Nepal stealing hearts

An Irish couple on a world tour shares their Nepal experiences

By Natalie Mc Greal

From the moment we arrived into Kathmandu, we knew that it was different.

It was one of the few places on our trip that we exited an airport and there wasn’t a hundred taxi drivers shouting at us. We were also quoted the correct taxi fare which has been very rare on our trip. Our taxi driver was a nice man who took the time to point out some tourist sites to visit and gave us some travel tips. He was also very patient while we searched for our guesthouse.

For our Nepal trip, we chose to book guesthouses/homestays in order to support the local people and to get a feel of local culture. We stayed in a lovely part of Kathmandu called Siphal. We stayed at a guest house named, ‘Your Next Home 1.’ Our host, Pawan, greeted us warmly. After travelling for so long it was a nice treat to have hot showers and comfortable beds with the added luxury of good Wi-Fi. I mention this as we weren’t expecting it in Nepal. We were in a nice quiet area and within walking distance to Thamel (30mins), Pashupatinath temple (10mins) and Bouddhanath Stupa (30mins).

I loved wandering the streets of Thamel. I loved the colorful stalls selling beautiful garments. I had read that Thamel could be overwhelming, but I found it relaxing. Maybe that’s due to being in India before Nepal. I found the shop owners to be very polite when inviting us into their stores and also allowed us to browse through stuffs undisturbed.

Already the people of Nepal were starting to impress us. From taxi drivers to grocery shop owners to stall owners, everyone was always smiling and always so polite.

We spent a nice relaxing afternoon in the Garden of Dreams. A beautifully maintained garden with water displays, pretty sitting areas and a café. A peaceful haven in Thamel. We enjoyed watching the squirrels play and people watching. It is also a lovely place to go and read a book.

We strolled from our guesthouse to Pashupatinath temple. On this day we did not pay to enter the temple. Instead we wandered around the area enjoying the atmosphere. I loved the little streets on route to the temple. We saw monkeys roaming the rooftops, cows and calves wandering the streets, chickens pecking the ground and dogs resting in the sunshine. I loved the richness in color in the women’s clothing. The sweetness of the local children playing in the street and shouting ‘hello’ excitedly when encountering us.

At the temple, we sat down by the river to watch the animals and the people. We had not realized that this was right beside the crematorium area and that a cremation was taking place. It was such a unique experience as we had never witnessed a ritual like it. After some time, we decided to leave as we did not want to be spectators in the family’s mourning.

After talking to a local, we decided to return to the temple another evening.

The next evening, we paid the entrance fee and explored the grounds. We sat on the steps alongside the locals above the river. Everyone was singing and clapping to the music being played. There were three gentlemen conducting a fire dance display. Everyone was in great form and it was an amazing and uplifting experience. It was also strange that while we were enjoying this there were two cremations taking place across the river.

On another day, we visited the Boudhanath Stupa. A beautiful stupa with a lovely atmosphere. The place was surrounded by monks and we thoroughly enjoyed watching their rituals. We joined the rest of the visitors in walking around the stupa clockwise. The ritual of walking clockwise is to keep the image of enlightenment at the centre of your attention. The stupa is surrounded by little cafes, restaurants, shops and shrines.

The lovely colorful prayer flags lined the stupa, creating a beautiful sky of colors. We then had the pleasure of watching the monks sing and play musical instruments. People came and went, kindly leaving donations.

Leaving Kathmandu for Pokhara, we took a scenic bus journey through the countryside. We stayed in a lovely homestay named ‘Bishnu’s Homesaty’, by the shores of the Fewa Lake. We thoroughly enjoyed the serenity and view of the lake from this homestay. Our hosts, Bishnu and Laxmi, were wonderful and we immediately felt as though we were at home.

The lakeside area in Pokhara was lovely. The streets and lakeside were lined with colorful shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. There are plenty of adventure sports to do here such as paragliding off Sarangkot hill, trekking, horse riding and white water rafting. We were lucky enough to have done all these activities before and due to budget restraints we decided not to do any on this visit, but will definitely indulge next time.

We enjoyed sitting by the lakeside and watching the row boats come in and out. Renting a row boat is another lovely thing to do on Fewa Lake. We also enjoyed watching the paragliders doing tricks in the sky before making their landing.

At Bishnu’s homestay we were treated to a true taste of Nepal by Laxmi who cooked the most delicious dinners. We loved sharing stories with the other guests who keep returning to this homestay year after year.

One morning we took a taxi to the top of Sarangkot mountain at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise over Pokhara. It was beautiful looking into the darkness speckled with lights. Then the gradual change from darkness into light. Unfortunately for us, the day was very hazy so we did not get the spectacular clear views that one would normally get of the Himalayas. However, it was still a lovely experience and beautiful sight.

We then started our peaceful 1.5 hour walk down the mountain surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature. We passed some houses with some farm animals outside. A group of children approached, asking us for some chocolate. It was a strange feeling seeing a child so excited over a small luxury that is taken for granted at home. We finally reached the bottom and strolled back to our homestay. We thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast that morning.

We had the honour of being invited to Bishnu’s father, Mr Brihaspati Adhikari’s 84th birthday celebrations. We attended with four others from our homestay. The party was held at Mr Adhikari’s house and there were two big marquee style tents set up outside covering a seated area. There were men and women working hard preparing the big buffet dinner. We were warmly greeted at the party. We were ushered to seats and immediately given a plate of fruit. We chatted amongst ourselves and with the other guests of the party especially the lovely children. There had been a heavy downpour two days prior to the party. But thankfully, the sun shone for most of the day. The women were dressed in beautiful saris rich in color but predominantly red. The men were all dressed well and wore their traditional hats. We were treated to a delicious buffet dinner and tea. We had a lot of people approach us to make sure that we had eaten and had had enough food. This is very similar to what happens at an Irish party.

We then entered the home area which was decorated in color. Mr. Adhikari was sitting down and everyone was singing, clapping and dancing. It was a wonderful sight. We were then honored with a blessing from Mr Adhikari, where he placed a red mark on our foreheads and then presented us with fruit and coins. It is a tradition that is totally different to ours. We always give the present not receive it from the person celebrating their birthday. Apparently this tradition is done because he can’t bring anything to the grave and is a way of blessing his guests. I think he had to bless approximately 300 attendees. It was such an honor to be amongst such wonderful and kind people, and to celebrate such an special occasion with them.

The next day the sun shone brightly for what was to be a colorful day. We excitedly had breakfast at a local cafe and got our first dash of color from two children.  I think that they were the owner’s children. A boy and a girl aged five years. They politely and excitedly approached us to see if they could put a colorful mark on our foreheads. Of course we agreed.

After breakfast, we returned to our homestay and filled our bottles with colored water and armed ourselves with bags of color. We then ventured out into the colorful war zone. We had such a fun day. Everyone was in great spirits. Tourists and locals played Holi excitedly but respectfully. I was amazed by how respectful everyone was of those who were not participating, especially the teenagers.

There was a stage set up in the centre playing music where everyone had congregated. We danced and sang for sometime while throwing colors into the air. We then ventured back to the lakeside, dodging water and color bombs along the way. We sat down for a drink in one of the lakeside pub shacks facing the lake. We sat and enjoyed everyone playing Holi and the sea of color.

Nepal has truly stolen our hearts and has been more than what we could have imagined. Out of the 13 countries that we have visited, we have had three highlights and Nepal has been one of them. It is rich in culture yet warmly welcomes and embraces other cultures.  It is a country full of genuine and kind people despite such evident poverty. It is a full-rugged beauty and a dream for outdoor lovers. Colorful shops, delicious food and wonderful people surrounded by beautiful nature. We are already looking forward to our return trip to this special country.

(Aonghus and I are both 29 year old working professionals from Ireland. I am an oncology nurse and Aonghus is a medical device engineer. We saved for approximately 3 years to pay for our world trip. We departed Ireland in August 2016. Nepal is the 13th country that we have visited on our big adventure.)

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