To say that my arrival in Kathmandu, my entrance into the small familiar airport, my standing in a long line to pay for my visa, and my being greeted by Ramhari, the manager at Crystal Mountain Treks, made me feel that the world was, once again, normal, may seem crazy after four long years of a reality that has been turned upside down by politics, pandemic, and war. But here I was, bumping over Mahankal Road, still unpaved, and immersed in chaotic traffic unlike anywhere else in the world. And I was happy!
Soon I was unpacking and settling into my home-away-from-home, the Shechen Guest House, next to the Shechen Monastery, where my spacious room cost 2450 Nepali rupees ($18), and I was surrounded by beautiful gardens and a peacefulness tantamount to my fondest dream, the Garden of Eden.
Those of you who have followed me and my travels over the years know all about this oasis near the Boudha Stupa. You know about the great vegetarian restaurant and the folks from around the world who come here. On any day you are likely to bump into Italian ayurvedic practitioners, French Buddhists, dentists working for an NGO, or a venerable monk like Matthieu Ricard, meeting with colleagues or teaching at the Monastery.
But don’t misunderstand me. There were changes everywhere and many for the better. During the pandemic, major improvements were made at the guest house and next door at the monastery. The damage that we saw after the 2015 earthquake had been repaired. The monk’s housing to the left of the temple was completely removed, and a grassy field planted, which opened up the view to the stupas celebrating the Eight Miracles in the Buddha’s life. New dorm rooms were built as a third floor on top of existing housing. Even the walkways and roads leading to the Boudha Stupa had been improved. But just so you know that all was not perfect, we still had to dodge the wild frenzy of noisy motorcycles threatening our very existence every time we walked to the stupa. I do not exaggerate!Of course, our first day was spent at the Boudha Stupa, doing kora. We also discovered great lattes at the Himalayan Java Cafe. How wonderful to enjoy them while looking out the window at the stupa!
Cary and I spent our first full evening having dinner with Jwalant Gurung, Director of Crystal Mountain Treks, at the Roadhouse Café, also overlooking the stupa. As you know, we’ve taken many marvelous treks with Jwalant’s team. Not only did Jwalant help rebuild destroyed schools and houses in the aftermath of the earthquake, but during the pandemic, he raised $150,000 for medicines and protective gear, as well as for setting up a COVID ICU at a free clinic. I encourage you to click HERE to read about these activities, sponsored through his charitable organization 3 Summits for Nepal.
Ten years ago, I was first charmed by Aashika, the daughter of Pasang Lama, a guard at the Shechen Guest House. She was into everything, a charming scamp, eager for the chase and eager to speak to me in English. As years went by our friendship grew and she began showing me her school work, which led to our reading books together.
Time passed and Aashika’s sister, Asmika was born.
Pasang delighted in our friendship and I was always invited to their home, simple, small, but loaded with books and efficiently organized. I soon realized that education and excellence were the goals of this family. Pasang is devoted to his wife and children, and they’ve been able to survive and flourish during the most difficult of situations… a Nepali virtue.
Both girls have now qualified for private school and talk, excitedly, about their future goals. This year Cary and I walked up the steep stairway to their small apartment to be greeted by Pasang’s wife, Ranjita, who prepared a feast for us while we conversed non-stop, using Aashika as our interpreter. I am amazed that someone so young could have such a grasp of our language. She used words that are complicated even for an American student, and her thoughts were beautifully formed. We had such a wonderful time together, and we plan to see each other again before we leave.
As we left to take what seemed like a 20-minute ride back to the guest house, a trip through circuitous, congested alleys, we asked Pasang how long it took him to walk to work every evening. His answer… “10 minutes!”
You can walk anywhere in Nepal in 10 minutes!
Good heavens, you mean it took us all this time to learn this simple truism? Suddenly we realized that this was not the first time we had heard this answer, and thought back to all the times we had been told that the place we were going was a mere 10 minute walk. In fact, the very next day we fell for it again when the ticket agent at the Qatar Airlines office where we had gone in the hope of getting an upgrade on our return ticket (no chance!) told us it was just a 10 minute walk to the CIWEC clinic in Lazimpat. After the harrowing taxi ride to the airline office, I was pretty exhausted and said, Are you sure? Oh yes, m’am, he answered. And off we went.
Walking on the sidewalk next to the Palace wall, with the road packed with cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles cheek by jowl, a traffic situation that would have Americans in apoplectic road rage, I was the apoplectic one. Thirty-five minutes later, Cary is desperately trying to keep me from becoming completely hysterical, especially when we had to cross an impossibly busy street to get to the clinic. There was no traffic light or crosswalk, and I said I’m not crossing the street. Cary said, yes you are, whereupon she stepped off the curb and waded out into the middle of traffic holding up her hand and making direct eye contact with drivers. I’ve never been closer to freaking out in my life! We made it across the sea of motorcycles swarming toward us. They seemed to magically part, and let us through with nary a glance. I needed every doctor in that clinic by the time we reached the entrance. 10 minutes, yeah, right.
Having survived, we returned to Boudha. Next we will head off to the Prakriti Resort and Organic Farm in the foothills of the Himalaya.