A journey from Nepal to love under quarantine in St. John's: One couple's story
The day before they were to be united, the WHO declared a pandemic
After years of waiting, Tilak Chawan is finally living a life he's been dreaming of — spending every moment with his wife Mamta Bhurtel.
Theirs is a love story that started in Nepal, lasted years of long distance, and is seeing the happily ever after unfold in St. John's.
Chawan was born in Bhutan but, because of the political realities of the day, ended up spending years with his family in a refugee camp.
In 2010 he started teaching outside the camp in Nepal to make some money for his parents and siblings.
"Financially, our situation was really terrible," Chawan said.
"I started helping my family, supporting with the finances and going outside teaching into small schools outside in Nepal," he said.
While teaching he met a woman named Mamta Bhurtel but that's where things ended at the time — a year later he was sponsored as a government-assisted refugee to come to Canada.
Time passed as Chawan was getting used to his new country and life went on.
But then one day, a few years after they'd met, a name popped up on Facebook: Mamta Bhurtel.
Living away from each other means one day we will meet again. It's for the best of everybody right now.- Tilak Chawan
The pair added each other and started chatting. The chats went off swimmingly and before long they agreed to start dating in a long distance relationship.
The relationship grew year after year. Finally in 2016, Chawan became a Canadian citizen, got a passport right away and booked a trip to see his love in Nepal.
While there he asked her parents for her hand in marriage. She said yes, and so did her family. Plans were made for a 2018 wedding.
"It was beautiful," said Chawan. "It was a very big celebration."
After the wedding in Nepal, paperwork needed to be done for Bhurtel to be able to come and live in Canada as she finished her master's in microbiology in Nepal.
She got a visa for entry into Canada this year and was set to arrive in St. John's on March 12.
"We were so excited, over-the-moon-kind of excitement from both families," said Chawan.
He said the countdown was months long and everything was ready for her to arrive.
"Having to stay away from each other for so many long years. That was only the dream we dreamt about every time," he said.
A COVID-19 wrench
COVID-19 threw a wrench into their plans.
The day before Bhurtel was set to arrive, the WHO declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic. Her flight was cancelled.
The larger worry was Bhurtel wouldn't get to St. John's at all with countries bringing in more strict travel restrictions — and her entry visa expiring March 21.
Chawan managed to rebook her flight so she could arrive on time, and when Bhurtel landed on Canadian soil Chawan was waiting.
"I was at the airport with roses in my hand, you know, totally different romantic situation. It was really fun and really exciting," he said.
After having a long-distance relationship for years, it was off into self-quarantine together as even though it wasn't obligated at the time, they felt it was the responsible thing to do.
Chawan said after loving each other for so many years from afar, they enjoyed every single minute of the 14 days.
"Honestly that is more than a dream come true for us. We always wished this moment to be happening in our lives. And now it is happening," he said.
Chawan also has advice for anyone who is finding the COVID-19 distancing becoming too much to bear.
"Living away from each other means one day we will meet again. It's for the best of everybody right now," he said.
"That is exactly what I felt when my wife and I were away from each other. She was doing her part. I was doing my part and the goal was one day we will be together to do our part."
Chawan's plans for when this pandemic is behind us are simple: help his wife get to know her new city.
"I've always dreamt about going up to Signal Hill and spending some quality time there, like watching the beautiful view of our city."
Chawan's parents and siblings also live in St. John's. He said they plan to give her a proper welcome and celebrate the next chapter they will spend together.