Last night, six women traveling Nepal solo gathered together to celebrate Christmas Eve. I was among them.
The countries represented in this photo: America, Australia, Spain, New Zealand and Latvia. I was the token American.
We gathered in a ramshackle restaurant called Sun Welcome in Pokhara’s lakeside district. It’s about as local and “mom-and-pop” as you can get in Pokhara.
There were no white table cloths. The tattered menu had countless misspellings in English. Some dishes advertised weren’t available because they didn’t have enough ingredients in the kitchen. Service was sporadic and spoken in broken English, but friendly. No Christmas decorations adorned the restaurant, only a simple watercolor painting of a tree hung above our table, likely done by one of the restaurant owner’s children. Our spartan table (until the food arrived anyway) overlooked the main street, a dirt road traveled by pedestrians, motorbikes and cows.
Indeed, it was a very different setting from the lavish Christmases to which I’m accustomed.
Although our Christmas Eve feast was quite meager by American standards — a sampling of curry dishes, butter naan and vegetable noodles that amounted to a final bill of US$8 — the energy among our group sparkled. Each of us found our way to Nepal for different reasons, from different countries, carrying different stories. The common thread among us is our desire for experience and knowledge. Plus, we had all, at some point, recently stayed at the Sadhana Yoga and Meditation Center. (Those of us still studying at Sadhana had a curfew of 9 p.m. for this special offsite celebration.)
It felt good to be among other western travelers, amidst this landscape of Hindu shrines and Buddhist mantras, celebrating Christmas. The local shops and restaurants in Pokhara attempted to get into the holiday spirit, too. Some put up red and green garland alongside shelves selling Buddha statues, pashmina scarves and singing bowls. Some decorated their tall plants with makeshift ornaments — Nepal’s version of a Christmas tree. Some hung colorful Christmas banners above their doors and entryways. It was all very sweet. As we walked down the street to Sun Welcome, a few shopkeepers even shouted out to us: “Merry Christmas! Come inside for special Christmas price!” (Even the Nepalis understand the consumerism attached to this holiday, it seems.)
Although the significance of Christmas has ebbed and flowed for me over time, it’s a holiday that makes me feel at home — despite currently being I’m halfway around the world. And it’s a time to be with family — even if your family is a temporary one patched together in Nepal.
Update: Christmas Day turned out to be quite special, too. During Bhakti Yoga hour, we sang a few Christmas carols — to the beat of drums, tambourines and cymbals. When it came time to sing “The 12 Days of Christmas,” we replaced the gifts mentioned in the song with Nepali- and yoga-related items. (For example: “On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: six singing bowls.”) Christmas music was piped in over the speakers in between program sessions. And after dinner, we had “Christmas cookies” (a small box of chocolate-covered digestives that I purchased for US$2 in town) with an extra kettle of masala chai. These were all very simple things, of course — but heartwarming and meaningful.