Bhaktapur & Sudip's Rotary Club
Trip Start Jul 20, 2013
7Trip End Aug 15, 2013
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"You have to go to school, I don't."
Susaan had barged in and taken it upon himself to be my human alarm clock. I answered with groans. Still, I should set a good example I suppose. I pulled myself up and made my way upstairs. Everyone left for their respective schools as normal while I sat down for another morning chat with Laxmi over spicy masala chiya (tea.) The sun was out for the third day in a row, this alleged monsoon season seemed pretty tame so far. One of the girls, or maybe Susaan, I forgot, mentioned flooding the week before, but it seemed I missed that fun. The mountains on the horizon remained hidden though despite the good weather.
I decided that I'd do my sightseeing in the morning when everyone was at work or school and come back by 3-5, same as them, to spend time with the family. Today's outing would be to Bhaktapur, a medieval UNESCO world heritage town a managable minibus ride away that was one of my favorite areas of the valley. I was more nervous than I should've been taking the bus by myself for the first time since the previous trip; there was no reason to worry though.
I followed the now-paved path along the river to the main road and started walking east. Before long I heard the musical horn of an approaching bus and squeezed aboard. The bus lurched forward.I put one hand in my wallet pocket and the other on what I thought was a hand rail. It was actually a random metal rod someobe was holdibg up for balance and I nearly cost us both our balance. The man shot me a dirty look. The bus was crowded but not enough to justify climbing to the roof, a bit of a shame really. Riding on the roof was always fun. We rumbled along the Bhaktapur road passing farmers thrushing grain, underfed kids playing ball and bright saris blazing in the wind as an almost tragic Nepali love song blasted on the minibus's speakers. We passed Duwakot, the site of OCRC - the orphanage I worked at, and I could feel my throat swelling up a bit. Memories rushed back yet again.
Within fifteen minutes we reached the magnificently preserved old center of Bhaktapur. I walked around slowly taking it all in with surprisingly few touts coming up to sell me things. None of the other tourists, mostly Asian, were in big noisy organized groups and the atmosphere survived. I found lunch on one of the many rooftop tourist cafes in the main temple square and ate unfortunately mediocre chicken curry. I eavesdropped on the other two customers, Chinese girls judging by the fact that they were speaking Chinese to each other: There was a clear language barrier at work between the Nepali waiter, who spoke good English but was quite quiet and shy, and the girls who spoke weak English and were not as shy.
(to waiter): "No, no, no rice. Noodles, we want noodles," or something to that effect.
I immediately regretted not picking up more Mandarin in Taiwan, it would've been neat to converse with them in Chinese or at least help the stressed waiter out.
Following lunch I wandered around some more in the direction of the bus park. This didn't take long, Bhaktapur was a small place. All the buses were deserted and there didn't seem to be a tout on hand to point me the right way. I noticed a group of woman in matching saris getting on the foremost bus. A man took note of how lost I probably looked and stepped out of a chiya stall to help out.
"Where are you going?"
"Yes, this bus goes to Pepsi." He pointed to the one the women just got on. "Where are you from?"
Our chat was brief and slightly awkward, mostly my fault for having lost the ability to make small talk with random strangers in ever-socially-anxious-toward-foreigners Taiwan. I appreciated his friendliness. A few minutes later the bus trundled off toward Pepsi. Once there I pounded the wall for a stop but wasn't assertive enough, missing the mark by a few blocks. The fare collector gave the driver a helpful whistle.
Back home, I found the gate locked. It was still early in the afternoon and everyone was likely still away. I repeated the previous day's routine and made for The Hut. This time Dhruba was already there and we immediately hit the Everest. We had a good chat about more random things, this time with Swaruj joining in. He apologized again for his poor English but the more I talked to him, the more serviceable it seemed. Two or so hours killed, I went home again to find Sudip's motorbike in the driveway and the gate open.
Everyone was going about their "just got home from busy-ness" routine so I laid down to write. Sudip's friend Dipak, who accompanied us on a walk to Kopan Monastery in 2008, walked in and we started catching up on things. He was still in university and I think in a good relationship with his girlfriend. He said he was looking for hospitality work in Dubai or Malaysia and asked if I knew anything about it, or if it was possible for a Nepali to find such a job in the US. I confessed my ignorance except on a ton of articles I'd read in the news about Dubai companies scamming South Asians into de-facto slave labor. He seemed surprised by this. He had a friend working for some company there and apparently that friend was fine. At some point he also offered me a certain kind of smokeable. I declined. He was very disappointed with this and kept begging me to try. I kept declining and eventually he stopped trying. I saw Susaan studying well within earshot in the adjacent room and changed the subject. Eventually we went into Sudip's room to distract poor stressed Sudip from his own studies.
After a brief chat with Sudip, Laxmi and Dipak about school and jobs, Sudip invited me on a motorbike ride to a friend's house. He had an errand to run there related to the local Rotary volunteer club he ran with his friends. I hopped on the back of his bike and we were there in minutes. Darkness had fallen by now and Pepiskola's streets were lit with temple lights, small roadside fires and candles. Streetlamps were still in short supply despite the newly paved roads.
We were warmly namaste-ed at this friend's house by a little girl and her mother praying by their candle-lit Shiva shrine. His friend walked down to greet us and we went up to his room. Sudip had to hand him some paperwork for their rotary work. We discussed this for a bit and it dawned on me to ask how OCRC (orphanage) was doing. Apparently it wasn't doing well, the current caretakers were struggling (or not trying), the didi (mother/nun/cook) had recently been killed from sickness and they ran out of school supplies. Sudip asked if I could donate about a proportionally-negligible amount of money new notebooks and pens. Sure, why not. I thought of this as my payment for the family hosting me as it would've been embarrassing to them to accept money from a guest (honorary family member if you asked them) directly. I had to give something. In two days we'd get the books and drive them over to OCRC.
Home again. Susaan, now finished with his studying for the night, had some games ready which killed the remaining time until dal bhat was ready. These included random balloon volleyball, the Question Game, and some random "ice skating on the linoleum" thing that I was too proud to try. This time the girls joined us all for dinner, though they remained pretty quiet. Most of the chatting was between Susaan and I, as usual. Sudip didn't join this time.
I had to sleep early this time because the next morning, Dhruba and I were planning to drive up to Nagarkot viewpoint for sunrise. 4:00am was the scheduled rendevous. I apologized to Susaan for cutting our after dinner convo short and went to bed. Forgetting to lock him out of his own room...
"Would you rather fly or be invisible?"
I obliged. After a few rounds of Would You Rather & (G-rated) Never Have I Ever, which I'm sure will be a new hit in Nepali primary schools, I had to insist the conversation end. At some point he confessed to being very afraid of the dark, which kind of surprised me. He went back to his sisters' room and I tried, mostly failing, to sleep. It was a bit hot this night and I was anxious about potentially sleeping through the 4-5 alarms I'd set.