Over the past few months, the timeline of stories is disjointed because of the nature of my internet access and the number of power outages in Nepal, which limited my ability to do anything except for my online work. But it’s been an incredible four months backpacking through South Asia. I started in Mumbai in February, then backpacked north through India with my cousin, spending two months taking in all of the highs and lows. There was the beautiful and festive Holi Festival of Colors in Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and even rafting in Rishikesh.
After India, I welcomed the slower pace of my travels in Nepal. I spent a month teaching English to monks in the Kathmandu Valley, which was an absolute highlight of my round the world trip so far. We joined other volunteers on a trip to see endangered one-horned rhinos in Chitwan National Park, and then returned to the monastery for a final week. My cousin and I said our goodbyes to our monasteries, we gave Amrit a huge hug, and then took a bus straight to Pokhara. With just a few weeks left before leaving this region of the world, it was time to see the Himalayas. My cousin and I decided to do the Poon Hill trek through the Annapurna region. Straight from the hike, I headed to Begnas Lake and started a very serious and intense meditation course. It’s a painstaking mind-purification process known as Vipassana meditation, and it requires 10 days of intense meditation and a vow of silence.
My time in Nepal is among the most profound these past weeks. I slowed my travel pace significantly, choosing to sink into the travel experience rather than rack up a number of tourist sights and activities. I learned more than I could have possibly imparted by teaching a the monastery. The boys were welcoming, inquisitive, and fun. Each morning they would echo a chorus of “Good Morning, Miss” when I walked through the monastery gates. I will never forget my brief time working with them. Now though I will have to suffice myself with the sweet memories and the hope of returning in the future.
I had visa woes when I left Nepal. The whole of my problem centered on the fact that must attain an Indian Transit Visa if your luggage is not checked straight through to your final destination. The Indian Embassy in Cambodia screwed up my 6-month visa, and I my flight left three days after it expired. Since my flight would switch airlines in Delhi airport, I needed an Indian Transit Visa before I left Kathmandu. This cost me a $75, including the bribe money I paid to expedite the process. It was a debacle and until the day before my flight to Europe, I wasn’t even sure if I would be allowed on the flight. Whew, I was happy when it all worked out.
As I scurried around Kathmandu attempting to bribing my way out of my visa situation, the political situation deteriorated. The Maoist protests and marches shut down the streets and highways around Nepal in a bid for power because the Prime Minister stepped down. It caused chaos for so many, and I was both thankful and lucky that my flight and plans were not interrupted.
My conclusions on Nepal are wholly positive. The volunteering opportunity made me feel such a part of this country, and learning a lot of Nepali also changed my ability to bond and enjoy the people and culture. The people make this place. Beyond physical beauty, it’s about the people. The nature and welcome of the locals is what makes the difference — for this reason Nepal will always stand out as a wonderful travel experience. The Nepali people are earnest and friendly. And my rudimentary conversation skills earned the kudos and friendship of so many amazing people who I now call friends.
One anecdote sums up why Nepal is so special. My cousin and I were leaving Nepal en route to Italy (via India, which caused the transit issue). At the airport we had such a fun encounter with the Nepali immigration officials — and that’s not a group most known for their humor! More often than not, I encounter steely-faced, humorless immigration officers — it seems to be almost an international behavior code. Except in Nepal, because that code didn’t hold up against the natural joy and fun the people bring to daily life.
As my cousin and I moseyed through the line, the line was short and so one the immigration officers started chatting with us, wondering why we had visited for a full two months when most tourists come for just a couple weeks! In response, my cousin and I conjured up our best Nepali to inform him that we were volunteers. And if our display of conversational Nepali were not enough, fast forward ten seconds to the moment that my cousin and I are standing across the counter from the customs officer serenading him with our off-key and mildly mispronounced Nepali songs that we had learned along the weeks. From Nepali Ho to Resham Firiri, both beloved and patriotic songs, it was surely a sight.
He was shocked silent by our ability to sing in Nepali. He recovered quickly, however, and began to sway and sing along. Moments later, several other immigration officers abandoned their posts, circled around us, and joined in for the ending chorus of the patriotic Nepali Ho, which I had learned during Nepali New Year festivities in my small village. The moment was spontaneous and unexpected, and also completely in line with the welcome that I felt in every corner of Nepal.
With that moment buoying our spirits, my cousin and I caught a short flight into the oppressing heat of Delhi. Delhi was in a heat wave just before Monsoon season would roll across the land, and it was a dense, choking heat that my cousin struggled through (she’s from the Pacific Northwest and not accustomed to hot and humid like me, a born-and-raised Floridian). I hadn’t realized that Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport had no luggage storage, so it compounded the heat to carry our backpacks for the day-long layover.
With a full day before our flight, we hoisted our packs ventured into Delhi in search of Fabindia, our favorite shop that we found while shopping in Ahmedabad. We sweltered in the heat for an hour as our driver attempted to find our chosen mall, but instead we hopped out at a small grouping of restaurants and sought relief from the still, dense heat with a cool drink. Given the chance to do it over, I wouldn’t have left the airport area. It was a never-ending travel day, but the upside was knowing I would soon see one of my closest friends once we touched down in Italy.
After twenty hours in Delhi, we entered the international terminal of the airport and I felt a wave of giddy anticipation wash over me. I have loved so much about my five months in this region of the world — there is a lot to love about Asia, specifically, and developing countries, generally — but it’s also more work to travel in these countries. With large language and cultural barriers, even simple tasks become monumental. And there’s the food, I miss Western food. And my friends. It’s time to move on. Although it’s a sad goodbye to Nepal, I look forward to giving my friend Jenn a huge welcoming hug while we hunt down an ice-cold gelato.
Reading: An Italian Affair by Laura Fraser
Listening: Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack
Where am I really: Couchsurfing in Slovenia and it’s raining. :-/