Treks and Times

Alright, I promise I am still writing this blog… my internet is literally just too terrible to allow me to update. I can’t even load basic HTML Gmail in my apartment anymore. And good luck streaming episodes of The Bachelor, seriously – #kathmanduquandaries, all day. So I am staying late after work to make sure this gets published!

Plus my social life really is off the hook, which limits my blogging time – mostly because it is depressing to go home after work and sit in darkness (my inverter blew last night, so I literally was just reading with a headlamp on, in a sleeping bag lying on my couch…. before just transferring over to my bed to go to sleep).

But there has been a lot going on here in these past couple weeks – the blockade officially ended, and trucks are now allowed to cross over the India border with fuel and other supplies (before, only individuals or people with carts were allowed); and yesterday morning Sushil Koirala, the former Prime Ministre of Nepal, who served during the drafting of the Constitution, passed away. Today is a national day of mourning, and his funeral will take place at Pashupatinath.

Koirala was still involved in politics at the time of his death, as part of the Nepali Congress (one of the major political parties here), so party elections will be delayed temporarily. He had been involved in politics since 1954, and spent 16 years in political exile in India following the royal takeover of 1960 (for a brief period in the 50s, Nepal attempted parliamentary democracy, until it was declared a failure by King Mahendra, and Nepal returned to a party-less system). Koirala spent an additional three years in India – this time as a prisoner – due to his participation in Nepal’s first plane hijacking. The hijacking was politically based – it was orchestrated by his cousin, GP Koirara, another former PM, as part of an attempt to gather funds for an armed revolution to restore multi-party democracy. The hijackers made away with 3 million Indian rupees, but where exactly the money went is still unclear. Regardless, Sushil was still a well-respected man in Nepali politics up to the time of his death, and his party will definitely feel his loss.

As for me, I am keeping busy at work! We’ve had several meetings over the past few weeks, some with lawyers to finalize the gender audit I’ve been working on, some with panelists for the Global Gender Conference we have coming up at the end of February, and some with one of our partners, the Electoral Education and Information Centre (EEIC), which is located in the building next to the Vice President’s office here in Kathmandu.

IDEA and EEIC crews

The Centre is really well done – it has interactive games and a video, as well as the opportunity to carry out your own fake elections, using electronic ballots (which is new to me, as a Canadian), so it is an amazing resource for Nepali students in civics or political studies classes.

Playing some election games

Adil and I look super photogenic while we learn.

On the non-work side…

The last weekend of January, I did my first trek aka altitude training. I realize I’m going to get a lot of chirps for this, particularly since I planted for 7 years and have a tendency to go on hikes with limited instruction (aka the infamous birthday hike of ’13, thanks Thea and Em for not killing me), but I one hundred percent got lost. It really is my own fault – there are several entrances to Shivapuri, the national park closest to Kathmandu, and my driver dropped me at the wrong one. Rather than correcting him, I figured I could hit my target point (Shivapuri Peak) from that entrance, and man, was I ever wrong.

With clear signage like this, how could it go wrong?

Just kidding, go east now.

At least the “heley pad” was clearly marked.

The aforementioned heley/heli pad

Seriously, how does this quality signage regarding types of plants and their uses exist, yet there are zero kilometre indicators telling me where that peak at??!!

I got dropped off at the west entrance, and was told you could still get to the peak from that point. What I wasn’t told was that it takes roughly 12 hours to hit the peak from there, which means, if you hit it, you’re spending the night. That was not part of my plan, you’re welcome Mom and Dad, and this good life choice was reaffirmed as, on my way out of the park, I was stopped by many Nepali soldiers (they have a training base in the park) to be told how to be ‘leopard aware.’ Essentially, being leopard aware means: welcome to the danger zone, hike at your own risk. Apparently, “woah, leopard,” does not have the same effect as “woah, bear.” Who knew?

Both my parents should be comforted in the fact that I have kept their gifts from my first season as a tree planter – a compass, from my Dad, and a whistle, from my mom. Well, my mom actually bought me bear bells, but those are useless regardless of where you are, so we’ll credit her with the whistle. (Although technically, bear bells were more useful than a compass when I was planting. Where on a cut block was I going to get lost, Dad?)

But someone without a compass might have thought these stairs would take them to the peak. They just led deeper into the ol woods.

All in all, I did about a nine hour day of trekking though, and was really glad to have done it. The views were beautiful – it was a foggy day so the valley wasn’t super clear, but it was just so refreshing to be out of the city and have clean air, so I was pretty happy.

Looking out in the valley

More foggy valley

One of the many little waterfalls in Shivapuri – the spring from which the Bagmati flows is said to come from within the park.

I really wish I had brought my GPS watch with me so I could track where I had gone and what altitude I hit in the park, but suffice to say that I was exhausted by the end of the day, and fell asleep around 20.30. And so I’ll save the peak (and the Mulpani Gate entrance) for another, hopefully clearer, weekend!

Other than that, I’ve just been keeping busy with my new pals here. There was actually a 5.2 magnitude aftershock from last year’s earthquake here this past weekend, but I didn’t even feel it. It was Friday night and my friends and I were all hanging out in a buddy’s hotel room before going out, and none of us noticed it. So that is a sturdy hotel, friends. The only reason we found out that night was because my boss texted me and Adil… most of my friends didn’t even clue in until the following morning when people asked them about it. There were injuries, but no deaths, so fairly lucky. It’s been a while since there’s been an aftershock this large though, so for the people who did feel it, it was fairly disconcerting.

As for the next few weeks, things are still fairly busy at the office. We have our Gender Conference coming up Feb 26-28, and then have asked to be part of the SAARCLAW (South Asian Association for Regional Co-Operation in Law) Conference the first weekend of March, so a lot to be done before then! I’ve started making some strides on developing the Indigenous Persons Audit Tool, and it’s pretty crazy to believe that I’ve already been working here a month – my one month anniversary with Nepal was actually the night of that 5.2 aftershock. So, time is flying on by, and you can feel it in the weather – we had one week of 20 degree weather, so I am extremely excited for it to warm up for the long term!

Fingers crossed my internet connection improves…? Until then!

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