Lying in bed I listen to the deluge tapping out a heavy melody on its earthen instruments. The steady beat of droplets, an unwavering reminder of its constant presence. Water slowly creeps into every crevasse soaking anything it touches. I begin to pick out distinct sounds from each surface strike. Metal: ting, mud: splat, water: splash, concrete: thud, vegetation: tap. They all combine into a harmonious chorus that begins lulling me to sleep. I have just arrived in Kathmandu for a weekend visit and the downpour has not stopped for two days. Rain jackets and quality umbrellas have quickly become the luxury of choice. While gazing at this water cascading down the window I reach for my phone. A quick check of the weather confirms my suspicions, 100% chance of rain for the next five days. Monsoon season has arrived and is here to stay for at least another month.
Ashim, the office accountant, is a smart, young (twenty four), ambitious fellow with a quick wit and laid back attitude. He returns to Kathmandu each Friday, this time he graciously agreed to be my tour guide and chauffer. Ashim arrives at 9:00 am sharp and it’s still raining, but I’m here to see the city so I grab my jacket and hop on his bike. Like many Asian cities Kathmandu is an interesting juxtaposition of beauty and squalor. It can’t be helped, when you put this many people in one place with ill suited drainage and waste management systems, the differences are not only evident, they are highlighted.
We cruise around the city stopping at famous landmarks, stunning museums and his favorite restaurants. As we motor through narrow streets dodging traffic, potholes, puddles and people I get to see the real city in all its splendor. I observe locals going about their busy lives, shopping, praying and laughing with friends. They easily pick their way through the crowds, beggars and trash hastily strewn about. I watch confused tourists attempting to navigate a web of allies, streets, highways and traffic. I witness their disappointment and shock as they discover the rubble of once magnificent relics left behind from last year’s devastating earthquakes. I see their awestruck faces as they explore ancient temples and sprawling Durbar (palace) squares.
Sunday night, after a fun filled weekend of exploration, I hire car and head back to Dhulikhel. Passively watching the traffic and unrelenting torrent of water through the passenger window I begin to dose off. After what seems like seconds I am abruptly awaked by an extremely nervous and distressed driver. He is screaming obscenities while frantically flicking every electrical switch in reach on and off. Apparently I had one more adventure in store for me this evening. We have been on the road for over an hour and traffic had finally dispersed but that was obviously not the problem. The 1994 Toyota Camry’s headlights mysteriously decided to stop working. Let me say, climbing up the side of a mountain in pouring rain and absolute darkness while crazy drivers swerve around us is not my idea of a good time. After a few minutes of this insanity the driver pulls over and desperately tries to fix the problem. It is immediately evident that he has no idea what to do or how to do it. When I suggest checking the fuse box we find it is labeled in Japanese. Okay…time for plan B. I reach for my flashlight, shake the driver out of his state of panic and manage to relay my idea. Jumping into the front seat I roll down the window. While he starts slowly up the street I shine my light on the roadside and any passing cars. What should have been a twenty minute ride takes over an hour but after a few close calls we safely reach the hotel. I am utterly exhausted, completely soaked, ready for a hot cup of tea and a warm shower. As I climb the stairs to my room I can’t help but laugh. During the PULSE program training they did say we would face unique challenges. I wonder if this is what they meant.