Ah, Moon of my Delight, who know’st no wane.
The Moon of Heaven rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me – in vain!
– from the Rubayat of Omar Khayyam
Jennifer Connelly once stepped into a world of dreams, a dream that contained the Labyrinth – an immense fortress of tumultuous twists and hidden pathways. Her end found her baby brother being held by a spandex’ed David Bowie. My labyrinthine end found a dream.
Just west of the Narayanhiti palace stands a red brick wall stretching onward to the congested area of Thamel – Kathmandu’s tourist hub. There is a certain spot in which the wall gives way to an obscure path. On a regular day in Kathmandu your face would be down to shield your eyes from the dust and your nose from the pollution. Most days we would not have seen where the wall gives way. Today was not like most days.
Our journey had been an adventure. My wife and I had planned it so. We had set off from Abu Dhabi, by way of Muscat, with hardly a room booked. The backpacks on our shoulders and the camera attached to my belt were the only signs of our foreign origin; apart from my freckled nose, of course. We had flown into Kathmandu seven days before and had immediately “tourist bussed” our way into the heart of Nepal. I say the heart quite literally, as the culture and lifeblood of the country surely flowed from the Annapurna Mountain Range in the western region of Nepal, our destination.
The eight-hour bus ride rolled by quickly as we could barely catch our breaths from one turn before the next curve had stolen it away again. The views of mountain farms and snaking rivers gave us all the entertainment any traveler could desire. Each stop along the way, though brief, brought forth a new slew of perspectives and ideas. Squat pots made us gag. Coffee signs made us laugh. Karate kicking teenage bus attendants made us smile. We were enthralled in every moment, and every moment took us further away from the busy world we’d left behind.
Upon arriving in the Pokhara region, we found the small town of Lakeside to be quaint, charming, and inviting – our shoulder muscles began to soften immediately. We didn’t know we could be more relaxed until we took a boat out on Phewa Lake the next day. We reclined comfortably with oars balanced over both sides, dripping into the calm waters. The paragliders from the nearby adventure company floated down upon us as we drifted with the current. I was at peace. Not even the gliders screams of “This is sooo coooool!” could arouse me from my quiet pose.
Two hours later we rowed back to land, yet our relaxation did not end as our feet touched the shores of Lakeside. It would continue through meal and activity alike. Whether we were climbing the Sarangkot mountain to enjoy the sunrise cresting the peaks of the Himalayas, or the frosty Everest beers served to us by the playful Nepalese at the local pubs, the peace of Pokhara remained.
However, this was only half our adventure. The city loomed ahead…
We had decided to spend three nights in Kathmandu to experience the ins and outs of Nepal. We were not disappointed. From the moment we stepped off the bus we were knee deep in muck, figurative and literal. Three small men attacked us in hopes of earning a taxi fare while horns blared from every direction. Our “No, thank you” was barely audible as we attempted to cover our nose and mouths with bandanas to protect us from the smog.
Through the dense brick and concrete jungle of Nepal’s automotive district, we maneuvered slowly, stopping at any well-lit establishment in search of a map and a bathroom. Twenty construction workers shoveling nearby bricks chose the precise moment when we were entering two dingy gas station bathrooms to begin their midday break, as they watched us enter and depart the facilities. We were happy to have distracted them from their labor with a show but we couldn’t stay for an encore as we were still in search of a map. It took us three hours to find one, and by the time we did, it had started to rain.
The rest of our days in Kathmandu, were much the same as the first three hours – searching, walking, and being politely stared at and/or harassed by locals. It was busy and full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Albeit interesting, there was not much beauty in Nepal in the traditional sense. The Hindu temples were full of character and spirit while the streets were crowded and colorful. But they all had a certain grit. Many of our daily endeavors ended with a deep exhalation, one which we hadn’t even known we’d held. The city captivated us while we simultaneously held our breath. That was until the red brick wall.
Narayanhiti Palace was said to be one of the most exquisite attractions in all of Nepal. Unfortunately for us, we missed the visiting hours. We dejectedly crossed the street and a car, which I’m sure I could pick up with one hand, nearly hit us. It careened through the cross walk and off into the hazy distance. Our adrenaline was high but our spirits were low as we went in search of a dinner spot. Dinner would inevitably be put on hold as we saw an opening in the wall we were walking past.
“Let’s go inside”, my wife said.
It was as if the city fell from beneath us and all that was left was a flourishing paradise in the sky. Children frolicked playfully by the iridescent green pools. Men and women laughed together as they lay head-to-chest on the lush velvety grass. Broad archways arced across the pathways as chipmunks perched on nearby shrubbery. This couldn’t be. I’d spent near four days snaking my way through all of Kathmandu. Our trek around the city had availed us countless stories and tales of interest, most of which included a rustic temple, or a gritty alley, but none had ever touched upon serenity. We found a bench in a far corner to quietly observe if serenity was truly what we had found.
Ten feet away, horns blared and pedestrians fled for their lives in the busy street. The endless dust floated through the air and found homes in and upon the passersby. Men hacked and women wheezed as they scurried from place to place with heads down and faces covered.
As for my wife and I?
We inhaled deeply, the fresh garden air, for where the wall gave way, the dream began.