Loving Nepal!

Warning…my time in Nepal has been filled with a spectacular airplane ride around Mount Everest, the shallowness of dress and massage searches, a possible scam, a yoga weekend that was a stretch…but not in ways you might expect, and a few sweet, life-changing heart moments. Luckily, my good friends just agree to ride the roller coaster of life with me…and during this week, we were all strapped in pretty tightly.

The car ride from the airport to my Kathmandu hotel sealed what I already knew in my heart. I love Nepal! There were cars, motorbikes, and people volleying for spots on the rocky roads and horns blaring incessantly giving people just enough time to get out of their way. Small shops overflowed with bright and beautiful wool and silk scarves and fruit vendors sold a colorful selection from the backs of their bicycles. It was loud and fast and there was something to see around every rapid turn…it felt good to be traveling again.

My room was surprisingly lush for $10 a night, but as the sun sank, I quickly learned there was no heat. I wrapped myself up in a furry blanket – burrito style- and piled a few extras on top to make it through the night. The next morning, I asked if there was a portable heater and was informed that heat cost an extra $10 per night. That made me laugh, but seemed worth the cost.

THE SPECTACULAR…
Bones told me a story about flying around Mount Everest when she visited Nepal years ago. It’s always fun to try new things, and I especially like sharing experiences with people I love…even when separated by years in between, so I was excited about this prospect. I booked the flight and it was spectacular to see the great mountain from such an outstanding point of view. The plane held about fifteen people and allowed you to get a view from the cockpit for a few minutes. I never dreamed of trekking a high altitude mountain and seeing the view up close confirmed That this would be my only view of Mount Everest. It was so high and looked so cold!!! After the flight, I waited in the airport parking lot for my ride, surrounded by taxi drivers. I quickly learned that REALLY LOUD AND DEEP spitting is common in Nepal. Everywhere I turned, I was accosted by guttural hocking sounds followed by flying saliva. It’s a cultural norm I have encountered in a few Asian countries, so much so, that there are often “no spitting” signs hung all over the place. I guess I can’t be the only one who has been splattered with unintentionally rogue spit.

THE SHALLOW…
For my fellow shoppers and massage enthusiasts…come to Nepal!!! Right now! On my first evening in Kathmandu, I found a massage place near my hotel with two hour massages for about $25. I imagine I could have found an even less expensive option away from the city center, but when I walked in, it was impossible to consider walking out. I have returned once since and hope for another visit before I leave. Their menu of massage options has me testing out all kinds of new techniques. On a side note, I wonder this. If asked, do women generally prefer to have women as masseuses? To me, it doesn’t really matter and I say I have no preference when asked, and do not feel uncomfortable with a male masseuse, but then again, I have been called “unintentionally hinky” so I wonder what others think.

Second deal…I have a red dress that I bought in China that I wear all the time. If you have looked at my Facebook pictures, it sometimes looks like the only dress I have because it shows up in lots of places. It is about six years old and I have started to notice signs of wear. I passed a few custom tailors in town, and had the idea of bringing them my dress and asking if they could make a new one. Sure enough, for $20, I have an identical dress made with a silky red Chinese fabric…I mean identical down to the same piping around the sleeves and fabric waist belt. It only took two days to make, so I ordered a black one, too! Having a dress custom made makes me feel all girly. From someone who uses a stapler to hem my pants, I think being a tailor is a Divine talent that should be appreciated, so I get REALLY giddy and excited during the entire process.

Personally, while it might be a bit shallow, I would rather spend my money on massages and dresses than food and accommodations.

THE SCAM…
The first day in a new place…it can be hard not to look and act like a tourist. Plus, in places like Nepal, especially after the my days in the pristine city of Sydney, the poverty makes your heart bleed and inclined to give money to anyone who asks. So, as I wandered around the city on day one, I was especially vulnerable to new “friends” who wanted to scam me a bit. Shades of being scammed have happened to me a few times in my life…and always on my first day in a new location…before I am acclimated and appropriately on guard. By day two…I usually try to blend in by buying some local clothes…just enough-a shirt or something so I fit in without looking like I am overdoing it and people stop paying attention.

Warning…the following story did not seem ridiculous at the time because it was shared over the course of an hour or two, but when I relayed the sequence of events to Jason while video chatting, we both had to laugh about my gullibility. So, here goes…a man walked up to me and started chatting to “practice his English.” Of course, he “wanted no money from me” and just appreciated the opportunity to practice this important skill. Learning English was important because ever since he was a young man, and abandoned by his father, he had been responsible for caring for his ailing mom. He came to Nepal from India to be a shoe-shiner. He was doing well enough to get married and have two lovely children. When asked, his children were not able to attend school because they were just too poor to afford the fees and uniforms. His shoeshine box was stolen one day and because he was Indian and not from Nepal, he did not get much help from the police. So, he used his days to search for the man who stole his box. At this time, all he had was an old backpack and a small brush (which he showed me) that he could use to shine shoes and because he did not have a box, no one even knew he could clean their shoes. When he wasn’t wandering the streets, he was at home, trying to find scraps of plastic to build on the small plastic covering his family used as shelter. As we walked, he showed me around the city, but I was ready to be alone again, so started to talk in terms of an exit plan. As he sensed the end of our time together was near, he said he wouldn’t ask me for money and that I should never give people money. I needed to be concerned about my karma and if I gave people money, they might spend it on bad things like cigarettes and drinks. It is better to just buy people food and if I wanted I could help him in that way. So, we walked to the store of his choice where he asked for a bag of rice, a gallon of oil, and a box of powdered milk. As we waited, the shop owner made the exact same comment about my karma, which struck me as a bit odd. When the clerk presented the bill, it was for 3,000 rupees…about $34. That may not seem like a ton of money, but considering the average income and cost of other things in Nepal, there is no way a family is paying that much for food. I shelled it over with the growing sense that this was a bit of an embellished story. I said goodbye and slowly walked behind the man without making myself obvious…and watched him pull out his cell phone and look startled when our eyes met. He asked if I wanted to come to his house to meet his family….hmmmm…I just didn’t have a deep sense of trust, so I said no. In a way, I wanted to see if a family existed, but my internal red flag decided against it. After retelling the story, I was amused enough to Google “Nepal shoe scam” and find a blog post by another woman who was asked to buy a new shoe box and food for a man’s family. After refusing both, the man became angry until she gave him some money to compensate for the time he showed her around the city. So, what do you think? Scammed? I think the man and shop owner had to be friends taking advantage of a situation. I would like to think the food fed his family, but I also wonder if it was returned for half the cash. I will never know, but things like this are good opportunities to be tested a bit, so the cost of the lesson and short city tour was still not a bad price.

THE STRETCH
I love yoga. It makes me feel flexible, improves my shoddy balance, and connects my desire to work out and relax a bit. That said, I tend to like rigorous fitness yoga more than deeply, calm moments of meditation. I love the sweat of hot yoga and when others are ending their sessions in the calm of the laying pose of “shivasana,” I am often already warming up my car and heading to check the next task off of my list. I have heard good things about yoga in Nepal, so I set up a yoga weekend where I could stay overnight and, I imagined, participate in a variety of yoga clinics. I imagined a weekend that would stretch me physically and not one that would be such a spiritual stretch.

If you read “Eat Pray Love,” you will remember the Pray part of Liz Gilbert’s journey. To me, it was the most boring blah blah part of a book that I otherwise loved. I didn’t connect with her moments of enlightenment and affection for a guru. So, when I arrived at the center and saw a picture of a guru hanging everywhere, I was immediately a bit uncomfortable and clarified that I would like to do yoga, but was not interested in the spiritual teaching or practices associated with the center. They said that was fine and handed me a red robe to wear and the schedule of events. My first stop was the large meeting hall where people were sitting on mats. It looked good to me. And then, the man in front stood up and said we were going to do some healing dance to cleanse our impurities. Me…I felt pretty good already, so when people started jumping everywhere and screaming, I kind of closed my eyes, swayed my hips, and prayed. I didn’t stay for the entire dance or attend the afternoon session which was an introduction to the teachings of the guru, but went to dinner which was filled with amazing vegetarian options. The next morning, I went to my first yoga session which was sadly a videotape that kept stopping and starting…not so relaxing, but very distracting. I tried to leave before the next session, until the person who welcomed me to the center asked me and a few other new people to come to the front of the room for a short lesson on the upcoming dynamic meditation. This session was one hour of intense jumping and outward breathing and outward expressions of emotions that are pent up in your bodies where it was encouraged to cry, scream, and even hit things. Looking around, I was sad that people felt those ways inside. For some people, the weekend might nave been enlightening, but to me, the messages felt empty. I did enjoy the moments of practicing peacefulness and my own quiet times, but I didn’t stay much longer and left after lunch, sharing a taxi with a few guys I met from Lebanon who were Eastern Catholics who also shared a bit of discomfort at the spiritual elements of the weekend. In my own private way, the weekend was reflective and enlightening, but I won’t be going back to a meditation center anytime soon.

Those days first days were special, but the second half of my trip was even better. Going to settle in now with a cup of tea to share that story for my next post.

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5 Responses to Loving Nepal!

  1. um.. couple things wrong with that story.
    first… those items shouldn’t cost $34 in nepal. unless we are talking about ginormous, wheel-away-on-a-donkey-cart items, nepal is really affordable and that tab was designed to see… what you would pay, without squealing.
    second… dood that is “impoverished”? pulled out a cell phone.
    finally.. don’t feel bad. trust is ok. but if it rings wrong, post in on fb, or whatever.. wisen others up. just leads to cynicism, and such. dood prob. took more than 50%. i would say 80% to him, 20% to the shopkeeper, would be a standard cut. he brought you in.

  2. and before you say i’m being cynical..
    remember we were in panama city and i pointed out what the hinkychix in the venetian were really up to?!
    yup…. world is hinky!

  3. Leah says:

    Nepal has a super special place in my heart, to this day I still think it’s one of the craziest places I have ever been, it’s so FULL!
    I have a very similar story to your scam story, except mine involved buying powered milk for her baby… which was $30…. haha

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