drink something that has been boiled or that is in bottles. This drink was probably made with their tap water and some corn flour (from the taste of it). Quite thick. Not my favorite drink. And I’m expecting trots any time.

These days they are celebrating Diwali, one of the most important holiday for Hindu. Their Christmas, as they explain it. It lasts 10 days. Tomorrow will be the most important day, when thousands of goats will be sacrificed to gods (I read this is only a tradition of Nihang Sikhs). For many families it will be the only occasion to eat meat. I would like to participate to the celebrations, but tomorrow I must leave Nepal because my visa is expiring. It would have been interesting.

An oblivious goat

I like walking around the town. Janakpur is different from other places I’ve seen in Nepal. It’s grey and dusty, roads have few cars, many bikes and many people walking. And I’ve met only one other foreigern, from Australia.

This morning while I was walking around I could hear prayers and songs coming from speakers. I sat on the steps of a temple, surrounded by many small altars, and I looked at the people around me. A family (the man dressed in bleach white) entered escorted by a group of armed men. In the temples priests (or servants?) are dressed in rags, very skinny; women wear bracelets on both ankles and their feet are red. A man sells newspapers and he has a large group of men, sitting on the steps of the temple, reading his newspapers. A cow tied to the column of a temple. She also has a red forehead. A guy moaning as he prays. In another temple two men dressed in white are sitting on the floor and are talking, one with a long grey beard, and the usual skinny man that brings them water to wash their hands.

The cow is holy for hindy. They consider it their “mother”, or at least this is what I understood from a guy on the bus yesterday. Poor hindy, I wonder what they feel when they come to Europe and see what happens to their holy cow. There are many cows roaming freely around town, it looks like if they were also taking a stroll; people walk around them, most times ignoring them, sometimes they stop to put the red powder (tikka) on their foreheads. These white cows with red forehead are quite pretty. I wonder if they have a owner and how they find them?

Janakpur Women Development Centre

This morning I went to visit the Janakpur Women Development Centre, near Mithila village in Kuwa. It was interesting. The center was founded in 1989 I believe; here work women from the village, very poor, that have the chance to create a space out of the influence of the husband. They make pottery, carpets, bags. They sell to tourists and they export, even to Italy, but the lady couldn’t tell me where exactly. I bought a cup (I love cups) and some mirrors to hang on walls. I wanted to send them home, but the post office is not like those you find in Europe. There was nothing, no envelops or packages you could buy, only a tiny counter where I was told that I couldn’t send glass because it can be broken and they don’t want to take the risk. I will try from India. It’s a shame, it would have been nice to have an envelop with a stamp from Nepal.

Lunch with family

As soon as I got out of the post office I was invited to visit a family for a tea. That became a pork with puffed rice and vegetables, and a glass of grapefruit juice. I had just had lunch, but I couldn’t refuse. The mother of the family even gave me some bracelets and a necklace. Probably they hoped I would bring their 20yo son to Italy. They were a well-off family, compared to the average nepali, all children had been to university, one was in the army, the other in Kathmandu working for Qatar Airlines. But I’m european and when I work I probably earn 4 times what they do, so for them I’m rich, a good solution for the son. They had to invite me, they said, because I’m a guest in Nepal.

They also invited me to sleep with them, they hoped I could meet the father, that was at work, and another of the brothers. I excused myself saying that my bag was at the hotel. They were incredibly welcoming, and it was nice and funny at the same time, spending some time with them.

pranzo in famiglia a janakpur

There’s a sudoku on the page of the Kathmandu Post that was used to wrap my mirrors. And I am scared of letting one off, in case I got diarrhea.

Janaki Mandir

In the afternoon I went to Janaki Mandir, a temple described by the Lonely Planet as similar to Taj Mahal. It is very beautiful indeed, different from other temples I’ve seen in Nepal. It is built in honor of Rama and Sita, husband and wife. Women wear their most precious sari to come here.

There’s a guy with a white sheet around the waist and long hair wrapped in a tail, wild, my type. I don’t now if he’s a priest or he’s studying to become one, he crossed the courtyard a couple of times carrying wood.

While I was sitting there, looking at the people around me, there was always someone coming to talk. The usual questions. A guy was slightly different. It was a true interrogation. Favorite book, hobbies, movies, and so on. He asked me what I think of the political life in Nepal. I don’t know? You tell me. Not very good, he said. He thinks maoist, despite being part of the government now, aren’t happy and want to rule alone and they cause troubles. They are like HitlerS, he said. He liked to say “it means”, to confirm obvious facts. Like “do you eat meat” – Yes. “It means you are not vegetarian”. “Do you speak Nepali?” – no. “It means you cannot understand nepali”. I don’t understand the reason of this. It wasn’t annoying, it was interesting, this approach. While he was talking to me I couldn’t stop looking at the sweat between his nose and the mouth.

I heard many people complaining about the government. They say it’s corrupt and it keeps 95% of International Aid. It’s a shame. Nepal is a beautiful country that needs a good government and a boost to the economy. People deserve to live a better life.

In the evening I stopped to drink a fresh juice of tiny oranges and I saw that many people were drinking a white thing, a bit thick. I found out it was lassi (like a milkshake, but I don’t know what it was made of, it tasted of yogurt and lemon). Delicious. I wonder how they make it. Very refreshing, and it’s a blessing with this heat. I went back after dinner (fried fish very salty) and I had two more. I wonder if I will find lassi in India too? (I will have loads).

I was really surprised by the hospitality and warmth of people in Janakpur. At first I thought they were a bit intrusive and too curious, but they have been a good company throughout the day.

Towards Janakpur

Towards Janakpur

October 13, 2010

Happy birthday to Sonia and Raffa.

This morning I woke up again at 4.45 to take the 6am bus from Tansen to Janakpur. A lovely chai tea (it’s made with boiling milk, no water, with some tea leaves and a lot of sugar, something we are not used at all in Italy) at the bus station, before we leave. Unfortunately they hadn’t started cooking their lovely things they fry for breakfast. At 6.45 I could see the first food stalls, but we were on the bus and we didn’t stop for 3 hours.

It was nice to see the country waiking up. At 5.30 there were quite a few people around. I believe in Italy too there are people who go to work this early, but it’s different because here you can see people walking on the street, while in Italy everyone drives.

Following is a gallery of images taken during the long trip, mainly from the top of the bus.

Driving towards the valley you could see the morning mist and I thought of San Martino, an Italian poem that I only know by heart because of a song by Fiorello.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t have gone up a bus anymore, because I might loose all my hair (every time I get off the bus it has a huge amount of knots), but from Naayangarh the bus that I had to take was so full that I had to go up. We were pretty squeezed there too. I arrived in Janakpur at 7pm, quite tired. Tanja went to Kathmandu, where she is taking a flight to Hong Kong.

Janakpur, finally

I’m in a little muslim restaurant near my hotel. I order rice with chicken but instead I got Dal Bhat. They offered me a glass of tap water, yellow. I had to refuse.

12 hours in this part of Nepal (South East) and I have already received two marriage proposals. They find me attractive because I have fair skin. And I am actually quite tanned at the moment. Face creams have a solar protection of 90+. Some are whitening.

I can tell we are getting close to India, it’s not the Nepal I’ve known so far. The trip is getting more and more interesting.



A stop in Tansen on the way to Janakpur

October 12, 2010

Yesterday Tanja and I woke up in Bardia at 4.30 am and arrived in Tansen at about 5pm (Hilde had to go straight to Kathmandu to get her visa to India).

The most urgent affair after 5 hours on top of the bus (between Butwal – or Bitwan? – and Tansen I couldn’t get on the roof, and inside it was terribly hot) was a nice cold shower to regenerate my muscles and fix my hair. I wouldn’t have minded some hot water, as Tansen is at 1372m above sea level and it’s not very warm. But you do what you can.

Shower done, we went out for dinner. We had momo (tibetan dumplings) in a nice little restaurant. And went to bed soon. At 6pm it’s dark and because there are no street lights, at 7pm it looks like it’s deep night. In any case the hotel closes at 9pm and there’s not much to do around town, so we didn’t mind to catch up some sleep.

Second Day in Tansen

This morning we were up at 6, because our room faces the road and the walls are so thin that you can hear all noises coming from outside. With the first cars and trucks (that use the horn any minute, to alert people they are coming), we also woke up. At 6.30 the guys at the reception woke up too and turned the TV on, with such a high volume that probably everybody in the street woke up.

It’s nice to wake up so early. At 11am we had already been on the hill above Tansen, and it looked as if the day was super long. Before we got to the hill we stopped to have a coke because the coffee we had for breakfast was so light that I didn’t have the caffeine I need to on through the day. In the shop where we bought the coke the lady was watching an old movie with Silvester Stallone (in English, I don’t think she understood anything) and I would have stayed there with her to watch the move drinking coke and eating chips. She would probably have enjoyed it too.

But we had to go and we continued to the top. From there you should be able to see the Himalaya, if it’s not cloudy. But it’s very

Ma il dovere chiamava e abbiamo proseguito verso la cima. Da cui a quanto pare si vede l’Himalaya, se non è nuvoloso. Noi siamo riuscite a vedere solo un paio di cime rosa. It was very polluted and foggy.

Later on we walked back to town. Very pretty. It’s up the side of the hill, an up and downs of tiny alleys, with many tailors and shoemakers (I tried to fix the boots again). Very pleasant indeed.

We spent the afternoon in a café for foreigners, with prices slightly higher but still low, with a nice courtyard with tables and trees, toilet paper in the toilets (!! quite unusual here in Nepal). We had a nice coffee (filter coffee, of course) under a tree. Then dinner with a veggie burger and at 9pm we were in bed.

Of castles of straw

Of castles of straw

Thoughts from Bardia National Park

I’m swinging on a marvellous hammock here at the lodge of the Bardia National Park. I love hammocks. I have one at home, that my university friends gave me for my graduation. One of the best presents ever.

It’s getting dark and mosquitos are in full activity. Tomorrow at 6 am we leave for… Tansen? Can’t remember. I decided to go East, to enter India through Darjeeling.

Today hasn’t been the best day. Maybe because I didn’t have much to do. Or probably because I spent two hours doing the laundry, by hand. And I hate washing by hand. I think the washing machine is the best invention ever. I don’t need a dishwasher, I like doing the dishes, but I couldn’t live without a washing machine. I’ve decided it’s the last time I wash jeans by hand. And white t-shirts. It was a bad idea to bring white t-shirts. Colored t-shirt you can’t see the stain too much. In any case, the white ones are not that white anymore. They are yellow-brownish.

Anyway. Today for the first time I missed home. I missed a washing machine I think. And a yellow wall where I can hang my pictures. And being able to make myself a cup of tea whenever I feel like and having all the chocolate I want.

Then I read the Lonely Planet and the thought of all the cool places I’m going to see excited me. So I’m again thinking of what I could do to travel a bit longer. I’m not running out of money, but I would like to earn something while I’m here. Maybe I can find a job in India. Or I can come back to Nepal, where in 20 days I was offered two jobs. And I will ask my parents to come to see me in Varanasi for Christmas. That would be cool.

This afternoon I took a walk around the village. The most interesting moment was when I saw some girls fishing in the river. They were literally inside the water. Dressed. With some nets. And any tiny fish they caught was put in a basket that they carried on their head.

donne pescano al Bardia national park
Girls fishing in Bardia

Last night I woke up with rain dropping on my face. There was a strong storm, that usually when I am at home I love to listen to. I don’t know if the water was getting in from the window without glass or from the straw roof?

Ok, I’m giving up. These mosquitos are hungrier than me!

Looking for tigers at Bardia National Park

Looking for tigers at Bardia National Park

Adventures at Bardia National Park, Nepal

October 9, 2010

Pooing in a National Park at night is not the best option. Because you have to turn the lights on and all insects come to visit while you are in the toilet. So I decided to keep it for the moment being.

bagno al bardia national park

I was offered a job here, at the lodge where we are staying at the Bardia National Park. I could welcome the guests, show them the schedule, and so on. All for 1000 R (10 euro, per month? per day? I can’t tell; surely not per hour), Dal Bhat and lodging inlcuded. If it wasn’t this hot here I could think about it.

You can enter the park only with a guide. We were walking. So there was the risk to meet face to face with one of the big five. While we were walking along the river (the best place to see animals, while they go to get some water), the guide explained to us how to behave in case of close encounters. If meeting a tiger, you should look at it in the eyes and stare back; the tiger will leave (or at least that is what it should do). If meeting a rhino, drop something to the floor, a t-shirt or the camera, so that it is distracted (apparently rhinos are attracted by smells) and climb on a tree (???). With elephants, you just need to hide behind a tree. I wasn’t sure this advice could have saved us.

Hilde reading a book along the river while we wait for the tiger

It would have been better if he taught us how to behave with leeches, as it was more likely we would have been attacked by them. During the Annapurna trekking I was worried I could get some, but I was lucky. This time it was a bit more difficult to escape. Wearing long trousers helps, but if you don’t see them in time they go through everything, even in the holes that hold the shoelaces, until the find the skin. They don’t hurt, but I hate those who get fat on my account! And it’s better if you don’t take them off sharply, or the wound will bleed. Salt or fire are the best way to take them off.

impronte al Bardia National Park

Thre are only 22 tigers at Bardia National Park, and it is very difficult to spot one. There were about 60 10 years ago. But the maoist guerrillia warfare reduced the attention reserved to the park, and smugglers could easily work at their illecit traffic. Despite this, our patience was rewarded. After hours of waiting along the river, we saw a tiger. From very far away, but I was able to appreciate its noble posture. I must also reconsider my hate for monkeys, as it was them who told us the tiger was arriving, with the screams they make when they want to alert one each other of an approaching danger.

tigre al bardia national park

There are 18 rhinos in this park, most of which are hidden behind tall grass (I only saw one, blind, in a rehab center, where it was kept because a month ago it killed an elder man of the village, due to his blindness), some crocodiles (that we didn’t see), lots of monkeys, and billions of leeches.

The village is also very nice. The houses are made in mud with a straw roof, and oxes help in everyday life. It’s like living in a different century.

We decided to stay one more day to relax. There’s a river where you can bath. That’s my plan for tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see a crocodile or two…

I would love a burger with a chilled beer in Crystal Palace right now.

From my diary:

10am. We’ve been for 3 hours and the only animals we’ve see so far were these damn monkeys. A bee fell in love with me and didn’ want to let go. Loads of leeches, only on the trousers so far, luckily. I am curious to see when I’ll take the shoes off.

We’ve been along the river for half an hour, waiting for something to happen (like a tiger attacking that pack of deers along the beach? An elephant coming to the river to drink? A rhino?). I’m starting to get hungry. And sleepy.

Earlier a group of man and boys was working on a dam to free it from trunks that got stuck there during the monsoon. A strong noise of broken branches behind us. I thought (I hoped) it was an elephant. No, just the usual annoying monkeys. I can’t stand them.

Can you believe someone would stay here for hours in silence to see… nothing? And I actually can’t be silent and still. With coughing and sneezing and hunger and writing, I’m constantly making noises. Now I’ll start to read. Yesterday I finished “The forgotten garden” (given to me by my friend Giorgia). I want to start “The art of travel”. I heard a growl! Oh, that was the guide’s stomach.

4pm. We are on the watch tower now. Juice and biscuits. I’m thirsty. I didn’t know elephants had a beard. And the skin so rough hectolitres of cream wouldn’t make it smooth. A boy with nice black feet. On the tower. It’s nice here.

tramonto al Parco Nazionale di Bardia in Nepal
Deep thoughts about traveling

Deep thoughts about traveling

Why traveling is good for your health

08Oct 2010, 10.20am

Yesterday we took the bus that from Pokhara goes to Ambassa, near Bardia National Park. Even though we had booked our seats, I decided to travel on top of the bus, because it was too hot inside and I was getting nervous with all the people pushing us. It was my first time alone. Amazing. One of those times when you are truly happy and at peace. I was happy, I felt FREE as never before. Serene and carefree. I thought I could have died in that moment, it didn’t matter because I was happy. It was the same thought I had in Tibet or duting my first dive, in Thailand.

I was listening to my music and singing loud to the wind, the only one who could hear me. “Ninna Nanna” by Modena City Ramblers, the travelers soundtrack (in Italian). “Amico” (friend) by Renato Zero, and I thought of my best friend, Paola. And Yankelee nel Ghetto, Negramaro, Morricone. I thought at the people at home. My parents, waiting for my return; my brother, who was worried for me (???), my cousins, my friends.

Probably most people think that I’m wasting money and time, that I should settle, find a job and everything else (the “getting ma…ed” that I can’t even say out loud). But traveling gives me a satisfaction that I don’t find anywhere else. And this is what I want to do now. And I think that people should do what they feel like, if it doesn’t hurt others. So here I am.

It’s interesting how fate arranges different lives for each one of us. I am here, on the road, I rarely sleep on the same bad for 2 nights, I haven’t eaten pasta and drank an espress in 2 months, I will celebrate my birthday alone, but I’m terribly happy. I meet a lot of interesting people, other travelers with thousand of stories to tell, locals with their beautiful smiles. And I see new places. Rice fields, loads of temples, tigers, Koreans singing in Italian in the moonlight…

One hour later some kids got on the top with me, interrupting my thoughts. When there are some police check points locals have to get down, they can’t stay up here, only tourists can. This is weird. If it’s considered dangerous, why are tourists allowed?

I thought I would sit inside for the night, but it was so cool and there were so many people (at about 10pm we were about 20 people up there) that I decided to stay till the end. It was nice (even though my butt is still hurting), if we exclude the strong wind when the driver decided to push on the gas when going down. A guy let us use his army blanket (I was now with Tanja, a Finnish girl we met on the Annapurna that came to Bardia with Hilde and I).

At one point we stopped to let a truck coming from the other side pass, and our wheel started to make a very strong whistle. It took us about one hour to change it. So at the end, instead of 4am we arrived at 7. Not too bad.

It was all good, until I found out I lost my purse during the night. I can even remember when it was. We stopped somewhere and we all went down to have a cup of tea; climbing back onto the top it must have fallen off my pocket. There wasn’t much inside, something like 5 euro in coins, my students card of the University of Bologna (that I should have returned 6 years ago), a card with 3 euro credit to take the public bus in Dubai, a deposit card of an English account with about 300 pounds, two fake corals that I bought in Lhasa. I don’t know if anyone was able to use the debit card (maybe online). I wasn’t able to block it because I don’t know which number I should call and I don’t have an internet connection here.

After 24 stressfull hours I decided that in the worst case scenario I would have helped someone that needed those 300 pounds more than I do. I can’t help it, I’m too generous! (this is a joke, for those who don’t know me) Anyway, it’s a bit weird because I have so many lucky charms from China, Tibet and Nepal! I don’t know how that could happen. Nevermind. Maybe it’s because I had bought a new wallet a few days earlier in Pokhara, and I couldn’t make up my mind and change it… Fate decided for me, one more time.