"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kailash 2010 Day 15 : Back at Kathmandu, Friday July 09, 2010

We started at 7 from Nyalam, and weaved through the mountainside to reach the Chinese immigration office by 8:30 am. The processing started at 10 am and again we were on Friendship Bridge, this time walking to Nepal.

Waiting for bus no. 3
The road from the bridge to the buses waiting for us in Nepal is all downhill. In the crowd of people - our group and many others, Mallik appeared by my side to accompany me till the bus - my perfect bade bhaiya - elder brother, making sure I don't need a porter, and that I don't need any help from him carrying my two backpacks.

When we reached the buses, we realized there were only two buses with a capacity of thirty each, not enough for a group of 71 with 10 sherpas. An hour and a half long chaos later, we finally have three buses.

The Nepal countryside is more beautiful than I remember from the bus journey two weeks ago.

The buses ambled along till we were stopped suddenly on a village street. The locals were protesting some police action and had created a road barrier. Swarn called the police so that the barriers could be lifted, citing
several sick people on the bus.

I am very concerned that buffalo behind the marijuana plant is high

Things happen for a reason - in the one hour that we stopped on the road, I got an introductory class on marijuana from Seeta Devi. Apparently, it grows in abandon in the Nepal countryside, and the good doctor recognized it. I thought those were tomato plants. I am a bit concerned the buffalo may be high.

There were Kodak moments of the animal kingdom by the plenty - buffalo chewing the cud, a bunch of ducks on a walk, a goat chewing on grass, dogs lazing in the shade, a rooster strutting around, sweet thin cows walking along looking like they need food and exercise to develop some muscle,... Once the police arrived, it did not take long for the road to clear up and we went off to Kathmandu.

Took me back to my Dallas neighborhood where we come to a screeching halt to let ducks cross the street

Borderland Resort, Nepal border
Swarn told me bungy jumping was out since it is 4km away from the place she had planned lunch at. We passed the bungy bridge without stopping - I will need to come back another time.

The Borderlands resort had beautiful planned gardens that opened into each other, with a thatched-roof patio as the dining place.

The dinner tables were Lebanese style - low lying tables with cushions as seats. The food looked good but other than my aloo-paratha binge and the one-time dessert of kheer at Nyalam, I was still on steamed rice and two spoons of dal water. The place felt like a luau, the only thing missing were the Hula dancers.

The world is beautiful when the heart is happy.

The resort had scenic viewpoints like the upper area at Yellowstone. The river gurgles and flows at a remarkable speed around the resort.

Water at high speed around rocks, Borderland Resort, Nepal border

KV Rao

Mallik missing Aparna
Alka had taken the altitude pretty badly, I saw her smiling today after a long time. Sairam was feeling much better as well, everyone is much happier now that we are close to the end.

Anu, Shailaja, Alka, Sairam - saw Alka smiling after a long time

Can never thank them enough...

Seema at the river bank, Borderland resort

As usual, Seema had found a way for us to go touch the water, and just about the time that we reached the river, we heard the ear-shattering whistles from Rajeev and Yogananda, and like trained dogs, we obediently turn to leave. Rajeev and Yoga have been given these whistles since we entered Tibet to herd up the people, I think they have enjoyed the whistling way too much.

My sweetest and youngest fellow traveler, Varsha Appaji
The driver took his own time to reach the hotel. Our youngest and sweetest traveler by far, Varsha asked me riddles in the bus - I have to confess I did not get a single one.

The driver appeared to like driving, and despite the delays we had encountered already, he took a long circuitous route once we entered Kathmandu. What was expected to be a five-hour journey took eight hours and there were cheers when the bus finally reached the hotel gates. I am quite sure the sarcasm was lost on the driver. The extra time was well used in my bus for some chanting - the energetic rendering of the Mahishasura Mardini stotram that I love to hear and only know one line of :), and some others that I faintly recognize or not at all - I grew up in the same country learning only the Catholic prayers said at school. To this day, the only complete prayer I know is the Lord's Prayer that I say at any temple, shrine or deity. Now, having gone through the challenge of trying to memorize Sanskrit stotrams as an adult, I recommend the memorization of Sanskrit with accuracy in recitation from childhood. I am amazed by my friends from Andhra who recite gazillion lines in Sanskrit without having to look at a book. I have been given a second chance in life for learning, not everyone gets that opportunity.

The eight-hour journey cramped in a bus seat had turned my legs into balloon art - I did not have ankles anymore, my legs were swollen into tubes. My Manas Sarovar jal was lost - I had forgotten the containers in my room at Chiu Gompa, it was handed to Swarn and that was the last anyone ever saw them. Repeated reminders in the last three days had borne no result, I had been told the cars would be searched, the Sherpas would be asked, the truck would be searched, nothing had happened yet. The cars were already gone when we crossed the border in Tibet, the truck would leave if not checked quickly at Kathmandu, and tomorrow morning we would be in Delhi. Instead of an apology for losing my things, I was being told that I can go buy a can from the market and Shrestha can give me some of the additional Manas Sarovar jal. This is the last straw. I hate to do this at the end of a satisfying journey, but I had to articulate that I was a paying customer, and I would like Shrestha to make things happen, the jal needed to be delivered to me in a way that I can carry it to Delhi.

When we arrived at the hotel, chaos reigned again, no surprise!!! Some duffel bags were lying on the grass. We were told they would be delivered to the rooms. At the rooms, we found more duffel bags strewn in the grass and it has now started drizzling. My bag was not outside the room, it must still be lying in the grass outside the hotel reception. When I walked back there, there are four people from Shrestha to stand and stare. The hotel manager was talking incessantly into his mobile without any progress on the bag situation. A couple of hotel employees were now bringing the wet bags from the grass to a covered area. I saw my bag now, and asked the manager to have it delivered to my room and give him the number, and finally walked back in the rain on my swollen feet to shower and change for the final meeting at 8pm. At the room again, and no bag. I walked back to the reception counter, now my bag was not there either though it had not been delivered to my room. When I asked the manager where the bags had gone, he told me they were delivered which I assured him mine was not. He told me to go check again. Time again for my second speech today on "let me remind you who the paying customer is" but the hotel manager was too busy on his mobile. When he got free from his many conversations, I told him my luggage tags (for my international bags stored in the hotel) were in my duffel bag which I have not received yet, so how do I get my bags back because it was time to start packing for Delhi now. The answer is not "we will need a photo ID" or "please come back at 8 so we can take you to identify your bags" etc. It is "you will have to wait". All rightey then, time to throw a hissing fit about the hotel's service standards and the lack of basic common sense as well as the apathy of the Shrestha onlookers while customers run from pillar to post searching for their bags, most of which are now wet in the rain. The emotional feedback got due attention that soft-spoken queries were not getting, and I was off in a car with a hotel employee towards the rooms to search for my duffel bag.

The question arises why do service providers wait for the customer to be irate before providing basic services??? Why does the decibel level need to be high for us to act??? CRM 101 needs to be a mandatory course in all schools and colleges globally so that we get service of a consistent quality anywhere we go. If the manager had apologized that I had to walk between buildings twice just to ask about my bags, and that he would make sure my bag reached my room, I would have walked back to my room for the third time without kicking up a fuss. We found the bags in a common area, completely wet - it was dumped in the heap of unclaimed wet bags outside the guest building even though it was raining and the dumper should have known better and the dumper was the hotel employee to whom the room number was given very clearly. I explained to the hotel people that if my clothes inside were wet, they would be ironing them all night so I can leave for Delhi in the morning. Of course, my belongings are dry as the desert air, I had packed everything in sealed ziploc bags. I now walked back on my swollen feet one last time to give my luggage tags to the hotel reception to get my international bags.

Rajeev did a great job as the MC for the 8 pm meeting to express our thanks to the gurus, inviting some people to share their experiences. Throughout our trip, at each new place, as we dragged our aching bodies and our bags from our cars, Rajeev would have figured out room allotment and would be announcing it cheerfully. Not sure we thanked him enough. With Bose, Srihari, Yogananda, Rajeev and others, I think the Swamijis chose the perfect volunteers from the group to do the most tedious tasks in a spirit of service. A lady who described Swami Shivayogananda's advice to her before trekking around Kailash gave a very modest and humble and honest close-to-the-heart speech that spoke to me.

I could not believe this was over, I did not think I got enough time with the Masters, I did not think I learned as much as I should have, I did not feel I had experienced enough to change much, I could only hope the spiritual experience of this trip stays with me and reveals itself over the years. No amount of guru dakshina - offering to the guru, can correctly represent my gratitude for what the Swamijis have done for the group - leading us to Kailash and Manas Sarovar, chanting stotrams that I am now inspired to learn, the satsang - discourses that I can never get enough of, and even the bhajans - hymns that, ahem... help me relax. And they have gone beyond the role of acharya - spiritual leaders, and taken on the organization and detailed planning for this trek and they have been directly accessible as the main contact persons for any issue or question.

Swarn handed out certificates for the Kailash - Manas Sarovar trek for the group. AND, delivered Manas Sarovar jal for me, I had something to take back now. Many people had by now offered to share their jal with me if I did not get anything. One more reason to go with a harmonious group like the Chinmaya Mission group for such treks.

And dinner had sugarless yogurt alongside the pre-sweetened yogurt. Finally!!!!

It took two hours to pack everything into my international bags and they are well over the 20kg limit of Jet Airways.

Ab Dilli Door Nahin - Delhi is not far now.

Aum Namah Shivaaya!!

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