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I found myself  in Nepal in February of this year, excited beyond belief to have this particular travel dream come true. Giddy and short of breath from the cold, we were met at the airport by Sagar, former gurkha in Afghanistan and now our guardian angel throughout the whole trip. He and his friend packed three of us girls snugly into a rather small white taxi and accompanied us to our hotel in the middle of Kathmandu, assuring us that “No one will harm you here.”  He then most graciously treated us to a Nepali dinner.

Sagar says the locals go to this little place about 10 minutes motorcycle ride from our hotel, a one-storey diner lit up by glowing metal braziers, tables pushed against the wall, a modest bar in one corner.

I saw mostly locals there, and a few Westerners with the inevitable soda can propped up on their tables.

We let Sagar order for us, I just said that I liked lamb. Platters arrived with the meal arranged on it in a circle. I learn that this is a typical Nepali dinner–not much meat but with a variety of vegetables and condiments. Small bowls of dhal (somewhat thinner than the Indian version), lamb curry (cut up pieces of lamb in a mild curry sauce), and a yoghurt-based soup were part of the platter. There was pickled ginger and some kind of asparagus-like veggie that was a nice cold contrast to the hot soup. I liked the salted mustard greens so much I asked for a second helping. The lamb curry was very good, succulent and meaty, but not overpowering.

We had a side dish of papadom-like puffed crisps, they had a spicy, smoky flavor similar to that of toasted paprika.

It was a good and filling meal, and we ate it by candle light, since Kathmandu (and later on we learned, most of Nepal) is plagued by regular power outages in winter. Most hotels give out candles to their guests.

Outside, it was cold and dark, the winter chill bites one’s cheeks and makes each intake of breath a little gasp.

Sagar tells me to hop on his motorcycle when I say we need Nepali money for the duration of our stay. I hop on, of course, and away we go to find an ATM. Hanging on for dear life, I clasp metal with numb fingers as we speed through the night time streets of Kathmandu, the shop lights going out one by one it seems, as we pass by.  Belly warm from the dinner and head dizzy with the onslaught of so much newness, I savor the rush of being in a whole other place, one that surely, holds all the promise I have long been dreaming about.