In seven days I had accumulated soiled clothes that had to be washed. Mohan said that the maid who cleaned the flat would do the needful since laundries would not be able to give the clothes back in time. As Leela came in for work in the morning I only gave her one chore to complete besides sweeping and swabbing the flat – wash clothes. She did that quite expertly and hung them out in the balcony to dry. Since we had not had the food she had cooked for us the previous evening I told her to take that home for her family. She took permission to borrow a few utensils to take the food home.
After a few cups of black tea and a bath in cold water we decided to complete the formalities for the Chinese visa. Mirus had arranged with another agency in Kathmandu to take care of that. I had arranged to meet Ram of Nepal Tours in his office in Jayatha Thamel by 10 am. Accordingly we scheduled our departure from the flat and the navigation software guided us expertly to Thamel through gut wrenchingly narrow lanes. How Baiju managed to avoid the walls and vehicles was a study in expert handling of the steering. Fortunately Lal located an underground parking close to the address that we had to go to. The forms were filled up in quick time in Ram’s office. We handed over photographs and passports to him. He promised to get the visas done by 25th afternoon. We had invitation to stay in China for 30 days and hence, sought entry on 27 June and exit on 17 July. Ram told us that the Chinese guide would meet us at the border on 27th and take care of all the border crossing formalities, in much the same way as Ravi did for us at the Nepal border.
By the time we finished in Ram’s office we were close to starvation for we had skipped dinner last night. Ram suggested breakfast at the Chikusa Café, which he said was nothing fancy. It turned out to be a cozy little place that offered a sumptuous English breakfast of sausages, baked beans, toasts, eggs and organic coffee. The coffee seemed quite popular with visitors and locals. It has a special flavour and aroma and was advertised as being made from specially picked Nepalese coffee beans. While waiting for the order to be served I tried a couple of cyber cafes to upload the blog posts. Either power cuts or network problems plagued my effort. Once the rather elaborate morning meal was gone through – I had further helpings from the portions served for Lal and Baiju.
As we moved out of Chikusa Café we noticed a rather popular handicraft shop where large quantity of Rudraksh beads was on display. The proprietor of the store, Sanat Chhetri, immediately recognized us as South Indian, he said because of our expressions! He had worked in the Gulf too and was familiar with Malayalam movies. He had watched ‘Classmates’ and was overjoyed to meet its Director, Lal Jose. Sanat showed us the Ek Mukh and the oval shaped Rudraksh; the former was priced at 4,000,000 NPR and the latter at 6,000,000 NPR! Therefore, if any friend gifts you one of these you could mostly be sure that it is a fake, for the price of the genuine one is prohibitive. We picked up wrist bands made of plum seeds. Sanat said that prayers chanted with it would bring wealth and prosperity. The store was filled with masks and stringed musical instruments. Sanat expertly displayed his prowess on one, which produced sounds similar to the thumri.
On the way to Thamel Baiju had spotted the Go Ford service station. We headed for that next. As we drove into the service station we saw Sandeep Chhetri, the Service Manager; the happy face and welcome demeanour immediately endeared him to us. We explained what we wanted done with the car that had to last till London to the Jammu resident. He got on to the task almost immediately. A technician was summoned and the service staff docked the car. We were asked to wait in the customer lounge while the car being attended to – may take a couple of hours, we were told. We decided to do residual jobs like downloading the GoPro videos, catching up with mails, etc. I wanted to upload the blog posts. I asked Sandeep for direction to a cyber café. He offered his laptop without hesitation. The service centre had WiFi. He arranged for the IT guy to set up the service on our hand phones and laptops. Coffee was brought in as ordered, one black, one without sugar and the other normal! Time went by so fast and we got most of our residual works done by the time the vehicle was ready to move out of the service station. The car had aroused a lot of curiosity and we did a lot of talking to interested audience. The complaints we had noted were minor. After the external wash she looked a beauty. Sandeep also gave us a 10% discount on the bill; but requested Lal for a role in his next film! The attitude and customer enablement is a lesson for their Indian counterparts. We felt thankful to Arvind for having helped us find the right solution with his suggestion in Gorakhpur.
Having got a major concern out of the way we embarked on completing the next task – that of taking delivery of the parcel of ICICI travel card, a CD and a battery charger that had been dispatched from Cochin via Chennai and Kolkata. While the Travel Card had been misplaced in Lal’s house the rest were accessories for the GoPro. Abraham Pius and Commander JM Joseph (of course, his ever efficient and ready to help wife, Elsie) were responsible for the super service. Had this not happened we would have struggled to make ends meet during the Schengen part of our journey. The Station Manager of Air India, Rajashekaran, had to be met at the Kathmandu International Airport at 4 pm. We had time to kill. We drove into a fuel station to tank up. The fuel stations in Kathmandu are always overflowing. Petrol costs 135 NPR (INR 84) and diesel 105.5 NPR (INR 66) in Kathmandu. It was decided to spend the rest of the time over lunch at the China Valley restaurant, not very far from the airport. Lunch consisted of steamed momos, fried rice and chilly fish. While we were feasting on the food the staff was busy car gazing. Wherever we went she was the star.
We parked at the departure of the International airport and called up Rajasekharan. He came to the Police Help Desk with his technical colleague, Manivannan, who hailed from Chennai. We spent quite some time with them, again taking about the adventure. Thereafter, we went to the Domestic airport to book for the mountain flight. The airport manager took me to the Buddha Air booking counter, where I booked two seats on the 6.30 am flight on the 26th; Baiju had already been up once and his fear of flying kept him away from another sortie. Manivannan arrived where we were booking the flight with Savio, who worked for Air Arabia and hailed from Chalakudy. Savio was a huge Lal Jose fan and we found it difficult to take leave of him.
The plan for the evening was to roam the streets of Thamel. We decided to come back to the flat, freshen up and go to Thamel. On the way back to the flat a taxi rear ended the car. Fortunately, no damage was done even though the jolt suggested otherwise. A few expletives and shouts later we were on our way to the flat. We decided to take a taxi to Thamel instead of navigating narrow lanes and finding non-existent parking. We located Chatur Gurung and his taxi after a hard bargain. He took us to Thamel through narrower streets and non-existent roads. He bemoaned the rapidly rising living costs and fuel expenses. However, intrinsically he remained happy. He even promised to pick us up from Thamel after we were done there.
We started walking around. Every street looked the same. Similar vendors, advertisements, massage parlors and eating joints made it seem so. Then I heard Mohan (from Raxaul), a fruit vendor, humming a popular Hindi song. There were many such vendors but none looked in such high spirits as Mohan did. He gave me a special 20 per cent discount on a kg of fresh litchis. The fruit was delicious. We roamed some more and then located a traditional massage parlor. The Manager induced us to opt for Aroma Therapy and we did for the bulk discount he offered. We emerged fully rejuvenated after an hour of intense massage from head to toe. The joints and muscles started aching pleasantly. The masseurs helped themselves to liberal helpings of the litchis! Only their constant chatter across privacy curtains was irksome.
The vigorous massage left us voraciously hungry. We located a small restaurant that served traditional Thakali fare. We settled down with a few bottles of the locally popular beer – Gorkha. It is a mild and watery brew. The fried chicken we had with it was well cooked. We tried out the Thakali set meal. The preparations were different, of saag, potato and even pickles. I polished off the set meal with a chicken preparation. Spicing up the meal was the football match between Holland and Chile. Then we took a taxi back to the flat. The night charge is 50% more than the day fare. Chatur told me that no one operated taxis by the fare meter because fares were not revised despite many revisions of the fuel price. He also warned me that if anyone agreed to operate the fare meter it would be because the same would have been tampered. The taxi we hailed at Thamel wanted to be paid by the meter. But I stuck to 450 NPR as all in charge and the driver agreed.
Apart from hunger the massage had also made us extremely sleepy. We barely managed to get back to the flat and onto the bed.