“If you are ever lost in the jungles or mountains of Nepal without any money and you encounter a person or a village, be rest assured that you will have a safe place to sleep…and you know what else? Do not be surprised if they prepare their last chicken for you, only so you can have a decent meal.”
These are the words of introduction from one of many charity messages for the people of Nepal after the devastating earthquake measuring 7.8 degrees on the Richter scale that struck the country on Saturday April 25th 2015. Living with the Nepali people in the month following the earthquake, I can only confirm that these words very well describe the hospitality, warmth, soul and considerate ways of these people.
I received the news of the quake after I had already bought the plane tickets to Nepal. Canceling the flight was out of the question. Travelling as a tourist, like nothing had happened too did not seem like the right thing to do. So on May 4th, nine days after the earthquake, I landed in Kathmandu where I was received by Ananda and Kumud. I knew them onaly from Facebook as I had written to a motorcycle club wishing to rent one. We clicked instantly and it felt like we had always known each other.
Nothing can prepare you for that first sight of total destruction and tragedy. When we drove to Kathmandu Durbar square, a UNESCO world heritage site, it became apparent that the quake had struck the heart and soul of Kathmandu. Where only a few days ago, magnificent and centuries old temples dominated the square, we encountered only ruins and debris. However, among those ruins was also a man who I will remember for the rest of my life. Traditionally dressed and of some 60 years of age, he had the biggest smile on his face and a flag of Nepal in his hands which he waved around energetically for the foreign camera crews documenting the earthquake story.
He was telling the world the story of Nepali resilience, spirit, soul and optimism. That he was “bigger” than the destruction that was around us. For a few seconds our eyes met we exchanged warm smiles. In those few seconds we understood each other deeply.
One could easily believe that Kathmandu was in the midst of a festival, had one been unaware of the tragedy. The huge gatherings of people who had lost everything felt like an amiable social gathering. They were cheerful, kind and considerate to one another. There was no aggression or looting or hoarding that one might expect in the aftermath of such a big disaster. When I shared my observations with Ananda, he stopped for a moment, smiled and said, “Isn’t it the same around the world?”.
On May 12th, eight days into my visit, another strong earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale caught me on the second floor of “Nirvana” hotel in Thamel. I was just about to take a shower when the building started to shake violently. Half naked, I ran down 4 sets of stairs terrified for my life, while a guy ran inside the shaking building to grab a table cloth for me so that I may save my modesty. “Here you are Sir!”, he offered the sheet with a smile. The Nepali people never failed to amaze me with their kindness and consideration.
Nepal was supposed to be just another holiday for me, yet because of the earthquake it turned out to be a far richer, nobler and inspiring trip. I went through two profound emotions simultaneously – horror at the scale of the devastation caused by the disaster and amazement at the exemplary spirit of the Nepali people in the face of such loss. I reflected on how I had lived my life until then and was ashamed of my own apathy and lack of appreciation for the things I had.
The Nepalese people enlightened me on how even in the most difficult of times, we can still be the best of people. Despite all they have been through and are still going through, people of Nepal smile whole heartedly. My friend Kumud said, “We survived, many did not. Now I can do things that I could not have, had I not survived. I have an obligation to live and do good, especially for the people who were not so lucky and lost so much to the quake.”
So if you thinking of visiting Nepal do it. They will fill you with joy and serenity and teach you a lesson or two on how to live life with grace.
This has been excerpted and reproduced from Alan Wittner’s blog post with the author’s permission. Click here to follow the link to his original blog post published in Croatian:
Click here to read more of Wittner’s experiences in Nepal in the second excerpt taken from his blog here.