Saturday, 28 July 2012

Why Nepal? Why not?

Something that comes up when I say I am going back to Nepal is the question about my choice to do so.  Why go somewhere I’ve already been when I have travelled so little in my 24 years and there are so many other options?  To be fair, I've questioned that myself.  There are a lot of reasons.  A lot of it had to do with timing.  My job in the U.K. finishes at the end of September, and I wanted to be home for my birthday and Christmas so I could spend it with my family and friends.  This coincided beautifully with the best season to explore Nepal, when the monsoon has left the country blooming and fresh, with crystal-clear views of the Himalayas.  The weather is hot and dry without being stifling, with cool nights.  This is the high season for tourism in Nepal, which will give me the opportunity to hang around popular tourist haunts in Thamel to meet like-minded people from all walks of life.  My trip also worked in well with two of the most important festivals in the Nepali calendar, Dashain and Tihar.  These are sure to be exciting times, and I am particularly excited to spend Tihar (the festival of lights) in Kathmandu with the wonderful people I met on my last trip.

So, apart from having free time on my hands and a desire to see more than 3 days of sunshine this year, why Nepal?  Well, they say that you go to Nepal for the mountains but come back for the people.  This is certainly true for me.  The people I met in 2010 were some of the friendliest, happiest people I’d ever encountered.  They were kind, helpful, and generous.  They showed me respect for coming to their country to help them.  They were funny and inquisitive, finding me as interesting as I found them.  In Nepal, I can be sure to have a friend at hand if needed, and that thought is a real comfort.

Safety was a big concern when first planning to go abroad.  Some of you might laugh at me being so cautious.  Others might think I'm reckless to be going anywhere on my tod.  As a lone female traveller, I have to say I was nervous at the thought of being completely thrown in the deep end by going to unfamiliar countries.  Though I’m only familiar with a small part of Nepal, this would be a comfort, giving me a base to return to when I explored new parts of the country.  I would have the best of both worlds; seeing new, exciting places while still being able to remember where to get the bus in Thamel, or how to ask for something in the local language.  I already know some of the things to avoid doing or saying so as not to cause offence, something which can be a bit of a cultural minefield, especially when the rules appear to make absolutely no sense.  It also means that learning these things the first time around was not a waste of time, but something to draw on again.

There are still a lot of other places I want to go… Japan, Kenya, Thailand, Canada for a start.  But there’s a big part of me that would prefer to share the experience of these new places with somebody, be it a friend, family member or partner.  The big difference with Nepal is that being there will be about me, about revisiting a place that changed me in a big way.  It’s my way of being selfish, taking myself out of my comfort zone and giving myself time and space to learn about myself, and where I’m going next.  If I’m honest, the balmy weather and time off to hang around cafés and markets as well as touring through jungles and having adventures on the lakes instead of worrying about work are also big pluses in the equation.  But knowing that I can do all of this, as well as taking time to work at the orphanage with the kids, means I can try to achieve a balance between looking after my own interests while taking some time doing something worthwhile.   I needed to challenge myself and this was the one way I knew to do it.  How I deal with it all on my own will be an important rite of passage, or at least I hope it will be.  If I can handle it all without major catastrophe, I'll know I've done something right.

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