In my mind, Nepal was full of bright fabrics, chai teas, flatbreads, loud markets, and tall mountains.
Upon spending time there, I found that it was certainly full of some of those things — but not all of them.
Dana and I woke up early on our first morning in Nepal. We were staying in a hostel in Kathmandu and the air was much colder than we had expected. We were swaddled in the hostel’s blankets, listening to the sounds of our other bunkmates’ breathing, when we realized that we were both already awake. We changed clothes in the cold air, abandoning a shower for the sake of staying warm. I stuffed my swim suit – a necessity in the 90 degree weather of Thailand but added weight in 60 degree Nepal – into the bottom of my backpack and pulled out my snow hat. We went to the front desk to check out.
We’d planned to take a tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, where my best friend Alex would meet us. After college, Alex joined the Peace Corps in Nepal, where she lived for 2.5 years in a village located about a four hour bus ride from the trekking city of Pokhara. Alex had pre-booked us tickets for a tourist bus, which had large seats, a bathroom on board and an included lunch. We’d spend our entire day – seven hours – on the bus.
“How early do we need to be for our tourist bus?” I asked the man who was checking us out of our $1 American room.
“But,” he looked at me questioningly, “they already left.”
Panic punched my stomach. The buses were gone? But the buses left at 8 am. We knew that. Dana and I exchanged worried looks. I logged onto the wifi and checked my messages from Alex. Sighing, I realized that we’d messed up. Her message said that the buses left at 7 am, something we’d missed in the hecticness of our late arrival the night before. Dana cleared her throat.
“Are there any other options?”
“Well,” he looked at us, as if trying to gage our stamina. “You can take a local bus?”
It was our only choice, so the hostel-owned taxi drove us to the mini bus park where we boarded a 15 passenger van already stuffed full of people. We were given the seats in the back corner and everyone stared at us without shame. We knew only one word of Nepali — “Namaste”, which means hello and goodbye — and I couldn’t bring myself to stare back. I tugged my snow hat further down over my forehead.
The next six hours were bumpy. I hate buses, probably due in part to the fact that I always have to pee when I get into moving vehicles. Vehicles that don’t have on board bathrooms may be one of my worst fears – my palms get sweaty just thinking about it. Worse still, we had no idea if or when the Nepali microbus would stop. The driver turned on loud Indian music and we set off along the mostly-unpaved roads. When we hit potholes, my head hit the ceiling of the bus. There were no windows open near me and the stares continued well into the second hour of the trip. When we finally got off of the bus in Pokhara, I almost collapsed from the exhaustion of holding both my composure and my muscles taunt for hours. As it turned out, our bus had arrived 2 hours before the tourist bus because we’d been driving so fast. We found Alex twenty minutes later and it was an excessive reunion. I cried.
There are many stories from my trip to Nepal, but all of them remind me that I can get through anything, no matter how miserable, no matter how high speed, no matter how foreign. And while I did find those fabrics, teas and tall mountains, there was no flatbread to be found. Still, I always think of pita bread when I think of how right and very wrong my Nepali assumptions turned out to be.
Or “I want to feel skilled in the kitchen” bread. Recipe via King Arthur Flour, inspired by my friend Rebecca.
- 3 cups of flour
- 2 t instant yeast
- 2 t sugar
- 1.5 t salt
- 1 cup water
- 2 T vegetable oil
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix to form a dough dough. Then knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic-y. (If you’re doing it by hand, it’ll take about 10 minutes. With a mixer, it should take 5.)
Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let it rise for one hour. It should become puffy but it might not double, which is fine.
At the one hour mark, turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and divide it into 8 nearly-equal pieces.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. Then roll 4 of the dough pieces into 6 inch circles and put them on a greased baking sheet. Let them rest for 15 minutes while your oven preheats, then bake on the lowest rack for 5 minutes. The pitas should puff up (if they don’t, wait for an extra minute. If they still don’t, they’ll taste good but that means your oven isn’t quite hot enough*). Give them another 2 minutes in the middle rack, then remove them from the oven and wrap them in a clean dishtowel (so they stay soft) while you cook the other batch.
These are best eaten right away, but they’ll keep for about 2-3 days in an airtight container!
*If you don’t think your oven will get hot enough, you can also cook these in a cast iron skillet. Simply spray the cast iron with cooking spray, then cook the pitas on medium high heat for about 2-3 minutes on the first side (it’ll puff up when it’s ready to be flipped) and 1-2 minutes on the second side. This yields a slightly more naan-like bread, but it’s still delicious!