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7 Days in Nepal
Into the Hills of Panauti
After another long day, it was tough getting out of bed in the morning. Joe and I meet up for cereal breakfast. He tells me he’s running late today because he put on the Green Bay playoffs game and couldn’t stop watching. Jayanti comes down and I ask if she can teach me to make milk coffee then Joe heads off to the Embassy for a bit of work.
Jayanti and walk to the temple nearby that is built into a tree. Before we leave, her mother and cousins (Sucil and Anita) arrive to go with us to Panauti after Joe returns. Jayanti and I walk across the bustling Ring Road to a neighborhood I haven’t explored. We arrive at the tree temple and I see that, while it is not properly taken care of, it is being well visited. A few children see me and cannot resist the urge to giggle through their English practice: “Hello” “How are you?” “Good.”
Jayanti shows me around then proceeds to touch every knee-high deity statue and touch her forehand (just as the children had done only moments before). She seems only slightly disappointed that I don’t try. As we walk down the steps around the tree temple, we come around another temple where a man is giving tika. Jayanti highly encourages me to give it a try this time…so I step up. She pays for both of us and the man proceeds to splash us with water, run a smudge of turmeric into our foreheads with his thumb, then sprinkle our hair with flowers. He then hands her an orange and she goes to a nearby bell and rings it heartily a few times. We start to leave and Jayanti is stopped by a man who tells her (so she tells me later) how things are not being well taken care of. He talks to her for a good 7 minutes.
What is Tika/Tilak?
A mixture of abir, a red powder, yoghurt, and grains of rice. Worn every day by sadhus and pious householders, and on special occasions like weddings and religious rituals. A tika is also applied by a priest during a visit to the temple as a sign of the deity’s blessing, for both men and women (and western tourists, too).
When we get back, Bama (Joe’s housekeeper) makes me milk coffee the minute I walk through the door. Delicious. Then she and Jayanti’s cousins sit with me at the dinging room table, soon joined by Ama (mom), all working to help me with my Nepali phrases and pronunciation. (Luckily Joe is running late).
Nepali phrases…give it a try:
Sanchai cha? (How are you?)
Meero naam _____ ho. (MAY-ro na-m [your name] ho.)
Apparently I am catching on quickly when I see Joe’s white Ford Ranger pull into the courtyard outside. It is 10:10, and I know he will want to leave right away (as he was hoping to be home by 9:30). I run off to get ready and we are out the door soon as I have my coat and camera.
The road to Panauti—where Jayant’s sister-in-law’s family lives—is long and the terrain goes from rough pavement to a dirt road of craters. Jayanti and family are stuffed in the back of the pickup bench and I take the passenger seat, though it’s not much more room. I feel bad for them.
We pass cows, dogs, and chickens on the road. Many construction vehicles. The massive shiva statue atop a tall hill in the distance. A line of buses dropping off a party of wedding goers heading out to a large dirt field setup with tents and decorations, women dressed nicely in their finest saris, the men in suits.
We arrive in town of Panauti…and somehow I feel I’ve been here before, certainly in dreams. We cross a narrow bridge loaded with pedestrians and go through a town like a run down shopping district, pass a durbar square, climb a very rocky dirt road, turn onto an even narrower one with a 30′ drop to the right, then park the truck by an orange grove. We walk from here.
We follow Jayanti’s mom down a thin foot path along the orange grove that has a five foot dropoff to the left. We come upon a recently reconstructed wooden, cement and brick hut where men of the family are relaxing on the dirt patio outside and the women are inside preparing a meal. These folks are rugged — self-sustaining, they grow their food here in the high terrain and only go town for their amenities, which I would imagine they don’t need much of. I sense that their language is not the same as folks from Kathmandu as there appears to be some communication differences.
Jayanti calls me over with Joe to meet the children and hold the baby goats. I go to use the outhouse and crack my head going in — I was so busy looking down at the pot in the floor that looked like it was covered in waste (though only rusted from use). I didn’t even notice the very low doorway, which you would think I would have grown accustomed to by now as it is common in Nepal. If that wasn’t bad enough, I hit my head on the way out too. [A sizable lump stays with me the rest of the trip.]
We are fed heavily, which I have come to learn by now is just how it goes here; if you show up, you will be fed. And as usual, just when I feel I can’t eat anymore, the women come out of the house with more rice and pickles (very spicy) and chicken (possibly the head as it is very bony). Everything is very tasty but so filling.
We leave almost immediately after eating (another Nepali custom) to walk 20 minutes over the winding dirt trail through the valley, following the orange trees and fields of corn. We climb a steep and winding trail up to Ama’s friend’s house. They have know each other since childhood, and she coincidentally lives so near Jayant’s sister-in-law. At the top of the hill is a well constructed concrete home that looks fairly new. Joe confirms as much when he tells me the last time he was there 6 months before, only the foundation and second floor were set.
We are greeted by Ama’s friend–a lovely woman in her mid 50s with perfectly worn, dark brown skin and cinnamon colored sari–and we go upstairs to the second floor where seats have been put out for us on the deck overlooking the valley. The scene is absolutely beautiful. I could spend a week here, while Joe argues he would easily retire here today.
We try to leave for a drive out to Dhulikhel to see a view of the Himalayas, but Jayanti asks us to stay just a minute more. Soon, her mother’s friend brings us a huge serving of rice pudding and a bowl of mushy broccoli and cauliflower — I can’t believe we are eating again. I am so full, but it is rude to turn it down. I finish most of the pudding and only a bite of broccoli, and we are freed.
Panauti Durbar Square
We make the long walk back to the truck a little quicker this time and head off the hilltop and back into town where we visit another durbar square.
Viewing the Himalayas
Out into the main road, we head up high into the hills of Dhulikhel where we can see the Himalayan range much better. Unfortunately the view is not entirely clear, but I’m able to see the mountains and valley with the large hills in front and it’s stunning.
Taking a Hike
We arrive back to the hilltop house about an hour later and find Jayanti and family back at her sister-in-law’s house. We go on a nice little hike downhill, along a narrow winding path, and stop at a small store. We are followed by several of the local children–their tattered clothes and bodies covered in a fine layer of dirt–and one boy follows us all the way to the store. It’s clear he is fascinated by us Americans. Jayanti buys a few sodas and shares with the boy, then gives him a whole bag of corn chips (he is very pleased). An older woman, crouched by a wall, wrapped in her sari and looking very worn, watches us the entire time, as we enjoy the setting sun for a bit before hiking back up. The trip to the sister-in-law’s house was in part to bring back some things to their primary home in Kathmandu. Before we load up, we enjoy a cup of milk tea–prepared inside over a small fire that is leaving quite a bit of smoke lingering over our heads—then head back to the truck as a caravan of people carrying food and supplies. After goodbyes, we begin the journey back to Kathmandu.
Dinner at Nepali Chulo
The family is stuffed in the back talking rapidly and quite merrily. Every so often they pause the conversation to trade English and Nepali language quizzes on me.
I can’t seem to get “yes” down pat…try it:
Jayanti asks if we are going to Nepali Chulo for dinner. Joe replies “Me not think so” and Jayanti seems immediately saddened. Sensing this, Joe says, “Al choice.” She asks if I want to go. “What is it?” I reply. A Nepali restaurant with good food, music and dancers. Let’s do it!
After another ridiculous drive through Kathmandu, we pull into the vacant parking lot and go inside. It’s a very nice restaurant with a bit of a gaudy Asian flare. We sit in a large room with a very long table and a stage up front. Joe asks me to sit in the first seat. We order food, the musicians and dancers play, and we share several courses of delicious Nepali food. At one point a dancer comes out dressed as a peacock, with a long neck and head with a metal beak was popping in and out of the body. It starts tapping me on the head with he beak and I’m not reacting. Jayanti says “it needs money!” and laughs hysterically. I didn’t bring my wallet in! Joe gives me a 10 and I go to hand it to the beak, but Jayanti stops me and says i have to set it on my head. The bird pecks my head a few times for good measure then snags the bill. He goes around to other diners and does the same. Joe puts a bill on Anita’s head and she freaks out as the bird grabs it. Funny!
At the end of the meal, the dancers invite anyone to go up and dance. I am heavily convinced and Jayanti and Anita drag me up and show me some moves. I try my best…but decide to make it humorously entertaining. Everyone is crying.
We head out and drop off the family. I give hugs (which is very unexpected to them) and we head home. A few quick good nights, and off to bed for an early start.