We wanted to go to Chitwan National Park to explore this jungle reserve, in the hopes of seeing that rare tiger or the one-horned rhinoceros. We were told it was going to be a four-hour drive from Kathmandu, the road winding all the way around the mountains. We were game, and quickly packed for a two-day stay at a mountain lodge.
Soon enough our little caravan was underway. It was a long drive, alright, but I hardly felt the hours, mesmerized as I was by the busy sights on the streets going out of Kathmandu and then by the open vistas of jagged mountains and sloping valleys on the road to Chitwan. As the van careened dangerously along the narrow roads, we whiled away the time rocking out to Indian music, snapping our necks and twisting joints in our hilarious attempts at the Punjabi head roll.
I clicked away at scenes of terraced hills planted with broccoli, cabbages, or sometimes yellow and purple flowers. There were hanging bridges that seemed to stretch out, impossibly long, over raging green rivers. We saw farmhouses built of bricks, held together by a mortar of mud. Women laden with huge baskets on their heads stepped nimbly over the rocky ground, never losing their balance. Children skipped along the roads, bundled up snugly, their cheeks pink from the cold.
Halfway through the road trip, we pulled into the driveway of what was apparently a customary stop–a roadside eatery carved into the side of a hill. Tables and chairs perched onto the steps, a buffet was along one wall, a little store was tucked away in the corner. Hungry from the drive, we trooped to the buffet but had to contend with a busload of Korean tourists. Wisely, I let them go ahead, as I know the tourist horde will devour me before I can even reach the counter.
Our turn came at last, and the guy at the counter told us to choose from the line of chafing dishes set out on the table. I liked the puris, warm fried rounds of bread that I dipped instinctively into the curried potato soup. It was filling and crispy-chewy, perfect with the spicy potato curry.
We also had the fried vegetable fritters, a little bit bland, but we learned that you dip it in this green chili sauce that was to die for. I wanted to steal that green bottle, but remembered my manners just in time.
I notice that the Nepali diet was light on the meat, mostly starches and vegetables. The curries we have had so far were also very mild, not the searing hot curries I associate with Indian food. The food was very fresh though, not at all oily or over-salted, even the fried dishes.
The cool air whetted our appetites, and we made short work of the spread that was on our table. Full and revived by the short break, we made our way back into the van to drive two hours more. Chitwan wasn’t even visible yet on the horizon.