Greetings. I had been holding off on posting another entry until I could be sure that the main theme of the entry would be something more exciting than simply waiting here in Kathmandu for everything to process.
Over the past week and a day I have now collected and submitted all of the necessary requirements to process the study/research visa for Nepal, and will return in two weeks to collect an official letter from the Ministry of Education, which I will then take to the Nepal Department of Immigration where they will (hopefully) stamp the new visa in my passport.
Opening a Nepali bank account was quite an adventure in and of itself. First, it took several tries before finding a branch that was even willing to let me open an account. The first bank I tried did not want to let me open an account on a tourist visa, even though having a local bank account is a necessary pre-condition for being eligible to apply for a longer-term visa. At the second bank, I already filled out a lot of paperwork before the bank manager informed me that they do indeed issue accounts to foreigners, just not US citizens. The third bank manager looked over my documents glumly, shaking his head, before telling me that I could take these to any bank anywhere in Nepal to open an account, just not here.
Once I finally did find a willing bank, most of the paperwork was fairly straightforward. In addition to the usual questions, including providing the personal information of at least six family members, I was also fingerprinted, and given a blank piece of paper to draw a hand-drawn map of the neighborhood I was staying, complete with directions to the nearest landmark. Many older roads and smaller streets in Kathmandu do not have names, and building numbering in many areas ranges from inconsistent to non-existent, so it is common for people to include such maps on business cards, on websites, and on forms and documents. For visitors only in Nepal on a tourist visa, there may never be a situation where you need to draw a map yourself, but for anyone wishing to stay in Nepal for longer, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself enough with the area you are staying enough to draw a map of it, as this seems to be a common requirement at many levels of officialdom here in Nepal.
Last Friday and yesterday (Monday) were also public holidays in Nepal so banks, government buildings and many offices were closed. Friday was Maha Shivaratri -a Hindu festival in honor of Shiva, the Hindu deity of death and transformation. Maha Shivaratri is an especially big celebration here in Kathmandu, with gatherings at temples throughout the city, and overnight bonfires with traditional music and religious rituals in the streets.
Monday was Lhosar, the festival of the Sherpa new year. Unlike on Friday, I noticed relatively little in the way of large public celebrations, but Kathmandu itself does not have much in the way of a large Sherpa population, at least not compared with many of the higher-altitude regions of the country.
Sherpa culture shares more of the same holidays and religious traditions with Tamang culture, and indeed with Tibetan Buddhism more broadly, and all three of which incorporate very little of the Hindu traditions that are so prevalent elsewhere in Nepal. The Sherpa follow(ed) a traditional calendar system that emerges from the practices of Tibetan Buddhism with a different system of months and years than what is found elsewhere in Nepal. So while today is now the second day of the Sherpa new year, it is now the 17th day of the 11th month of the Nepal (Buddhist) calendar - a calendar historically shared with Bengal and Assam. While both sets of calendars are lunar, the mainstream/lowland Nepali calendar marks each month as running from full moon to full moon. Thus the date of the full moon is the last day of the month in the Nepali system. The Sherpa/Tibetan system marks months as starting with the new moon, as was the case in most of the lunar systems that once existed in ancient Europe.
It will be interesting to see how some of these different traditions play out through the daily practices of current inhabitants of the Melamchi Valley - an area I leave for tomorrow. The Melamchi River originates along the south face of Langtang Himal and drops rapidly into a river canyon that is but one valley over from Kathmandu. Currently tunnels are almost complete to divert large amounts of water from the Melamchi Valley to meet the domestic water needs of the burgeoning Kathmandu Valley. The diversion itself is located at about 1500 meters in altitude, near the zone where warm, subtropical rice-based agriculture starts to transition to the cooler temperate zone, an area inhabited primarily by Sherpa, Tamangs and other ethnic groups whose heritage traces back to the highlands of Tibet and Central Asia. Below the diversion, most villages are populated by various Hindu caste groups, while the two sets of traditions meet in the middle elevations, close to, and slightly above the site of the planned water diversion.
I will hike over the ridge top to get to the Melamchi Valley, stopping in Chisopani along the way, and taking a side trip to see and take field notes on the source of the Bagmati River - historically the main drinking water source for the Kathmandu Valley, which flows down from just below Shivapuri Peak - one of the tallest foothills along the Kathmandu Valley rim. Unlike the larger Melamchi River, which starts from glacial meltwater in the high Himalaya (above 5800 meters), the source of the Bagmati River is well below the winter-snowline at roughly 2500 meters, making it much more prone to dry cycles than the neighboring Melamchi. In fact, much of the diverted water from the Melamchi will be used to recharge the Bagmati, whose flows have diminished considerably in recent years, straining citizens and policy-makers alike.
I will plan on updating this blog once I have returned from Melamchi in another week or so.