‘Merry Crishmus.’ The text was from my guide, reminding me I’d agreed to be up early to go hiking today.
Pokhara was twinkling but I did not look back as Tika led me through the city and across a suspension bridge into the foothills of the Himalaya. I puffed up, with boots and walking pole, as two women in flip-flops came down with oranges for the market. Would I like to buy some? Of course.
Less than a mile later we met a friend of Tika’s who took us to his house. His tree was laden with oranges – we must eat some. But we could not linger long, as his aunt expected us for lunch. High in the mountains there is little choice and we ate traditional a Nepali meal of rice, spinach and lentil dhal. At least she has a biogas stove and no longer has to collect wood from the forest for cooking. And her tree was laden with oranges; she picked some just for us.
On the way home we paused by a small temple, gazed across the valley to the mountains, stark and beautiful. The birds sang; the air was sweet and clear. On old couple toddled out of their little house, to give us oranges. We visited another sister before making it back into town (another orange, of course.)
I just had time to shower and change before joining Tika and his family for supper. I bought them chocolates. Presents, I explained, are part of our Christmas tradition. And we’ll give you a traditional meal, Tika’s wife told me. She bent over a tiny stove on her rooftop to cook the rice, and spinach, and lentil dhal. Followed by …
At home, families would be sated by now, many so full they could do nothing but flop in front of Mary Poppins. While I had been with people who had shared nothing but lentil dhal and oranges. And not because it was Christmas, but because this was all they had.
This was first published in Tower and Town, Marlborough, in November 2014