Like most travellers who fall hopelessly in love with a country, I started planning my return trip to Nepal sat on the runaway at the airport in Kathmandu back in 2015. It’s funny how some places can simply take your breath away the moment you step foot on their soil.
I was never that interested in visiting Nepal initially. I knew nothing about the country, the culture, and I had no interest in learning. I ended up there by accident really. A pit stop after India, on route to Thailand. Little did I know then that Nepal was about to become my favourite place in this big, wide world.
I’ve visited Nepal twice now. Both trips were different. The first in 2015, I spent 3 weeks sightseeing mainly. The second time was this year. After much consideration and careful planning, I went on an extended trip to volunteer in a remote village and to attempt the Everest Base Camp trek.
I’m not big on revisiting countries when there is so much of the world left for me to explore, but somehow, I’ve noticed, it’s rare to meet a fellow traveller in Nepal who is there on their first trip. I guess the place is so captivating, people genuinely can’t stay away. Me included.
As soon as I set foot in the chaos that is Kathmandu I fell in love. A dusty, crazy city with winding streets and heady smells combining jasmine from the temples, and probably sewerage. On paper it sounds like a nightmare, one of the most polluted cities in the world. In reality it is a beautiful fusion of bustling carnage and Buddhist peace. The perfect recipe of just the right amount of culture shock balanced with a splash of familiarity was enough to make me want to stay there forever.
The temples sing on every corner. From small and crumbling, to grand, shiny and white. Each one loved and worshipped just as much as the next. Religion is important here. It is present everywhere, but in the kind of way that makes you curious, not threatened. Nepal is home to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. His magic and his charm is palpable all over the country.
The people walk slowly and calmly, whispering namaste with a slight bow of the head. Their faces friendly and their conversation non-intimidating.
The countless cups of masala tea that you absolutely must drink with them emphasizes the divine Nepalese hospitality that is so easy to admire. I have enjoyed hundreds of meals of tasty, steaming momos and traditional dal bhat (rice and lentils) with Nepalese locals who have become friends. We eat with our hands and they tell me about their lives. Their children at school, their goats, even their painful memories of the 2015 earthquake. Their reliance and kindness is mesmerizing. Meal times are important here.
Some of the nicest people I have ever met live in Nepal. In villages outside of Kathmandu. We may not always understand each other verbally, but on every other level we understand each other perfectly. A mutual curiosity over cultures. I’ve been invited into people’s home, offered tea, foods, been invited to rituals of all kinds of types, taught school girls about sun cream, plaited their hair. I’ve ran through the village in the morning to cuddle baby goats and pushed buses through mud and floods. Some of my favourite travel memories are thanks to these amazing people.
Frequently described as the gateway to the Himalayas, Nepal has scenery like nothing I’ve ever seen. I still dream about those mountains. Enveloping me and making me feel so incredibly tiny, yet safe and strong. Visible through the smog of a hazy Kathmandu, I miss waking up to those mountains every day. You don’t need google maps or a compass once you know the mountains. You can almost be anywhere in Nepal and be able to vaguely orientate yourself.
I fell in love with Nepal way before my second visit to this magical place. But it was on an old rickety bus that had taken us 2 hours to get tickets for, had been delayed, broken down and nearly slid down the cliff side coming into monsoon season, that I really realised why I love this place.
I love Nepal because it is chaotic and questionable as much as it is calm and beautiful. It is challenging and shocking as much as it is peaceful and captivating. Nepal conjures up the most eclectic feelings and colourful emotions and I simply cannot get enough of the place.
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