house of happy

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

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Sky Gate to Nepal

Turkish Airlines night flight from Istanbul to Kathmandu. There are far fewer blue-eyed travellers on this flight, and hardly any foam ruffs. It's cold, but the guy next to me smells of sweat. Maybe he had to run to his gate. He's friends with the guy on my other side, they chat above my head in a language that sounds like an arty fusion of Urdu and Mandarin. Urdarin?

They both smile widely - another sign, perhaps, that we've left Europe. They also smile at me, when I happen to catch their eye. But I can't dwell on that; I'm too busy with a more alarming sight.

A tall man is making his way down the aisle. Long kurta, skullcap, beard; and a grim, grim expression frozen on his face. I read determination, menace, hatred even and I know beyond a doubt that as we eat our curry and start our second film, he will detonate his luggage and we will all die.

How do I stop that?

I fidget, without taking my eyes off the Islamic fellow. If he looks in my direction, he will at least know that I know. I notice there's a willowy woman in his tow. What an elaborate deception. She seems to float through the knot of passengers heaving bags, dropping coats and generally standing in each other's way. Mr. Grim and Ms. Serene inch closer, but there's a final obstacle in the shape of a toddler throwing a tantrum in the aisle. Maybe that will push him over the edge?

The kid appears impossible to drag away or pacify. Oh go on, I'm beginning to think, push that button already and save us all from this hell. And that's when it happens: I catch his eye. Unfortunately the steely expression on my face, the steam coming out of my ears are more to do with the toddler's squeals than the world threat he, the Arab, represents. And I know that he knows it - because he smiles. His face crinkles in mirth and his clear hazel eyes roll up ever so discreetly.

So he's not gonna blow up the plane.

How could I think that? What sort of a monster am I? Made-by-the-media, I think, and shrink in my seat, and exhale just as discreetly, the thinnest stream of air that goes on for a long, long time.) I should know better, having lived in not one, not two, but three - or was it four? - Islamic nations, and all truly gentle and peaceful and kind. Maybe I should get up and apologise to the man (... the toddler still thrashing and trumpeting in the aisle complicates matters somewhat - and when I look up the couple have vanished in their seats. How many toddlers have thwarted noble intentions in the course of history? Someone should look into that... )

This is when I note that my two neighbours are saying something in English, to me. We chat. They are ridiculously friendly: a businessman / restaurateur from Pokhara (dream: to grow and export blueberries) and a student who left uni in order to start his business ("like Western Union, but better". Dreams: freedom; the World). In a short time, they've told me all I need to know about Nepal. When to visit (not now), where (not Kathmandu). People to see, religions and foods to sample. Journeys to take, even the plane to catch, that would take me buzzing around Everest, a scary but worthwhile ride.

They also tell me what to write on my landing card, since I have no clue where Moona lives. After consulting briefly in their sing-song Urdarin, my two guides inform me that during my stay in Nepal I shall reside in a place named Thamel.

We're now circling the somewhat scary skies above Kathmandu. Peaks surround the valley and smog fills it. Light is thick and golden, like chicken broth. Is it even possible to land in this?

We do; and some indescribable chaos later, I emerge and there's Moona, waiting before a throng of waiting Nepalese. I'm not sure if hugging is allowed. It is, it turns out.

P.S. Oh and he doesn't live in Thamel.


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