Category Archives: Nepal

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!

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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”.

2012-02 Janakpur: Week 5 in photos part 2

Part 2 of week 5 photos – Gallery Style. Enjoy!

2012-02 Janakpur: Week 5 in Photos part 1

With 12 days continuous shooting behind me I’m trying to put the pieces back together now that I’m in Kathmandu. Tomorrow I start back again on my clinical placements – the second part of my elective in fact (I’ve inverted my SSC and elective placements for any medics who might be prepared to take arms against me on this point).  Today on my first day off in ages besides sharing a lovely dinner with Delan and his Parents,  I’ve had a small chance to get to grips with, to try and stay on top of, the photos from Janakpur. Here is the first of two posts from Week 5 – being out with the camera throughout the day meant that I had so many opportunities to capture the various facets of the incredibly photogenic Janakpur.

Please enjoy – and as always if you’re interested in anything here comment or send me a message and I will be sure to reply….

A brief meeting in Or2K

Terrible photo of me meeting Christie, Ed, Bernie, Penny and Barrat (Sherpa and guide) in Or2K. Glad we managed to meet albeit briefly.

And to my many medical friends who are now finishing their electives (including Bernie, Christie and Penny who I met just Friday gone) I wish you safe travels back to Terra Firma and strength of mind against the looming threat of exams.

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2012-02 Well, That’s all folks

Today I leave. Listening to Mitchell’s Blue to celebrate the passing as I pack up my bags. I’m going to miss so much of Janakpur, The Rama where I’ve lived, MIRA where i’ve worked, the city in which we’ve all endured – and most importantly – some of the most generous people you’ll meet on this earth – right here in the Terrai.

More on this when i’ve got time to mull it all over in Kathmandu (in between frantically writing a presentation that i’m giving tomorrow lunch time!)

Thanks to you all for reading of my experiences here in this small corner of the world. I will be writing several more articles when I’ve got some thinking space back in the big smoke. I’ll be back at the end of March from Nepal proper – so until then . Lots of interesting adventures still to be had (not to mention oodles of work as well).

Wishing you the best,

Seb

The Sun Sets on Janakpur
My time in Janakpur comes to a close…

2012-02 Sita Ram: Barhabigha

Pictures can only describe one aspect of the atmosphere of a place. The festival on Barhabigha really reflects something of the inner nature of life here in Janakpur – how everything revolves around the cultural cycle  – much more than it does or even potentially ever did in the west. The next festival is always around the bend and religiosity or at least spirituality and mysticism is a fundamental part of existence for most people here. The chanting on Barhabigha was continuous, day and night with the constant refrain of Sita Ram in its plethora of intonations. With the office so directly opposed near the site I must admit that the constant intrusion was more than a little vexing at times. Some of the musical interpretations were to my ears rather abhorrent and the distraction whilst trying to work was at times unbearable. There we many times however that I was struck by the deep beauty of the incantations and on this occasion, cycling past I was caught by a primal tingle in my spine – the kind that purest forms of music seems to strike in me – certain lilts in pieces that seem to cause almost a welt on the consciousness – disarming and profound at the same time. This was one of those moments and – after I had collected myself I took my camera and captured some rather shakey footage of the mist ridden scene that morning. Now the festival is over and the hiatus of music is held until tomorrow when the next celebration begins….

Turn the volume up and try to imagine being here with this noise permeating across the entire city – hopefully it will give some paltry rendition of what it has been like to live here these past days.