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New book follows local writer’s adventures marrying and honeymooning in Nepal

Last modified: 7/8/2014 12:26:29 AM
Dan Szczesny wasn’t scared of the Himalayas. He didn’t flinch at spending his honeymoon at Everest Base Camp. Altitude sickness? No problem. However, learning a new culture, being present in the moment, and getting used to the idea that his wedding ceremony would be in Sanskrit, gave him pause.

Szczesny, a travel writer and associate editor of The Hippo, writes of these and many other adventures in hiking and marriage in his new book, The Nepal Chronicles. A book release party is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Thursday at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. This travel memoir follows Szczesny’s first book, The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie, which told the story of his one-year, 225-mile journey through the New Hampshire wilderness with his 10-year-old foster daughter.

In The Nepal Chronicles, Szczesny once again brings his life to the page, this time to tell the tale of how he and his wife, Meenakshi, decided to travel to Nepal to get married in Kathmandu and then trek to Everest Base Camp for their honeymoon.

Szczesny said that initially he and his wife wanted something small and fun, like jetting off to Vegas. But her father had a different idea. He suggested a traditional Nepalese wedding in Kathmandu, complete with handlers who could explain the ceremony and the culture.

“I thought about it for about a second and said, ‘Of course I would love to do that,’ ” Szczesny said.

Being a seasoned travel writer, Szczesny knew that this trip was going to turn into something he would write about. So one of the biggest challenges became trying to record what he would later use as material for the book, while still actually enjoying what was happening. For that, he said, he drew on the skills he learned traveling throughout Europe, writing for a variety of publications.

“I like putting myself in so I can experience the story, and that’s what I’ve always done, or tried to do,” he said. 
He also, wisely, took some advice from his wife.

“She said to me, ‘You have a reporter’s mind, and you want everything answered,’” he said. “And she said, ‘You are going to a place that is so culturally, so societally, different than what you’re used to. . . . What you need to do is put all of those questions, all of that research, all of those things you want to know the answer to, . . . put them in a box and store it in the back of your brain to sort out later.’”

Her words, it turned out, were prescient. Szczesny said that while he’d been to big cities all across the world, nothing prepared him for what he saw in Kathmandu.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen as far as how this city could even possibly function as a city,” he said. “Part of what happened to Kathmandu is that it is in a valley, and it’s surrounded by mountains. And in the early 2000s there was an uprising in the country and all the people from all the villages came down to Kathmandu. So the city quickly grew from 1 million to 2 million in less than 10 years’ time. And the infrastructure did not keep up with it.”

That meant, for example, you might be driving along the road, turn a corner and there, in the middle of the road, was a telephone pole. Still, Szczesny fought the urge to question it, to search for reason. He simply took pictures of the oddities, the exotic and the profound, jotted notes that captured the heart of each day of the journey and promised himself that later he would figure out what the heck it all meant.

He had a harder time doing that with the actual wedding ceremony.

“Being dropped into this wedding ritual and this tradition, for me, was incredibly peculiar and different, and outside of anything I had ever experienced,” Szczesny said. “But to everyone else there, it was probably boring.”

A standout from the ceremony was the language. While one might expect it to be performed in Hindu or Nepali, it instead used the ancient Sanskrit language. Even the people participating in the wedding didn’t really understand, he said, since many traditions in ceremony have been passed down for 2,000 years.

“When we go to a Western wedding, we’re talking about a couple hundred years of tradition, where everybody knows what to do and knows what that means,” he said. “But in a Nepalese wedding because of the language, because of the tradition, because of how ancient this society is, everybody sort of has a different take on what it is you’re doing in the ceremony.”

Szczesny said he got into the habit of asking four or five people what a particular ritual or tradition meant as a way of sussing out common denominators.

After collecting a multitide of small experiences, Szczesny said, he could figure out the “heartbeat” of each day. These would later into the meat of his book.

“If you go to Paris you’ve got to see the Eiffel Tower. But if that’s all you do, you’re really missing out on Paris,” he said. “And we all have these destinations in mind. . . . But what’s way more interesting to me about traveling is the time between deciding to go and actually getting there. That’s far more interesting to me than actually reaching the destination.”

Szczesny will read from his book and show photographs from his honeymoon trek to Everest Base Camp at the Gibson’s event. Books will be available for purchase, and Szczesny will stick around to sign them. The event is free and open to the public. The bookstore is located at 45 South Main St. For information, call 224-0562 or go to gibsonsbookstore.com.


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