Thursday, January 12, 2012

Absence Memo

We are off on our next adventure and are taking a short blogging vacation. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Narayanhiti Royal Palace Museum

In 2008, Nepal ceased to be a monarchy, and the royal palace in Kathmandu was converted into a museum open to the public. Finally, average citizens of Nepal and the rest of the world can get a glimpse of what it was like to live as the king of Nepal.

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I wish I had more photographic evidence to let you be your own judge (cameras are strictly forbidden and security is surprisingly tight and watchful), but my experience showed that the king's perks did not necessarily lie in the furnishings of the royal palace. The interior flourishes are opulent to the point of tacky (mirrored walls! gold accents! chandeliers!). Constructed in 1969, the palace and its interior feel dated back to far before 2008 when it went out of use.

The throne room. [Source:, a blogger more brave with his camera than I.]

The furnishings are grrrrrreat! [Source:]

But do not be fooled by what you can see on the surface -- the museum is fascinating. Seeing first hand how royalty live(d) is always a bit interesting, even if (especially if?) it is the case that their decorating style includes more ceramic trinket-filled curios than your grandmother could ever dream. The story of Nepal's final royal chapters, however, has much more intrigue.

On June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra, the heir to the thrown, murdered nine of his royal family members, including his entire immediate family, before turning the gun on himself. By the end of the massacre, everyone in this royal portrait was dead.

King Birendra and Queen Aiswarya in front. Princess Shruti, Prince Dipendra, and Prince Nirajan in back. [Source:]

Blood Against the Snows is an excellent, detailed account of the massacre and a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in a digestible history of Nepal. The prevailing theory is that Prince Dipendra's motive was -- in a twisted way -- love. Apparently, the King and Queen would not sanction a wedding to the woman he loved, so the Prince settled the score using his famous gun collection. In the chaotic aftermath of the massacre, confusion reigned. King Birendra died within hours of the shooting, and Prince Dipendra was pronounced king for the three days he survived in a coma. Upon Dipendra's death, King Birendra's brother took the throne amid a flurry of suspicion and conspiracy theories. He would be the last king of Nepal.

The horrific events of that evening in June unfolded on the grounds of the royal palace, and while it may be morbid, I admit that this is what made my visit there so facinating. The actual rooms where the shooting occurred have been destroyed; their foundations are all that remain of them on the property. Still, signs at the museum do not sweep this history under the rug. The location of the rooms is identified, as well as places on the lawn where certain family members perished. You can even set foot on the small bridge where Prince Dipendra shot himself. Chilling.

The museum is open from 11 to 3 in the winter and 11 to 4 otherwise. It is closed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and public holidays (which are plentiful in Nepal). If you are lucky enough to catch it at an open moment, admission is 100 NPR for Nepalis, 250 NPR for Chinese and SAARC visitors, and 500 NPR for others.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My 30th Birthday

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Brian declared it so too -- the best birthday either of us has ever had. What made it so special? Well, see for yourself.

We started celebrating the night before with a trip to Garden of Dreams, which is maybe even more magical at night than during the day.

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The next morning we woke up early to hit the trail head at Nagarjun, one of the Kathmandu Valley peaks. This was my third time and Brian's second climbing the mountain, and it was by far the best yet. We had the trail almost entirely to ourselves, save for an early morning trail runner who was headed down as we headed up. The skies were rather gray, but the early morning cloud cover was lovely in itself.

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Plus, the air was fresh and the steep trail was invigorating, so I didn't much care that we probably would not be able to see anything at the top.

But then, miraculously, there was this.

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An hour and fifteen minutes after starting the hike (and yes, in case you were wondering, we beat our previous time by 10 minutes), we reached the summit of Nagarjun and saw that Himalayan views were waiting for us. These views, to the north, are of the Ganesh Himal.

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At the top we also discovered that we had the entire summit to ourselves -- just the two of us, some prayer flags, and mountain views. I had declared months ago that I had hoped to be on a mountain on my 30th birthday, and I got my wish.

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We headed back down the trail, stopped briefly at home to grab some things, and then went directly to...the Hyatt.

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Can I just move in here? 

We took advantage of the "Resident Relaxation Package," which includes use of the spa facilities and the breakfast buffet with a night's stay. Although it was tempting not to leave the grounds once we had checked in, we wanted to have lunch in Boudha, which you can reach through a back entrance that avoids the main traffic-choked road.

Ah, Boudha.

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Unfortunately, our organic, vegetarian lunch at Saturday Cafe is not pictured because we ate too fast. Sorry about that.

After lunch we returned to the Hyatt and headed immediately to Club Oasis, Hyatt's on-site gym and spa. No gym for us -- just straight to the locker rooms for jacuzzi and sauna time. And, the obvious: indoor heat. HEAT!

Following our spa trip, we readied ourselves for the evening and went first to the Hyatt's Rox Bar, which has a two-for-one happy hour special from 6-8 PM (Kathmandu residents, take note: this is a great deal!). The name "Rox" refers to the rocks that cover much of the interior, including this staircase. 

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It leads not to a dungeon but to this.

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We ended the evening with dinner in the Cafe, which puts on a great buffet, including an almost Whole Foods-worthy salad bar.

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Otherwise known as: heaven.

The next morning we returned to the Cafe for the buffet breakfast and lingered with frequent refills of coffee and tea. We finally peeled ourselves away from our sunny breakfast table to take one last walk around the Hyatt grounds before checking out (tear).

It was an amazing birthday. And it was made even better when I discovered that people made additional Kiva loans through my lending team. Thank you to everyone who helped me exceed my goal of 30 loans -- altogether, we funded 41 loans totaling $1275!

So far, I have good feelings about this 30s thing. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

30 Before 30: Final Update

Drum roll, please! With only three days until my 30th birthday, it is time for a final update on my goal to fund 30 Kiva borrowers before entering my next decade.

To date, my very generous lending team of 26 people has funded 36 loans totaling $1,125. Wowza! I feel incredibly honored and grateful.

You know who else is grateful? Those 36 Kiva borrowers. Let's take one last peek at where they come from and what they do.

The 36 borrowers represent 21 different countries.

Somoa wins as the country with the most borrowers (four), followed by Cambodia, Colombia, Nepal, and Peru, which are tied with three borrowers each.

The borrowers work across nine different sectors, from food and agriculture to transportation and education.

I am so excited about the impact that we have made.

On a personal level, I could not be happier about this fitting conclusion to my 20s. Almost a year ago, one day after my 29th birthday, I flew out to San Francisco for a week of intensive training at Kiva's headquarters, where I became friends with my fellow Fellows, met many of Kiva's amazing staff, and learned more than I thought possible in five fast but long days. A couple days later, I was on a plane to Kathmandu, and in the months that followed, I had the fortune to see Kiva's impact up close while working with BPW Patan's staff and borrowers.

Thank you all for your generosity! And please, keep lending.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Golfing in Kathmandu

If the title of this post sounds a bit surprising to you, you're not the only one. When blog reader Stan reached out to us to let us know he was considering a six-month stint in Kathmandu to volunteer with the Himalayan Youth Golf Association, Brian and I shared this thought: "That's cool, but, uh, where's all that green space?"

Well, it turns out that Kathmandu has not one but three golf courses: the Royal Nepal Golf Club adjacent to the airport, the Army Golf Club in Gujeshwori, and the Gokarna Forest Golf Resort in Gokarna. Stan has been working to develop the youth program at the Royal Nepal Golf Club, and he generously invited us for a free lesson at the course.

We started the morning at the clubhouse, which looks pretty much exactly as you would expect a golf clubhouse next to the Kathmandu airport to look.

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And the course itself? Well, I'm no expert, but I was pretty happy just to see so much grass. The Himalayas in the distance didn't hurt either.

Stan told us that he was excited to teach a language in fluent English again, but I don't know if he was prepared for us -- two total golf novices. Sure, we've played our fair share of putt-putt, and I have some good golfing genes in my family, but neither of us had ever really learned how to swing a club.

But we were no challenge for Stan, who gave us a great introductory lesson that quickly had us actually hitting the ball (I had my doubts about my own hand-eye coordination for this one). Thanks, Stan!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sarangkot Peak in Pokhara

One of the main reasons to go to Pokhara is for the stunning mountain views. From the World Peace Pagoda, the vista of snow-capped mountains towering over a shimmering lake is spectacular. Sarangkot provides Pokhara's other premier viewpoint. Tourists flock to this peak for sunrise when the skies are most likely to be clear. They are frequently rewarded with a panorama of mountains painted in shades of pink and orange.

Back during our initial visit to Pokhara in August 2008, the sunrise trip to Sarangkot was essential. Because it was monsoon season, the mountains were entirely clouded over during the day. One's best chance for a clear moment was at sunrise. So to the peak of Sarangkot we went, bleary-eyed at the 5:00 hour. Our first morning was a disappointment, but we were rewarded on our return trip the next day. As we first gazed out on thick clouds, our hearts sank a bit. But with a little patience and perhaps divine intervention, the swirls of haze shifted to reveal the giants hiding in the distance. With no Himalayan treks under my belt at that point, the view was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Years later, it remains a magical moment.

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View from Sarangkot, August 2008

We were not so keen on rising before dawn for the sunrise during our most recent visit to Pokhara, given our already-fortunate history with Sarangkot and the ample mountain views that now otherwise greeted us in spades. Instead, we saved Sarangkot as an afternoon hike. Lonely Planet discouraged us from the most direct route to the peak, describing it as steep, poorly marked, and potentially bandit-filled, so instead we decided on a longer hiking route that would reportedly take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours. With beautiful weather and a hunger for the trail, we were game...until about an hour and a half of trucking through the streets of Pokhara before even hitting the trail head let alone any elevation gain. A bit wary of what lay ahead as we craned our necks to Sarangkot's summit, we relented and grabbed a taxi to the top.

Well, almost to the top. Our driver dropped us at a trail head about a 30-minute walk up stairs to Sarangkot's peak. We swear that in 2008 our taxi was able to take us much closer to the summit's viewpoint. When we questioned our driver on this, he claimed that only stronger vehicles were suited for the final climb and that his car was not up to the task. A bit annoyed, we shrugged and headed up the trail (and noted a handful of other vehicles indeed were going all the way -- our tip is to negotiate this detail with your taxi driver before you begin the ride). While the skies had been clear for the morning and afternoon, clouds we rolling in quickly as sundown approached. On our way up, Claudine snapped some photos before the clouds obscured the view completely.

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Alas, the clouds beat us to the punch. Before we could reach the top, the sky became a canvas of whispy grey. Not all was lost, though. The paragliders peacefully floating on air were something to behold.

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We were fortunate to get our fill of views at other points during our Pokhara visit. One thing we noted is that the iconic Machhapuchhre is looking a bit bare compared to its glacial appearance on postcards, posters, and just about anything else that can be screen printed in Pokhara's tourist district. Judge for yourself:

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Machhapuchhre, August 2008

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Machhapuchhre, December 2011

Is this possibly a seasonal difference we are observing or simply evidence of the relatively fast retreat of glaciers not only in the Himalayas, but around the world?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top Posts of 2011 and a Peek Behind the Scenes

Coming up with our monthly highlights of 2011 was a lot of fun. Scrolling back through the blog was a bit like a nostalgia-filled flip through an old yearbook (minus the braces and cringing). Some posts I like more than others. Which posts were the biggest hits with our readers this year? Thanks to Google Analytics, we have a countdown of the most viewed posts of 2011:

6. Recipe: Vegan Indian Eggplant with Lentils

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I was a huge fan of this original creation by Claudine, and apparently I was not the only one. We have received lots of positive feedback from readers who have replicated it around the world. No plans for dinner tonight? Consider giving this a try.

5. Monkey Business at Swayambu

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Recently we were talking to someone visiting Kathmandu who told us about her plan to visit the "Monkey Temple."
"Oh, you will love it!" we gushed. "You can get a taxi to the top, but make sure to take the stairs instead to see the monkeys on the way up."
"But are they vicious?" she asked. "I was attacked by a monkey once, and I have a healthy fear of them."
Well, perhaps the Monkey Temple is not for everyone. But this post was popular, so do not be afraid to check it out.

4. Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Tips of the Trail

Day 1: Besi Sahar to Bhulbule

We made the mistakes so you don't have to. You're welcome, world!

3. Tibetan Refugees in Pokhara: Part One

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If you have not read this two-part post, know that it documents one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. No biggie.

2. Guide to the Annapurna Circuit Trek: Part One

Day 10: Descending from the Thorung Pass

So you want to see some mountains? Let us show you the way.

1. Above the Law

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1) Quit job in corporate law to move to Kathmandu. 2) Send departure email. 3) Get featured on popular legal blog. 4) Bathe in web traffic (but ignore the haters).

And just for fun (especially for the data nerds like me), here are some more blog traffic stats for 2011:
  • Average time spent on the site per visit: 3 minutes, 9 seconds
  • Number of countries represented by our visitors: 139
  • Countries that love us the most, in order:
    • United States
      • We had visitors from all 50 states in 2011!
        • Most love from: New York
        • Least: South Dakota (though we appreciate those 8 visits, Mount Rushmore State)
    • Nepal
    • United Kingdom
    • Canada
    • Australia
    • India
    • France
    • Hong Kong
    • Germany
    • Netherlands
    • A special shout out to our one visitor from Iran
  • We are still waiting for visits from:
    • Myanmar
    • North Korea
    • Yemen
    • Every 'stan other than Pakistan
  • 603 of our readers visited us over 200 times last year. We won't name names (though we have a few hunches), but please know that we appreciate each one of you. Writing this blog has been a blast, mostly because we get to share it with readers like you.