BALI: Umbul alert

Before you place your advance orders for Balinese umbul-umbul (temple banners) we will take you far from this equatorial island back to a chilly morning in Kathmandu.

It is pre-dawn, and we are flying through town in a taxi, apparently to the Eden petrol pump.  This is the first step in a long sequence of events that will all have to synchronize over the next five days in order for us to make pre-booked train and plane connections to get to Bali, and at the moment it is looking a little dodgy.  Our driver is finishing the night shift, and is charged on speed and red bull.  He comes to screeching halts to ask for directions.  At one point Katheryn gasps when there is a thump and a creature goes hurtling over the bumper.  Katheryn thinks it is a school girl but it is only a pigeon.

When we get out I am still dubious we are even at our destination.  We have booked seats in a Sumo – an Indian-made jeep – to the border town of Birganj, but all we have to prove it is a scrap of paper which reads “Govinda Gee. Opp. Eden Petrol Pump”.  Our driver picks the pigeon off the grill, retrieves our packs, and speeds off.  We are on a congested, dusty, ugly down-trodden stretch of road on the east side of Kathmandu, where buses, mini-vans and jeeps all stop and shout and vie for passengers.  Touts grab our precious piece of paper, study it, and direct us one way or another, and in this fashion we arrive at the office of Govinda Gee.  By 7 AM, our supposed departure time, it looks like there is a consensus that we have seats on a Sumo, and by 8 we are underway.

The arrangement is less than luxurious, but tolerably; we are in the front, the seat is worn out, and Katheryn has to sit with the stick shift between her knees.  It gets worse when we hit the “new highway” which at this point is a 4-WD track through the mountains.  It’s first and second gear all the way and some of the hairpins are so steep that the tires spin and throw rocks as we make the corner.  However, we make it to Birganj in a mere 5.5 hours, a trip that by local bus can take more than 12.

Some of you may remember our famous “Escape from Birganj” story three years ago, when we were caught here by rioting and curfew, and had to sneak out past road blocks at 4AM.  We find a room at the same hotel that we stayed at then – The Everest – and congratulate ourselves on the success of Step One.

Step Two starts the next morning, and involves crossing the border into India.  This should be fairly straightforward, but India recently (8 weeks ago) changed its rule on multi-entry visas, basically rendering ours void. It took an entire day at the Indian consulate in Kathmandu, more money, and a half-inch stack of photo-copied documents to get permission to cross this border, and the lone office working out of a derelict shed here still isn’t sure about it.  He tells us we are the first people in our position to have the authorization to enter since the rule came into effect – everyone else he has sent back to Kathmandu.

The next step is to get on the 10AM train to Calcutta; again, normally a routine operation we’ve done one thousand times, but now, even though we booked berths a month ago, we still aren’t confirmed.  What we have is a berth between us “R.A.C.” – Reserved Against Cancelation – which means someone down the line has to drop out in order for both of us to have a bunk.  A businessman opposite has managed to squeeze his daughter, wife, and mother-in-law into one bunk – against the rules – and laughs when I say they should add another AC sleeper car.  “I’m surprised there is a train at all! I’m surprised there is a road at all! All they used to have here was oxcarts!”  And it’s true: we are in the notoriously-poor, lawless part of India, Bihar, where even motorized transport can’t be taken for granted.  Fortunately the seating situation gets resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and the Maoist insurgents don’t blow up the tracks, as they have been prone to do.

Our scheduled arrival time in Calcutta is 4AM.  We will the train to be late, and succeed, and arrive at 9.  The rest of the trip: flight to KL; overnight; flight to Bali is hardly worth mentioning. We are even picked up at the airport by our friend Peter, and driven to a hotel – with a swimming pool – that he has booked for us: that’s how easy this has become!  However we have come a long way from Kathmandu, 46 hours of travel in 5 days, which leads us to the umbul-umbul.

Thanks to everyone from the last blog, by the way, who made a request for some of our Nepali  treasure.  The response was great but there’s still lots left in case you’re just now getting around to thinking about it.

If you visited any of our sales last year, you probably noticed our tall, elegant banners outside. These are Balinese umbul – ceremonial banners – and there was so much interest in them that we constantly regretted that we only had our five display pieces.  Now we have agreat source for them in Wayan, umbul, umbrella, and ceremonial cloth maker.  They are all 5 meters tall and will retail at our sales for $16. We are stocking the colours you see in the photo (for a bigger image double click it) although quite a few (we cleaned out Wayan’s stock) are in limited numbers.  As a special offer* and if you order NOW they are on sale for 5 pieces for $60 or 10 for $100.  Keep in mind how charming they would be at all those parties, weddings or special events coming up this summer.  If you are interested, let us know by email: and we will set aside your selection.  When we are back in Canada in the middle of April, we will contact you about payment and delivery details.

*It is the Nyepi festival here tomorrow, Bali’s famous “Do Nothing Day”, when everything, including the international airport is closed, and no one goes outside, turns on the power, or anything.  More on that later.

Here are some of the videos from Nepal.  Check them out!

Boudinath, the stupa of the relic

The Better Road Movie

and soon to be a classic Bad Road Movie

also TONGBA! is a lot of fun

and there are two more cityscapes: Durbar Square, Patan and Kathmandu

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