Saturday, April 16, 2016

In Search of My Fortune and Glory

I got lost in Patan searching for my fortune and glory.

Let me start over. I got lost in Patan searching for a fictional tavern and a t-shirt I'm pretty sure was never actually sold in Patan, Nepal.

Let me start from the beginning. It all started when another girl from California at my guesthouse asked me what I was doing in Nepal. I told her that I was traveling, living here for the month, writing, and exploring. Oh, just hanging out, that's cool, I suppose, she said.

It wasn't so much what she said, but how she said it that got to me.

Turns out, everyone in Kathmandu has a purpose for being here--everyone is either starting a trek or finishing a trek, never around longer than 3 or 5 days, or they're here for school or a job or a volunteer opportunity. Whereas hanging out in India writing a novel and practicing yoga was a perfectly reasonable explanation for being there, folks here in Nepal seem a bit taken aback, like I've just told them I'm here searching for my fortune and glory, and they just don't know how to respond.

So, I decided to make my stay here one with a purpose. Why not search for my fortune and glory? Indiana Jones meets Murakami style.

Happy New Year 2073! The guy shouted into the microphone at the cafe I found myself in on what appeared to be New Year's Eve. I had seen a couple signs hanging high over the city streets on my way to the cafe, but I had also just finished another Murakami novel so I wasn't too shocked.

The Scottish man sitting across the table from me who had just finished 20 days on the Annapurna Circuit, choked on his beer. "Good God," he managed to say. "How long have I been gone?" He seemed genuinely confused and a bit concerned.

"The Nepalese people live in the future," I told him. "Last month when I was in India, my yoga teacher told our class we were science fiction characters so it seems about right I'm here."

He furrowed his brow and crossed his arms. "What trek did you do?" He asked me.

"I've not done one yet," I said. "But I am thinking of trekking to Patan to look for a fictional tavern."

He sighed and finished the last gulp of his beer. "I'm really tired," he said. "Maybe I should get some sleep."

"That's probably a good idea," I told him. "You have about 58 years to catch up on."

He gave me an odd little laugh and waved goodbye leaving me forever wondering if he thought he was actually gone for 58 years. But then again, how did it get to be New Year's Eve 2073? I hadn't even gotten to the bottom of that mystery yet.

What exactly are the odds of meeting two people from the island Malta (population 400,000) in Kathmandu, Nepal less than 2 months after I read a Murakami novel in which a character named herself Malta (after the island)? And since Nepal seems to be a vortex for all things extreme--extreme mountains, extreme trekkers, extreme earthquakes, extreme activity of every kind, who says it won't be a place of extreme coincidences as well?

The night I met the first guy from Malta we were hanging out on the rooftop of our house when a 4.5 earthquake hit. Everyone stopped talking as the world uncontrollably shook around us and the lights flickered on and off. What are the odds that nearly a year after a series of devastating earthquakes shake this country to the core, another one hits? It lasted about 5 seconds, and when it stopped, we all looked at each other, waiting. Then, as sudden as it happened, we all burst into uncontrollable laughter because, really, what else is there to do?

The next morning I and my new earthquake surviving friends--one of the guys from Malta and a girl from North Carolina--found ourselves on a high overlook in the countryside of Nagarkot watching as the sun rose directly behind Mount Everest. The Himalayan Range in the far distance popped out of the horizon until the sun rose too high and whitewashed them out of sight. The moment was fleeting and magical--a snapshot reminder of my time in India as well as here in Nepal.

Two days later I saw Everest again from the window of a small prop plane on a flyby. Seeing the highest peak in the world twice in one week can leave one feeling a little surreal--like living in the year 2073 and experiencing an earthquake from a rooftop in Kathmandu. Both unlikely, but as real as everything I've experienced so far on this journey.

What are the odds I'll find the Raven Tavern? I asked the guys from Malta later that night. They had no idea what I was talking about. You know, Marion Ravenwood's tavern from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I continued.

It didn't occur to me until that moment that Indiana Jones, whose travels and adventures took him to far flung regions of the world looking for his fortune and glory, is in fact a fictional character who doesn't really exist beyond the constructs of Americanized cult classic fanatics. A jarring fact for someone like me who lives in self constructed fictional worlds where Indiana Jones really does exist, and it really is possible to be a science fiction character and fall into Murakami wells of weirdness.

And because I am a believer in this world of magic and adventure, I'm going to live in it as much as I can.

When I finally set out on my own adventure into Patan just south of Kathmandu, it was late in the day. The GPS on my phone said it would only take about an hour to walk there so I thought I had plenty of time. Little did I know the convoluted path I was following would take me through the strangest of winding alleyways where I suspect no tourist has ventured by the looks I got.

I did eventually make it to Patan where I found a quaint little brick cafe. I sipped on my coffee and asked the guys working if they knew where I could find the Raven Tavern.

"The Raven Tavern?" One of them asked.

"Yeah," I said with a sigh. "It might not actually exist. As the story goes, it burnt down in 1936 when one too many people were after their fortune and glory. That is, if it existed at all."

The boys looked at me as though I just told them the sun was purple.

"I'm also wondering if you know where I could get a t-shirt that says Patan, Nepal on it. Preferably, one that also says The Raven."

I had found the shirt online, but when I started making my way around the small shops, it became clear this wasn't the sort of place that would splash its name across a t-shirt. let alone for the sake of a non-existent bar in a fictional world.

By the time I decided to give up on finding the Raven Tavern and the t-shirt, the sun was starting to set and my phone had died. I don't know how long it actually took me to get back home, but I had a map and the streets were full of helpful folks (who didn't speak English, but understood map).

I did not find my fortune and glory in Patan, Nepal, but what I did find was that I can navigate in a world where I am lost after dark, where not many folks can speak English, where I am always alone and never alone, where I can blend into any environment, where I am at peace where I am and where I've been and where I'm going as long as I continue to follow my curiosity into this world of magic and wonder.

How do you view yourself in the world--grounded in the reality that is around you or one in which magic is possible and fictional characters are as real as historical ones? And how does it affect your world and how you see it?

By the way, the Nepalese calendar was started in the year 56 BC by an Indian king who may or may not have existed--there doesn't seem to be a consensus on this issue. 


Jennifer Walters said...

I bet Josh will appreciate this! ;)

Sarah Seymour said...

Haha! I'm sure :)