Tag Archives: Nepal

Humility

I was startled by a small hand tapping me on the shoulder, not least because I was inside a traditional Gurkha restaurant in the city of Pokhara, Nepal, sharing a meal with a group of friends. The city of Pokhara is small, and beautiful. It skirts a turquoise lake and sits at the foot of the vast Annapurna mountain range. After two weeks travelling through northern India and Nepal we seemed to have reached nirvana. That morning we’d been woken at 4am and packed into a taxi-bus. Bleary eyed we arrived in a little village set into the hillside above Pokhara, the best view-point (we were told) to ‘experience’ the sun rising on Annapurna.

We weren’t alone. Fifty or sixty other tourists gathered in awkward circles, expectant yet dubious, waiting impatiently, not really convinced this ‘experience’ warranted getting up so very early. Then the snow-covered tips of the distant horizon shimmered gold as the first tenuous sunrays touched them with fire. Chatter became hushed, cameras stood ready, and expectations grew. Gradually the rim of crested peaks bled crimson under a velvet sky. Little by little colour flooded over the mountains until they blushed pink, like something half-dreamed. Well-travelled and worldly we might be, but this was nature at her most majestic. We were awestruck.

That evening we decided to celebrate our experience and were tucking into a traditional thali meal when this small determined hand reached through the open window. Turning round to look I was surprised to find the smiling face of a local boy who, I guessed, was no more than ten years old. He didn’t look like a beggar. His clothes were shabby but his eyes shone with happiness. My friends laughed at his impudence.

I handed him a bowl of vegetable curry and he drank it down in one gulp. I’d never seen anyone so obviously hungry. When he handed me back the bowl he nodded his head. The beaming smile never left his face.

My friends passed over another bowl which disappeared as quickly but then a second boy, so alike he must surely be his brother, reached up on tiptoes, doe-eyes shy and frightened. We gathered everything that was left from our feast and handed it through the window all the time worried a waiter might chase the boys away. But when the waiter eventually came to clear our table he commended us on our excellent appetites. By then the boys had ducked out of sight. On leaving the restaurant we were given a handful of lollipops and catching sight of the boys a few streets further down the road, we handed them the sweets.

They were the only beggars we met in Nepal and their beautiful smiles still haunt me.  I wished I could bring them home and mother them. Later, when we told the story to our local guide, he explained the boys were probably not Nepalese but Tibetan. There are many communities of Tibetan exiles in Pokhara but they struggle to support new refugees who make their way through the mountain passes.

News reports of the earthquake last week pricked my conscious. As a tourist, being able to travel to Nepal and witness the highest mountains in the world is amazing, but this awe-inspiring scenery also makes it one of the harshest environments on our planet. And therefore one of the most dangerous.

Himalayas

A friend, Angela Locke, travelled to Nepal in 1992. She wrote a beautiful book about her experience – On Juniper Mountain – and inspired by the people she met set up a grass-roots charity called The Juniper Trust. www.junipertrust.co.uk  If like me you want to help in some small way please consider donating to them, much of their work is achieved by volunteers.

High mountain passes

High mountain passes

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Filed under Disaster, Experiences, Himalayas, Refugees, Surviving, Tourism

Making Memories

We are leaving Nepal, kingdom above the clouds. It seems a lost land, mysterious and compelling. In a strange way I see it as a place of prisms – a spectrum of colours synthesised through the land and culture of its people, transient and fragile. Old and new collide without finding need to merge; life is about respect and honour and survival. Tucked into the folds of Nepal’s sky scraping mountains exists a proud people – proud of their history, proud of their remarkable country.

 

We ended as we began, in the fabled city of Kathmandu. Here the streets are chaotic; they drive on the left but in every other respect seem to have thrown away the rule book, if it ever existed. Should anything block the road, be it a bus, taxi or broken down lorry, all vehicles rigorously overtake, regardless of what is coming in the opposite direction. As if to compound the confusion motorbikes weave through as though on an assault course and as for the bicycles….a seriously overworked God must be watching over the riders.  Cows graze, ignominious

 

But the city has remarkable beauty. And history….we tried to see the Living Goddess but she proved rather shy. We were unsettled by the concept of choosing one girl child to be so esteemed and enchanted. We who are moulded with modern minds find looking into this alien past unsettling. Pilgrims, monks, holy-men, tourists, locals, all inhabit the same frenetic streets but I suspect what we see is very different. The temples and stupas draw us together with a sense of the past still living, but what we understand as God is aeons apart.

 

We filter through tiny lanes where roadside shops are little more than three walled shacks. Cramped displays are tilted towards pedestrians but the rows of pampered fruits and vegetables lie temptingly close to the cows and monkeys who also graze these streets, at one busy crossroads we even encounter a herd of goats. Pungent smells fill the air as we invade the spice market; trays of yellow turmeric, brown nutmegs, black and green peppercorns and the tiny seeds of cumin and coriander displayed alongside less familiar condiments. Hanging over our heads are displays of textiles, the multi-coloured silks conjure up tales of the orient, patterned fables burnished in hot reds, burnt oranges, cool indigoes, citrus yellows and emerald greens. A riot of disharmony overlaid in gold braid.  The buzz of the marketplace is enigmatic, too much to see and too little time.

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