Travel

Adventures in Nepal XXII: The Journey Home

On January 30, 2020, Emma and Elizabeth spent their last day in Nepal. They were both still a little under the weather, and that mysterious new coronavirus seemed to be turning into a Whole Thing, so they continued to wear their masks.

They began the day with some shopping, to pick up some requested items for Emma’s family.

They had lunch at their favorite Kathmandu restaurant.

And then, at 8:00 that night, they headed to the Kathmandu Airport.

Big boi!

The cheap seats were overbooked, so the girls got a free upgrade to a fancier section of the plane!

BUT NOT WINDOW SEATS. This was, of course a catastrophe.

One of Elizabeth’s pocket friends admiring the in-flight meal.

As with the flight from the US to Nepal, the return-flight layover was in Dubai rather than China, at the request of Emma, who had less-than-optimal past experience with Chinese airports. This was fortuitous, because just as the girls were flying out of Nepal, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a Global Public Health Emergency. A few hours later, the US also declared a Public Health Emergency and started screening passengers flying in from China for signs of illness. If the layover had been in China instead of Dubai, Emma and Elizabeth likely would have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

They landed safely in Dubai…

…settled in for a five-and-a-half hour layover…

…and then caught their 17-hour direct flight from Dubai to LAX.


They followed the sun west. Elizabeth said this was the closest they got to night the entire flight, up in the Arctic Circle:

Flying over the Grand Canyon…

…over the Western desert…

…and the California mountains.

There were no health screenings of any kind for passengers arriving from countries other than China. The girls breezed ashore with no problems. It was in fact an early example of the general poor response to the virus that would soon be named Covid-19. But at the time we were all as thankful as we were baffled by the lack of concern.

When Elizabeth had first booked the Nepal flights, she was a sweet summer child who knew nothing about the slow bureaucracy of international travel, so she assumed that a two-hour layover between landing at LAX and departing for Austin would be sufficient. Alas, the flight from Dubai arrived an hour late and she was still in line at LAX for Customs when her Austin flight was boarded. Under the stress of realizing that she was going to miss her flight, she mislaid her passport. Emma was already on the other side of the security gates, so Elizabeth had to navigate this new territory alone. Eventually the passport was found, and Elizabeth made her way outside to where Emma and her mom were waiting. They drove her to her next terminal, helped her rebook her Austin flight and after a four-hour layover she was on her way home.

The whole Nepal experience was so good for Elizabeth. At the time, we thought it was the first of many international expeditions for all of us. Now we’re a year and a half into this pandemic with no end in sight.

So many places we want to see, and there’s no knowing when or if we’ll ever get to them. But I’m so thankful that Elizabeth got to enjoy this one last big adventure before the world shut down.

Categories: Covid-19, Family, food, Friends, Health, Life, Nepal, Travel | Leave a comment

Adventures in Nepal XXI: Pashupatinath Temple

I’ve promised Elizabeth that I will wrap up the Nepal Saga before I write about anything else. This should be the penultimate entry.

Our heroes’ next (and last) stop on their guided tour of Kathmandu was Pashupatinath Temple.

Foreigners (in this case “non-Hindu people”) are not allowed inside the main temple.

The guide showed the girls around the exterior areas.

As in most of Nepal, there are animals everywhere, just living their lives.

Elizabeth told me that bodies were being cremated here and their ashes poured into the river.

I did some research into that, and found this:

Pashupatinath is the most important temple dedicated to god Shiva. Every year this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism.

They arrive here to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives, to meet death, be cremated on the banks of the river and travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which later meets the holy river Ganges. Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India are arriving here to die.

It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma. The exact day of their death is predicted by astrologers of the temple. If you are attracted to the places where the spirit of death can be felt, then consider Pashupatinath as your first destination. It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it.

One of the cremation ovens:

After Pashupatinath, they returned to the hotel.

View from the hotel window:

Next post: a little shopping, and then the long journey home!

Categories: Death, Friends, Life, Nepal, Travel | Tags: | 1 Comment

Barr Camp

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain…

-John Denver, “Annie’s Song”

We had planned to conquer Pikes Peak over the Memorial Day weekend. But all the rain has put the Summit House construction project behind schedule, so that coveted summit is still closed off to the public. We briefly considered canceling our Barr Camp reservations, but it wasn’t like we’d be able to get reservations anywhere else on such short notice. Short notice for good camping reservations in Colorado is counted in months, not days. Anyway, we figured half a mountain was better than none, and the views would still be nice.

Then we got the weather forecast for the weekend: thunderstorms through Monday. Fun fact—the Pikes Peak area is one of the most lightning-prone spots in all of Colorado.

At that point we gave some serious thought to canceling the hike, because that would be a dumb way to die. But in the end we decided to risk it. Fortune favors the bold, right?

We got to the trailhead early, just as the moon was setting. Manitou Springs still had patches of blue sky, and the air was mild. Perfect hiking weather!

This hike was also the maiden voyage of my new GoPro, because I got tired of ruining good cameras with rain and dust and general abuse. I was surprised at the low resolution of the photos, considering the GoPro 9 is a 20mp camera. You can’t really zoom in at all without seeing every pixel. There’s quite a bit of lens distortion as well, even with the fisheye setting off.

The clouds rolled in early in the day, and the higher we climbed the denser they got.

We were surrounded by mountains, but the clouds swallowed them up. We never got even a glimpse of Pikes Peak.

We don’t know what this concrete thing is. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a little man-made cave about five feet deep. Maybe a remnant of the cog railway’s utilitarian days, or maybe a shelter for hikers caught in storms?

My pack was the only one that didn’t come with a rain cover, and for some reason I didn’t think to buy one. So I used that incredibly classy trash bag, and it worked fine.

The clouds turned the trail into a mystical, otherworldly place.

This hike was harder for me than I expected. It was partly the altitude, but mostly the extra weight I’ve put on in the last couple of years. I need to get serious about getting back in shape if I’m going to be exploring Colorado on foot.

But we made it to Barr Camp at last!

For some reason I didn’t get a pic of the outside of our lean-to, but here’s the view from inside.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather. As soon as we were safely under shelter, the thunder and lightning and hail arrived. A couple of hours later the view looked like this:

After we got our stuff all settled into our lean-to, we went to the main cabin for hot chocolate and tea and the company of other campers. So cozy! At 6:00 they served spaghetti and garlic bread…

…and the next morning they served yummy pancakes hot off the stove.

The lean-tos have mattresses in them, so we only had to pack in blankets. One thing we realized right away is that the camp blankets we used in Texas are not warm enough for up in the Rockies. We ended up using our reflective emergency blanket as a top layer to hold the heat in. Next on the shopping list: winter-rated sleeping bags!

The storm stormed itself out overnight, but the clouds hung around. We refilled our water bottles at Barr Camp’s only source of fresh water:

We filtered it through a Sawyer Squeeze and had no problems.

Everything was fresh and wet from the storm. The clouds got more drizzly as the day went on, but it didn’t really rain until we were almost back to the trailhead.

The GoPro’s photos are so lo-res that this zoomed-in deer looks like a paint-by-number.

But credit where it’s due: the GoPro is impervious to mist and rain and dust and general abuse, which means it gets to go places other cameras shouldn’t. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

For the last couple miles of the descent, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods come into view down below.

The cog trains are running again, after a complete replacement of the cars, tracks and station.

After the hike, we had a nice lunch at Edelweiss.

All in all, Barr Trail is a challenging but beautiful hike. We’ll probably tackle a few of the “easier” fourteeners to build up our stamina before we have another go at Pikes Peak.

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures in Nepal XX: Boudhanath Stupa

I found the flash drive I misplaced during the last move! I can finally finish the Nepal saga!

When we left our heroes, they were spending their last full day in Nepal taking a guided tour of Kathmandu. After visiting the Monkey Temple and Patan Durbar Square, they continued on to Boudhanath Stupa.

This is one of the largest spherical stupas in the world.

It was festooned with marigold garlands for an upcoming festival.

The garlands are made with real marigolds, which signify passion and creativity.

The girls and their guide stopped for lunch in an airy rooftop restaurant overlooking the stupa.

I don’t have a lot of narrative input for this post. They visited a couple of temples, only one of which allowed interior photos.

Pigeons clustered by the thousands in the shady areas.

Scary Wheel of Life, and partial glimpse of the tour guide:

Lion and tiger, Nepali style:

Elephant-dragon looks like he’s about to gobble up an airplane.

On to the next destination!

To be continued!

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Celebrations, Family, Holidays, Life, Nepal, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Carousel of Happiness

Last Sunday we drove the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park. As the name implies, this outing was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped to investigate anything that looked interesting along the way.

One of the highlights for me was the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland. We drove up just as it was opening, so we were the first customers of the day and for a few minutes we had the carousel to ourselves.

It lives in a modest, unassuming building.

But inside is a world of whimsy!

The operator said there was no time limit, we could stay as long as we liked, so we got to wander around and look at all the animals close-up.

There is a bittersweet story behind this carousel. All of the animals were carved by an ex-marine named Scott Harrison, who has worked through his post-Vietnam ptsd by bringing these happy creatures to life.

During the war his sister had sent him a small music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse.” It was a source of comfort to him between firefights. He would listen to the tune and imagine a carousel in a serene mountain meadow.

The music box was lost when Harrison was badly injured in January of 1968. After he returned home, he struggled to adjust and longed for the comfort of his music box tune.

In 1986 he found an old 1910 wooden carousel in Salt Lake City that was being dismantled after someone had purchased its animals. Harrison brought the carousel to Colorado and spent the next 26 years carving new animals for it. He held a fundraiser to collect the money to build the structure that now houses the carousel.

Look at this adorable little fish giving a frog a ride!

I just now noticed that the rabbit is holding a watch.

Chillin’ with Harambe.

When the next customers arrived, we chose our animals and the ride began.

The carousel is teeming with creatures large and small.

A 1913 Wurlitzer band organ provides the music, guarded by a wolf.

Painted koi swim around beneath the platform.

So many birds everywhere!

Not all of the animals are on the carousel. Some sit nearby to watch the fun.

Hello frog!

Some of the walls are portrayed as misty portals.

This vignette in particular tugs at my heart.

Adjacent to the carousel is a gift shop, with a Nietzsche quote painted over the door: “We have art so that we are not destroyed by the truth.”

The experience made me happy and sad. Sad that a teenage boy was so traumatized by an ugly, pointless war that the entire rest of his life was shaped by that trauma. Happy that he was able to craft his pain into something so beautiful and uplifting.

Almost all art is, on some level, an expression of longing. It’s not hard to see that this exhibit was created by a man who longed for peace and happiness. I hope he eventually found them.

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Family, Life, Music, Road trip, Travel, Winter | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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