So My Family came to Visit - no further than Kathmandu, Nepal

Of all the places in the world, I never though my father would set foot in Nepal, but come he did, with Cathy, my stepmom and Sophia, my sis in tow. They were spending a month in Thailand and came over for a brief but ever so eventful visit. Landing in Kathmandu, the adventure started with the taxi ride to the hotel. In the smallest van ever built, we all loaded in, with one suitcase for each day they would spend in Nepal (all of two.) The rickety van took off and right away nearly plowed into a cow leaving the parking lot. With their hands firmly gripping any available surface, we veered through the tangle of Kathmandu streets, a thick stew of people, cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, trucks and wildlife. Their amazement grew every second as we proceeded to fit by oncoming cars with an inch to spare, speed up to meet oncoming obstacles, which fluidly slid by. Traffic in Kathmandu can only be described as fluid, in the best of terms. My father, a seasoned driver, was overcome with fear at the thought of taking the wheel. We finally made it to the hotel and unloaded and Nepal's renowned efficiency left us with two uncleaned hotel rooms, one reeking of smoke. They, good-naturedly squeezed themselves into a smaller single room, and relaxed for the first time. 

As their itinerary was for three days only, we had already rented a van for the afternoon for sightseeing. No time for rest, bah humbug, I was going to take them for an adventure. We set off to see the sights and thankfully the van was a wee bit bigger, although this seemed to heighten the excitement of city driving. The sightseeing was fine, save for my consternation at two separate sites having fees now attached to them. Just one month ago, I had walked these same streets and sites free of charge, a citizen of the world. Now to step foot in Boudanath square or Patan Durber Square, the camera-toting, fanny-packing, spotted-from-a-mile-away tourist has to fork over three hundred rupees to set foot upon this now expensive ground. This can only be compared to blocking off the Magnificent Mile and adding a surcharge to shop! The locals freely pass, but meek local officials, who gamely try to collect these new fees, keep tourists at bay. I, in my kurta and passable Nepali, laughed them off and sauntered through, but my family, with five trinket vendors in tow, were easily caught in their net and paid the fees. We made it safely through the afternoon, although our trip down a one way street brought to mind the poor salmon struggling upstream. A bit scared of what the food might entail (doesn't everyone need more excitement in the bathroom) for dinner, my poor family opted for peanuts, saved from the airflight over and went to bed exhausted.

The next day, our plan was to escape the polluted, crowded and dirty capital city for the clean, fresh air and incredible mountain views of Pokhara, a five-hour drive to the west and my second home. Loading into the same van, we headed out of the Kathmandu valley. As the word valley intimates, Kathmandu is a high plateau surrounded by mountains and foothills, and once on the outskirts of the valley, we had to begin a harrowing descent down the steep, twisty, turny roads into Nepal's heartland. My father, afraid of heights kept switching seats away from the window peering out into the incredible lush green rice-terraced mountain valley. One moment he would be on the inside, then the van winding through another sharp S-curve of the road, and the next he would again be staring out in the abyss, the road below us, unable to be seen from the van. We traveled in this manner for a good hour before finally reaching the valley floor and snaking our way towards Pokhara, along side the beautiful rushing Trisuli River. 

About two hours into the trip and a mere half-hour from my school, which I was so excited to show them, we stopped quickly behind a long line of trucks and cars. Noticing the rocks behind the tires, we got out, realizing that whatever the obstruction, it would be a long wait. From our vantage point, we observed a very long line of traffic spread out in front of us and at some point behind a turn in the road, we realized the cars we stopped in the other direction as well. Word gradually leaked back to us, LANDSLIDE. Our game driver decided to head to the front and see how bad this so-called landslide was. As we drove to the front of the traffic in the opposite lane, we once or twice, saw a motorbike and it's passengers coming from the landslide area, covered in mud. Not exactly encouraging. We finally neared the front of the traffic, snuck in behind a bus and then walked to the landslide area. It was a 70-yard patch of the highway, covered in a two-foot layer of mud and rocks. To one side, a motorbike was again attempting a crossing with about seven men shoving it through. The rumor now circulating was that a bulldozer had left Naranyghad four hours earlier and was on its way to the rescue.

We decided to wait awhile and see if anything happened. People all around us were settling in for the long haul. Pots were brought out and food was cooked, the roadside vendors did blowout business and entrepreneurial youngsters quickly bought snackfood and sold it to hungry tourists at horribly inflated prices. It was a regular bazaar and my family was in the thick of it. One man tried vainly to rally some people to try to shovel it off the edge of the road. He actually gathered a few shovels and began in earnest, but after a mere ten minutes, the futility of the effort sank in and he resorted to drinking beer and complaining loudly along with the rest of us. After about an hour and a half of waiting, we got some news, not the good kind. The bulldozer driver, apparently there is only one per dozer, was sick and the dozer never left. The next closest dozer was a good six hours away, so much for getting to Pokhara.

We turned around and defeated by the hostile terrain of Nepal, headed back to Kathmandu. We later learned that the road was not opened till sometime in the middle of the night. So much for visiting my school as well. Once in Kathmandu, I dumped them at a restaurant and searched out a quieter hotel, to shield them from the realities of the third world. Finally finding the ideal place, they made the suggestion that having seen the 'wonders' of Nepal, maybe it was time to head back to Thailand for a vacation. 

Not really sure what to do with them for another day, our attempt at getting to the real 'wonders' of Nepal thwarted, I obliged and changed their tickets to the next day. At least we had a pleasant dinner that evening, dining on the sacred cow served at numerous tourist restaurants and enjoying good conversation, so good in fact, that I longed to spend more time with them, under less inhospitable circumstances. Maybe that is the true lesson of Nepal, one I have learned dearly in the last five months, the closeness of family and friends, in the face of harsh realities. The people here, if they have a small home, food and access to a radio and bicycle, they truly believe what more do they need. Having not really spent any time with my father since leaving for college, I felt acutely out of touch with him and the changes in his life, especially his new wife Cathy and her daughters. So much so that with still plenty of school vacation left, I decided to hop a plane to Bangkok and spend some time with them and also get a bit of R&R in. Ya know, everyone needs a vacation on their 'vacation.' And because I also realistically knew the challenges of spending large amounts of time with family, I took along a companion, my good friend Devi. It was to be his first trip outside of Nepal and would prove to be definitely interesting in that respect.

over and out


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