Kathmandu Christmas

So here we are in Kathmandu without eggnog, Frank Sinatra, Macaulay Culkin or Macy’s Parade, we are far away from our family and our hostel isn’t, well very Christmassy and nothing reminds of the home where we normally spend this time of year.  So as we are far away from everything we know to be Christmas we are hoping that we might be able to take the oppurtunity to be born into a new type of Christmas, one that we’ve heard about but never really aspired to before. I won’t say the real Christmas because I think what we’ve always had has been real, but it is different. Personally I am more than gratefull to be away from CHRISTMAS SALE and TOP TEN TECH GIFTS 2010 and JINGLE ALL THE WAY and while we certaintly miss our familys and the giving and warmth of all our tradition, I am excited to join maybe a little bit of Christs identity in Christmas and that seems to be one of lonliness and discomfort. As romantic as we’ve made the nativity scene the truth is that Mary had none of her family to help with the birth and donkey poo stinks and hay is scratchy. Christ was born homeless and without much of what we call security. I think it was important for the man Jesus to be born in a way that was going to prepare him for his life of detachment from a worldy system that demands attachment and settlement. Our hope this year is to be born into that, as I think it is key to living a life that is given to others as Christ life was.

That being said we are still celebrating Christmas it is just looking very different. We do have sufjan Stevens Christmas Album on our IPOD and we joined a friend of a friend for the weekend who took us to her Tibetan church for a Christmas service, which was alot of fun. We have also had an amazing time exploring Kathmandu. Our new friend who’s name is Rose lives in a part of Kathmandu where most of the Tibetan Refugees live and getting to meet and talk with some of these people has been amazing as we learn about their journeys and stories and culture. Kathmandu has also amazed us with incredible beauty that we weren’t expecting to find in such a big city. While the lack of electricity and heat has been at times frustrating, overall it has added an element of romanticism to a city that is moving from the ancient to the modern. It has also helped us to really search out our hearts for meaning instead of simply relying on nostalgia and comfort to carry us through this season, not to mention it has perhaps been one of the best spots yet to get some really great photos. So to Everyone back home MERRY CHRISTMAS from Kathmandu, see you next year in Singapore!!!!

Annapurna

Canyons, mules, tea, stone guest houses with wooden fronts, dal bhat, peanut butter from Pokhara to remind us of home, early night and morning sore muscles and cold water- day one.

It feels great to be truly in the middle of nowhere… they are building a road, it took us three days to get past it, there is a place you can land a small plane, but we really are out there, and so far from home.

 

The family sits around the fire, Mel and Eric wash their feet, Michael is sick in bed. We finally hit freezing temps at 9000 feet. The mother is churning yak butter. She made us a nice curry. Hungry travelers are easy to please. I feel like a traveler of old walking from village to village reliant on others for survival.

The mornings are cold and full of magic. Tibetans are hidden amongst the trees gathering fire wood and smoke creeps through the forest disclosing a family’s house otherwise hidden. The people tolerate us and the guest houses welcome us but it is clear we are foreigners.

The peaks rise through the silence, somber giants portioning out only a few hours of sunlight before their shadows reign.

The sound of the horses bells reminds me of Christmas. The sun finally breaks through at 11:30 and the colors of the prayer flags come to life and the rattle of the prayer wheels breaks the stillness.

In a sense we are uninvited guests and we join an army of 60,000 travelers that live off these villages a year, bringing much profit and much reluctance…we tread lightly.

The children are playful the women beautiful and the men mysterious, as glad as I am that we are here part of me wishes we never came, any of us, and all of this was left a hidden sanctuary of simple life surrounded by complex beauty.

Our group is complex held together by our casual demeanors. We each have different motivations and paces and hold-ups yet we press on.

The day haunts us with beauty and it drives our limbs forward against our will somehow. The drought of the valley below and the enormous hight of the himal (that draws the blue sky to our finger tips) calls us forward against the wind and our will. And we pray.

Happy Thanksgiving from Nepal

Well we landed in Pokhara, Nepal on Thanksgiving day and It’s working out pretty well, there is no cranberry sauce and no pumpkin pie and our families are well, far away seems like an understatement; however thankful we are and shall be. It took us 17 hours to get here from India by bus, and not to scare our mothers but after that ride we truly are thankful just to be alive.

This is personally my third time in a foreign country for Thanksgiving and it has never been easy, especially since it is my favorite holiday. Yet to be honest there is something about being away that causes my heart to feel even more gratitude for our family. Here in a place so far removed from my culture and reality I can see and know how much of who I am is directly connected to who my family is, and in this moment nothing could fill me with more gratitude than that.

Sometimes when we are surrounded with our own we can tend to be more critical, and this may be beneficial, it may not be, however, when we are removed from our own we realize how critical family truly is.

So Dear Family,

Thank you, without you we truly are nothing. We love and miss you so much and we are so grateful to be yours,

Kris and Mel

In the same breath I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am so thankful to celebrating Thanksgiving with the best friends and travel companions one could ask for, we truly have become family on this trip, and I am thankful for that.  Pokhara will be providing us with a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and apple pie finished with a glass of wine. For any who have traveled in Nepal or India you know how amazing that sounds. I can’t wait. So from the foot of the Himalayas HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

P.s. here are some left over Pics from our time in Darjeeling and

Dive into some chai.

Sikkim. More reasons why we are filled with gratitude.

Mel's Birthday Cottage

Monastery Trek

a 93 year old sikkimese woman.

Third highest peak in the world.

Darjeeling Tea

Just the four of us.

Well we made it to the mountains and the tea fields, and it is beautiful and cold, which is perfect.  We are headed to Nepal on Monday and we’re going to do the Annapurna circuit, a trek that reaches up to 17,000 feet. Yes I know don’t tell me, we are a little crazy, however we’re going and we’re determined. It should take anywhere from 14 to 21 days depending on how many side trips we decide to do. We will be staying in guest houses that stretch across the country side. We head first to Pokhara to gear up, we should arrive monday night or tuesday morning. After Nepal we are uncertain of where our time should take us. We will fly into Bangkok from Katmandu and then we are debating whether to head to Indonesia or Northern Thailand and Laos. We want to make the most of our time and if God has anything for us we want to be sensitive to that so pray that we would have some direction if we need it.

Other than that things are going pretty well, we have been redefining some of our group dynamics,  mostly we want to get the most out of all of our relationships together as we travel. Sometimes I think expectations can be higher when traveling but maybe not realistic. Our time in Northern India has been symbolic of that, we have been surrounded by the highest mountains in the world for over a week now and today was the first time the fog cleared enough to see them, the moments of splendor are always few no matter where or what your doing. I think this translates to our community as well, whether its family, church, friends or traveling companions. It is good though, it keeps us looking…..more pictures coming.

“A Country of Contrast”

Hello from the country of contrast, the country of color and the country of pollution, the country of incense and urine, tigers and bedbugs, curry and parasites, of unprecedented friendliness and unbelievable disdain. We greet you from a place we love so much and hate so much, we want to leave, we want to stay forever.  Hello from India.

Flower Market

I am writing on our last day in Calcutta and in a way our last day in proper India, for tonight we leave for Sikkim a state that doesn’t consider itself a part of India. We have spent the last week volunteering at the sisters of charity, a service to the poor of Calcutta that fits right into the rest of our experience in India, we loved to volunteer there and the people were amazing, while other parts of it left us confused and baffled wondering how to respond. We also connected with a friend from Flagstaff that works with IJM (international justice mission, working to end slavery) an organization that we have been sincerely interested in for a long time as they fight for prevention at the very core of society issues and work to change laws and enforce laws that are ignored. It was really good to talk about Flagstaff and see how the organization looks in the field. Our time has been very well spent, however I will say that I am ready to leave especially as we head to the mountains. Eric and Michael set out a couple days earlier and kind of did some trailblazing. Before we meet up with them we’re going celebrate Mel’s birthday early by spending two nights at an all inclusive organic farm called Yangsum, we are very excited.

The godess "Kali" she defeats evil though consumtion.

We had a great treat here in Calcutta as we were here for the festival of Diwali and for a whole week the city shut down to party. It is a holiday equivilant in magnitude to Christmas. Lights covered the city and Fireworks shot off until 2 in the morning every night. The festival celebrates the annual return of Kali who literally consumes evil. Dancing and Music abound. The contrast lies in that “Kali” is a bloodthirsty deity who’s image is found on every corner covered in blood ( not real blood, though blood letting is a form of worship for the devout).

 

outside our guest house, Kolkata

Varanasi ally

 

 

 

 

India has been an unforgettable experience  as there is no other place in the world that shows the pollution and the color of our lives so vividly in the same moment.

 

 

 

The holy saddhu gazing over the polluted Ganges

 

Our Unicorn 10-29-2010

Since the lost city we have been on the hunt for our unicorn: the Bengal Tiger. We first visited Kanha national park and though the jungle was astounding with peacocks, monkeys, parakeets and deer there was no Tiger. We made our way to Bandhavgarh, a park that was guaranteed to see Tigers. We arrived to find the zone of the park with tigers to be booked out for weeks. Eric and I set out for lunch disappointed and Michael and Mel set out to walk away their pain. As Eric and I sat down to a delicious plate of coconut stuffed egg plant we saw Michael and Mel peel into the parking lot in a “gypsy” jeep, they quickly grabbed us from our incredible food without even letting us pay and threw us into the jeep. They had some how gotten us a VIP spot reserved for government officials and it started in five minutes. We arrived in the park with anticipation pumping our blood fast through our veins, the park was one of the most beautiful forests we had ever been in and we felt sure that a Tiger was coming. Yet the evening passed and no Tiger. Our last opportunity was this morning and we would be in a zone with few tigers ever seen. We awoke at 4 in the morning with little hope. The gypsy jeep picked us up and it was freezing, we get to the office to finish out our paper work (an infinite abyss in India that will be the end of the forest they protect) as we wait in the dark and cold Mel shows up and informs us that we got a VIP pass for the zone with the most sightings a second time! Hope began to warm our bodies as we set out. An hour later we sat in silence listening for the Langur’s warning calls of a nearby Tiger…. nothing , we drive towards a heard of deer and begin to take pictures out of boredom. In the distance we heard the scream of the same type of deer often made in the presence of a Tiger and our driver flew into action in seconds we were turned around and speeding through the jungle, we arrived in the plain and the herd of deer were all alert, across the plain a huge male Bengal Tiger casually crossed the field and everything stood at attention, eventually he made his way back into the forest leaving us stunned with excitement. A true Bengal Tiger walking in his forest with all authority the image will never leave my mind.  As we were recovering a jeep drove by and informed us that there were two cubs near the entrance of the park. The jeep again flew into action and stopped us right in front of two cubs resting on a rock, a male and female one year old yet still enormous. We couldn’t believe it, no one has seen three tigers in one day it is unheard of, yet there they were beautiful orange white and black against deep forest green. We got our unicorn…
This Photo was taken by our South  African friend Ben who joined us on the safari, because of a ranger dispute we only had a few moments with the tigers before we were rushed off. Ben captured the best shot possible for the situation.

Oh India

“Hello, welcome to India, would you like to be in a Bollywood film tomorrow?” “Well I don’t know….um, yeah, I guess we would.” And so it begins. The truck in this picture had just been driven though a glass window into the set of a dirty club, we are the extras dancing in the background. We were all thinking there would be digital effects and sugar glass, however when the director said action the truck came flying through. After the shock of the explosion we look up to see one man bleeding profusely he ended up needing stitches, the glass was real and we are thankful to be alive.

Mumbai was like being dunked in freezing water after a nice afternoon nap. Yet we quickly adjusted and began to look through the caos to see the beauty. The best way to describe Mumbai is ambiguity.

There were times of being taken advantage of that left us cursing yet we would soon forget our worries as a man with bright henna orange hair would be petting a cow in the middle of the freeway, or a sip of spicy chai would fill us with comfort. Still, after just a few days we were ready to leave and so we set out by train into the interior. Every romantic conception of the India train is true it is absolutely amazing. Our first night we were sharing bunks with a Sikh/Krishna family on their way to worship for the Diwali festival, they were going to the temple we’re the Hare Krishna movement began and they were ecstatic,  the joy and excitement that shown in their faces was incredible and challenged me in my own attitude towards worship. Entering the countryside of India was a breath of cool fresh air, literally.

Since we left Mumbai every day has had it’s own amazement and difficulty. The travel days have been extremely difficult and tiring. The hagglers are ruthless and we have quickly learned that staying a tight group is very necessary for our own well being, the hours that we spend in the big cities for train connections have definitely hardened our skin and run ins with child slaves and illicit sex offers tire our spirit. Yet at the same time we have had almost divine connections with places and people, again the word ambiguous describes our experience. The first day we were invited by a couple of school teachers to visit their school in a nearby village we took their offer and spent the day with them attending classes and touring the village, it was incredible.

Our second day we ended up in one of the Rasput lost cities called mandu the civilation dates back to 900 a.d. and the ruins passed through Afghan and Mongul empires . Here we were invited to a Diwali festival for dinner we were the only non-Indians attending and it was so great to find ourselves right in the middle of a very vibrant Indian community.

this boy swims in an 1100 year old rasput pool.

Now we head for Varanasi an intense spiritual capital in India were they burn the dead to the river God. We have heard the atmosphere is intense in every way but that it should not be missed. This is especially a time for prayer for God to speak to our hearts and protect our bodies and minds. It is a bigger city so email should be accessible and  I can be more diligent with the blog. Until then, here are some beautiful faces from India.rice fields

Pattaya

 

A popular shot from walking street.

 


What to say about Pattaya? This city has been known as Vegas on steroids. T-shirts proudly proclaim “good guys go to heaven bad guys go to Pattaya”. As you enter the town you drive beneath an arch that reads “Welcome to Pattaya, the Extreme City.” Missionaries who have been, talk about the oppressive spiritual atmosphere and how you can feel the darkness as you enter. Many of these descriptions have often left my own mouth, however this time the trip has seemed different. While not much has changed in the city all I see amongst the believers here is hope and joy. I think sometimes the drama of evil offers it more power than it holds, even here it still lacks the strength to keep Jesus from bringing life and joy to individuals on a daily basis.

 

While we are still digesting the reality that we find here, I can say our time spent here has seemed divinely purposed, it is as if God has turned on a burner under our hearts and is brewing something up, who knows what that might be time will tell. Meanwhile we enjoy the time together with our new friends here and look very much forward to meeting up with Michael and Eric for the next big adventure…..India.

Railay

Mel loved the sand crabs and spent an hour trying to get this shot as they are quite timid creatures.

Eric and I get pretty high as we did some solo climbing it was pretty exciting and decently scary.

MANGOSTEEN

Well we’re starting our trip off with a little climbing vaction at Hat Ton Sai in southern Thailand. Being out of American culture has been extremely refreshing, not that I don’t love my home, it’s just nice to experience other cultures again and be outside of our comfort zone, it felt like a breath of fresh air getting off the plane, even though in truth it was very polluted air. Some of the high moments have been deep water solo climbing, eating new fruit and watching sand crabs create intricate designs on the beach. The low moments are sunburns, mosquitos, and spiders the size of my hand in our clothes. We wanted to save on sunscreen and only got the 15 spf because the 30 was 20 bucks; however, it wasn’t worth the saved money as we all got burnt to a crisp. That’s the worse of it though, overall we feel super blessed. Next we head to Pattaya to see if we can do some work with an Irish team that is working with a local ministry that helps women out of prostitution. Love ya!