The world sometimes feels like a small place. What are the chances I would know someone who knew someone who lives in Dhulikhel, Nepal? And that I would get a thourough tour of the almost completed Basic Sciences building of the Kathmandu University medical campus?
My friend Aimee, who taught for 6 weeks at Kathmandu University as part of a joint Harvard Med School program, put me in touch with a friend of hers, DG and his wife Laxmi. We are always interested in meeting locals or expats in the places we travel to. It gives an entire extra dimension to visit – observing first hand small customs (instead of just reading about it), and being served a home cooked meal is always fun and enlightening.
Our dubious travel karma continued as we took a cab to the city bus station. DG told me that it was 30 rupees to take the bus, easily recognizable because there would be a guy standing in the door of the bus shouting “Dhulikel Dhulikel Dhulikel” over and over as fast as an auctioneer. When the taxi driver heard where we wanted to go, he was sad, shaking his head, and kindly let us know that there was Maoist strike, and that buses were not traveling to Dhulikhel that day. But he, as a taxi, would be allowed to pass, and he would take us for a mere 9000 rupees. We refused to heed him, and said we would check at the bus station anyway. We were dropped off at a bus station, and asked for Dhulikhel, and all we got were people shaking their heads at us, understanding we wanted to go to Dhulikhel, but not speaking English. We looked at each other and thought for a moment that the taxi driver was actually right, when we decided to ask a random guy on the street who looked like he might speak English.
In fact, he directed us around the corner, to the Intercity bus terminal, and not the long distance terminal! The cab driver deliberately tried to trick us by dumping us at the wrong bus station, which of course would not have buses to Dhulikhel. Gotta be on our toes…
DG met us on the side of the road, and took us to his home on the campus and to meet his wife. Kathmandu University (KU) was located among lush rolling green hills covered with terraced rice paddies. His home, temporary housing provided by KU for staff, consisted of a one room hut with a tin roof, covering no more than 300 square feet, with a patch of land for gardening. It was cozy, and homey, and we were warmly welcomed. Laxmi had a meal waiting for us as we settled in, and were served a delicious Nepali meal of several preparations of potatoes, dal bhat (lentils, much more soup like than I had imagined) and rice. I am always thrilled when I get to taste home cooked meals, and see what kind of semblance there is to what is served in the restaurants!
We were treated to the story of how DG and his wife met. In short, acting on his sister’s pre-screening of the girl and her family, he choose Laxmi within THREE HOURS of meeting her, and they were married by the end of the weekend. That takes the cake for shortest dating AND engagement time yet.
DG was very gracious, and took pains to set up a thourough tour of KU despite his clearly busy schedule. KU is a small private university, only 10 years old, but we could see from the bustle of activity and construction it had big plans for expansion. I was also shown their new Basic research building, with all the seriousness of hosting a visiting NIH delegation on their part. I am sure they did not know exactly what to make of me -they knew that I was a molecular biologist somehow associated with Harvard Medical School, though I was clearly there on non-official capacity, dressed in a polo shirt, jeans and Tevas. We were shown the gross anatomy lab, and they even offered to show me the cadavers they had in the giant freezers…uh, no thanks. Lots of jars of pickled and preserved human organs dotted the room.
We were spared the city buses and put on the staff and student buses headed back to Kathmandu. Riding in a school bus with 50 rowdy college students in Nepal was another one of those unexpected experiences. Loud music blared over the bus speakers, scenes of country life whizzed by outside the window, and we had our first smooth transportation experience in Nepal.
We had a great time – so many thanks to DG and Aimee
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