Monday, September 17, 2012
What was my purpose of traveling to Nepal? I wasn’t really sure! As a sophomore in college and a girl who wanted to explore the world, my parents had done a great job in preventing me from roaming Asia…alone. Thus, an organized trip with Above the Clouds offered through the University of Vermont was their dream come true. Maybe this trip would satisfy my hunger for traveling, or maybe it would open my doors to an entirely new world!
Above the Clouds (ATC) gave me the opportunity to explore Nepal; however, I end up also learning more about Tibet, India and China than I ever could without actually stepping a foot in these countries. The ATC staff shared their connections, language, culture and country with me and for that I am truly grateful!
Upon my return from Nepal my friends and family asked me, “How was the trip?” and I wasn’t and still am not sure how to respond. How do I organize all of my thoughts into a single answer? Well, this is my attempt.
The majority of our trip was spent trekking through the Upper Mustang region of Nepal (which is the country located between China (Tibet) and India, the yam between two rocks). Was I physically prepared? I thought I was. However, hiking 8 hours a day in Nepal is incomparable to running for 45 minutes a day in Burlington, Vermont! The mountains are vast. At some points I felt I was just a little spec along the Annapurna Mountain Range; however, when I reached the top of a pass I literally felt as if I was standing on top of the world! What kept me going? The guides. Don’t be fooled by their title, they were more than guides. They were cooks, teachers, singers, dancers, role-models and by the end they became wonderful friends. If they hiked in jeans and running shoes with no water then me and my hiking boots, Camelback and Probars could sure as heck make it! In between my heavy breathing and wheezing they taught me numerous unforgettable Nepali songs that took my mind off of the fact I was out of shape!
Throughout the trip some of my favorite stops were in Pokhara, Jomsom, Kagbeni, Chele, Tsarang, Lo- Manthang and Kathmandu. In Pokhara, I was exposed to wild monkeys, I learned that monks had Facebook and cockroaches do not actually cause any harm! Most of my time in Jomsom I wandered around the town saying “Namaste” to every local and engaging in a half Nepali half English conversation. All the while, I was located in the shadow of Mt. Nilgiri, an enormous mountain that seemed to follow us the entire trek.
The highlight of my trip (not that I could ever narrow it down to one!) was in Kagbeni, where I found myself and three other students playing Frisbee, grinding chili peppers, weaving and taking photos with locals in the town square. Verbally communicating with these locals was difficult,but through body language and laughter we were able to understand all that we needed. In Chele, I was taught by a local how to play “tiger and goats,” a very entertaining game where the board was carved into stone and the checker like pieces were made of smaller stones.
Tsarang was a beautiful town. Here I spent my nights doing a home stay and forming an unforgettable relationship with Pema, my “house mom”. Another student and I helped Pema sell jewelry to the tourists (which were us!), then went to the nunnery where she teaches various subjects. Here we sang and danced for hours with the young nuns! After Tsarang, we hiked to Lo Manthang, our final destination. We visited my favorite monastery, the Jampa Monestary, where the artwork was breathtaking! Words cannot describe the detailed paintings and 3 story tall Buddha.
Eventually, we ended our trip in Kathmandu, a city which I cannot compare to any other place I have traveled. There were cows roaming the streets, motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic and the sound of horns honking for what seemed to be no apparent reason. The chaos was much different then the secluded Mustang region, however it was full of culture and relaxing in a differing way. Here I had the opportunity to ride on the back of one our guide’s motorcycle, which surely was an experience that I will never forget!
Wise words to live by, “Eat well and travel often.” And boy, did we eat well! I had the opportunity to eat with my hands and it was actually culturally acceptable! Using your hands to eat Dhal Bhat definitely makes the food taste better and you know when you’ve eaten too much when your fingers have become pruned! I ate handfuls of my favorite fruit, lychee nuts, which are rare to find in the U.S. We learned to make momos, ate curried potatoes and drank tea. Did I mention that we drank tea? And lots of it!
When I was in Nepal, I felt as if I could never completely escape the Unites States. There are English tourists, Yak Donalds and Hershey’s candy. However, now that I am home I often see Himalayan influences, sometimes during a yoga class, at a teahouse or flipping through the pages of National Geographic. Globalization is truly remarkable! Do I have advice for future travelers? You cannot bring enough sunscreen, granola bars and Pepto-Bismol. Pepto- Bismol will become your best friend! Take the advice of your teachers, get lost. Explore. The most awkward encounters are the most rewarding. Make time to learn Nepalese, it will make forming relationships much easier! Be open. Last but not least, do not live in the past or the future, live in the present moment and enjoy!
I saw amazing things in Nepal, I met incredible people and did the unbelievable. However, I don’t believe it’s what I did or didn’t do on my journey but the lessons that I’ve learned. I learned to sit, relax and simply drink tea. I learned that planes don’t have to be on time, accidents happen and climate change is real. Having faith, not specifically in a religion but in life, is essential. I was thankful to return safely to a comfortable home and to loving people. However, traveling to Nepal has only made me hungrier to travel. I want to experience everything that the world has to offer! I want to help people, form relationships and get lost in culture, music, religion and food. Until my next journey, Namaste.