A suitcase full of gifts

Last week B went home to Nepal for three weeks to celebrate Dashain together with his family. Unfortunately I need to stay in Sweden, because of my studies, I’m in the last year of my master’s programme and should focus on that. I wish I could go with him to Nepal though, I miss it a lot and can’t wait to go back. After my studies are finished I will definitely start joining B when he goes to Nepal.

Dashain is celebrated in Nepal since a few days back and will continue a few days more. It’s the biggest festival of the year and I use to compare it with our Christmas since the similar things is that its the main festival of the year and people buy new clothes during this time and give gifts or money to each other, perhaps mostly to the children in the family. I have been told about and read about the festival, why it’s celebrated and how, but since I have never celebrated it myself (yet) I don’t want to try to write about it, so I’m saving that for next year perhaps or the next one after that.

It’s been a year since B have been home and last year we didn’t buy many gifts. So because it’s been a year and also because it’s dashain we wanted to buy a few small gifts for the closest family. Having a big family or being as close to the extended family as B is (and what seems to be the norm in countries like Nepal) is really nice but it sure gets tricky when it comes to gifts.

We started with the plan to buy gifts for the closest family members, like father, mother, grandmother, brothers, their wives and children. We had bought a few gifts for the kids when we were at Disneyland Paris this summer so at least we didn’t need to find more gifts to them. It was not really difficult to find gifts for everyone, the guys got clothes and the women got beauty products and handbags. Perhaps a bit stereotypical to buy one type of gifts for the guys and another for the women, but it seemed more difficult to buy clothes for the women since we didn’t know their sizes and also because they normally wear more traditional clothes like sari and kurta suluwar.

After a while we also wanted to buy for the aunties since they are very close to the family and we also stayed with one of them on our visit last year. Then at the same time we thought we ought to buy for the two female cousins as well. There’s only two female cousins among Bs closest cousins so they get much gifts during festival times. Seems to me like the girls in the family usually get more gifts than the guys. We also wanted to buy something for two of the male cousins because they are the two youngest ones.

When we thought we had finished all the shopping we started to write down what we had bought and for whom. We realised that we had bought for all cousins (who were in the country) except one and that seemed unfair so we wanted to get something small for him as well, and then we realised that his wife was the only woman who didn’t get any gift so we had to buy something for her too. Finally we bought for the aunties husbands as well so they wouldn’t be the only ones in the family who didn’t get a gift. It was really difficult to stop this, when we bought for one then another one popped up that we ought to think about and buy for as well.

We had also just heard some good news, our close friends living in KTM is having a baby! So of course we wanted to bring them a gift for the coming baby and the mother-to-be also got a similar kit like the other females we bought for. Just when we thought we had finished all the shopping (again), we realised we didn’t have any sweets or candy, which was very popular last year. So we bought lots of candy and divided up into different bags for friends and family. Finally the shopping was complete! I gift wrapped everything in a few different papers and wrote name tags on all of them, otherwise I’m sure people would have gotten the wrong gifts. Good thing I used to work in a gift shop and can wrap things fast when it was so many gifts!

It was a lot of fun to figure out what to buy for all of them but when the number of people just keeps growing we have to stop some time and it felt good when we had reached that point because I was worried how all of it would fit into Bs luggage. I took a picture of (almost) all the gifts laid out on the sofa, but I don’t have the memory card with me, so picture is coming later!

Luckily I’m used to packing and think I can pack things quite well if I may say so myself. I saw it like a big jigsaw puzzle where each packed gift had its own place. The gifts took up most of the space in the suitcase and the clothing items were in the bottom. B didn’t pack much clothes though, he like to shop so if he needed anything else he could easily buy it there in Nepal. When the bag was full almost all of the gifts fit (a few had to go in the hand luggage) and the bag weight exactly 23 kg, which is the limit!

I think we probably won’t do like this every year, it will be too difficult to buy and pack for that many people every year. But it’s a lot of fun to give gifts, especially if it’s useful things and bought in another county. I look forward to hearing what they thought of all the gifts and if they liked them. We already have a short list of things we can bring next time that will be more household items and less personal gifts, more useful for the whole family.

Happy Dashain everyone! Hope you’re enjoying the festival with friends and family and have a great time! 🙂

Toilet trouble and a possible solution

Ok this is a post about a quite odd topic but I still want to write a short post about it. It’s about the problem girls can have when using the squat style toilets that are common in Nepal and other parts of Asia, and a possible solution. I’m guessing that anyone who isn’t used to that type of toilet gets a little confused and worried about how it will work to use it.

I have read that the squat toilet is actually more natural and good for the body, and even if it is it takes time to learn how to use it. First of all it takes some practice to sit right and your legs need to get used to that position or else they will start to fall asleep if it’s taking too long time. It can also be difficult for older people or those who have some problem with their legs to sit in that position if you’r not used to it. Here’s a useful guide on how to use this type of toilet that I found.

One problem that this guide, and other ones as well, don’t take into account is that it’s difficult for us girls to aim. Perhaps there’s some technique for that that the girls who grew up there know about but at least for me, and I guess for other girls as well, it’s a real problem, trying to aim right and pee slowly so there is lower risk of spatter getting on the shoes, feet or pants. Most guides describe how to use the toilet traditionally but I want to share another possible solution that solves this aiming issue.

At home (family’s house, friends house, hotel etc) it’s a little easier since you might have less or looser fitting clothes on, or you can take your time and take off your pants. Also you probably have soap, water and maybe a towel close by so you can wash your feet after you’re done. But for other situations it gets a bit trickier, like when you’re travelling and stopping at a road side restaurant, bus station or somewhere else. Then you can’t take off your clothes and it might not be possible to wash your feet either, depending on the cleanliness of the place and what kind of clothes and shoes you are wearing. This was always my least favourite part of travelling to new places with bus, using road side toilets.

Shewee

After a tip I found some products that offer a solution to this problem and the one I think seems best is Shewee, it comes in pink or green, with an extension pipe and a case for storage so you can keep it with you when you need it. It works like a funnel (like the one people usually have in the kitchen, only smaller and a little different shape) with a longer pipe, so we girls can pee similar like a guy. It’s very easy to use, but it’s a good idea to practice at home first, perhaps in the shower, until you’re sure you know what you are doing. Be sure to read the instructions too! At first glance it’s easy to think that you just hold the funnel against your body but that will definitely cause an accident. The right way to do it is to let the back end rest against your body and keep a space open in the front, a few millimetres or up to a full centimetre should work as well.

I haven’t tried mine during travelling or out in nature yet, but I’m sure it’s just as easy to use there as it is here at home. I’ll definitely always keep the shewee in my handbag when travelling in Asian countries to make things easier. I’m also considering putting a small (10×10 cm) towel in the case for those times when toilet paper isn’t available, I don’t like the thought of putting my pants back on without getting dry first. I haven’t found any information about this, but when thinking about it I don’t think it should be a problem. From what I’ve heard it’s important to get dry and such a small towel can be washed easily all the time, it’s not like there will be any bacteria anyway since urine is sterile. I haven’t tried this yet so I can’t say for sure if I recommend it but still wanted to share this thought just in case anyone else want to try it before I get the chance to travel.

A visit to Chitwan national park

Here comes another travel memory from when I visited Nepal in 2011. We decided to visit the national park Chitwan to get a chance to see some wild life and to see another side of Nepal than the cities where we had spent most of our time so far. We went there together with two close friends.

We stayed in a nice small town, Sauraha, close to the national park. We hadn’t booked any hotel before arriving so we spent the first hours looking around at the different options. Most of the hotels seemed quite nice though. After settling in we walked down to the river side to eat at one of the small restaurants with a view of the national park. The only thing separating us from the park was a river.

Our elephant ride

The next day we booked an elephant riding tour. The people we booked with said it was within the national park but we found out later that elephant riding in the park is not allowed for some reason. It didn’t really matter though, we still got to ride in the jungle next to the park and saw some animals. We had to take a car to the elephant camp before we could start our small adventure. We got one of the biggest and oldest elephants, a female, and she was very nice and it felt a little safer to be on top of a big elephant in case we met a tiger or something!

During our jungle tour on elephant back we experienced different surroundings. We had to cross a river, walked on grassy fields, through dense jungle and on small trails. One of the downsides with being on a big elephant was that even though others passed on the same trail before us we still got lots of spiders and spider webs in our faces since we sat higher up! Not so nice really, started to pay attention to searching for the webs in front of us instead of focusing on the jungle and finding animals to see.

We were lucky to see a whole family, here’s the mother and her calf

We saw some different animals, like crocodiles, peacocks and other birds, as well as several species of deer. But the main attractions, rhino, tiger and elephants, were nowhere to be seen. Sure it was a nice experience and fun to see the other animals, but it was my third time on jungle safari by elephant (just in another country now) so I wanted something more special to happen. Then when we entered an open area with a pool of water surrounded by jungle, we finally saw a rhino family! It was two adults and one calf, all standing in the water. We circled around them up on our elephants, only a short distance away, stayed for a little while to take pictures and them moved on. One funny thing that happened here was that the girl friend we were travelling with dropped her handbag on the ground, and since we couldn’t go down to pick it up the elephant driver called another one of the elephants to come and help. The elephant picked up the bag and handed it to his driver and gave it back to us. Nice and helpful elephant! 🙂

Three rhinos and people watching them from elephants

The jeep used in the jungle safari

We still wanted to see more of the area and especially the real national park, so we decided to go on a jeep safari as well. To get there we had to cross the river in a small boat and walk a short while to where the jeeps were parked. At first sight I felt a little sceptical about the cars, they seemed very old, small and not very safe. They also wanted to put quite many people in on car so it would be a bit crowded.

The first, and last, bit of the drive was through very high grass in the fields on both sides on the road. It was so high that if we were standing up on the seats in the back of the car we could barely see over the top of the grass. We were told it’s called elephant grass because the elephants like to eat it. It was a bit scary to not be able to see much beyond the road since we knew that there are both tigers and wild elephants (especially a male that’s sometimes aggressive) in the national park. I don’t know if they like to hang out in that kind of environment but it still felt a little scary.

Tall grass surrounding the road

Since I often think about safety issues in all kind of situations, the topic came to mind here as well. I was thinking about things like what would happen if we met a tiger or the aggressive elephant. Would they be more scared of us or could they possibly attack? If they came charging at us, would we be able to drive away from them? How could we protect ourselves if that would happen? Since the car was open in the back and not even the driver would be 100% safe (since there was nothing behind the seats), I was thinking what to do. It was a crowded car and we were standing in the front, so at least if something happen we could try to throw ourselves inside the car to perhaps get a little protection, but there’s not room for everyone, maybe only 1-2 people can squeeze in. I’m not even sure if the driver or guide had any weapons for protection, probably not since it was a protected area – we even met some soldiers guarding the park.

Wild pig crossing the road

We made it safely back in the end and didn’t see any tiger or wild elephants. I think it was unfortunate since it would have been my first time, better luck next time! (perhaps from a safer place than an open car) At least we got to see more rhinos in the jungle, as well as wild pigs, peacocks dancing, many kind of deer etc. All in all it was a nice national park and I would definitely like to come back! We were told that there’s a house in the jungle that you can stay over night in but unfortunately it had been a fire there so it was under reconstruction when we were there. Apparently the chance to see tiger was much higher from that spot since the name had something to do with tiger as well, perhaps it was Tiger top, do any of you have more information about this? I heard that people also go on guided walks in the national park, especially for bird watching. I am an adventurous person but I’m not sure I would dare to do that, I think I would have to get more information about how common the tiger is in the area before!

Regret being too shy

There is one thing I regret about my trip to Nepal last time and that is that I was so shy. Yes it’s part of my personality to be shy but I was a bit more shy than usually, since it was so many new things for me. I’m used to travelling but it was different to be in Nepal since I felt a need to observe the culture more and learn more things than I usually do when I travel. Obviously because it was B’s culture and I wanted to get to know it better as I will be part of it and who knows, I might live there some time in the future.

I’ve always been a shy and cautious person. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having that kind of personality either, everyone is different. As I’ve grown older my shyness has decreased and it’s much easier for me to handle new and uncertain situations nowadays. I’m still being cautious though, I like to stay back and observe things when I’m in new situation, kind of to assess the situation.

My shyness had some consequences this time. One was that I declined a friends offer to try on one of her saris. Now in hindsight I really regret this, I would have loved to try a sari to see how it was. It’s such a beautiful piece of cloth and I’ve heard it’s really complicated and difficult to wear. It would have been fun to see how a blond white girl would look like in that, if I could pull it off or if it would only look strange and out of place. I’m also curious to know how it would feel like to wear, if it’s a comfortable type of clothes, if it would feel “right” for me or not etc.

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What to call people?

I have noticed that Nepali people don’t call each other by name. Instead they use more relationship terms or titles. This made it very confusing for me in the beginning, I couldn’t understand that a person called “cousin” or “brother” didn’t have to be an actual cousin or brother but could be a good friend. When B talked of his “cousins” and “brothers” I was surprised about how big his family seemed to be. At first I didn’t think much about it but after a while it started to seem very unrealistic to have so many people to call brother. So I finally realised that all those people were not, what we would say here, real brothers and cousins, but instead seem to be a way of expressing that you are a close friend. It took me quite a long time to get this and I still usually have to ask if it’s really a cousin or if it’s a friend.

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A mountain of rice

For some reason another travel memory popped up in my head today, not sure what triggered it, perhaps a combination of my grocery shopping and the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of blogs lately. This time the memory was about eating lunch / dinner in Nepal and the differences I experienced.

I remembered the really big portion sizes that people in Nepal seem to eat. When I was eating together with our friends I thought they put a mountain of rice on their plates and then added some lentil soup, vegetables, chutney, meat etc. I’m not kidding about it being a mountain, to me it looked like a portion for maybe three people instead of one.

I was wondering how they would ever be able to finish all that food, but they did and often went for seconds as well. It was really surprising for me to see people eat so big portions. Sure I have seen people eat a lot here in Sweden too sometimes, but that’s more an exception than the norm and unusual to see. Here even the girls ate a lot, and how they could stay so thin even though they ate so much is a mystery to me.

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One temple experience I will never forget

This travel memory is not one of the most pleasant ones but I still want to share it, since not all new experiences are nice ones. I usually enjoy visiting temples very much because of the peaceful atmosphere there, but this place turned out to be quite different.

View of the monastary we drove by

While we were in Kathmandu we wanted to visit some temples and went to some in the city and then wanted to go on a small day trip to a temple a bit outside the city. I don’t remember the name of the temple or specifically where it was, but I believe it was a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. We (the two friends we stayed with, B and I) rented a taxi for the day and went up the mountains. The road there was quite beautiful and I enjoyed the scenery, we passed by fields and a monastery, going up and down the hills.

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Airport security

Last year when I arrived in Nepal I came to the international airport in Kathmandu. B had already been in Nepal for two months so we were really missing each other very much. He wanted to come meet me at the gate but that’s not allowed of course, so he has waiting outside the airport.

The first thing I noticed that was different about this airport compared to many others I’ve been to was that it was built with bricks, not concrete. The airport seemed quite small for an international airport but it had a nice feeling.

At the immigration checkpoint there were long queues and a bit confusing about which form to fill out. I started talking to a woman who had been to Nepal several times before and chose the same form as her. We stood in line together and talked a bit and when it was finally our turn the immigration officer said we had filled out the wrong form. So just had to start over again and find the right form.

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Taking the local bus in Kathmandu

During our time in Kathmandu we stayed with some of B’s friends. They rented the bottom floor of a house a little way out from the centre of the city. The house was on a small hill so we could go to a viewpoint and see the city.

To get to the centre of the city we had to take a mini bus and that was a bit different experience. We had to walk a short while to the bus stop, or what I should call it. There was nothing to indicate that it was a bus stop or that it was the start/end of this bus line. So if you’re not a local you’d have no idea where to find a bus.

When the bus arrived you’d have to try to be quick to get inside and get a good seat. No point in queuing or letting the person who had waited the longest time get onboard first. The bus had a bench in the back, originally for three people I would say, and then two smaller benches in front of that, some small seats on the side close to the side door, and of course the driver and front seats. Sometimes there was a small bench just behind the driver seat also so that a few people were riding backwards. We were usually four people travelling together and tried to get the seat in the back of the mini bus, where we could fit all four in one seat. That way we didn’t need to jostle (?) with other people so much.

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Remembering the Buddhist temples in Nepal

On my very first day visiting Nepal we (me, B and some of Bs friends) went to a Buddhist temple in Kathmandu. I first saw the temple from a viewpoint, it was situated on a hill overlooking the city and from afar it looked beautiful. When we arrived there it was a short walk, lots of flags hanging between trees and buildings. When we came up to the top of the temple we looked around and walked the circle around the main building and spun the scrolls, since it was a tibetan Buddhist temple. I remember it as a peaceful and relaxing place, nice to get away from the bustling streets a while.

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Close to nature in a big city

When I was visiting Nepal last spring, B and I stayed with a couple of his friends in their home while visiting Kathmandu. They were really wonderful, nice and the hospitality was beyond great. They rented the bottom floor of a house and let us use one of the rooms while visiting. The house was a little bit away from the centre of the city, up on a hill so if we walked a short bit we could view the city. When we needed to go to the city we took the local (mini)bus.

What I noticed when I was staying with them was how quiet and peaceful it was even though we were in a city of almost one million people. In the morning we woke up to birds singing outside the house (not roosters luckily), it felt like being in the country side but we were in the capital city.

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Using henna for the first time

After spending about a week in Kathmandu with Bs friends they convinced me to try henna on my hair because it seemed a bit dull and dry. They assured me that my hair wouldn’t turn red and that the hair would just get a lovely shine with a hint of red. I must say I was not so easy to convince since I had never coloured my hair before. I really liked my natural dark blond hair and had never thought about colouring it, and also because I don’t want to use strong chemicals on the hair. After a while I did agree that my hair needed some better care and that it actually was a bit dry. So I decided to give it a go.

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