An evening in “The National” guesthouse

Now, Jeanna had told us of the decidedly unique approach that Nepalis seem to have when it comes to advertising.

Her favourite example is of a bar in Kathmandu that she frequents. The said establishment cheerfully announces that its “Happy Hour” lasts from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. and that during these rip-roaring times all drinks come on a buy one get one free basis.

Not a bad deal when you look at it. Or that would be the case, if it were true. The first time Jeanna took advantage of this liberal arrangement she was rather surprised, when it came time to settle the bill, to discover that the barman seemed to have forgotten the buy one get one free offer.

On confronting him with his error however, the barman simply shook his head and with a knowing smile informed her that the sign outside meant nothing.

“We don’t have a Happy Hour”

“But the sign outside. It says 2 -6 buy one get one free!”

“Oh that! No, that’s just advertising…..”


Now the sign outside The National was of a similar nature.

“The best hotel in Ghasa! 24 hour hot water! Extensive menu!”

Oh boy! What a place …..

Well ……

To be fair if the sun had been shining then indeed we would have had solar powered hot water for our showers. As it was the day was grey and damp and overcast so heating and the promised hot water would have to come via the wood burning stove. The guesthouse owner however is an energy conservationist so the stove is not lit – which means no hot showers for us then.

I tried to remind myself that in some ways this was a good thing. If all the guesthouses burned wood after all, then the splendid forests around us would be a lot less extensive.

The selfish, sulky westerner in me though, cannot be placated by such rational thoughts. I am cold and wet and exhausted and it was only the thought of that hot shower that had powered me on through the last kilometres.

As I sulk though, I become aware of the frenetic activity of the guesthouse owner. He is busy ordering around the guests, in a slightly effete, camp fashion.

I perk up a little as I watch him.

Dressed in an oversized brown woollen coat, with enormous Michael Caine glasses, he is handing out buckets to some bemused Israelis and informing them that there is some lukewarm water in a water container on the roof and that if they take a bucket of this with them to the shower and use it carefully, then they can have a reasonably warm wash.

Smirking they take their buckets and head to the showers.

One by one we are all ordered through the bucket shower process and the ridiculousness of it all seems to lift our spirits. Sure we’re all still freezing, true the rain is still pouring down, granted the rooms are cold, but we’re having fun!

And, you know, that bucket shower was not too bad. One 5 litre bucket was ample water to soap yourself down and rinse yourself off with.

I have no idea how much water I would use taking a shower back home , but I seriously doubt I would ever use as little as 5 litres. Just goes to show.

So suitably washed and refreshed we head to the main room of the guesthouse for the rest of the evening, mainly because this is the only room that is heated.

A few guests are already there, huddled over hot drinks and snug at the table.

We join then and the relief is immediate, thanks in part to the ingenious under table heating system.

It’s a common method of heating here, we are informed.

A charcoal brazier, or a pit dug into the floor, sits under the table, and the table, covered in thick blankets, provides plenty of insulation. So, as you sit there you actually get pretty damn warm, and I’d even suggest that the incidence of chilblains, as a result of this system, must be pretty high.

Still, it sure is moasty toasty 🙂

I look around the table at the other guests. A young couple canoodling in one corner, a young guy quietly reading the Da Vinci Code in Hebrew, in the other.

All is quiet and content.

Not much is said really, save for the mumbling of food orders. Everyone seems tired and overcome by the warmth.

Eventually though as the beer flows and the apple brandy arrives things start to liven up. Even the disappointment of the food cannot weaken us (much). Turns out that the extensive menu runs to daal bhat, fried chicken scraps and chips or a meat or vegetable rice/noodle stir fry.

I stick with my vegetable rice. Jeanna orders some meat variation of the same and as she is tucking in realises that her meal comes with added protein in the form of a few stray insects that appear to have met their end in the frying pan. Yum!

The young couple it turns out are on the trail because her parents had been there in the 1970s and fell in love with it. In fact, they loved it so much that they decided to call their daughter Ulleri after the village on the trail. So now, 30 years later, here she is coming to visit the town and the region that gave her her name.

We listen to this tale and raise a glass to celebrate her journey of discovery.

And the apple brandy keeps on flowing.

The quiet Israeli has now been joined by his travel companions and things are starting to liven up.

Do we want to join then in a game of cards?


So it is that we spend the night playing a rather frenetic Israeli version of Gin Rummy called “Yannis” .

It’s quite a game (even without the brandy).

I think it may be an Israeli secret, because I tried to look up the rules on the web as a reminder, but to no avail.

So, the basic rules, as far as I can recall them are as follows:

Each player gets 7 cards

The aim is to get rid of your cards and get as low as score as possible.

You can do this by making pairs, threes, suits of four (four queens , jacks, aces etc) or a run of the same suit 2,3,4, 5 of hearts etc.

However before picking up a card from the pile, you FIRST need to throw out a card before picking one up!

Once you have a total in your hand of 7 or less, you can then decide whether or not you want to call out “Yannis”.

All the players must then show their cards and their totals must be counted.

If your total is less than the other players you win. If, however, someone has less points in their hand than you when you call Yannis , then they win and you get a 35 point penalty.

So it’s important to pay attention to the cards people are throwing out as they try to make their pairs etc.

Score more than 200 and you’re out completely

Score exactly 100 and you get 50 points taken off and exactly 200 and you get 100 points taken off.

The last player remaining is, of course, the winner.

It’s a great game. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that it replaced Rummy as our game of choice for the rest of the tour. So all I can say is give it a try and have fun.

At some point in the evening Tania and I realised that everyone had gone to bed and that it was just the two of us plus two Israeli’s battling it out, whilst the exasperated guesthouse owner looked on imploring us to go to bed.

In the end, I’m not even sure who won, because the brandy was past around with more frequency than the cards.

All I know is that I fell into bed feeling warm and happy, all thoughts of rain and bucket showers banished in a haze of apple brandy.


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