Thursday, February 22, 2018

Back in Kathmandu!

Original Post Date: July 5, 2017.

I'm back in Kathmandu!  It's been 9 years since I was first here.  I fell in love with Kathmandu the moment I set foot here and it's been a wish of mine ever since then to one day return.  I had to admit that part of me wanted to come back to see how the place has been since the devastating earthquake in 2015.  I will found out shortly.

In the meantime, we flash back to Leh this morning where we said goodbye to Jigmet, the owner and several of the young Indian men who work here and who have been taking care of us on the days and nights that we have spent here.  It's amazing how quickly you grow accustom to people and places.  I could easily stay in Leh for longer.

As has been the case for each of the past 10 days he's taken us around, Dorje was already waiting for us when we got our suitcases downstairs.  We got in the car for our last ride with him.  It was a short ride to the airport and it was surprisingly crowded.  Dorje took us to the entrance and there we said our goodbyes.  Since I did not know whether or not he would be bringing us back to the airport, I actually gave him his tip and gift (NYC t-shirt) from the three of us yesterday.  He stood by the door, making sure we got past security and into the terminal before turning around and leaving. sad to leave him.

Chantale stood in line to get checked in.  We got our seat assignments and then made our way to the departure lounge.  There, we were instructed that one of us had to go outside the terminal and identify our luggage - the security officer compared the luggage tags that we had been given against what had been affixed to each suitcase.  Here, they take the security measure to not load any luggage unless somehow has identified it as theirs.  We had plenty of time to wait - enough to get some samosas and tea.  That was our breakfast.

The flight to Delhi was an uneventful one.  Thank goodness for that.  After retrieving our luggage, we made our way to the departure terminal.  Again, we had plenty of time enough to grab a couple of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, French fries and Cokes from McDonald's.  After three weeks of Indian, Ladakhi and Tibetan food, all Chantale wanted was good ole American fast food and I couldn't object to that.  It was a welcome change in cuisine!

Next, we boarded our flight to Kathmandu and thankfully, that was also uneventful.

As we waited for our luggage to come out, a young man approached us.  He introduced himself as "Adash"??  Who is this guy you ask.

So here's the backstory.  Before we left DC, Chantale had reached out to one of her Nepalese friends, known only to me as Hari Ji, to get information about Kathmandu.  Hari Ji decided to reach out to one of his good friends, in Kathmandu, named Arun Ji to see if he would provide us with assistance.  Well, assistance means different things to different people. In this case, Arun Ji sent his son Adash to come pick us up at the airport.  Chantale had also indicated that she wanted to get a Nepalese SIM card and well, would you believe that Adash had one for her?

We had to wait a while for our luggage to come out on the carousel.  In the meantime, we got to know a bit more about Adash.  First off, his English is excellent....with barely a trace of any foreign accent.  He told us that he went to University of Toronto for his studies and he travels back and forth to not only Canada but also to the US several times a year.  From just this one story, I quickly realized that we had a young man from a very well to do Nepalese family standing before us.  Whatever wealth his family may or may not have, he most certainly does not have any airs about him - seems pretty down to earth though I am sure he is spoiled.

Adash was here to take us to the house of Chantale's friend and former colleague at the Asian Development Bank, Bindu and his wife Sumana.  She had also reached out to Bindu when we were planning this trip and he offered to put us up in his home.  How nice is that?

As we walked out of the terminal to Adash's car, I had a momentary flashback to the day I arrived here in 2007.  The red brick building that is the terminal has not changed one bit though now it appears there are functioning ATMs inside.  Back in 2007, the only ATM machine was located outside the terminal and on that day, it was not functioning.  I had to negotiate with a taxi driver to take me to a working ATM machine, on the way to my hotel, so I could get money to pay him.  The first machine he took me to did not work but the second one did.

The other flash back was that I arrived on a cloudy day back in 2007 and today, it was also cloudy but warm.  We have to readjust to warmer temperatures after 10 days in the cool air of Ladakh.

As Adash pulled the car into the traffic of Kathmandu, I had my third flash back.  This place reminds me so much of Old Delhi.  The streets are crowded and congested with people walking here, there, and everywhere, sharing the space with all sorts of moving vehicles.  There are masses of wires hanging from utility poles....all jumbled to the point you wonder how anyone knows what wire does what and goes where.  The air in Kathmandu in summer is warm but not humid but dirty.  Chantale will be living inside her face mask once again.   I swear the city has not changed since I was here in 2007.  I do notice a lot of people walking around mobile phones as they call cell phones here. 

It was a small challenge for poor Adash to find Bindu's home which is situated behind a tall, unassuming black gate that is located between a couple of commercial establishments.  You would never realize that there is a complex of buildings behind the gate but there are.  Bindu's house is one of them.  Past the main gate and we had wait for the guard to open the gate to Bindu's property to finally get to this house.  To say that this place is secure is an understatement.

Bindu and Sumana's house is very grand....very grand.....even for Western standards grand.  The front yard is pretty much all drive way and garages. 

Bindu and Sumana came out to greet us as well as Adash.  It was the first time the three of them met as well.  My initial impression is they are all from the same wealthy class of Nepalese.  My first impressions of Bindu and Sumana are that they are very warm and friendly.  They were most certainly very happy to see Chantale as she was to see them.  It's always nice to reconnect with  people you've not seen in a while and to be able to do in their homeland is special.

Before he left, Adash told us that a driver would be coming by tomorrow to take us where ever we wanted to go.  Apparently, his father's hospitality extended to providing us with a car and driver for the time we would be in Kathmandu!  WOW!  I was not expecting that all!!  Truly a generous offer and we graciously accepted it!

Inside Bindu and Sumana's very lovely home, we were each given a choice of rooms.  I took the downstairs bedroom and Chantale took the upstairs room.  I didn't check her room out but mine was HUGE!  I had a private sitting area, private dressing area and a really, really, nice a bathroom you would find at a luxury hotel.  Considering the places we had been staying at the past three weeks, I felt like we had just somehow fallen, by mistake, into a 5 star hotel.  Wow!  Bindu is very environmentally conscious so the house is equipped with solar panels that power pretty much all the lights and small appliances in the home.  I think the room air conditioners and larger appliances still rely on the public power grid.

I pretty much let Chantale reconnect with Bindu and Sumana - they had a lot to catch up on.  Chantale and Bindu met at work.  Bindu and Sumana are both Nepalese by birth but Bindu's work has taken them out of the country for the past 30+ years.  They decided to relocate back to Nepal when Bindu retired and they built the house here.  It's filled with touches of Nepalese art as well as collectibles from their stays around the world.

For dinner, Sumana had invited another couple over to join us all.  There was a lot of "work" related talk so I just hung back and listened.  We learned tonight that Nepalese dinners start out with what Sumana labels as a "snack"....basically a lot of very delicious munchies and appetizers.  They have a Nepalese maid working for them.  I have to get used to the servant concept again as I am accustomed to doing everything myself rather than waiting for someone to serve me.

For the main meal, she treated us to Thai food that was the perfect meal after what we had been eating the past three weeks.

Dinner was a late affair so after the guests left, it was pretty much bed time.  Though we hadn't really done anything today but travel and eat, I was still tired.  I know I will sleep well tonight but first, I need to get a quick shower.  Tomorrow, we have to meet up with a special person.  Either Hari Ji or Arun Ji has set up an early morning meeting with us and the Mayor of Lalitpur aka Patan.  I have no idea why we are meeting with the mayor but I will go with the flow.  Happy to be back in Nepal!

Goodnight from Kathmandu!