Imagine, you are very close to making one of your big dreams come true. For example, you almost saved up enough money to go and travel to a place you always wanted to visit and only missing a few more bucks to set off. Or you are expecting exam results for which you studied hard and that can help you get the desired promotion at work. You put up the hard work and feel you are one step there and suddenly, something sets you back to where you started. No holidays in Europe. No promotion. You have to start all over again. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you give up on your dream?
In 2018, we visited Kathmandu, Nepal as our base for trekking in the Himalayas. Without much attention, we booked a budget hotel downtown. “Dobry den!” greets us a shorter man with dark short hair in our native Czech upon arrival. Nice but cheap since this is a common trick of hawkers anywhere in the world. They greet you in your language to build rapport and then try to sell whatever they offer. Only minutes later when we hear another Czech-like word during the check-in, we start to realize this man is not trying to trick us. He is enthusiastic with a wide smile on his cheeks!
The man’s name is Mr. Gopal. He and his wife run a small, simple Hotel Bright Star in the heart of Kathmandu. They live in a hotel too. While they manage it day and night, their two sons watch videos at the reception desk or studying in the lobby. Until now, nothing exceptional for Nepalese family businesses and local conditions. However, Mr. Gopal has a very unusual hobby. He is a Czech-fan. The fact that he collects everything related to the Czech Republic, from postcards to travel guides, from customer recommendations in Czech to any handwritten notes, and his hotel is partially decorated with photos of Czech landmarks, already makes him special among his peers and friends. Chances are not very high to find another person in the whole of Asia that would have such a deep interest in a country on the other side of the globe that the majority of local people have never heard of and can’t even spell properly.
As Mr. Gopal points out, his relationship with the Czech Republic was love at first sight. “I saw once very nice pictures of Prague on TV and ever since I started to look up anything about this beautiful place,” he comments on how he found his passion. Since then, he has dreamed about visiting Prague one day but he knew that the day is far in the future because he needs to save enough money first. “I divided all the revenues from our hotel into two buckets. First, to cover the necessary hotel and family expenses and second for our dream trip,” he adds on how diligent he was to accomplish his goal.
As his savings hadn’t been adding up as quick as he imagined and the dream still remained unattainable, he got a brilliant idea. If he can’t go to the Czech Republic, the Czech Republic must come to him. With so many tourists visiting Nepal, there might be some from the Czech Republic too. He made him a white T-shirt with a sign “Jsem z Nepalu a ucim se cesky” (I am from Nepal and I learn Czech) and started walking around the city center with a hope to run into some travelers. After several days, a Slovakian climber chased him down to his hotel. The guest mentioned that the Czech and Slovak languages are almost identical and besides staying in the hotel for a night, he offered to teach Gopal a few words.
This casual language exchange motivated gave him a feeling that his dream is coming closer. He bought a small notebook and started to learn on his own with the help of the limited internet. Whenever he had time, he opened his notebook, thought of a useful word or phrase, looked it up online and wrote it down again and again until he felt confident it’s engraved sufficiently in his mind. He finished several notebooks that looked like the ones small kids use when learning how to write. On one page, you can only see the word “train station” written maybe fifty times, while on the other “please” another fifty times and so it goes for any other new word learned. After a few months, more Czech tourists came and besides leaving some small souvenirs like guidebooks, postcards or even some sweets, the dream was becoming real.
After long years of hard work managing the hotel and dedication he put in learning the language and about the culture, Mr. Gopal started to think that 2015 will be the year when his family will make their first trip overseas to the Czech Republic. However, a horrific event happened in April 2015. A massive earthquake that took lives away from some 9 000 victims and toppled multi-story houses in Kathmandu has turned both his dreams and real-life upside down. “I was almost starting my motorbike to my boy to school when it hit us! Everything was shaking and I shouted on my wife who was in the lobby to immediately leave the house. We were very lucky that nothing has happened to us.” he adds with a tear in his eye.
After a few days of refuge, the family returned safely to the hotel to examine the damages. Luckily, the hotel stood still and Gopal decided to do minor but necessary repairs. However, months after the disaster, which was the biggest earthquake since the last several decades, has been a nightmare not only for Gopal’s family but for everyone in Nepal. Gopal remembers how difficult it was to get meat, how gas prices skyrocketed and medication became extremely scarce. Such conditions in Kathmandu, which was then dependent on supplies from India, quickly drained all savings buckets of Mr. Gopal. Everyone hoped the situation to get better. Although the supply of food and hygienic products improved slightly throughout the rest of the year, Gopal still could feel the burden that the disaster left him with. The number of visitors in Nepal dropped to almost zero that year, leaving Mr. Gopal all the expenses that a four-floor hotel brings and no revenues at sight. “We were really struggling with what we are going to eat, how we pay the bills and how we are going to survive all this”.
As the situation was on the upswing and life was slowly coming back to normal, so was the confidence of international travelers to come back to Nepal. Even though Mr. Gopal and his family now live as before the disaster and welcomes guests with a warm and open smile again, a little seed of worry has been planted in the minds of every Nepalese that similar scenario of the one of 2015 can always return. Nevertheless, the show must go on for now. Any Gopal’s dreams of visiting the Czech Republic were buried deep down in Gopal’s mind and there was no time nor energy to pick it up until a few years later after the catastrophe. What seemed to be a faraway dream has drifted even further away from Mr. Gopal but he keeps his positive mind and believes that one day his family can finally make it despite all the obstacles that have been thrown in their way. Gopal resumed expanding on his handwritten diary. He wears his white T-shirt with a Czech text on it, again. And one day the family from the heart of Kathmandu will make it halfway through the world to see the beautiful country, that none of Gopal’s neighbors and maybe the majority in the neighboring countries have any idea about.
If you’d like to stay at Mr. Gopal while in Kathmandu, please make a booking via his email: firstname.lastname@example.org