To reach Bhutan I flew via Hong Kong into Kathmandu, Nepal. I’d been there years ago but found a very different city, this one clogged with traffic and choked in dust, largely from construction in response to the horrific April, 2015 earthquake that killed nine thousand and injured thousands more. After a wonderful two weeks in Bhutan, I returned to Kathmandu en route home.
A friend from the trip and I entered the lobby of our hotel. In contrast to the rough-and-ready guests houses we had stayed at in Bhutan this place screamed luxury: the bar area had upholstered sofas and chairs; soft rugs covered the floor and a long table was stacked with newspapers from all over the globe. It was twelve days before Christmas so the lobby was festooned with holiday decorations including a display of gingerbread houses; five chefs in sparkling white aprons topped by traditional toques proudly paraded around. This western holiday cheer was a little odd but lots of modern Nepali are crazy about our culture as evidenced in many ways including their preference for jeans over their traditional dress.
My friend and I had been thrilled with Bhutan but had missed pre-dinner cocktails–we had steered clear of alcohol as drinking can increase the likelihood of altitude sickness which neither of us wanted to risk. Now, on our way home, we could have a drink. We approached the barman and explained exactly what we wanted—vodka martinis–straight up for her, on the rocks for me, olives all around, “and please use dry, not sweet, vermouth.” The man nodded and repeatedly assured us he understood.
A long twenty minutes later, our drinks emerged. My friend’s looked all right although she said it tasted peculiarly like licorice. Mine was a martini glass with a foot high mound of pulverized ice, tiny straws sticking out at angles. I sipped and got the tiniest hint of vodka. “Just what you wanted,” my friend said, “a vodka slurpee!”
At that minute there was a roar; we looked up to see Santa zipping through the lobby on a
motor scooter. On the other side of the room, a largely Nepali group had burst into Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree followed by Joy to the World although the melodies and rhythms were slightly off. I wandered over to check out the singers, mostly parents and kids including a few babies. The adults were drinking what I was told was mulled wine and having a great time. On one side of the room, teen girls were fluffing each others’ hair and showing off fancy dresses that could have come from any American mall. On the other side, a group of monks in traditional crimson and orange robes were enjoying the music, tapping sandaled feet to keep time.
Back at the bar, I looked at my friend and we burst into laughter. Forget the royal palaces in Durbar Square. Never mind the Boudhanath stupa, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979. We were experiencing the –slightly unreal— joys of Christmas in Kathmandu. For the moment, namaste gave way to Old Saint Nick.
Wish the bartender had known how to make a classic vodka martini:
3 ounces vodka (use a good brand. A good martini is better with good vodka.)
1 teaspoon good dry vermouth.
James Bond likes his martini shaken not stirred. Fine with me. I like mine on the rocks but straight up is pretty and classic. Garnish with a twist of lemon or 2-3 large pimento-stuffed olives. If you want a dirty martini, add about a teaspoon of juice from the olive jar.
After enjoying your drink, consider a donation to any of the many organizations aiding victims of disaster be it earthquake, flood or fire.