She was getting a little giddy with so much floating in the air, and was rather glad to find herself walking again in the natural way.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
I landed in Kathmandu, Nepal with absolutely no expectations, which is odd for me because I nearly always expect something! I was not prepared for the beauty of this country, both from the land and the air. Nepal doesn’t feel real- maybe that is because I was on sensory overload from my days in India or because it can’t actually be described. It is a bit like floating on air- drifting from one environment to the next, until you drive the roads, but more to come on that in a bit.
I learned a few things about Nepal- they exist on a different calendar and it is currently 2073 for them. Talk about floating through the air way into the future! They have over 500,000 motorcycles because the government taxes cars at 200% which is horrible since the average income is $800 per year.
Day One – A Walk to Thamel
It felt so good to finally walk somewhere after India, so good that dodging cars became normal and the incessant honking of horns became mere white noise. Thamel is a tourist town where many people stop for a bit before heading out to Everest Base Camp or trekking through the Himalayas. It took us only one hour to get completely lost and another hour to find ourselves back out! And so began the daily mantra of “I love Nepal.”
Day Two- The First Stupa of A LOT of stupas!
We kicked off the day in Kathmandu, which translates to holy land made of wood. First stop- our first stupa. These are built to house holy relics and I was quite dismayed to see that it was under construction and photography was impossible. I did not know just how many stupas I was to see on this trip!
Next stop was the village of Bhaktapur, heavily impacted by the earthquake in 2015. This small village had over 330 dead and is still trying to rebuild itself. Oddly enough, it is known as the city of 99. They have 99 temples, 99 courtyards and oddly enough, 99 water spouts. Strange thing to hang your hat on, but who am I to judge.
It was finally time for some Nepalese food! Wait, what? We have to make it ourselves? We visited a home that helps educate and integrate girls who have been victims of the slave trade. In addition to paralegal training, the group offers cooking classes and lunch to fund their work. I am happy to say that I am now an expert Momo maker, a Nepalese snack that is my current favorite food. I even brought the recipe home so apologies in advance for all that will be dining on my creations!
Day Three- Floating through the Mountains
An early morning wake up call was resisted by no one because we were off to Kathmandu airport for the Everest flight! The actual name for Everest is Sagarmantha which means “whose head is in the sky” and “Mother Goddess of the Earth” in Nepalese and Tibetan. I can’t recall which is which, but I prefer the head in the sky one. It is more fitting! Words cannot describe and photos cannot do justice to the beauty of this mountain range. You can’t help but pause and have enormous respect for those that have scaled this unbelievable mountain.
Feet back on the ground, it was off to the Monkey Temple for us. It is a Hindu Buddhist temple and filled with monkeys. And pigeons. Pigeons are believed to be ancestors returned to watch over the people so they are tended to and fed. I waved to my grandparents but didn’t get too close!
While visiting the Monkey Temple, we saw, you guessed it, a stupa. A couple of passes around the stupa and off to a painting school we went. These artists are trained to work with paintbrushes that have 3-5 hairs on them. After the lesson, five of us were quickly identified as “not likely to purchase anything” and were quickly escorted out of the room to “admire the view from the rooftop” so as not to discourage any others from spending big money!
While waiting, we did some bowl therapy. This man puts a bowl on your head, back, belly, etc and bangs it, causing the reverberation to fill your body. While it was a bit disconcerting, it did get rid of the two day headache I had. We also tried yak tea. If you take no other advice from my blog, NEVER, EVER, EVER drink yak tea. It is made with yak butter, salt and tea and is quite possibly the most disgusting thing I had ever consumed. As we were guests in someone’s home, I mustered all of the strength I had, forced myself out of my body, floating through the air, and drank as much as I could.
I would be rewarded for this effort when we arrived at our lodging for the night- a monastery for young monks in training. In Nepal, the second son is sent to the monastery and spends his youth in training. At a certain age, he can choose if he wants to continue or chose a new path. Those that had chosen to stay, or were nearing their decision point, were engaged in debates. This was a fascinating process where one monk asks a question, such as what is color? Or what is the most important human quality? If the sitting monk’s answer agrees, they move on to the next question. If not, they debate until one monk is left silent. I loved sitting in my room listening to this process go on for over two hours.
Day Four- floating through exhaustion
These monks get up at 5:00 every day to chant. So we got up with them. It is a chaotic chant, everyone at their own speed and the music is just played somewhat randomly. Strangely enough, it is quite calming. To keep balance, we walked over to the nearby Nunnery to see the girls in training as well.
So as not to spend too much time in a state of calm, we were off to our next hotel. This one required a 30 minute hike into the woods. I did get to add to my collection of international sayings for “let’s go”, adding jam jam in Nepal and gamma gamma in Austria. I will very soon be internationally fluent in getting people moving! I can say it in Spanish, English, Swahili and Arabic as well. Everyone was quite grateful for a bar at this hotel and dinner was a great ab workout in laughter. And the hotel was grateful for the liquor bill!
Day Five- if only I could really float through the air
If I had known what was next, there is no way I would have hiked back out of that mountain and agreed to get in the car. We were driving to Chitwan National Park, a drive that would take the next six days. I nearly lost my mind and had to resort to my music to keep me sane. I often contemplated jumping out the window and running just to burn some energy. Mental note- do not eat a granola bar that says ENERGY on the label before getting locked in a car for three years.
Fortunately we arrived to the most beautiful resort, situated along the river (which I can’t remember the name of and don’t currently feel inspired to google, so let’s call it the Kim River). We hopped in some boats and cruised, spotting both kinds of crocs, hippos and homo sapiens. No tigers though. It ended with sunset on the banks with wine and snacks. The wine helped us survive the locals dressing us in versions of their local dress and teaching us dance. We were not good and I have a four minute and 14 second video to prove it!
Day Six- no way would I leave the ground for this day
First activity- early morning game drive. I could do this every day of my life so I was super excited. We saw birds, monkeys and rhinos. Again. No tigers. They are still on the bucket list. When it was time to go, two of us threatened to hide in the woods and do independent game drive. The decision to get back in the jeep paid off when a full on monsoon opened up and we were soaked.
Up next was one of my favorite surprises of the trip- it was a festival day in the local village. They either wish for good husbands for the single ladies or good health for the husbands of the smug marrieds (Bridget Jones shout out). While I could write a whole blog on my issue with this choice of wishes, I will chalk it up to tradition. These ladies stop traffic until someone pays them to move. It wasn’t long before we were part of the dance, stopping at two separate parties for some dancing. No husbands were found so we moved on.
Day Seven- Worst Day Ever
Today we drove. And drove. And drove. And only went 126 kilometers. In 834 hours. I could have walked faster than that. It took everything in me to not let my Chicago driver take over, push the driver out of the bus and take over driving. Axles can be fixed easily, right? After three and half more months, we arrived in Pokhara. Three of us slipped off from the group, found a falafel shop and drank cheap beer in a local pub. There are no photos from today as I was concerned they might be used as evidence in my hijacking of the car.
Day Eight- Literal flight
Another early day to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas at Sarangot. My John Denver soundtrack played in my head as I took some quiet time to appreciate the beauty of a mountain, the snow and the sun upon them.
Time to fly!! I had waited the whole trip for this morning and it was so worth it. The paragliding company picked us up and we were off. Well, not entirely. Little did we know, we had about 23 people to pick up along the way. At one point, the other jeep had six people on the roof and I had to, not very gently, remove the hand of another from my knee in the back seat. We drove to the top of the world, hooked some sails to our backs and ran off the edge of the mountain. And flew. And soared. Across the mountains on the moon.
We flew back to Kathmandu the next day, having floated through the country that was full of surprises and beauty.
Feet back on the ground, next stop- Thailand.