Motorcycle Adventure to the Fish Farm!

Tika Dai, our house helper, has very quickly become like a member of our family… He suggested that we all go for an outing to Godavari, a beautiful forested area in the southern part of the Kathmandu Valley. His Didi (didi = elder sister, not necessarily your own sister, but even a cousin or close family friend) lives there and wanted to have us over for lunch. We eagerly accepted the invitation as one of our desires here is to get to know and learn from local families. Godavari is approximately 10 kilometers away and one of the first questions was, “how should we get there?” Now a days, approximately 90% of our transportation is by bicycle, another 7% or so by foot, and the remainder by taxi. I suggested we try the local bus! Prakash has experimented with it a few times on his way to work, but the kids and I haven’t tried them yet. Tika Dai was a bit apprehensive about bus because our outing was on a Saturday, and this is the only day off in the week for most Nepali’s – so the buses may be overly crowded with hoards of locals also venturing out to the neighboring, scenic areas. Tika Dai had an alternative suggestion – he, Prakash and I would ride our bicycles, and his son, Siva, would take our 3 kids on his motorcycle! My initial mental response was, “no way! are you out of your mind!”, but I tactfully responded in my broken Nepali, “I’ll ask Prakash and get back to you”… Amusingly, Prakash’s initial response was, “what a great idea! the kids will have a ball!”. I quickly fired back with, “they won’t be wearing helmets, how will all four of them fit, we haven’t even met Siva, are you crazy?!?” Something inside told me to just go with it and not resist… So the plan was set!

Unfortunately, Tika Dai fell sick Thursday night, but after resting most of Friday, he said he’d be up for the outing. I barely slept Friday night just imagining my 3 little munchkins, riding on a MOTORCYCLE, with a man I don’t know, going to a place I’ve never been, to a family’s house we’ve never met!!! But my gut told me to just relax and TRUST… I did my best…

We woke up Saturday morning and had breakfast. Tika Dai looked okay; he was not 100% recovered but made up for it with his endless enthusiasm and optimism. Siva reached our place around 8am and the kids were all smiles, ear to ear – their first-ever motorcycle ride! Needless to say, they’d reach before we would (especially because Godavari is roughly 300 meters higher than where we live in the valley). We quickly mentioned to them before they sped off that we’ll get there, but it will take us a while longer… They weren’t worried one bit! I think Siva could sense my tension as I quickly called out, “Bistaarai bistaarai jaanus!!” (Please go slowly!)

The adventure begins - here we go!

The adventure begins – here we go!

We locked up and left within minutes. The gradual uphill climb was difficult but manageable for Prakash and me as we have 21-speed mountain bikes. Tika Dai, however, has a locally-made single-speed bike that really isn’t meant for hilly climbs.

Tika Dai in the red hat and me in the green.  Prakash is quite skilled at clicking photos while riding his bicycle!

Tika Dai in the red hat and me in the green. Prakash is quite skilled at clicking photos while riding his bicycle!

His insufficient bike and lingering illness proved to be very arduous for him. After an hour or so, Tika Dai was really suffering, so he called his son to come help. It was a sight to see – two men on one motorcycle, pulling along a bicycle!

These seemingly unusual sights are more common that you'd expect!  Almost anything goes on roads in developing Asia...

These seemingly unusual sights are more common that you’d expect! Almost anything goes on roads in developing Asia…

We reached 45 min or so after the kids. Komala Didi greeted us then continued to prepare lunch. Her husband works for the Central Government Fish Farm – their home was located within a large government compound along with several ponds with hundreds of fish and one large office building. His duties likely include caring for the ponds, managing the fish supply and maintaining the water quality within the ponds. On Saturdays he holds a second job and works in a corner store there in Godavari. They have two children, a twelve-year-old daughter and a 4 year-old-son. His combined salary is sufficient enough for the children to attend a private English-medium school. Her conversational English skills, surprisingly, were one of the best we’ve heard among the children of the working class!

The exterior of the pressure cooker is coated with a layer of mud to make cleaning easier!  The blackened areas wash off easily along with the mud.

The exterior of the pressure cooker is coated with a layer of mud to make cleaning easier! The blackened areas wash off easily along with the mud.

They suggested we all take a short walk up to the highest point of the compound where a small family of deer are maintained. A few friendly visitors were hiding in the wet, grassy path – yup, more leeches! We each had a few hop into our sandals, but they are easily detected as a mild wetness in a corner of your foot. They are fairly harmless, however after the first was detected, we were more focused on our feet than enjoying the beautiful views. The boys couldn’t get enough of the motorcycle and raced up and down the road with Siva. After a bit, we all gathered to start eating.

Shiva is Sajjan and Sumanth's new best friend!!

Shiva is Sajjan and Sumanth’s new best friend!!

The Nepali lunch was delicious! It always begins and ends with a large base of white basmati rice (bhaat). The second main dish is a savory lentil soup (daal). Nepal has a huge variety of leafy greens and a side dish of these sautéed with garlic is very common (saag). A special vegetarian dish usually served to guests is curried cheese cubes with vegetables, in this case bell peppers and tomatoes (paneer ra thulo khursani tarkari). Another curried vegetable dish with soya beans, peas, eggplant and potatoes was also served (mixed tarkaari). A cool salad – cucumbers spiced with cumin, and pickled vegetables – tomato and radish, rounded out the meal (salad and achaar). Cucumber slices are available in case the spice level gets too high (those were gone by the end of the meal!).

Typical Nepali Meal - daal, bhaat, tarkaari, saag and achaar.

Typical Nepali Meal – daal, bhaat, tarkaari, saag and achaar.

After lunch, we walked over the National Botanical Gardens – a beautifully protected space with numerous species of plants from all around the world. Tika Dai was correct – dozens of families and hundreds of youngsters (high school and college age kids) were out enjoying their one day off in the week.

The main map showing the rock garden, cactus garden, tropical garden and other sections.

The main map showing the rock garden, cactus garden, tropical garden and other sections.

Prakash commented on how young romantic couples in Nepal go to the Botanical Gardens to spend time together; in the US, you would find these couples at the movies, restaurants, beaches, fun parks… but not at a botanical garden!! Our kids had a ball running around and frolicking in the water.

The children playing on a small pier leading to a temple in the middle of the pond.

The children playing on a small pier leading to a temple in the middle of the pond.

As usual, I was rushing everyone… we needed to leave the garden so we could get back to Komala Didi’s house, get our bikes and start our downhill ride home (and I still had to prepare dinner for the night)! I wanted to make sure we reached before darkness came – we surely did miss the night but were drenched with rain instead!! One of the strongest rain falls this season started when we were about half way home. We went through puddles over 6-inches deep and as wide as the entire road! We reached home dripping wet, but were welcomed by a warm bath, dry clothes, and 3 happy (and wet) children :-).

Overall, a very out-of-the-box, unique and special experience…

Initial Thoughts on Nepal… By Sumanth, Sajjan and Janani

Here are the kids initial thoughts and observations on Nepal…  This is a LONG OVERDUE post, and I hope to include more of their words in the upcoming posts.  Here, I’ve included a piece that each of them wrote soon after we arrived.  In addition, I interviewed them asking questions like: Tell me about Nepal ; What do you like about school ; Tell me about some of the work you’ve done at school ; What do you miss from home ; What are the names of your classmates…  This is completely unedited — all their words!  I added a bit in brackets when explanation was helpful.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section!  I will share it with the children 🙂


Writing (late April): I laaic Nepal. On the rods in nepal thar is dust. today i am going to start sccool. My school is cold the british scool. my clas is cald fawndashun. the end. Translation: I like Nepal. On the roads in Nepal, there is dust. Today I am going to start school. My school is called The British School (TBS). My class is called Foundation. The End.

Interview (mid June): These are the things that I really like about Nepal. I like getting books from the book stores in Nepal, and I like going to birthdays at Moksh [this is a FUN place with several businesses – restaurant, book store, music school, yoga studio, art studio, cycle shop, rock climbing wall, and coffee shop] and going to Swayambhu. In Swayanbbhu I like the monkeys and I like the beautiful view when you get up the stairs and go to that golden thing. Some of my favorite things about British School are that Dr Moore [school principal] said we can play inside a field that the workers were making and I’m very excited that the workers are making my class a new playground and I like that I have an old big playground that I get to play in.

Sumanth getting a horse ride at a recent birthday party.

Sumanth getting a horse ride at a recent birthday party.

I like getting house points. Getting a house point is like doing something good and getting a house point. Like you can write all of the colors that you know on the white board or write how high you can write from zero on the while board or A B Cs all the way to Zed. [There are 4 houses at TBS: Makalu, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna.  All children are placed within a house and various school competitions occur between Houses.]

I am learning all about mini beasts at school and mini-beasts are bugs. Even we have done research about them, even we have maked our own information about mini-beasts. We have learned about wasps, bees, spiders, ladybugs, leeches, all kinds, and caterpillars.

Sumanth showing his bug research laboratory!

Sumanth showing his bug research laboratory!

The kids in my class are Miles, Ollie, Prathista, Nadeen, Phorpa, Jhumpai, Samaira, Tanuska, Nimarose, Freya, Poppy, Norzen, Ariya and Yuvaan.


Writing (late April): My thoughts about Nepal. Nepal roads are not as dusty as India at all. Nepal has much more variety of trees than North Carolina. The water from the tap you can’t drink. You will get sick if you drink tap water. You have to drink filtered water or bottled water to not get sick. The ground is dusty so you have to wash your feet before you go to bed. There is no traffic lights so the road is loud. The road is loud from all the beeping. We only have 12 hours of electricity per day.

Interview (mid June): I like British School because it is almost the same as Heartwood [Montessori school the kids attended from 2010-2013] and schools in North Carolina. The similarities are that in both schools they speak English. Both schools I like. I like British School because even though we are in Nepal, we don’t have to speak Nepali in the school.

I like Nepal because we can walk closely to our school, we don’t have to bike or drive or ride a car. And I like my school because everyone is nice to me. I enjoy playing football on the football field. And I enjoy football club. Football club is on Thursday. I like tennis club and craft club and all my clubs!

Janani and Sajjan in their PE Uniforms.  They only have uniforms for PE, not for the school day.

Janani and Sajjan in their PE Uniforms. They only have uniforms for PE, not for the school day.

We were learning about nature and we all stood in a circle and we got into pairs of two and we each got a thing. Like we could get water, the sun, the trees, the birds, some part of nature. And then there was this big ball of yarn. The yarn started with the sun and then the tree needed the sun and then the sun passed the yarn to the tree. And we kept passing the yarn. The tree passed the yarn to the plants. And then the plants passed the yarn to the soil and then the soil passed it to the tiny little animals and the tiny little animals passed it to the water and then the water passed it to everybody again. And that’s how we feel that nature is all connected but climate change is destroying it so we have to make it better.

I miss from NC the fun parks and the water parks like Great Wolf Lodge. And I like getting books from the book store, but what I don’t like about Nepal is that there is no library so we just have to get books from the book store. And I don’t miss my house because we are going to get another house!

The kids in my class are Yulo, William, Shaurya, Ishat, Max, Anna, Iona, Keito, Honami, Hanon, Emily, Jack, Nitesh, Musa, Fayaz, Aayan, Seoyoon, Kirsten and Sangye.


Writing (late April): Nepal is very cool! It is very different from USA. One big difference is that there is two power-outs a day. Power-outs are when there is no power so the refrigerator and the lights don’t work. But in our house, there are windows on the roof so in the daytime, we get lots of light. It is so awesome when everything is dark! Another small difference is grocery stores. Most grocery stores in Nepal are very small but they can fit lots of things in it. Also the people in Nepal pay with Nepali Rupees instead of dollars. Nepal is so different from the USA.

Interview (mid June): Some things that I like about Nepal is that our house isn’t that big but we can have so much things in it and it is easier than living in a big house. And at school, I go to the British School and it is really fun because we do lots and lots of different things very often. And we have breaks very often and we do fun things very often. And just last week, I went to a soccer game to play against another school and it was really fun! We do projects, big projects, so my teacher gives us the projects after half-term and we have until the end of term to do them. And for this term, we’re going to do three big projects about WW2 and I am going to make a collage on a picture of WW2, and I’m going to make a fact file about kids in WW2 and I’m also going to make a board game that involves facts of WW2.

Janani playing defense at the soccer match.  TBS lost 3-2 against KISC.

Janani playing defense at the soccer match. TBS lost 3-2 against KISC.

At Bristish School, we have a lot of unique assignments. In English we watched a film with no words and it was very interesting and it had music. Then we were supposed to make our own film that only used music, no talking, and the film had to use the music that the film that we watched, that one use. So we had to create a film and act it out and make a video of it and it was really cool and it make us think a lot. Math is not that unique. And I don’t really remember the math assignments…

In Nepal there’s lots of differences than North Carolina. We have to clean lots of things like body parts and things that we buy before we eat them or play with them or do anything with them. For example, when we come home we have to wash our feet unlike North Carolina because it is so dusty. And I’ve noticed that there’s much less buildings than NC. Well, like the buildings, there are lots of buildings but not very much of them are very big. And they all seem to be made out of the same things – bricks. And they don’t look very new, they all look so old. And the weather is very hot, not like NC [remembering how NC felt in April when we left!!].

There are lots of things that I miss from NC. The thing that I miss the most is all of my friends and also I miss how clean it was and that we could just like drink any water, like from the tap or whatever and that we didn’t have to wash our feet when we came in from school. Well, one thing that I don’t miss that much is our car because I feel so good when we are biking and walking everywhere because we don’t like use so much pollution, I mean make so much pollution. It’s really fun biking and walking, it is much more fun than sitting in a car doing nothing. I kind of miss school because there is not so much British accent and people that don’t understand me or I don’t understand them because of their accent and because the words the words that they use like loo, trousers, trainers [toilet, pants, sneakers] and all that!

A birds eye view of the dust and pollution within the KTM valley.

A birds eye view of the dust and pollution within the KTM valley.

The people in my class are Yashasvi, Sana, Mina, Yuriko, Harira, Soyun, Jini, Miyu, Chinyue, Prama, Charlotte, Isabella, Amodini, Shloka, Samir, Dan, Daniel, Dorjay, Rosheen, Karou, Kyoungmin, Letti.

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!


* 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.


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.


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…


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 🙂

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 🙂

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


* 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 🙂

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.


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 🙂

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