I came to Nepal for the people. Yes, there are towering mountains and breathtaking landscapes, but that wasn’t the draw for me. It has come to my attention that this blog is generally about people. The people I meet, travel with and sometimes hate from afar, (making mental notes of prickish behavior from the safety of my table-for-one beside them). I don’t mean to discount the sights, the colors, the food, the art, the mood, the sounds or the countless other things I’m experiencing. I wish I could blog about it all, actually. But as a recovering anthropology nerd, it’s always the people that I notice the most.
As mentioned, I wasn’t a huge fan of the host father I stayed with at the beginning of my Nepal stay, so I found a Romanian and an India and clung to them like a life raft. Since the band of three broke up, I’ve been on my own with the exception of a few tourists here and there. I’ve finally been fully exposed to Nepali people, just in the past week, and I finally feel like I got what I came for.
I kept hearing people say “Nepali people are so nice” and I agreed whole-heartedly. After India – which I lovingly hate and swear I will return someday, albeit out of masochism – a pitbull foaming at the mouth would look like a proper gentleman to me. So yes, I kept talking about how nice the people are too. Then I made it to Lumbini.
On the way to Lumbini I met a bunch of gap-year kids from Australia and Europe. They were 18-19 years old and we all shared the same bus. They talked about the different beers and pot strands that they have found during their trips across Asia. They got a dorm room together and it was assumed that I would join them. It was cheap. Dirt cheap. I mentally tried to commit to staying with the group, but that lasted about 20 minutes before I realized that I couldn’t take it. I broke away from them as quickly as possible, feeling as though a ton of bricks was lifted from my shoulders. I was free to go to bed at 8:30 pm and wake up at 5:00 am. I spent more on a room by myself, but I’m sure I saved a lot more by not drinking enough to prove – to myself more than anyone else – that I’m not old and the party days aren’t totally dead. I toyed with the idea of joining them. I would have loved the opportunity 5 years ago, but for the first time in my life, I’m really feeling my age. It doesn’t help that i was told in India (several times) that I pretty much have until the age of 28 to get married, or my life is over; a total waste. Despite the appeal of youth, I broke free. I did my own thing. I am so fucking glad.
The first night, I started walking around Lumbini. Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha. There are many different temples spread out, each one sponsored by a different country and built with a different architectural flavor. I walked for an hour and a half the first night and didn’t make it to a single temple. They are somewhat tucked away, but it didn’t help that I didn’t know where I was going. While walking, I met a boy who claimed to be twenty, although I’d like to see a birth certificate, because 17 sounds closer to accurate. He was sort of limping, wearing a wind jacket in sweltering heat and spitting constantly (I would later realize he was chewing tobacco). So of course, I was open to conversation with him. I’ve been really trying with the language in Nepal. Memorizing numbers on bus rides and talking to vendors as much as I can in Nepali before we switch to their far superior English. This young man talked through the language with me, revisiting everything I learned in Nepali lessons in Kathmandu and expanding. Of course, I didn’t trust him and remained guarded as he walked me to the main gate of the park back to the hotel area. After a lengthy conversation, he unceremoniously vanished to go home. “Bye miss” and left me feeling cheated that there was no scam at the end of the transaction. There’s always a hook. The next morning he found me again. Another Nepali lesson later, I bought him a chai. Then, at his request, he asked me to buy him some wine; I obliged, (enjoy your gap year kid). Twenty rupees for chai and 15 for some 7:00 am wine is a very decent price for a three hour Nepali lesson.
I was feeling better. I laughed a lot about this young boy that warms up to tourists and all he wants is a chai and some wine. Most people see money – lots of money – waiting for them in tourists. With my newfound energy, I rented a bike and started visiting temples. Riding a bicycle will, most likely, always bring a ridiculous grin to my face. I know how cheesy I’m being while riding a bike and flashing a full fledged smile, but I can’t help it. I went from temple to temple, collecting pictures of all the different countries’ temples. Adding to the charm is the fact that there aren’t many people there. I’m pretty sure that there is a skeezy man with a gold-toothed grin standing on the very spot of Jesus’s birth, selling crosses that his cousin stole off the back of a truck somewhere. I expected this sight to be equally commercial and flushed with pilgrims and hippies, but it wasn’t. It was quiet. The introvert side of me, who hasn’t had much oxygen for awhile, loved it.
I boarded my last Nepali bus for Kathmandu. Taking the buses is sort of a crap shoot. A bus might be really, really uncomfortable (in which case you hope that the extremities that are being crushed in the tight conditions go numb soon after departure… that is your best outcome). This last bus may have been too comfortable, I couldn’t feel the road and the turns, and with the AC blasting, I got many a glare for wanting my window open to get the feeling that I’m flying through the mountains, the reason buses are so much fun. The perfect bus is somewhere in the middle. That’s right, I’m very goldilocks about my Nepali buses, but it’s worth getting a good one. Riding in buses is a favorite Nepali attraction for many people.
On this bus I met a Nepali guy who spoke a little English, actually he was booked to sit in my seat. There were three of us booked into seat 21, left to fight over the good window seat amongst the three of us (the third person won, he’s Russian. I don’t eff with Russians. Take the seat.) So the Nepali guy found out I’m traveling alone and had two days in Kathmandu left. He had his “sister” call me the next day (everyone is a brother/sister in Nepal, this was his cousin but one even uses the term “sister” for strangers on the street). His sister took me to several sights around the city, treated me to lunch and called me when I got to Delhi to make sure I was ok. I’ve never even heard of such generosity before.
Since I’ve picked up a few general terms, I started collecting even more friends. I went to visit a shop keeper and his wife everyday for three days, drank chai and talked. The coup de gras, in my mind, was bargaining with a man on the street for an elephant carving. In Nepali. I brought him down from 4000 rupees to 600. “Nau say chainna, dai” (it is not 900, brother). There was a group of Nepali boys watching the transaction with jaws dropped. Tourists don’t bargain and they don’t do it in Nepali. They congratulated me on the great deal afterwards. I became addicted to the interactions. I wanted to use the (incredibly basic) Nepali I finally had. I met people who welcomed me into shops, cafes or bus seats as warmly as they would family once I showed an interest in the language and they were happy to have a very, very simple interaction with me.
It’s unfortunate that it took me so long to understand the REAL beauty of Nepal. I thought it was just mountains and sunrises and shit.
So now I’m in Delhi. Where it all began. The original plan was to go home tomorrow. Instead, I’m pretty much starting at square one and going to Thailand. I looked at a calendar one day and counted the days. It hadn’t occurred to me until then how long my trip is. It was a little over two months to begin with…and then another month and some change after that in my head. It is four months in actuality. One third of the year. Four months without driving a car. Four months without a place to call home. Four months of fending for myself on the streets of Asia. And four months of chapter after chapter of experiences, languages and, above all else, people I never thought I would meet.
Here are some pictures from Lumbini, Kathmandu and other sights I visit in between making new friends:
A big thank you goes to my Dai (big brother) John this week. If only “thank you” were as much as you deserve.