If you're craving Zen in Nepal, go make a pizza in Pokhara

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If youre craving Zen in Nepal, go make a pizza in Pokhara

You don't have to meditate on a mountain top to experience the oneness of mindand body. The writer found a sense of being near an oven in a Nepalese kitchen

By Purva Grover

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Published: Fri 17 Mar 2017, 8:01 PM

Last updated: Fri 17 Mar 2017, 10:07 PM

I  understand turbulence. I have been in the brace position - head down, hug knees, and mutter a prayer. But, this is new. I am on a Nepal Airlines (RNA-165) flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara. It's a mere 25-minutes flight, except that we are in a 16-seater Twin Otter and every passenger on board is equipped with not-so-happy stories about the said route. I will do anything to get respite from the dust-laden and polluted air of Kathmandu, even this, I tell myself as I put cotton balls in my ears and suck on orange candy. 'It wasn't that bad,' I tell my fellow travellers when we land safely. I make a mistake - there's a return flight too.
There's something about the air in Pokhara that brings a smile to your face - it's not just the freshness of the breeze. Neither is it the sight of touristy things - of course, you will be mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the Annapurna range and that of Phewa Lake.
It takes me a day-and-a-half to learn that it is to do with the people who call it home, temporarily or permanently - Pokhara welcomes all. Soon enough, their simple definition of happiness (in adversity) rubs off on you, with ease.
We're on the streets of the LakeSide Market (the Mall Road, if you may). A young man is playing the guitar, sitting alone on a bench. Kevin is from California - he (with his team) is here for 10 days to provide help to a girls' orphanage. He hums Hotel California for us, a self-invited audience - with a smile. He will return. "What's not to love about this land of smiles, mountains, and rivers?" We agree.
Next, we walk into an extremely busy pub, aptly called Busy Bee. It is 8pm (late evening by Kathmandu standards, but Pokhara is just warming up). Once inside, it is easy to mistake it for an eatery on the streets of Prague. A Nepalese band of boys is belting out the classics - Carpenters, MJ, and Pink Floyd. There is a dance floor too - it's empty: it's too 'early' to be swinging to beats. Tourists and locals all wear an expression that says, 'We're home!' An old gentleman, Jim, once a mason, now retired, comes to Pokhara for four months every year! "I first came here 50 years ago and got addicted to the place." He calls the dormitory (where he stays during the visits) his home.
There's free WiFi at the pub, but for a change, no one asks for the password. A complimentary basket of popcorn arrives on our table. Before I had left for the trip - I was told to not return until I've had many portions of momos and slices of pizza. Having consumed the former in the capital city, it's time for pizza - Margherita, Olive and Garlic, and Mushrooms (Nepalese staples are potatoes and mushrooms) are ordered. From where we are seated I can see pizza-serving platters placed outside the 'open' kitchen - no glass, plastic, or ceramic - they are carved out of wood. I walk up to take a closer look (hoping they'd let me buy a platter to take back home), little knowing that I would be making my first pizza in the next few minutes.
The aroma of the cheese - it's not Chhurpi (traditional Nepalese cheese), nevertheless - is enough to lure me.  "May I try a hand at making one?" I ask Suresh, the 24-year-old Nepalese server. He is surprised at this unusual request, but agrees to let me in the kitchen. Hands - washed. Check. Hair tied. Check. (Hair net, no). Sleeves pulled back. Check. I am handed a lump of sticky dough, which I am supposed to roll into a round ball; later, plonking it on the metal plate. As I rub oil onto my hands, to prevent the dough from sticking, I learn that Suresh's cousins and friends work in the UAE. He has heard of the Burj Khalifa too. "Yes, it is indeed the world's tallest building," I tell him. He smiles (I secretly hope my culinary skills are not his reason for amusement). The kitchen staff is excited to help - offering to click pictures and make a video (of the work in progress) too. Next, I'm required to flatten the ball into a base with perfect pressure, using both the palms and fingers. It takes a while to do that, with the dough tearing apart, every now and then. The chefs help and speed up the process. Next step is easy - spreading (prepared) pizza (tomato-based) sauce on the base, followed by generous fistful portions of cheese (no mere sprinkling here). There it is, ready to be baked.
By the time, I step out of the kitchen I have received invites (for myself and my companions) from the staff to visit their homes for a Nepalese meal of dal-bhaat-tarkari (lentils-rice-vegetables). Their humility and hospitality will melt your heart. Was Pokhara terribly affected by the 2015 earthquake? "Yes, but it couldn't shake our spirits," they respond with large, genuine smiles that the Nepalese are known for. Just when we're about to leave, the band begins to croon a latest Bollywood number, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. "This is the only Hindi song we know," they dedicate it to us.
Oh yes, as for the return flight, let's just say that it was drizzling in Pokhara when we took off and when we landed in Kathmandu, 16 of us stood up and applauded Captain Uddhav Ghimire and his team for the safe landing. We'd of course finished the candies and familiarised ourselves with the names of the mountain gods. Oh, and did I mention the aircraft had free seating?
Life, as lived in Pokhara, is about such moments and people.
I was told that to experience the togetherness of mind and body one has to meditate. Interestingly enough, I found my sense of being, my Zen, in a Nepalese kitchen over making a pizza.
purva@khaleejtimes.com
A story teller, Purva is in search of her favourite word


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