Road Trip! The Road to Bandipur

Our eagerly awaited week-long road trip didn’t get off to the best of starts. Our driver started the engine as we stood waiting to load the car with suitcases and it made a very disturbing strange noise, and belched black smoke from the exhaust. Three hours, 2 mechanic visits, 30 phone calls, three trips, and one replaced air filter later…we loaded the car and left quite a bit behind schedule. I was grateful that it wasn’t something more serious, but the late departure meant that we hit some traffic on the way out of Kathmandu, but even that wasn’t too bad. And the prospect of driving out of the dusty congestion kept us going as the city disappeared quite quickly turning into a two lane highway up and out of the valley.

Kathmandu to Pokhara Road

The first part of the road westward out of Kathmandu. Narrow windy roads with trucks are one thing, but when they are also resurfacing the road as well, its something else. Fortunately it wasn’t too congested and drivers were surprisingly well behaved.

Kathmandu to Pokhara road

And the dust! Its the dry season and the unpaved (or partially paved) roads cause an incredible amount of dust which coats the roadside plants so heavily that they are almost unrecognizable. I managed to snap this banana plant with one new, still freshly-green leaf. Poor thing…it won’t be green long.

kathmandu market

Market day and mandarin oranges are in season

Trisuli River

First glimpse of the Trisuli River. The river is low as its the dry season. Apparently it can be a raging torrent in the wet season


One of many dusty towns that we drove through

I enjoyed our drive.  Nepal is so much more than Kathmandu’s chaos and trekking.  It was my first real chance to see villages without garbage, small town life, farms and farming towns, and the Trisuli river which ran with us on much of the journey.

The scenery was interesting and varied and the towns ranged from  pretty and agriculturally charming  to dusty, dirty transportation hubs.  I tried to capture a little of each as we flashed through it all on the 4-5 hour drive to Bandipur – our first stop for the night.






First glimpse of the Annapurnas as we climbed the 7km mountain road up to Bandipur.

To be continued

The Kids in Kathmandu!

Its been a busy couple of weeks since the kids showed up…so here’s a quick photo post update on some of what’s been going on… more detail later…I promise!


Clearing customs in Kathmandu. It was like a morgue. I’ve never seen it so tourist free….


After 16 hours of travel….arrival!


Our driver very sweetly bought them nepalese welcome scarves to mark their arrival. So we took a photo!


Yup… they’ve arrived and unpacked!


Terrible photo but cool experience. Latham gets to read English scripts for a Nepalese English language program in a recording studio


Taking Latham and Jess to see Patan Dhubar Square with its amazing architecture


Jess in her new school uniform that was issued to her as a teachers assistant. (She’s getting some work experience in a Nepali school)


I haven’t seen Latham doing arts and crafts since he was about 10! (This giant snowflake was to help Jess prepare for her class the next day)


Tackling the steps of the Monkey temple in Swayambhunath.

We are off on a road trip for the week leading up to New Year….more to come…

Works of Art: Murals of Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a very grey, dusty city….especially in the dry season. The problem is compounded by the construction, road works, road creation, road resurfacing and general garbage and mess everywhere. It really is fifty shades of grey (or beige). If something wasn’t grey when it started ….like a bush or a blue car, for example….it soon will be…just give it a few weeks.

But as I glance out from my car window, I do see colour in a few places: the people (especially women with their brightly coloured clothes), omnipresent Coca-Cola corporate red splashed on at least half the small stores and then there’s the murals.

There are a surprising amount of murals all over Kathmandu. And although I can guess at reason why this makes sense, it still always a pleasant surprise when one just shows up on a crumbling wall or hidden away in a corner somewhere. For all its disorder, the city doesn’t have much in the way of ugly graffiti really. But you do see big, bold artistic graffiti, as well as what I’m guessing are carefully crafted, professionally painted political slogans.

Nepali schools are often cheerfully painted bright colours by amateurs to cheer up their grey concrete shells with rudimentary cartoon characters and rainbows.  Advertisers paint whole sides of buildings with giant commercials for cigarettes, coke, or beer.   But then there’s the dazzling display of professionally painted, fantastically creative, murals by real street artists.  Those murals are the real prizes and I am still collecting them as I hunt the city for the next, amazing one.  As I write this post, I’ve researched the concept a little and it turns out there’s a whole informal world of mapped Kathmandu murals….a trail to follow!

Here are some tasters for now….but I’ve a feeling a may return to this subject.  Stay tuned!


DSC_0100 DSC_0101DSC01009 DSC01010 DSC_0591


This post participated in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art


Dhal Bhat Takhari

Dhal Bhat served on a popular stainless steel segmented tray.  This is more my kind of quantity, but typically a Nepali will have three or four times the rice.  I just can’t eat that much!

DBT or Dhal, Bhat, Takhari is the national Nepali staple combination. It means lentils, rice, and vegetables and is really a style of food rather than one specific dish.  I usually eat it a couple of times a week at the Embassy canteen on the Nepali staff side of the restaurant, and I have to say I really like it.  The same format of meal is served every day:  a thin lentil soup, a pulse or meat dish (although the meat part isn’t so standard elsewhere), a different curried vegetable, a pickle of some kind, poppadoms, raw vegetables and plain yoghurt.  But the mix of different pulses and seasonal vegetables/pickles are varied enough that I keep coming back for more.  However, my options are really the deluxe version.  Often Dhal Bhat is without the vegetables – just a simple thin lentil soup and a giant pile of rice. Thats as much cheap carbohydrate as possible to fill you up.

Maybe by the end of our tour here, I’ll run screaming from a Dhal Bhat menu, but right now its exactly what I want:  healthy, spicy,  lots of vegetables and a little pickly goodness alongside!

Sign Language: Signed Off!


Standing at the airport, waiting for the kids to arrive on Sunday, I noticed all the billboards. Its not the first time I’ve seen them here, but they aren’t that common. Which is a good thing in a way, because who wants big ugly billboards everywhere? Not me.

But looking at the big black and white Pizza Hut ad, I realised that its not really black and white, just really, really faded.  And then I flashed on the empty billboard signs I saw in Athens last summer and how indicative they were of Greece’s financial woes.  The billboards here were similar in that they showed me the lack on investment – particularly international investment from companies just like Pizza Hut.  Way back when Pizza Hut came and the billboard went up.  And, yes, Pizza Hut is still here.  But as far as I know, there’s just one outlet.  Big conglomerates like that don’t just come to open one store. So what happened?  Political instability.  Years of instability leads to lack of international investment.  I hope things change for Nepal with the elections behind them and the promise of a more stable future.  Nepal doesn’t need more bad pizza or bill boards, but it could use a lot more investment in its future.  I hope it comes soon.

And Making it Home …. on the outside

DSC00644 So having made ourselves a nest here, the routine at home has felt normal for a while now. But once we step outside our gate, its quite a different world of instant noise, traffic and chaos. Once you close it behind you…there you are…in the thick of it.  Making the streets of Kathmandu at home is a lot different than arranging a few carpets and pillows. However, DSC_0555 about three months in to our new life here in Nepal, even the crazy external things are starting to feel normal in their own kind of crazy way. Odd things like cows on the street, dust, bad paving, non-existent paving and giant potholes, for example.  Or crows, stray dogs, hoards of motorcycles, piles of rubbish, dust clouds and street vendors… While not “normal” they are no longer extraordinary.  I still have to walk looking down most of the time so I don’t kill myself…but walking and looking down at the same time, well, that’s starting to feel normal too…… And its funny, when the first challenges that you encounter at a new place start to feel be absorbed as predictible, a new layer city detail opens up and as you stop having to work so hard at those first, new challenges.


This street is a pedestrian nightmare. But the bricks I now know are hope that the street will be paved soon and they form the edging that will be the street gutter


An ugly wet cement mess. But someone sprinkled the cement dust with water which stops clouds of dust rising in the rainy season. Ugly…but a gesture I know recognize and appreciate..


These types of steps outside shops are common but very difficult to walk on. The drop is considerably difficult to walk up and down without tripping but they give lots of clearance from the dirty road.


Oh the pesky motorcycles. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to those!

Kathmandu has so many infrastructure challenges. But it the short few months I’ve been here, we are seeing some roads getting paved and others in progress.  It becomes a matter of focus.  The job of fixing the city is so huge and if you only look at the long list of jobs to do  everything feels so overwhelming.  The really surprising thing about Kathmandu is the little courtyards and gardens hidden down alleys and behind the most unexpected locations.  They really feel like the promise that the city could be so much more than it is…one day at least.  But for the time being I’m enjoying the surprises and learning how to live with the messes…except the motorcycles that is!

Making Kathmandu Home…. On the Inside

Finally some inside shots of our new home. I never really had my act together with before and after pictures, but I’ve managed a few below. We try to do the maximum “cheering up” of the home around the dreaded Drexel, government-issued furniture, with the minimal amount of stuff. A few scatter cushions, flowers, rugs and plants….Here’s the final attempt at making the new house our new home:


Living Room Before. We were blessed with government lime green furniture on a puke olive carpet. They made a quite bright space look pretty depressing


Living Room After. Still the same funky furniture, of course. But a lot more liveable with a lighter carpet and a few splashes of colour.


Its nice having a fireplace but its way too expensive to run because of the price of wood. Maybe just one or twice a year for the holidays


TV Room. Was the dining room. The dining room was massive and the TV room tiny…we fixed that by swapping them over.


Kitchen Before.  The kitchen was the hardest space in the house. Cabinets without drawers, windows you can’t really open, a freezer where the fridge should be, an electric cooker (hate electric) and generally a dull space.


Kitchen After. Pot hanger, center table island and wall mounted knife rack make all the difference. GSO was able to swap out the giant freezer for a small one that could fit elsewhere and I could then put the fridge in the right place.  I added some gold stickers to brighten up the cabinets but it still needs some colour.  Maybet the right rug if I can find it?


The upstairs landing makes an pretty good office space


Kid’s guest room. There’s another adult one downstairs


With rooms galore, I was able to make one of them my own dressing room!


Master bedroom. Its nice we have a balcony too.


…and finally…this is the first thing that greets you when you walk into our home. ‘Nuff said.

Making Christmas Pudding….

christmaspudding….Kathmandu style!

I’ve been making traditional Christmas pudding from scratch for years.  I can’t say I have never missed a year as holidays been pretty upside down at times, so there’s probably been a couple of occasions over the last 25 years when I haven’t.  But mostly, I’ve somehow managed to pull it off.

What’s interesting to me is what I can/can’t get in the different places that we’ve lived.  There are so many ingredients in a Christmas pudding recipe that its pretty certain wherever I am (except for the UK) you can’t get something…so you have to leave it out, find a substitute or make it yourself.

 Christmas Pudding Ingredients

Assembling the ingredients for the pudding. This is only about half of it. Amazingly I found sherry in one of the little stores around our house.  The liquor store guy probably couldn’t believe his luck that some crazy foreigner bought it!  Now…what else do I need to find……?

Here in Kathmandu, the issue was Guinness and lard. I’d put money on the fact that you can get Guinness somewhere around here but I didn’t have the time to go look, so I substituted Tuborg Gold that we had in the fridge and added a tablespoon of molasses for colour. Lard was another problem. I’ve made it myself before from scratch in the States (where you can’t get in over the counter) but that was by rendering beef fat. Here cows wander the streets, not the butcher shops, so the only feasible substitute was mutton fat. My Didi (helper) headed out to find my enough mutton fat to do the job and I showed her how to render it in the oven to make lard.  Its a bit icky and a whole other story, but if you’re interested you can read about it here.  She did a good job.  After a couple of hours we had more than enough fresh lard to make Christmas puddings for the next five years.


Vast quantities of lard ready to use!

Why lard you ask?  Lard gives a much lighter, less greasy pudding.  I’ve tried it with butter before, but butter is no substitute.  It gives a heavy, greasy pudding.  It has to be lard.

Most of the work is in gathering the ingredients.  Once you have them its just a matter of mixing them all together and then boiling the mixture in a pudding dish for eight hours.  If anyone is interested in the actual recipe, I’ll include it at the bottom.

Making Christmas pudding

Mixing the dry ingredients: breadcrumbs, grated lard, spices…



..then add carrots, apples, lemons, oranges and dried fruit. Last in: eggs, beer, and sherry.

The mixed ingredients go into a greased glass or china bowl.  An aluminum “hat” is tied on and the bowl is placed in about 3 inches of water on a trivet in a large saucepan.  Steam for eight hours.


Pudding ready to lowered into the trivet and bath


Before boiling, the pudding is light in colour. At the end it will be a deep dark brown like the traditional picture at the beginning.




After its cooled down, remove the aluminum hat and replace it with a new, clean one. Store in a cool place until Christmas Day. To serve, steam again for 3-4 hrs.

Christmas Pudding ( by Delia Smith)

4oz shredded suet
2oz self-raising flour, sifted
4oz fresh, white breadcrumbs,
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1/4 level teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch ground cinnamon
8oz soft, dark brown sugar
4oz sultanas
4oz raisins
10oz currants
1oz mixed candied peel (I substitute marmalade)
1oz almonds, skinned and chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
grated zest and juice of one orange
grated zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons rum
2oz sherry
2 oz guinness or stout
2 large eggs

Christmas Season in Kathmandu


Spotted yesterday at our local Supermarket….a Christmas tree complete with geranium decoration. (No one told them that it should be poinsettas…which are available here in abundance I might add….)

In complete contrast to the previous years in Manila, where the festivities start in September, Christmas in Kathmandu is a low key event. A very, very low key event. And, in truth, I wasn’t really expecting much nor was really that concerned about its absence. I’ve become very “bah-humbug-ish” in recent years. I like the time off, time with friends and family and the pretty lights, but I get very fed up with the commercialism, endless Christmas carols and pressure of the holidays that we’re usually subjected to. We’ve kept things very simple for years, despite Manila’s best attempt at coercing us otherwise.

Its my first time spending the Christmas season in a non-Christian country. Considering how many different places we’ve lived, I’m surprised that’s true…but it is. We’ve also just been through a season of festivities here with the big Nepali holidays of Dashian and Tihar, so its not as though we haven’t had our share of colourful lights, traditions and disrupted schedules.


The only Merry Christmas sign I’ve seen so far and its a commercial one from the local supermarket. But given that the store is not full of “Christmas bargains” I’ll take it as a friendly appreciative sign towards their Western customers, rather than Western-style commercialism.


At a local Christmas bazaar. There are a few. Great things to buy but not really Christmassy in feel. The ladies on the entrance desk were the only real clues that it was Christmas.


But, despite my holiday grouchiness, there is something to be said for one’s own traditions and keeping them alive. I’ve always done some holiday baking/sugarcraft work to help kick in the season, planning and making an elaborate Christmas cake every year for my Dad.  But after he died, no-one else I knew would eat fruit cake, so sadly that tradition ended.  But as Latham got older, we did holiday baking together or we would take on some decorating project for the tree. This was easy to continue in Manila because of all of the Christmas madness, plus Robert’s very large staff and the continual round of Christmas parties.  We managed a Christmas cake and Cupcake Tree, which were works of art….even if I say so myself.  But…wow….tropical humidity and sugarcraft do not mix.  I did not take photos of the cakes on display outside at the poolside Christmas parties, but sugar paste sweats and wilts almost as fast as ice…it was a mess.  I think I would have found an alternative medium if I had spend a third year there.  There’s just no way to work with sugarcraft in that humidity.

So here in a cooler, humidity-free Kathmandu December, what to make and who to make it for?  I’m not even sure that there will be Christmas parties at work?  I’m very much looking forward to having Latham and my niece arrive next week and I’m sure they’ll eat some Christmas cookies.  I’m definitely going to make a Christmas pudding (more on that later) and some mince pies now that I’ve figured out how to get the ingredients..and perhaps I can manage some cupcakes for work.. but if I don’t start soon there won’t be time to do anything.  So heading to the kitchen to try and get this Christmas thing going…


Royal Palace, Patan

Patan Dhurba Square

Patan Dhurba Square

Amid all the dusty, noisy craziness of Kathmandu, after three months of living here, it still surprises me when I come upon ancient corners of the city like Patan Dhurbar Square.  Suddenly you are in a whole different world of ornate temples and incredible architecture mixed in with every day life, pigeons, cows and — disappointingly — even motorcycles, which seem to sneak inside without repercussions.  The greater Kathmandu area has three Dhurbar Squares, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  I had visited the other two in Bhaktapur and central Kathmandu, but until last week I hadn’t made it to Dhurbar Square in Patan.

It was a Sunday and it was crowded.  We edged through the masses en route to an official opening of the Royal Palace restoration.  Stepping through the ancient wooden doors with our invitation, it was a different world yet again, this time without the crowds.

Royal Palace, Patan

Mul Cok courtyard set up ready for the official opening

Royal Palace, Patan

Different parts of the palace were restoration projects managed by different donors. Here the central golden shrine and the ornate golden doorway in the background were both incredible restorations

The US Embassy has donated over a million dollars towards the restoration of the old palace and a fantastic job was done to bring this classic Newari architecture back from ruins.  Much of the palace dates back to the 17th century and along with the destructive effects of time and pollution, the Royal Palace has suffered damage from two major earthquakes that left parts of the palace in ruins.

Royal Palace, Patan

Much of the courtyard contains original 17th century wooden sculptured architecture – and every lintel and column is different..

Royal Palace, Patan

One of the many original carved wooden lintels

In the rear, behind the Palace buildings, is a courtyard still undergoing restorations including Tusa Hiti, a restored 17th-century step well.  It was amazing to walk around through the ancient grounds, which were peaceful and quiet with the craziness of Patan Dhurbar Square just a few feet away.

Royal Palace, Patan

Royal Palace, Patan

I loved this wacky looking lion

Royal Palace, Patan

Royal Palace, Patan

Although some restoration is still ongoing, its wonderful to know the main work that has been done to preserve this amazing architecture and that it is open up to the public so Nepalis and foreign visitors can enjoy this amazing place.