There are a lot of unfounded preconceptions about Nepal. Snow capped mountains, scenic views of rice fields on the sloping hills, ascetic rural lifestyle, the always smiling Himalayan nation – all of it adds great deal of mystery to the image of the country. All of it is also true, however it comprises only one percent of what you will actually experience. The rest will be not so successful attempts to understand completely different culture. I will admit though that these attempts were also the most rewarding and life changing experiences.
Nepal is not for everyone. Most travellers can’t form explicitly positive or negative opinion about the country. My theory is that Nepal takes everything to an extreme level – be it good or bad. The streets are not merely dirty – it is a never ending sea of litter, that you have to constantly look out for while walking, traffic is not just hectic – it is totally uncontrolled and unsafe (I actually doubt there are any rules whatsoever except honking on every occasion), people are not just curious – they would stare at you indefinitely and follow you around for no particular reason. I had a waiter at a restaurant asking me questions like: “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”, “When do you plan to get married?”, “When did you lose your virginity?” (alright, I did not get that last one, my italian friend did. But he is a guy and in Nepal men are superior to women, so I guess personal questions to guys are supposed to be superior too). It even got to the point when Nepalese person took an effort and turned around in his seat on the bus in order to get a glimpse of our group. I was told that I resembled Nepali girl, but due to lighter skin and different clothes, I was still “enjoying” excessive unwanted attention and I can’t imagine how my blonde Dutch friend was able to cope with her sudden superstar popularity. Apparently, the moment you step out of Kathmandu airport Nepal starts putting you at test, so do not expect pleasant vacation here.
My other part of the theory is that for every terrible thing that Nepal puts you through, you will be rewarded with an incredibly beautiful one. The country of Himalayas, the highest peak on Earth, offers the most breathtaking mountains and countryside views. The colors and patterns are rich and vivacious – pictures of Nepalese women in saris, stepping out of a slum shacks, are truly mesmerizing. The food is spectacular – we ate dal bhat every day two times a day, but it never felt the same and I still greatly miss it. Lastly, it is the country of the most welcoming and friendly people in the world: they would offer you a place to sleep and serve you dinner, even though they don’t have enough food for their children, total strangers would pick you up in the middle of nowhere on a motorcycle and drive you home, even if they were heading in the opposite direction, they would put out chairs and light candles for your dinner table, when everyone else is sitting in dirt, they would wait long hours in cold and under the rain so that they can put you safely on the bus and say goodbye, when their house is in shatters after the earthquake and they have no warm place to return to (yes, I was in Nepal when that terrible earthquake happened). The intensity of human suffering is overwhelming and the overarching kindness that Nepali people emanate despite thereof is impossible to comprehend.
Nepal is a rollercoaster that tunes all five senses, it is the place of opposites, country of contrasts. Markets are filled with all kinds of food, yet you would not risk buying them (85% of travellers encounter some sort of a stomach disease). People live in extreme poverty and sleep on the streets, but it does not stop others from splurging on leather chairs and chandeliers for their homes. Men are appraised and enjoy unlimited freedom while women are treated as slaves. And don’t even try to fathom the pricing and bargaining system: I was given a price twice as much as a native citizen for a pair of pants, but then we were charged much less than our Nepali acquaintances for a taxi from the airport.
So far Nepal was the most memorable travel experience that I ever had. This country does not care what you think of it, it chews you up and spits you out. It is not a country, it is a whole different world. One day you hate it and regret booking a ticket, next day you love it and can’t let go of memories. When I left I felt incredibly relieved and happy that I did not have to stay there any longer, but now, writing this post, I can’t help but want to go back.