The plan was hatched on Tuesday at the Offices of Citizens Climate Lobby, Nepal and Aryan’s other environmental venture, Olive Nepal. The four of us (me, Aryan, the brothers Adesh and Adarsha and their friend Subash–all activists ) would stay over Wednesday night at Adarsha’s house, get up the next morning at 3:30 and head to Nagarkot for the sunrise. I don’t know where it is or what I will see, but I’m definitely game.
The bandh (Maoist national strike) was called off for Wednesday at the last minute, so I took off on my scooter to Aryan’s office about 4 pm. All of us then headed to Adarsha’s house in Bhaktapur about 5pm. When we arrived, people were gathering for the nightly group meditation session in the large common room. We headed upstairs to the kitchen for a snack of store-bought samosas and filtered back downstairs to join the session. Adarsha led the group, explaining all the different parts of the process on the way. This group meets every night for this activity, a combination of breathing, chanting, music and silence. It takes about 45 minutes. They were also very curious about me and about how I liked their process.
Besides the evening program, the Battarai family conducts a daily yoga program in a large enclosed space outdoors. Adarsha’s mother has also been an Ayurvedic physician for 20 years, seeing up to 15 patients per day for all manner of disorders. She does this, as well as the meditation and yoga, on a strict no-fee basis. Adarsha’s father is a business administrator for a medical hospital/clinic. Every one of them is highly educated, engaged, entertaining a wide variety of interests and pursuits.
Following the meditation, the guys drifted away into casual clusters while I adjusted to my space for the evening. I’d had a snack earlier and wasn’t hungry. I had no idea what was in store for me. Ama had cooked a full meal for all of us including dahl, rice, chapati, a cabbage dish, a curry-potato/cilantro dish and another sort of bean soup. And of course, I was expected to eat. So eat I did. This entire group was a model of gracious hospitality, genuine bright friendliness, generosity and engaging banter. I could not have felt more welcomed. It was a total thrill. But it didn’t stop in the evening. We still had a plan for the morning.
We rose on time and dragged our selves in the darkness to where the bikes had been locked overnight and to the road. There were five of us. Adarsha stayed behind because he was preparing for a 9 day trip to the Kanchenjunga area (3rd highest peak in the world) in the far east of Nepal for some social welfare work. We were joined by his father Prakash instead. The road took us through the old city of Bhaktapur before disappearing into the more sparsely populated hills to the east, circuitously progressing tortuously higher and through small villages, past ramshackle guest houses and restaurants with New Age names, all the way up past the boutique hotels of the town of Nagarkot, overlooking the entire Kathmandu Valley.
The road was narrow, the pavement is wearing away at the edges; potholes and bumps appear without much warning at 5am. As a less-experienced cyclist, I was instructed to be a passenger. It was a good thing. But it was also cold. I had not brought all my warm clothing. It was 55 when we left Bhaktapur but I had failed to note that the Kathmandu valley is already at 7000 ft and we were heading up a mountain another 1500 ft or so. At dawn. I wore three layers, but was soon shivering. My helmet was the only thing between me and calling the whole thing off.
But we did finally got to the top as the light was rising. I shivered some more as we stood with a couple dozen tourists with their tripods, their fancy lenses, filters and parkas, me with my hands in my pockets and my hand-held little pocket-sized Sony, no fancy filters.
For the next 30 minutes, we took our shots, posed together, waited for the sun to show itself, wandering back and forth. To the north is the Langtang Range, looming beyond the lesser mountains ringing the Kathmandu Valley. To the east, we gazed toward Everest, though the eastern range was too far away and it was too foggy to see very clearly.
I am realizing at this point in my repartee that I must be sounding totally dry. Like I can’t wait for this to be over. We did ride a long time. I was cold. We waited. We took our pictures. But let me tell you, as the light began to rise and reflect off the white eastern faces of the Langtang range, well before the sun showed itself from the east; and gradually, as the glow crept up over the eastern range sending beams upwards creating a magnificent golden panorama dissolving into the deep blue sky, and as a yellow-hot poker piercing the rim burst into view, I just suddenly and absolutely broke open. I am in Nepal. Now I know I am in Nepal. And this is why I am in Nepal. And there is more to come. I had to walk away from the group for awhile.
I realized I had not quite felt I was really here until that moment. These young men brought me here. They’ve been here before. They knew what a special moment this would be. This is the their home, after all. This is part of their reality every day. And this is part of why they are doing what they are doing. If any of my CCL pals who ever felt despair, exhaustion or hopelessness, and we all have, if any of them could stand where I was standing at that moment, they would feel themselves reconnected and restored. It was a moment of feeling infinitely small and at the same time large, humbled and also empowered, delivered from the burden and also prepared to shoulder any load.
The light rose fully into the sky, shining down on the lush green valley below us, on the terraced farms, the river, the scattered dwellings, the distinctive architecture. We shared coffee together and got back on our bikes. After returning to the house at 7:30am, I had some cereal and rested. About 2 hours later, an elaborate breakfast appeared, again mysteriously produced entirely by Ama. After eating, I said farewell to this family that I would gladly and fully expect to consider part of my own family by the time I depart. I made a donation to support their community work. How could I do otherwise?