A True Businessman
The dal bhat arrives exactly as ordered, at 18:30 sharp. It defies the usual laid-back delay of dinnertime in Nepalese trekking villages. It at once raises the bar of service standards and lowers the familial jostling between visitor and visited. It reveals that Gurung Cottage is a different guesthouse, unique in mindset and execution.
This simple meal of steamed rice and lentil soup is placed on an ordinary wooden table in a small cottage overlooking a deep, lush valley where the Mardi River flows down from the Annapurna Base Camp: a Himalayan bowl surrounded by some of Nepal’s tallest peaks. Gurung Cottage is in Ghandruk, a natural stopping place for trekkers before they venture to more challenging altitudes.
Across the bare, stone courtyard from the dining cottage, a row of simple double-bed rooms faces the magnificent view. Eaves of corn hang outside each door and colourful flowers pour out of pots on the ground. Plants aside, the rooms are nothing special compared to neighbouring guesthouses.
The guesthouse Owner personally greets each guest when they arrive. Slightly out of breath from running over, he shakes each person’s hand with a strong, warm grip. A hands-clasped “namaste” follows with a small bow. He stands tall, weight evenly distributed on both feet, his broad build supported by a stance ready for everything. He’s assertive yet welcoming, efficient yet respectful, a real businessman.
Unlike the others, the Owner runs his business by the clock, with no sense of leisure. His guesthouse caters to Western tastes and expectations. Residents in the area say he learned this from his family—his father is thought to have made a lot of money during his time serving in the British Army which, along with the Singapore Police and Indian Army, recruits heavily from Nepal’s rural villages. Ghandruk in particular is a recruiting hot-bed: residents here are known to be strong and assertive both physically and mentally, with piercing eyes that “come out of the face”. Apparently, the Owner’s father still receives a pension from Britain, making the family by far the wealthiest in the area.
The Owner has decided to channel these resources and know-how from his father’s travels into running the best possible guesthouse. He makes no effort to hide his goals, he’s driven and the others know it. A trickle of envy accompanies the gossip around him, but there is no bitterness in the conversations. He’s a native of the village and he does his own hard work.
Throughout the evening, the Owner is constantly on the move. He doesn’t socialise with guests, instead moving from task to task with mastered calm on his face. He ducks into the kitchen, where the smell of dal bhat pours out into the dining room. He then makes note of the liquor stock—an impressive array to find in a remote village only accessible by thousands of stone steps. He gently picks up the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label, carefully noting how much is left in a small, worn notebook.
In the evening, while the Owner cleans the kitchen together with his cook, everyone else gathers outside in the courtyard to gaze at Annapurna II. It’s twilight, and the last rays of sunshine are being snatched away by the hills to the West.
There are no embellishments to accompany the craggy outline of the mountain. The Owner knows his location and service make the experience perfect. Nothing else is needed.