“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy
I’m off to Nepal. I hadn’t planned on returning but an opportunity arose that I couldn’t pass up. It was either go to Cornwall to immerse myself in the landscape, weather and all, for a solitary four weeks of writing and coastal walks or accompany my beloved on a trek to base camp of Ama Dublam.
How does one choose you may ask? It was a difficult decision. My heart was set on Cornwall and the inner peace and time for contemplation it would bring. I felt a primal pull to return to a place I felt I belonged. At the same time my husband was taking a month to go climb a mountain in Nepal. I’d been there before and wasn’t particularly keen on returning, until I discovered some trekkers were accompanying the climbers for a section of the trail. I didn’t trek when last in Nepal. After a year of convalescence I wanted to do something closely resembling adventurous and hiking is one thing Duncan and I love to do together. A true tug a war was waged in my heart.
I guess I’m a sucker for love. Love won out. Time with my man, doing what we love was the decider. So I’m returning to Nepal.
I last visited Nepal four years ago. I stayed for three weeks and saw a nice smattering of places: Kathmandu, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath, Pokhara, Lumbini and Chitwan National Park. I visited temples, monasteries, markets and monuments. I rode an elephant, paddled a canoe down crocodile infested waters, sat on the banks of a river watching the sun set and saw where the Buddha was born. I spoke with wise men, drowned in the gorgeous chanting of monks and revelled in the silence of a peace garden, in the middle of Kathmandu. I ate glorious food, drank tea and did a spot of shopping. I skated on slippery pigeon poop in the streets of Kathmandu, held on for dear life on a bus as we clung to the edge of a steep cliff, on my way to Pokhara, and was sobered when confronted with the burning bodies on the holy river at Pashupatinath.
It was hot and humid. The streets were crowded and teeming with people, distances between places were further than I’d realised. Simply catching a bus seemed difficult. I was asked for money often, swindled by taxi drivers, more than once, and looked at warily at times too. I experienced my first earthquake in Kathmandu, that rattled me. All alone and far from family I was concerned should another occur. Needless to say that was a sleepless night.
I was overwhelmed by the place yet in awe of it also. I was on edge when asked for money and heckled in the streets yet overwhelmed by the kindness I experienced. My nerves were tested by the constant noise, the squalor and the heat yet also calmed in quiet and peaceful sanctuaries. I was shocked by the presence of soldiers with guns on Kathmandu street corners yet amazed at the laid back nature of locals in Pokhara and Lumbini and Patan.
For me, Nepal is a place of contradictions. It is a place of many faces. It is a place you can blend in or stand out depending on where you are. Nepal is a place I wouldn’t say I enjoyed but feel richer for having been. It’s isn’t a place I felt a strong pull to return to but I find myself about to depart for her again.
Last time the majestic Himalayas were hidden from view by thick white clouds. On my last day in Pokhara, standing in a dusty bus station, the clouds parted and revealed a sight truly worthy of postcard status. A silence descended as we travellers all looked in awe.
What new adventures will unfold this time as I head out beyond the cities and into the real heart of the country? I wonder?