July 4, 2001
Dear Family and Friends,

With our departure date bearing down upon us, a thousand undone things are calling for attention. For reasons unlike any in the past, this 4th or July is a time of joy, sadness, and reflection.

Ostensibly Nepal has returned to normal after the royal massacre of royals. But some things are lost, probably forever. The simple faith of common people in the transcendence of the king will probably never be so firm and unquestioned again. This is a loss for individuals but also a loss for a society that desperately needs stable institutions to rely on. The parliament is literally dysfunctional and the civil service corrupt and inefficient. Strangely, the king was in some ways the best guarantor of democracy, even though it was wrest from him in 1990-91 as a price for preserving the monarchy. (Now more beloved in death than he ever was in life, people are saying that the king gave us democracy.) The army is a point of stability but probably not much a friend of democracy. Maoist influence grows daily and has now invaded Kathmandu in the form of two bomb explosions yesterday. But the brutal and undemocratic means of the Maoists also are increasingly evident day by day. Civil society here, as represented by NGOs, is plentiful but woefully immature and lacking in independent access to resources. As the monsoon rains blow in every day, the future of Nepal as a democratic society is certainly clouded.

Most Nepalis have been very slow to accept the conclusion that the crown prince murdered his mother and father and other family members. Phrased in different ways, the response is the same: it is unthinkable. The explanation is unthinkable because it contradicts the established order of things. The respect and reverence of sons for their parents, especially their fathers, is not a matter of preference or psychological attachment. It is dictated by the way things are and are suppose to be. If this is true of mortals it is beyond question regarding the royal family, headed by the king who is a reincarnation of Vishnu. Even after the father is dead, the obligations of the son continue in the form of rituals and acts that assure good results in the afterlife. This, rather than mere prejudice, is why it is so essential to have a son child. That the son could murder the father incarnation of Vishnu is simply unthinkable. In understanding the tragedy, many Nepali people are bound by this understanding of the social order. On the other hand, westerners steeped in domestic violence, Freud, and the dark side of the subconscious have no trouble accepting the evidence that the crown prince did it because his parents sought to block his individual marriage preference. For Nepalis, arranged marriages, like the murders, must be perceived in terms of societal dynamics, not individualistic psychological dynamics, in order to make sense of them.

With Dana caught in the demands of her work, Kelsey, Darby and I went on a wonderful two week trek to the mysterious land of Upper Mustang, closed to westerners until the early 1990s. Like eastern Washington, Mustang is an arid land, shielded from the monsoon rains by the massive Dhaligiri and Annapurna Himals. Geographically it is more Tibet than Nepal. It looks much like the American southwest, and in places even such experts as Keller/Karlberg would think they were in the Grand Canyon. In fact, the Kali Gandaki canyon leading into Mustang is the deepest in the world where it passes between two 8,000 meter peaks. The stark landscape was dotted now and then with whitewashed villages surrounded by terraced fields of green wheat, with giant chortens, with ancient cave dwellings, and with beautiful people of Tibetan stock determined to make go of living in this harsh land.

We met an old lama living alone in a cave up a steep side canyon. He had left Tibet with the Dali Lama and had two thumbs on his left hand. The cave had been opened in olden times with a stroke of the hand by Guru Rimpoche while on his way to take Buddhism to Tibet. You can still see the image of the great teacher imprinted on a wall in the cave. We lit a butter lamp in honor of Dana and gave a packet of turkey jerky and some sea shells to the lama. He put the shells in a special bowl of barley on the altar in his cell.

We met a family of yak herders living high on a hillside in a woven yak fur tent just as Tibetan nomads have for centuries. After cautiously checking us out, the head of the tent invited us in. Inside, the 77-year-old grandmother was churning nak butter by massaging a milk filled yak stomach (no longer attached to the yak). She poured the contents into a wooden bucket and skimmed off the butter that the elder daughter promptly made into Tibetan tea in a tall brass and wood churn. A little baby was wrapped in sheepskins with only his eyes showing until his mom slipped him free to nurse. Our guide said, this is just like National Geographic.

We met the King of Mustang, not once but four times. At the house of his sister where we both stayed on our way to Lo Monthang, at the ramshackle palace where we had a formal audience with his majesty, at a high pass where the King rode by on a horse with his entourage on the way to meet the Sakaya Lama, and in Jarakhot where the Sakaya Lama arrived by helicopter. At the formal audience I took a photo of Kelsey next to the King with Darby by her side. Assistant guide Chheri said it looked like Kelsey was the Queen of Mustang and Darby was her bodyguard.

We also met the Sayaka Lama, head of an ancient sect or pre-reform Tibetan Buddhism and the high lama of nearly all monasteries in Mustang. He had planned to visit the major monasteries of Mustang but was denied permission by the Nepal government so as to avoid offense to the Chinese. We joined the incredible pageantry of lamas, monks, and hill people; including many who had ridden horses for days from Mustang and Tibet, awaiting arrival of the Sakaya Lama. Because we had a medical kit that said on it please return to the U.S. Embassy when done, our guide told officials that we were with the U.S. Embassy and should be allowed to stand in a special place to greet the Lama and receive his blessing via a silk kata placed over our necks. Perhaps thinking that we needed blessing more than most, we were granted this privilege.

Amongst the many wonderful things about the trek, the best for us was that Kelsey walked the full 150 miles, for the first time putting her injured ankle to a real test. Unfortunately, I dropped the digital camera on the first day of the trek and so these words will have to do until a full-fledged slide show is available shortly to all faithful subscribers.

In these closing days, Dana is finishing up the data gathering stage her research, which she is very excited about and which is without precedent in Nepal. The information she has gathered at mental hospitals here will provide insights no one has looked at before. She is trying to find a graceful way to exit the many relationships at the university that want to hold her here. She has touched many lives and they do not want her to go. I just got back from a three-day planning meeting with Pro Public, a leading Nepali NGO. I have helped them get funding for a five lawyer Public Interest Law Firm that will focus on government accountability in the areas of gender equity, environmental protection, and government abuse of authority. It is now the largest law firm in Nepal. My other major project with The Mountain Institute involves using conservation easements for the first time in Asia to protect an area linking the Makalu-Barun National Park to the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area creating the largest contiguous protected area in the world. We are now moving from the conceptualization stage to the proposal stage. (If you want to know more, I have attached a link at the bottom of this page to the overview paragraph from the rough draft proposal.)

It is hard to leave people we have worked with and who have been so gracious to us. It is also hard to leave the neighborhood, a real neighborhood where we are known by the tailor, the shoemaker, and the man who sells us the Kathmandu Post. The following pictures let you see a bit of what we see from the window next to the computer and when we walk in the Handigaon neighborhood. We will be home on July 11 and hope to see each of you soon.

Rand and Dana

Photo A Fulbright House
Photo B Cement for the upper floor of a house carried from hand to hand on trays
Photo C The dumpster across the street from our house is a good landmark for directing visitors here, including cows, dogs and crows.
Photo D Every day swarms of school kids parade past the house in every direction
Photo E Carpenter. There are many small businesses in the neighborhood
Photo F Shoemaker. Great sandals for less than $10
Photo G Hat maker
Photo H Motorcycle temple. Just stopped by one of many neighborhood temples for a quick puja
Photo I Ping pong. A popular game played on any flat surface
Photo J Temple window. On little temple a few doors from our house
Photo K Traveling salesman. People selling all sorts of things stream by the house daily Tika our cook examines the wares in front of the house
Photo L Tree temple. My favorite temple in all Nepal is a two minute walk away the tree and temple are one
Photo M Wedding. Since we face the public space created by Gohana Pokhari, weddings and other festive events are often in our front yard
Photo N Lingum. A great Shiva lingum at an ancient nearby temple
Photo O Water spout. These water spouts use to be the primary water sources for Kathmandu many still serve as gathering places for fetching drinking water and washing clothes and bodies
Photo P Saddhus. Invited into the yard for a chat to the horror of our staff
Photo Q Woman leaving temple a few doors away

Overview Jaljale Himal Project and Himalayan Conservation Corridor