Our on the road in Nepal begins like that, a bit by chance. A very interesting offer, a destination we had never thought about before, our passion for the mountain…
Purchasing a flight ticket to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, it means to buy a ticket for a travel in time discovering a very particular destination and a unique population.
A choice that sometimes you make by chance, but that fill you in a flash.
In this video our experience in Jomsom, High Mustang.
Just after have landed at the airport we run into bureaucracy immediately: all the online forms downloaded from the official websites for the visa request are really no use…new forms to fill, endless queues, two passports out of five are not got by the optical character reader…but always smiling and kindly.
The exit from the airport is immediately a cacophony of sounds and colours enveloping in a deafening bustle. Let’s start our on the road in Nepal!
The first impact dazes, because of the tiredness due to the travel but in the following days this feeling will be more and more marked over our on the road in Nepal.
While we are choosing a taxi random among the thousand ones around us, we start to zero in on here and there about what surrounds us.
All around us, so different, coloured and so noisy, is taking place at the same time and every scene seems unaware of what is around it. All kinds of shady businessmen offer us their improbable services.
We have bought only the flight. We haven’t anything booked and we have nothing defined. It’s stirring the sense of freedom we feel here and now like that.
It’s beyond description the curiosity to write one by one the blank pages of our journey without anything defined and without clocks marking our time.
One only deadline: the return flight, in little over a month. It’s one of the journey’s aspects I love most.
A walk through the Kathmandu town centre to plunge into the life, even though we’ll find out soon over our on the road in Nepal how the town is unlike the rest of the country.
Around us we start to perceive stories, scenes and situations. All together but each by itself.
Nepal is a very poor country and poverty immediately appears.
I could never stand it when people talk and comment on happy children in poverty and in this moment even more the void and the selfishness of these observations strike me.
The most part of houses here don’t have drinking water.
Too many children are orphans since their mothers die due to labour infections. Who survived then when they are 40 years old show almost twice their own age.
Life expectation in this country is among the lowest ones in the world, probably second only to sub-Saharan Africa.
Only a mad person – or a selfish person who is sure his own world and his children’s is elsewhere – can catch happiness as primary aspect.
Despite this, smile, warmth and helpfulness never miss. But happiness…no…that’s quite another thing!
People are wonderful with their recurring “Namaste” and, unlike it happens in many other part in the world, they never show resentment and mistrustfulness towards the rich tourist arriving to their country.
Do you know what is the feeling that yet have never abandoned me, above all in the furthest areas and not crowded by tourists we have visited during our on the road in Nepal?
The fact that with all our dollars, credit cards and Iphone in our pocket, we as westerners probably couldn’t survived a week in their most remote towns and villages. Right the essential needs cannot be satisfied, those ones we take for granted every day and without which we cannot live. Saying is one thing, trying on our own skin even for only few days is something else again.
We go towards Durbar Square, the core of the old town centre, even though actually the whole town seems an old town centre in the open sky.
We had seen Nepal before the devastating earthquake.
I won’t talk to you about all services and the comments out of place I heard in those days by who clearly knew Nepal only through the geographical map, as well I intentionally leave out the comparison before/after.
Rivers of words are already spent uselessly. Only one tip: if someone wants to give you information about something, please, make sure he has seen even the country before!
We are sitting on a little wall to rest a second watching the life running by around us. A little group of children is going out of school. I don’t know if it’s worse the condition of the school or their clothes’ one.
They are getting close. We start to chat with them. Some of them have a book, other ones an exercise book, others nothing. We go to the kiosk opposite and buy a bit of pens and exercise books for them. They are happy like we have given them the moon.
A little girl as old as Valeria, with too big shoes for her own feet, ask us to give her a huge present. Hesitant we distance ourselves a bit from that…often tourist is seen like a fowl to pluck. The little girl keeps on in her articulated English, higher compared to the one of the most part of the girls as old as she here in Italy.
The present we are asked for is a Nepalese-English dictionary. While I am adding to the bill the exaggerating amount of 1€ for the dictionary (our guide following us like children since he’s worried about what we do and the places where we go, confirms to us that this amount is very high for these families), I think about how many children in Italy have ever asked a dictionary as a present.
And my feeling of powerlessness always reigns while the little girl is explaining to me that her dream is to emigrate far. Thoughts and powerlessness feeling accompany every moment of our on the road in Nepal.
Inside one of the central buildings in Kathmandu, in Patan, in Bhaktapur and in many other towns, the Kumari, the child goddess, has the seat.
Valeria is quite shocked learning her history. She’s attracted and curious to know details – and above all why – and horrified at the same time. She cannot get over it.
Valeria wants to see her at any cost. It’s possible once a day for tourists and it’s forbiddent o take photographs. She’s a decked out, dressed and made up child appearing at the window for a few short moments and she often looks put out.
Valeria immediately realizes that seeing the Kumari with her own eyes didn’t add or didn’t take away anything to the story. The incredible reality and the life marked negatively of this little girl, as it often happens in front of situations people cannot understand in the least, make only go on into a deafening silence. This, too, is our on the road in Nepal.
At the first available connection Valeria reads eagerly and learns everything about the Kumari but the more she learns the less she understands. Only the endless “why” resounds in her mind. It’s impossible to explain to her that they have no answers. And they never will have.
In the following days, looking at the temples and above all looking at the 7-8 years old little boys given to the temple by their own families and who are studying to become monks, her comparisons will be unavoidable.
It’s useless to explain to her that maybe their life has simply improved, considering that here they have at least the certainty to eat there times a day.
When the umpteenth young monk accompanying us through the tour of the monastery explains with determination and a bit too vehemently – for the fourth time in a few minutes! – that he is there by his own choice and he is free to go when he want, Valeria asks him point-blank how many boys like him are gone away from the temple.
The seraphic answer “Nobody, because here we are fine!” make her say to have solved her mental enigma which has been going on in her own mind for some day!
To her the Kumari is finer than the monk children because at least, as soon as she will have her period, she will be “technically” free to live her own life, on the contrary the monks not.
Actually, it will be a traumatised life due to the practices she had suffered to be “acknowledge” as a goddess and the reputation of misfortune will always accompany her and as a consequence she will continuously avoided by other people.
It seems often the Kumari commit suicide but this is a too big info for her at the moment.
On the contrary, please, don’t talk to me about culture and traditions. They are too wearied words. They fit well for a dress or a hat. When you violate the liberty of other people ruining the life of another person, talking about culture is absolutely out of place.
Did you know in Nepal the widow, after her husband died, in a sort of “suicide” made her cremate alive on the funeral pile of the dead husband, as a sign of devotion? It seems the law which forbids this practice dates back to 1846. Yes, you got it right, only a little over 150 years ago.
Today it’s possible to visit the temple where the cremations take place. It’s another very deep experience in Nepal.
Going out Kathmandu to explore its valley is a leap in time where you can observe crafts that we didn’t have even in the historic remembrances. Our on the road in Nepal plunged us back into the history.
It’s all very coloured, typical, charming, beautiful to take photographs…if we think that we have a return ticket in our pocket, of course. On the contrary, it’s devastating thinking about today there are people still living like that, unaware of what happens outside due to the political situation which kept the country isolated from the rest of the world.
The political situation…while we were there, the elections took place, scheduled months prior and delayed several times. We experienced them close. In the days before, strikers and protests everywhere from which we as tourists are kept away.
Inside the hotels the propaganda’s newspaper with thousands and thousands of names, political parties, candidates… – an English newspaper reports over 17 thousand! – all with the hammer and sickle symbol.
The election days arrive. Nepal stops completely. All the motor vehicles are forbidden. We are in Pokhara, from where the trekking to Annapurna leave.
The bicycle renting are besieged by tourists. We take advantage of it to discover the town with a surreal calm, without motorbikes and mopes everywhere, without their noise and their runs.
The danger is represented by the attacks: it seems motorbikes are used to launch hand grenade. On the newspaper we read about disturbances, arrests, explosive devices…all around the country.
We go discover the peace stupa, up there dominating the town. A path uphill to reach it and a sense of peace among meadows and flowers. To reach the path we cross the lake. A series of little coloured boats is waiting for tourists.
We get one. We are in the middle of the lake in the hands of a child declaring 16 years old and instead he hardly can be 12 years old as my daughter. A row and a lot of effort to take us to the opposite side. An hour at least.
He even doesn’t know what school is and in a broken English he tells me he is lucky because he’s working, that he went to school (!) and that to study is no use of sailing.
About this he can be right technically! Many times I think that maybe in Italy to study hard is no use of us a lot!
In traits he abandons his “professionalism” and plays with the row squirting the water.
I look at him and at my daughter next to him and while he is telling us he is happy and satisfied with what he does, I am seized with a bitter sadness! Our on the road in Nepal often becomes a punch in the stomach.
We as tourists cannot close too much to the elections places, even if our curiosity is big. Green outdoor meadows where orderly queues of citizens are waiting for their turn. What about their card to vote? The thumb which will be soaked in the ink. And what about their ballot paper?
An enormous “sheet” full of names and symbols where they’ll put their crosses, more or less in front of a series of
Once the elections ended we can leave again. We will do our trekking on the Annapurna by jeep. We are too comfortable, it’s true, I know!
Our destination is Jomsom but we don’t know what is ahead of us, yet. I’ve found this video on YouTube, I didn’t shot it, but we spent the following day like that. Only that we didn’t have his courage to laugh.
In the remotest villages on the mountains, as in the town, it’s very cold, above all in the morning. Children collect plastic left by tourists and light up fires to get warmed. The smell is pungent, the sore throat is steady for us.
Breathing the mountain pure air, that one we immediately think about looking at a picture of the Himalaya, it appears almost impossible during the whole month of stay in Nepal…perhaps we breathed it just during our panoramic flight above the Himalaya! On the other hand it’s common knowledge that the paths of high mountain walked down by tourist during their trekking are full of abandoned waste.
We turn to a little local agency to get a jeep and a driver.
We fix a point on the map where we are going to keep along our on the road in Nepal. We indicate him the tour we want to have to reach the furthest Bardia nature park where we will be able to watch even the world final of the polo tournament with elephants!
We reach a temple. We get into a cable car with a breathtaking view…even though the safety cable is not considered and twice the people are allowed to get into the “gondola” (they call them like that)! The most part of people is terrified by the idea to get into the cable car. Animal have a single ticket.
Here animal sacrifices are still made: fowls, cocks, chickens, goats, sheep…we are the only tourists present. Swarms of people in a chaos beyond description: here among humans and animals we see anything.
I am not easily frightened and since I have always lived in the country, since I was a child I have seen killing animals to eat them. But what we see here it’s really something turning our own stomach and despite the hunger of these last days…I can only define it useful for the diet.
It’s the only comment I can do while the Nepalese people vie with each other to take a photo with us. And we do the same thing, more or less, with them.
We go through the umpteenth town and we stop searching for something eatable for us. It’s a great town of passage.
We are not fussy but we are in an area terribly poor and without any kind of service for tourist. A real our on the road in Nepal, even though maybe we weren’t right prepared of what would have be ahead of us.
These are the restaurants available. A sort of forced stop: when it’s getting dark, here all are forced stops for a minimum level of safety, ours and other people’s.
The roads not lighted up are areas crowded by all sorts of means and animals, by people on foot and children everywhere, also very little, playing undisturbed.
The idea to risk sending to hospital – or worse! – some children we cannot see and avoid from the top of our jeep, is unendurable.
We search for the most beautiful hotel of the town. Entering our hovel…ehmmm…our hotel room, Valeria exclaims fervent: “Well, it’s not terrible at all!”. Evidently her expectations, day after day, during our on the road in Nepal, by now are cut back mercilessly!
The most beautiful thing is the check-out the morning after. While I am paying $3 each for the room, a giant mouse crosses the desk next to my hands. I started shouting for the fear.
The guy of the hotel looks at me smiling and he explains to me it is his friend and that there are many others. He invites me to go behind the desk and he shows to me the box where he prepares the food for it. There are at least about ten of big mice eating. What a pity have known it only this morning!
I don’t have pictures. I was so shocked that I forgot to take a photo!!! Our on the road in Nepal goes on!
The day when we have overdone ourselves we gated-crash a wedding. This is our on the road in Nepal, too. We run into it in the street, we stop and take photographs and immediately everyone is nice towards us and really kind.
People offer to us food, they invite us to the temple and they even make us dance with them (I won’t publish the photos even under torture!). Apart from the absurd embarrassment it was fantastic to live with them, for a few hours, this slice of life.
Tonight at the hotel there’s an entertainment in the main room. The filmed sequence of the Great Himalaya Trail. A very particular our on the road in Nepal. Leaving out the reasons and the financers, as well as the receivers of the book’s receipts (then I’m getting angry), this German lady who is presenting spent 123 days walking on the Himalaya, leaving from the easternmost border of Nepal to reach the westernmost one.
The photos and the filmed sequences are really cool and beyond description in their beauty but just for a change I cannot take off my mind and enjoy them.
Not for a false moralism and I understand very well the passions and the sceneries beyond descriptions that she has seen, as well I understand the sense of challenge and go beyond (perhaps I understand a bit less who pay all this).
But in front of scenes and stories like that of a Sherpa boy following her that becomes blind due to the mountain sickness in an unreachable point and that have to face an iced fall downhill blind…I wonder what the limit is.
Nepal is rich in voluntary associations, You run into them by the score every day during our on the road in Nepal. You recognize them immediately. They have photographers following them with gears of thousands and thousands of Euros, they sleep in the most beautiful hotels, the local referents wear cared and expensive dresses, they have jeeps even more beautiful than the tourist ones.
Some of them look after children, other ones look after hospitals, abused women or to maintain and develop the Buddhist culture.
We have met even a group dealing with catalogue the seeds of a particular area in the country. They “work” to realize a project started several years ago.
Every year they come back to Nepal. They’re Italians. I was ashamed.
Another evening going back to the hotel, two huge and shining jeeps, equipped with any gadgets occurs to you, included satellite dishes and thousands odds and ends, bit and pieces I didn’t know exist, are parked inside the hotel and checked on sight. by the security (not by the “volunteers”, they are in their hotel rooms). On the side stands out the usual write of the reference association.
The shame leaves space to an unrestrained angry, here in a country where the payof a driver (so among the richest and lucky ones because they are in contact with tourist and their tips) doesn’t reach 100 Euros per month. The “normal” people don’t reach 20 Euros. The half of the population cannot read.
I go to bed thinking about the headmaster we have met today: he does his best to guarantee a minimum of education in this poor remote school. Then I think about the 1€ Nepalese-English dictionary. I try to think about the associations I didn’t met and that work in the silence and in the shadow instead of making a profit and flaunting their wealth…but it’s useless. Still today when I think about them again I am still angry!