Nestled between India and China lies the long, skinny country of Nepal – the one country in the world that sounds the most like nipple. After being in India for eight disgusting days, I was apprehensive about Nepal. The country is poorer than India and fairly similar culturally, and I didn’t know if that was going to translate into the same experience. Luckily for me, it didn’t.
My trip to Nepal was at an awkward time: less than six months after a massive earthquake devastated the country and right in the beginning of a constitutional crisis. Signs of the earthquake were all around – lots of damaged and destroyed buildings (we mainly saw these in and around Kathmandu) – but the people seemed to be back in the habit of going about their daily business. The constitutional crisis was much newer – only days old. Basically, Nepal has been struggling for years to put together a new democratic constitution. Finally, they did it and their provisional Parliament approved it by a very wide margin – yay! But one small group near the Indian border didn’t like it, so India decided to apply some pressure to have it changed. India closed their border to shipments of fuel and other supplies – just when Nepal is getting back on its feet and needs it the most. This wouldn’t normally be a problem for a lot of countries, but Nepal has nowhere else to turn. India is their longest border and all roads out of Nepal along their other border (China) have been closed since the earthquake. So, basically, India is being a big fat bitch.
There were a few direct consequences for my little tour group. We were unable to visit Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha – because the area was experiencing protests. There was very little petrol (gas) available and tourist vehicles got priority for gas (as this is a major part of their economy). This meant that there was very little traffic on the roads which made our travel times much quicker than they would have normally been. We saw lots of long queues at gas stations, and because fewer buses were running, locals (and some tourists) were riding on top of buses as the insides were jam-packed. My flight out of Nepal also had to land to refuel in Calcutta because the Kathmandu Airport had no fuel.
Despite the recent earthquake and the constitutional crisis, my (short) time in Nepal was lovely. The change from India was immediate. Everything looked greener and cleaner across the border. The people were friendlier – and by friendlier, I mean genuinely friendlier (they would talk to you and offer to help you without expecting money in return.) The whole experience felt safer and more comfortable. It took a few days to adjust to being surrounded by nice people, and I’m pretty sure I was quite rude to people in the first few days as my guard was still up from India. But it didn’t take too long to settle in and really start enjoying this beautiful country.
A few highlights of my time in Nepal:
Chitwan National Park:
The wildlife in this part of Asia is similar to what I saw in Africa. Unfortunately, our game drive through Chitwan National Park turned up next to nothing. The better experience in that area, however, was our accommodation at the Barauli Community Homestay. Specially built by my tour company, this little community homestay has brought tourism to the little village area of Barauli – just outside of Chitwan National Park. The homestay provided some food and entertainment for us during our two nights there. From the homestay, we were able to walk around the village where we went to the local market, visited the museum of the Tharu people (the local ethnic group), saw many rice paddies, and even joined in with some kids on the street playing a gambling game called Langurburza. We saw some captive elephants nearby, but they looked sad. One of the highlights of our stay was the chance to drink some masala chai while watching the sunset over the Narayani River.
Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city, was definitely the highlight for me. We started our time in Pokhara with dinner at SASANE – a non-profit that our tour company sponsors. The non-profit helps victims of human trafficking and it was sad to learn about a lot of the crimes that go unnoticed by tourists in Nepal.
Our day started early the next morning with a sunrise viewing from Sarangkot – a high hill overlooking Pokhara and the Himalayan Mountains. After that, most of our group went off to go paragliding, but one girl and I decided to go for a long walk to various tourists sites in the city. We visited a waterfall, a temple in a cave, a peace pagoda, and a Tibetan refugee settlement, but these weren’t really anything too exciting. The best part was walking through the villages and rice paddies to get there. People would say “hello” – particularly kids on their way to school – and people were just super smiley and super friendly in general. We looked lost at one point and some random local came out of a restaurant to give us directions. It was such a nice change of pace from India – I was a bit shocked! Our walk concluded atop a high hill (where the peace pagoda sits) overlooking the city and the lake. It was hot and disgusting that day, but despite that, it was really enjoyable overall. I’m going to need to come back here one day and explore more.
Our tour cut a day out of Kathmandu. It was unfortunate because I would have loved to explore this city more. We basically had time for three activities. The first was Swayambhunath aka the Monkey Temple. This Buddhist temple sits atop a hill overlooking the city. There were visible signs of damage from the earthquake but the whole thing was still standing. We also did a walking tour of our neighbourhood – Thamel – and visited the Garden of Dreams – a small garden in the city where locals and tourists come for some peace and quiet. Like Swayambhunath, many of the structures at the Garden of Dreams showed visible signs of damage.
This was all we had time for in Kathmandu. I definitely think another Nepal trip is in order one day.
The food in Nepal was actually not a highlight. Nepal is basically a blend of Indian and Tibetan food, so while the food was good, it didn’t really stand out after being in India. I ate many thalis – plates with small portions of various (usually vegetarian) items on them – and lots of momos – steamed or fried Tibetan dumplings. Aside from this, my diet consisted of a lot of Indian food, and of course, one Mexican meal on my last night.
Had I not gone to India first, and had the constitutional crisis not improved traffic conditions, I don’t know if I would have been so enthusiastic about my time in Nepal. But there’s only one way to find out if those factors really influenced me: go back one day. This one is at the top of my list of countries to visit again. As I write this, I’ve just spent eight weeks in Southeast Asia (I’m just a bit behind on the blog!) and I can now say that of all of the countries that I’ve visited in Asia thus far, Nepal is definitely one of the most pleasant.
Onward to Southeast Asia. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Nepal, follow this link: