Back at Mum’s Garden in Pokhara, I’m ridiculously pleased to see the backpack that I’d left behind. The clothes that I’d packed almost two weeks before look fresh and new–and clean. For all of my melancholy over leaving the trail, it takes no time to remove my hiking boots and push them in a corner, out of the way. I don’t plan on wearing them again anytime soon.
Our “celebration” dinner takes place that night and is, for me, what turns out to be the first of three nights of goodbyes. Rupesh and Santosh are heading back to Kathmandu on the bus tomorrow; we won’t see them again before we leave.
I try not to think about that as we head to Silk Road, a restaurant and secret garden rolled into one. Extending farther than it seems from the street, Silk Road is an oasis in Pokhara, gathering like-minded spirits in its gardens and alcoves for music, good food and camaraderie. Sipping on margaritas and Everest beer, the seven of us chat and reminisce a bit. It’s awkward at first, almost as if we’re different people without the hiking clothes, but the conversation gradually smooths into familiar cadences. There’s a small stage near the bar; Dan picks up a guitar and starts playing quietly. Somehow, and I’m not really sure how it happens, I’m behind the mike, singing. We take requests until the restaurants is lit only by candlelight, a result of the mandatory “power-saving” blackouts.
We eat dinner and other patrons fill in the empty spaces in the restaurant. We talk and laugh and sing until we risk arousing the ire of the neighbors. Our group largely disperses, but I stay on, soaking up the balmy night, the murmur of conversations, just one more drink. I’m trying to hold on to some piece of magic that’s slowly drifting away as we sink back into who we are elsewhere.
The next morning I’m regretting that last beer at that last bar (was it the Old Blues Bar? Busy Bee?), but I rally for a visit to the mountaineering museum–Karen finally gets to see a Yeti–and a return to Silk Road. On this visit, however, I bypass the bar and follow the others into the kitchen: we’re here to learn the secrets of Nepali cuisine.
Angie, co-owner of Silk Road and head chef, reminds me of a hummingbird: small and quick, her movements precise and efficient. In less than five minutes we’re stuffing small circles of dough with a vegetable mixture, attempting the distinctive crimping technique for momos. Ganesh, mostly silent but smiling, demonstrates the process for creating potato balls with yak cheese, vegetable pakora and dal baht.
I’m relieved that Karen assumes responsibility for taking notes and clarifying measurements. I’m a tentative cook,
but I want to be able to share at least a few of the tastes with family and friends when I get home.
Scratch that. I’m going to plead ignorance and use it as an excuse to get everyone on a plane to visit first-hand.
It’s a visual and olfactory crash course in cooking. “Here, smell this,” Gina orders, holding out a plastic bottle of what looks like balsamic vinegar. It’s lemon juice, cooked and concentrated to create a flavor unlike any I’ve tried. Peppercorns are distributed to sample. With a floral scent and an faint citrus flavor, Gina doesn’t know the name in English; along with a pound of boiled tomatoes, onions and dried chilies, these peppercorns are essential to her red chili sauce for dal baht.
It’s a four-course feast spread out over the afternoon, culminating in dal bhat with Angie and Lalit on the patio. I’ve been snacking all day, but I find a bit of room in the cracks of my stomach and I fill them with rice and dhal and spicy radishes. We sit in comfortable silence under the hibiscus and bamboo; I feel like a lizard stretched out in the sun.
It’s my second night of goodbyes, this time to Annapurna and my single-minded, mountain-trekking, trail-loving “other self.” I doubt she’ll make the flight to Kathmandu tomorrow.