Hello and Goodbye to Kathmandu: It’s Been Gneiss

Well as I should have suspected, it’s been rather difficult to get any WiFi in remote mountain villages in Nepal! So here’s a post from a few weeks ago.


Wow what a week it’s been!  Since so much has happened in this short week I am going to try to tell this story in mostly pictures. 


Day 1:
After a quick up and down flight from New Delhi to Kathmandu, I waited at the airport, fending off offers for taxis and waiting for someone with a SIT sign to come. Once two other students had landed, the head of logistics for our program, Rinzi-la, arrived and took us back to our hotel, Un Dia Blanco, for the night. Here’s the view of Kathmandu from the plane before we landed!

The outskirts of Kathmandu as seen from the window of my Indigo flight.


Day 2:
On Tuesday we met the staff and other students for the first time. All together there are ten American student and four Nepali students, five of which are girls and nine boys. Surprisingly I am one of the two youngest students here, with most students being around 23 and some up to 38. We stayed in the program house almost all day and listened to lectures on Nepali culture, customs and in country safety. The SIT program house, also called the Yantra House, is nothing less than an incredible oasis. When you step into Kathmandu, your senses are overwhelmed by the incredible experience, and also by the dust, car horns, cows, and dogs. When you step into Yantra House you are immediately surrounded by the blissful sounds of nature, with beautiful trees and dangling grape vines the create magical enclosed spaces and completely remove you from the bustle of the city. The main house itself was once a palace, and while it has been retrofitted since the 2015 earthquake, the tradition style has been preserved in low stately doorways, large ground to ceiling windows, and expertly crafted wooden architecture. Although we have some homework every night, it was impossible to resist the desire to explore Kathmandu in our first nights there. We were in a region of the city called Boudha, which is a tourist area, but not as famous as bustling Thamel. So walking out of our hotel after dinner, we explored through many dark but busy backstreets (one of which really had no street left as all the pipes were being dug up) and found our way to the famous Stupa nearby. 

Here’s the classroom at the SIT center!
The Boudhha Stupa at night.


Day 3:
On our third day we went to Patan, one of the ancient kingdoms of Nepal and received a tour from Dr. A. Chitrakar (who was also in a recent the Netflix show). Through the lens of the ancient architecture that remains we were able to learn more about Nepali culture. There were two distinct cultural differences I found especially interesting. First of all, Nepali culture places greater value on the communal landscape than most Western cultures do. As Dr Chitrakar explained, members of the community prioritize communal spaces like the pool and temple seen below for repairs after an earthquake rather than fixing than personal homes. Secondly, there is a value given to the intangible and the skills behind bringing the intangible to life that is almost nonexistent in American culture. While we value historic buildings and artifacts, trying hard to preserve and protect them, their value is linked to their age and originality. Hence in America a replica of some famous artifact would never be worth as much in dollars as the “real thing”. For Nepali culture, it is the tangible things that an object represents that hold value. For example, a thousand year old temple like you see below is made largely of wood, and as such wears out and breaks frequently. However it’s destruction is not seen as a huge irreparable travesty because only the tangible, not the intangible, has been destroyed. It is always being repaired, so the skills to recreate it with the original techniques has not been lost. 

Beautiful communal water storage area in Patan.
An example of the wooden architecture….


Day 5:
Today we visited the national society for earthquake technology in Kathmandu city. While floods are the most frequent geohazard in Nepal, large earthquakes cause great damage when they do occur. NSET works to research and monitor earthquakes, and also to help citizens prepare for quakes. As our NSET presenter reminded us, earthquakes themselves do not cause deaths, instead 85% are caused by collapsing buildings. As such, one of NSET’s main initiatives involves retrofitting homes and schools so they are earthquake resilient. 

The statue in front of NSET headquarters, representing men and women and education, knowledge, and seismic waves.
View from on top of the NSET building.


Day 6: Today we head out! While there are still some scary mountain bus rides ahead before we begin our trek, we are on the road and stopping to look at geology on the way. Since I haven’t taken Structural Geology or Sedimentology yet (which is the focus of the formal geology in this field camp), I was a bit nervous to begin mapping in the field. Jumping in and out of the bus, we made our way through the Lower Lesser Himalayan Sequence. The LHS contains seven different formations including limestone, dolomite, slate, quartzite, and lots of phyllite. Monsoon started just yesterday, so I was very grateful for a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook over the course of the day! Our hotel for the night is much nicer than expected, with a gorgeous view and even a swimming pool. Talk more soon! 

View as we began to drive up through the mountains.


Quote of next week: “Why take the bridge when you can off-road in the bus?”


All is well,

Gigi

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