Visiting Nepal was the best decision I have made so far in my 30 years of life
I am a responsible person who knows exactly what she wants from life. A total negation of this statement (in line with the exception that proves the rule) was my trip to Nepal, the direction of which I knew absolutely nothing.
With excess cash in my account, one lonely March evening, I became the proud owner of tickets from Berlin to Kathmandu in August. My original plans and any assumptions I had were destroyed by the April earthquake, which so badly affected this beautiful country. But despite all the signs from the heavens, a great fear of not knowing where I was headed, I decided to go. It was the best decision I have made so far in my 30 years of life.
After landing in Kathmandu, I went through the visa process, although the only thing I could say in Nepali was ‘Namaste’. Leaving the international airport, which unfortunately was not very impressive, I still couldn’t believe that I was in a country that has the largest number of 8,000 metre mountains in the world. Kathmandu stole my heart, it was love at first sight.
Thamel and the city
As a typical white girl, I had a hotel in the centre of the tourist district, in Thamel. I would recommend Thamel to anyone who does not shy away from company and evening entertainment at a pub or restaurant. You can spend a lovely evening with Nepali live music, the sensational local Gorkha beer (Nepalis, as it turns out, are definitely beer drinkers) and delicious cuisine.
In Thamel, a tangle of narrow streets gives the place incredible charm. Vibrant souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels testify to the fact that Thamel is open for business. For me, the only explanation why so many places offering the same range of services still exist is that Thamel is generally besieged by tourists.
Every few turns, we encounter this or that god’s temple. No matter what part of town we find ourselves in, there hang over our heads bundles of electric cables supplying power to homes. The surrounding palette of colours and sincere smiles completes the picture. Children dressed in uniforms going to school, women in all colours of the rainbow exchanging the latest news, men opening up shops, stray dogs scampering for snacks. All around you can hear the horns of cars and motorbikes. The image of a bicycle laden with mangoes, with a smiling owner next to it — priceless.
As is widely known, the earthquake that took place on April 25 this year caused much damage to the country and Kathmandu Valley. One victim was the tower, Dharahara, which towered over the city. At the moment, we can only see its base, tightly separated by a fence. The same applies to several temples, including one which was entirely composed of a single tree, Kasthamandap. Buildings that were more fortunate are supported with long, massive beams and are bravely awaiting renovation. Nevertheless, neighbourhoods described extensively in every guide book, like the durbar squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, have not lost any of their charm and even now, you can feel their power and majesty.
Nepal is the birthplace of the Buddha, which I had no idea about when I bought my tickets. One very charming Nepali informed me that although the majority religion here is Hinduism, every Nepali is also a Buddhist in one way or the other. That is why numerous, often gilded statues of the Buddha in different moods, smaller and larger stupas, multi-coloured prayer flags and, my favourites, prayer wheels, are an essential element of the landscape. Walking around the Swayambhunath or Boudhanath stupas, you go in so that the stupa is to your right. Each is surrounded by countless prayer wheels, which are spun around by passing visitors. Sometimes, the wheels spin on their own, lending a mystical air to the space.
I would especially recommend something that was suggested by my indispensable guide. Because land in the capital city is very expensive, many buildings are placed in a small area with a number of floors. I would recommend climbing to the top of one such building, for there are a lot of them. And once you get there, stop in the middle of the terrace and start to spin around. In rotating 360 degrees, you will find hills everywhere, and with a little luck and appropriate weather conditions, in the background will emerge the majestic Himalayas. This impression will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Chitwan and Pokhara
For those who like communing with nature, I suggest visiting Chitwan National Park, located around five hours away from the capital by car. An elephant safari in the jungle, bird watching in the morning, rafting in a river full of crocodiles, visiting an elephant farm, an evening show of local dance or a short trip on a carriage drawn by mules – these are just some of the attractions in Chitwan. Of course, I took part in everything. Because I love children, my heart was stolen by two girls who sat next to me during a local dance performance. The moment when, at the beginning of the show, they stood up and put their little hands on their hearts and tearfully sang their national anthem will stay forever in my memory. The girls soon learned my name and where I was from. They were delighted to sit next to me and I was honoured to be in their company.
Another destination on my route was Pokhara, the base for most trekking in the Himalayas. The city is not that big, but very charming with a huge lake in the centre. The lake usually reflects the various Himalayan peaks around. Unfortunately, I was not given to see this sight because of two reasons: August is monsoon in Nepal so all peaks are buried under the clouds and because of the monsoon
flooding, the lake looks more like a muddy puddle than a crystalline pane.
However, the boat ride to a temple built on a small island located in the middle of the lake was very pleasant. If you choose to visit Nepal during the monsoon, I would suggest that you don’t leave your raincoat behind even for a moment. It might not help much when the sky is raining gallons of water per second and replacing all the streets with torrents, but in any other case, it can be precious. If you would like to test your physical shape, you can climb one of Pokhara’s nearby hills. That is where young Nepali aspirants for the British Army come to train. The number of steps can be alarming, but your efforts will be handsomely rewarded with a fabulous view of the majestic mountains. Another memory that nobody can steal from you.
If you want to support Nepal and help rebuild this amazing country — go there for your holiday. I would recommend this whole-heartedly. You will leave with memories to last a life time and it will be something you will never forget.