The glamour has gone out of the tourist district Thamel a little perhaps, but the backstreets of Kathmandu proper are as colourful and noisy and full of life as ever. This area does not show many signs of the lethal earthquake that struck Nepal a couple of years ago, though when I wander down to the Durbar Square, the magnificent array of temples in front of an old royal palace and a World Heritage Site, I see that, as I have read, it is mostly a pile of rubble. Of the Kasthamandap, the square open-sided wooden temple that is supposed to have given Kathmandu its name, there is no sign. Excavations since the earthquake supposedly reveal that it may have been built in the 7th century.
I'm here largely to visit my friend Shikher, whom I randomly met in Maldives, where he works - one of the very many Nepalis who are driven abroad by the lack of work at home and send money back to parents or other family members. (My mother is amused that his name means 'drunk' in Yiddish.) He takes all his annual leave in one go so that he can fly back to Nepal. Consequently, while we've been saying for years that we will meet in Nepal one day, this is the first time we have managed it, apart from an hour over coffee last time I was here, when he arrived the day before I left.
We miss each other at the airport but in the evening I find him and a nephew waiting for me at the hotel. The nephew is studying electrical engineering in Biratnagar. I have booked a twin room and tomorrow S will stay here, and on Sunday, after he has acquired some kind of official travel permit, which will involve queuing all day, we can take a microbus, possibly overnight, to Urlabari, since he is taking me to visit his family home in the remote and rural eastern Terai.
On Saturday we meet at Himalayan Java, Thamel's favourite coffee shop, stop off at the hotel ('this is our place!'), go shopping for a suitcase to replace the one I borrowed from my parents which is falling to pieces, and back to the hotel for dinner. We order our food and sit and chat.
'When we go to your home who will be there?'
'My mother, and my sister and her children. Um and my wife.'
'Your wife?' What is this about a wife? He has never mentioned having a wife.
'This is what I've been wanting to apologise for not telling you sooner ...'
'Since when have you had a wife?'
'I was waiting for the right moment to mention it. When I came back to Nepal ...'
'How long ago is this?'
'About a month.'
He came back all unsuspecting for his annual leave towards the end of November, intending to buy a little parcel of land on which in due course he might build a new and better house. His mother is starting to get elderly and when he is away, there is no-one to look after her apart from his sister, who is living there only temporarily. S, of course, is always under pressure to get married, and this time the family sprang a surprise on him: they had identified a suitable wife. So they went in convoy over to her village, where he met her for the first time, and they spoke together, and decided each other would do. The wedding preparations, which swallowed up the money with which he was hoping to buy the land, were hastily made - even friends from neighbouring villages were forgotten from the guest list - in order that they could be married on the 15th of December, which was the last day of Mangsir in the year 2073, because the next day was Poush, and everyone knows that you cannot get married in the month of Poush.
So all is now well, since his mother has a daughter-in-law to look after her, while S spends 11 months out of the year working abroad to support them.