Nepalganj has the feeling of a wild west frontier town. Suddenly, you realise: yes that is exactly what it is. A hot, dusty border city where the streets reek of mule droppings from tangas. And lately, it is the epicentre of the state's response to the emergency. The conflict in the hills has made Nepalganj go through a boom. The city is expanding, new buidings are coming up, refugees have moved down from the hills. The traffic across the border into India has increased.
Masses of screaming and sweating humanity teem on the sidewalks, shuffling along in temperatures at 43 degrees and no sign of respite as the sky remains cloudless and there is no sign of rain this year. (The monsoon finally arrived in Nepalganj on Monday-a month-and-half late.) In the middle of Nepalganj, right next to the Police Training Centre is this town's oasis: The Traveller's Village with its simple white building.
The lodge is everything Nepalganj is not: it is clean, cool, quiet, uncomplicated, and a haven of hospitality. Candy here is not some delicacy, something tooth-wrenchingly sweet conjured by a sweating halwai in Rupediya. No, it is Candy Sherchan, the proud owner of Traveller's Village. The lodge's only claim to pretentiousness is a three-way stucco staircase that connects the three units, 12 rooms with air conditioners, clean beds, no peeling plaster, working faucets, no moldy carpets and ferocious tiger blankets vying for space on my bed.
The service is sweet and ready. No waiters in pseudo-Nepali turnouts, no waitresses in Newari costumes and no Nepali dal bhat in copper thals that have turned green. My mother-in-law had a remedy for green utensils: one handful of crushed burnt charcoal from the fireplace, a lot of rubbing, and you can see the reflection of your face in your plate! People forget that ash is also antiseptic. You have to be there to believe that in Nepalganj you can have chicken that tastes like something Colonel Sanders would dish out, with mashed potatoes, greens in the most delicious lemon butter sauce. Chicken a la Candy.
The service and care make the eating at the Travellers' Village just like at home. Candy's gestures are dervied from her 27 years in Nepal. Her waiters are Tharus who she supports with board, and lodging, food and education for their children. That is corporate social responsibility, Schumacher style. Small is beautiful in this pocket of Nepalganj.