house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 10 March 2017

One Weekend, Three Oases

Almost two weeks in Nepal, but only one weekend when I was more or less awake and functional, i.e. not jet lagged, dizzy, overwhelmed or lost.

It started with a walk to Patan Dhoka. Dhoka means gate. It divides a warren of chaotic streets from more of the same. But there, in a noisy, nondescript corner, is the the First Oasis, a cafe in a walled garden. We discover it by chance (in the shape of Moona being nosy and pushing the metal door open). It reminds of Kuch Khaas in Islamabad - down to the lassi and pancakes they serve, and the newspapers we clutch. Only the articles are different. Obama was in the White House on those golden Sundays at Kuch Khaas, and we hadn't heard the word Brexit.

Cafe Cheeno is M's way to ease me gently into the weekend whirlwind he's planned. Friday in a place called Shivapuri on the northern rim of the Kathmandu valley, a brisk hike, inspecting a pottery place and some more driving around before the 'real drive' tomorrow to another place in Nuwakot (read: much further and along a way more perilous road). I'm contemplating this (while my stomach contemplates the lassi) when we're almost run over by two cyclists. They're friends of ours (and clearly mad: they cycle in this city!), we chat, they make a suggestion: "why don't you stay the night in Shivapuri, instead of drive back here?"

And there we find it: the second oasis. M. sends an email to a guesthouse called Chandra Ban. Yes, they'll give us a bed for the night. Instructions are sent, quoting a temple of the sleeping Vishnu, a village school, a 20-minute walk. Some time later and somewhat bedraggled we arrive - met by a memorable St Bernard, Tsering (St. Bernard size, puppy heart) and three memorable words from the landlady:

"You're my cousins."

What? The implications (and the plate-sized paws on our shoulders) threaten to topple us.

"What?" M. manages.
"There's no doubt. There can't be many with your name. Besides, you came to my wedding. I'm Camilla," the lady adds. Their mothers are first cousins, it turns out. She smiles, and I see the resemblance with my mother in law. M. remembers the wedding, in Venice. He's been in Nepal for over a year and had no idea Camilla was here. And she has been here for about two decades. I'm trying to feel superior, but then I remember I myself have no clue what my second cousins are up to, except in the vaguest terms, and I doubt I'd recognise them in the street.

Camilla and Luca are charming, and so is Chandra Ban. It feels like home, instantly. We walk (M. sprints, I huff) half-way to a nuns' monastery. A ginger dog walks in front, a Nepali man with a radio a few steps behind. The radio emits flute melodies of such loveliness that the forest around (a sparse, stoic side of hill) seems to vibrate. In contrast, the man looks like a prison guard - squat and unsmiling. Eventually my fitness level dictates that the prison guard should overtake. When he gets on a level with us (M. sprightly, me the shade of a nicely ripening aubergine) he bursts into a blinding smile and insists on showing us the way (the path we're on, i.e. the only path). The flute trills and fades in the steep distance. In turn, we pass the ginger dog, who's having a nap.

Back at Chandra Ban, Tsering is not having a nap, no sir: he wants to play - so sweet and funny that I forget he weighs half a ton. Some time later, and with creaking lumbar discs, we dine and restore two decades to the family history. Lower in the valley, the city throbs with noise, fumes, the temporary madness of the Shivaratri festival, strangers, strangeness. Here is family. I don't want to go away.


At 16 March 2017 at 05:51 , Blogger Rupert Wolfe-Murray said...

I went to their wedding too...

I'm glad you "discovered" these cousins as I intend to go and visit them next week. I'm looking forward to hanging out with the hound.

At 17 March 2017 at 18:09 , Blogger emwolfem said...

Please give Camilla a big hug. She and Luca are wonderful and so is their place, Chandra Ban (it means Moon Forest).


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