David & Jacqui (Australian friends who head the World Vision [WV] work in Nepal) gathered us after Church on Sunday for a quick lunch and after lunch we piled into two cars, Callum (a Scotsman working for WV in Kathmandu), Lilian (a WV trainer from the Philippines) along with John (from WV India) and his recent bride Amelia, for the drive to Nagarkot.
Kathmandu is in a valley, in spite of all the snow in the Himalayas it rarely snows in the valley. Nagarkot is at the top of one of the hills that surround Kathmandu Valley and has a view of the Himalayas. This is where we were bound. We wove our way through Kathmandu traffic for the better part of an hour before the scenery began to change. The pitch of the road changed and we began to climb, not it was green all around us and I could see the terraced farming start to emerge. The roads have two way traffic, some I would class a legitimate two lane roads but most a slightly larger than 1 1/2 due to the broken edges and potholes. Cars do OK and David & Callum have adapted to Nepali driving techniques but the overloaded busses with people sitting on the roofs and belching black diesel exhaust are another story. Motorbikes are everywhere and force you to stay alert, most drivers have helmets but many riders do not, the scariest (common) sight is a young child perched in the driver's lap as they careen through traffic.
It was sunny and warm as we drove but we could see angry black clouds just beyond the rim of the valley. The roads got steeper and became mostly switchbacks where it was difficult to get a bus to make the sharp turn. As we entered Nagarkot (a few dozen kiosks and buildings) the skies opened and the rain started falling as we continued on up the often dirt road. Then the rain really started pounding down and we found ourselves behind a tour bus with no way to get around. It got even steeper and then the hail started drumming on the car roof. I could see signs for the resorts (all hotels claimed resort status) and through the hail could make out a sign for the "Hotel at the End of the Universe". After passing a resort partially funded by the Japanese we arrived at the Country Villa Resort where we were to stay. By now the hail had gone but the rain was steady. Only one wrinkle, that tour bus that we could not pass was going there too and stopped at the front door to discharge it's gaggle of tourists, leaving us to sit in the cars behind them. Yes I had an umbrella... carefully packed inside my luggage in the back of the car. After a while the hotel staff arrived with umbrellas to escort us inside.
We gathered for tea (which warms one up) and to make a plan for our two days. After tea the rain had stopped and we drove up to a peak with a watch tower. It was not yet dusk but the clouds brought darkness early. From there we would have seen a view of Kathmandu valley where we could see some lights in the other direction would be a panoramic view of the Himalayas. The Nepali teenagers we there too selling panoramic posters of the Himalayas, so when we looked at them holding up their posters we could see what we would have seen could we have seen. Oh ye Collum and I did climb up the tower (about 3 stories) to imagine what we could have seen.
Accommodations included a dinner so we decided to meet around 7:30 pm. Jacqui reserved a table near the fireplace and had gotten a commitment that there would be a fire built for us at dinnertime. Sometime after 7:00 I began to hear music and someone using a PA system in Nepali. After a while my curiosity peaked and I went downstairs to investigate.
On the porch outside the restaurant were about a dozen Nelapi youths wearing colorful red and black costumes dancing traditional Nepali dances (in their bare feet). They swirled and twirled and clapped in twos and sixes as the music changed. Then one young woman reached out her hand and invited Jacqui to join the dance (Jacqui looks innocent enough but is always game to join in a good time). Then Lilian (the quiet one) joined in with light and graceful moves. Little did I suspect that the World Vision dance queens were among us. The dancers collected their tips and moved on and we moved inside to dinner much later than planned.
The surprise for dinner was that it was mostly vegetables, (which I don't see that much of in the Valley) and delightfully fresh. After dinner we moved across the room but still near the fireplace for tea and hot chocolate where we spent the evening talking and telling stories. In the midst of that time it struck me, here we were seven people from five countries and four continents, laughing and joking like old friends when some of us had barely met each other. A couple of weeks from now some of us will back on our respective ends of the earth, but now in this moment we are connected as a community of friends. These are the moments I will always remember. Do you still wonder why I love to travel?
The room staff came and collected our keys, something about hot water. Later I walked into my room and it was "as they say" a bit nippy, I opened the drapes so that the morning light would wake me as my room looked out towards the Himalayas. I had already spread the comforter over the bed and when I pulled back the covers there was a hot water bottle lying where my body would soon be. I thought it was a nice touch, then it dawned on me that this would be my one and only source of heat until morning. I did sleep well with only my nose protruding from beneath the covers.
Somewhere around 5:30am the room started to light up. I really did not want to get out of the warmth of the bed, but I did. The storm clouds had cleared and the Himalayas stretched out as far as the eye could see in both directions. First the peaks were white then they changed to a soft orange glow when the sun was just behind the peaks and finally burst into a glorious sunrise. The valley below was covered in clouds which seemed as if they were a sea of white waves gently rolling from our hotel to the base of the mountain range. Nature, raw nature is so awesome.
After breakfast on the terrace (cool temp but beautiful view) we decided on a hike. David and Jacqui suggested starting at a resort called the Farm House which was even farther on up the road. David decided to take us in two shifts as the car Collum drove was to small and low and David's Kia SUV was high and had four wheel drive. The first group of us got there and was dropped at the Farm House but soon David returned on foot with the news that the Kia had slid off the side of the road and into the center of that road which was a sea of clay mud. We hiked back up and after pushing him out backwards and trying again, six of us (including a Dutch tourist who lives in Delhi) finally pushed him over that last crest on onto gravel again. After he returned with the rest of the group we left the car there on the hill above the muddy roadbed. Once was enough.
We hiked for over 2 hours, up, down, roads, paths, hardly any of it flat through clusters of huts (I don't think they qualify as villages) between terraced gardens still tilled by hand as they have been for centuries. Small children running up to say hello (then sadly begging for chocolate or rupees) and between goats chickens and cattle. My excuse for being tired is not only that I am out of shape, we were at about 7,500 ft altitude.
We had lunch at the Farm House outside on the lawn, mostly Nepali style food, and then tea, coffee and a brief rest before we hiked back to the vehicle and back to our hotel for the drive down into the valley.