Aiya – if I don’t write something soon, I will not have written at all in the entirety of February 2013! Since I owe a note on my experience in Nepal, here goes…
Nepal, for some reason, had never been on my top to-do list, despite the fact that it is home to two of the greatest mountain hikes (Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp).
Nepal is an incredibly beautiful country, with a whole lot more to offer than I’d realized (for whatever odd reason). On my tour I spent about 6 days in and around Kathmandu, with an emphasis on religious sites like Namo Boudha, Pharping, Changunarayan. Afterwards, I had a tour guide assist me in organizing 9 days from Pokhara to Chitwan to Lumbini.
In the first part of the trip, I joined my friend, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong, and her photography and new media Masters students. We travelled together with a very sweet nun, Ani Choying, who runs a travel agency in Nepal focused on religion – Red Tara Travels & Tours. Choying did a great job and I really enjoyed talking to her about her Buddhist practice and views on life.
We even got to stay one night at the school for nuns that she graduated from – the Arya Tara School. I have so much I could say about this experience, the beautiful girls I got to play with there, and Buddhism generally – but perhaps another time.
At the end of this segment, I moved on to a short 3-day hike to just get a taste of the Himalayas, paragliding in Pokhara, saw rhinos in Chitwan, and visited Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini. Each of these experiences were all so meaningful and joyful.
What makes Nepal so special is its people. Folks are warm, and a mix of cultures are embraced here. Being next door to Tibet, some of the people have very interesting mixed South and East Asian features.
Being still very much based on an agrarian economy, life is simpler here. The food is very clean and unadulterated. There are no pesticides or fertilizers in use here, and the chicken you eat for dinner was probably running around beside you just that morning.
And once you’re out of Kathmandu, the air is fresh and clean. I have also never seen such beautiful clouds in my life before!
In preparation of this post, I re-read my India impression from 2009/2010 and can say that despite many Nepalis looking like Indians, despite the pervasiveness of Bollywood in Nepal, and despite the similarities in food, religion, and culture – Nepal is not its neighbor India. It’s far less populated, and while it is by no means a rich country, the poverty gap is far less wide – which I think makes a huge difference.
I did not see any slums, and I only encountered very few beggars. Of the adult beggars – they were always very very old, and hanging out in tourist sites. I cracked and gave one very elderly lady some small amount. Of the children – again, very few and only occasionally on the hiking trail, where they were only asking for chocolate or candy. Notably, none of the beggars physically touched me – which would happen a lot in India (even through taxi or tuk tuk windows).
This compare and contrast exercise loomed large at the time of my trip, since that horrible Delhi gang rape story had been in the news at that time. It would come up when I spoke with local Nepalis, and many would tell me how even they would have a hard time travelling in India, despite knowing Hindi and looking local. Of course – that terrible incident shouldn’t overshadow the beauties and wonders of India either.
I hope to return to Nepal some day. It would be an amazing experience to get to either the Annapurna or Everest Base Camp – though rather time consuming. I hear the roundtrip takes about 14 days!
There seems to be endless places in this world to visit, and my love for travelling has not dampened since my move.