Category Archives: Kathmandu

2012-03 Kathmandu nights: Too many ideas, Steak & Slides and Holi on the Horizon.

It’s 3:20am in the morning and I am up writing e-mails at my desk. I decided to try and get an early night in fact but sank into an early coma of sleep for about 1 hour only to rise with my head buzzing full of ideas. So…I decided instead to power on through and take an early nap tomorrow afternoon. You may think I’m crazy but with the little sleep I get anyway this is not such a deprivation for me…. In any case my mind is too full of ideas at the moment to allow me quiescent slumber. It seems these days that the more time I spend in Kathmandu the more ideas are coming to me about what would be a good thing to do in the future in so many different domains. The trouble with these is the conceptions on how actually they would be able to be created and also straightforward limitations on my time that all these ideas mushrooming inside my already crowded headspace generates. Already here in Kathmandu I have many many projects still to finish. It is for this that I am keen to avoid the rest of the human race for large portions of the day… things just seem to start happening as soon as I get into social situations and within 5minutes another potential project has surfaced. There is a serious risk that I could spread myself so thin as to become non-existent. You might laugh at me saying this but those of you who know me well know that this is really a true possibility. In any case the important point is that there are some very exciting ventures for the future here in Nepal and I should wish to focus on those which really are important in achieving the ultimate goals. Requires concentration and exercising the use of the word “no”.

Kanti children's Hospital
My commitments at both Kanti, MIRA and many others will consume all of my time until I leave the country in 17 days.

Sorry to be cryptic for now but hopefully in time things will come a bit clearer. Besides it is 3:30 in the morning so apologies if I am not fully lucid. Meanwhile my clinical studies are ticking along somehow, partly it is headspace & partly it is forming a commitment to sitting down to a couple hours each day… but now the ball has started rolling things have become a little easier…Overall I really have to worked my butt off until I leave Kathmandu if I’m going to get this long list finished. But If I do things have real the potential to be quite spectacular in the future.

In other news, I attended an incredibly interesting slideshow presentation of photos and stories of the Everest region this evening as well as one of the great Pujan’s legendary Hotel Courtyard steak dinners. It really was quite the sophisticated evening – and I can be proud of myself in not drinking also. The first night of my abstinence until June 16th. I will try to be honest on updates in this regard!

Boots were made for walking
There is a reason I brought hiking boots to the country…

Anyway – the gentleman giving the presentation this evening, Chris, is an expatriate who has lived in Nepal on and off for 28 years and makes a living as a trekking guide, photographer and writer. His slides consisted of the photographs he has taken over his long stint in Nepal. Accompanied with these crystalline images his speech was commanding, informative and grandiose… I found that the oration accompanied by these stunning images of mountains really set my mind to a loftier plane in consideration of these high-climes… There is something about the Himalayas that is so epically resplendent. Chris’ presentation couldn’t fail to capture this but what I found most impressive was the way he conveyed the human side of life in the Himalayas which is so often lost amidst the grandeur of the peaks. I envy his ability to have such a lengthy insight into the country and also having been here in times when tourism was not so rife and things were far more virgin than they are now. I’m sure a future me will reflect on my visits to certain places in the world and think just in the same fashion “oh how things have changed!”, but I believe also that as development reaches a certain point there undergoes a certain transition at which traditional culture moves aside to a large extent. These changes have been led largely by increases in mountaineering tourism in the Himalayas but in a wider sense communications and the spread and development of new technologies affects a wider change across the face of the country. Thus whilst many of the essential components of the culture of these regions is maintained a wholly new concept is evolving around the these new intrusions in such a way as to change the face of many hundreds of years of societal development within a generation or less. Overall the presentation was an acute insight into what I’m missing down here in the valley. I really must at least get to one viewpoint before I leave! — Even if it means running up the nearest peak as to complete at least one “trek” before I leave… Watch this space.

Steak's not typically on the menu here in Nepal
The Cow is very much sacred here so good quality beef is extremely hard to find.

As regards the steak, I write with genuine sincerity when I say that on the two happy occasions that I have enjoyed this experience it really does rank amongst one of the finest that I have experienced in my entire life. Pujan, Michelle and their wonderful staff must receive some kind of award for mustering such consistently good food show the courtyard. I hail the Dal Bhatt which I have ordered on several occasions to my room as absolutely delicious (and this is coming from someone who has this as a long staple in Janakpur) and the Steaks…the steaks are amongst the very finest across the whole of Asia. Fact. You might wish to lable me a fool simply because I crave a meat which is not widely available here in Nepal (most people here are Hindu after all – (and to be absolutely explicit the cow is one of the most sacred animals in the Hindu religion)), but discussions with a great number of people who have experienced this culinary delicacy really do add weight to my statements. All are agreed on the above and would, I’m sure, willingly swear blind. Altogether they are just out of this world and certainly have to be tasted to be believed….but steaks aside If you ever get the chance to visit Nepal and are looking for “the perfect place to stay” I cannot more thoroughly recommend the Hotel Courtyard. The steaks of course, play some small part in my suggestion here but more widely I have never felt more at ease in a place. The gamut of the clinment, curiosity and intrigue. There is never a dull moment (partly why I choose to keep myself away – distraction factor) but there in the same breath there exists an enduring sense of calm and serenity about the place, not to mention Chic. Something of the air of the place here so strongly reminds me of ….’s “In the mood for Love”. I am certainly going to miss it here when I head back to the maelstrom of clamour and chaos that is my existence in London.

Pujan the Wizard
Pujan, here cooking up a magical night outside by the fire, makes some of the best steaks in the world – I’d swear that he imports them from some other heavenly plane of existence.

As a final thought, Holi is happening on Wednesday. Of course it will be a national holiday and therefore another day off…. and I think I should choose this day wisely as a chance to really engage with the local culture rather than sitting in my room. What this directly means is that the next 48 hours are going to be incredibly work filled but hopefully on Wednesday I can take some respite in a bit of fun and games. If you’ve every heard of this more famous of Hindu festivals you’ll be aware of the need to throw at your fellow man coloured paints and perfume. Whole streets descend into coloured chaos. This has a great photographic as well purely perceptual pleasure in its potential form (providing I and my camera survives).

Hotel Courtyard Bar
…the bar lit up during load shedding

I will of course find more detailed information about this (hopefully through empirical experience ) but as far as I understand it this “festival of colours” hails the arrival of spring as well as referring backwards to various aspects of the Hindu mythology. The story goes, and I’m summarising from Wikipedia here, that Hiranyakashipu a great Demon King – who could not die – kept trying to kill off his son, Prahlada, who was enamoured of the great Lord Vishnu, rather than worshipping his Demonic Dad as he was supposed to do. Ultimately Hiranyakashipu tried one too many times and in his final attempt, ordering his son to climb onto a pyre which was set burning in the lap of his demon sister Holika in order to get the deed done, his plan backfired (literally). In the event it was Holika not Prahlada that burned to death and thus everybody cheered and celebrated the wicked sister’s burning with a brand new festival – Holi… all good and proper but the celebratory aspects referring to spring seem to make a bit more sense to me and happily in many places the festival is also associated with harvest and positive seasonal prospect variations. It is certainly a festival which I become aware of over the years, not least because of the paint stains which are left in the UCL Quad when British Hindus (and non-Hindus granted) celebrate this event so it will be a great pleasure to see at first hand here in Nepal.

Reports as soon as I can muster after Wednesday’s events then!

2012-03 What’s it all about?

Part of the purpose of this blog is to re-articulate some of the incredible journeys that I have taken in my time. Slowly but surely I aim to over the course of the next few years to fill in the blanks of the journeys that I’ve taken, together with the photos. Looking back with some perspective now on these adventures hopefully become a little “less stuck in the mud” than I find myself whilst contemporaneously trying to document events.

Mt Fuji with Kenzo Ejiri and Seb Roberts
Kenzo and Seb: Climbing Mt Fuji in the night to catch the dawn one of the many incredible experiences I’ve had in my time.

I recall quite well discussing with Marthe Taillefer, the owner of Chalet Lores in Val D’Isere (the chalet where I worked for five months as a chef during my gap year) and photographer of many years, saying to me that I should select my best hundred photos out of 5000 that I took over the course of the season. At the time I thought that this would be quite a remarkable challenge as I had so many to look through – now I wonder if I wouldn’t even choose 10 to try and articulate this experience. For me the photographic record provides hooks on which to account to myself the particulars of the situation – but it can also change what you would recall – forcing the recollection of some and not other aspects…Nevertheless part of the process of taking photos reflects the engagement of your visual memory. Photos aside the active process one engages whilst taking photos gives a wealth of memories which extend beyond the photos internally – growing together with other perceptual ghosts of smell and sound and touch … Thus united time gives further evolution and perspective on these memories. Memories which were initially striking fade into a notsalgic melange such that you’re left with senses and perceptions which may or may not be nessicarily be a true refection of what you actually experienced. Unpleasant may change to memories change to comedic ones – people you met who seemed important fade away and are replaced with curious resurfacings of the brief glimpse of a person who caught your eye only for a second.

Bowling for Tamsin's birthday
Bowling on Tamsin’s birthday – I think I got one of the lowest scores ever…something which I’d quite forgotten about but remember now with fondness.

The falability of memory makes photos an interesting means of both preserving but also reanalysing and reinterpreting the past. So for me the process of reproducing these photos and stories is both externally and internally orientated. On the one hand I want to share it with you all these images and experiences and on the other I wish to process and mull over them as I do so – savouring in the memories and evolving them all the same.

2012-02 Suzanne leaves: Presentations, Spring time and back to work.

Well, here I am back in Kathmandu. As it often do while starting a blog post I will discuss coffee briefly. At the moment I’m sitting in the dark and sipping cold Nescafe which I’ve mixed with tap water. This tastes just like it sounds, absolutely disgusting, and of course for those of you who have read my previous posts this is due to two factors: having smashed my cafeteria on the flight back from Janakpur to Kathmandu and the fact that in Kathmandu I am back in the clutches of load shedding.

Anyway, it is self-inflicted so I won’t impose upon use my grumblings about coffee any more. Needless to say as soon as power kicks in either with the generator or load shedding is mercifully lifted I will have a nice hot cup of coffee. Until such time then I shall write on. Being in a pensive mood I’ve decided to listen to Joanna Newsom. For me she holds a certain nostalgic remembrance of having lived with Kenzo and Tamsin in my second and third years of university. These really were some of the happiest times. I think we made a good team, a testament to which is the fact that we still are great friends. Curious that I should choose to live and architects, but I guess it underlies the fundamental rebellion I have with doing anything by the book. Medicine tends to railroad one’s sense of destiny and so I have always tried to resist every turn my ultimate fate. Arguably the biggest decisions are still to come particularly this nascent desire I have to try and use all these artistic skills I have accrued over the years together with my medicine. Who knows what will come of it – and being somewhat cautious here I will not elaborate in public some of the schemes which I’m cooking up. Chickens and eggs after all.

So Kathmandu on my return really is a fantastically pleasant place. There is something of an air of European spring to the city at the moment with some of the most gorgeous weather that I have ever experienced. Being from a cold clime on the return from the somewhat sweaty Janakpur the ambience is really is quite pleasant. To the nearsight the ring of hills and In the distance the glorious mountains with their sparkling high-top white peaks, really elevate the mood to a higher plane. Despite my grand intentions to study 24 hours a day I think it would be amiss of my human spirit not to take advantage of this place here and now can see little bit of it, even if that only means climbing the nearest hill.

Back to Kathmandu
Back in the big smoke – with a touch of spring warmth the place feels more like the south of France. Great to be back

This new-found fondness Kathmandu lies in some contrast to Janakpur which very much grew on me. I certainly don’t think my initial impressions of there were as favourable as my return here – but as all things relating to both comfort, the recounting of former experiences experiences together with a fond return to people you know AND the perception that things generally are more pleasant — obviously these will improve your estimation. Simply put it’s great to be back and I really am looking forward to these final weeks in Nepal both in terms of my ability again to study but also the fantastic weather and I’m sure the many interesting, meetings I’m sure to have.
In terms of my immediate return, three events have taken place. The first was my presentation delivered to the Professor DS Manandhar of MIRA on my work in Janakpur. Despite very little preparation time, including within which managing to meet Penny, Christie and Bernie for breakfast at the fantastic Or2K restaurant before their afternoon departure, I pulled together a short but hopefully enjoyable presentation on my work down in Dhanusha. I decided not to focus so much on the scientific component whilst giving the presentation … overall the calibration study really is something of a one-liner in Delan’s thesis. You might wonder therefore that such efforts almost a month of continuous work should be had to get this. But that of course is the nature of research – that often the most difficult things reap very little reward. Hitting analyse on a data set may take mental conception but really is quite simple in contrast to history behind all those numbers which is often a story of pain, difficulty and general travail and really caveat. Yet the history of the numbers, if you will, is not the significant component of the research. It is instead the output, the meaning of those numbers. Of course I cannot entirely sell the calibration study up-river – it does have some intrinsic value in documenting worldwide variance between different populations in terms of the subtleties of their relative tissue hydration. Slowly but surely those who really are interested, amongst which I include Prof. Wells this holds the key to many more grand questions which I won’t profess to know a huge amount about but do have the potential to inform more grand designs.

Thus to complement the relative sparsity of scientific wisdom I imparted I gave an overview of the training that I had conducted and the documentary which I had also begun in Dhanusha – it is by no means finished but having 12 days of solid shooting completed we really have something quite exciting on the cards – by slipping together a few seconds of silent imagery which seem to be generally appreciated. Anyone who knows Janakpur, or who’s been there memories of the railway (the only one in Nepal) and of the animals and of the general busy chaos will recall strong and possibly… fond memories.

Indoor Air Pollution
All that smoke: who knows what the future holds?

As a direct counterpoint Suzanne’s was far more scientific and involved in the really quite complex work she had completed in Janakpur. I have much admiration for her having really completely evolved her scientific capabilities from a UK based epidemiologist to a full on field researcher – the running joke that she was literally “in the field” lost neither its candour nor its impact with the incredible histories like a goat eating the cables to her equipment and head-butting various monitors across the room before being banished to the roof – or even stumbling out of the kitchen where she could barely breathe because of the thick smoke. I think she would agree with me that out of the three of us, Delan, myself and Suzanne – that she really had the greatest change in her perspectives on what she was studying certainly (I won’t suppose other more general perceptions although she did allude to them) and thus arguably really got the most out of being in Janakpur. I see in her a rejuvenated curiosity and strong desire to continue working in this field, indoor air pollution, which she reports has a relative dearth of special interests in it despite its widespread impact across the globe….And in this respect I think in future when I go to one of her lectures as (undoubtedly) one of the world leading experts I’m sure she will fondly recall these times with almost opaquely rose tinted spectacles (she’ll leave off of remembering the bad times, the sickness and the distress when things didnt work or there was “so much confusion”). Granted she will have a bright future in which ever field she chooses to pursue and will make great contributions to such…. But I should hope that the sense of perspective she has gained from her journey here really will inform her work – so that it has the greatest capacity to make meaningful benefit for the people here. I cant recall if I have previously reflected on this but with regards to indoor air pollution really quite simple changes can have profound effects on the problem it poses. I see her work here as the start of a very exciting chance to change the lives of many women not only in Dhanusha but also more widely in Nepal and other places around the world.
With these potentials alluded to – particularly in her qualitative work – it was great to see such enthusiasm from those assembled at the presentation and I hope to see many more exciting studies exploring facets of indoor air pollution and its impact on health growth. On a another level, cooking practices are quite a profound reflection on cultural role of women. I should hope that through the ultimate identification of the issues that the lot of these women can be improved as happy by-product of directing change in methods and means alone. As Suzanne put it “it is empowerment is not just education which we’re after”.

The famous Pink Bike
The famous Pink Bike: no longer to be prowling the streets of Janakpur in search of smokey kitchens.

With the presentations completed I proceeded to interview Prof Manandhar. He really is quite interesting gentleman and we had a good two hour interview in which I was somewhat thwarted by struggling technical issues (not having had enough time really to unpack and organise my things I was scrimping on battery power and generally feeling that a bit stressed that I wasn’t capturing the right things during the interview). Nevertheless, we both felt that the initial foray whilst useful might be very much benefited by a second attempt with the Prof having a chance to reflect on some questions I had asked him and for me at least a chance to get all my gear in order! There were some comments about the general disruptive jubilation that seem to be emulating from the office which makes me smile somewhat. It is always a good thing to be able to be a laughing terms with someone very quickly. In the process of doing this documentary I have received many privileges of access and such a session with Prof is no exception.

That very night (Friday) Delan’s parents arrived in from the United Kingdom. We join together for a lovely dinner, ironically having been there just that very morning with the girls, at the Middle Eastern themed Or2K. Parents together with the usual three suspects – we were also joined by Naomi and James, British researchers also working with MIRA. Very enjoyable evening which saw me sinking into a quiet and peaceful sleep after the fact.

Back to work at the hospital
Back to work in Kanti Children’s Hospital

The morning hailed Suzanne’s departure. We shared together with Delan and his parents a final breakfast before wishing her well on her way. I’ve reports that she made it safely back to base and is missing Dal Bhat already. Delan and his parents have also made moves to travel around the country, something which I regrettably realistically going to have to pass on doing (certainly by my usual frenetic travelling standards). And I shall meet with him again on his return to Kathmandu before he ultimately heads home to United Kingdom – leaving me finally alone to continue what really is now my elective placement at Kanti Children’s Hospital.

I’d say that’s enough for this article now. I have several more which I wish to recant from my Janakpur experiences as well as ultimately going backwards in time to recall my first forays in Kathmandu and who knows even previous to this – celebrating some of the more interesting photos I’ve taken of the years might be a good start on that road. One of these days I’ll write a musing article about the purpose of it all… But now let’s leave it at a simple dual effect of sharing my experiences with you all whilst performing something of a catharsis and what all of this crazy business means.

“See you space cowboy”.

2012-01 New Year’s Eve in Kathmandu: Quick friends and the Qatar crew

Nepali Wedding - NYE
At the entrance to the wedding

New years eve is always a bit of a conundrum for me in that I’m never quite sure where to place myself. My friendship group in London town tends to celebrate the occasion together with the birthday of our friend Lauren who was born on the last day of the year. This year I knew that things would be tricky socially having just arrived in the country but I expected at least to fall on my feet with regards to some party or other. Having been heavily involved since my arrival with editing the county souvenir, when the day came I spent the early part of the evening attending first a “homecoming wedding” with Dr. Ajit and his family of a family friend who’s daughter had just returned to Nepal having got married abroad some months ago. It was a good perspective on Nepali weddings – large events – lots of food and many extended relations and friends in attendence. After this Dr. Ajit and I went back to the editing grind and in the event we ended up editing articles right up until the witching hour. Dr Ajit dropped me back my hotel at 11:45 and I rushed out, bought and quickly polished off a beer on my way to the to the nearest bar in the centre of Thamel. With literally 5 minutes to go I rolled into “Paddy’s Irish bar” paying the exorbitant Rs.400 entry fee (about £3) and laid down a further thousand rupees for a double Scotch whiskey.

New Friends at Paddy's Irish Bar
New Friends at Paddy’s Irish Bar

With 1 min ago I turned to the nearest people at the bar an Indian lady from Mumbai and her colleague and introduced myself before the lights suddenly went out and we started to wish each other a happy New Year. Actually it was just load shedding kicking in prematurely and there was some fiddling before the generator kicked up and 30 seconds later the band then called down the New Year proper. Somewhat confused and laughing we then did the whole well wishing process again with the traditional embrace of the New Year. Everyone was quite merry so I needed to play catch up pretty swiftly. I introduced myself and got acquainted with the gaggle of people who are gathered near the bar. A couple from Delhi, my new friends from Mumbai and team of Nepalese physiotherapists with their expatriate volunteer colleague from Scotland. We exchanged pleasantries and commentaries about our times in Nepal. Most people are coming to the end of their journeys it seemed, celebrating the New Year before heading home to start work in the new week. I tracked over to the other side of the bar and encountered an English accent on the air. Sitting down I joined a group of English speakers all of whom were apparently teachers working together in Bhutan (as far as I can hazily remember). It was one of those kinds of nights that is truly international. Not knowing anyone really particularly well we forged something of a improtu gang ready to take the night on head first…. however just as fun was getting started the party was closed down. In fact all over Thamel all the bars shut at 1am and in a moment literally thousands of people were on the streets. I remember thinking at the time that if one place had a late licence that they could literally print money by the sheaf. But in the end, not for want of trying, our gang could not find a place to carry the party on. For about 20 min we searched hither and thither and “queueing” for bars which were apparently still going on underground. Having been in this situation quite a few times in the past, without a formal plan of action, I sensed doom on the progress of the night.

Aye Aye Captain!
The riddling captain and my new friend from Mumbai.

However all of a sudden the minibus appeared out of nowhere and a British guy jumped out and started directing people inside. My first thought was that it was some kind of press-gang arrangement where we would be taken to one of those “exclusive bars” and be charged a lot of money. My danger sense was wrong however and actually it turned out to be genuine so I jumped in and introduced myself to two lovely ladies who I found myself sitting next to. Our team which by this stage included the Mumbai couple, the Delhi couple and a few other stragglers also piled into the car. I quickly found out that as circumstances would have it we had joined an entire Boeing 747 crew from Qatar Airways. The British chap who jumped out was the captain of course – and the two lovely ladies were naturally air stewardesses. After five minutes of general hilarity we settled into further discussions about who had come from where and what the plan general was. We were already on the road and rolling… I had no idea where we were going but we trundled off in the minibus somewhere as far as my sense of direction told me to the south west of the Thamel area. People kept saying “Park Plaza” which I took for a hotel destination. After a time and a chance for more extended introductions we eventually entered a large walled compound of, evidently one of the most expensive hotels in the city. Arriving en masse as we did our party then divided into two. The first group stayed with me and we managed to reopened the bar whilst the second group went off to ply the casino. I can’t say anything particularly important happened in the ensuing hours but we enjoyed each other’s company in the fashion that tends to happen when you’re with people you’ll likely never see again – fresh and disinhibited (or maybe that was just the alcohol?). We shared some stories and I was quizzed about my “small camera” (5d with 35mm f1.4) I was particularly impressed with the riddles of the two pilots – I guess they’ve a long time to train their delivery whilst cruising at 35,000 feet.

Seb in the Park Plaza
Explaining something which seemed important at the time (but probably wasn’t)

Eventually after a few photos and some fond farewells we decided to pack it in and I stole out of the hotel in the early hours of the morning to grab a taxi back to my place. In the process very carefully depositing my green hat, scarf and gloves so that I would have to come back to reclaim them on another occasion. Tired and surprised that despite starting the night out friendless I had achieved such a bounty of experiences I fell into a contented and somewhat inebriated sleep – ready to carry on with the editing in the morning.

2011-12 Kathmandu in Photos 1: Three days and It’s New years Eve already

Here are the photos which I’ve finally got around to dealing with from my first footsteps here in Nepal. Within 48hours of my arrival I was already embroiled in the Souvenir and by New years was working flat out in the freezer that was Kathmandu in winte…Such a photogenic Country.

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2012-12 Journey to Kathmandu 26th Dec 2011 – Retrospective

After a talkative first leg from London (i had planned to sleep but go distacted by friendly chat) the longest layover in many a year in Doha, Qatar. I arrived In Doha airport after having spent the day and night since Christmas day awake. Overnight I had frantically managed to finalise packing and processing everything before heading off. Entering Doha, having not slept for 36 hours by this stage I powered through on coffee, swapping and changing positions around the various lounges. I was significantly underwhelmed by the duty free – kicking myself for not having bought a card reader and an external hard DVD drive whilst I had the chance in Heathrow – I managed to pick up the card reader, to the tune of $40. A constructive warning for anyone considering purchasing electrical goods in transit here. Don’t bother!

Doha Airport in the Morning

The cafe Costa was a nice retreat however and I powered through about $20$of different coffees of various sorts as evening turned to night and eventually night to morning. It was curious seeing the burning Tarmac lit up – In the distance shimmering middle Eastern architecture confused with burgeoning modern high rises In the distance. One of these days I will actually set foot and explore these lands…. The sun perked my wan spirit and eventually I boarded my 10am flight to Kathmandu… Finally making the last step. I sought an hour’s respite in sleep as we soared away from the glinting peninsula – over the sea and land until approached the Himalayas – epically laid out before me beneath the left wing. The warm sun and surprising freshness (not cold) of kathmandu was a welcome feeling – it was not till later, lacking central heating that I realised the need for constant cold weather gear. After a time I met with Delan and his wife Sylvia, flying in on a flight which dovetailed mine by 30mins (I still haven’t figured out why Qatar ran two flights from London to Doha and Doha Kathmandu separated only by 30mins  – what’s the urgency? I’ve certainly waited longer for buses!).

Depositing me in Thamel – the backpacker and tourist hub of Kathmandu which sprung up from a single guest house in the 70s as I recall – Delan and Sylvia made their way to the lovely “Shankar” hotel whilst I took over Delan’s room in “Sacred Valley Inn”. Stealing out for a beer at a local bar (and some really dismal paneer butter masala) I met a few expat characters drinking to their own health with champagne and was used for English practice by the Nepali staff at the bar. I retired to bed into a deep and truly exhausted slumber – waking fresh for my first day at hospital at Kanti in the morning.

Himalayas from the Plane

2012-12 Kanti Children’s Hospital 50th Anniversary Souvenir: Hitting the ground running in Kathmandu

Working hard in Janakpur
We really did work ourselves silly in Janakpur!

So whilst I meant to try and jot down my experiences in Kathmandu during my time in Janakpur the 39 days straight working experience somewhat distracted me from my original aims. Looking back I achieved a huge amount during this time but there are a few niggling things which I wish I’d also have ticked off of the list. I am sure Delan would shrug his shoulders at this as all three of us, Suzanne myself and Delan worked exceptionally hard without a break during this period. Suzanne especially had to combat the fact she was out of action for 10 days with hallucinative illness whilst trying to juggle her clinical and her research work. One thing I am particularly glad of is the fact that I did not get badly sick during this period as really that would have spoiled the party.

Anyway, I’m here in Kathmandu now and I have perhaps belatedly had my gastroenteritis gift from Nepal. This occasion is distinctly less savage than the first bout which I think occurred on a background of burnout from having worked straight from last summer through until Christmas and onwards soon as I arrived in Kathmandu. Nonetheless working at Children’s Hospital is probably not the smartest thing to do with the symptoms I got at the moment so I’ve signed myself off as “incapable of leaving the hotel”, certainly for the next 48 hours until this clears up. Anyone who’s ever travelled through a developing country and especially the subcontinent will be aware of the classic travellers sicknesses that tend to occur in foreigners. Ironically today I have spent my downtime reading the structure and function of the immune system in Kumar and Clark and have thus been evaluating my own thoughts on the gamut of specificity of my acquired immune system to the native bugs of Nepal versus those of the locals here. I’m sure if we turned our respective immune systems into Top Trumps cards they would certainly be the power cards in the deck.

Vanivilas Hospital Bangalore

So here is my chance to reflect on the first period of my elective in Kathmandu. Following my arrival I was immediately to work in the hospital. My first morning I got up in good time, chose my most presentable shirt and taxied up to the hospital in the Maharajgunj section of the city which is somewhere north east of the tourist area Thamel and beyond the embassy district of Lazimpat. I had no idea what to expect and I must admit I had some trepidation on my journey there although less so having previously travelled in India. It always seems that I reflect on past travelling experiences whilst engaging the current one and I am sure that Delan and Suzanne passed more than one yawn at my continual anecdotes of India, but one thing is for sure that having experienced the more extensive aspect of the subcontinent really did prepare me for many of the different aspects of Nepali culture – and the hospital was most ways encompassed within this.

Vanivilas Hospital in Bangalore India
Having been to India I was prepared but not exactly clear as to what to expect at Kanti

Thus my arrival at the hospital was timely but there was no sense of formality in my linking in with the work itself… I asked a few random people, some of whom could well have been patient’s parents and eventually tripped upon an important looking doctor (turns out he is one of the major Prof. of Paediatric medicine for the hospital) walking up one of the main stairs and introduced myself. Somewhat clumsily I was integrated into the ward round and did my best over the following hour and a half to follow what’s going on. The ward round was conducted in English but the special colloquial mix with Nepali s as well as the rapidfire acronyms meant that a lot of the ward round was lost on me. My supervisor who I was supposed to meet was apparently still on holiday and following the ward round I was suggested to go and see “Bishop Joshi” who has a role looking after the foreign medical students. He and I passed some time together during which he asked me if I wouldn’t go to help edit an article he was compiling for the upcoming souvenir of the hospital. I was intrigued and naturally offered my help. We spent an hour or so looking at the history which he had compiled of the hospital before taking lunch…Little did I know that this was a fateful precursor to the next major event of my life – the Kanti Children’s Hospital 50th anniversary souvenir.

Bishop at Kanti Children's Hospital
Bishop walking towards to the outpatient department

The following morning I returned to Kanti. Somehow I managed to bump into Dr Ajit Rayamajhi and we held our first meeting. This was auspicious and really marks the start of a collaboration which has been required extensive over the last two months. I’m not sure if he really thought I was being serious when I discussed my intentions about the website for the hospital and other plans as well… In any case initially the most pressing matters seem to be the business of this souvenir. Essentially every two years the hospital produces a celebratory edition containing many articles from all the departments detailing the various activities of the hospital. What was special about this occasion was that the hospital was actually celebrating its 50th anniversary and in concert with this was having a large ceremony to which the President of Nepal would be coming as well as Senior Health ministers. I’m not sure if it was he who asked or if it was me who volunteered but within a matter of hours I became fully committed to assisting in the publication of the souvenir. After all was I not a professional photographer? Was I not a native English speaker and therefore more than capable of helping out with the editing of a few of the articles?… Oh, What a journey I had subscribed to. Thus it was that over the next seven days Dr. Ajit and I worked solidly from dawn till dusk and even beyond to produce this epic souvenir edition.

Security Guards for Kanti

In the first few hours the initial forays still had me guessing. I started off by adjoining a few meetings upstairs with the computer manager, Shri Ram, and collected a few articles which had appeared ready for review. Some appeared as word files, some as handwitten manuscripts. We discussed deadlines and decided that seeing as the printer needed all the documents ready to him by the Monday at the latest that we should contact all the relevant people on that day (Thursday) to say that they had until Saturday evening to submit their articles. Looking back I can see how this was such a laughable fantasy at the time but we did try I suppose.

The next day, Friday, I arrived and was presented with “final submissions that English articles”. A small editorial meetings to be held upstairs which Dr. Ajit would be attending for an hour. I installed myself in the repair and maintenance section office and began editing the articles. Having already had a chance to tackle the initial history article by Bishop I was quite prepared for some quite extensive editing of these articles. I won’t be disingenuous to the authors but the range was very quality range was very variable. At times it was genuinely challenging to find the sense in the grammatical confusions which I was presented with. Some sentences were really very ambiguous. I sweated and pained away – expecting any moment for Dr Ajit to appear. The first hour passed and then the next and eventually I gave up hope of his emerging from the upstairs editorial room. I remember feeling really quite frustrated at the time – thinking that they were simply discussing what needed to be done upstairs whilst I was chomping through articles downstairs – after all the actual output of this whole business. I still had no idea what was said or decided on that day but eventually after many hours people came by to review the progress and another spate of articles arrived at my desk.

Photoshoot on the Kanti Roof
Directing the various departmental teams in a photoshoot on the Kanti Rooftop

The next days really were a haze and I’m not sure it serves much benefit in detailing the step-by-step evolution of the souvenir. Essentially Dr Ajit and I worked absolutely flat out. We had meetings at the printing press, repeated calls with the various authors of the articles and one morning dedicated to photographing both the hospital and the entire assembled staff in groups upon the roof. In between times consultants would approach me to make corrections on their articles or to straight up dictate them into my computer with me as acting as something of a secretary, editor and techical advisor to the whole process all the while. All the while I was beginning to feel really quite unwell. Not having really had a chance to stop over Christmas and before that the autumn term and even before that in the summer I felt like I had reached the end… But what really was going on actually was a burgeoning case of gastroenteritis. Eventually on the Monday night after 2 am call at the printing press with the editing team and with the final deadline looming my body gave in and I succumbed to an awful night of “the shits” accompanied by occasional bouts of vomiting. Passing out at some point it dawn I woke in a haze later that day with my hotel phone ringing.

Gallery Pages
Aside from editing articles one of my jobs was to produce the photo galleries

“Excuse me sir there are some gentlemen down here to see you”. The chief engineer and one of the designers had come to see me to find out what had become of me (I’d said that I’d be at the hospital at 10am). By this stage being so enrolled in the whole process really I could not back out despite the fact that I was ill. I woke, opened the door and stole a quick shower whilst the pair looked over the photographs I had taken and together we selected from these and the many hundreds in the back catalogue for publication in the journal. With literally hours to spare before the deadline I rapidly edited together the photo pages and made the final adjustments to the front cover design which as well as the articles and photos I had taken charge of. Thankfully by this stage all the articles were edited and finished and I stole over to the printing press in a taxi – as opposed to my usual mode of transport, on the back of a motorbike – something which I was to become even more familiar with them my time in Kathmandu in Janakpur ) – with my finished submissions.

The final night really was an all-nighter and having completed my job I then spent the remaining hours assisting the designer in finalising the pages. This included all the portraits of the authors, which I had to hunt down by direction of Shri Ram through all of the back catalogue photos, individual portraits which I had taken, or by simply cutting them out of the group photos from the photo shoot on the Sunday. It was times like those which I really appreciated having RAW photo files of approaching 30 MB in size. The fact that you can still whittle a decent size image out of miniscule section of a group photo is fantastic . Eventually with my work done and feeling somewhere between life and death I watched in a haze laying down on the floor by the heater in the printing press as the hero of the final hours Aman chewed through the 150 page journal with the rapid speed. Eventually it was recommended that I go home and I crawled back to the hotel and into my bed just as the Dawn rolled in thankful that it really was all over. The president would be attending on the Thursday and then It would be all over.

Editing Team in the Press
Aman, Seb, Print Owner, Shri Ram and Dr. Ajit.

One person who deserves some special mention in all of this is Aman. I remember trying to use his keyboard and his mouse both of which as far as I was concerned were defunct. In spite of this he operated using an old XP system on creative Suite 2 at a speed quite remarkable to me. I suppose when one is completely in one’s element things flow like water. Like the skill of expert surgeon he absolutely blitzed his way through the article placements. I’m really glad that in my enthusiasm and having previously mentioned that I could do it that I didn’t sell myself up-the-river on the task of doing all the document linking for this project. Really to produce in a matter of 24 hours such an extensive and really professional souvenir would have definitely been beyond me and little skills idea gaining in design I think make me at least appreciate the complexity of publications which I see nowadays. Aman is a talented designer and mean to revisit with him to try and help him gain a few extra skills which I might be at share with him if only indirectly. I might also buy him a new mouse and keyboard although what he really needs is a completely new system! I have to wonder what someone with his nascent talent could do on more advanced creative Suite and modern, rapid 64-bit system. Ultimately the contribution of my inputs meant that he was able to focus on making the design really solid and I’m quite pleased to say that the 50th anniversary souvenir is something quite robust and certainly special if only by the numbers of hours of my life I burned its creation!

Kanti Children's Hospital 50th Souvenir Edition
Kanti Children’s Hospital 50th Souvenir Edition

I did however get a small chance to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

There were times when I questioned why on earth I come to Nepal to edit these articles and to generally work as hard as I did. But looking back now it was certainly one of those “have lived through” experiences and I’m certainly glad of the quality of the production we were able to put together within those seven days. More than this though I think my commitments and media trust and respect certainly of Dr Ajit. And I gained a lot of insight into the process of the functioning of Kanti Hospital. Literally, I now have a comprehensive view of the evolution of every department of the hospital, the history and future prospects as well as the subtleties and the political issues which lie beneath the surface of its daily functioning. I suppose that’s one way to gain insight into a health system at least! The other major advantage was that in so doing the souvenir I gained all the materials are needed to create the website for the hospital. In addition, gaining the trust of the major players at the hospital meant that my course ahead really would be much smoother.

So not exactly what I expected to be doing when I first arrived in Nepal although I did have some suspicions that I would be working hard…. It was a sign of things to come – that’s for sure… Ultimately a great opportunity to put my skills to use and a real privilage to get to work with all of the various departments of the hospital. And of course a friendship started with Dr. Ajit which I hope will continue for not just the coming months but the years ahead as well.

Editorial Team: Dr. Ajit Rayamajhi and Seb Roberts
We worked continously together for 7 days to produce the final souvenir.