Why Nepal?

It’s been over a month since I came back from Nepal and the other day I was greeted by friends; Happy Holi, a festival of colours in Nepal where people throw perfumed coloured powder. It is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full day of the lunar month.
I do wish I was still there and celebrating with friends who surely have become friends for life.
But when people hear my story of how chilly bone chattering the Himalayas were when I was there, and having gone through some days of no shower and nights of no heating, they still wonder why I made the choice to visit Nepal, when I could have flown somewhere more tropical and baked under the sun? Or could have gone back to the Philippines and the comfort of knowing the place, knowing the food and knowing the language? Why Nepal?

The Himalayas seemed beautiful and intriguing for me. The thought of seeing the peaks and being able to trek the base of these wonderful mountains sounded like a pilgrimage. A landlocked country of sublime beauty tucked under the shadows of the highest mountain range of the world.
No, I did not go in search of Shangri-La, nor in search of inner self with the country’s exotic blend of Buddhism and Hinduism (although I admit a part of going there was to get away from all it for self healing and discovering something new).

I had wanted to go for years, especially having met and hung out with a few Nepalis in France , listening to their stories of the country, so completely different from where I grew up. We would cook curry and rice and listen to Nepali music and I was in awe as I watched them dance.
I was sure it would be a trip I would share with someone special. So I waited for few years, hoping to meet someone worth taking for a trip to such far away place. But alas I realised there was no point in waiting and, with a friend’s encouragement, I went.

On the plane next to me was a lovely Nepali coming home from the Gulf after 3 years. Sigh, like any country in Asia, Nepal has a high proportion of its people working in the Gulf region, mostly in labour and household positions.
Entering customs and applying for a visa was chaotic and done on a paper (no computers). The queue was rather long but the anticipation of having just landed to a country so completely new banished the exhaustion.

After being delayed at the visa application for almost 40 minutes, as one would probably expect, my luggage was going round and round on the conveyor belt waiting to be picked up. I didn’t even know which carousel, I simply guessed from the Qatar airlines bag labels. This Swiss girl I met in Doha airport was on the same flight as I and we both were worried and literally giggling, wondering if our bags would ever come out. One big box after another were going round the conveyor belt and I realised that Nepalis returning from the Gulf were taking home flat screen tvs.
I could see worried faces on most foreigners waiting for their luggage. Finally, out came our bags. Heading through customs, I could see the Nepalis had to scan their luggage in one queue, but the custom agent, upon seeing the blond Swiss, told her just to pass through. Since we were together, I just followed her. That is when I was told to go back to the queue with the others. But when they saw the passport I was carrying was not a Nepali,they let me pass through. I gladly accepted, but felt a sense of disbelief at how they treat foreigners so differently.

My friend, Alex, could not pick me up, but he had given me instructions how to find him. I asked for a taxi at the taxi association as I was coming out and the guy pointed me to the taxi, an old battered car that I was afraid to close the door, sure that it would fall off. I sat down and could feel the springs of the seat under me. I was about to put my seat belt on when the driver told me not to bother.
A statue of Ganesh sitting on the front adorn his car was staring at me.

A few minutes later we were hitting potholes and caught in the middle of the crush of traffic , which included cows and goats on the other side of the road that seems ready to dash into the traffic any minute.. I thought his car would fall apart every time we hit a pothole.
I stared at the buildings and I actually asked the driver if this was the city. What caught my eye on my first day was all the gnarled electricity cables that seemed to hang dangerously low. Then shop after shop selling bright colourful saris. And just when I was dreaming of myself wearing one when the taxi screeched to a halt as man dashed in front of us.

Ganesh is revered as the Remover of Obstacles. I hope he will protect my travels as my adventure begins.

The first part of my series of stories on my travels in Nepal.
Nepal photo gallery can be seen here as well..