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September 15, 2012

30 plus hours of travel during which I set my feet down in four countries (the US, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, and, finally Nepal. I was so exhausted when the plane finally landed that I could think of little else then taking my shoes and bra off, brushing my teeth, and sleeping for 12 hours or so.

But the minute I walked into the airport filled with bustling crowds, my second wind hit. While I couldn’t appreciate the cultural chaos as much as I might have after a few hours sleep, I loved the noise of it all. Not so much the onslaught of cab drivers trying to convince me they were my ride to the hotel. I found Chitra, who I learned would be our guide for the trip, waiting with a sign from my tour company outside the small airport and he lead me to a waiting cab. Though Chitra was carrying my pack, drivers still tried to woo me into their cars for the ride.

Chitra explained the ride would be no more than 15 minutes to the hotel and off we went. The streets were narrow and unpaved, buildings were crumbling, and I began to wonder how easy it would be to print the company logo off from the website and, knowing that every day someone will likely be arriving looking for the sign, stand at the airport in wait for an unsuspecting and tired traveler.

We turned a corner into an alleyway that I doubted the car could squeeze through, then another barely missing a thin cow by the side, nibbling on garbage. One more and gleaming in front of us was a neon sign reading Radisson. We made a sharp turn just before the gates to the Radisson and pulled up in front of the far less grand, but in every way far more charming Hotel Tibet.

After a good night’s sleep in the small, hard and so inviting bed, a long morning shower, I was ready for a day of cultural immersion.

The breakfast buffet featured mango juice, an omelette station, grilled veggies, noodles, and toast. I ate all of it, taking a guess at some of the unfamiliar options for my omelette, I ended up with something delicious, but very spicy. The iced latte was pre-sweeted but good. Throwing caution to the wind, the two glasses of mango juice I consumed worked wonders on chasing away the last bit of tiredness I was feeling.

As I paid to go, Bikram (yes, like the yoga, he told me before I asked) the 20-something at the desk as me where I was from. When I told him he brightened saying “you are Barack Obama’s neighbor.” “not exactly,” said I, “but I do like him.”  “I love Barack Obama.” Bikram said with a huge grin.

At 9am, I met up with Chitra and the two other members of my group who’d already arrived. Both in their 20s. Emma, from London, is taking some time between finishing her training and beginning a job as a lawyer.  Jamal, from Qatar, is just out of college and looking for work as a business consulting.

Chitra whisked us through Kathmandu’s maze of alleyways. Saturday is the Nepalese day of rest so shops would be closed except in the tourist areas.  The city is a beautiful assault on the senses. Incense filling the air, cars and scooters zipping wildly by, seemingly without any rules with regard to the side of street they belong on, and colorful beads and saris for sale in small storefronts alongside tacky t-shirts. Interestingly, men everywhere were dressed in a very Western style, while the women were all dressed very traditionally.


We tried to take it all in, and keep some sense of where we were with regard to the hotel while Chitra zipped on down the next alley and tryg to get to know each other.

At the convergence of three streets Chitra pointed out a restaurant and suggested that’s where we should lunch and he left us on our own. Only 11:30, we weren’t quite ready for lunch, but all ready to sit for a minute we went in to check it out. After navigating a pile of broken bricks in the narrow entryway, we made our way to a rooftop cafe and sat looking out over the street.

Two iced beverages each later (coffee for me, pepsi for Emma, and papaya lasse for Jamel) we were laughing and debating like old friends. we compared tastes in music, food, television, and opinions on Apple products. We talked about the books we’d brought to read and my choice of The End of Men and How to Be a Woman sparked a lively chat about women’s issues in our respective countries. We each claimed to be the one that will slow the rest of the group down and apologized to each other for our lack of preparedness for the trip.Our group would increase by six tonight, a group of friends traveling together, and we vowed to take care of each other through our days ahead.

Emma left us to meet a friend and Jamal and I spent the next couple hours walking further from the center of town towards the mountain we could see in the distance. We both a had the idea that at a certain point we would have a view uninterrupted by buildings. We never did find that spot, but it didn’t matter. The journey took up into residential neighborhoods. We talked politics and religion. Jamal is a Palestinian Muslim with strong opinions about American politics. He was passionate about his beliefs and eager and open to mine. He asked me about Todd Akin and Michael Bloomberg, and told me about his ultimate desire to be a vet. We shared how nervous we each were in coming on the trip, but how glad we were that we had. “I’m going to enjoy this trip, I’m certain of it,” Jamal said to me shortly after we shared out thoughts on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with regard to global politics.

We both got to the “I must eat lunch” place at the same time. Looking around for a taxi to take us back to the restaurant where we’d had our earlier beverage, we spied a place selling Nepalese momos, a dumpling. we got two vegetable dumplings each, filled with a spicy chickpea paste, and something that looked like a fried onion ring, but was actually a doughnut like pastry with a slightly crunchy texture from sugar crystals.

Now sated, tired, and completely lost we headed in what we thought would be the right direction for the hotel. Trusting each other’s instincts we made it back in short order with only a few wrong turns.

Its time for a nap and a probably another shower. At 6:30 we re-convene to meet the rest of our group.  I’m sure I’ll like them, and I hope they’ll like me, but if not no matter. Emma and Jamal are great company and this country is astounding.

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  1. John permalink

    Stop complaining. I’m sorry you were forced to leave the country because your Red Sox are in last place and it doesn’t look too well for your Pats. I will haunt you at every turn. Love you, John. Be safe.

  2. colleen permalink

    Love you and picturing you wandering and getting lost of loving it and eating weird stuff. xoxoxo Colleen
    Namaste (you might not be able to “bow to your true self” if you cannot spell it)

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