Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NEPAL: Where straight men can-oodle and cows rule the road

We made it to Kathmandu! This is quite a bit more impressive than it sounds, considering apparently China Eastern Airlines renamed our flight MU3610 to The Magical Mystery Flight. Of course, they didn't tell us that. Other things they neglected to mention: That they changed the gate number (twice), that we were delayed, when we were boarding, that we were boarding, why our flight info was going to disappear from every board in the lounge fifteen minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart, never to reappear, anywhere, ever again, not even at the gate we were actually boarding at. Oh, and that every info screen in the departure lounge preferred to show useless ARRIVAL info instead of anything remotely related to departing. We were in the DEPARTURE lounge!! Jeez!

Anyways, yay for Nepal! Kathmandu, Nepal's Capital, is a fascinating place. So far, I would say it is one of our very favourite major cities...ever. I have no idea how it manages it, but Kathmandu is somehow as relaxed, friendly and unassuming as it is frantic, confusing, congested, loud and polluted. It is a colourful and intoxicating overload to every one of your senses. Huge (sacred) cows wander willy nilly down crowded streets and yesterday a monkey was playing in the electrical wires strung above the main street. Everything is bright with colours: the saris, scarves, buildings, spices, shops, flowers... It is a world away from anywhere we have been. And the food... my oh my. We love Indian food, and it turns out that Nepali food is very similar. I want everything on the menu, and so much of it is vegetarian! And the chai. I've been floating around in a sea of chai on a piping hot, fresh naan bread ever since we landed here. Delicious!

Oh! And pretty much everyone speaks English! What a huge, HUGE relief for us, coming from three months of hand signalling. For example, yesterday we went far, far off the tourist trail to a mall to see if we could catch the new Harry Potter flick. Along the way we stopped at a small cafe where they not only had an English menu, but they all spoke perfect English AND were able to give us directions! And then, I bought a Nepali shirt from a street vendor, and I could actually communicate with them. Size, cost, colour! And THEN we got to the theatre box office and were able to find out that the movie was sold out, but more importantly, when it was playing, how much it cost, where we could sit (you choose actual seats), and procure tickets!! So EASY! Its hard to express just how nice it is to be able to communicate in even the simplest of situations. Besides the ease of this, it really adds an interesting social depth to travelling.

We took a cooking class the other day, hoping to learn the secrets of some of these delicious dishes. When we went in to inquiry about the course, we were looking for a few important bits of information. Maybe more than cost, more than menu, more than length of time, we wanted to see the cook. There is a saying, "Never trust a skinny chef." We merely wanted to see if we could be confident that what she would teach us would be tasty. Our soon-to-be cooking instructor looked like a Nepali Mama Cass: by this standard, she was possibly the most trustworthy chef in Kathmandu. We knew delicious food was in our future.

It was just us and Mama Nepali in her tiny kitchen, grating garlic and steaming chickpeas. The restaurant has no running water and a total of three burners! The things people make work in these parts would be unfathomable to us at home. That being said, we cooked up some of the more tastey food we have had in Kathmandu in this little kitchen. The 'chef' who learned to cook soley from watching her mother didn't measure a single ingredient. A handful of this, spoon of that, bowl of the other thing. She didn't glance at a clock even once (there wasn't a clock), and still the food being cooked under the opaque lid of the pot was perfect when she removed the lid. She knew the exact moment that the naan dough was kneaded sufficiently because it was 'sticky and soft.' Then, she expertly tossed a small ball of dough back and forth between her hands and somehow, magically it seemed, a perfectly round, flat piece of dough was formed! It looked so easy. Even I could do it, I thought. Until I tried it myself, of course, at which time, the dough which was meant to morph into a perfectly shaped portion of naan, actually turned into a holey, irregular mess which more resembled a deformed stick man than anything remotely consistently shaped. Hmm. Maybe we will leave the hard stuff to the pro. I frantically copied down everything Mama Nepali did when making the dishes. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to create something kinda delicious from my notes...

Oh, one more interesting tibit about Kathmandu. They have a living goddess! Meaning, a goddess who is, reincarnated, and alive. There are actually these living goddesses all over Nepal, but the most important one lives in a palace in Durbar Square, the main square of Kathmandu. There are a few stories as to how this goddess came to be, living in Kathmandu. She is a young girl
People. If you kill a cow in Nepal, you go to jail!

PS. Happy belated Birthday, Kristine!


Mom and Dad Mooney said...

Looking forward to sampling your recipes when you return to Canada. Won't have to order Indian food out anymore!!
Luv Mom and Dad

Carlotta said...

I envy the beautiful journey;), greet and welcome to Polish