House Hunters International – Bhaves in KTM

Inquiring minds want to know – what is it like to rent a house in Kathmandu, Nepal?!? The privilege of home ownership is granted solely to Nepali citizens so renting is really the only choice for expat residents. There are basically three main methods to finding a home for rent: a rental agent, the KTM expat Google group, and word of mouth:

* There are several agents in KTM who help transient families find housing. They know dozens of landlords and also know the “story” of almost each and every rental house (who lives there, which country they are from, who is their employer, how long they’ve lived there). After telling the agent our basic requirements (like which part of town we’d like to live in, number of bedrooms and budget), they accordingly show us available homes. There is (usually) no website with consolidated information about the house size, photos, prices – it’s a black box! So many unknowns, fairly illogical and the pricing is anything but straightforward! Their commission comes solely from the landlord. Throughout our search, we worked with three agents: Sangeeta, Arun and Pratap.

* The Kathmandu Expat Google Groups is the closest thing we have to Craigs List – an amazing local resource. In terms of housing, dozens of emails are posted each day with folks listing and folks looking for available apartments, rooms, houses, sublets, and guest houses. We responded to one posting from this resource.

* Given the nature of expats’ job assignments, turnover is very high and folks are always coming and going. Some really good houses often are transferred without any advertising. We saw two houses from referrals.

These two lists summarize our primary and secondary priorities in a home:

* Proximity to The British School (TBS) – We may or may not get a car, but our aim is to live car-free on weekdays. Walking distance to the school is a must.

* Well-lit with large southern exposure – As Kathmandu has a mountainous climate over 4300 feet above sea level, it gets quite cold in winter time. Sunlight pouring into the house is critical as it is the main source of warmth. Central-indoor heating is practically unheard of throughout Nepal.

* Well maintained – Standards in developing countries are far different than what we are used to in the States. We’re not seeking a U.S. standard of living while here, but a well-maintained home would be nice.

* Home size (1500 – 2500 sf) – We’d like to be able to live comfortably and also host guests

* Cost (600 – 1200 usd) – Prakash’s housing stipend from ICIMOD is quite generous, covering the lesser of $600 USD per month or 75% of the cost of our home . We’d like to minimize cost on our home so we can maximize our travel budget!

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* Furnished – In terms of furniture, we sold most all that we owned in NC and have come to Nepal with one bed and one beloved rocking chair (due to exorbitant cost of shipping to this land-locked nation). It would be great to not have to purchase so much at the beginning.

* Low-traffic street – This is obvious… For peace and quiet and for the safety of the kids.

* Nice garden – Organic, veggie patches are very common and sought after here. It would be a great addition to the house, enjoyable to care for with the kids and more enjoyable to eat!

* Nice outdoor space – Folks in KTM basically live on their terraces in winter time, as we’ve been told. Once the sun rises, people head out and soak in the warmth. At dusk, all hustle inside and pile on layers of coats, scarves and shawls. So a nice terrace, or balcony would be great.

We saw SO many houses! Here is the house-by-house summary (for those short on time or interest, skip down to CONCLUSIONS):

Within the first week of arriving into Nepal, I saw an ad on KTM Google Groups for an available house in Sanepa, the neighborhood adjacent to TBS. The house was indeed VERY close to school. However, it was poorly maintained, and far from move-in ready. When we arrived, the neighbors were burning trash and plant debris in their yard – very unappealing. Several walls had original artwork from a previous child tenant… the whole house badly needed a coat of paint but the owner said he would only paint a few rooms. There were 3 bathrooms, but all were a bit small. A large washing machine occupied the entire upstairs bathroom! The kitchen was quite small, with only a 3-seater breakfast table. The house had few advantages – in addition to location, there was plenty of space for all of us plus a few guests, there were numerous balconies, a lovely terrace, and a small garden. With A LOT of labor, this house could work for us. But on week #1, we just couldn’t imagine putting in that much effort and / or hiring laborers. Another advantage: very cheap – only $600 USD!

Sangeeta and Pratap are a team, and their efforts are the most straightforward in the business. They have a website (!) with a search engine. The website lists available properties, basic details, and tells the price for rent (!). The properties they showed us and those on the website didn’t match up 100%, but it is much more straightforward than the other agents. Also, just a week into our stay in Nepal, we met Sangeeta. She showed us four apartments; all were walking distance from TBS, had 3 bedrooms and were furnished. The first was SO close to the school, but not a good fit. It had a VERY small kitchen (think, NYC kitchen) and tiny bathrooms (i.e., you are showering right next to the toilet). It was on the ground floor, so probably wouldn’t get much direct sunlight. It had a nice garden and compound, but just wouldn’t work.

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The next apartment was at the end of a quiet side street called Shangrila Lane! It was on the 3rd floor of a small building. The apartment was very nice, clean and well maintained, but was quite small at 1180 sf. Other setbacks were the one shared washing machine for all tenants plus the landlord (5-6 families ; doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but if you take into account that electricity is only available about 12 hours per day, sharing one machine could get tricky!), and yet another very small kitchen. Nice, but would be tight for all 5 of us, let alone with overnight guests.

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The last 2 were in a “high-rise” building (approximately 12 floors). They were both brand new, never lived in (rare find here) and were¬†located on the 5th and 8th floor. Both were identical in layout and direction. The 5th floor had a peculiar “contemporary” style to its furnishings, not very tasteful in my opinion, but could work. A bit pricy at $1000. The 8th floor had a much nicer style (similar to Pottery Barn), and had a SOUPED-UP invertor system! He had eight invertors (having one is more typical for an apartment) which powered the entire apartment (refrigerator included!!) 24-hours a day. He also had an AC unit that could provide central heat – RARE find! This was really appealing – I am a desert creature – raised in San Diego and used to “sunny and 70 all year around”! In addition to being very pricy, $1500 per month, it went against our overall goal of living happily with less… One huge disadvantage was that the building was mostly vacant – there were probably 80 apartments in the building and only 7 families lived there so far! Many units were purchased by investors not planning on occupying their units just yet; others were still available for sale. Another huge drawback was the elevator system. Because the building is so vacant, they couldn’t justify running the generator whenever the power is out. Thus, when you are ready to come down, you would phone the watchman downstairs, he would switch the generator on and you’d be elevated down – seems a bit dicey…

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We concluded that we should start looking at bungalows – congruent with the advice received from Prakash’s colleagues and most other expats we’ve met… So, here goes!

After seeing the apartments with the 3 kiddies in tow, it was a treat to go house-hunting while they were in school and before Prakash started work! Arun met us at our apartment and suggested we hire a taxi to get around efficiently. Our outing lasted 2.5 hours and covered over half a dozen homes. First we saw a house with a nice garden, good overall size and reasonable kitchen. But it was very old, poorly maintained, had horrible furniture, had signs of a leak in the bathroom, and the biggest issue – it was located ON the edge of the Ring Road (i.e. lots of traffic, noise and air pollution).

Next we saw a house that even up until now, has been my favorite :-). It is a bit far from TBS (would be a 10-15 minute pleasant bike ride, but really isn’t walkable). It is a beautiful house, well maintained, nice landlord, several blooming fruit trees (peach and apple), well maintained, spacious enough for our family plus the ability to host guests, quiet paved road leading to house, move-in ready, nice furnishings, and well maintained (did I mention that it was well maintained?!? this is huge for me!! so many houses are so run down and I am utterly spoiled after living in brand new / next to brand new houses in North Carolina for the past 10 years.). Downside was the location. A 10-15 minute bike ride seems okay, but I’m a bit concerned about the ride during the rainy season. We can get a car and drive to school, but I’d rather avoid this… Other downsides were a not-so-attractive kitchen, but tolerable; and no space to have a vegetable garden. House was probably $1500 USD (Arun rarely told us the prices of houses he showed us. After questioning him for the monthly rate, he would usually respond with an approximation).

We saw several more that were all generally undesirable. Mostly because they were old, not well maintained or not well lit.

Towards the end of our outing, we saw another potential option. It is brand new and still under construction, will likely be done within a month or so. It was BIG! It had a weird basement kitchen and large basement multi-purpose room. The ground level had 2 rooms and an open area that could be a combined foyer, living and dining. Given that the house was still under construction, we concluded that the kitchen could be relocated to one of the rooms on the ground level. The next level up had 3 nice bedrooms and very nice bathrooms. It had very fancy fixtures (bathroom and lighting). At the very top level, there was a nice terrace and a partially enclosed area to keep a washing machine. Another neat element was the size of the compound – it was HUGE! It was in bad shape though because of the construction but had significant potential to create a beautiful garden with several separate outdoor spaces. The basement level also had numerous rooms, each of which were accessible only from the exterior of the house. These rooms could be used as servant quarters or extra storage; there were just SO many of them, 5-7 separate rooms! Another less than desirable aspect to the house was that the house was far from the main entry gate having a very long driveway or entry into the compound. This just seemed unappealing to me, mostly from a safety perspective. Although this house is HUGE, it felt like it could work for our family – almost recreating our last home in Morrisville, NC, where we hosted a kid’s chess club, bhajan sessions, band practices, and numerous guests! But not only would the house be very expensive (probably $2200 per month), we weren’t sure we wanted to recreate the life we had just lived…

End of a long morning out… treated ourselves to a peaceful lunch out ūüôā

Arun was determined to find something for us and two days later, showed us a few more houses (I wondered why he didn’t show us these on Monday, but decided not to ask :-)). This time the three of us walked from house to house, so they were definitely close enough to TBS. Unfortunately, most did not make the short list. Two were really old and not well maintained. Another was old yet getting renovated, but looked like months would pass before the work finished. One house did make the short list – it was also under construction with an estimated completion date of June 1 (fyi, the house is still not ready). The most appealing aspect of this house (besides being brand new) was that it is SO close to TBS. From the terrace, you can see the school’s football field. The kids could walk to school, door-to-door, in 2 minutes – literally! Other nice aspects of the house include: perfect size, nice layout and a lovely terrace. Downsides to this house include: high-rise apartment building in the adjacent plot (aesthetically unappealing, but we can deal with this), adjacent to the main road so very visible (passersby would notice when we are / are not home so big safety concern), very limited space for a garden, small compound so not too much outdoor play space, and completely unfurnished so significant upfront costs to outfit the home (appliances too). House will likely be $1500 per month.

Have to write about this next very unique house… It was MEGA-HUGE!!! It is also still under construction and has 7 spacious bedrooms! In addition, there is a huge multi-purpose space on the top level. This house had the biggest kitchen we’ve seen in Nepal (very cool kitchen!) complete with 6 burner-stove and an island. It was on a nice plot of land and close to the school, but will be expensive, likely $2200 USD per month. Another neat aspect to this house was a HUGE skylight from the foyer to the top which made the house exceptionally well-lit. It was definitely not a possibility, but entertaining to visit.

This was yet another large, expensive house that Arun showed us. ¬†A few nagging questions were running 20140430_093524through our¬†minds at this point: why is Arun showing us homes well outside our stated budget ($1000) and why are Nepali landowners building such enormous houses? We spoke with Arun about the range of homes he showed us, but decided to leave the other inquiry alone at the time. In hind-sight, our guess is that land owners are trying to tap into the highest echelon of expat (top UN and Embassy officials) families. Their housing allowances are generous and could be lucrative for landlords…

Sangeeta’s colleague, Prataap, showed us a few places that afternoon before we picked the kids up from school. Boy were we zonked by the end of this appointment – walking around KTM in the hot sun can get draining… We saw a nice and very affordable ($600 USD) apartment that was a 1 km walk from school. It was on the 3rd floor of a small building and occupied two levels. It was old yet reasonably maintained. Small rooms and kitchen, but a very nice bedroom and terrace. For the price, it was a good option. However, only older couples live in the compound of about 5-7 families. Maybe our kids would make too much noise, in their opinions?!? Also the size of the toilets reminded me of those you see in the pediatrician’s office! Kind of entertaining ūüôā

Next, we saw a very big house on a VERY big plot of land. It is reasonably close to school (about 1.5 km away). The plot of land had a large grassy area, giant veggie patch, car park area, swing set and servant quarter area – it was HUGE. Inside, however, the house was just not well maintained. Prataap said the rent would be $1300 USD, which seemed like a great deal for the amount of house and land.

Saw another house, TOO dark, but spacious. Also a bit farther, so not a good option. I think I am very very picky!!! But, we will live in this house for 3 years, so we should like it, A LOT, right?!?

On Thursday morning, Prataap showed me (today was Prakash’s first day at the office) an apartment on the 6th floor of a different high-rise building. It had 3 bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, dining area, 3 bathrooms and a small study. It was definitely enough for the 5 of us, but again, would be hard to host guests. It is VERY affordable at $700 USD per month and also brand new. This building is similar to the other high-rise as it is not fully occupied, but not nearly as vacant. A total of 18 families are living there right now and 5 of them have children. There is 24-hour security and also a gym and community room with a ping pong table! The apartment has very small balconies, so very little connection with the outdoor – this is by far, the biggest disadvantage with life in a high-rise building.

The following Monday, I got a tour of Alem’s house by referral from Vijaya, another mom at TBS. It is a very lovely house with so many positives: very affordable at $660 per month; great outdoor space (nice vegetable garden, tree house, yes, a tree house!!, swing set, grassy area and flower beds) ; quiet road leading to the house ; double gate to the house, the first of which has a watchman ; close to school (12 min walk or 3-4 min bike ride) ; big wood stove in the dining area, appealing during the cold winters ; old house but well maintained, recently painted, and very clean. Some of the neutral or unknown points about the house include: the garden is very mature with several towering trees on the perimeter so limited sunlight comes in the house (on the other hand, the garden is simply lovely with sunny spots where we could spend winter afternoons) ; the house is fairly petite and would be perfect for the 5 of us plus a few flexible guests (4 small bedrooms). The negatives of the house include the bathrooms, disconnected hot water and the lack of furniture. There are only 2 bathrooms – both are old and small but very clean. There are solar panels on the terrace to heat water, but there is a problem with the connection into the bathrooms. Alem’s family either asks the helper to fetch a bucket of hot water from the terrace or uses an immersion electric heating rod to heat a bucket of water. This is likely a problem that could be fixed. Although the house comes unfurnished, Alem will be selling several things (oven, refrigerator, washing machine, sofa, small bed, and other small pieces) so we can purchase those from her seamlessly.

On Tuesday afternoon, Arun spontaneously called me to see a very affordable house in Sanepa.  It will be ready in two weeks and is currently occupied by a Scottish couple. For a rent of $750 per month, it is a steal! It is in a great location on a quiet street; has a beautifully maintained garden (flowers, veggie patch and grassy area) ; is reasonably spacious inside with a living room, dining room, small kitchen, 4 bedrooms and 3 full bathrooms; and has two lovely terraces at the top. Best feature is the sunlight that pours into the house. A few issues include horrible blue carpet in 3 of the 4 bedrooms, a very small kitchen (only a small 2 burner stove with no oven, inadequate space for a refrigerator, and very limited counter and cabinet space), and the entire inside needs a fresh coat of paint.20140506_172619

CONCLUSIONS:

* as in all cities, the range of available options is tremendous

* several atypical criteria (for the USA) are extremely important here:
— water availability (well on site, volume of water tanks at the house)
—¬†south-facing exposure (maximize direct sunlight during chilly winters)
—¬†terrace (nice outdoor space to soak in winter sun and enjoy mountain views)

* negotiate well – the price is rarely fixed

* hired help is very affordable (about $100 – $200 per month for a full-time staff), so employing a maid, cook, gardener, watchman, babysitter, etc is all possible and often encouraged by the agents

* in the end, however, so many more elements are involved to make a house into a home… love, a positive outlook, an open door welcoming guests, and of course good food!

In the end, we chose Alem’s house :-). Affordable, simple, manageable size, lovely garden, and just felt like home. Our meeting with the landlord gave us a very warm feeling also. We move in about 1 month… Our door is always open – hope you visit soon!

On a separate note, many of you know that we considered operating a Bed & Breakfast while in Nepal. This seemed like a great way to meet people, encourage our family and friends to visit, and provide a unique service to the myriad of tourists. Upon our arrival, however, we quickly realized that this sort of service is already plentiful. The internet search for “Bed & Breakfast” that I did while still in NC resulted in few hits, and later I realized terminology is just a bit different here. Similar services offering rooms for rent and basic meals are often referred to as Guest Houses and over a dozen are available within 1 kilometer of our apartment! Also, my concern or desire for meeting people was quickly satiated upon arrival – people in Nepal are exceptionally friendly and activities abound for ways to meet new folks. Needless to say, we still encourage ya’ll to come and visit us!!

ps – sorry we don’t have photos yet of our house! ¬†will write a blog post of our moving experience and post photos then ūüôā

First visitor! An old buddy from UCSD…

What an awesome week – a visit from our first out-of-town guest, Krishneil Maharaj. ¬†We studied together¬†at UCSD over 15 years ago, had the same group of friends, participated in the same campus activities (Hindu Students Council) and had long philosophical chats on library walk enjoying the sunny So Cal weather. ¬†We kept in touch here and there, but hadn’t met in over a decade. ¬†As we all know¬†how the saying goes — ”¬†Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold…”

Krishneil arrived early enough on Monday to join me for my Nepali language classes! ¬†He was a great sport and joined in when the teacher prompted¬†him – so grateful that Nepali is similar to Hindi / Marathi… ¬†The kids were SO excited to have a guest at home. ¬†After picking them up from school, they felt at ease with him right away. ¬†Sumi read his daily book to Krishneil, then we all went down for basketball practice /drills from Coach K – the kids had a ball!

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We joined the Tuesday British School¬†riding group for a grueling but very enjoyable 12 mile mountain bike ride! ¬†Any walking, hiking or biking in the valley (or in most of Nepal) involves LOTS of hills. ¬†We climbed a total of 1425¬†feet, and clocked the highest speed at 30 mph. ¬†Advantage of climbing up the hills is the enjoyable (and fast!) coast coming back down! ¬†We both wished we had taken the GoPro camera and connected it to our helmet. ¬†Maybe on the next ride, I’ll set it up (Jay, SO sorry for the long delay in this)…

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On Wednesday, we joined the Cultural Studies Group Nepal (the same group who hosted the Thanka Art Studio Visit that I wrote about last week), for a hike from¬†Dulikhel to Panauti. ¬†We left KTM early to avoid being in the midday sun (it was still SO hot!) and took a 1-hour bus ride to Dulikhel. ¬†A guide met our group at the bus stand and we started walking – what an interesting variety of paths! ¬†We went through¬†town roads, village alley ways, dirt trails and across several agricultural fields (I’d never seen that many potatoes!). ¬†Even though Krishneil and I were huffing and puffing to get up the hillside trails, being in the company of folks well over twice our age was inspirational… ¬†Betty, the oldest one on our group hike, is 83 years old and was often at the head of the pack. ¬†When someone commented, “we all hope to be like Betty when we are 83.” Krishneil followed up with, “I hope I can be like that at 43!” ¬†A picnic lunch on a shady hillside, temple visit at Panauti, and refreshing cokes at the end of the hike rounded out the afternoon.

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At this point, we debated going for a swim to make it a complete week-long triathlon (swim, bike, hike / run). ¬†But decided against ūüėČ

After dropping the kids to school on Thursday, we went for a yoga class here in Patan. ¬†Great to see the same faces – ¬†Roger from the Tuesday bike ride and Eliane from the Wednesday hike were also there! ¬†KTM is relatively small – very easy to bump into folks you know – I love that about this town… ¬†The yoga¬†teacher gave detailed, precise instructions, but class¬†was tough! ¬†Pigeon, warrior 2, cow face, high lunge, low lunge, and several more. ¬†When she said, “now you can rest in downward dog pose for 5 breaths” I knew I was totally out of my league! ¬†I much prefer RESTING in childs pose…

We then hopped on the bikes and cycled over to ICIMOD (Krishneil had a go on the “minivan” of bikes — Caleb Spear’s creation!). ¬†Prakash, his colleague – Bhupesh, Krishneil and I all had lunch at the ICIMOD cafeteria. ¬†Prakash gave us a quick tour of the office – for a developing country, the office is very impressive. ¬†Nothing too fancy, but amazing life-size photographs displaying their vision “men, women, and children of the Hindu Kush Himalayas enjoy improved well-being in a healthy mountain environment” and mission “to enable sustainable and resilient mountain development for improved and equitable livelihoods through knowledge and regional cooperation” cover the walls and corridors of the building.

We got some groceries on the way home then started preparing for our evening!  What a coincidence Рour brand new neighbors spent several years in Fiji, the same country where Krishneil was born and raised until age 9.  Marilyn and Gordon joined us for dinner and they exchanged several island stories.  We got to see some beautiful images of the remote island where Marilyn did her PhD research in education, the same island that Krishneil recently visited.

A big cockroach, friendly spider and empty water tanks (ie, bathe with whatever is remaining in the bucket ;¬†can’t wash the dirty dishes ; how many bottles of drinking water are left in the fridge?!?) rounded out the week of adventures! ¬†A few of the numerous workers where we stay¬†befriended Krishneil during our afternoon basketball sessions. ¬†The sendoff this morning was just like those in India – everyone gathers to say good-bye ūüôā

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Thanka Painting — How Fascinating!

Today morning, I joined a new friend, Houk from the Netherlands, on a visit to a Thanka Painting Showroom.  What a neat experience!

Houk is a member of an expat group that together visits various art studios, invites interesting speakers for lectures and ventures out on small walks around the town. ¬†I joined the group for today’s studio visit.

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The Thanka Painting Showroom is located within Swayambhu – a very famous KTM site, often referred to as “the monkey temple”. ¬†Dozens of monkeys entertain and annoy visitors as they¬†enjoy their life on the Swayambhu mountain top. ¬†We were greeted with warm “Namastes” from Rajesh (dad) and Surya (son) along with several staff members. ¬†Surya gave a 1 hour presentation to us and covered the history, significance, basic techniques and modern day adaptation of Thanka Painting:

* often the paintings are depictions of some aspect of the Buddhist religion20140516_103917

* the word “Thanka” is derived from than (cotton) and ka (art), so it is art done on a piece of cotton

* traditionally, the artist while painting will live like a monk ; he will not smoke, drink alcohol and will be celibate ; he will sit facing east

* all the painting is done while sitting on the floor, crossed-legged

* this art form requires utmost patience and almost a meditative state of mind

* one piece can take 2 weeks to 7 years to complete

* the painter attaches a thin sheet of cotton to a bamboo frame, then applies several coats of “glue” (made from yak skin and water) and powder to make the surface smooth to apply the paint

* traditionally rock colors were used, however nowadays, vegetable and acrylic colors are used

* extremely fine brushes are used where one brush has 1-5 hairs (from a cat)

* as the paintings are usually of a spiritual nature, reminding us to be detached and eliminate ego, the painter usually maintains a certain level of anonymity (signatures are often not present, or signed very generally, ie Arun Shrestha which in Nepal is as common as Joe Smith in the USA)

* a painter is considered a “student” for at least the first 9 years of training and slowly achieves titles such as master and grand master (reminded me of chess!)

* traditionally, paintings were done only by men, but in the past few decades, Rajesh has fought to introduce women into the trade

After the presentation,¬†I approached Surya and complimented him on his English-speaking ability. ¬†The vast majority of Nepalis, young and old, do not speak English at all, let alone have the ability to carry a 1-hour long presentation with Q/As. ¬†Surya is rare, a product of government school and government college (Nepali-medium) but able to communicate brilliantly about his culture and family traditions in English. ¬†He told me that his father would tell him as a child, “Never be shy about 2 things in life – talking and eating!” ¬†Wise words here in Nepal ūüôā

It was a lovely morning! ¬†Learning about ancient Nepalese art and visiting a famous KTM landmark…

Recent Highlights – Concerts and Biking!

Summer is here in full blast! It has been dry and hot the last week, but we really have nothing to complain about… It is much worse at lower altitudes and closer to the equator. In KTM, hot, but bearable… Some of the recent highlights include (1) a French Family Band concert, (2) a Choir concert, and (3) an adventurous mountain biking ride!

We are fortunate to have an expat google groups where folks post about houses¬†for rent, items for sale and cultural happenings all around town. There was an advertisement about a French Family Band who would be performing in a French Restaurant in Thamel (the most touristy part of KTM). We decided to check it out along with our friends, the Spear’s (the family who builds the cool bikes!). What a special treat!! Their band consists of the Dad (guitar and vocals), Mom (clarinet), 13 year old boy (accordion) and a 9 year old girl (numerous percussion instruments and a bit of vocals too!). They are from France and have taken a year off of their ordinary life to travel the world in their family-van and sing for people, specifically for schools. They spent 3 months in India, 3 months in Nepal and are soon heading back to France. Their songs were mostly in French, but also in German and English. What a¬†fascinating family! Their simple style, sweet smiles, and joyful enthusiasm were very inspirational ūüôā Checking out the french restaurant was cool too (fresh french bread, apple momos, chocolate cake – yum!)

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The Kathmandu Chorale performed last Saturday night at The British School auditorium. WOW – what a talented bunch! There was 1 director, 1 pianist and 40 singers – all (approximately) aged between 18-65. Per the demographics of the group, I felt like we were back in North Carolina!! However, the (approximately) 80 degree auditorium temperature quickly reminded us that we were in Nepal :-). They sang Latin, French and English songs – impeccably high quality production. An instrumental portion was also included in the concert! There was a quartet of flute, oboe, piano and bassoon – 4 super talented individuals synergizing into melodious tones… The most memorable song of the choir was “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi.

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On Tuesday mornings, several British School parents set out for the surrounding hills of the Kathmandu Valley on their mountain bikes! This week, I joined Adrian, Andy, Roger, Clare and Katheryn and together we cycled for 27 kilometers (~16 miles) in about 3 hours. What an adventure… Much of the way was paved, but a fair bit was gravel, dirt or ¬†small rocks. We crossed over the Bagmati River twice on 2 metal, pedestrian, suspension bridges. Oh and there were hills – numerous ups and downs! Once or twice I had to walk the bike up the steep hills, but mostly I managed to ride. Basic stats: total elevation climb = 1925 feet ; highest elevation reached = 4500 feet above sea level ; peak speed = 32 miles per hour. This was an awesome introduction to mountain biking and hopefully I’ll make it out on more rides through the hills of the valley… ¬†Here is an image of our route – go to Google Maps to see a more detailed image of the roadways and dirt paths.

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Electricity in Kathmandu (and other utilities)

Today (April 21), we learned the weekly schedule for power outages in our neighborhood.¬† This gave us a feeling of “enlightenment” because, until now, the times when our refrigerator would switch on or off seemed quite sporadic.¬†¬† As advertised, the outages last 12 hours per day. Ironically, almost all twelve are waking hours.

Sun 5-noon & 4-9pm (i.e., no power during the most useful hours)

Mon 4-10am & 2-8pm (almost as bad as Sunday)

Tue 3-9am & noon-6pm (best day of the week; we get power right after sunset)

Wed 10am-5pm & 8pm-1am (not a good day to work from home!)

Thu 9am-4pm & 7pm-mid (another killer day)

Fri 7am-2pm & 6-11pm (perfect excuse to go out for dinner)

Sat 6am-1pm & 5-10pm (much like Sunday)

During the power outages, we can operate a few lights in each room, 1 socket in the living room, and all ceiling fans using our inverter/battery system.¬† But the refrigerator is off, as is the water purifier, and all kitchen lights (the tube lights are supposed to work on the invertor, but don’t). We get hot¬†water around the clock because it’s heated by solar power. This may not work as well during the monsoon season due to cloudiness.

Solar panels and tank on the terrace of our apartment building

Solar panels and tank on the terrace of our apartment building

Nita had received some good advice to purchase¬†solar-powered lanterns before coming here, so we’ve begun using those during the power outages and on evening walks.

Waka Waka and Luci

Waka Waka and Luci

— Prakash

It has been almost a month since we’ve arrived in Kathmandu! ¬†Getting used to the electricity outages has been easier than I anticipated. ¬†Largely due to our new best friend – our invertor!

The invertor in our apartment.

The invertor in our apartment.

When the electricity is on, the invertor gets charged up ; when the electricity goes out, whatever is connected to the invertor can still be operated. ¬†There have been only 3 incidents where the power was out and the invertor ran out of supply. ¬†Having only candlelight, solar lanterns and NO ceiling fans was a bit tough. ¬†However, we are the lucky ones who have an invertor (along with the vast majority of other expats and most middle class and above Nepalis). ¬†This past Saturday, after returning home around 8pm from a concert (will post about that soon!), I noticed how dark it was while walking down our street… ¬†Many families do not have invertors and rely solely on candlelight during blackouts.

We have seen numerous houses while searching for one to rent and there is a broad range of the number of invertors some families have! ¬†We have seen 0 – 8! ¬†Some are fine managing without electricity when the rest of KTM doesn’t have power. ¬†And another wanted to have their¬†refrigerator and AC / heating system and all other lights and sockets working 24 hours a day! ¬†Our apt has 1 invertor and so far, we are managing okay. ¬†The house that we will rent (will also post soon about our exciting¬†home search!) will have 4 invertors (and is about¬†double of this apt), so will feel quite luxurious compared to just 1 over here!

Much of the electricity in KTM is provided by hydro-power. ¬†Thus, in the rainy season, the outages are shorter (I believe around 8 hours per day). ¬†And in winter, the outages are at their peak with up to 16 hours of outage! ¬†We’ll have to precisely time when we charge up our lifelines (ie cell phone, laptop, tablet)!

Internet РTHANKFULLY we have internet connection around the clock!  Our connection is provided by the landlord who has the modem connected to his invertor.  Speed is moderate.  Totally adequate for emailing and blogging, but a bit slow for watching videos.  Intolerable compared to USA standards, but A-OK in a developing country.

Let me briefly talk about the other utilities – gas and water. ¬†Direct gas lines are non-existent in Nepal (just like India). ¬†So there are large red cylinders (about 2 feet tall and 1 feet diameter) that each house has to operate any gas appliances (stove and space heaters). ¬†When the tank depletes, you take it to a filling station. ¬†I’ve heard an estimate of filling the tank for the stove about 3 times per year. ¬†Water is in short supply here in Nepal (ironic because there is plentiful snow melt so nearby…). ¬†Water comes from wells (some houses have small wells on their property), the government (pumped into a tank that is kept in or around your house approximately weekly), or by private tankers (large tanker trucks pump water from the truck into a tank at your house – this can be costly).

Our neighbors solar panels and 2 water tanks of an apartment building in the next lane.

Our neighbors solar panels and 2 water tanks of an apartment building in the next lane.

Once we move to our own house, we’ll have the pleasure of experiencing all of this — filling up gas cylinders, filling up water tanks, making sure the electricity is on before trying to pump the water!! ¬†Now, in this furnished, serviced apartment, all of this is taken care of for us (this is as close as it gets to Marriott Residence Inn in Nepal!!)

Looking forward to reading your comments and questions ūüôā

Nita

Great Biking Weekend!

Biking is the thing to do in Kathmandu!  Many tourists mountain bike, but more importantly, many locals, tourists and expats get around town on bicycle.  The city is relatively small, so bike is a great means of transportation.

On Saturday, after a long outing of errands and a nice lunch, we stumbled upon THE COOLEST NEW ADDITION to the Bhave Family! ¬†A tag-a-long bike for Sumanth to ride! ¬†He is a great biker and has been riding without training wheels all around NC for almost 2 years, however, in Kathmandu, bike rides are SO different, that we feel more comfortable only having to “look after” Janani and Sajjan on their bikes and know that Sumanth is taken care of. ¬†A tag-a-long bike is half of a kid’s bike (handle bar, seat, peddles, and back wheel) attached to the back of an adult’s bike (connected to the seat post). ¬†It allows the child to pedal and contribute to the movement of the bike, but gives full control of navigation to the adult. ¬†We stumbled upon this second-hand piece, originally from Australia, at the 5th bike store we visited – felt so lucky!

We have had the great pleasure of meeting Caleb & Emily Spear – another young expat family, originally fromIMG_2208 Colorado, USA, living in Kathmandu. ¬†Yesterday, they took us on our first family bike ride here in Patan. ¬†First, I’ll introduce you to the Spear family, then tell you about our AMAZING outing!

Caleb and Emily started a non-profit organization called¬†Portal Bikes¬†– they build bikes to help people “create pathways out of poverty.” ¬†Their bikes are elongated¬†with a chain almost double that of a standard bike. ¬†A small apparatus (water pump, corn kernel remover, basic washing machine)can be attached to the bike and powered with the energy derived from pedaling. ¬†Or up to 3 small children can ride on the back, or significant amount of cargo can be carried along the back sides. ¬†They have 2 boys, Zion age 8 and Anatolli age 6.¬† Extremely neat family, bikes and non-profit organization!!

We met up at Caleb & Emily’s house (5 min walk from our house) on Sunday morning.¬† Using our adult bike and tag-a-long, and 2 of their portal bikes, 1 of their adult mountain bikes, and 2 of their kid’s 20 inch bikes, the nine of us were off!¬† We zigzagged in and out of the alley ways of Patan, stopping every once in a while to check the map, regroup, or switch who was riding on which bike!¬† Riding in the streets of Kathmandu – how do I begin to describe it!?! ¬†SO much visual stimulation, taking in so much information and making numerous split-second decisions. ¬†We are constantly dodging cars, motorcycles, other cyclists, pedestrians, dogs, and pot holes! ¬†But it is SO much fun… ¬†Our speed is relatively slow, so it didn’t feel dangerous – just VERY challenging.

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After riding ¬†2-3 miles, we ended up at Patan Darbar Square.¬† The parents took turns watching the bikes and meandering around with the kids.¬† They fed the birds, climbed the elephant statues, ate some mint leaves in the medicinal garden and scurried around the numerous ladders and pathways in the museum!¬† Our collection of bikes was a sight to see…

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We rode for another bit and then out of nowhere, discovered a Children’s Playground!¬† The Spear family, who has been in Nepal for almost a year, and us were shocked to find it.¬† It was fully equipped with 2 slides, 4 swings, 3 seesaws, monkey bars and 2 trees great for climbing.¬† Unfortunately, even though there are 3 million of people in Kathmandu, public and green spaces are very limited.¬† Even though this playground was old, dingy and not well maintained, it was a pleasant surprise and we will definitely revisit it soon…

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We ended up at Yellow House Bed & Breakfast and had a yummy brunch and enjoyed a bit of shopping at the farmers market!¬† I got fresh ghee (clarified butter) and flax seeds. ¬†We are looking forward to equipping the rest of our family with bikes in the next week or so!¬† A 24 inch bike for Janani, a 20 inch bike for Sajjan and a mountain bike for me.¬† We’ll be biking all around town in no time!¬† Can’t wait to see how the rides in the monsoon rains will pan out – I’m sure the kids will have a blast riding through all the puddles :-).

First Post!! (Written on Saturday, April 26th)

Hello Everyone!
Life in Kathmandu is GREAT!!!!  Highlights of this week include school, meeting new friends, getting to know the town
School¬†— The kids started at The British School on Wednesday and had a GREAT first week! ¬†The kids’ teachers are really friendly, warm and engaged in welcoming J, Sa and Su into the classrooms. ¬†All kids have a few friends in their classes already. ¬†On Friday afternoon (every week), the school holds an assembly where some subset of the kids do some sort of presentation. ¬†This week, 3 sets of kids enacted a story of Saint George – Sumi acted as a dragon!! ¬†Another group of kids told about their holidays between Term 3 and 4 – so neat to hear where all they traveled to, WOW! ¬†J, Sa and Su have had PE, music, singing, library and dance specials so far, and hopefully will also start learning Nepali. ¬†Timings are from 8:15 – 2:30. ¬†From this week, they’ll have clubs from 2:30 – 3:30pm. ¬†Janani will be doing gymnastics, choir, crochet and soccer. ¬†Sajjan will be doing tennis, soccer and craft. ¬†Sumi will be doing musical theater, craft and soccer. ¬†Okay, here it is called FOOTBALL, but didn’t want to confuse ya’ll ūüôā ¬†School is a 4 minute walk from home! ¬†First time in our kids’ life that they have been able to walk to school – what a luxury that many of us had when we were kids and now is almost a thing of the past in the US…
The kids on their first day of school!

The kids on their first day of school!

Meeting new friends¬†— On Wednesday, we were pleasantly surprised to meet several of the moms and dads of kids at TBS. ¬†Many of them meet at the neighboring coffee shop right after dropoff. ¬†We learned of many neat things in our neighborhood. ¬†Secret bakeries (SO yummy), kids activity places (haven’t visited these yet), and places to exercise (gyms, pools and bike routes. ¬†prakash and i will join some parents on their routine Tuesday morning bike ride into the hills of kathmandu!!). ¬†We’ve been invited to 3 birthday parties this week – totally unexpected!! ¬†Prakash’s colleague’s husband’s bday, 1 of Sajjan’s classmates bdays and 1 of Sumi’s classmates bdays. ¬†We’ll attend 2-3 of these parties. ¬†It is nice to meet so many new people all at once…
Janani playing a birthday game of cutting up chocolate with a fork and knife as fast as she can before her turn is up!

Janani playing a birthday game of cutting up chocolate with a fork and knife as fast as she can before her turn is up!

SO many neat families here!! ¬†Families working with the UN, World Bank, British Embassy and other ICIMOD folks too. ¬†People from all around the world, some who are on the “traveling circuit” who have lived abroad for several years, and a few like us who have been posted in Kathmandu for their first assignment abroad. ¬†And such neat lines of work! ¬†World Food Program, Family Planning, Development Agencies, Bee Keeping, and several others…
The locals are so WARM! ¬†Namaste is the greeting used by all and is said so often and so sincerely… ¬†Nepali people are simple, kind, sincere people. ¬†I’m looking forward to learning Nepali and conversing with them – I feel there is so much to learn from them ūüôā
Getting to know the town¬†— We live in probably one of the best parts of Kathmandu! ¬†Okay, maybe not, but we really like this neighborhood. ¬†It is (RELATIVELY) clean and quiet and feels VERY safe. ¬†There are numerous foreigners here and it is very walkable and bikeable. ¬†Within a 30 second walk, there is a small grocery store ; within a 1 min walk there is a corner store where we buy our milk and some basic veggies ; within a 4 min walk there is a dry cleaners who is helping us with our laundry since we do not have access to a washing machine ; within a 10 min walk there are 2 great bakeries who offer fresh and HOT bread every morning, also biscuits, pastries and cakes ; withing a 15 min there is a full grocery / catchall store (as close to Target as we get!)
Prakash bought a bike for himself on Wednesday. ¬†His plan is to ride to work daily (except in rainy season when he’ll take the company bus). ¬†His ride should be about 20-25 minutes. ¬†On Thursday, we had 2 appts (house searching and a work meeting for Prakash) both got canceled, so we made the most of it!! ¬†I rented a bike and we rode around a few neighborhoods in KTM, areas where we were recommended to look for housing. ¬†What a ride!! ¬†Some parts were smooth and fairly normal. ¬†Others were bumpy / rocky and others had such steep grades! ¬†We managed to ride most of it, only had to walk our bikes for a bit here and there. ¬†Rode around, looked at new neighborhoods, had lunch and headed back to get the kids – great day!!
Me with my rented bike, helmet and face mask (similar to what doctors wear but is made of cloth and reduces the pollution entering your body ; very commonly worn here in Kathmandu).

Me with my rented bike, helmet and face mask (similar to what doctors wear but is made of cloth and reduces the pollution entering your body ; very commonly worn here in Kathmandu).

We shopped for cellphones on Wednesday and have narrowed down the search. ¬†Hope to have our phones within a few days and be in better touch soon! ¬†Hope you all are well! ¬†Drop me a line when you can – would love to hear how you are doing… ¬†Thanks to those who have written with life updates ūüôā ¬†LOVE reading your emails…