We were, indeed, up at 3:00 am to catch the 6:30 am to KTM. One of the wonderful things about Ethan is he gets up and goes. I always worry but always without reason.
They hassled me over my walking sticks at the check in. Even if I had Schwarzenegger strength I couldn’t stab someone with one of them. They insisted that they weren’t walking sticks but ski poles. I insisted they were walking sticks not ski poles. They sent me off to register them in one place. I came back and had a further argument, which I won, taking the sticks on board with me.
We were late getting out of immigration in KTM because I could not find my passport-sized photos and then, because we wanted to pay by card, we had to wait until everyone else had gone through. Plus the man charged Ethan for 30 days rather than me, causing the transaction to be done twice. But, and this is a triumphant BUT, we were met by a young man, can’t call up his name, from Himalayan Expeditions, my trekking agency.
This may seem small so I will explain. There are places on this earth where it is a fearsome thing to arrive without support—any Indian airport or rail station in the middle of the night. The KTM airport is on this list. You walk out the door into a wall of men who want you in their car and you have no idea what the price should be. The simple phrase, “Taxi, Madam?” is a battle cry that announces your defeat even as it opens the engagement.
The said young man, wearing a beautiful elephant hair bracelet, ushered us to a car where we sat in relative peace while the frenetic KTM world danced about us on feet, two wheels, three wheels, four wheels and more. I was watching Ethan with some anxiety since this was his first Third World Country. To me the basic definition of Third World is: poor, dirty, a place where things don’t work. To an American the third may be the most incomprehensible. Things should work. But Ethan was immediately entranced by the liveliness of the streets.
I should explain. Ethan is not my grandson, nor is his brother, we are not blood relations, but they are my grandsons, most definitely and emphatically.
I had booked us into the Kathmandu Guest House for sentimental reasons. When I first came to KTM in 1979 with a group of anthropologists lead by Prof. Messerschmitt of the University of Washington, it was the only guest house in town outside of Boris’s Yak and Yeti Hotel which Boris did not own anymore, more about Boris later. Last year they were hit by the earthquake and part of the structure is gone but the garden is charming with little platforms piled with cushions on which to lounge, palm trees, flowers in pots.
They had us both in the same room, so that had to be adjusted. But because we had come in so early we were on the way down to Durbar Square by a little after 10 am, picking up cash at an ATM on the way.
We had to pay 1,000R to enter the Square but we could get a ticket that would be good for two weeks of free entry. The Square is simply sad; heaps of bricks where temples used to be; props holding up the cracked exterior walls of the palaces. The home of the Living Goddess seems to be intact. The little post office that used to be here has been closed because the building is in a dangerous condition. Therefore my postcard lady is no longer there.
For years I have bought my postcards from a woman who sells them beside the post office. She and her husband sent their daughters to college. They are now both married, working and producing, to their mother’s chagrin, more daughters. You are supposed to produce males not females and it is the woman’s fault when this doesn’t happen. When I came to KTM after the earthquake to see friends and the damage for myself, (some of you may have received that blog), the PO was open but I missed my card lady every time I came. However, the postmistress told me she and her family were all right, although their house had collapsed and they were, like many in KTM living in a tent. I was able to get them money through my trekking company, Himalayan Expeditions, who sent me a picture of her so I would know the money had reached the right woman. I thought that maybe she had transferred operations down to the main post office.
We stopped to say hello to a man who owns the hotel I used to stay at on the Square until a baby rat ran across me two nights in succession. The Sugat is a delightful small hotel with tables where you can have breakfast on the roof overlooking Basantapur Square which is right next to Durbar Square, but the baby rat was too much for me.
We took a taxi to Durbar Marg where my favorite dress designer in KTM has her shop, the eponymous Yasmine Studio. The woman who runs operations for Yasmine in her absence, Shirish, was there. Ethan went off to explore and Shirish and I caught up on the last year. Her handsome, gracious husband and young daughter were there. To my delight her daughter is hooked on Harry Potter. I confessed that I have read all the HP books and seen all the movies. I think Rowling has gifted us with a superb new classic. Also she strikes me as being an admirable human being.
Shirish asked us to lunch in the next few days.
Ethan and I then went to lunch at the Annapurna Café before walking back to the KTM Guest House passing two blocks of anguish inducing beggars, one of which was a baby, a month or two old, lying alone, swaddled up, in the sun. There was also a leper with bandaged hands and feet lying on his back. This is always a difficult passage but Ethan managed as well as one can.
We stopped by a hat shop where I always intend to buy hats for Ethan and his brother but never do. By this time I realized that Ethan had picked up a few words of Nepali. This is one of the things that makes him great to travel with. He even tried Thai last year, Thai being tonal is a real challenge, to the delight of Moon. I realized that all my fears were needless. Ethan was entranced with Nepal and the Nepalis.
That night I spent time working out an entent cordial with my squeaking ceiling fan—no earplugs.