is a Hindu country, the only officially Hindu country I think.
And it took some getting used to that Sunday was just another
business day. The kids went to school Sunday, and in fact
5 and a half days per week. They got Saturday off, and banks
and some government offices were closed on Saturday. But Krishna
thought of our weekends as holidays. Maybe we should, too.
I would be curious
to read Andy's journal of the trip. He had bought the little
writing pad on the trek and started his journal. I asked him
what he was writing that first night on the trail, and he
said, "SHIT! That was the flight from Pokhara to Jomosom.
SHIT! That was the bridge. SHIT! That was the cliff with a
sheer 1000 meter drop where my Dad asked me to stand and pose
for a photo
Our last night in
Pokhara was a Tuesday night, 25 November. There was some serious
packing to prepare that night for completion the following
morning. I packed my big pack and managed to get it into the
duffel bag with fabrics packed around it. But there was no
room left over. But if I had been smart, I would have bought
tons of fabrics and other things and filled the duffel with
those. For some reason, I never buy as much as I should, meaning
should from the point of view of being home.
We had some breakfast early and Krishna showed up with his
two older sons and Prem. They brought bouquets of flowers
that they had picked for us, and one of them carried some
of that red powder that they use for bindis and such. For
good luck, they said, he dipped a finger in it and put marks
on our foreheads, cheeks, and chins. I gave the kids some
Tic Tacs that I had. Photos were taken, and we said farewell
to the boys. They were in school uniforms, and Prem took them
to school while Krishna rode with us to the airport in the
taxi he had arranged.
Due to Maoist-related
security, Krishna was not allowed into the airport because
he had no ticket. So we said farewell to him at the gate.
It was amazing how close I felt to him after less than two
weeks of knowing him. It flashed through my mind that if they
failed to keep she shop open, Krishna would be just another
guy on the street trying to hustle up guide jobs. He deserved
It was another two
engine propeller plane, with one row of passengers on each
side of the aisle. Only a half-hour flight, but Andy was glad
when it touched down in Khathmandu. That would be the last
small plane flight of the journey. We got a taxi to Hotel
Garuda. We went over to the outdoor restaurant across the
street and had a light lunch. Andy would head for the internet
café, I knew. Other than on the trek or when eating,
he spent much of his time on line. I am not sure whether it
was a way of escaping from the journey, from Nepal and from
Rob and from me, but I do remember how stressful my first
journeys were. Sometimes you really need a vacation from your
vacation. Or maybe he was just bored. Or maybe he had a lot
of people to keep in touch with. From what he said, there
was no current love interest.
We would be heading
back to the airport early the next morning to depart for London.
So I had the afternoon to finish my shopping. I talked to
a very nice Nepali woman at the Hotel Desk about where I might
locate a yak bell. And where the Nepalis do their shopping
in Kathmandu. Based on her directions, I headed out of the
It was a fascinating
afternoon, certainly the best I had in Kathmandu. Somehow
I felt like I was less of a stranger. I was much more confident
of my ability to find my way around. And the streets just
seemed friendlier and more familiar, even though they were
still crowded and there were taxis and tuktuks (3 wheel motorbike
taxis) beeping and weaving through the pedestrians and the
air was so dirty that a lot of people wore surgical masks.
But it didn't make me feel claustrophobic or rushed. As I
left the tourist section (Thamel) following a street named
Asan, I left behind the shops with fake name brand trekking
gear (lots of North Face and Gore Tex, the same stuff Krishna's
shop sold) and expensive souvenir shops and tourist restaurants
and pashmina shops. The street grew even narrower and in some
blocks there was rubble instead of pavement. The streets were
crowded with Nepalis of all descriptions shopping or socializing
or transporting things or going from place to place. People
watching was never better. And still nobody was talking on
a cell phone.
I found the same
situation that I had noticed in Mindapul. There would be a
street where almost every shop sold children's clothing, and
they all seemed to have the same things hanging outside. And
in another block they were mostly hardware shops displaying
almost identical items. There was one group of spice shops
and I went from one to another to see what they had. They
all sold pretty much exactly the same things and I couldn't
haggle any of them down, so I bought Susan a sampler of 24
different spices, paying more than I wanted to.
I made my way to
a part of the city where wealthy Nepalis shop. There was a
big street of electronic and camera stores. Further on there
were a lot of jewelry stores. There was a mall of sorts with
many upscale shops. Nearby, I came to a street where about
every second shop was a very upscale saree (or sari) shop.
These were impressive, with shelves lining the walls up to
the ceilings, stuffed with bolts of luxuriant fabrics. Very
fancy, ornate, sheer, colorful, fabrics, every color you might
ever consider for a saree, every texture, with patterns woven
in and some with gold patterns over those. The shopkeeper
sat cross legged on a cushion (mattress) on a platform, and
wealthy Hindu women with their friends and daughters sat on
stools in front of them. And between them were strewn bolts
of the fabulous fabrics partly unrolled, closely examined,
discussed and haggled over. I wanted to plunge in and try
to buy some fabric for Susan, but I was too tired to compete
for attention and try negotiating a price. So I just walked
from one to the next, looking in, soaking up the richness
of the scene in each shop.
As I walked along
the street, I encountered in a doorway a very cute young woman
who spoke excellent English. She had a stack of cotton printed
fabrics there on the sidewalk. A guy was there helping her,
not speaking. She had a couple of the fabrics hanging up and
I thought they were interesting, unlike anything I had seen
in Nepal. They were the right size and dimensions for tablecloths
or bedspreads. I talked to her for a little while. She said
that she had taught herself English, which I was not sure
I believed. She said that the fabrics were from Nepal. I guess
it was true, because the nation of origin of the other fabrics
I had bought were clearly labeled, but there were no labels
on these. There were two out of her entire stack that I really
liked. One had a navy blue background with burgundy elephants
and border. The other was a very complex and multi colored
design. She asked a high price, and I offered her a fraction
of it. She tried the standard line of how my offer was less
than her cost so it was impossible, and what fine fabrics
these were and how much work was involved. But she couldn't
help smiling as she said it. We both laughed about it and
soon agreed to a price that was more than I would have paid
if I had been rested and ready to bargain.
I left her smiling
and went off looking for yak bells. She had said there were
some on Freak Street, and she told me how to bargain for them
by saying I would pay the Nepali price, not the tourist price.
I did find some there but they weren't what I wanted. They
didn't sound right.
I wandered the streets,
buying some incense here and a bakery roll there. I passed
some naked female mannequins on the street that looked completely
out of place. The sun was getting low in the west. So I headed
back. Near, or possibly at the shop that the woman at Garuda
Hotel had told me about, I found a little yak bell with a
marvelous sound. It wasn't the right size (too small, but
I could live with that, considering my packing situation).
But the sound was so reminiscent of the sounds on the trek.
It really wasn't the one I wanted for Rob and Kay because
it was so small, so I resolved to keep it for myself. So I
walked along the streets ringing it, which warned people of
my approach. Every tourist should carry one, I decided.
I needed to buy some
pashminas for Susan and for Christmas presents. It was something
I was dreading because I knew some intense haggling would
be needed. And I had no energy for that. I passed a shop that
had no customers and the shopkeeper was standing outside.
He said we have pashminas at, and he quoted a very low price
like $15. I went into the shop and told him I only wanted
to see the very highest quality he had. He brought one from
the shelves, which were filled with every quality and color
imaginable. It felt wonderful, soft and smooth. How many do
you want to buy, he asked. Five I said. He quoted me a very
high price. I prepared to leave. He said make me an offer
then, any offer. I knew the price I was prepared to pay, and
I told him, this is my offer, take it or leave it. He tried
for a while to get me off that price, coming down from his
asking price a dollar at a time. But I wouldn't budge. Finally
he got down to $1 each above my offer, and we had a deal.
I had fun choosing 5 colors, looking through all of the finest
pashminas that he had. What a relief to have them!
Then it was back
to the café across from Hotel Garuda, ringing my bell
as I walked. It was getting dark. I stopped into the Thangka
school between the café and the internet café.
It was a place where students learned the art of painting
Thangkas, which are elaborate, detailed paintings on silk
of Buddhist stories told in symbolic scenes. Rob and I had
visited some of the Thangka shops in Pokhara, and Rob was
very taken with a huge Thangka, which he thought would be
perfect for the new house in Scotland. There was a lot of
Buddhist connection there, and not just because he and Kay
had some appreciation of it. But the prices of the big ones
were understandably astronomical and he hadn't wanted to spend
thousands of dollars at this point in their lives.
Thangkas come in
some standard formats, portraying particular stories and characters.
There are many layers of painting, and the basic layers are
applied by apprentices. The finishing work is very detailed
and that is one way to tell a good one. Look carefully at
the details. I talked to the man in the school as a student
sat on the floor nearby, working on a Thangka. Do you sell
them, I asked. Yes, he said, and we discussed sizes and prices.
We negotiated a price for a particular size and style, and
he gave me the entire small stack of the ones he had available.
So I looked through every one of them with great care. One
had such clear and bright colors and good detail work that
it stood out from the rest, and it seemed to call out to me
that it was meant for our friends Mark, the religion scholar,
and his amazing wife Angel. And there was one other that stood
out. It was the same theme and similar colors to the one Rob
had liked in Pokhara, a miniature version of that one. I selected
that one, too, to give them as a wedding and house warming
gift. Not that it was a substitute for the big one, but I
knew they would like it even if it didn't belong on their
That was it for me.
I really should have bought more things to bring back, but
I didn't have it in me. And everything I had bought was something
I really liked. Back at the hotel I gave the woman at the
desk the last of my English tea as a thank you for her help.
That night we went to a tourist restaurant for vegetarian
pizza, which was pretty good. But next to us were some Americans
about my age and younger singing along with the too loud music,
Eagles tunes. Andy drank his beer and contemplated strangling
them. It was hard to carry on a conversation, but we did anyway.
It had been a fabulous adventure so far, and on so many levels,
we all agreed. Back in my room at the hotel, I prepared my
pack for leaving Nepal the following day.
travelogue is part of the subside