Day 13 & 14: Kathmandu – Delhi

After a good deep sleep night, I wake up early. It’s my turn to potter about in the room. Our last day in Kathmandu – there are some sight seeing plans. After a relaxed morning of pottering, getting ready and breakfasting, we head down and find a cranky driver and outwardly patient Shishir waiting for us. The driver is a flop right from the beginning. He argues about the delay in starting, the duration of the sight seeing, what’s included, and so on. In short, problems due to pre-payment of full and final amount to unprofessional travel co-ordinators. The girls think Shishir is also acting excessively vague – more so than his daily allowance of vagueness. We set out to some temple first – not Pashupatinath, the other famous one – Bhoopatinath? Something like that.

We walk along a paved street with grill railings separating the footpath from the street. A local baby has escaped under the railing and is running amok, while its father is trying unsuccessfully to retrieve it. I pick up the baby from the street and hand it over to its grateful parents. Several street-side hawkers vye for the privilege of watching over our sandals, and try to sell us flowers for the God. The other three buy a basket each of flowers. I try to look inconspicuous in this flower children group. Shishir opts to stay out by one of the vendors’ stalls. It is mid-day by now, and the stone floor is burning – all the better for the pious to show their devotion. I walk in with the others upto a point where there are pujaris doubling up as guides. Then into a courtyard where there are a million pigeons flapping about. This is too much for me. I decide I am not so interested in this aspect of Kathmandu, so as discretely as possible I walk out. I inadvertantly happen upon a pujari smoking a beedi in a corner. He looks pretty sheepish, and quickly finishes his smoke and leaves. I find myself a shaded nook and settle down to write into my journal (the same one that never got past Muktinath) and wait for the others.

The next destination is Patan, which is one of the ancient parts of Kathmandu and hence a very touristy hangout. I reluctantly admit that it does look quite impressive, with the larger than life stone statues, stone temples and buildings. I am not really interested in sight seeing today, I am on my own fun trip. I find myself a lovely temple courtyard and sit in the shade, leaning on a carved stone pillar, happy to let the world go by and not quite be a part of it. The others are all on their own trips, we’re all in various degrees aware or unaware of the others’ trips, but happy to trip separately. We agree to meet up at one of the temples. They are gone a very long time. Shishir and I walk around looking for them, and just as we are beginning to tire of the hunt, they show up. We head to Tahmel for a late lunch, where we part with the driver in mutual relief.

It is clouded over now. We wander in and out of more shops. I pick up a cute kurta and girlie T-Shirt for Aditi from Shishir’s cousin’s shop. We finally stumble into New Orleans, the same restaurant of our first night in Kathmandu. We sit in the open courtyard today, I look around lovingly at the Silver Oak trees. Everyone is feeling high even before we touch any beer. It is a perfect afternoon for Everest. MShah produces a pack of Marlborough Lights from somewhere. Lights… hmmm… not as macho as I thought J. MShah puffs like the magic dragon, and Shiva takes a drag once in a while. I enjoy the passive smoking, and for kicks take a drag or two – spluttering and coughing,  full nautanki J.

It is the perfect restaurant for people-watching. A white woman with her adopted Nepali/Tibetean baby, and a man who looks like her business acquaintance. He looks quite clueless about babies, but is manfully trying to make friends with the baby. Another table is occupied by a lovey-dovey couple in their 40’s smooching once in a while and gossiping together. Then a couple walk in and sit at our next table, looking at stunning 7” X 10” prints of some snow mountains. After a while of surreptitious peeking, we are unable to control our curiosity – MShah asks them where the photos are from. Everest Base Camp! My only complaint is the photos are glossy. We are not the only curious ones – almost everyone at the restaurant wants to see these pictures.

It begins drizzling but we don’t feel like moving. Sitting in the light rain lazily drinking beer. Shishir maintains his tour-guide veneer and refuses beer, but promises to have one tonight. I wonder what he’s thinking, sitting in the rain without even beer for company. Lunch comes and goes. I can’t remember what it was – Pita sandwich? Anyway I remember liking it. We finally get out of New Orleans to wander into some more shops. I walk into a bookstore with Shishir, and buy him a local trees book. I can’t help feeling slightly like Honoria Glossop trying to improve Bertie’s mind (ref. PG Wodehouse).

When we step out of the bookstore, it is raining heavily and we’ve lost the others. We shelter somewhere for a bit, then go looking for the rest. When we meet up, plans are made for the evening with Shishir, and the four of us head back to the hotel. Yet again we discover that there is no disco except a shady sort of place where some chappies are playing pool and there’s a small clearing in front of the bar with a dotty strobe light on the ceiling. We settle for a nice open air terrace restaurant (with a roof overhead but open on all sides). Beer for Shishir and some local dark rum with Pepsi for the rest of us. It turns out to be an intensely classical musical evening, with Shiva and Nitya really bonding over some ragaas they sing to each other. It is beautiful but only in the periphery of my consciousness. Like I said, I have been on my own trip today, and MShah has been on her own separate trip, although very tuned into the music. Later we have another round of Dumb Charades, which I enjoy quite a bit more than the one yesterday. Rum gives a lively perspective to these things J. Finally the evening is done. We pile into a taxi and head towards the Royal Singi. These taxis are basically Maruti 800’s, so I have to sit on MShah’s lap for all taxi rides. I droop sleepily. Standing in the parking lot of the Royal Singi, we sort out Shishir’s tips, Nitya gives him her old sleeping bag, we all scribble in the trees book I have bought for him, and he leaves promising to come to the airport to see us off.

I fall asleep almost immediately after reaching my room. The party however is not over. The girls pile into our room and start a wild rumpus. Someone suddenly notices that I am sleeping through all the hysterics, and decides that certainly that must not be allowed! Waking me up is another hysterical game and much shreiking, giggling, and polka dotting later, I also contribute to the rumpus. The contents of the rumpus may have been trivial or not depending on your view point, but it was a fabulous and fitting way to end our last night in Nepal.

The rest is simply logistics – apart from one incident threatening to take on serious significance. And the fact that Shishir never shows up to see us off. At the airport, the famous Nepali security check takes place. They want to examine all the nooks and corners of our carry-on bags. I have a large number of Indian 500 rupee notes, “safely” wrapped in a ziplock bag, in my handbag. One of the snoops fishes this out and ugly questioning ensues. It is illegal to transact with Indian 500 rupees (only 50’s and 100’s are legal apparently). However, I do not know that it is illegal to even possess 500’s – the waterproofing seems to shroud my innocent currency notes in more suspicion. Shiva and I are at the same checkpoint, while the other two are scattered about the room at other checkpoints. The guard tries to intimidate me, saying he’ll have to report this. I catch on that he wants a bribe. I dig my heels in and refuse to yield. Shiva’s presence is a great moral boost – just to be able to mutter in Tamil, exchange glances. The guard is quite disgusting, leaning across the table, trying to threaten me with his nose just inches from my face. I am pleased to say that I neither spit on his face nor bite his nose off. I tell him to report me to whoever he wants, just do it quick, I don’t want to hang around here all day. Then a supervisor arrives on the scene and tries his brand of threats. He writes down my name (which I patiently spell out in all its glory – serves him right), passport number, makes me count the number of currency notes and writes that down too, and finally tells me that Nepali police are not mean like Indian police, I must not be scared of them, that it’s all okay, and he signs my clearance. I melt into a pool of feigned girlie gratitude (I’ve read somewhere that men have their egos), gather up my violated bags and belongings. Shiva and I run to catch up with the others and update them on our escapade.

Coincidentally, the flights are at around the same time. We walk through two separate gates at the same time, meet on the tarmac for a final round of hugs and giggles, and get on our separate planes. Even the planes are standing abreast of each other, the Thai aircraft to take Nits to her Bangkok stop over, and our Jet Airways plane to Delhi… It is a dramatic parting, just short of the planes taking off at the same time in opposite directions.

We’ve spent the subsequent three weeks reliving the trip in minute detail and only just mentally returned from Nepal. The dynamics we enjoyed as a group is a rare and wonderful thing, frozen in time, unlikely to be recreated even among the four of us again. Here’s to more treks, girls, and wish you more such spontaneous combustions in life!

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