Travelling to the Himalayas was an exhilarating and confronting experience. My five day trip would not nearly have scratched the surface to understanding the depths of Nepal as a country, but I wanted to outline a few things I was still able to take away.
I should probably start my story with some premise. Directly prior to Nepal, I’d stopped by Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Everything glowed, and showed. In my personal experience, I have never witnessed such extreme wealth.
I had the opportunity to dine with local residents in Dubai and phrases thrown around at dinner included, “we have a great business idea dad, we’ll just need $10k to get started”, “daughter, we found a placement for you in the summer – would you like to go to Canada or New York”, “daughter, we’ve bought you a new car. A toyota corolla (cue rolling laughter). Just a joke, you can drive the mercedes”.
I was incredibly grateful for such wonderful hosts in the UAE, and such hospitality at sharing their home and evening meal. It was not hard to tell what an ambitious, intelligent, incredibly hard working and tight knit family they were (who enjoyed the luxuries and benefits reaped of their hard work).
I am extraordinarily grateful for the middle class life my family has worked hard to provide for me and am content with all that I have. Yet, throughout the evening, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “wow, I can definitely see now how wealth and an upper class network creates opportunities and opens doors.”
If Dubai is the life of the party, who makes your eyesight unable to adjust after all the shining lights. Nepal is that quiet friend who never remembers to pluck their nose hairs but doesn’t really care.
On arriving in Nepal, the airport toilet doesn’t have toilet paper. Aaaand, I’m in southeast asia.
Nepal is dusty, busy, quiet, and beautiful all at once.
The tour guides, mostly men, are well versed in English. They are bold, charismatic sales people who could easily obtain and be successful in well-paying western jobs – given a different world of opportunities presented at birth.
The women are strong and resilient, and I don’t just mean emotionally and mentally- carrying the vulnerability and emotional stability of their families and communities – I mean physically. I witnessed a woman carry a basket filled to its brim with bricks, up a set of truck stairs and with a loud thump, the bricks were loaded onto the back of the ute.
The children are carefree and filled with joy. And notably, very attractive.
Nepal, with its beautiful mountains high and valleys low, has captured my heart. It was one of those weeks that moulds your heart and further refines your vision of the world.
Here are my 10 things I took away from Nepal:
1. Buddha was born in Nepal
First and possibly, most importantly, Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. This is like their pride and joy. It’s everywhere. I didn’t have the chance to go to Lumbini, but would like to see it next time.
2. Timezones are quarter past the hour.
Nepal Standard Time is a 15 minute time difference with neighbouring, India. The odd time contrast in the middle of Nepal and India has brought about a national joke that Nepalis are dependably 15 minutes late (or, Indians are 15 minutes early).
3. 8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world live here, including the famous Mt Everest.
The trekking game is strong. I only had the chance to do a number of day treks, although would like to do longer treks on my return.
4. Intertwining of Hinduism and philosophy of Buddhism.
Nepal is one of the few places in the world you get to see a peaceful blend of religions.
5. Nepal no longer have a monarchy.
Partly due to a mass murder of most of the royal family, by the crown prince. The prince shot and killed 9 members of his family after his parents (king and queen) apparently objected to his plans to marry of a lower clan. The conflict of love and duty is clearly a tough thing, isn’t it?
A constitutional assembly in Nepal has voted overwhelmingly in favour of abolishing the Himalayan nation’s 240-year-old Hindu monarchy and declaring a republic.
In an historic vote that caps a peace deal between Maoist rebels and mainstream parties, politicians ordered unpopular King Gyanendra to step down and for his palace to be turned into a museum.
Officials said King Gyanendra, who ascended to the throne after most of the royal family was massacred by a drunken prince in 2001, will have 15 days to vacate his Kathmandu palace.
“The sacrifice of thousands of Nepalese has been honoured today by us getting rid of the monarchy,” Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.
“The Nepalese people have been freed from centuries of feudal tradition, and the doors have now opened for a radical social and economic transformation,” he said (source, 2008).
6. 25% of the population live below the poverty line.
Despite recent progress, Nepal is still one of the poorest countries, ranked 157 of 187 countries listed on the 2013 UN Development Report. Over 30 per cent of Nepalese live on less than US$14 per person, per month.
Nepal, in short, really hasn’t been given a break. Only recently ending a civil war, the 2015 earthquake then devastated any effort of progress, only to have any further development take a back seat, in the endeavour to rebuild again (which locals estimate will still take another 5-6 years). As a result of the earthquake, an estimated additional one million people fell below the poverty line.
Almost everyone I interacted with had their home damaged with the earthquake, or knew someone who’d lost their life. Beautiful temples where elderly came to pray, and the young came to gather, and kids came to run wild in, now sitting in a pile of dust after the natural disaster.
My heart felt heavy. As though I could see in Nepali eyes the richness and hope, and anxiety and defeat.
I wandered about the reserved, small framed man in the hotel breakfast room (with all of 4 tables to host). He took such pride in laying the cutlery on each table. As soon as I walked in each morning, without missing a beat, “Eggs ma’am – scrambled, fried or omelette?”
My mind wandered – how much are you paid for such a simple but honest job? Do you have a family? Do you ever worry about providing for your family? Do you ever see the higher paid tour guides or hear of the money they can make and want for more? Do you have richness in heart and life? Or are you fraught with anxiety for what tomorrow will bring?
7. There is still a caste (class) culture.
In Kathmandu, I was able to visit Pashupatinath Temple where bodies are publicly cremated according to caste. (It’s also where the aforementioned massacred royal family were cremated). It surprised me to see so clearly the division of the people by unspoken hierarchy was still existent, even at death.
After a decade long civil war, a fallen monarchy, a fledgling democracy which still hasn’t been able to form a legal constitution since 2005 and a disastrous fractured political system Nepal’s caste system continues to influence everyday life in Nepal.
Technically ones caste shouldn’t have any influence on your standing in Nepal today. People of any “caste” or religion or ethnicity etc can attend any school or apply for any job etc. The problem is the reality on the ground tells a different story as discrimination and appraisals are often still based on caste. Even if such inference is not openly admitted.
A 1991 census reported 96,977 persons having educational attainment of graduate and above level. Of these, only 3,034 or 3.1 % belonged to Dalit [lower] castes. Dalit make up for 20% of the population.
Much like in western societies where they say “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” holds true in Nepal as it maintains the inherited ghosts of a caste system (source).
Note: This story and others shared in my blog are by photographer Jay Poudyal. You can find more of his work and incredible ‘Stories of Nepal’ at facebook.com/storiesnepal
Again, I wandered about Nepali richness of life. Not about lavish wealth, but living knowing there is sufficient availability of work. Is there fair work? Are you paid your fair share? Are you given the same opportunities?
In a small town just outside of Kathmandu, a local tour guide offered a local view and tour of the city for 500NPR (approx. US$5). He spent almost half a day taking this tour.
Where are you from? Australia
I would like to go one day.
All I could think about was – realistically, how many tours will you need to take to save up for flights to Australia? Not to mention – visas, accommodation, spending money, and your own (rising) living costs whilst saving.
It never occurred to me that opportunities and ambition are a luxury. That even if you tirelessly worked hard, you can still get no further than where you started.
I know a friend who made zero effort in high school and ended up with an OP20+ (very low high school ranking). He pulled his socks up, put his head down and is now at the end of finishing his law degree with a job already lined up. No matter how badly you ‘fail in life’ in Australia, you can always still make something of yourself.
So, what are Nepali options if they want to make something for themselves? Do you go to a foreign country? If you happen to be accepted in the first place, what compromises need to be made? Do you choose to provide for your family and give your children options? Or stay, maybe obtain work, maybe not and maintain a relationship with them?
8. I look nepalese.
In Bhaktapur, the same aforementioned small city just outside of Kathmandu, the small streets were beautiful to walk down. Wandering the small alleys, I was able to see the Nepali people rebuilding their homes as well as interact with more locals who all stopped to say I looked nepalese, but grew confused when I couldn’t understand them nor speak a word of nepalese. It was an interesting interaction to say the least. The tour guide explained that nepalese girls tend to look either indian or mongolian (assuming, I’d be the latter).
I’ve already mentioned the resilience of the women, mental and physical. It’s not difficult to see that the women are the glue that hold families and communities together in a strange time of vulnerability and carrying on in uncertainty.
In Bhaktapur, I stayed in a homely hotel run by all women. The host, a young girl no older than 15 years, spoke perfect english. It shocked me a little when she offered (as with all places) to have my luggage taken up multiple flights of stairs to the room (there are no lifts in hotels). I presumed there was a male around to take it up later, only to see this young girl and another frail looking woman muscling suitcases up these narrow stairs without a sweat. They were incredibly warm people. I would highly recommend this hotel if you visit Nepal, and support a small business supporting women in work!
On my first day back at work, colleagues spoke about a $21M lotto win in another office over the end of year break. Worked out to be employees getting roughly $2.6M each.
Everyone in my office visibly wanders what they would do with that kind of money. I could pay off the mortgage? Clear the credit card debt? Put money towards the kids education? Take that holiday we’ve been putting off forever?
Rewind two weeks prior, and I would’ve had the exact same curiosity. In that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to want for more, when I knew how much I already had.
Again, it never occurred to me, how easy it is to fall into living with the thought that maybe if I had further financial freedom, then I can start living. Then I would be happy, at that time.
But why not live joyfully in the midst of hardship? Why not be happy and carry on in the midst of a rebuilding community, a still to be developed society and economy?
Finally, thanks for taking the time to read my blog.
What can you do?
- Go visit Nepal. See it’s beauty, contribute to the local economy!
- Donate an hour to the UN Global Goals (Global Goals by 2030 which include a world without poverty)
Meanwhile, follow me on wordpress to keep up to date on all my adventures!
Until next time…..ciao