One word that best describes my Nepal experience came easier than other countries – intoxicating… An intoxicating experience can be positive and negative. It can stimulate or excite but it can also poison. I have both of these sediments for Nepal but feel drawn to travel back there. Nepal has boundless resources most notably the spirit of its people. It is a country with diverse cultures and languages with 36 different ethnic groups within nearly 30 million people. Agriculturally, it is blessed with a great balance of sun and rain but nothing in between so it seems, depending on the region. Kathmandu was my first intoxicating experience in Nepal. Landing at night we were driven to a hotel in a small beat up car barely big enough to hold our luggage. As we drove through what seemed to be an abandoned and littered town we were taken by the thick smoke and fumes induced by the car and generator pollution and the constant burning of trash. Our journey to the Himalayan Yoga retreat the next morning brought us to the outskirts of Kathmandu and proved to be one of the most humorous stories of the trip. Driving up a dusty dirt road we got to a point where the incline seemed too steep for the little car carrying us. As we watched the driver begin to back up into a side road I said to my sister Therese with excitement, “he is doing this for momentum” and she questioned, “No” with a fearful look. Sure enough, he picked up speed going down and around and was able to fly us up to the top of the hill. “Ye of little faith, sister”! Our 3-day stay at this peaceful little retreat was an intoxicating experience. They train yoga instructors and massage therapists there and we were their test dummies – very happy dummies at that! Guests can stay for months and train under the doctor/naturopath host. We had one of the best massages ever, trained with the yogi master himself and had candle lit dinners to compensate for the lack of power in Kathmandu after dusk. We were there in the spring when the rivers were lazy when they do not produce enough tidal power for everyone all the time. The rolling black outs can be pretty much timed by the locals. We found our way back to our tents with candles and enjoyed the pitch-black aura of the surrounding hills. Awoken at 4am for the first prayers bells of a neighbor Hindu family and then by several chiming roosters it was time to go fly around Mount Everest on Buddha Air. Seeing that mountain range for the first time is magical to tears. Rising up from the pollution of Kathmandu into the pristine white clouds and snow capped mountains is a life changing experience in how small we are and how much damage we cause. Kathmandu is an intoxicating experience in itself. From visiting Bouddannath, the world’s largest Buddha stupa and hearing the chants of the worshipers as they walk around the massive monument to the fumes and near hits of mopeds and rickshaws in the Thamel district. After having a couple of rough days without enjoyable food we were taken to the most amazing restaurant called the Roadhouse café (thanks to Sumba our Sherpa guide) with pasta with puttanesca sauce and wood fired pizza. As we sat and devoured the food like we hadn’t eaten in months I looked at my sister and said, “I have to slow down on the red wine – it’s noon and I am feeling it”. She laughed and reminded me, “You are drinking Diet Coke”. Another area of intoxication was the Chitwan Jungle. We drove and rafted there from Pokhara and experienced driving from the altitude of the Annapurna Valley into the slightly above sea level Gangetic Plain just north of India. Our guide, Chimy is a quiet and honest soul who loves his jungle and whose 2 wishes in life are one day to to play in snow and see the ocean. Chimy is a well-respected member of the Tharu caste and cried when we drifted past a rare Gharial crocodile in the river. The creature was close to extinction but thanks to the WWF it is slowly making a come back. We got to bathe with elephants and ride on their backs while roaming the jungle. We saw wild rhinos and monkeys and visited a Tharu village with little huts made from elephant dung. What’s not to love? The pollution! They burn trash and grass enough for the smoke to delay outbound flights indefinitely. The smoke does enhance colors for sunsets and creates a dream-like atmosphere – great for photography but regretful for lungs.
Stay tuned for my reflection on my second trip to Nepal. The people there have stolen my heart! I plan to return again to help with rebuilding efforts in 2017.