“Hospitality is simply an opportunity to show love and care.”
‘Trekking has to be with Santosh in Nepal,’ a Facebook friend suggested.
‘Yes, Santosh. A local freelance guide who you will not find on the internet’
I was then introduced to Santosh over social media.
After a month, we reached Pokhara – a city in central Nepal, which is also known as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail in the Himalayas. As we entered the hotel lobby, someone from behind called my name. I asked,
‘Yes Didi (sister).’
A young local guide from Pokhara, he had a serious and somber look, and not overtly expressive in his body language in our first meeting.
‘Just for a day in Ghandruk?’ he asked.
‘Yes, just a short trek. First time ever.’
My nervousness was obvious to him. With a slight smile on his face, he replied,
‘Don’t worry. The trial is relatively easier, and the highest point is only 2000 meters. You do not even need to worry about altitude sickness.’
The next early morning, we drove to Nayapul from Pokhara. We crossed a suspension bridge over the Modi Khola (river) and walked along the river.
While others started ascending steeply towards Ghandruk, Santosh decided to do something different.
‘Didi, let’s go near the riverbank.’
We followed him without questioning, which he appreciated.
Pointing at the top of the hill that we were planning to climb, he said,
‘You will hear the roars of this river even from there. You can rest here and enjoy the river for half an hour.’
I then lied down on one of the large flat rocks, staring at the sky, and listening to loud but soothing sounds of the river.
I was in deep thought when Santosh suggested that we leave.
We then started following a trail that was more gradual ascent passing through terraces, paddy fields and Gurung villages.
As we walked up, my eyes kept dropping down into the deep valley where Modi river was flowing. We could still hear it roaring as Santosh had suggested earlier.
In the evening, we reached Ghandruk. With a maze of stone alleyways up and down, the hub of the village was occupied mainly by solidly built lodges and inns.
Almost all houses looked identical with brightly colored lime-white tops and with slate roofs that were supported by carved wooden struts.
Unfortunately, the clouds had covered the mountains that we were hoping to see.
Worse was yet to come!
Because of the unusually high number of trekkers in the village that day, most lodges and inns were already occupied. It was crowded, chaotic and confusing. Santosh had a plan though.
‘Didi, I have something in mind. Will you wait for me here?’
We obliged, he left, and we waited for him standing in one of those stone-paved narrow passages.
Half an hour passed, but Santosh did not return.
It was getting dark. We were standing in that narrow lane between two fences; suddenly a barren of mules carrying gas cylinders came running towards us.
Everyone started screaming and jumping on different sides of the fence.
Shocked, my first thought was,
‘After walking for seven hours, I am not ready to die by the stampeding mules in this village.’
We were shaken, and to add to our despir at that time, we had no place to stay, no transportation to go back, and no connection with Santosh. We were getting desperate.
Suddenly, we saw Santosh running towards us with a big smile on his face.
‘I have found an amazing inn for you. You have to walk for another 15 minutes though. But the view in the morning will be something you will never forget.’
At that moment, we were so traumatized and overwhelmed that we did not have any strength to question him. We quietly followed him, reached the hotel, ate and slept.
At five in the morning, I was woken up by the sounds of the bells around the necks of mules that were walking on those narrow lanes. I came out of the room and was shocked to see what was in front of me.
‘OH MY GOD!’
I was dumbfounded. I stood motionless.
The roosters were crowing, and the dawn was not far off. Already the dawn birds were chirping in the bushes.
The weak moon was losing its light, and fresh morning air was on my face. There was a village with the older, more traditional houses lined up together. And there were those snow-capped mountains solemnly gazing over this village.
Slowly the sun began to rise on the horizon illuminating the surrounding mountains. I was not prepared for the allure of this sight. I stood there in awe.
Suddenly I heard others coming out of their rooms; one of them being Santosh.
‘Didi, did you see the sunrise in the morning?’
I nodded my head with a big smile. Santosh then said in an approval-seeking tone,
‘Didi, this guesthouse is a little far from the main hub, but the view from here is the best. Most guides do not bring their guests here. I thought you would like it.’
I had no words for Santosh. He not only made sure we got the best view, he also got us a room with an attached toilet (a rarity) and running hot water (another rarity).
After breakfast, we explored more of Ghandruk, headed back to Pokhara, and bid goodbye to Santosh.
I learned a bit about hospitality from Santosh in that trip, which is, embracing and enlightening the guest.
First, Santosh had genuine compassion for us. So, whatever he did, he did out of love and empathy. That’s embracing.
He was doing more as his goal was to create an experience for us. Every unforgettable experience that he created for us was enlightening.
And that is also Nepali hospitality. Santosh is an example of what visitors can get in Nepal. I have not met a single tourist who has not fallen in love with people of Nepal; and it is all because of the love and care Nepalese provide to their guests.
Check out our you tube video from Ghandruk