How do you do, Kathmandu!Posted: January 9, 2014
I am sitting on a rooftop in Varanasi, India, inhaling dust and chai, and reminiscing my time in Nepal. In just 10 short days, I learned so much from so many different people from all walks of life. I still can’t believe what a thoroughly awesome experience Nepal was. A big chunk of that owes to the fact that all the Nepali people I came across were genuinely kind, open-hearted and so full of life, and I felt welcomed.
Feven and I arrived in Nepal with absolutely no expectations but the eagerness to be out of Beijing. We had done little research on the country as the bulk of our travels this winter would be spent in India; Nepal was just a stopover. We obtained our luggage and visas within 30 minutes on arrival in the unlit immigration hall. It was a breeze. Little did we know this would reflect our next 10 days in Nepal.
We exited the airport already with a new friend, a German farmer, and together were greeted by a rush of enthusiastic taxi and tuktuk drivers. There also happened to be a fiery red sun setting over the mountain across from where we stood. We stepped into a miniature cab to take us into the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, down narrow lanes, past goats, past barefoot children and elders, past a zillion signs advertising language and study abroad programs in countries from Japan to Latvia.
Our hostel was located right outside Thamel, a maze-like neighborhood lined with souvenir and trekking shops for tourists. One could not walk down the skinny lanes without nearly getting run over by motorbikes, nor without receiving offers of hashish. We settled on Thakali Thali (dal baht) for dinner at “Kathmandu’s best Thakali House”, one of several million; a curry, dal baht (lentils), stir-fried green, pickles, and a heap of rice served on a large round metal tray. The highlight of this dish came with the unexpected second-helping of each item, including another helping of white rice. All-you-can-eat, no complaints here!
On our second day in Kathmandu, the German farmer, an American volunteer nurse, plus Feven and I headed towards Boudhanath, a beautiful and holy white Buddhist stupa to which devout followers make their pilgrimage from mountains away. There were little and old monks chanting, and men and women from different countries prostrating under Buddha’s eyes, or walking clock-wise around the stupa spinning the prayer wheels. Tibetan prayer flags stretched from every corner to the tower of the stupa, adding color to the otherwise simple structure.
A surprising but lovely fact about Boudhanath, and I realized reflected in Nepali society in general, was that regardless of it being a Buddhist temple, Hindus and Buddhists alike worshipped together. There was a small section at the entrance of the stupa with Hindu gods and decorations. Earlier we had passed a temple with a sign that read, “Followers of all faiths welcome.” And at the Royal Palace Museum we saw signs that labeled resting areas not for the disabled, but for the “differentlyabled.” How inclusive and loving to all! That explains another sign I read on the mountain during my trek in the Annapurnas–N-E-P-A-L: Never Ending Peace And Love. Amen sister.
One evening, on our way home after a 10-hour stroll in Kathmandu, we were approached by a super outgoing Nepali girl. Her name was Bika, she was 16, supposedly spoke 20 languages, including perfect Chinese, English and German, and was a henna artist by trade. She was also HILARIOUS. At first, I was cautious of being “too friendly” in case she turned out to just want our money (which happened a lot in Sri Lanka). But after a few laughs, she just handed us her hand-made business card and told us to call her if we ever wanted henna done. We bumped into her again on the following night, and this time I did get henna done. Alas’, overpriced, but so worth it.
Bika had joined me and a group of other travelers for dinner, but she was noticeably uncomfortable. At one point, I asked her if she wanted to study abroad someday since she spoke so many languages. She said she would love to go to Australia or China. I gave her my contact information and told her to contact me if she ever did come to China. During this exchange, I noticed that her eyes got watery, and she became quiet and subdued and didn’t look up at me or laugh as she usually did. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her, wondering if her fate had been predetermined.
The last moments in Kathmandu were spent on the balcony of our hostel, chatting about life. We came from Germany, China, America, Ethiopia, Israel and England, but something brought each of us to Nepal, and we would each leave with something unique and special to us. For me, I left Nepal with the reminder of what humanity is, or at least what it ought to be. I’ll have to save the elaboration in another post, as well as the stories from other parts of Nepal I visited.