A “Guest” Blog

by Shirley on December 1, 2009

Annalise asked me to write a “guest” piece for their Blog.  So, here goes.

Never, in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned myself travelling to Nepal.  It just wasn’t on my long list of countries I wanted to visit in the next few years.. however, when they started planning their year off about 5 or 6 years ago I made a promise to a certain young Grandson that I would come and visit wherever they ended up.  Once they had finalized their plans, Robin asked “So, Grandmama, are you coming to visit us in Nepal?”  What could I say but “Yes, of course” without any idea of the logistics involved in getting there,  the number of vaccinations I would need or anything else.

And that’s how I found myself on an early morning Korean Air flight from Incheon International Airport (Seoul, S Korea) to Kathmandu.  It was a beautiful clear day and the descent into the Kathmandu valley was spectacular with the Himalayan Mountains looming bright and sparkling white to the near north.  I was totally entranced with their beauty and grandeur and recalled many of the incredible stories I have read about various attempts to conquer them.

Then we landed, deplaned right onto the tarmac and I was stuck by the incongruity of 3 very big jet planes parked just outside what appeared to be an aged, drab, rather squat, unattractive Airport Terminal .  And it was hot!!!!  David had prepared me very well for what I was about to encounter inside. Immigration clearance proceeded at less than a snail’s pace (no computer scanning of passports here) but unlike D/A/R’s experience everything went very quickly after that.  I was not harassed by anyone wanting to help me wth my luggage – in fact I couldn’t find anyone willing to help at all so all those $1.00 American bills in my pocket went wanting.  However, for whatever reason a very nice man who looked very official waved me right past the Customs check and the last Security check.  I was very grateful by that time to escape into the welcoming arms of Annalise and Robin who were waiting with a lovely traditional flower necklace and lots of hugs.  It was hard to believe I was there but it was wonderful.

Their favourite taxi driver, Suvas, was there and as I left the airport I realized I was about to experience things totally outside my comfort zone.  It helped that I was with Annalise and Robin who were perfectly at ease, relaxed and seemed to think everything was normal.  In spite of that, for me, the drive to the apartment was total sensory overload, the sights , sounds and smells were overpowering; the traffic was complete chaos, constant, continual horn blowing from every vehicle, no lanes, constant jams, dust, exhaust fumes,  black smelly smoke,  that made my eyes smart, and bumpy, rough streets that seemed to be just continuous gigantic potholes.  And then Annalise said” We’re really lucky today, the traffic is not as bad as usual, eh Suvas?”  And he agreed. I just increased my grip on Robin’s hand.

The apartment when we arrived was like an asis of calm.  It was cool, quiet and very comfortable, and just what I needed, along with more never ending hugs.

So, did my first impressions last??  Yes and no.  I never did get used to the smell of the polluted river and other nasty things that emanated from back alleys, or the never ending chorus of dogs barking at night, or the chaos and noise of the traffic.  I was very grateful to Annalise for teaching me her method of avoiding becoming road kill when crossing streets.  Basically, she does not mess with cars or trucks but the motorcycles can veer around you!!!  I eventually became more relaxed and accepting of things as they were such as no sidewalks or sidewalks that presented continual challenges to navigate because of broken bricks or cement or piles of construction debris or other obstacles, no streetlights at night, and cross walks that were a waste of paint!!!  Then there were the cold showers in the morning (except for Princess “you know who” who heated up water on the stove) and the power blackouts in the evenings.

But, in contrast to all those things which in the final analysis are not really important,  I had a once in a lifetime, incredibly enjoyable experience in a country rich in very ancient history, culture and natural beauty, not to mention the delicious food, beautiful and affordable jewellery, clothing and carpets.  And the Nepali people are wonderful, beautiful generous people.  It was a privilege to meet the local people David and Annalise had come to know and to receive their warm and generous welcomes.  Even strangers smiled, greeted “Namaste” and gestured graciously.

There is something almost magical in being in very ancient places (Kathmandu is over 2,000 years old).  The old cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are now protected Unesco World Heritage sites and they have left an everlasting impression on me.  These are very large areas with many squares connected by narrow, winding, little streets filled with colourful shops.  The squares are filled with multiple temples , shrines and palaces. Hindu and Buddhist holy places exist side by side.  You could spend many, many days in any of these site and still marvel at what you see.  It is like going back hundreds or thousands of years in time.  But, at the same time these are living spaces.  People still live and work in the old cities.  They are filled with shops and restaurants and markets.

I am not going to comment on the politics, other than to say I found it very confusing and there seems to be a lot of unrest.  The Maoists conducted 3 Bandhs (sort of like general strikes) while I was there.  But I will leave comments on the politics to David and Annalise.

Finally, there is the countryside.  The beautiful terraced (almost to the tops) mountainsides with various crops growing at different altitudes present a patchwork of colour from the rice at the bottom, to vegetables mid way, corn higher up etc. The valleys are very steep with rivers running through at the bottom.  The “highway” to Tibet is extremely narrow, sometimes paved, and snakes up and around from valley to valley, overlooking steep mountainsides.  It is incredibly beautiful and would be idyllic except for the knowledge of the extreme poverty of the tenant farmers and villagers.

So, overall impressions, chaos, contrast, conflict, culture, colour and cheer.  I would not have missed it for anything and I am very grateful to David, Annalise and Robin for giving me the opportunity and for making it so memorable.

P.S. Annalise said I couldn’t say anything nice about them in this blog post, but I can’t imagine how I would have managed without their help and guidance (even if she did try to kill me on the hike the first day). Seriously, they eased my way and gently introduced me to everyday life which tourist generally don’t get to experience. And they very generously treated me to a wonderful experience at the Last Resort where I had marvelous massages for all the aches and pains from the aforementioned hike. And Annalise introduced me to the art of haggling over prices. WOW!! Is she good.  She is truly amazing.  She negotiated the price on everything I bought ( and I am not confessing as to what I bought). and Robin, my Natti (grandson) was his usual wonderful self and took great care of me, always looking out for me and making sure I was safe, and that of course I had ample hugs every day. I miss him terribly.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

LeeAnne December 1, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Shirley, it was lovely to hear about your experience. Thank you for sharing your story.
You need to know that Annalise learned her art of haggling from her father – he was a great teacher :-)

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