Before travelling to Nepal, I had done a fair amount of reading about the country — both online and offline (also known as books for those of you weened on the Internet). At a thrift store, I stumbled upon an old Frommer’s Guide to Nepal, written back when Jimmy Carter and Conway Twitty were both at the top of their games. Most of the businesses were likely out of business by the time we arrived, but the mountains still looked the same.
Nepal is an interesting country for many different reasons.
The natural landscape is incredible. At home in Colorado we talk about climbing “14’ers”, which means a mountain that is at least 14,000 feet tall. In Nepal, that is called a hill. The Himalayas routinely top 28,000 or 30,000 feet in height. One of my favorite memories was taking an early morning drive while we were staying Pohkara to watch the sun rise over the top of the Himalayas.
Kathmandu is sensory-overload. People are everywhere. On bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, buses, vans, hatchbacks, on foot, on your foot. If you’ve ever driven in Boston, Kathmandu would make Boston feel like a stroll through the park. Traffic flows like a stream of consciousness. But, I will say, we did not see a single wreck the entire time we were in Kathmandu. And if the traffic congestion bothered anyone, it seemed to only bother the people from Colorado.
Kathmandu also has many people living in a relatively small piece of geography. This gives the city a pulsating sensation, like you can feel it breathing. No matter what time of day we were out and about, there were always people on the street or sidewalk. Like New York City, Kathmandu is a city that doesn’t sleep.
The drive from Kathmandu to Pohkara was a mixture of “close your eyes” and “did you see that!” There is no less traffic than in Kathmandu; the only difference is you have blind curves and thousand-foot drop-offs all around. With a friendly beep and a blinker, people pass on blind curves all the time in Nepal.
Pohkara is a pretty town about six or seven hours by car from Kathmandu. You can tell that tourists tend to drift there by the type of shops and restaurants. We stayed near the Fewa Lake, a pretty lake bordered by the town on one side and a mountain on the other. At the top of the hill is one of the many temples in town. After taking a canoe ride across the lake, we hiked to the top of the hill where the views were incredible.
After Pohkara, we drove to the district of Chitwan. Think Arizona times two. Flat, dusty, and hot. There were times it would be so hot that I would reminisce about the good old days in West Texas and I’ve never spent any good old days in West Texas. But the people of Chitwan were extremely friendly and hospitable; plus I got to ride an elephant! That never happened in West Texas.
Overall, I was a bit surprised by the overwhelming poverty within Nepal and the absence of a middle-class. People are either wealthy or poor, and the poor far outnumber the wealthy. Although the caste system has been formally abolished, remnants remain. In many respects, it’s similar to racisim in this country. Although we formally passed laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism and prejudice continues.
Throughout the trip, I never once felt unsafe or threatened — even when a scroungy cat offered to sell me hash. If in the event I ever did decide to start smoking hash, I’m pretty sure he would not be the guy I would buy it from.
Nepal is a great country and easy to fall in love with, especially if you like curry and naan.
My next few posts will deal with how the Gospel is taking root in Nepal and how other believers can help it spread.