We were feeling an itch.
No, nothing related to the food poisoning we suffered last weekend, although hives of some sort would have been the perfect topper to that unpleasant birthday surprise. Our itch was of a different sort. Still coming down from the high (both physical and emotional) we experienced on our Annapurna Circuit trek, we itched for life on the trail: fresh air, physical challenge, adventure, animal dung.
Were were due a good scratching, so decided to spend an afternoon hiking out to the Sundarijal waterfall on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Not expecting any kind of a climb in altitude (surprise again!), we set out in street clothes with some water and snacks.
Like many journeys both in distance and in spirit, ours began at Boudha, the largest stupa in Nepal and a popular center of Tibetan Buddhist life. From there we walked to the edge of the Gokarna Forest Reserve en route to Sundarijal. Walking out of the city center, it did not take long to enter more pastoral surroundings. The bluff leading into the reserve was terraced in a way that made me think of an intricate putt-putt golf course.
Evidence of agriculture loomed large. Rice paddies filled gaps of land large and small.
Don't like your day job? Care to switch with these women?
We passed a man playing father to two adorable young bleating goats as the mother followed closely behind.
It took us about two hours to walk from Boudha to the town of Sundarijal. At the end of town you reach the bus park and a pedestrian path that winds up to the falls. The stairs are not particularly steep and the walk lasts about 20 minutes, but you might be less optimistic if, say, you were not planning on the stairs, were feeling hungry in the blazing high-noon sun, and had no idea when you might finally reach that godforsaken waterfall.
After passing some neat swimming holes created by the falls and used by locals, we reached the pretty unimpressive climax of the waterfall.
I swear there is water gushing somewhere in that picture.
Given that the waterfall wasn't poised to overtake the grandeur of Niagara any time soon, I was probably more pleased on my arrival to find a small shaded pavilion waiting for me so I could rest my feet and promptly stuff my face. We were not alone, however. A small group of young Nepalis had the same idea and was picnicking there as well. I was content with my granola bar and hard-boiled egg until I saw their spread.
In typical Nepali fashion, our pavilion companions struck up a friendly conversation, asking where we were from. It took less than ten seconds for them to offer us some of their food. We politely declined at first. When the second offer came in at just under 50 seconds, I was hungry enough to accept. I mean, to do otherwise would be rude, right? In this case, being polite definitely paid off.
Not satisfied to simply share their lunch, our new friends insisted on teaching us some of the names of their food (clockwise from the top): puri (fried bread), achar (pickle), channa (beans), and aloo (potato). I'll add one word of my own: delicious. Or, as I told them in my best Nepali, "Mitra chha." ("It is delicious.")
This was not the first time Nepali strangers have been so kind to us. More than once in this country we have been dazzled by generosity so deep extended by perfect strangers so unknown that we always reflect on the experience with head-shaking awe. Americans can be generous, too, but similar kindness extended by strangers in the States would (rightfully) be meet with instant suspicion. You want to spend an afternoon helping me move apartments free of charge and now instead of accepting my offer of pay or at least a meal of appreciation, you insist I come to your house for homemade snacks and cold drinks instead (this actually happened to us in Nepal)? Anyone who attempted to engage in such behavior in the US would be instantly labeled something sinister like serial killer, thief, or Texan. Until the kindness of a Nepali has me waking up naked in an ice bath missing my kidneys, I will continue to gratefully accept their generosity, especially when it comes in the form of delicious food.
After our Nepali picnic, we ambled back down the stairs to the Sundarijal bus park. We were the satisfied kind of tired that comes on the heels of a good hike, but not tired enough to avoid laughing in the face of a local microbus operator when he asked us to pay 150 rupees for the ride back to Boudha. No thanks, sir, we'll pay 25 rupees like every other miserable soul crammed like a sardine in this sun-baked, four-wheeled tin can. Was I just saying something about Nepali kindness?
With our return to Boudha, our itch for the trail had been scratched. A cold, refreshing celebratory drink was in order, and Saturday Cafe, our favorite in Boudha, knew how to deliver.
Fresh watermelon juice and carrot-beet juice hit the spot, and -- judging by their color scheme -- aimed to join our apartment decor. We enjoyed them so much, perhaps they will.