Adventure and Travel / Eastern Nepal
A year ago today, I was sitting in the Kathmandu airport waiting to board the first flight leg back to the States. I know this because of Facebook memories, which typically consists of embarrassing photos or status updates that I have to ignore for peace of mind - because I couldn't possibly have told the world how I was feeling via song quotes. And I definitely would never have posted a grainy photo consisting solely of a bowl of Top Ramen and a beer. All of this is for example - never anything I actually did...
I digress. Today, I was happily reminded about my trip to Nepal last October. I've been wanting to write a post about this trip for a whole year now, and it just never happened. Mostly because I'm still at a loss of words and it cannot be described in a manner that does it justice.
I'll be the first to admit that my memory in general is faulty. I don't remember a lot of details and sometimes I don't even remember certain trips or events. It's very unfortunate for me - but it doesn't mean that I didn't appreciate, love, cherish, or HAVE THE BEST TIME EVER that one time we went to place A and did thing B.
But this trip - the country, the city, the villages, the people, the trekking - I remember it well. I remember what the barn smelt like, the one where we slept next door to the buffalo and it's calf. I remember how scared I was to get up in the middle of the night, walk down a wooden ladder, and squat over a deep dark hole to relieve myself during what seemed to be witching hour for the gang of wild dogs that roamed the villages. The taste of dal bhat and how it changed from village to village...the joy (and sometimes disgust) I got from eating it with my hands.
But most importantly, I remember the people. I feel like I remember the faces of all the people who's paths we crossed. I felt humbled, grateful, heart broken, and at peace all at once during those 8 days. The word fortunate became a conundrum and I still question what it means. Yes, we get to pick which bright screen to stare at, flush our toilets, drive our cars on paved roads, conveniently choose which fast food to drive thru - but do we really know what it means to be fortunate? I know that there are so many necessities that the Nepali should have access to, and don't. And that is the hard part about visiting 3rd world countries as a tourist - to see what we consider very uncomfortable living situations, children running around without shoes when I'm wearing 5 layers and sturdy hiking boots, teenagers carrying large bushels of wheat or baskets full of produce on their backs rather than book bags, hearing so many terrible coughs and seeing perpetual runny noses that longed for tissues - I felt useless and privileged.
But on the other hand, I resolutely made the decision to spend more time thinking about what I need in life to feel fortunate and what is completely unnecessary. There was a sense of peace in all of these small mountain villages that I can't explain - seeing this simplistic way of life was refreshing and uplifting. And the people appeared to be genuinely happy living this way of life. I hope that one day the entire country will have sanitation systems, clean running water, access to medicine - but that they can still live peacefully without the distractions that we have created for ourselves in first world countries.
But here I am, visitor of few countries, preaching on basic human needs and living a simpler life - and I'm far from understanding most things and even farther from living a more simple life. This week alone I ordered a new camera bag, a climbing backpack, and browsed the internt for a Halloween costume I will wear once. I won't even pretend to be worldly or well traveled or cultured - because I am not. But I guess my main goal as a traveler, no matter where I go, is to fully immerse myself in my chosen country, interact directly with the people, seek to understand their way of life, learn from it, and try to share it with those who are interested in learning as well. Oh, and also photograph the crap out of it. For the rest of the post, I will avoid offloading my opinions on how to live a better life and instead will share some brief details about the trip.
I traveled from Denver > Qatar > Kathmandu and met my friends Bobbi & Danielle in the Kathmandu airport. We stayed one night in the very, VERY crowded city of Kathmandu after meeting the owner of our guide company at the airport and surviving our first Nepalese driving experience. I will sum that entire experience up in one word: terrifying.
From Kathmandu, we loaded into a 4x4 and spent 8 hours in the car to get to the starting point of our trek. There were more moments of terror as we careened down mountain sides, passed giant buses overloaded with people on roads that were hardly big enough for smart cars, through rivers (literally through a river), and somehow managed to survive our second driving experience. I wish I could tell you the names of the places we stayed - but that would be incredibly impressive and far from possible.
We quickly learned what toilets consisted of, how often we would be eating dal baht, and how amazing our guides were - Hari, Laxman, and Kumar were with us the entire way and it actually would not have been possible without them as we chose a very remote area with no hostels or tea houses - instead, we showed up in a remote village each night. One of the guides would disappear to find a place for us to stay - then we would follow him to what appeared to be a completely random stranger's hut / barn / shed where we would set up our air pads and sleeping bags for the night. The random stranger would then prepare us all dal baht or noodle soup for dinner and then the same for breakfast, maybe adding an over fried egg. And such is the story of the next 7 days and 7 villages - all of which had their own unique qualities. We went from low, humid, rice paddies to high, alpine mountain passes - tank tops and shorts to puffies and fleece lined pants. Barns, sheds, rooms with wooden platform beds, outhouses that were clean, outhouses that were terrifying - but the commonality between all the villages was the people. They were all welcoming and kind and generous and inquisitive.
After 8 days of trekking, we sadly loaded ourselves back into a 4x4 and made yet another terrifying (actually the MOST terrifying) drive back to Kathmandu and found ourselves standing in a shower for the first time in 8 days. Bobbi & I spent one more night and a day in Kathmandu before our flights left while Daniella took a few more days to finish trekking the Ruby Valley with our guides. We explored Swayambhunath, more commonly known at the Buddhist Monkey Temple and then it was goodbye. Our guide sent us off with traditional silk scarves and prayer beads and it was the best ending to the most tremendous trip.
I hope that I get the opportunity to visit Nepal in the future. There is so much culture, beauty, and landscape to be seen. Although I wouldn't have chosen another route for this trip, it would be exciting to go back and see Everest or Annapurna - but word of warning to those who are interested in these popular routes - those treks are highly trafficked and very touristy. The local cultural experience will be minimal. So if you want to get off the beaten path, do some digging. It will most definitely pay off.