Conjuring preconceptions is a tool we all wield and is one I’m convinced none of us will ever master. For anyone who has met in person someone they had only ever spoken to on the phone will know that nine times out of ten our mental image of that person, based on their telephone manner, is wildly inaccurate. We discover that old people are in fact young, heavy people are slim, attractive people…not so much and in the case of ‘Clare’ a cross dressing former colleague of mine, males are female.
I think the same can also be said about new places we visit. Having, in recent weeks, visited such Asian mega cities as Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing I had convinced myself, in my ignorance, that Kathmandu would follow suit showing many signs that it was embracing the Western World.
However, this preconception was utterly smashed the moment we touched down in the airport. I was expecting to arrive at a large, gleaming terminal building, not the relatively minuscule brick building that greeted us. Even the immigration officials were not as I had expected. It was not the usual mean stares and cold personas you usually get upon arriving in a country but three smiling aging men wearing brightly coloured hats who looked liked three comedians about to deliver the punch line. Kathmandu itself is a bustling city of narrow winding streets full of rickshaws, motorbikes and taxis all fighting with each other for their share of road space and it is not uncommon to see several cows taking a nap right in the middle of it all.
Anyone flying into Nepal for a trekking tour will have images in their mind of stunning scenery and soaring mountains. Living near the Rocky Mountains my images were based on those. Yet again though my preconceptions failed entirely to capture the true magnitude and magnificence of the Himalayas. We saw colossal mountains reaching heights I could not have imagined, terraced rice fields soaring up the slopes to heights the folks of Babel would be proud of and appeared to touch the earth’s rim in all directions. We saw child shepherds being dragged down winding paths by their crazed goats and incredible waterfalls that appeared to fall forever; and we saw all this on our bus journey from Kathmandu to Langtang National Park where we would be trekking.
The bus ride itself was one of the craziest experiences of our lives. It was one of those times when your preconceptions proved to be 100 percent accurate and was exactly what you’d imagine a bus ride in this part of the world to be like. They filled every seat and square inch of standing space with people and their possessions. Passengers clung to the sides and rode on the roof and there was even the token chicken along for the ride (I kid you not about that). As with most long bus journeys, regular toilet stops were made, however, due to the complete lack of public restrooms in the Himalayas, the toilet breaks consisted of everyone piling off the bus and taking a pee side by side on the edge of the road. I was a little hesitant to join in with the mass urination but in the end thought ‘when in Rome’. The bus followed an incredibly windy road that at times felt like we were riding the edge of a giant slinky and which could only be described as a dirt track. At times the road appeared to be only as wide as the bus and it felt like we were driving along the edge of the abyss. We passed up through the clouds and through mountain villages for 12 hours witnessing the mad flow of humanity and their chickens in this truly unique part of the world.
Having spent a night recovering from the bus journey, we headed out into Langtang National park. Our trekking party consisted on me, Jana, our guide Suresh and Primm, our porter who had the unpleasant task of carrying both my bag and Jana’s bag in a super human effort through the mountains.
Over the next few days we headed higher into the mountains passing through villages to cries of Namaste (hello) from the local children, passed women piled high with fire wood and men struggling up hills with large milk urns and water containers. The landscape changed dramatically the higher we trekked passing along a raging river, up through jungles and over barren planes, often flanked by 8 foot tall marijuana plants-a little surreal to begin with.
What was really striking was the fact that unlike other parts of Asia, the Western Sorld has had next to no impact on the mountain communities we visited, with the sale of Snickers bars being the only infiltration of the outside world. We often felt like we were trespassing in a simpler world where stress did not exist and contentedness was the order of the day. I have often heard travelers describe places they have visited as having ‘beautiful people’ and have always considered this a generic answer that I’ve never really understood. However, the people of this Himalayan region are beautiful with their beautiful smiles and humble manner and it was amazing to witness a community so vastly different to our own.
On many occasions whilst being here, miles away from home by more degrees than just geographical distance, it was hard to believe we were actually in the Himalayas getting to experience all we have. In these moments pinching myself would have failed miserably at convincing me of this reality- I believe a wrecking ball to the side of the head would have been required.
We may not have reached Everest this time around, but for the past two weeks we have felt on top of the world! Next stop Jordan…