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Nepal Day 5 - Bhaktapur, House viewing, Brick making

July 26th, 2013

We were a bit late getting up and breakfast took an age to arrive but we eventually got out and met the rest of the group. Steve had a special day planned today.

We met with 4 local young adults. 1 boy aged 16 and 3 girls aged 20. Our whole group was split into 2 and we had Koral (the boy) and one of the young women to show us around. We walked through a maze of leaning back streets and tunnels for about 20 minutes until we arrived at Koral’s house. He showed us the well in his courtyard and then took us into his house. It was very humbling. His bedroom was not dissimilar to what you would expect for a 16 year old but more rustic. There was a bed with a TV opposite and 2 windows without glass. Although he lived with his aunt, parents and grandparents, he had his own cooking facilities which amounted to a gas canister and a 2 ringed stove.

His grandfather lived above him and cooked on a traditional fire because he couldn’t work the cooker. We shared a little joke about old people not being able to get in with the new technology!

Stopped for a drink to wait for the other group. I bought Koral and I a Lassi and he explained what the symbols on his currency were. When we’d regrouped and had a rest we all walked out of the city through the farmlands to the place where they make bricks.

The 2 brick makers were actually the parents of one of the young girls who was showing us around. They make 250rs/day and are expected to make 1000 bricks. During my up bringing I was taught how to make things from clay (and throw pots etc) so I had been watching them with interest while Steve was giving us the low down.

Steve asked for 5 volunteers so I and 4 others stepped forward. We were shown how to make a brick by the mother. During the day I had built up a rapport with the young lad, he was very interested in computers, so in order for there not to be any favouritism all 4 of the young adults were asked not to watch us make the bricks so that their judging would be fair. I went first and I effectively made my brick in about 30 seconds. It popped out and I was extremely pleased with it. The 4 bricks that followed were terrible and ranged from a slightly collapsed brick to what could only be described as a splat of clay. The kids were called in to judge, their deliberations took less than a second as they all pointed to my brick. Steve announced that I was brick champ and all the kids cheered and whooped. The person they had wanted to win, had won! My prize was a Nepal tourists t-shirt with Brick Champ 2070 embroidered on the front.

Nepal works on the lunisolar Hindu calendar so the current year in 2070 (at least it was on April 16th 2013).

After being named Brick Champion the mother brick maker told Steve that my brick was good enough to join her bricks and would be sent out with the rest to form a new building. I am the first Angel Holidays person to have a brick accepted. Props to me!

We header back through the farmlands towards the town. The kids showed us that we could eat some of the wild peas so we munched as we walked.

When we got back to the town we had a whip-round for the kids. The girls were at college and could use the extra money. We had a chat with Koral earlier in the day where we asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A Dealer", he replied which made us all laugh. We explained that if someone said they were a dealer in the UK it meant they were a drug dealer. The translation for what he actually wanted to say was “Salesman"!

Got back to town and Pabi showed us a good place to buy silver jewellery. I bought 3 sets of locally crafted silver ear rings at a very reasonable price; about a third of the price of what it would have been in England. Strangely the item’s price seemed totally dependant on the weight of the item and not how much time the craftsman had spent making it! The opposite of what it would have been in the UK!

The final souvenir was a Thanka from a traditional shop filled with master craft’s men who painted them on site. Steve knew a good one which he took me too called Master Pieces Thanks Treasure. After looking around I settled on a Kalachakra Mandala because I liked the concentric squares and circles and I thought the orange colour would look good in my new terracotta bedroom.

Did a bit of shopping for my trip to Chitwan showered and met 2 others for dinner. We ate in the same place as last night but this time I had Neapli Bati (non-vegetarian) which was lovely! Got back to the hotel for 9.30pm and had a night cap before hitting the sack.

Photos on my FaceBook page.

Nepal Day 4 - Everest, Pashupatinath, Boudhanath, Bhaktapur

July 25th, 2013

Got up at 4.20am and showered. Left at 5am to the domestic airport. We got on a 30 seater plane but we only occupied the window seats. The flight took us all the way along the Himalayas to Everest then turned around to let the people on the other side of the plane have a look. The air stewardess came and pointed out the mountains in the range - yes there is more than just Everest in the region. I don’t know much about mountain climbing but they were all really famous! I wished the plane could have got a bit closer to the mountains but the (female) pilot let us go up to the front and take pictures from there so that made up for it. It was still pretty amazing though. Got a certificate to say we had flown around Everest and then headed back to the hotel for breakfast.

Left at 10.30am for the regeneration ground at Pashupatinath Temple. We watched several bodies being cremated. Each body takes about 2.5 hours to burn through and when it is finished the ashes are brushed into the river. About 55 bodies are burnt per day.

Had my photo taken by a religious tramp (Sadhu) dressed in orange and dusted in white powder. You are supposed to pay for the privilege. I thought 5rs would be enough but when he saw my 5rs he started whispering 100. Felt like they were out to fleece tourists. He put his 5 feet dreads over me which was a bit gross but I think I was just getting the full treatment!

The burning bodies just smelt of the wood palets they were resting on which also hid the smell of the river! Adults were using the river to clean the cremation sites and the kids where splashing and playing in the water too.

Back in the coach and off to Boudhanath, one of the holiest Buddhist sites. This town boasts the biggest Stupa in Nepal. Went to watch how the Circle of Life paintings are made. Watched a master craftsman who had been studying the art for over 20 years add the finishing touches with 24ct gold paint. The gold is supposed to remove bad spirits and give a calming effect to the viewer.

Had lunch in a Soho style restaurant off the tourists trail, dead cheap, no windows, squat down toilets and full of monks! Only 800rs for 3 meals with rice and cokes. Wandered around the square and looked at the Stupa. It was enormous and we were able to climb on top of it. While on top I was stopped by a couple with a camera. I gestured that I would take a photo of them but the man insisted that he took a photo of me and his wife. A bit weird but they seemed to think this was normal. I think they just liked my novelty tallness and my odd socks!

Drove to Bhaktapur, where Little Buddha was filmed. We were issued with our city passes. Tourists are not allowed to wander in the city at night and in certain parts during the day. The bus drove as far as it could but eventually dropped us off at the bottom of the hill. We walked up through the old town and Steve explained to us that the German’s had rebuild the sewer system which is why there were so many western style manhole covers.

Our guide showed us around the town and we split off to go to our hotel. Due to sizes of accommodation constraints I and 3 others stayed in a hotel with the same name as the hotel we stayed in Kathmandu, Vajra. And the rest stayed in a hotel across the square. After check-in we had a wander around the town to buy water and supplies and got a bit lost. It was beer o’clock when we got back so a quick shower and out for a pre-dinner G&T. Found a really nice roof top restaurant and sat with some friends. Halfway through I noticed lightening in the background and the thunder started to get closer. 5 minutes later it was chucking it down. We hid under the umbrella with a group of women from Holland but by that time it was time to go to the restaurant.

There seems to be no urgency in Nepal so after ordering dinner we still had to wait almost 3 pints of beer for the food to turn up, but this seems to be normal. I had sizzling pepper steak with chips and veg which was delicious. After dinner everyone from the other hotel left and we hung around chatting.

The whole town closes down about 9pm so there isn’t anything to do or anywhere to go so we stay in our room and chatted over a final beer before bed. I was bunked with Jon. His claim to fame was that the Call Of Duty team re-tweeted his tweet about advancements in the ACOG sights. Which is not a bad claim to fame!

Photos on my Facebook page.

Yum installing from EPEL repository on CentOS

July 24th, 2013

EPEL stands for Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux. It contains open source projects compiled up for many versions of the Red Hat distribution, like CentOS.

Follow these instructions to allow yum install to select packages from the EPEL repository.

First we need to find out a few things about our system:

[root@mrn ~]# cat /etc/issue
CentOS release 6.3 (Final)
Kernel \r on an \m

[root@mrn ~]# uname -a
Linux mrn 2.6.32-279.el6.x86_64 #1 SMP Fri Jun 22 12:19:21 UTC 2012 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

We now know that we are using major version number 6 on x86_64.

It’s very likely that we will need to update our security keys in order to install the latest EPEL repository RPM, so let’s do that first.

Navigate to http://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/ and get the RPM-GPG-KEY-EPEL file for your major version number, in my case RPM-GPG-KEY-EPEL-6.

wget http://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/RPM-GPG-KEY-EPEL-6

Move it into position:

mv RPM-GPG-KEY-EPEL-6 /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/

And import:

rpm –import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-EPEL-6

Keys are in, so lets get a copy of the latest catalogue.

Navigate to http://download.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/6/x86_64/repoview/epel-release.html where 6 is the operating system major number and x86_64 is the platform architecture. You can go from http://download.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/ if it’s simpler.

There will be a link to the latest version of the epel-release-6-?.noarch. Install it.

wget http://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/6/x86_64/epel-release-6-8.noarch.rpm
rpm -ivh epel-release-6-8.noarch.rpm

Now check that it has worked:

[root@mrn tmp]# yum repolist
repo id   repo name                                      status
base      CentOS-6 - Base                                6,381
epel      Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux 6 - x86_64 9,341
extras    CentOS-6 - Extras                                 13
updates   CentOS-6 - Updates                             1,023
repolist: 16,758

Finally, list all the packages available at that repository:

yum –disablerepo="*” –enablerepo="epel” list available

Nepal Day 3 - Swayambhunath, Kumari, Patan

July 19th, 2013

Left at 9am to Swayambhunath the Monkey temple. Not as many beggars as I thought. There was a fountain at the foot of the temple and it was said that if you could throw a coin into the jar held by the statue in the centre then it was better luck than just blindly throwing it in. I had some Indian rupees left over from Mumbai airport so I used them. One missed and the other bounced off the rim - so close.

Angel Holidays, or more Steve, had links with all sorts of institutions and so we picked up the Professor of Hindu Studies at Kathmandu University to be our history/tour guide. We got back on the coach and headed for Patan the home of the Kumari. Matina Shakya is the current living goddess but she was having lunch! So we had to come back later. Had lunch in restaurant overlooking the square. Waiters short changed us by 100rs but we didn’t mind cos it’s only 60p and we felt that they needed it more. Sadly this did seem to be a bit too common in the tourist areas of Kathmandu. Lunch was nice though.

There was a festival going on in Lalitpur which is a district of Kathmandu famous for its schools, to promote the educational establishments. The stalls were showcasing their courses with demonstrations by the students of robotics and other disciplines. A band played some pretty decent rock music and we even saw someone selling 1MB broadband. It wasn’t characteristic of a poor country at all, more of a country reaching up.

Rickshaw ride to the coach was definitely a highlight of the day. They had horns made from squizzy bottles. Travelling in convoy, but when the road widened it became a race. Overtaking, undertaking, leaning into the turns then straight out into a main road of busy traffic. I thought that our number was up, but we narrowly avoided getting killed as the buses slammed their breaks on! In spite of that it was excellent fun, so we gave our driver a decent tip of 100rs (1 pound!)

We all ate out again as a group. Had a really nice pizza in a chain restaurant. Steve had coined it “last chance for a proper pizza". It wasn’t but it was a nice excuse. Early night as it’s the Everest flight tomorrow.

Photos on my FaceBook page.

Nepal Day 2 - Kathmandu

July 18th, 2013

Woke up at 2am, but didn’t have any problem getting back to sleep. Slept all the way to 9am when I showered and went down for breakfast. Chopped melon with yoghurt, a croissant, a boiled egg and a coffee.

At 10.30 met up with the other new arrivals and headed into Kathmandu. Steve showed us some nice places to eat, where the palace was and the Garden of Dreams. All 10 of us went to Pilgrims, a book shop that backed onto a coffee shop. Most of us had lime juice with soda water, very refreshing. Afterwards Steve and Pabi left and we were on our own.

Rob and I thought that the Garden of Dreams looked nice so we went there. It was an old colonial building that had been neglected and vandalise when the king left. The city had been restoring it over the last couple of years and it was lovely. They had repaired all the plaster garden furniture and buildings and were now working on part of the grass around the main pagoda. There were several water installations including cascading water features and goldfish ponds. It looked like a place where couples go as it was very quiet compared to the hustle and bustle behind the walls.

I sat in the bar and chatted to a Canadian girl who had already been hear for 2 weeks and was leaving in a few days. I had lime yoghurt cake and a coke which came to 435rs - a bit pricey but I think they are trying to fully restore the gardens.

Rob and I decided to walk back but got a bit lost. We ended up walking through a very deprived area, which in the story telling that followed we nicknamed The Shades. Derelict buildings and poverty everywhere but it wasn’t intimidating or scary at all.

At the beginning of the holiday I suffered with cow blindness. I could not see the large groups of cows standing in the middle of the road, Rob had to point them out. We joked that my mind couldn’t believe there was a huge herd of cows in the middle of town with cars overtaking, undertaking them and in some cases driving into them.

If you kill a cow you get 12 years in prison so they roamed free in the towns. The locals just let them do whatever they want.

We eventually hit the holly Bagmati River and followed it back to our bridge. To say the river was a bit dirty would be a massive understatement. Open sewers ran into the river and it was full of rubbish and it stunk to high heaven. It was a shame really because it would have been quite nice.

We passed a place of worship and popped in for a look. It stunk too! There appeared to be a load of men in the back sitting around doing nothing. There was rotting food laid out on the floor and areas where things had been burned. Big things! Maybe even people. It wasn’t particularly nice.

Eventually made it back to the hotel and sat on the roof garden with the others while they sunbathed and read.

Everyone had arrived but the holiday didn’t officially start until tomorrow. Steve took us out to a climber’s restaurant called Rum Doodle.

Pabi sorted out 2 taxies to take us all over to the restaurant and agreed a price with them. One of the taxi drivers tried to change the price when we arrived. It was quite a shock to see Pabi taking him down (verbally). Cute as a button but don’t try and pull one over on her.

The restaurant was named after a book called The Ascent of Rum Doodle which was a short 1956 novel by W. E. Bowman (1911–1985) that parodied non-fictional chronicles of mountaineering expeditions in the 20s and 30s. A couple of the people of the group bought the book and spent the next couple of days chuckling from behind its covers.

Each climbing expedition that came to the Himalayas ate here at the end of their visit. They all wrote the names on a foot which hung from the ceiling. While we were there we were blest with a visit from Carina Räihä who was the first Finnish woman to ascend Mount Everest.

We had been drinking Rum Doodle cocktails all night and weren’t used to the increased altitude so when Steve offered to show us some of the night life, everyone just wanted to go to bed!

Photos on my FaceBook page.