My cousins, their children and Dr. Sitaram Adhikary, my uncle, made my trip this time. The route was Sarlahi, Sauraha, Lumbini, Pokhara and back to Kathmandu. We started on Friday, the 10th of December 2019, and reached home on the 26th of the same month. We hired HIACE, a fourteen seater.
Brijesh Dai floated the idea of a road trip long before the cousins, nieces and nephews had arrived in Kathmandu from Texas, US. None of us could refuse it because we would get to live our childhood memories of Hirapur, Sarlahi. As children, some of us had been to Hirapur to spend winter vacations with Ama. The memories from swimming in the river, playing on the haystack, riding a bullock cart and sipping fresh, warm milk crossed our minds. Nothing has changed even today. There were more to this trip than just fresh air and fresh food. We had the company of nephews and nieces whom we would bond with during this road trip. We did miss Grishma and Deepti -- they couldn't make it to the trip.
Excitement could be seen on the faces and behavior of fourteen of us at Namita Bhauju's home before we left. We hit the BP Highway in the morning. As we proceeded, the view of the mountain range elated our moods even on a cold December morning. Mountains are always mesmerizing. Though nephew Asutosh, 22 years, and niece Arya, 13 years, had come to Nepal before, this time it was different. Both of them could be present in the moment and observe the surroundings with keen interest. Asutosh, in particular, would experience local food and film the scenes at every opportunity he got. We stopped by a tea shop to witness the grandeur of mountains.
The winding roads led to straighter one as we approached Bardibas. We had late lunch. The bends had caused some unease to Namita Bhauju, Sujan Didi and niece Isha. The ordinary lunch that was served at Hotel Vinayak was filling but disappointing to Sharad Dai and Sujan Didi, who only thought about momos even at odd places. They craved momos when in Nepal. Hirapur was around an hour drive after lunch.
We reached Hirapur, a typical village of Nepal around five in the afternoon. Prakash, our driver and I discussed sitting by warmth of the fire at length, the reason why or why not would the tourists come to Hirapur if homestay was offered. I didn't want to concede to him even though he had more experience in tourism sector. His flaw was he wasn't willing to think out of the box. My argument was, committed tourists would love to come to villages if proper channels were offered to them to reach there. Of course Sudhir Dai was building a house with modern accommodations and that would be a prerequisite.
I could understand Prakash's argument that Hirapur has nothing attractive about it. In fact it did come as a cultural shock to nieces Arya and Eva who is seven. They had to squat in the restroom and everything from the village was different from Irving, Texas. But my point of view is village itself is a thing to witness. Hirapurians lead a healthy life and with a little touch of modernity like proper hospitals and education institutions, the freshness of the environment of village could attract a lot of people. I have several times considered to stay there for a couple of weeks to do my reading and writing. Most of the times, such a peaceful environment can be intimidating. Access to road network, reach of electricity and Internet has redefined living in Hirapur.
The next day we went around the field. My grandparents had bought some property there as the property in Kathmandu was insufficient to feed their children. As time passed by some portions of the property have trickled down to us too. After enjoying the pleasure of seeing the fields we lunched at our relatives. Upon returning to Sudhir Dai's home, where we were stationed, some of us went swimming in the river and others went fishing in the pond with no luck. Some also went for a bullock cart ride.
Next morning we departed for Sauraha, Chitwan. On our way we stopped by aunt Bhawani's home at Chandrapur. With my cousins I have spent a number of winter days at this place, previously known as Chandranigahapur. We were offered the famous Balushahi sweets and tea.
Upon reaching Sauraha, four of us stayed back to reflect and recollect in the town while ten others went for an elephant ride into the jungle. Sipping warm coffee I enjoyed the sun, the sight of alligators sunbathing and Siberian birds that migrated to Rapti river. Before going for a Tharu cultural show, we had food at the hotel situated in the banks of river, witnessed sunset and went for a stroll along the banks. We had to be mindful of the danger signs. There were alligators in the river. There were a variety of Tharu dance performances. From what I could grasp, the music and dance played a significant role in building up Tharu community. The use of sticks and fire during the dance suggested their significance as weapons.
Our next destination was Lumbini where a Buddhist temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located. We stopped by Bhairahawa to have lunch. Cousin Gaurav and his four year old son Saujash parted after lunch. Lumbini is the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam (Buddha). The site is being developed through the help of various nations where Buddhism is prevalent. Monasteries of different nations are built here and this is a major pilgrimage site. On her way to her parents home from Kapilvastu, expecting Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautam at Lumbini. We took electric auto-rickshaws to different monasteries to offer our prayers. We searched and found inner peace through meditation, amidst the hundreds that flocked the Mayadevi temple.
The 'grand finale' of the trip happened in Pokhara. We took the Siddhartha Highway to reach Pokhara. It was astonishing to see us together in Pokhara even though the city offered different activities to our diverse interests and age group. The city was too tempting for everyone to disappear searching for things that interested individually. Nocturnal nieces Shiwani, Isha and nephew Asutosh, amongst us, did manage to sneak out after the less energetic but more disciplined ones retired to bed on a Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day we offered our prayers in the Bindabasini, Tal Barahi and Gupteshowr temples. We also hiked to the World Peace Pagoda and found solace in meditation. The next morning we were to heading back to Kathmandu but it didn't stop the party goers to dance until past midnight.
The highlight of returning was that Ruchi Bhauju conceded defeat when Isha suggested answers, but rarely, in the 'contact' and 'twenty questions' games. Of course Sujan Didi declaredly wanted to sabotage the game to silence everyone.
The warm love of dear ones and the enriching experiences that traveling offers add new aspects to the personality and this trip was complete in that respect.