I am not by nature an envious person. There are enough good things in this life for everybody to get a little bit, so why worry? If somebody else has something divine or does something wonderful, why shouldn’t I be there on the sidelines, cheering? My turn will probably come eventually.
But I do confess that I have a friend, A. , whose travel life I do envy. Her philosophy seems to be “Some people work to buy food; I work to buy plane tickets” and she’s off at every opportunity. Occasionally she travels with friends, but generally she goes on her own and loves every minute of it. She has been to some utterly fantastic places – many of which I'll admit I would not have the courage to travel to alone – and as soon as she’s back from one trip, she’s plotting the next. A. seems to thrive on research and planning, and she looks for that little something extra that makes her trips that much more marvelous -- go to Al Hambra in the summer and you get oranges on the trees; if you wait ‘til November to see St Petersburg, then the ballet will be in town. That sort of thing. I tend to be of the "Jump on the plane and sort it out when you get there" school of travel, myself. But whenever she describes her upcoming travel plans, I practically drool.
So when we found out we were to have an unexpected three day weekend last December, the first thing she did was check the airlines. Later that evening, as we were sitting around having a chatty shisha, A. mused, ”You know we have Thursday off? I’m thinking of going to Kathmandu and doing some Christmas shopping… flights are cheap on Air Arabia…” Oh ho! Kathmandu for a weekend jaunt? Grand! But as a shopping destination? I’d never even thought of that. “Ooh, ooh! Can I come too?” I asked, hoping to be let into the elusive, exclusive “Travel With A. and See the World” club. “Sure, ” she replied. “Bring an empty suitcase.”
Now I have been to Kathmandu before. I went in 1999 with my buddies K & S. We saw the major sights, climbed the steps to the stupa, hung out in the hippy quarter, bicycled to Pashupatinath, saw the sleeping Vishnu, watched some funerals/body burnings on the river, tossed oranges to the monkeys, and had an all around swell time. I’d seen the main sights of Kathmandu, so there was no reason not to treat this as just a little alternative to spending the gift weekend sleeping late and loafing around the house. So I packed a little carry on and stuck it inside an empty suitcase, and off we went. I could not imagine what I would want to buy in Kathmandu ( since the last time I was there I bought a jacket, a scarf, and a charm for my bracelet, but didn’t otherwise go into the shops), but A. could probably use my extra luggage space.
Ha. I filled that suitcase, and totally stuffed my carry on to boot. Cashmere. Carpets. Embroidery. Sweaters. Shawls. Silver. Nepali felt and handcrafts. Singing bowls. Tiger boxes. Tiger slippers. I did all my Christmas shopping and then some. I even found a present for my Dad. What a great way to spend a weekend! We stayed at the superb Ambassador Garden Home Hotel, and I managed to find the Tibetan restaurant I’d visited in 1999 that serves the best potato soup on the planet. (It still does.) A day and a half and a quarter — which is what it amounted to – was the perfect amount of time for a shopping trip, punctuated with good rustic food and drink, followed by shisha and music in the evenings.
And I learned something from travelling with A. (other than the fact that I want to do it again, of course). Even though I can’t travel as often as she does and probably will never dare the more exotic places on my own, The Sort It Out Later school of travel has its limitations. It is worth taking the time and looking at one’s travel possibilities and making the absolute most of what there is on offer. And to stay open to the unexpected. Like a shopping trip to Kathmandu.