Kathmandu, Nepal: Land of Never Ending Peace and Love
One of our regular contributors, now ex-financial broker Gelyn So Seng, lets us in on her private musings during her travel to Nepal. Get to know the people and experience the place through her story and photos
“I get your bag” was the first thing I heard as soon as I stepped out of the airport in that cold Autumn night. Good thing I have previously read a blog regarding airport bag handlers. They will swarm like bees politely offering help to carry your luggage only to demand - not ask but demand, dollars in return. I’ve heard horror stories, 20 dollars, 50 up to 80 american dollars where reported given to these men by naive travelers giving money just to stop the harassment. Needless to say, I dragged my luggage and walked towards the van that was awaiting me and 2 other volunteers to arrive. It’s November 2014 and I was scheduled for another program. A brief introduction of what I do, every year I randomly choose a country, a cause and an organization. You can say it’s my yearly goal of a mixture of personal gain of cultural immersion and paying it forward. This year was one week orphanage work with International Volunteer HQ in the land of never ending peace and love - Nepal.
It was 12 midnight when we got to our volunteer house. Unlike last year, I was not staying with a host family. This time, I was assigned to stay at Kathmandu Peace Guesthouse with the rest of the volunteers. I couldn’t say I was not disappointed. I’d be lying if I said i didn’t feel my heart sink a few inches upon finding out I would not be sharing my meals with a local family. I love experiencing local homestay, but nonetheless, I kept an open mind and was more than ready to receive whatever experience came my way. The first 2 days were for morning orientation. Talking about house rules, local customs (eating with your left hand was not proper) and a short language class. Our afternoons and early evenings were spent on tours to nearby stupas and markets. The organization treated the volunteers to local Nepali dinners. The first night was at a local restaurant, where you were made to experience local dining by sitting on the floor, eating traditional Dal Bhat (Nepali food) and momos (Nepali dumplings which have become my favorite dumplings in the world) while being entertained by local folk dancing. The succeeding dinners were held on rooftops with splendid views of different stupas and courtyards while watching the sun set.
Monday came and it marked the first of five days spent at the Sahara International Orphanage. A week routine of breakfast at 6:15am -after a very very cold heater-less morning shower. Service at 7am to the orphanage. Eat, play and laugh with the children. Home at noon. Afternoon left to what ever tickled our fancy. Mornings at the Orphanage was as random as seeing a cow in the middle of the main Nepali road. Children braiding our hair. Listening to chant-like melodies was actually listening to the children memorizing the alphabet, english words or even mathematics. It sounded like a sweet song that they would warble at least 5 times. Bundling a bunch of leaves together to use as a miniature soccer ball. Drawing on paper. Making our own grafiti with colored chalks. Cooking their lunch. Holding hands walking to school. I can go on and on and the list can easily reach the roof. It wasn’t what we did. It was the idea of doing things together. 5 days easily came to an end. If time permitted it, I would have spent more days at the orphanage. Maybe someday.
Afternoons were easy. I am not one of those travel bloggers who would intently write down names of all the cafes they have frequented or jot down the name of that restaurant where they ate that fabulous chicken masala. I am a nomad. And I take that to the most literal sense. I am a wayfarer. I start threading with no expectations so every sight would be a sweet surprise. I stop when I feel like it, I sit if I feel the music is of my taste. I enter a restaurant just because at that second I craved a banana lassi. As an avid solo traveler, I spent all afternoons eating at random places listening to stories of the most interesting random people I meet. One of my favorite things Nepal offered me was their food. Yak spring rolls.Yak momos. Curry. Lots and lots of curry. Beans. Spices. One time I was even fed Yak Blood Sausages. Pretty interesting I might say. My piece of advice is, eat. Eat as much as you want. Be brave to eat street food. My favorite was the pani puri. It was a concave shell that had spicy water in it - just don’t ask me where the water came from. But if you can get the courage to eat that and not wind up in the hospital 5 hours after, I promise you, you can eat absolutely anything off the streets. I stayed 5 days at the Thamel area of Kathmandu. I would say it was the most convenient place for young tourists of the capital. Stores were everywhere, trinkets were easily found on every corner. It was a melting pot of restaurants and different pubs. If you think venturing a chinese town would test your haggling skills, you have not been to the streets of Nepal. A friend was able to bring down a price of a painting from 20,000 Nepali Rupee to 5,000 Nepali Rupee. Imagine that. There are no price tags on most clothes. So muster those “i will pretend I will walk away” skills. Oh have I not mentioned the numerous yoga retreats along the streets, yet?
Night times were my favorite. There was a local liquor shop I would naturally pass on my way to the main Thamel Road. The shop was called Z store. No matter what time of day you will be greeted with a chirpy “Good Morning” by the shop owner. The owner would befriend all the tourists and passersby (I eventually found myself sitting behind the counter helping him sell his liquor - or drink his liquor for free). Pubs were everywhere. Blues bands frequented the streets every night. I quickly became a groupie of the Ashesh blues band that played in Maya Pub. It was so easy to jump from one bar to the other. They all serve good food too and since Nepal night life started early, it was safe to eat dinner while listening to the band at the same time. As a consequence, you can expect pubs close at 11 easy.
When my volunteer stint finished, I moved to the Boudha area. A less populated area compared to Thamel. Hotel Shambaling was a walking distance to the Boudha Stupa. The largest stupa outside china. I would have frequent sunset walks around. Watching the locals pray. Every morning I would be woken up by the sound of the monks’ chant. It was rather therapeutic. I felt at peace. My last weekend was spent randomly signing up for a whole day outdoor rock climbing activity at the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park and signing up for a whole day tour to the Ancient Kingdoms of Patan and Bhaktapur. The kingdoms were simply breath-taking. It was like stepping back in time and walking through the perfectly preserved alley ways and temples. It was such a spectacle. I simply could not put down my camera.
My 8 days spent in this city were etched in my heart. Sure, the constant honking of motorbikes and vehicles tested my patience. Sure the vendor pestering to buy the running shoes I was wearing at that time annoyed me a bit but I would book another ticket to that city in a snap. The people, the food the sights were one that touched my soul. To the Land of Never Ending Peace and Love, “Dhanyabad and Pheri Bhetaui!”