The flight from Chitwan to Kathmandu provided a magnificent view of the mountain range that surrounds the bustling city; it was magnificent.
Joy, our trusted driver, and Rishi, the proprietor of the Sunrise Cottage, were waiting for me at the baggage claim when I arrived. For domestic flights the baggage claim is an open-sided structure covered with a tin roof, expertly staffed. No luggage leaves the sight without a claim ticket…of course I could not find mine! After some discussion between the baggage attendant and Rishi an allowance was made. Rishi provided the baggage attendant assurances and a business card just in case it turned out that I was actually stealing the backpack, and off we went. Minutes later I found my baggage claim ticket and we all had a good laugh.
Arriving at the Sunrise Cottage was like a reunion. My momentary apprehension about arriving solo, minus the elephant care team which I had so identified with for the past month, was obviously a wasted concern. I felt right at home. The bandh of the past week had driven many of the tourists from the city, leaving me with the pick of the rooms. I decided on a second floor room with walls of windows on two sides which looked out onto an ancient gnarled tree that felt like the mother herself.
Knowing my way around town was invigorating. I needed a few supplies and felt strangely empowered navigating through the sea of noisy vehicles and preoccupied tourists mingling through the richly colorful shops. Stocking up on staples such as laundry detergent and batteries gave me the sense of being a local. This destination, not really Kathmandu but the suburb of Thamel, is a starting point for the hugely popular activity of trekking. Interestingly enough, the tourists include few Americans.
On this, my last night in Thamel, I headed to my favorite eating establishment located on the border of tourist-ville and the local turf. Tucked a few feet off of the busy road, and I do mean a few feet, it is a tiny place. I literally have to duck my head to get through the door. Seating is familiar, some might say crowded, but that is the flavor of the place. I comfortably settled into a seat by a wall of open windows and studied the menu while two young boys played hide and seek in the shadows.
After I ordered, the place began to fill up, which is not hard to do when you only have a few tables. Some VIPs had gathered in the back room. A group of trekkers arrived with a large dog in tow and slid into the table directly in front of me. Even though dogs are all over the place, my experience has taught me that they are not seen as companion animals or pets. Instead they are treated more like wild or feral animals, allowed to come and go at will. If they choose to stay around your house or establishment they are, most of the time, allowed, as long as they do not become a nuisance. Even if a dog stays at your house continually, it is not customary to feed him/her regularly.
I know it may sound cruel but, according to custom, dogs are not allowed indoors. They are viewed as dirty, disease-infested animals. This attitude is held even by many veterinarians and stems from the reality that dogs can infect humans with rabies. Since there are no requirements for dogs to be vaccinated against rabies, it is understandable that the culture has developed to not associate with dogs on a personal level.
Dogs customarily have a life of their own, free to run the streets, hanging out in the locations of their choice throughout the day and night. Not surprisingly, the dog the foreigners had brought into the restaurant was causing quite a stir, especially with the young boys who abandoned their game of hide and seek to stare at the dog. Not only was this dog large, he was on a leash and he was inside their restaurant.
When my food arrived so did a large group of young people. There were only two small unoccupied tables. Since I was sitting at a table for four I offered to share my table. The group graciously accepted. I learned that this group was traveling from China. We had a wonderful conversation and I left feeling enriched by the evening’s experience.
I was scheduled to fly from Kathmandu to Kolkata (Calcutta) the following morning. The next leg of my adventure was about to begin. But I had one last thing to do…present the donations made by Pawan Kali’s supporters to the zoo.