Namaste Shangri La

Kathmandu, Nepal

We awoke this morning to the sound of sand pelting our windows. Peering out into the vast desert — with cranes lining the skies — we saw that the winds were howling and a sandstorm was quickly approaching.

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Unfazed, we grabbed a cab back to the International Airport and after cups of coffee and some pastries, boarded our five-hour flight bound for Kathmandu. As we began descending into Nepal, the snow-capped Himalayas appeared outside of our windows — before being shrouded in a heavy cloud of smog and pollution that hangs over this capital city.

Wheels were down at Tribhuvan International Airport just before 4 p.m. local time. We set our watches ahead 1 hour, 45 minutes of Abu Dhabi and stepped into the thick, swampy air. The sound of car horns blared in the distance. Dilapidated, half-completed structures lined the runway. Just beyond the fence, two cows scavenged for food in a pile of garbage.

Nearly two days after leaving North Carolina, it was clear that we had arrived in Nepal.

Visas pasted into passports and bags collected, we negotiated to have a beat-up taxi take us to our hotel. Passing through the chaotic streets, with animals, bikes, pedestrians and various motorized vehicles competing for road space necessitated closed eyes and occasional gasps. Yet, it was difficult not to want to take in the sensory overload all around us.

We found relief at the Hyatt Regency, situated in its own compound. Indeed, within the walls was essentially a sanctuary, a peaceful place for us to rest after an exhausting few days of travel. Newari water tanks led us into the stupa-lined foyer — all overlooking a beautiful outdoor pool.

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Up in the room, we collapsed into our beds, watched some BBC earthquake coverage and relished the rain shower.

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Wanting a taste of local culture, we headed into town for dinner at Thamel House, which served up traditional Nepali cuisine. We ordered a whole slew of dishes to sample, including momos (dumpling filled with meat), sekuwa (spicy meatballs), chiura (beaten rice), aloo tareko (fried potato with cumin, tumeric and chili) and choyla (roasted, spiced boar).

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Washed down with Everest beers and a few glasses of rice wine, and accompanied by traditional Newari dancing, we celebrated our arrival in this country.

Then, jet lag hit and we realized that we should probably head back to the hotel for some rest. But not before first checking out the Hyatt’s bustling casino, packed with chain-smoking Indian tourists playing $1 hands of blackjack and sucking down bowls of soup at the table.

Feeling terribly out of place though, we decided to call it a night.

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