Published on August 30th, 20139
First Impressions: Nepal
Seriously. For a travel blogger, I make a woefully piss-poor correspondent. Oh I love cobbling together tales of my travels AFTER the fact (though even then, I’m afraid I neglect documenting much of the nitty gritty details). But while I’m bumping along the trail in the midst of dazzling new sights and experiences? It seems the impressions come just too swift and jumbled to properly transcribe the visions, sounds, smells and feelings from my dodderin’ brain to digital ink. In short, what I dearly need is a webcam embedded in my forehead so that you all could simply skip along the trail with me.
In lieu of that, all I can do as this wondrous land of Nepal unfolds before me, is jot down a stray potpourri of my first impressions. I’ve been here less than a week now (3 nts. In Kathmandu, 2 in Bhaktapur, and tonight, my 1st in Nagarkot – a most enchanting hamlet perched high amid the clouds at 7,000+ feet), but already I can tell you this:
- Nepal is utterly unique. Indeed, I’ve been blessed to visit a goodly number of sovereign nations in my 30+ year skip ’round this Big Blue Dot, and I sometimes expect that the next new Land will be much like another. I mean, All Asian/Latin/African countries must be somewhat akin to their neighbors, yes? WRONG! In my experience, no two countries have turned out to be the least bit alike. The people, the culture, the architecture, the myriad of large and small details that prove each country to be unique (and thus why I become exasperated with travelers who presume – often with but a few days visit – to compare say… Vietnam to Thailand across the board).
- That said, Nepal is H.O.T. Leastwise Kathmandu. For some reason I thought the capital in the Land of Everest (at nearly a mile high) would be at least a smidge chilly. But nope. Hot and sweaty pretty much no different than the likes of Ho Chi Minh – go figure.
- The exchange rate for Nepalese rupees is close to 100 rupees to $1, thus easy-peasy to calculate (e.g. 1,125 rupees = approx. $11.25) Thanks, Nepal.
- Kathmandu is amazing. Negotiating h.a.r.d. for a taxi (300 rupees, about $3) from the airport to my hotel in Thamel, my initial impression as we bumped willy-nilly through seriously potholed, filthy backstreets, was: “OMG, Nepal makes Vietnam look like SWITZERLAND!” Ah but I LOVE it! The crooked cobbled streets, the dusty, dilapidated buildings, bitty kiosks tucked into dark corners – reminds me a little of Morocco (which is among my favorite countries worldwide).
- Speaking of those bitty kiosks: Oh my, the nubbly woolen sweaters, the cashmere scarves, and all manner of yummerishish new age duds. In short, for this 700+ day Vietnam-polyester-drugged expat, Kathmandu is a shopper’s dream!
- That said (i.e. shopping temptations), I must admit, though I love wandering amid the luscious textiles and handicrafts – I seem to be remarkably immune to actually buying anything to stuff into my diminutive backpack. Oh I quite enjoy peering and fondling the exotic pretties for hours on end, but… Turns out, not having a home to keep such things serves as a mighty strong deterrent to stockpiling trinkets.
- One word: CURRY. Enough said, Well o.k. that and dal, samosas, Nawari cuisine in Bhaktapur and the most diiiivine “curd” (thick yogurt with a touch of honey – reminiscent of the luscious slabs of same smothered in honey in Greece).
- Speaking of Bhaktapur: it’s my new bff of Asia. Just 30 cents and 50 min. by bus from Kathmandu, it’s like stepping back a couple hundred years in time. The architecture is amazing, and the kindly locals shuffle down cobbled streets to the drum of ancient traditional ways.
- (continuing w/ dear Bhaktapur): I found a most remarkable geocache there (Heart of Bhaktapur) – a mason jar suspended by rope pulley high in a tree (actually I once had a similar geocache hide in Seattle – now kindly maintained by my good geo-chum CENT5). But even more significant, I learned of the wonderful work of the Suvadra Foundation and the Swarga Children’s Home for kids with disabilities. Indeed, every last rupee from the Heart of Bhaktapur guesthouse goes to fund the childrens home and school. I had a long chat w/ the Director there, met some of the children and staff, and am seriously considering volunteering there after my present travels.
- I repeat: traveling solo is simply the BEST. It necessarily opens you up to serendipitous authentic interactions with the local folk. Unlike tourists in pairs or packs, the locals see a single lass as approachable and but a smile and a “namaste” will open all sorts of cultural doors. Like… The family of four that not only directed me to the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu, but escorted me to the top (where I opted to repay their kindness by having the two tots’ names spelled out in bracelet beads) and… Dear Dipak, the gallery owner that guided me around Kathmandu to snag binoculars and a new battery for my camera, then led me through the maze of streets to the bus station and ensured I got on the one to Nagarkot, and… the trio of Japanese tourists (all of us w/ the same dodderin’ birth year) who promised to take me in when I land in Japan for the Sapporo Snow Festival next February, and… I could go on and on. Solo? Lonely? Not a chance!
- Re: riding in rickety, dubiously maintained (read: uh, questionably safe) local buses – especially up and down steeeep, hairpin mountain turns on single-lane roads overlooking astonishingly vast drop-offs. Yes, yes, they’re no doubt dangerous. But so are Home Depot parking lots with 16-wheelers blithely turning left and obliterating petite pickup trucks (while the terrified lass driver scurries madly out the passenger door just in the nick of time) – ask me how-I-know. Indeed, arguably life is fraught with risk at every turn. And the truth is, I find that I actually LIKE the zany rides – jammed packed like sardines with locals and nary another foreigner in sight (why IS that?) Probably because that’s when I feel most akin to the local culture – which is, after all, predominantly why I travel in the first place.
- Nagarkot: Oh my. Purely sublime. This is what it’s like to sleep in a cloud! At 7,000+ feet, the closest I’ll ever get (while upright) to Heaven.
- After the 45 cent, hairpin local bus ride from Bhaktapur, I opted to treat myself to the top-most hotel in Nagargot: Peaceful Cottage (just $30/nt. sgl.) with 360 degree views above the clouds. And oh my, but it surely is the epitome of “peaceful” here. Like living in the clouds.
Th-th-that’s about it for now. Presently I’m tucked in here atop Nagarkot, Nepal for two days of sheer relaxation. Last night was magical stepping out on my balcony into a cloud. And this morning I rose at 5am and climbed to the top of the crow’s nest to witness sunrise. The clouds lay low on the horizon beneath me, but parted slightly for a momentary glimpse of those magnificent Himalayan peaks that surround. By the time your read this however, likely I’ll have moved on to… next stop: Pokhara – surrounded by the majestic Annapurna mountain range (that includes no less than three of the 10 highest mountains in the world).
Meanwhile, I leave you with a boatload of pics of some of the sights I’ve seen so far…