Smile and the World Smiles With You

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Asia » Nepal
October 12th 2011
Published: November 9th 2011
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Majuli Island to Jorhat by ferry, Jorhat to Siliguri by train, Siliguri to the India-Nepal Border by jeep (where I was unexpectedly left), my feet took me into Nepal, border town to Dharan by bus

A looong day...

I won't lie; India had its share of ups and downs, many downs in fact. I'm not sure so much verbal diarrhea has ever come out of my mouth in such a short amount of time. Ok, well there was this time on the ski slopes back in the early '90s. I was alone on the top of a really steep run. I was scared, it was getting dark and cold and yes, I found myself praying and silently telling my family that I loved them, before closing my eyes, praying once again - this time to the snow Gods - and trudging my way down, sideways, walking my skis cause I was too terrified of losing control if I actually did what I had gone to the ski resort for in the first place. A few naughty words on the longest decent of my life may have escaped my lips. Now, flash forward to July-October, 2011, India. I tried I really tried. I gave it three whole months (less a few days) to try and see it differently than my failed first attempt on a 2008 journey to the land of Hinduism and the Himalayas, wild colors and wild animals
My First Nepalese BusMy First Nepalese BusMy First Nepalese Bus

Heading to Dharan
and even wilder rubbish piles. But that's another story reserved for another day.

I was on an overnight train from Assam in the eastern part of India (the little bit of land jutting out north of Bangladesh, south and east of Bhutan, and basically a place very few Westerners ever go, let alone know about) heading west to unchartered territory (for me), a new country on this Round The World Trip, Nepal. I was on the jeep from the train station to the eastern Nepali border near Siliguri, India (if anyone knows - or cares - where that is) when my seat mate (ok, one of my seat mates, as I was sharing a small vehicle with 12 people. I think they were all sitting on my lap) asked me where I was headed. It dawned on me that I was going to be crossing the border in mere minutes and hadn't a clue where I was going to go from there. I opened up my map and just blindly picked a place at random. After already 27 hours of travel and 7 modes of transport later, I couldn't see going too far into Nepal on Day One. I opted for the three-hour bus journey, which took nearly 4 1/2. No matter. I stumbled upon the Happiest Place On Planet Earth. This town was positive and upbeat, where men actually changed seats to face away from me (this happened literally moments ago as I was eating my meal in the restaurant of my guesthouse while writing this section in my journal). Anyone who has ever traveled India as a solo single female Western budget backpacker can fully understand this last sentence. I was floored and almost got up to hug the man. But, the niceness started long before that meal.

I arrived in this town called Dharan, at the foot of the Himalayan foothills in the early afternoon, Tuesday Oct 11. As luck would have it, the cute little bus conductor's brother in law was on board and he took it upon himself to ask said bro in law to help me find a cheap guesthouse. Good start. People rarely gave a damn in India if I slept in a gutter. The first one was asking 800 Rupees, which is somewhere just over the 10 dollar a night range; way too much for me. That's my budget for
My Spartan Room My Spartan Room My Spartan Room

At my guesthouse in Dharan right next to the bus station
the week. I found a place next to an open dirt lot jam-packed with jeeps and other 4-wheel drive vehicles of that sort as well as an assortment of very colorful detritus (ok, I admit it, I had to look up a synonym for trash/rubbish and this one had staying power, a bit like, uh, a bit like the garbage itself). They wanted 300 Rs for the night and I was shown upstairs to a single-bedded room with a one-inch mattress and a yellow-stained duvet placed haphazardly on a hard wooden platform. No need for a headboard. A single wooden chair was the only other form of furniture in my cell (I think the chair is broken). I discovered two-cigarette-size burn holes conveniently located about chest height in the curtain that separated my room from the hallway. The two-tone paint job was in a bad state of repair and the power was off for much of that evening, leaving my room stuffy and quite unpleasant. What can one expect for fewer than four bucks? It was perfect.

Walking through the town I encountered more white-toothed smiles and friendly faces and far fewer (i.e. none) harassments and blank stares than

Heavenly street noodles cooked up right in front of me. Yum
in the country to Nepal's south. What a welcome change. A few weeks back, upon leaving the Himalayas in the far north west of the country, a road sign caught my attention. "Smile and world smiles with you," it clearly stated. I have friends scattered throughout India, and please don't get me wrong, as many people and many places are truly lovely in the country, but when you get a billion plus individuals fighting for space, air and some semblance of a sane life, it can often prove difficult, especially as an outsider. So, needless to say, I was often muttering my own version after that road sign. Smile and the world smiles with you....except in the country where the sign is actually posted. I didn't encounter too many smiles, real genuine happy smiles, glad to see you, thanks for visiting my country and I hope everything goes well for you while you are here smiles. In fact, in the two days I have been in Nepal I feel I have seen more genuinely happy people here, not because of me, but because they have figured out how to enjoy and take ownership of their own lives. Oh, and there aren't a billion neighbors queuing up to share their backyard latrine every morning. I'm not one to generalize but I really think Dharan, this little nothing town in eastern Nepal is gearing me up to set the precedence for the country.

In the course of the first couple hours on the morning of my second day in town, two nice looking Nepalese 20-somethings came in and sat down at the next table over while I was eating a late breakfast. They didn’t look at me, they didn’t ask me all the same-same questions that locals always ask of travelers (and which, by the way, get thoroughly annoying after hearing them day in and day out for years!) and it was me who initialized the conversation. I needed directions and they appeared to be educated enough to possibly have some basic conversational English skills. Boy did they prove me wrong. One guy spoke better English than I and is getting set to go on a second trip to the states. He will be working on his PhD there in a prestigious uni on the east coast. He not only verbally gave me directions, he handwrote them on a piece of
Fun Ice CreamFun Ice CreamFun Ice Cream

...and it was!
scratch paper and if I hadn’t have insisted he would have walked me outside to personally show me the way. I never once got this kind of detail for directions in all of India. He and his vacationing brother shared their Nepalese breakfast with me and turned me down with a frown when I offered to help pay for the portion of food I had consumed. They wouldn’t hear of it.

I found my destination and once again was blown away not only by the kindness and generosity of the people in the office but also by the level of English spoken. A well dressed and again nice-looking Nepalese man working in the Office of the Municipality (I think I’m really going to like it in this country!) decked out in shiny black patent leather shoes spent nearly 2 hours with me explaining everything he could about the area and Nepal in general. He helped with questions on getting buses to further towns up into the mountains and obtaining a local sim card. A buddy of his and equally as handsome (and charming to boot!) was also present through much of the conversation, also offering up his two-cents, which
Way to…where?Way to…where?Way to…where?

I wonder where this goes?
could easily have added up to a buck or two in that timeframe. I was offered and given a wonderful chai and by the time I left the office, freshly photocopied maps of Nepal as well as a colorful tourism map of Dharan in my hand, I was skipping down the drive. A big smile was on my face. No one tried to pick me up, no one tried to look down my shirt, no one stared at me, and no one asked all the silly repeated questions. They were genuinely thrilled to be able to help a foreigner, especially one who had no idea where she was and why in the world she got off the bus in this town.

Signs. I love signs. I love funny signs with misplaced English words and signs that make no sense when translated. Throughout Asia, it is very common to see the younger generation wearing t-shirts with babble printed on the front. Half the time the wearers of said clothing don't even know what they say or how the words translate, and more often than not, these t-shirts just don't translate to anything that one can call proper English. An English professor would probably drop dead if he/she ever saw what was printed on these garments. China was the best place for finding store and guesthouse names and other signs that also translated rather humorlessly. Lijiang was the best place and were they ever in abundance. I just spent the last hour looking though my backup hard drive to find and share some memorable ones from my time in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, most fabulous part of China (if I may subtly throw that in), where I spent a couple of weeks in Nov/Dec 2010. The following are a few examples:

smoke enve oped the yard inn. I would like to stay there someday.
Beautiful and well-being of the hotel. This place sounds good, too.
Good. A bar with a good name.
Break to eat the world Restaurant. Only when I'm really hungry.
OID BEIJING INSTDNT BOILED MUTTO. Another restaurant...I think serving boiled mutton
The Guiyang characteristic skin records the old shop to bake the shop. Self explanatory this one.
Discount stores Brands kids. The D is backwards on this shop sign.
Chongqing sichan museum. Believe it or not, this is a local sidewalk eatery. Only.
Popular Restaurant. There were no patrons here.
Restauant Themasses. No patrons here either.
Tobacco Monopoly fame school. A small convenience store selling chips and soda. And no doubt, cigarettes.
Famous Sock Line. They sold sunglasses and booties.
The Large potato delicious food Restaurant. I love potatoes, especially in the land of rice.
Hotel of Good Luck and Happiness. I'd like to stay here.
Lijiang Friendly Hospital. I did stay here.

...and one of my favorites...

Must be the department store. Huh.

Anyway, I could go on and on but this is about Nepal and not China. Ok, focus, Suz. Back to Dharan.

Although the store names aren't as humorous or quite the same, I will share a few with you I noticed within my first 20 hours of setting foot in this happy town.

A-One Choice Restaurant and Bar. Item in your choice with lowest price.
Turbo Quench
Hasty Tasty
Fun Ice Cream
Love Ice Cream
The New Rage Beauty Parlor
Spunk Collection

and my favorite, and I swear this one is true:


I wonder if they stand by their name and guarantee money back if…..

It's no wonder this is the Happiest Place On Planet Earth!


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