I held the map out in front of me and looked around for street signs that may point us in the right direction. My eyes searched for any semblance of English writing. Nothing.
And yet, I just refused to accept that we were lost.
It’s really my fault that we ended up here. We had all set out from our guest house, situated in Thamel, the tourist base of Kathmandu. With a map and minds full of confidence, we four young ladies set out for the Garden of Dreams. On our acclimation tour earlier that day, our coordinator had pointed the way and it sounded pretty easy.
A straight shot.
You couldn’t miss it.
Now we were at that same point where he had pointed and it turned out that this was not *entirely* the case.
You must know that in Kathmandu the roads are not entirely on a grid-system like many cities in the United States. One road can have many turns involved and that straight-shot to the Garden was not so straight after all.
We stopped at the first crook in the road and consulted the map. We all looked over it and briefly discussed our plan of action.
A man walking by, stopped and joined our group: “What are you looking for?”
We told him and he pointed down the road we were standing on. It didn’t seem quite what our coordinator had earlier stated so I questioned him: “You just go straight down this road, and we’ll find the Garden of Dreams?”
“Yes! Come, I will take you there.” he replied with a smile and a wave of his hand.
I shrugged and looked at my companions for approval. They all shrugged back and we were on our way.
As we walked, we learned that this guy was from India and had moved to Nepal for a job. Along the way, he pointed out different Hindu gods and shrines within the walls of the city. He asked us if we wanted to see a temple, and without consulting my friends, I excitedly agreed. Probably not the best move while traveling in a group…
He led us down a small alley and through a doorway which led to an open square with a beautiful temple in the middle. I wish I could remember all the information he shared with us about this particular temple. I want to say it had something to do with fish?
He blessed us all by rubbing a smudge of red dust on our foreheads.
I felt so lucky to have found this guy who was willing to take time out of his day to show us his city. We were also the first few in our whole group of volunteers to receive a blessing like this as well. I felt so accomplished and adventurous. I was totally killing this travel thing.
“I will take you to see paintings and then I will take you to Garden” he said, whisking us in another direction.
“uhh..okay.” I said, looking around at my friends. I could see the worry beginning to build. One girl pulled me to the side. “Do you know where we are? Like…can we find our way back?”
“Yeah. We’ve only taken a couple of turns. I can find the way back.” And this was totally true. I had been paying attention and I was confident I could get us back.
…But then there were more turns.
More empty doorways to more squares.
“I wish you will buy the paintings. They bring good luck. Good for souvenir. Friends and Family” our new friend told me.
So this wasn’t just a kind gesture to show a group of tourists some sights around Kathmandu. Nope. This painting store was likely owned by a friend or relative of our guide and odds were any purchasing we did would land this guy some extra cash in his pocket.
We reached the store and I looked around, careful not to show much interest. I asked if he could just tell us how to get to the Garden.
“No no, I will take you” he replied.
But at this point, I wasn’t convinced. It had probably been 30-40 minutes since we met this guy and we had been almost everywhere but where we wanted to go.
Another of my friends pulled me aside “I think we should just go back to the guest house. I’m starting not to feel very well.”
Beginning not to feel so sure about this guy, I agreed. I asked if he could just tell us how to get back to our guest house. He took us back to, what I suppose was a main road.
At this point, they all looked the same to us.
“Down this road. 10 minutes”
We headed off. 10 minutes passed and we still didn’t recognize anything. I stopped to take in the surroundings. I looked ahead and saw that the road we were on turned into a small bridge over a river. I knew for a fact that we had not crossed any rivers on our journey, nor was our guesthouse near any rivers. We were not going the right direction.
We popped into a restaurant in hopes that someone might be able to help us. The owner gladly accepted our map and the card with our guest house name on it. With a pen, he traced from where we were, back up the road we just came down, and turned onto another road. “10-15 minutes” he told us.
And we were off again. Back-tracking our steps and trying to decide whether these small, unmarked roads were the road we were supposed to turn onto. I could feel my new friends getting nervous. Concerned faces and wavering voices offered opinions on which road we should take.
I made a decision.
This road looks bigger, let’s go this way for a bit and see where we end up.
15 minutes passed by. Still nothing familiar.
Now I was starting to get nervous, but I just kept walking- determined to get us back.
Maybe another 5 minutes passed and I stopped. I knew this place. That restaurant name. It’s in English and I remember seeing its bright colors before. Down the hill only 15 yards more, was the entrance to our guest house.
With surging pride and exhaustion, we all entered the courtyard and plopped ourselves onto the plastic lawn chairs. We sat around and laughed about our afternoon adventure. We shared our story with our volunteer coordinator, describing what we had seen. He gave us a confused look and told us he had no idea where we had been.
It was so exhilarating to return back to my room. I was so proud of myself. I had taken an adventurous chance in following our Indian friend. I had seen parts of Kathmandu that others in our volunteer group may never see. I kept my cool while taking on a leadership position in my group of friends, determined to get us through. And we all eventually found our way back, safely.
I learned that perhaps the best way to get to know a city is to get lost, and find your way home. It reminds of a quote I once read, and can now confirm:
“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.”
– Ray Bradbury
Have you ever been lost in a foreign city? Tell me about it below!