Someone’s alarm goes off and I’m immediately pissed.
It’s a rare morning when the desire to continue sleeping doesn’t overwhelm me completely, dragging me back to bed like a clingy lover who doesn’t know when to let go.
I long for the day – that happy day – when I will suddenly wake up one morning at say, oh, 5am, joyfully jump into my running clothes, skip the coffee, and set off on my daily 5-mile jog, or mountain hike, or yoga session in the forest.
Today is not that day.
And it wasn’t my alarm that went off anyway, so what the hell….?
I squint in the darkness, trying to circumvent my mind’s fogginess, and realize with a bit of alarm that I don’t seem to be at the Harvest Moon.
The pale, pleasantly-painted indigo walls of this foreign room are offset by hand-sewn curtains in a shade of tangerine only acceptable in the dimmest light of early day. Shova would never be caught dead with such gaudy drapes.
Plus, it’s fucking freezing, so it can’t possibly be the warm nest I’ve come to call home, the aptly named Harvest Moon “writer’s room,” where I can prance around naked in the middle of the chilly night behind double-paned windows as thick as layer cakes.
My nose is cold, my eyelashes are cold, the cold has woven itself around each strand of my hair. And yet for some reason, every part of me below the blanket is cozy, comfortable, mysteriously immune to the high-altitude air seeping in through the cracks in the windows and door.
In my confusion I see that there is another bed in the room, and notice a thin, worn comforter carelessly tossed upon it. I look down and see that my body is covered with an identical comforter, whose threadbare fabric could not possibly be providing this much warmth.
I roll to the side – hoping to forget all about the alarm and my cold nose and the strange heat emanating from the lower half of my body, but – someone rolls with me.
The someone nuzzles the back of my neck with an equally cold nose, lets thick fingertips explore my left hip, and presses into me in a way that indicates that he is very much a morning person.
Holy shit, it’s Deepak.
Last night washes over me in an instant – the winding motorbike ride through Pokhara after a sudden decision to get out of town.
His call into the restaurant to say that he’d be gone for the evening shift.
The sky like the painting of a C+ art student who’s scolded for using colors that couldn’t possibly exist in nature – neon pinks, purples so rich you could taste them in your mouth, oranges that threatened to rip the sky apart and pull you through into another dimension.
Our timing was perfect, as we reached the summit of Sarangkot with just enough light left to illuminate our hunt for a guest house.
I thought that after visiting the stupa, the defining tourist destination of Pokhara, I’d have done my sight-seeing duty and could view the rest of my time in town as one long, extended happy hour.
But instead of finding camaraderie when discussing the stupa’s exquisite views of the lake and city, I was met with scoffs: “The stupa? Please. Where you really need to go is Sarangkot.”
The way Deepak’s eyes lit up when I suggested the place made me hope that there was something truly special about it (special beyond the fact that we’d have to stay overnight in order to enjoy a famous Sarangkot sunrise in the morning).
Sarangkot is a tiny village set atop a 1600-meter peak that lies about 30 minutes Northwest of Pokhara. It’s definitely hikeable from town, but in order to see the sunrise you’d have to leave in the middle of the night and climb with a headlamp, and I’m just not that adventurous (plus I can’t rock headgear, functional or otherwise).
I hoped that since I was rolling with a local we’d be able to score an incredible deal on our room, but our digs at the Mountain View Lodge and Restaurant were $7/night – just a dollar less than my room at Harvest Moon. This meant that I was indeed getting a fair price at my place, a realization that comforted me greatly.
When we stopped at the Mountain View to inquire about a room, we were greeted by a 6-year old welcome wagon of a girl whose name I can’t remember.
This child was grace incarnate. She was bubbling over with excitement to practice her English, which was impeccable, and to demonstrate her role as the family’s Master of Ceremonies.
She ushered us inside, arranged our room with her mother, ordered her older sister to make tea, and showed us to our lovenest. I spent all of 5 minutes with this person and I’ll never forget her as long as I live – she was the kind of kid who makes you happy to be alive, the kind of person you want to be around all the time. She was everything beautiful about Nepal with none of the ugliness.
As she quietly shut the door to our room, taking care to bow to me shyly as she did, I said a little prayer that she’d always stay exactly as she was, no matter what life threw her way.
Drinks and debauchery were enjoyed by all as the sun rested up for the next day’s opening act.
Deepak’s innocence and youth revealed itself throughout the evening, and I relished spending time with someone so easy to please (ok, ok, you want more details, but I don’t kiss and tell. Unless you buy the book, that is.)
The soft gray light outside is beginning to brighten. We need to move quickly if we’re not going to miss it.
We dress in the dark, Deepak shivering like he hadn’t been reared in the mountains and withstood similar temperatures his entire life.
“Too cold” he says, meaning “it’s very cold.” His substitution of “too” for “very” results in delightful phrases like “You’re too pretty” and “I’m too hungry”; as if I had somehow offended him with my good looks and his hunger was something that needed to be checked out by a doctor. I don’t have the heart to correct him – it’s too cute.
We bundle ourselves as best we can in the clothes we wore yesterday – impromptu trips to 1600 meters in the middle of December probably require a bit more planning, but oh well.
We climb the 100 or so narrow, winding steps through the mountain village to the lookout point. I still have to stop every 10 or 15 steps to catch my breath, and joke with Deepak that I’m not out of shape, it’s the altitude, I swear.
Rays of light begin to tap me on the shoulder, and I brace myself for beauty. It is quiet and still, I’m with a newfound love, perhaps we’re going to experience some sort of spiritual communion on the top of this impossibly high mountain in the middle of the Himalayas…
In an instant, my dreams of having an out of body experience with Deepak are crushed by the cackling shouts of 50 tourists who’ve beaten us to the punch.
They’re chatting, coughing, laughing, and slurping tea sold to them by children too young to be working at all, let alone so early, let alone in such cold weather.
Something inside me retracts violently, ready to slide down the spiral of irritation, prepared to write off the entire experience as ruined.
And then an amazing thing happens. Deepak looks at the crowd gathered there, turns to me, and smiles in a way that says “Everyone is here! Everyone is here and we are too, because there is no separation between us and them. Because we have all come to see a beautiful thing happen. Because we have all gotten up at a godforsaken hour to watch God in action. Isn’t that incredible?!”
There will be thousands of chances, thousands of moments, to fall in love with Deepak, but this is one of my favorites. He has this unique ability to undo all of my negative conditioning in a single moment. I marvel at his power to see a situation – any situation – as beautiful. And perhaps what’s even more astounding is his ability to make me see it that way too.
The chatter and laughter and coughing and camera-snapping are instantly transformed from a failure to respect the sanctity of the moment, to a noisy celebration of nature; a cheer leading session for God.
We squeeze through the crowd and press our bellies against the wooden fence that wraps around the viewing platform. Deepak puts his arms around me, and as the first electric ray of the neon sun peeks over the distant horizon, the crowd erupts into thunderous applause.
This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!
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1. If you only have time to go to the stupa OR Sarangkot, go to Sarangkot.
2. The Mountain View Lodge and Restaurant has clean, cheap rooms that are perfect for a pre-sunrise snooze. Just be sure to bring warm clothing in the winter.
3. There is always a different way of looking at your current situation, even when it seems dreadful. Beauty and perfection can be found not only in simple things, but it things that at first glance appear downright irritating.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!