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Nepal – Beyond the First Impression – Nepal

Nepal – Beyond First Impression
Nepal

The plane teetered back and forth with the turbulent air, as the pilot dipped the plane’s wings below the clouds just long enough for us to catch a glimpse of the half-sunlit, snow-streaked mountain peak below. “Is that really Mount Everest?” The sight of the mountain sent electric shocks through my veins. Like many others, I had come to this place to see for myself what magic the Himalayas held, but I didn’t expect the sight of the mountain alone to make such a strong impression on me. Although this sight never left my thoughts, my Nepali experience let me discover more than the jagged, white mountain terrain and crystal-clear, blue skies, and find out for myself, why the country beams with so much character and hope.

Soft, billowing sunlit clouds reveal the snow-capped Himalayan mountains
Soft, billowing sunlit clouds reveal the snow-capped Himalayan mountains
After sweet-talking the immigration officers into allowing me to enter the country without a passport photo for my visa, I stepped into the crisp, mountain air. ‘Ahhh, that’s nice.’ My energy was bursting through the seams, and all I wanted to do was drive to the base of the mountain right now, and start hiking. But since I had spent the last month on the Indian beaches and couldn’t fit all I needed into my backpack, I first had to stock up on some warm clothes and basic necessities.

After checking into a room at one of the traveler hotels, I walked out into the mesmerizing booming heart of this town. Although it was low season, the streets were still filled with vendors selling their fake brand-labeled gear and restaurant owners chanting this evening’s menu. After having a hearty meal and a few beers at one of the many Nepali-Chinese-Tibetan restaurants, I crawled into my creaky, thin-mattressed bed in my unheated room. I was almost too excited to sleep, but knew I needed every bit of rest to prepare me for my trek.

Rising bright and early, I had to pull myself out from my under my warm blanket and face the frigid, morning air. Shaking, I quickly ran into the shower only to realize that the best I was going to get this morning was a thin stream of cold water – ‘Ok, now I am awake.’ Since I had planned to do some volunteer work for Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that helps the local, Nepali community build schools and libraries, John Wood, the founder, had been kind enough to arrange a porter for me. So when I walked into the hotel lobby, Milan was already waiting to show me around town and help me pick out the best gear at non-tourist prices. Milan, a true mountaineer, had been hiking in the Annapurna region since he was a boy. He would be guiding another unfit trekker into the mountain wilderness, but for me Milan’s guidance went beyond just taking the right trail. He served to be my source of knowledge and insight on a trip that let me explore Nepal beyond my first impression.

After a day of browsing through town stores, finding the best sleeping bag and picking up some snacks and medicine, I packed my bag in preparation for the morning departure. I wanted to catch some shut eye, but I was invited to a top-notch Nepali meal with Dinesh Prasad Shrestha and his partner, Pankaj Pradhan, the local Lions Club liaisons for the Room Read organization, so we could discuss how I could contribute to Room to Read’s cause.

The next morning, with our gear hoisted onto the top of the bus and tied ‘securely’ with a single, thin rope, we were off to Pokhara, the starting point for the Annapurna circuit. I had been on many local buses before, but this driving experience was one never to forget. Halfway through the seven hour bus ride, one of the driving assistants yelled to the driver that the front tire was flat. At first, I don’t think the driver heard him because we continued taking the mountain curves at 50 mph, while trying to avoid overturned trucks on the dusty road. But, after a twenty minute display of extreme-driving maneuvers, we pulled into a tiny roadside village and began to repair the tire. Ten men, four boys and some inventive repair techniques later, we were on the road again, heading for the mountains.

The next morning I actually wanted to take a ‘luxurious’ cold shower to drain the sleep from my body, but instead was treated to a two-hour, hair-raising taxi adventure to the start of the trail. At this point, I figured no day would be complete without experiencing multiple car spinouts, pothole jumping, and bumper smashing on a one lane mountain road. Let’s just say my nails weren’t very long after that ride! But, with my adreline rushing through my body like wildfire, revving up the energy for the initial climb was no problem. After all, as fit I thought my three-day-a-week health club body was, I needed all the energy I had to make the eight-hour climb, straight up the mountain.

Striking orange-red sunrays light up the morning sky
Striking orange-red sunrays light up the morning sky
For the next few days, I quickly became acquainted with the little delights of trekking in these mountains: the loud clank of bells as lines of grunting, hairy donkeys passed carrying food to higher villages, Nepali boys racing past me carrying loads three-times as heavy as mine (and not looking the slightest bit tired!), waiting a bit longer for my chicken soup since the chicken still had to be chased down and prepared for our lunch–the freshest you can imagine, or sipping hot cocoa as dark orange-red sunrays flashed their morning light onto the sixth and seventh highest mountain peaks in the world. Nothing really compares to these everyday experiences, even when my arthritis-ridden knees were too tired to go on, and the grime on my body so thick it felt heavy. And, as all of these special moments sank into my thoughts, I slowly realized that it isn’t just the region’s attractiveness from the outside–the snow-capped mountains, the playful clouds, the crisp, clean air�that makes Nepal so magical, but, more than that, it is how these sights seem to be able to stamp their beauty mark inside every person that walks the trail. It was sure to have awoken my most hidden senses, evoked thoughts that were buried away, and stirred my imagination. From this point on, I understood that the connection I had with the Nepali land was to live with me for years to come and one I could only grasp by witnessing it first-hand.

I only pass over the next few days hiking down the mountain because the splendor of the nature and spirit of the local people only reinforced my initial impression of the beauty this country holds. But I don’t want to leave out the last two days of my Annupurna experience because those taught me even more about the true beauty and mystery that the Nepali region holds on the inside.

After the trek, my mission was to deliver books, sent by sponsors of Room to Read, to a Nepali school, located thirty minutes from the town of Besisahar in eastern Nepal. After spending the morning counting and recording the new shipment of almost 200 children’s books with the regional school commissioner, the local elementary school’s principle and teacher, we headed up towards the school in Banjhakhet. On the way to the three-room school house, the teacher tried to convince kids that were playing along the trail to come to the school ceremony, even if it was only for a few hours. Most kids, with minimal convincing (candy always helps!), decided to come along and join the ceremony. As the school came into sight, I could already feel the electricity and excitement of the teachers and kids. The fifty or so kids could barely sit still, all lined up on the school benches brought into the courtyard for this ceremony. Within minutes of arriving, I was offered lay after lay of the local, sweet-smelling flowers, as the kids�some shy, some bold�shouted “Namaste! Namaste!” (Hello! Hello!). The festivities started with speeches from the school officials and teachers as well as my presentation of books for their new library, and then the real party started. Groups of kids, aged 5-10, each in turn, came to center stage to perform their practiced dances and singing chants. It was hard for me to sit still, and before I knew it, I was up dancing and clapping, trying to mimic their chants, and flow with their dance moves. An amazing experience, to say the least, and after a tour through the school, and many clicks of the camera, I was on a local bus back to Kathmandu, thinking about this wonderful day.

Local school girls chant their favorite Nepali songs as they clap their hands during the welcoming ceremony
Local school girls chant their favorite Nepali songs as they clap their hands during the welcoming ceremony
During the seven hour bus ride back to my initial departure point, with loud Indian movies playing in the background, women and kids crowded onto our seats, and men sitting on tiny stools in the aisles, I couldn’t help to think that my first impressions–the beauty of the mountains, the crisp, mountain air, the serenity of the nature�didn’t sufficiently describe the magnificence or mystery that the Himalaya mountain region held. The true story of Nepal would only be complete by adding the heart-warming nature of the people, the beaming love and warmth of the teachers, and the eagerness of the children, all so thankful, so willing, to be part of the future of the Nepali magic.


When to go
Nepal can be visited throughout the year although fall and spring bring the best outdoor weather. Fall (late September to November) is dry and brings the ideal trekker weather: sun, and clear skies. Spring (March to May) is the next best alternative for outdoor activities with nature in full bloom. If visiting during the monsoon rainy season (June to September), carefully select the location to visit.

Visa and Permits
An entry visa can be obtained upon arrival into Nepal, or prior to arrival, from a Nepalese embassy or consulate. A passport photo is required and exact change is appreciated. A single-entry visa (US $30) will grant you 60 days in the country. Multiple-entry visas and visa extensions are available. Check the Nepal Tourism Board website, www.welcomenepal.com for the latest requirements and fees.

Trekking permits are also required for certain areas. Check Nepal’s Department of Immigration’s website, www.immi.gov.np, for detailed information.

Getting There
International flights arrive into Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. Many international carriers as Royal Nepal, Thai Airways, and Cathay Pacific fly to Nepal from the USA, but require a stop over in major cities in Asia as Bangkok, Singapore, or Hong Kong. If you arrange your accommodation prior to arrival, many guesthouses and hotels provide complementary pick-up. In addition to flights, many overland routes (bus, 4WD) provide entry points where you can obtain your visa for Nepal.

Getting Around
Depending on your style and cost of travel, many alternatives exist within Nepal to get to other cities: local bus, tourist bus, hired 4WD or taxi, plane or helicopter. To get around in town, typical developing country transport is available: taxi, tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaws), bus, bicycle rickshaws, and, of course, your own two legs.

Accomodation
In the major cities as Kathmandu and Pokhara, a range of accommodation is available in the budget (US $5-10), mid-range (US $10-50), and luxury range (US $50+). Lodging in local towns and mountain villages is usually in the budget range of US$2-10. Most places are clean, and people are usually friendly and helpful.

Where to Eat
In major cities, a range of food is available from western-pizza and pasta to local Nepali-Chinese-Tibetan-Indian delights. Tourist meals range from budget (US $3-10) to mid-range (US $10+) while local dishes as dal bhat cost only a few dollars.

Web Resources
www.welcomenepal.com
www.nepal.com
www.immi.gov.np
www.roomtoread.org


Since the days when her mother couldn’t leave her alone for a second before she was up to something, Ohio-born Corinne always possessed the spirit of adventure, and the desire to help others understand that the world isn’t full oddities, but understandable differences. First venturing off to Indiana, Corinne earned her university degree in accounting before moving onto San Francisco, and then later to Holland where she dedicated her career to helping global companies improve their internal operations. During those eight years, Corinne was also lucky enough to have her business endeavors and personal travels allow her to explore a spectrum of different cultures and regions in over 25 countries in North & South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Now faced with the challenge of making her passion a reality, Corinne chose to use her business skills, love of travel and sense of adventure to not only continue to explore the world around her, but also to dedicate her life to helping others understand the hope and beauty of the people and the world around us. Corinne currently lives in London and is developing an education program, based on a two-year, overland expedition through 35 Africa countries (www.tiretracks.org), through the company, Living Footsteps.

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