It was a short journey to our next destination, Dulikhel, but not an easy one – beginning with dragging our suitcases down the hill over the uneven cobblestones to the main road to catch the local bus. “No problem,” the guesthouse patron told us “they go by every five minutes all day long (200 in total). You’ll easily get your cases on!” Well, there were a lot of buses, but where did our bus halt? As each bus pulled in, we had to yell “Dulikhel?” They were all filled and overflowing, so we ran after one that stopped long enough, pushed our way on and stood jammed in the aisle for most of the one and a half hour journey. In the crush, a lady gave us a warm welcoming smile, as if to say, “Don’t worry, it will be all right” – and it was! Arriving in Dulikhel we had to haul our cases for a couple of miles up a steep and busy road leading out of town, continually asking people for directions to our guest house which was not sign-posted.
The guidebook described Snow View as a ‘blast from the past’. Anyone who traveled in third world countries during the 60s and 70s would understand. The guesthouse is BASIC…but clean and adequate. The family who live below and cook vegetarian food for us, straight from their garden, are wonderful. For us that makes up for any lack of mod cons. After the hubbub of Bhaktapur it’s so quiet and rural – but 5,000 feet up decidedly chilly at night and we sleep under a thick quilt with plenty of layers of clothing.
As I lay in bed that night barely warm enough and unable to sleep, my unoccupied mind flashed back over many business trips. So easy – I just boarded a plane, and on landing, hailed a taxi which took me to my Marriott/Westin/Hilton hotel (very comfortable but completely indistinguishable) – I was there. Very different from today’s brief but complicated journey. But I realized that I would much rather stand on a crowded bus and drag my suitcase up a steep stony road for 20 minutes etc. than have to endure the stresses and strains of business travel –giving a presentation, last minute preparing the night before, running to Kinkos before it closed to make slides (before we could use laptops) business meals with people you don’t know and wouldn’t otherwise choose to spend the evening with – and so on. Of course, there were trade-offs and exceptions – interesting places like Israel, Bosnia and Brazil, on occasion establishing a relationship that went beyond business – but these were not the norm. The conveniences of business travel did not make up for the angst. Putting that all to rest, I finally drifted off to sleep.
Unfortunately, clouds have been gathering for a couple of days, and here in Dulikhel where the mountains are supposed to be spectacular – once again they’re shrouded. Sadly familiar of Sikkim last spring. We climbed 1000 steps up to a temple. Nice view of the surrounding hills and valley, and just the glimpse of a mountain peak. But the next morning, the sky had cleared and we were able to make out the long range of mountains stretching across the horizon. Walking down a country lane above the valley for a mile or so, we sat for hours on a grassy mound enjoying the view. Not a sight we tire of easily. I try to hold the feeling of the power and stillness of the majestic Himalyas.
From Dukilhel we had to return to Katmandu before continuing our journey eastward to Pokhara. The local bus was crowded but cleaner and more comfortable than our overall experience with buses in India. Back in Katmandu, paths coincided with our Australian friends yet again before they were leaving Nepal. We had a leisurely dinner where they gave us the highlights of their trek in the mountains. Next morning we joined them for tea on the flower-filled rooftop of their guesthouse and they continued to talk about their apprehensions of going back to the workaday world. Then they loaded their backpacks and we waved them off in a taxi to the airport. Before heading home to Australia, they had one last stop in Bali at a luxury yoga spa with classes that are supposed to help open the third eye. If it works they promised to let us know!
In the evening, looking to find some magic potion that will cure Gerard’s sinus infection and insistent cough we head down side streets. Helpful shopkeepers direct us rightside.. downside…inside outside…I have no idea where we’re going – neither does Gerard but with his stellar sense of direction, I know he will find his way back. Leaving the tourist lights and activity, we’re in winding dark alleys, so familiar to the medinas in Morocco. And then hidden away behind half-shuttered doors is a pharmacy still open – behind the counter a young girl who manages to retrieve from a wall stuffed with unidentifiable packets and packages, an asthma inhaler and cough mixture – neither of which include much in the way of directions for use.
By now it’s late for dinner but I want to visit the little Tibetan restaurant one more time. It looks closed because the power’s out, but when we step through the curtain, the girl is welcoming and even though they’ve closed the kitchen, says, “For you, we will be happy to make thupka.” She remembered us! Once again, Gerard’s knack of making an impression paid off!
The next morning before light, we hauled our cases through the dark streets to the bus terminal to start the journey to Bandipur. As an easier alternative to the local bus, we’ve prepaid and reserved seats on the tourist bus for Pokara, even though we’re only going two-thirds of the way. But when we arrived at the “terminal” there was a long line of 30 or so almost identical tourist buses on the side of the road. How on earth would we find our bus? Crossing the street, we just happened to arrive right beside “Swiss Travel – the one we were looking for!” So it was easy after all. Seated in the back of the bus, we were surrounded by Chinese – the major tourist group in Nepal these days. A young Chinese girl across the aisle exercised her limited English to address Gerard, “Are you retired?” Guess it’s pretty obvious! The only other westerner on the bus was a boy from Los Angeles, pursuing a degree in Development Studies, and doing an internship in Patan setting up services for HIV patients (still a relatively small group in Nepal). He was taking time off with his girlfriend from Slovakia, (he’d met while at college in Switzerland) who was visiting for a couple of weeks. After studying in so many overseas, locations, we asked him if he’d return to LA to live. He said emphatically, “No! Somewhere in Europe would be preferable.” When the conversation steered toward our travels in the 60s, he admitted he was very envious; not just the lack of internet, but not even a guidebook; relying on fellow travelers for basic information about your next destination. He smiled and said, “I wish I could have done that.” We bid them farewell as we got down in a very dusty and unremarkable town called Dumre to catch a local bus up the hill side to Bandipur.
The election is now over but not forgotten.