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December 2014 - Update from Nepal

The autumn season was again affected by unusual severe weather that caused major disruption in Manang and Mustang districts in the west of Nepal causing the deaths of 40 people, most Nepali but some foreigners also.

I arrived in Nepal on 13 October, later than usual because of airline schedules, which also meant having a day in Dhaka on the 12 October. During that day I could see reports of a cyclone on the east cost of India that was moving west across India, below Nepal. My arrival on the 13 Oct. was in rain which turned very heavy during the night and continued all day on the 14 Oct. this was the day the storm associated with the cyclone suddenly moved north and into the western side of Nepal and deposited up to two meters of snow within 24 hours in the districts of Manang and Mustang covering the Annapurna circuit, parts of Dhaulagiri and Manaslu also, as well as further west to Dolpo to a lesser extent. It was this amount of snow that caused all the difficulties and the deaths, it was several days before some people were located and bodies were found.

Yet again this was a difficult time for local people and for those in the tourism industry. The main rescue and recovery operation was carried out by some organisations in the tourism industry and local organisations, some Nepal Army helicopters and personnel were brought in later and private helicopters were used also.

No one associated with us was directly involved in this storm, some friends and other companies we know did have people in the area but fortunately, other than a day or so delay in some instances to come into contact, no major injuries occurred.

My first full day in Kathmandu was spent at home because of the continuous heavy rain, the next few days were spent learning the new roadwork's, negotiating the rivers of mud from the heavy rain at all the existing roadwork's, and struggling with the traffic on the main roads on my journey from home, a little outside the main city, to the area in the main part were the offices are situated. The traffic movement was even more chaotic than previously. In some of the main roads that previously had concrete dividers down the centre of the road to try and control traffic; the dividers had been removed by the government in August for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, apparently they were considered a 'security risk'. Now in the roads with no dividers that were on my route the traffic was even more out of control with cars, busses, and motorbikes completely on the wrong side of the road causing total traffic jams at busy times.

At this time also the government were beginning to prepare for holding a big summit conference for South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which would take place later in November. They were removing advertising hoardings, and various other items from the roadside and, on the routes that the various Prime Ministers etc would travel from the airport, or move between hotels, they were painting all the walls and causing more disruption to daily life.

During time in Kathmandu, before I went out to Tengboche Monastery in Khumbu, I spent time with the two offices we are involved with updating and planning present and future plans etc. I also had some time with Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP) assisting with their membership to Tourism Concerns Ethical Travel Guide and various discussions regarding membership and funding etc. There will be some updating of information to be done by the staff in the Kathmandu office during the next few months. KEEP is dependant on funding from membership and various donors. If you are interested in finding more information about KEEP their website www.keepnepal.org gives basic details of their main activities with local communities as well as foreign visitors. Donations from individual are also welcome and in UK donations can be made direct to Nepal Trekking, who represent KEEP in the UK, or into the KEEP Nepal UK bank account - contact us for details.

I was able to make a visit to Khumbu this season to coincide with the main Sherpa Festival of Mani Rimdu at Tengboche Monastery. I have been to this festival many times but it is six years now since I was able to be there at the time of Mani Rimdu, even though I do visit Tengboche most seasons. This festival is held on or around the full moon of either October or November each year depending on the Sherpa/Tibetan calendar, this year it was early November. For the Lama's (Monks) of the Monastery the festival is conducted inside the monastery for a total of fifteen days, with four final days at full moon time available to the public. These public days are very special for the local Sherpa people and many attend from the villages in Khumbu. They are also an opportunity for foreign visitors to see this particular aspect of Sherpa Culture.

My flight to Lukla, at the beginning of November, was delayed a short time because of unusual weather conditions, yet again, this time of the season should be good weather but we do seem to be seeing changes in the weather patterns every year now. My trek from there to Tengboche was made in good conditions and of course always good to meet with my many Sherpa friends along the way. I arrived at Tengboche two days before the main ceremonies began and it was already busy with all the lodges saying they would be full for the next few days. Local people were also beginning to arrive and the usual traders that come at this time were setting up their tents etc.

These four days of the festival are made up of the first day when the Lama's practice the dances in the Monastery Courtyard, without the masks and costumes used on the main day, this is open to the public, but the Monastery at this time is closed. The second day is the 'Wong' or Blessing Day when the Ringpoche (Reincarnate Head Lama of the Monastery) gives blessing to the local Sherpa people and others at a ceremony in the afternoon outside of the main Monastery. The third day is when the Lama's perform the many dances of Mani Rimdu in their elaborate masks and costumes, these dances are to show Good against Evil and continue for most of the day. In between the 16 dances are comic interludes that always amuse and delight the crowds of local Sherpa's as well as foreign tourists. After these dances end in the evening Sherpa people enjoy their own traditional dancing and singing in the Monastery courtyard until the early hours of the morning. On the last day, a fire ceremony is performed by the Lama's to dispel all the harm in the world. This tradition has continued since the monastery was first built.

My visits to Tengboche are always a special experience for me but this one more so, I was able to be there for eight days to cover the main Festival days, I was honoured, yet again, to meet with the Ringpoche (Reincarnate Head Lama of the Monastery) on four occasions, one of these being invited for dinner in his small house, and another an invitation to take part in a ceremony inside the Monastery at 05.30 on the morning of the Blessing Day which was only for the Lama's and some other local Sherpa people, we were all given a personal blessing from the Ringpoche. During the preparations in the Monastery and in the courtyard for the main days I was privileged to be asked by the Lama's to assist and join in some of the ceremony involved. On the main dance day I was also asked to assist one of the Lama's with ticket sales to foreign tourists for entry into the Monastery Courtyard for the dance ceremony. This ticket charge acts as a donation to the Monastery and helps with the work of the Monastery and everyday expenses etc. In the evenings, and for two more days after the end of the Festival that I stayed, I was able to assist my long time Sherpa friends at the Tashi Delek Lodge, helping out as required in the kitchen and elsewhere as necessary. Altogether a very special time spent with all my friends at Tengboche.

My trek back to Lukla was OK with no problems. Again meeting with friends along the way and also meeting some Sherpa friends I had not seen for some years, a short time to come up to date and then on the way again, this is often the case out on the trails in Khumbu, and all the other regions of Nepal for the locals moving around the districts. I had some spare days to my return flight date and was able to spend this time with my long time Sherpa friends in Mera Lodge in Lukla, always a pleasure.

Back in Kathmandu the chaos in the main city areas and around the airport continued as the Government tried to get the city 'beautified' as they chose to call it for the upcoming SAARC conference which would take place from 26 to 28 November with most of the Prime Ministers and their teams arriving on 25 Nov.

I had an invitation to visit Lumbini from the Lumbini Buddha Garden management to see how their building work was progressing. It is always a pleasure for me to visit Lumbini not only to LBG but also to the main Lumbini complex the Birthplace of Lord Buddha. I had to find time for it all in between other commitments in Kathmandu and it was eventually arranged for 21/22/23/24 Nov. From Kathmandu the domestic airlines that fly to Bhairahawa have two return flights a day in the morning and afternoon with the afternoon return flight at 17.30. Bhairahawa is situated on the Nepal/India border in the southern Terai region and this area is prone to foggy conditions in the morning and sometimes the evening also, at this time of year.

Two days before I was due to fly to Bhairahawa the office suggested that I change my return flight on the 24 Nov. from the late afternoon flight to the morning one, they had heard the information that the government was to cancel all domestic flights from Kathmandu airport and throughout the country for the full day on 25 Nov. and up to 14.00 on 26/27/28. This was to accommodate the arrival and movement of all the Prime Ministers for the SAARC conference. If my late afternoon flight should be cancelled because of the weather there would not be any flights the next day. Our transport office contacted me also and advised my pickup from home should be 2 hours earlier on the morning of 21 Nov. they too had information that not only would there be road closures but also there was some event at the Hindu Temple site at Pashupatinath which is close to the airport which would cause serious congestion. Additionally the government banned all vehicles into the airport except registered office vehicles, which have green number plates, and on the roads in general only vehicles with odd and even numbers on successive days. In the event the Nepal government even cancelled some International flights and diverted others for many hours. They also closed many main roads in the city areas around the government buildings and hotels and in the vicinity of the airport for several days. These and the other restriction mentioned severely disrupted movement throughout the city and the valley area, for many days, and made everything very difficult for local people as well as foreigners who had to travel both locally and internationally.

With all this disruption taking place in the main tourism season it all became an international problem that was not a good advert for Nepal.

On the morning of 21 Nov. the fog at Bhairahawa did cause a 2 hour delay for my flight. From Bhairahawa it is about 18 Kilometres to Lumbini Buddha Gardens and fortunately the car that was waiting for me was aware of the delay so all was OK. The building work taking place at the resort is to construct a new accommodation block and a new dining area both were at an advanced stage with some of the new rooms available to use. These two buildings have been built to cause as little problems as possible to the surrounding area and its wildlife, something very important to this organisation. During my time there I was able to visit the main complex on two days and as always a special experience for me to have the opportunity to visit Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha. It is always good to meet up with everyone and I take this opportunity, once again, to thank the management for their continuing assistance and service.

Back to Kathmandu on 24 Nov. to chaos everywhere, the transport office were not able to provide me a car because of the restrictions mentioned earlier and so I decided to walk back home from the airport rather than use the taxis that totally overcharge. In the following days the disruption caused by the SAARC conference was as difficult as predicted and in some instances even more so. It took some days for things to recover afterwards and the chaos continues on the roads with no dividers. When or if they will be replaced remains unknown.

Political situation:

The unstable political situation continues at all levels. Apart from the problems mentioned previously the government continues efforts to meet the deadline of 22 January 2015 for the new constitution to be finalised. With all the political parties continuing to follow their own agenda instead of reaching any consensus it looks as though this second deadline will not be met and the country will not get its new constitution yet again. With various Maoist parties and others planning demonstrations across the country in January, and load shedding power cuts now at 12 hours a day this will again only make life for the ordinary people of Nepal very difficult with no change looking possible in the near future. All of this continues to make things very difficult for local people as well as for foreign visitors. Fortunately, together with our colleagues in the two offices in Kathmandu that we are associated with, we continue to be able to manage all the local difficulties for clients with a minimum of disruption.

Nepal Trekking in Nepal:

This year my main focus has been to find funding for Tshiring's college course. He is now coming to the end of his first year in College, in Feb/Mar, not same as our year end. He is getting on well and enjoying things in his Bachelor Information Technology (BIT) course. But with still three years to go funding continues to be a priority. Any assistance with funding/donations etc will be very welcome and much appreciated, just contact Denis direct from contact details elsewhere on this website.

Kunga Doma continues to make good progress in her studies now in class 8 and coming to terms with the increased workload. It's a few months, in April 2015, to the end of the Nepali Year and she is working hard on her studies and term exams.

I was not able to visit Pangum again this season and did not meet up with Mingma, he was in the same area as me in Khumbu but busy with a group, we did have time to just come up to date on the phone but did not get the opportunity to meet up. All appears to be well in Pangum, the rebuilding of the Monastery is continuing and the main shell has been completed but it will take some considerable time before all is finished. It is some time now since made a visit and I hope time may available next season. Everyone associated with us seems to be well and keeping busy as usual in the village, also those who are in Kathmandu and elsewhere.

As always, we are very grateful to everyone who gives us support for our work direct in Nepal. Support both financially and with the continued supply of clothing for children and adults in the villages and in Kathmandu. Direct funding is always required and I take this opportunity to thank those who responded with a donation. The Education Funding Appeal I issued is still open and I hope you may be able to assist with a donation (See detail elsewhere on website). Our projects are ongoing and we look forward to continued support in the months and years ahead. If you can help with any of our projects, specifically the Education Funding Appeal, or if you require any further information, please contact Denis direct (email and phone details enclosed). You can Make a Difference.

Denis Gallagher
Nepal Trekking
December 201