Sunrise at Nagarkot, Tea Mishaps & Folk Songs

Trip Start Jul 20, 2013
Trip End Aug 15, 2013

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

4am hit and my alarm went off.  By some miracle I woke up without grogginess or trouble and tip toed toward the locked main door of the floor.  I had about ten minutes to make it outside.  THe lock wouldn't budge.  I couldn't see a thing and there was no light to be turned on anyway, nor did I want to wake any of the family up with my raucus.  I felt around the lock-mechanism-thing for a button or knob I might've missed.  No amount of fiddling could get it open.  At a random point it gave in and the door swung open.    I stepped out onto the drizzly balcony to watch for Dhruba's car. 

Our rendezvous time came and went.  I remembered we never quite clarified where t meet.  He said he'd pick me up by the house and brushed it off like it wasn't a problem, but I couldn't be sure he knew exactly which house I was at.  I heard an alarm go off in Sudip's room; I think he was waking up specifically to make sure I made it out okay.  He said he'd unlock the main gate (I completely forgot it would be locked too) and suggested I wait streetside, as the house was set in a bit from the road.  We both noticed a grey car driving back and forth a few times.  Sure enough, it was Dhruba.  We were now a good 20 minutes behind schedule and apologized to each other for the miscommunication.  Laughing it off, Dhruba took off toward Nagarkot.  The barkeep and I talked quite a bit on the first half of the drive but once the winding mountain roads hit, I think we mutually decided there were more important things to focus on.

The weather was lucky this morning.  From Nagarkot's peak we could see the entire Kathmandu valley and snow line beyond with just enough clouds for a degree of mysteriousness.  Dhruba said on a completely clear day in fall, one could see Mt. Everest from here.  We could only see the first range of mountains but it was good enough for me. 

After Nagarkot we swung by a hill-perched temple named Changunath with its own epic lightly misted view of the valley, a few stone slights of stairs above a medieval town of the same name.  Apparently this was the oldest temple in the valley, very atmospheric.  Neither of us had eaten a decent breakfast so, scenery admiring complete, we returned to The Hut where Swaruj was already whipping up some omelets.  I could feel the lack of sleep hitting me now.  We made one more drive out, this time to Bouddhanath stupa in the Tibetan enclave of the city, admired it some and returned to Pepsi for good.  I thanked Dhruba for the drive and made for home.

It was now lunch time.  Sudip was still around studying for his exam, so I wasn't locked out of the house.  No one else was home though so I retreated to bed to squeeze in some extra shut eye.  Sleep didn't come.  I started scribbling in my notebook but quickly grew tired of that too.  For lack of anything else to do, or a desire to brave traffic chaos and go back into the city, I returned to The Hut for some more food. 

"Back so soon?  Haha," Swaruj joked.  I ordered some "boneless chicken chili," which pleasantly turned out to be a gloriously spicy Nepali rendition of Chinese sweet & sour chicken.  Dhruba came back, surprised to see me, and more random chat was had.  I passed on the Everest this time though, it was still too early and some strong spicy chiya (chai) sounded better.  Eventually though, it was clear I needed to get up and move on.  At around 2-3 I returned to the house.

"Back so soon? Haha," I could swear remembering Sudip also joking.

I wrote in my notebook for quite a while this time, then walked upstairs to see who was home.  The grandmother was visiting but spoke no English.  Sudip was busy.  His friend Jagdish was around so I tried chatting with him some, but he seemed a bit down and out or simply tired.  It was a slow afternoon in general.  I relocated to the bed, then back upstairs, then the bed, back and forth not wanting to get in anyone's way but feeling a bit restless.  Sudip must've noticed and walked in to check on me.

Unfortunately for me, he walked in right as I was squeezing toothpaste into my mouth to get the garlic chili off my breath. 

"Charlie... what ( are you doing?"
"Erhm, my mouth felt sour from garlic chili so I was trying to freshen my breath, I don't have any gum."  I didn't want to fully brush my teeth for momentary lack of bottled water.
He cocked is eyebrows as if to say "oohlala," maybe silently joking (or thinking?) I planned on going on a date.  Who knows.  Oops.

He repeatedly asked if I was having fun and enjoying myself, I assured him I was... which was the truth, it was just a slow hour and I'd drunk too much chiya. Reassured I guess, Sudip went back to his studying and I went back to my writing.  A dozen or so minutes later he returned.

"Charlie!  Susaan is making the Taiwan tea for you, come look! Haha.  It is so funny I think."  Among my random edible gifts from Taiwan was a tin of classy-looking oolong tea from Maokong.  Oolong tea must be brewed in a very different way from Indian/Nepali black tea.

I followed Sudip into the kitchen and beheld Susaan destroying the leaves in an open frying pan of boiling water.  I stretched out my hand and leapt up in extreme slow motion, shouting "Noooo..." or so it felt. 

I explained to Susaan that oolong tea can't be directly boiled or its nutrients will be destroyed and the brew ruined.  He listened carefully.  Luckily, since the first brew shouldn't be drunk anyway (it's meant to clean the leaves), I could tell him to chuck the first batch without hurting any feelings.  One round two, he threw some fresh water into the pan and again started boiling the tea leaves just as I'd warned not to.  I guess I'd have to write the instructions down somewhere.  Still, this was awesome and mildly hilarious. 

"Will it be good if I add milk?" Susaan asked.  I thought so and he added some in.  We later came to the conclusion it was better without milk.

Proud of the tea he'd made, Susaan poured it into three metal cups and brought it on a platter down to Sudip's room.  Random brotherly chatting happened here, Susaan asked a ton of questions about tea, Sudip continued to pull his hair out over the exams, and the drinking was finished.  I was then issued new orders.

"Now we will go on a walk.  Come."  Yes sir. 

Susaan again led me to his Aunt's house, this time with her family actually present.  I initially sat down with Laxmi & the aunt in what looked like a common room, but was politely suggested to move to the TV room where Susaan & his elder cousin were watching Titanic.  The aunt came in soon after and warmly welcomed me with what was now the day's 6th or 7th cup of black tea.  At some point I knocked it over, still searing hot, and spilled it on their beautiful rug.  Only the kids saw this and it dried invisibly.  They kept my secret but I reported my party foul to the aunt anyway.  She didn't seem to care and laughed it off.

About a half or full hour later we left and walked home.  Laxmi followed us a bit later.  On the walk, Susaan asked if I would race him to the next corner.  The street (practically a sidewalk) was clear and straight, there didn't seem to be any reason not to.  Still something irked me.  I realized I'd never seen anyone run in Pepsikola.  There had to be a reason for this.  Was there a Hindu regulation against running?  Surely not.

Before I could respond, Susaan took off.  I chased and easily caught up with him.  A psychotic motorbike careened around the corner at full speed and I realized why no one ran in town.  Susaan was never near it but I nearly got my toes clipped off.  He didn't want to stop running.  Lacking a choice, I had to raise my voice a bit and sharply order him to a halt.  Susaan listened without complaint.  I turned around to watch for traffic in the opposite direction and saw Laxmi a block or two down.  We waited for her to catch up and went back to the house together.

Upstairs on the roof, Laxmi, Susaan and I sat and chatted.  I asked Laxmi if I could follow her to the health post she worked at tomorrow morning and she seemed to like the idea.  I might be able to meet one of the foreign volunteers there too.  I remembered a Nepali folk song she'd taught me in '08, "Resam Phriri," asked her about it and prompted a motherly sing-a-long in the electricity-less darkness.  Isha came over at some point to show me old photos of the family.  I learned Manabi had actually been born in India and taken in by the family, something inaudible had happened to her parents.

Right on schedule around 9, dal bhat was served, this time upgraded from rice to roti and curd.  We all scarfed it down and said goodnight.  In the downstairs common room, against battery powered lantern light, I received another Nepali language lesson from Susaan and was permitted to sleep as soon as I passed a spelling quiz.

"Well improved, Charles.  Good progress," he wrote on the quiz.  Teacher in training?

"When is it you will be leaving?" 
"Not tomorrow, but the next day."
Susaan didn't answer.
"How long were you in Taiwan?"
"2 years."
"And only five days here..."

Susaan was clearly a bit sad.  I tried to explain the difference between the two places, one was a job, this was just for travel, and I think (hope) he understood.  At around 10, following some study help for Susaan's next exam,  I retreated for the night.

There was only one more full day to go and it hardly felt like enough time.

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