By Charlie J
I have always wanted to go to Nepal. Ever since I was a child there has been some sort of draw to the Himalayas. The tallest mountains in the world, full of stories of danger, and adventure. Perhaps my interest stemmed from there. Or perhaps the raw beauty alone is what first captured me. Or maybe the small quiet monasteries that juxtapose the depth of the mountains. But whatever the reason, I was entranced by the Himalayas.
I’ve spent time with glaciers, huge rock faces, and tall summits. In fact I’ve lived near the mountains for all of my life, from the White Mountains on the east coast to the Rockies in the west, my life has been shaped by snowy peaks and grassy hills. Yet despite everything, I expected the Himalayas to be slightly different. A little taller, a little snowier, and so much more raw. I expected to fall in love with them.
I was right. They were different. Their massive looming shapes cast shadows miles long. Huge glacial rivers flowed through deep canyons creating waves taller than buildings. Avalanches shook the earth as they sent clouds of snow hundreds of meters into the air. It was impossible to feel any larger than an ant as I stood surrounded by 7000 meter peaks.
What I hadn’t expected was to fall in love with the city. I spent three weeks in Patan, a city in Kathmandu Valley, and in that time I experienced things that I have never and will never experience again. The contrasts were striking: ancient temples and stone buildings built thousands of years ago next to tall skyscrapers with rooftop restaurants and movie theaters. Traditional Newari houses beside concrete apartment buildings.
The streets were packed with people and motorbikes and shops. Yelling and honking and fighting over prices. Shop owners calling out enticing prices, trying to sell knock-off Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Street vendors fighting off the fumes from gasoline by adding the smells of samosas, momos, and roti. Beautiful cafes lay scattered across the city, so many that in a decade you could only possibly eat at half of them.
What I loved most about the city, though, and what I loved about all of Nepal, was the people. Their kindness, generosity, and patience is not matched in any of the other places I’ve been.
Just one example was as I prepared to leave a homestay in a small farming village. My host mother pulled me into the kitchen of the small mud house. She sat me by the fire and began to cook the last of the eggs. She brewed my favorite tea and gave me the last package of biscuits. She served me the food and had none for herself. I couldn’t help but wonder how people with so little are willing to give away so much.
My host families, my teachers, the friends I made, even shop owners, all shared with me their lives, their food, culture, and passions. I participated in festivals, danced for school children, studied with monks, and learned to cook, to fly kites, and to work with silver.
From everyone I met I learned something. From photography to rice harvesting. The vastness of knowledge and experience in the people around me was intimidating, and I can only hope that I can bring home a fraction of the wisdom that Nepal shared with me.
From the chaos of the city to the silence of the mountains, Nepal is a truly unique place, and if someday I get the chance, I will certainly return for more.