It’s Christmas time in the Himalayas

I’ve been on the road for about a month. I had a vacation from Marathi at AIIS so I headed East to Nagpur to sort out some logistics for my upcoming fieldwork (about which I will blog soon!) and then I continued North to Delhi to meet Tarini and Katie, two friends from IHP (the study abroad program that I did in college). The three of us rolled around Delhi for a few days and then Katie and I set off to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Before coming to India, Katie was on tour screening Groundwater Up, a film about Dehli’s water supply that she and Tarini made in 2009-2010. She connected with another IHP alum, Srish, to screen the film at his college. As they were talking Katie mentioned that she’d be in India in December. Srish promptly invited her to come visit him in Nepal while she was in Southeast Asia. And true to IHP form, I was invited to come along. Srish did a bit of planning and Katie and I booked our tickets to Kathmandu, emailed Srish our itinerary, and headed to the airport.

After laughing at the ridiculous items listed on the extensive “Prohibited in Your Carry On” sign (throwing stars, machetes, and billy clubs, to name a few) we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the food court. Our departure time was nearing, so we gathered our things and began to walk to the gate. I turned to Katie. “BOARDING! Our flight is boarding!!!” We began sprinting toward our gate, laughing hysterically and asking in out of breath bursts “How….are we going….to be able…to trek..for three…days?!!” We arrived at the gate to find everyone waiting, some more impatiently than others. Apparently I had read the wrong line on the Departures board. Our flight not only hadn’t begun boarding yet, but was delayed by half an hour. Ooops.

We finally boarded our flight to Kathmandu. I fell asleep about 2 minutes after sitting down (apparently the sprint to the gate was more exhausting than I realized). About two hours later I woke to a gorgeous view of the Himalayas as we made our descent into Kathmandu. We exited the plane and boarded the bus that would transport us to the airport building. I was sandwiched between a lovely old Tibetan couple. I politely answered their questions (I’m American, yes my nose piercing is real…well it’s not a real diamond or anything just plastic, but there is a hole in my nose) and assured them that although going to Tibet wouldn’t be possible for me this time around, that I really really wanted to go someday.

The Kathmandu airport was cozy and felt more like a library than an airport, with it’s deep brown wooden pillars and it’s brick walls. We picked up our entry visa forms, filled them out and then tried to figure out how we were going to get our hands on $50 USD, the cost for two 15 day visas. Neither of us had any dollars, only Indian rupees. When we asked about exchanging our rupees we discovered that because of fake bills, you can’t exchange or use any INR higher than a 100 rupee note. We were very kindly told that we could exit the entry area and go downstairs to use the ATM. We made it all the way out to the curb and entered Nepal illegally only to discover that the ATM wasn’t working. So we tried the next one, and the next one, all the while getting further and further away from our visas. We ran into Srish and one of his friends and explained that we still had to return to the airport to get our visas. We all asked around for a functioning ATM when Srish remembered that he had some extra cash in his wallet; he had just gotten back from the U.S. a couple of days ago.

Katie and I stood in line laughing about the ridiculousness of our afternoon and commenting on how nice all of the Nepalese people that we had encountered so far were. Even the taxi drivers were pleasant while “harassing” us. Excuse me m’am. Please m’am. I haven’t had a customer all day. Sorry, our friend is picking us up. Oh, your friend, he is Nepali? Yeah. Wonderful! Great! Enjoy your visit. 

As we sat in traffic on our way to Srish’s house (the traffic in Kathmandu is horrendous), Srish and his friend told us a bit about the recent political history of Nepal. While we inched our way along we discussed Nepal’s economy and it’s heavily dependent relationship with India. I knew it was going to be an excellent trip. Beautiful scenery, new friends, and already I was learning all sorts of new things.

The next couple of days we stayed in Kathmandu with Srish and his family. The original plan had been to do a 4-5 day trek, but U.S. Airways lost Srish’s bag which contained his hiking boots and jacket. Katie and I were sniffly and sick and clearly out of shape. So we spent two days exploring the Monkey Temple, touring Bhaktapur, and sipping chai at a hill station outside of Kathmandu on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas morning we left Srish’s house early (before the sun came up) to catch a bus to Pokhara. We were joined by Srish’s high school friend Bhascar. Katie and I hummed Christmas carols and came up with a song of our own:

Kathmandu (to the tune of Silver Bells)
Village sidewalks, mountain roadways, bumpy mile after mile
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
Snapping photos, eating momos, sipping chai after chai
And at every bus station you’ll hear:

Kathmandu Kathmandu Kathmandu Kathmandu
It’s Christmas time in the Himalyas
Kathmandu Kathmandu Kathmandu Kathmandu
Soon it will be Christmas day.

We arrived in Pokhara (Lakeside) in the evening. While Bhascar and Srish caught up (they hadn’t seen each other since they left for college 3 years ago), Katie and I did some Christmas shopping. After stuffing some yak-wool stockings with goodies for the boys, we all met up and rented bicycles. We biked around Phewa Lake and enjoyed a quiet Christmas dinner as the sun set. We surprised the boys with our gifts and then walked our bikes back to our hotel in the dark, minding the bumpy road and the unpredictable yet sparse traffic.

The next morning we got up early, had a deliciously large breakfast, and began our one complete day in Pokhara. We spent the morning hiking up to Sarangkot, a small village outside of Pokhara with a stunning view of the Annapurna range. The climb was steep and breathtaking (in every sense of the word). We some friends along the way (a British couple and a gang of goats). The British couple owned a bed and breakfast. They work hard day and night all summer and then spend their winters traveling. What a way to live!

We made it to the top and although it was a bit cloudy, we saw some pretty spectacular views. After enjoying a relaxing lunch under crisp sunlight we decided to try to make it back to Lakeside in time for a sunset canoe ride on the lake. Even though we were kind of in a hurry, we didn’t want to take the dusty traffic-ridden road back down the hillside. So we opted for the local trail. It was pretty hard to follow. Every 5-10 minutes (or every time we came across a house) Srish would stop and ask for directions to Lakeside. A few farmers gladly gave us permission to cross their farmland to get to the trail that would take us back down the hill. It took us much longer than we anticipated to make our way down due to the steep and rocky manner of the trail (and getting lost a few times).

When we finally got down we realized that we were cutting it close if we wanted to get out on the lake. Thinking on our feet, Katie and I quickly waved down a passing truck and Srish asked if we could all hop in the back and catch a ride to town. The driver (and the three other men squeezed in the front) agreed and we hopped in the back. As soon as the truck started moving we all simultaneously realized that we were in the back of a cement truck. As we lurched over every possible pothole, Katie and I laughed uncontrollably and gave in to the cement dust. When we hopped off of the truck we thanked the drivers and turned around. The backsides of our black pants were now a chalky white cement color. They laughed at us and gave us a thumbs up. It was perfect.

We made it to the boat rental just in time and hopped into a canoe. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place to watch the sunset. A lovely end to a lovely day.

The next morning we hopped back on a bus to Kathmandu. We spent the evening with Srish and his parents and then the next day we caught a flight back to Delhi. I loved every minute that I spent in Nepal and can’t wait to return for a longer visit.

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