My first post will be about the country that helped shape who I am, in the best of ways. It took a long time to write, not only because I am a professional procrastinator, but also because I don’t think it’s very easy to determine.
Why do I think you should go and pay a visit to Nepal?
Well, there’s the land itself. Nepal is a small country, located between two giants, India and China. It’s a very mountainous area – duh – with the Mount Everest, Sagarmatha in Nepali, as its flagship. There are plains as well, and valleys between the mountain ranges. The nation’s capital, Kathmandu, is situated in the valley that gave it its name. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Kathmandu is a very diverse city. The traditional city center, Durbar Square, is located in the heart of the vibrant place. Ancient, precisely carved wooden balconies are neighbors of more recent cement ones.
Mind you, it’s definitely not the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. Au contraire. There is garbage pretty much everywhere, even though there are constantly people working in piling it up in designated places. I personally think it adds to the charm of the place, but that’s for everyone to decide for themselves.
Forget about the garbage though, that’s not what makes this city so wonderful. The spirituality does. There are temples everywhere. One of the world’s biggest Buddhist temples, Bouddhanath, is located on the outskirts of town. And that is only one of three major sites. On another side of town there’s the monkey temple, Swayambunath, a hindu place of worship, and there’s another one, Pashupatinath, not very far from it. Besides this, there are smaller shrines and stupas placed all around the city. One minute, you’re wandering around the network of tiny alleys and streets that is Thamel, the tourist area, and the next you’re on a tiny square, there are women selling glass bracelets, saddhus offering blessings for cash and there’s a tiny temple present, a shrine to one of the many gods of the Hindu pantheon, a red dot (tikka) on its forehead, garlands around its neck and offerings at its feet.
Then, when you decide to move away from the valley, you’ll pass through both modern-ish and antique neighborhoods. One of the many options to go to is Nagarkot. This is a very small place that offers a great view on the mountain range – if you’re there in the right season, that is.
If you have the time to travel further away, Pokhara is a great place. This city is situated near a lake, and most hiking trips into the mountains start here as well. It’s the best place to return to after an exhausting walking trip as well. The lake holds many boats, and the boatmen will gladly paddle you around for a day, or just take you on a trip to the temple that is located on a small island in the lake. If you’re feeling brave, you can just hire a boat for yourself. There are some spectacular views just around the city, as well as a cave that’s been reformed into a shrine for Shiva, because there’s a rock shaped like a snake in it. It’s a lot cleaner than KTM, but it offers the same atmosphere. A lot of the bars have live bands that play there, some have a lakeside terrace. There’s a good view on the mountains, and Annapurna is but a car ride and hiking trip away.
These are definitely not the only places worth visiting in this country. There is Lumbini, in the south, which is the birthplace of the Buddha. Besides that there’s a very nice national park, Chitwan, in the lower region of the country, the Terai.
Now for the people. The people! In my honest opinion, biased though it may be, the Nepali are one of the kindest and most welcoming people I’ve come to know and love. It’s difficult to generalize these things, but I spent 6 weeks there, and have not had a single bad experience. Of course, there are your usual merchants who sell trinkets and cute handiwork. And when they tell you that you need to buy something because the first customer decides how lucky they will be that day by buying, yes or no, they are probably just playing you. Personally, I fall for it every time, I don’t have the heart to condemn them to a bad day of sales. I imagine they laugh. Hard. But they are very friendly nonetheless. If you’re deciding how low you’re going to try and get their price, they’ll get you a cup of chai, sweet Nepali milk tea that is incredibly heavy on the stomach but oh so delicious. When the store owners sit outside and guess where you’re from, they’ll probably be right and start a conversation with you in your mothertongue. It’s all a game, in the end. But they play it well, if not fair.
If people stop you on the street, or try to start up a conversation with you, it’s not necessarily because they want your money. Unless they’re beggars, then they probably do. But the thing is, that a lot of the natives just want to get to know you, maybe show you around, or practice their English. There doesn’t have to be an ulterior motive, and that’s a very comforting thought. And hell, who else is going to get you to try tasting ox tongue, navigate through the suicide attempt that is traffic, or try the local liquor (don’t!)? Exactly.
So why should you go and pay a visit to Nepal? I think the real question is, why not?!
Did I mention you can jump off a bridge in Bhote Kosi and go paragliding in Sarangkot? Exactly.