Tika Dai, our house helper, has very quickly become like a member of our family… He suggested that we all go for an outing to Godavari, a beautiful forested area in the southern part of the Kathmandu Valley. His Didi (didi = elder sister, not necessarily your own sister, but even a cousin or close family friend) lives there and wanted to have us over for lunch. We eagerly accepted the invitation as one of our desires here is to get to know and learn from local families. Godavari is approximately 10 kilometers away and one of the first questions was, “how should we get there?” Now a days, approximately 90% of our transportation is by bicycle, another 7% or so by foot, and the remainder by taxi. I suggested we try the local bus! Prakash has experimented with it a few times on his way to work, but the kids and I haven’t tried them yet. Tika Dai was a bit apprehensive about bus because our outing was on a Saturday, and this is the only day off in the week for most Nepali’s – so the buses may be overly crowded with hoards of locals also venturing out to the neighboring, scenic areas. Tika Dai had an alternative suggestion – he, Prakash and I would ride our bicycles, and his son, Siva, would take our 3 kids on his motorcycle! My initial mental response was, “no way! are you out of your mind!”, but I tactfully responded in my broken Nepali, “I’ll ask Prakash and get back to you”… Amusingly, Prakash’s initial response was, “what a great idea! the kids will have a ball!”. I quickly fired back with, “they won’t be wearing helmets, how will all four of them fit, we haven’t even met Siva, are you crazy?!?” Something inside told me to just go with it and not resist… So the plan was set!
Unfortunately, Tika Dai fell sick Thursday night, but after resting most of Friday, he said he’d be up for the outing. I barely slept Friday night just imagining my 3 little munchkins, riding on a MOTORCYCLE, with a man I don’t know, going to a place I’ve never been, to a family’s house we’ve never met!!! But my gut told me to just relax and TRUST… I did my best…
We woke up Saturday morning and had breakfast. Tika Dai looked okay; he was not 100% recovered but made up for it with his endless enthusiasm and optimism. Siva reached our place around 8am and the kids were all smiles, ear to ear – their first-ever motorcycle ride! Needless to say, they’d reach before we would (especially because Godavari is roughly 300 meters higher than where we live in the valley). We quickly mentioned to them before they sped off that we’ll get there, but it will take us a while longer… They weren’t worried one bit! I think Siva could sense my tension as I quickly called out, “Bistaarai bistaarai jaanus!!” (Please go slowly!)
We locked up and left within minutes. The gradual uphill climb was difficult but manageable for Prakash and me as we have 21-speed mountain bikes. Tika Dai, however, has a locally-made single-speed bike that really isn’t meant for hilly climbs.
His insufficient bike and lingering illness proved to be very arduous for him. After an hour or so, Tika Dai was really suffering, so he called his son to come help. It was a sight to see – two men on one motorcycle, pulling along a bicycle!
We reached 45 min or so after the kids. Komala Didi greeted us then continued to prepare lunch. Her husband works for the Central Government Fish Farm – their home was located within a large government compound along with several ponds with hundreds of fish and one large office building. His duties likely include caring for the ponds, managing the fish supply and maintaining the water quality within the ponds. On Saturdays he holds a second job and works in a corner store there in Godavari. They have two children, a twelve-year-old daughter and a 4 year-old-son. His combined salary is sufficient enough for the children to attend a private English-medium school. Her conversational English skills, surprisingly, were one of the best we’ve heard among the children of the working class!
They suggested we all take a short walk up to the highest point of the compound where a small family of deer are maintained. A few friendly visitors were hiding in the wet, grassy path – yup, more leeches! We each had a few hop into our sandals, but they are easily detected as a mild wetness in a corner of your foot. They are fairly harmless, however after the first was detected, we were more focused on our feet than enjoying the beautiful views. The boys couldn’t get enough of the motorcycle and raced up and down the road with Siva. After a bit, we all gathered to start eating.
The Nepali lunch was delicious! It always begins and ends with a large base of white basmati rice (bhaat). The second main dish is a savory lentil soup (daal). Nepal has a huge variety of leafy greens and a side dish of these sautéed with garlic is very common (saag). A special vegetarian dish usually served to guests is curried cheese cubes with vegetables, in this case bell peppers and tomatoes (paneer ra thulo khursani tarkari). Another curried vegetable dish with soya beans, peas, eggplant and potatoes was also served (mixed tarkaari). A cool salad – cucumbers spiced with cumin, and pickled vegetables – tomato and radish, rounded out the meal (salad and achaar). Cucumber slices are available in case the spice level gets too high (those were gone by the end of the meal!).
After lunch, we walked over the National Botanical Gardens – a beautifully protected space with numerous species of plants from all around the world. Tika Dai was correct – dozens of families and hundreds of youngsters (high school and college age kids) were out enjoying their one day off in the week.
Prakash commented on how young romantic couples in Nepal go to the Botanical Gardens to spend time together; in the US, you would find these couples at the movies, restaurants, beaches, fun parks… but not at a botanical garden!! Our kids had a ball running around and frolicking in the water.
As usual, I was rushing everyone… we needed to leave the garden so we could get back to Komala Didi’s house, get our bikes and start our downhill ride home (and I still had to prepare dinner for the night)! I wanted to make sure we reached before darkness came – we surely did miss the night but were drenched with rain instead!! One of the strongest rain falls this season started when we were about half way home. We went through puddles over 6-inches deep and as wide as the entire road! We reached home dripping wet, but were welcomed by a warm bath, dry clothes, and 3 happy (and wet) children :-).
Overall, a very out-of-the-box, unique and special experience…