A Connect Community member shares their experience of travelling to Nepal
Forget the paragliding! There were challenges enough on my recent adventure to Nepal, without taking part in the risky sports on offer there. Not least of these was trying to drink rum and coke from a disposable cup, while being bounced around on a bus, over the pock marked Nepali road network.
Nepal turned out to be an extraordinary country. We landed in Kathmandu after almost 24 hours of travelling, to be warmly greeted by our local tour guides, who presented us with beautiful garlands of fresh marigolds. These were placed around our necks, as though they were awards in recognition for some special achievement, making me feel that my personal presence was considered important. This was an uplifting start to our Traveleyes group holiday, to this thought-provoking, humbling and very beautiful land. Kathmandu was the ideal place for a blind person to truly experience life in the raw. Zebra crossings were just a suggestion and our local guides would walk in front of the traffic, forcing it to stop, and thus allowing our party to get from one side of the road to the other.
Once the traffic was halted however, the huge gutters (designed to manage flash flooding during monsoon periods), posed another obstacle, requiring a nimble leap in order to avoid landing in the mud. Hundreds of motorcycles roared and spluttered through the congested, badly maintained streets and we were given masks to cover our mouths and noses to filter out their exhaust fumes. Despite the masks, the strong and varied scents of this fascinating city still assaulted our sensory faculties, cataloguing the life of the people around us. There were mouth-watering smells of meat cooking, the sour stench of drains, the fiery breath of petrol and the mysterious fragrance of incense. There was always incense. All these sounds and smells coalesced into a vibrant picture of a world very different from our own.
The ensuing two weeks were a kaleidoscope of astonishing experiences and landscapes. There were temples, festooned with brightly coloured prayer flags fluttering in the tropical breeze; rocking jeep rides through dense jungle terrain, to see the endangered one-horned rhino; the chance to help bathe an elephant on a riverbank and a traditional Newari meal, consumed cross-legged (uncomfortably) on chairs without legs and without our shoes. There was a whirl of dances, all eager to express their particular take on Nepali culture, and the chance to join in while we were entertained by the "stick" dancers at Chitwan. Nepal is not without its less attractive side. The water is undrinkable and even the locals filter it. The diet is somewhat restricted, for the most part to chicken, pork, rice and a variety of greens, which, served even for breakfast, could make the strongest of us just a little squeamish.
Many of the local people live in basic huts made from a kind of bamboo called "elephant grass" and they consider themselves privileged if the village has easy access to a water pump. The public toilets along the road were what became known among us as "squat and drop" holes in the ground, and even the shortest journey by road could take many hours, thanks to the appalling state of the tarmac. We were given the rum and coke to keep our spirits up on our long drives between the different cities.
The holiday was exhausting, and took its toll physically at times, but there were many special moments, of which here are just a few highlights. We nearly went over the edge of a cliff when the bus became stuck in the muddy road, thanks to the recent rain. We witnessed a mystical sunrise over the Annapurna Mountains; and the Tibetan International Hotel in Kathmandu provided a lovely birthday cake, for my partner, Paul, to share with the rest of the group.
Nepal is not a country for the faint hearted. As well as the issues cited above, the heavy tropical heat and the astonishing thunder storms bring their own challenges. But if you feel you can stand some level of discomfort in body and environment, it's a country not to be missed. I feel very privileged to have glimpsed this exotic culture and I have gained a much greater sense of appreciation of the day to day amenities that we take so much for granted in the UK. Please feel free to comment on anything in this article or about your own travels to extraordinary places.