- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Hurry!" Nathan said again, pushing me toward an ancient station wagon parked in the street outside. We pulled away just as three men in uniforms burst from the building, yelling unintelligibly.
"Your passport! Quick!" Nathan said, slamming on the brakes. My rifle case lurched forward, hitting me in the head.
"Immigration," he explained, as the officers scribbled in my passport.
"Extraordinary," I said.
Nathan drove with a foot on the gas and a hand on the horn, recklessly weaving in and out of bicycles, trucks, people, cows and cars. At one point an overturned Mercedes bus loomed directly in our path, surrounded by a crowd of curious spectators. Without slowing, Nathan swung the car off the road, over a ditch, through a field and back on the road.
Incredibly, we made the airport by 8:15. The plane to Nepal was still there. A contingent of Nepalese officials snapped to attention as we arrived. They greeted me effusively, escorting me aboard with much bowing. His Majesty had bid me come, and Nathan had delivered.
The flight to Kathmandu took three and a half hours, the first half of it over the monotonous gray-brown plains of northern India. Finally the ancient DC-3 began to climb, creaking and shuddering as a wall of mountains rose forbiddingly. Their barren slopes were as dull and colorless in the morning light as the plains we had just passed. Then the plane crested the topmost ridge. There, spread spectacularly before us between towering walls of snow, lay the glorious, green Valley of Kathmandu. It is an outrageous clich� to describe it as Shangri-La, but that is the first impression, and I defy you to have a different one. You are caught in the grip of unreality, and you do not escape until once again you fly over these mountains, this time bound for home.
When I stepped from the plane I entered into a world pervaded by an atmosphere of enchantment. There were the meticulously terraced fields and frothy gardens, the hundreds of temples with ornate, erotic carvings, the emaciated cows that roam the streets, doomed to a natural, lingering death because, like the monkeys, they are sacred, and the gilded statues and gold-roofed pagodas.
The diminutiveness of the Nepalese people enhanced the chimerical quality of the atmosphere. At 5 feet 4 inches I felt like a giant. Nor could I accurately judge age. Invariably a little girl who looked 5 was 15, and the one who looked 15 turned out to be her grandmother.
I was driven from the airport to Sital Niwas, the royal guesthouse where I would stay while in the city of Kathmandu. Sital Niwas was enormous. Three stories high, it was built of pink stone and had marble columns, balconies, terraces and turrets. Inside there must have been 200 rooms. I was led up a great, curving staircase to a landing decorated with elegant Persian carpeting and crystal chandeliers, then past dozens of closed, carved doors. We continued down a long hall hung with portraits of princes, prime ministers and matriarchs, and at last came to a huge doorway, across which hung a tapestry. Alongside it a small white card set in a gold frame bore my name.