How To Create a Good Screencast and Preso in Camtasia

Last night I spent WAAAY too long trying to finish up a video in Camtasia that was both presentation and screencast. Each time I clicked produce, it churned for 30 minutes, then created a video that didn’t work well. It wasn’t until I discovered one little drop-down that everything cleared up for that production. And I learned a lot of other things on the way here, including how I can get better audio, and how to not sound like a complete idiot. Since I don’t do this everyday (yet), I thought I should make note of the steps here so I don’t have to stumble again in 6 months.

My video ended up with about 25 minutes of slides, then 10 minutes of screencast demo. It was an introduction to Fax over IP and the Open Text Fax Server. The slides go over technical topics and what the market looks like to us. In the wrong hands, this can become a bit of a boring topic. I tend to be an excited person when I deliver these live, but its too easy to make a recording sound like death. Of course it starts with the content. 

We had been building a good deck for this topic over the last few weeks. I had a version, which was tweaked by a colleague, then tweaked again by me. Then I practiced it the way I thought it should be delivered. I ran through it several times until I thought I had the right words for each slide. Then came the most time consuming part: I wrote it all down.

Even if I know what I am going to say ahead of time, when I click the record button, my IQ drops in half: I sound like an idiot with lots of ummms, and ahhhhs. But if I have a script to follow, I can eliminate those stutters. So after writing it all down, I read through it. Sometimes I write like I think I should, but reading it back sounds a bit stuffy, so I edited it a few times until it sounded natural. It’s very important to get the script to say something exactly the same way you would normally describe it.

Once I have the words correct, I introduce some extra lines into the script. I already split the document into paragraphs where it made sense to take a long breath. But now I added an extra line with just an asterisk on it every now and then. This asterisk represents places I have to move on to the next slide. If I have to spend time concentrating on the deck, then I lose my place in the script. If I just read from the script, its harder to edit the final recording so that everything is in sync. But with the asterisk there, I can have the preso running off to the side to help with context, and know when to move on to the next slide or next build of the current slide. At this point I run through the deck a few times to make sure all the timing is right and that my asterisks are all there in the right places. Now I can start recording.

My recording setup is not entirely professional, but it is a little more advanced than it probably needs to be. I am basically recording two things, and they are being recorded in two different applications: Camtasia and Audacity. I use Camtasia Studio 6 for the video recording. With Camtasia, I have a Powerpoint plugin to start the recording. I can then click through the slides at the right interval, and it records the entire thing, including all transitions.

At first I had also recorded audio in here, but discovered that it was too much work to get rid of my occasional heavy breathing and the sound of the remote clicker that I use. So now I open Audacity and record directly into there at the same time. I am sure there are some great audio editors out there, but Audacity is good enough and it is free.

I don’t understand how to use most of the features of Audacity, so coming up with a good recording was tough. At first I got lots of hiss from the laptop, and my voice was hard to listen to. I had a good Audio Technica microphone I picked up in Singapore which allowed me to distance myself from the laptop and remove the hiss, but the audio was still wrong. It wasn’t until I got a Zoom H4N external recorder that things improved. I am sure that if I spent the time I could get Audacity alone to make a good recording, but I am not an audio engineer. Using the H4N as a USB microphone gives me certain effects like a limiter and pre-amp that just make my voice sound so much better. The more I use this thing, the more impressed I am with it. The real revelation came after reading a blog post from Torley.com. He talks about using these effects in a way that I just didn’t comprehend before.

When it is time to go, I start both apps and start recording. But Camtasia has my preso on full screen so there is no space to read the script. I could print it out, but I have no printer at home. Instead I use a second laptop to read the script from. I have an Asus EEE PC 1000HE that I use when traveling to do video and photo editing, watch movies on, and run Visual Studio for occasional little projects. Although i could just use notepad to display the script, I like BPM Notepad which I found on Donation Coder’s site. You can find the program at linkerror.com. I set the font to be big enough so that I can read it from some distance, then the real feature of this tool is that it automatically scrolls, much like a teleprompter.

When recording the audio, even though I have various filters set on the H4N, I manage to picked up even the tiniest sounds. I really need to learn about audio stuff to be able to avoid hearing this, but for now I just have to make sure I move my laptops as far away from the microphones as possible. This means that I need a fairly long USB cable for the mic. Ideally I would have some external LCD monitors attached which would get my laptops further away. I can do this at work, but its harder to do at home. Also, if I can hear a sound, my microphone hears it even better.

Usually when I click record, everyone around starts making noise too. Our office is near Schiphol Airport, so I get a takeoff or landing nearby every two minutes. At home, I have a few neighbors renovating their apartments, so circular saws and cranes and the occasional screeching kid is also annoying. But since I am recording audio separately, I can pause my voice when i hear a sound, wait, and start that sentence again. If I hear the noise before I can start speaking, I’ll just say “Start Here” to give me an easy marker to edit the good audio back to.

When I do record, there is one important thing I always make sure I do. It is a simple tip that always makes your voice sound better. This applies to live talks as well as recordings or even phone calls. Ready for it? OK here it is: STAND UP. That’s it. Stand up and talk. When you sit, you sound too lazy. I don’t understand it, but its true. So I stand up for the recording and talk to the microphone. To get the mic closer to my mouth, I use a tripod. I happen to have a Gitzo 1541t tripod I use for my camera, but even the cheapest tripod will do. At work, I use a Joby Gorillapod on top of some boxes on a desk. I have a foam thing that goes around the mic that helps avoid the sound of me breathing into the mic, and the H4N has a “de-esser” that helps tone down some of those sibilants that always seem to be there.

My floors at home creak very loudly, so its important to use a remote control for advancing the slide deck so that I don’t have to move. Even though the audio recording seems to pick up that click, the click is better than the creak. When the recording is done, I can move to edit mode.

Editing for me starts with the audio. When I zoom into the audio timeline in Audacity, it becomes pretty easy to identify the remote click sound as well as me taking a breath before I start speaking. I select each of those clicks and delete them. Hearing the breathing in during a recording makes it sound more natural, so I just run amplify on those sections to drop it by about 3 or 4 db. Large gaps in the recording or the rumbling of trucks and planes going by get edited out. Before the H4N, I had to work at removing noise, then amplifying the entire recording, but I always ended up with crap. Now as soon as I remove those gaps, I am done. I can then export the recording as a wav file.

In Camtasia Studio, I open the slide recording. Since there is always an audio track associated with the video, I un-link the two tracks. Then I can insert my audio and start editing down the video to sync up with the audio. When those planes go by and I wait, my video recording is also waiting. But these splits and deletes in Camtasia are pretty easy. The tougher part comes when I have to edit the screencast recordings, but that’s just more of the same.

When I have a good completed project, I can produce it. I chose 640×480 web, but that results in some terrible audio, so I change the audio encode bitrate from 56k to 128k. The magic option that I mentioned at the top of this page was in the video settings. For some reason the MP4 frame rate defaults to 9 frames per second. This works for a slide deck, but it totally screws up the screencast. When I changed that setting to auto, everything just works.

Coming up with this process took about 2 weeks, but I had a class to teach in the middle and other conflicts. By the time all the kinks had been worked out, I managed to get the entire record, edit, and produce process down to about 3 hours for a 35 minute segment. I think the main thing I can do to improve on this is to find a better recording environment. If I had to do fewer edits, I could get down to maybe an hour for the full production. Of course, this does not include coming up with good content and a script, but there are plenty of other sites out there to explain how to do that right.

I hope someone finds this article useful. I know that I will definitely appreciate it in 6 months when I have forgotten it all and need to produce another video. If you have some tips for me on how to improve this even more, please let me know. You can comment here, or send me a tweet on twitter at technovangelist. I am especially interested in becoming less of a noob on audio recording techniques, but I am open to everything. Hopefully soon the video will be available on line. When its up, I’ll post a link if its public.

Damn You, Jim Thompson!!!

I am sitting here in the Krungthep Wing of the Shangri-La for afternoon tea after a morning of sightseeing in Bangkok. Have you been to this town before? Are you thinking of visiting? If so, I have collected a few tips that will make your visit much easier and far more enjoyable.

The first tip is by far the easiest and the least stressful method to see a great Asian city in about a day. You are probably here because you want to see temples, people doing their daily activities, and eat some wonderful Asian food. Get up early, because your day is going to be packed. At the beginning of the day, take a taxi to the airport, fly to Singapore, and take a tour that leaves from the airport right at the end of the terminal. They will show you so many wonderful things during your day-long excursion and you will even have some time for shopping and people-watching along Orchard, relaxing on the beach at Sentosa, and dinner at Jumbo’s. Its really the best way to see a fantastic Asian city with the least possible aggravation.

But if you are the type of person who really wants to see Bangkok and don’t mind a few headaches, keep on reading because some of the most useful tips are still ahead. There are two main ways of seeing this town. You could either join a tour from your hotel, or you could personalize your tour using your own two feet, tuk tuks, taxis, and boats. Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, the first option is going to be much more expensive. A hotel tour could cost you 20, 30, or maybe even 50 USD. That’s probably more than a tuk tuk driver makes in a month, so you may be tempted to go the second route. But there is a big advantage to the organized, professionally managed tours.

Lets say that you have a few specific things that you want to see in Bangkok. Wat Pho and Wat Arun are probably high on your list. The Royal Palace is up there too as is the Golden Mountain, the Marble Temple, and the Teak Palace. They are all things that I wanted to see today and luckily they are close enough together that seeing them all in a single day should be possible. With an organized tour there is a 100% chance that you will see all of those during the day. You might even get to see a few other sites and there will probably be an air-conditioned coach taking you between each location. With your self-organised viewing of the city, you will definitely see the first place on your list, but then the tuk tuk driver will get a bit distracted. He knows that you have an agenda, but his agenda is much more important. The one thing on his mind is how to get free gas.

You probably don’t care about him getting free gas, but you should because your entire day is going to revolve around his quest for it. That means visits to gem stores, tailors,  and more. Every Westerner through their doors means free gas for the tuk tuk driver. Why do they need free gas? So they can find more tourists who will get them more free gas. Its a never ending loop that you can be a part of. Now if you remind them a few times every minute of what is most important to you, you may have a chance of seeing that second thing on your list, but don’t count on it.

We had met up with a tuk tuk driver last night and arranged for a 50 Baht/hour tour of the town. We started at 10 and planned to see all the things I listed above. At the first temple we met a local school teacher who mentioned that our next stop, the Grand Palace, was going to be closed to Westerners until 2PM due to the Kings visit. We mentioned this to our driver but he didn’t seem to understand, so we had the teacher explain it to him. When everyone agreed, the driver started taking us on our way to the next place: Golden Mountain…or so we thought.

On the way to our next stop, our driver offered to take us to 2 other wonderful places: a gem shop and a tailor. We refused since we weren’t in on the secret yet. Although he seemed a bit upset at our refusal to see the real highlights of this country, he made it sound like we would continue to the Golden Mountain. We pointed to it several times on the map and he agreed. 10 minutes of racing through the city’s streets later, we arrived at the Grand Palace. Our tuk tuk driver insisted that despite being told that the place was closed and that we wanted to go elsewhere, this was the place to see next. And apparently this was the end of our tour. So we paid him his 50 Baht since we had only been gone for 1 hour and walked up to the entrance.

Guess what happened. The guy at the gate said the palace was closed and wouldn’t open until about 1:30. He suggested that we see the Lucky Buddha and come back at 1:30. “Can I see your map?” He grabbed my map, unfolded it and started scribbling his directions. He wrote the hours of the palace, circled it and the Lucky Buddha, and said come back at 1:30. He was a bit upset that the concierge had also written on our map, but was generally OK with it. He even found a tuk tuk driver and arranged a fare for us: 20 baht round trip. Perfect.

The driver took us on a fairly direct route to the Lucky Buddha and we were met at the entrance by another teacher. Apparently Thailand is trying to eliminate the image of angry rioters in its streets and has opened all of its temples to foreigners. It has also made all teachers into free tour guides in exchange for the government paying for school supplies. Sounds good, right? Almost. Our teacher showed us around the temple and then directed us to the hall of Lucky Buddhas. We wandered a bit on our own, taking photos of the Buddha in various poses from different times. When we returned to our instructor/guide he was completely freaking out.

Another group of tourists looked inside the temple and decided to continue on. He was begging us to explain to them that it was OK to go in. This guy was going absolutely insane: “why are they so scared, tell them its OK” was his plea. If I had seen him for the first time like this, I probably would have moved on too, it was totally bizarre. For the rest of our walk around the temple, we listened to the teacher ask why the other tourists were so scared, that it was OK, and that they need to see a calm Thailand. I hope he gets over it. We made it to our tuk tuk and continued on to the Golden Mountain.

Well, that was the plan. Our driver offered to take us to two wonderful places: a gem shop and a tailor. He then explained why we wanted to go there and clued us into the free gas. So we allowed him to take us to the gem shop. A 5 minute visit was all that was required for free gas for him, so we did our browsing and made it out to the driver. Now we were off to the Golden Mountain. “Boat Ride?” No, Golden Mountain. 5 minutes later we find ourselves at the pier to get a boat ride. This was apparently the end of our tour.

The boat driver wanted about 50 dollars for a one hour ride around the canals. This is absolutely ridiculous, so when we suggested a more reasonable price he refused and our tuk tuk driver was disgusted too. We decided to go to the Golden Mountain instead. Everyone agreed and we were on our way. A few minutes later and we were at a different pier asking a different boat driver for a price. Ugh, no Golden Mountain. This time the boat ride was a bit more reasonable so we caved in and went on our tour. I think the tuk tuk was eager to get rid of us since we didn’t want to visit a tailor.

When you start your day in Bangkok, you might want to be nice to the other tourists that you meet, even introducing yourselves to them. Certainly do not be hateful to them because you will be seeing a lot of each other during the day. Apparently all the tuk tuk drivers have the same agenda and know that they need to visit the same places at the same prescribed times. We saw the same “scared” tourists at the Lucky Buddha, a gem shop, and on a different boat. We would probably have seen them at the tailor if we had added that to our tour.

One of the mistakes I made at the beginning of the day was that I only got a single map from the concierge. I should have collected a dozen or so instead. Throughout your day, you will meet many local Thais and they are all eager to give you advice: where to go, when to go, and what to wear. And they all want to write out their instructions on your map. And they all take offense at not being the first person to write on your map. If you only have one, then there will be markings all over your map in different handwriting using different pens and inks and none of it will make sense.

After our boat tour, we made our way to the Grand Palace. Remember this is where we were a few hours before but they told us to come back at 1:30. Well, the guy at the gate this time said that if we had come earlier we could have gone in but the Palace closed at 1 so our best bet is to come back tomorrow. Luckily, he had some suggestions for how we could spend our time. “Do you have a map?” He took my map but looked a bit flustered when he saw that others had already written on the large sheet. “Have you been to the Lucky Buddha?” We had, but not to the one he circled. He flagged down a tuk tuk to take us there but we refused, deciding to walk around the edge of the palace instead.

On our stroll through the flea market across from the palace walls, we had at least a half dozen people look at my bare lower legs (I was wearing shorts because it is stinking hot), nod their heads in disgust, then ask if we had a map so they could point us to the Lucky Buddha. It was getting a bit annoying. After a while we reached another entrance with a sign in front that read: Be Careful of Wily Strangers. Hmmm, good advice, though I am not sure what they gained by writing on our map. Maybe the ink is some kind of drug and they get high from rubbing their hands on it. A woman in front again warned us that we would not be allowed in because it was too late and asked for the map.

I said no, you cannot see my map. I didn’t want to know about any damned Lucky Buddha, just tell me the rules about getting into the Palace. She was confused. If I come any other day, will it be open? Yes, I was told. But bring pants because I won’t be allowed in without them. Now we knew the rules so we continued until we could find a taxi.

Then we found what must have been one of the main entrances to the palace. Guess what? There were throngs of tourists in shorts flowing in and out of the place. It was about 2:30 and it was definitely open. For those of us in shorts, one can rent some nasty trousers to wear on top to cover up. It had been an exhausting day already and I had no desire to wear someone else’s lice-infested pants, so we decided to come back another day.

We had a choice of returning to the hotel in a tuk tuk or a taxi. We figured our chances of actually getting to the hotel were much higher in a taxi so we looked for a taxi queue. There was one a bit in the distance, but as we got closer so did the police and it disappeared as it wasn’t a legal queue. So we walked back and the same thing happened again. Eventually we just found a lone taxi and ran to it. Ahhh, air-conditioned comfort, all the way back.

So that’s what you are in for if you decide to take on Bangkok on your own. Looking back, the 50 dollar tour might have been a bargain. If you really want to see some of Thailand and skip the aggravation, go to the Jim Thompson House. You can take the SkyTrain there which probably has a stop near your hotel. Ours was across a street from a stop and we took it to National Stadium, then walked a few blocks to the House. It was easy. And the house is absolutely beautiful. You really should come here and visit. But this is the time you can skip the organized tour.

Unfortunately we did this yesterday around noon. As we walked towards JT’s place, a concerned Thai told us it was closed for lunch. He asked us for our map (I didn’t understand the map writing fetish Thais have at this point), and drew out where we needed to go. One block over was the Gem Production facilities. Great, just what my sister needs, more shiny things. She says she can walk into these places without buying anything but I don’t believe her. After a good hour of looking at EVERYTHING, she narrows down the selection to 3 items. Couldn’t decide so she took the lot. Rummaging around her bag she realised she left her wallet and credit cards at the hotel. So guess who had to pay for them…Damn you, Jim Thompson.

Days 7–12 – Jiri (The Walks)

Although my sister was in Jiri for work, I was there just for vacation. So I went on a few walks in the area. There is a hiatus for some of the projects at the clinic right now, so some of the workers are without a job until they start up again in a few months. So Chatra was available to take me around a few days. Although Chatra is in his 50s, he is far more energetic than I was in my 20s. And since he has always lived in Jiri, he knows everyone. Before working for my sister he took tourists on longer treks all around Nepal, so if you need a guide anywhere, Chatra is a good choice. If you need to contact him, let me know an I can get you in touch with him.

Three kids on a bridgeMy first day in Jiri, I actually wandered a bit on my own. Just down to the town at the bottom of the road and into the hills a bit. Its a 2km walk down (and 2k back up) but in this heat, it is extremely tough. The views along the way though are stunning. This is a deep green valley filled with trees, steep mountains at its edges, and houses scattered along its walls. I ended my walk out at a bridge a short way up the hill where I did one of my HDR panoramas. And then walked back up to the clinic. By the time I arrived, my shirt was drenched with sweat and my sister thought I was about to peg out. I was completely exhausted but it was a wonderful walk.

Making the soundThe second day was my first with Chatra. We decided to go to the monastery at the top of the valley. The first part was a repeat of my walk from the day before, but we kept going after the bridge. And going, and going. And at the top was a small building that didn’t look all that special from the outside. I removed my shoes and went in. There were 20 or so monks chanting away, occasionally breaking to blow the horns at various intervals. I had never seen such an amazing thing. Locals came in and out for a moment with the lama at the corner of the room. They prostrated in prayer in time with the chants. Incredible. And I was very thankful for having a camera that could handle a high ISO with minimal noise, and the 50/1.4 for low light photography.

Burial in the CloudsThe third day was a walk to the top of the valley. It was a shorter walk but very much steeper. As we walked up the clouds started rolling in and by the time we were at the top we were completely enshrouded in fog. Thankfully we stayed at the top for a while because after about 30 minutes, the clouds cleared and we had a great view of the valley floor. At the top, there were some small structures marking the sites of ashes of some of the dead. This was a place where they burned the remains of people who had died in the area and it was almost exactly as it looked 15 years ago when I came up here on my own. There was also a memorial for three photographers who had died very nearby.

View from the ClinicBy the end of that day, the skies had completely cleared and we were given some fantastic views of the valley from the clinic. The weather here can change drastically every hour, so when the skies clear during the monsoon season, its good to capture it while you can.

 

 

 

 

I really enjoyed my stay in Jiri and look forward to a return. Hopefully I wont wait another 15 years to see it again.

Days 7–12 – Jiri (The Stay)

We spent four full days in Jiri plus the 2 full travel days there and back. I had been there 15 years ago and was surprised both at how much things had changed and how much things had stayed the same. Jiri is an amazing place 60 miles east of Kathmandu. It used to be on the route to Everest before helicopters took trekkers all the way to the mountain. The Swiss saw Jiri as a wonderful place to invest in and built a hospital and a cheese factory. Over the years it has grown quite a bit. Many years ago, my sister started a project there to study infectious diseases. I am sure there is a lot more to it, but it is way over my head. She still goes out there to help manage the project, and has funding to continue another few years with various other projects.

In the fifteen years since my last visit, the town has grown immensely. There are so many more houses along the road down to the town at the bottom of the valley. There are many new businesses that have started to buy supplies, house visitors, and more. Its really incredible to see that. What hasn’t changed all that much is the basic infrastructure. But that isn’t limited to Jiri as you can see the same lack of progress around the entire country. Most of the homes in Jiri have a single bare electric lightbulb for light. Power goes out at various times throughout the day. Kitchens are basic with one or 2 portable gas burners. Toilets are often outside with limited or no running water.

My sister’s clinic is quite advanced by local standards I think. The bathroom is actually indoors. There is a tap in the bathroom that can be used to fill the bucket required to flush the toilet. Its a crouch over kind of toilet, but that is standard in many countries. Whats really amazing for us is that there is now an shower in that room. Its not a Western shower, but it does occasionally get some warm water for a few minutes so if you time it right, it can be almost perfect. You should not expect that kind of luxury in most lodgings in the area. They will all promise it, but you rarely get it. The clinic is also unusual in that when the power goes out, there are generators that can kick in to keep things going.

The ground floor of the clinic is used for health care activities. There is a small office to do initial diagnosis, a back room for more private assessing and an x-ray room used for some of the bones studies. When more light or room is needed, they just step outside into the sunlight, assuming its not raining. While I was there, they needed to set a badly broken arm someone came in with, so that was done on the driveway. Thankfully I broke no bones during my stay, because I would probably not been man enough to stand it.

The next floor up is the living quarters and lab area. There are two rooms for guests who stay over. My sister took the front room and I took the back for a couple nights. The back room was also the main living room. The lab is on that floor, as well as a few small offices and the bathroom. One more floor up is the kitchen and dining area.

Dining at the clinic is wonderful though a bit repetitive. Morning is a fantastic spicy omelette, some curried vegetables, and roti. Lunch is some Magi-noodles (I think they are the local brand of Ramen Noodles) mixed in with fresh onions, peppers, and other vegs. And Dinner is rice, yellow dal, curried veg, and something really spicy that I couldn’t handle. Repeat that menu every day and that was dining in Jiri. The big change over the last time I was here was the variety of the available vegetables. Pumpkin, cauliflower, and more are all grown locally. And they use not only the pumpkin, but also the pumpkin greens which taste wonderful. Groceries are easily available so there is less need to store in-house for several days like before.

Since there are several projects going on, mostly by researchers at my sisters institution, they needed a second building. So just up the street is another house where I stayed the nights I wasn’t in the main clinic. The benefit to me was that this had a real bed. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it gave me a bit more space to spread out. Now let me be clear. I don’t mind roughing it so an uncomfy bed is OK. But a ThermaRest pad on the ground would be an upgrade. Its hard to believe my sister stays here 3 or 4 times a year up to 2 or 3 weeks at a time.

But when staying out in Jiri, you have to plan a significant amount of time for travel. Although i mentioned it was 60 miles away, that is a full days journey. It really does take 8 or 9 hours to drive that distance. And the road is rough. VERY rough. Often it is a single lane with huge buses flying toward you from the opposite direction. On every bend you have to honk many times to let the other driver know that you are coming and they do the same (usually). If you run in to each other, the only escape is to fly off the edge and often its a long way down to the valley below. In the last 15 years, this road has improved immensely. It is paved almost the entire way, though there have been a few landslides that have taken out small sections.

At one of the higher points in the road, it gets very bumpy. Its a stretch of about one or two miles and it takes about 15 minutes to traverse. Its all rocks and its the bumpiest ride I have ever seen. I took a movie of it so when I get to a faster connection point, I will be sure to upload it somewhere. Thankfully that is the only point where it is that rough.

Jiri has fallen off of most tourists’ maps which is unfortunate. In my next post, I’ll talk about what makes Jiri such a nice place to visit. There are quite a few things to see here that are amazing.

Day 6 – Wednesday June 24 – Bhaktapur and Pashupatinath

When I went off to Durbar Square yesterday, the driver asked me which one I wanted to see. Huh? As I mentioned before, Durbar Square is a fairly generic term and there are 3 Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu area. Bhaktapur is probably the furthest one away, but it is more than just the one square. The old section of town is on UNESCO’s list of places you really have to see before they are completely destroyed (The new section of town is a place you wish you could avoid if you head east out of town but can’t).

The UNESCO list is a wonderful thing for local governments because it is effectively a global permission slip to charge lots of money for entrance. Most of the amazing temples in the Kathmandu valley have very low costs for tourists to see. But Bhaktapur is about 10 dollars per person which is close to a months income for some Nepalis. This must rake in a fortune during heavy tourist times and hopefully it really does go to helping preserve this amazing location and helping its residents.

One of the issues with these attractions is that the entrances are filled with hopeful tour guides. Times are tougher now with fewer tourists, so they have the added tool in their belt of playing the guilt card into hiring them. I had taken the tour of Bhaktapur 15 years ago and just wanted to enjoy myself this time. The thing with tour guides for me is that just a few hours after the tour is finished, I have forgotten most of what they told me. So I try to brush them off as much as possible. We were quite successful with this for the most of the entrance area but then we met two boys who surprised us.

On our way through the main entrance, a small boy named Sushan tagged along with my sister. She tried to get rid of him, but then he plainly stated his goals. He had no interest in being a tour guide. Sure, he could point us in the right direction, but he was much more interested in practicing his English with us. So he tagged along with us. And he turned out to be an excellent guide making the stay in Bhaktapur far more enjoyable than I would have thought possible.  

Later, his cousin (Sushan, I am sorry, I have forgotten your cousin’s name) joined us as we wandered around. There is much to see in Bhaktapur and I had a great time, but one of the highlights was seeing the Thanka (pronounced something like Tonka as in Tonka Toys) painting school that Sushan goes to. We were able to tour the facility, and watch several paintings being made. The thankas can take upwards of several months to complete and look like back-breaking work. At the top of the school there is a room where they sell thankas to tourist visitors like us. In the back of the room was a very large thanka that took 7 masters a few years to complete. It was amazing. But they aren’t cheap. I had bought a thanka of obviously lower quality at a much more affordable price in Thamel a few days ago so I was thanka’d out, but Sarah bought a cheaper, student-made thanka that she liked.

On the way back to our taxi ride home, we stopped in Sushan’s school supply store. Sarah was very surprised that the only thing Sushan said he wanted in the store was a English Nepali dictionary that was out of his price range. Sarah bought it for him as thanks for the wonderful tour. At the end of our stay in Bhaktapur she even inscribed the cover with a thoughtful message about how important it was to stay in school. Sarah and I really do hope he sticks with it and we fully expect him to do well.

From there we headed to Pashupatinath. It was already a long day and we were pretty tired. This heat will kill your enthusiasm very quickly. So we made it a very short stay. Just long enough to see the funeral pyres, and to watch the monkeys jumping in to the river to cool off and play.

Tomorrow is our drive to Jiri and its going to be a long trip, better to rest now…