Chasing away the clouds

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In Nepal in early October, the streets and squares are full of children and the excitement is palpable. The monsoon is finally over – which means it’s kite flying season.

The kites are believed to chase away the clouds and stop the rain, so it’s only after the country has had a good drenching and the crops are watered that children are allowed to fly their kites. As the skies turn from grey to blue, the air fills with fluttering, home-made diamonds.

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Tings: Kathmandu’s secret oasis for weary travellers

If you stop any expat on the streets of Dhaka and ask them where to stay in Kathmandu, they’ll respond without batting an eyelid.

‘Tings.’

I’m not even kidding – two weeks ago, a friend asked for recommendations and this is what she got:

Speaks for itself, really.

It’s a bit of a local secret… A beautiful sanctuary of calm, fresh bread and good tea: the perfect antidote to the Dhaka crazy. Located in Lazimpat, 15 minutes (walk) from touristy Thamel, you have access to everything you could want – momos, shops, markets, beer – without the stress of navigating hawkers every time you step out onto the street.

street

Right outside Tings: the narrow alleys are quiet and dotted with Hindu temples

But with its beautiful outdoor spaces, loads of cosy lounge areas and nooks, why leave at all? As one friend put it: ‘I spent two weeks in Nepal last January and literally 80% of my time was spent in Tings’.

Yes, that is an actual book nook. I think I'm in love.

Yes, that is an actual book nook. I think I’m in love.

Off the bottom ‘hostel’ rung but still affordable, Tings is a guesthouse, not a hotel, and it’s all about the atmosphere.

french doors to the garden

The view from one of our rooms on the ground floor. Exhale.

Reserve your room ahead of time – word has got around and it books out quickly. Ollie and I left it a little bit late for our recent trip to Nepal, but the lovely staff found rooms for all our days there and the upshot was that while we had to move from room to room, we got to see what the whole place has to offer.

Garden Queen

The ‘Garden Queen’ room

Sunny Lounge

The ‘Sunny Lounge’

…We also stayed in Gallery West (lovely upstairs room) and the White Lounge (a bit swish). Stay in any of them, you can’t go wrong. Every room has its own character and charm, scattered with little details and artworks I wanted to steal (apparently a Danish artist has spent a lot of time here and many of the interesting prints are his work).

buddha statue

Attention to detail.

Breakfast is included and it will make your day. Fresh, home-made bread with butter and great jams, delicious muesli, fresh curd (plain yoghurt) and eggs cooked up how you like them (ask for the masala omelette). The staff, who I’ve already mentioned but deserve to be praised at least twice, are local people hired (by the expat owners) not for their experience but their personalities – the result is that the whole staff is friendly and generous with their time and knowledge.

And then there’s the tea. You can get sweet, milky chai anywhere in Nepal but what Tings has to offer is something special:

Nepal has excellent teas that you never get a chance taste in Nepal due to the tradition of chiya. We have made a small selection of our own favorite teas from Nepal and from other parts of the world – a selection ranging  from the most delicate white tea to the aromatic and spicy teas.

Of course, all tea comes in an adorable array of local teapots. Of course.

Needless to say, it was a great 5 days away. When our feet were sore from walking and our brains and hearts were full with all the amazing things to see in Kathmandu and the surrounding valleys, we scurried back to Tings for refuge, calm and a beautiful pot of tea.

cats

The cats know how it’s done. Time to relax.

Get out every 3 months: top tips for escaping Dhaka

It’s pretty crazy here in Dhaka, and after a while it can all start to fray your nerves a bit: the constant beeping, the relentless traffic jams, the daily shock of poverty, haggling for everything, trying not to fall down holes in the street that lead to ominously murky drains, making complicated but daily ethical decisions about whether or not to give money to beggar kids… Ultimately, it amounts to just the stress of constantly being ‘on’ – of having to think differently, adjust yourself, adapt, be flexible. When you’re in a culture that’s so different to your own, your safety net of normal is stripped away.

Culture shock comes in many different forms, and here in Dhaka it’s often not what I’d call ‘shock’, but something quieter and more insidious – maybe erosion, or attrition. You think you’re fine, moving along from one day to the next, taking it in your stride and enjoying the constant stimulation of being somewhere new and different. And then one day, that’s it, you snap, you’re done. You lose your cool and suddenly you’re yelling at a rickshaw driver for trying to overcharge you, or you’re in a puddle of tears because someone at work didn’t say ‘thankyou’. The straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back is always insignificant and ridiculous – it’s something you deal with every day but suddenly you can’t handle it any more. And that’s when you know you need a break.

It’s a bit of a rule of thumb in the local expat community that to try to avoid these silly and often public meltdowns, you should get out of the city every three months. This doesn’t mean leaving the country (although a getaway to Kathmandu, Kolkata or even Thailand is pretty easy and affordable) – there are a few great places to head to for a couple of days in Bangladesh. Top of the list are:

  • Srimongal, the peaceful, green and hilly tea district in the north-east
  • The Sundarbans, the world heritage-listed wetland forests on the Bay of Bengal that house the famous Bengal tigers as well as the fascinating otter-fisherman
  • The Rocket, a colonial-era paddleboat that offers comfortable overnight trips down through the country’s huge river system
  • Cox’s Bazar, for a bit of beach time and some great seafood
  • Sonargaon (Panam), the medieval capital of Bengal and 19th Century colonial centre, just south of Dhaka

In the lead-up to Eid Ul Adha I had one of the famous Dhaka meltdowns, but luckily Ollie and I had some beautiful people from Australia coming to visit us, so we already had a few getaways planned. We ended up going to Nepal for 5 days and Srimongal for another 3 days, then coming back to Dhaka for Eid – posts to come!

Travelling for Eid

I’ve been doing a terrible job lately of keeping bideshi up to date, apart from posting a few pictures – sorry about that! Work has been busy, Ramadan has started and, joy of joys, I have been planning my Eid holidays.

For someone used to living at the ass-end of the globe, where every international flight takes an minimum of 8 hours and costs over $1000, one of the amazing things about being in Bangladesh is that it feels like the middle of the world. With East Asia on one side, Central Asia on the other and (thanks to a constant stream of labourers looking for new lives, new money and opportunity) cheap flights to anywhere in the Middle East, there’s a smorgasbord of culture within easy reach. So planning for the upcoming break has seen me bouncing up and down like a kid in a sweets shop. Hand me that paper bag, I’m heading to the pick ‘n’ mix.

Nepal? Myanmar? India? Thailand? China? Bhutan? Cambodia? Pakistan?

It turns out travelling at this time of year has its limitations. It’s monsoon season, so not the ideal time to travel to SE Asia, or anywhere in Bangladesh, for that matter. The mountains are cloaked in clouds, meaning there’s little point in going to Nepal or Bhutan because you can’t see the spectacular views. India is, somewhat surprisingly, impossible to get to at short notice, thanks to its highly bureaucratic visa system and a determination to stop people from Bangladesh trickling over the border.

So what does that leave? Well, how about TURKEY. THAT LEAVES TURKEY.

Ee! Excited!

Ollie doesn’t get to come, but that’s OK, he’s been twice without me anyway (he will never live this down). Because he’s working as a contractor at the moment he’s locked into a 3-month stint at UNDP, so one of the other Aussie vols and I are buddying up to head over.

The flights we got were $1100 return, which is apparently not as low as they go (if you are happy to do 31-hour layovers)  but pretty damn reasonable. We’ll have 2 weeks and do the tourist trail Cappadoccia-Pamukkale-Ephesus-South coast-Istanbul. I’ll try to write at least one interesting thing about the trip when I’m home … See you back in Dhaka!