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Wonders of the World

by the Most Rev. Edward M. Egan

The bus from the capital of Nepal, Katmandu, to the town of Bhaktapur, nine miles to the east, moved slowly over a road of stones and dust. It was an extraordinarily bright and fresh morning in July. My two companions and I were somewhat tired from three days of exploring the sights of Katmandu. We were looking forward to a more relaxed program in Bhaktapur.

Our bus pulled into a parking lot about 300 yards from Durbar Square at 7:00 a.m. We were informed that another would be waiting in the same place at 7:00 p.m. to take us back to Katmandu.

As we descended from the bus, a Nepalese man of about fifty years of age approached, wearing a green and yellow plastic sign on his white pajama-like shirt. It read: "Excellent Guide."

He would give the three of us the best one-day tour available in all of Nepal, he announced in a polished English accent. He was an expert in Nepalese art. His hobby was Nepalese history. He knew where to eat and, perhaps more importantly, where not to eat. His price would be reasonable, and he was sure we realized that we were indeed fortunate to have met him.

As we followed the guide into Durbar Square, one of our number settled upon the "reasonable price." The negotiations were quite detailed. A guide of his stature would, of course, eat lunch at the same table as his clients and at a restaurant of his choosing, we were informed. The same would hold true for tea. Moreover, at the conclusion of our tour it was understood that, in his words, "the gratuities would not be ungenerous."

* * * * * *

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur is often said to be the architectural and artistic masterpiece of Nepal. It boasts a royal palace decorated with a multitude of intricately carved windows, a museum filled with colorful miniature paintings, an imposing pagoda guarded by huge stone soldiers and elephants, a triumphal arch, and much more. About each of the sights our guide offered an engaging commentary; and when we were in a Buddhist or Brahman temple or monastery, he never failed to tell us the tales of the gods and goddesses, at times checking to be sure that we were following his explanations with attention.

"You recall seeing the statue of Taleju, the goddess of damaging floods, do you not?" he would inquire. "Here is a statue of Bhavani. She is the goddess of beneficial rains."

At one-thirty in the afternoon we found ourselves in a restaurant across from a pagoda-style palace whose turquoise blue entrance provided a stunning backdrop for two carved lions, both brightly painted in scarlet, black, and white. The scene was truly breathtaking, and our guide repeatedly congratulated himself on his wise choice of a place to dine.

Strangely, however, as we drank our coffee at the end of the meal,the direction of his conversation shifted from the sights of Bhaktapur to a town twenty miles to the east from which we were told we would see Mount Everest with a clarity we had not known in Katmandu or Bhaktapur and would not know even in Patan, which we were to visit in a few days.

"Allow me to arrange for an afternoon tour to this jewel," he pleaded. "Everest is a wonder of the world. If you do not see it to the very best advantage, you will always be regretful. The travel cost will not be high, and I will charge but a little more for my additional service. Come now, a wonder of the world is a wonder of the world."

My friends and I were sorely tempted. After all, one comes to Nepal primarily for the Himalayas; and Everest is the highest peak. We had photographed it through clouds and mist. Perhaps we should accede to our guide's suggestion.


* * * * * *

The agency from which we were to obtain the car for our excursion was on the edge of the parking lot into which the bus had brought us in the morning. We waited outside while our guide dickered with the proprietor inside about the price. Across the parking lot one of our number spied a long, grey roof supported by a series of wooden poles, spaced about fifteen feet apart. We decided to investigate.

As we approached the structure, we could scarcely believe our eyes. Underneath the roof were one hundred or more cots in neat rows, each covered with a sheet and pillow the color of blue jeans and each bearing a man or woman who was either very ill or very advanced in age. In among the rows we saw eight women in white Indian-style saris, trimmed in blue. We could not fail to recognize them. They were the Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

We stood at the entrance looking in. Two of the religious glided over to greet us. They were small of stature and spoke in hardly more than a whisper. Here, they explained, is where the poor who are ill and aged come for medical care in some cases but in most, simply to breathe their last with dignity. Many are gathered up each night from the streets of the town by the sisters and their volunteer helpers. Each is fed, medicated, and offered a cot. All are treated in accordance with what they are -- images and likenesses of God, a little less than the angels, beings for whom Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, would not hesitate to suffer and die.

It was suggested that we not enter the structure or even take photographs of it. This is the last home of many, we were told. It is best treated as private and privileged. These are the Lord's precious children. In His eyes they have every right to the utmost of care and compassion, love and respect.

* * * * * *

As we spoke with the sisters, our guide joined us, "Everything is arranged," he proclaimed. "I have a car and a driver for the four of us, and they will cost only 360 rupees. We should not be wasting time here. Everest, a wonder of the world, awaits us."

Not a word was exchanged between myself and my two companions. Each of us drew 120 rupees from our wallets and handed them to the sisters. Then, again without prior agreement, each of us handed our guide a "gratuity" for the afternoon tour. Mine was a ten-rupee note.

"We have decided not to take the extra excursion," one of our number explained to the mystified guide. "We feel that one wonder of the world a day is about all that we can handle, and Everest will never be able to top this one right here."

Two of us groaned at the pun. Suddenly the guide understood what was happening. He smiled broadly, bowed to the sisters, and pretended to chide us. "Hurry along, gentlemen," said he. "There is much more to be seen here in Bhaktapur."

* * * * * *

At 7:30 the bus for Katmandu was still waiting in the parking lot for its full complement of passengers. As the evening was gathering, first one and then all of us noticed our guide, who had taken his leave of us at 6:00, making his way alone toward the long, grey roof under which the Sisters of Mother Teresa labored. He stood at the entrance, spoke briefly with one of the sisters, and then hurried away.

The bus driver started the motor. As we rode back to Katmandu, my friends and I had but one question on our minds. Had the guide gone back to the wonder of the world we had seen in order to turn over to the sisters the "gratuities" he had received for the wonder of the world we had not seen? We could only guess. The Lord Who inspires all of us to love and care for the ill and aged, of course, knew. He, however, preferred to leave us in wonder.

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