Ross' Thoughts: Nepali Time

We've been out of Nepal for a little while and as we were lounging on the beach in Thailand I was thinking about Nepal. Having started this trip in Australia and then continuing on to very modern parts of Southeast Asia (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur) Nepal was by far the most out of our 'element' we had been. We spent the first 5 days in Thamel. Which even though it's the touristy area I was a little overwhelmed at first. It's a small crowded area in the middle of Kathmandu with narrow streets, maybe 15-20 feet wide and multiple-story buildings on all sides; it has a very claustrophobic feel. Add in a mass of cars and motorcycles (all honking their horns), a mixture of odors from food, trash, animals and whatever else and you definitely know you're not in the western world any more. Even walking from our guesthouse to a restaurant you're constantly dodging taxis and rickshaws. At first I just wanted to leave, but after a day or two things got a little easier. What I'm not sure got easier was looking at all the trash. I had a feeling of both mad as well as sad. The trash situation got even worse when you left the touristy areas. The sight of trash piled high along the banks of the Bagmati River really struck me. It looked like a city dump, it was tough to look at.

We were only in Kathmandu for a few days before we headed out on our trek, but in order to get to our starting spot we had to deal with the local buses, which can be a pain in the ass. A few thoughts on the local buses:

1) All the buses are packed, you might get on an empty bus, but it will eventually be filled to the brim with people, food, supplies and even animals. When the inside fills up people and things go on the roof, which after being crammed inside a hot bus seemed like it might have been the best place to sit.
2) The buses leave when they are full, as I said you might get on an empty bus, but it's not going to go anywhere until every last seat and all the floor space is filled. We waited for well over an hour for a few remaining seats of a bus to fill up. During that time we couldn't get a straight answer from anyone working there as to when it would leave, it was either "about 10 more minutes" or "it'll be an hour" (more on these people in a minute). Only after we asked for our money back so we could just walk did they decide we could go.
3) The buses will drive anywhere. At times we were going down roads I wouldn't have expected a lifted jeep to be traveling. With all the stuff on the top I was constantly expecting the bus to just topple over.
4) The buses are built like tanks. As I said they will drive them over everything, pack them to the brim and climb steep mountain passes and I never saw one broken down. They just chugged along over and over again.
5) The guys who work at the bus stops are scammers. They were always trying to rip us off, they will never give you a straight answer as to when a bus is coming or when it is leaving. They just want your money.
6) The people who take the bus on the other hand were always super friendly, which is good considering you're basically sitting on their lap. They were always helpful, telling us what was going on or when our stop was coming up. They would even offer a spot for your backpack even through there wasn't much room for them. I always felt welcome.

Enough about the buses. Once out on the trail any negative thoughts of Nepal just melted away. The local people were amazing. We were constantly greeted with a "namaste" when passing people. From old women doing laundry in a bucket to small children playing in the street, it always put a smile on my face. Combine that with some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen and you've got a great time. The crazy thing about the Himalayas is height of the actual mountains. In Colorado when you are looking at a 14,000 foot peak you are typically standing at around 6,000-10,000 feet in elevation. Here we were staring at 20,000+ peaks from elevations sometimes as little as 4,000 feet. It's just amazing seeing 15-20,000 feet of mountain right in front of you. The peaks themselves are also amazing, so rugged and jagged. They are what you picture in your mind when you think of a mountain. Not only were the mountains amazing, but we also walked through just about every landscape imaginable, from lush rain forests, to barren high alpine scree fields to giant rocky riverbeds.

One of the hard things to see was the water situation. Most places along the trail had running water, but everything has to be purified. However, you still see some of the locals drinking it. I talked to a guide and he said that some people just don't know about the problems with the water. They get sick, but they don't know it's from the water. He also shared some moving thoughts about how he feels that the Nepali government doesn't care for the people the same way as the American or European government cares for its people. It was sad hearing him talk. Even with the water situation and lack of infrastructure our accommodations were typically more than we expected, even getting a hot shower or two along the way, something we didn't even always have in Kathmandu. The rooms were always simple, sometimes simple and clean other times simple and dirty with a roof you could see the stars through. The facilities ranged from the rare western toilet to a concrete hole in the ground in a wooden shack. At times it was a little trying, but overall it was perfect for what we were doing.

All in all Nepal was an amazing experience and left me with a lot of mixed emotions. On one hand it was an amazing place with wonderful people and so much to see. On the other it was a tough to see some of the conditions. That being said, I'm very glad we were able to experience it and I would be happy to go back.

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