Updated: Jan 22
The Himalayas! Fluttering prayer flags! Monasteries! Ancient temples! Charming Hill Villages! These are images that intrigued me for so long and eventually I got the opportunity to visit the place where the greatest chain of mountains in the world was formed. I have been mystified by scenes of hanging suspension bridges spanning big raging rivers deep down in ravines between lush green hills peeping out behind thick rolling mist - NEPAL.
It was my travel buddy’s idea for us to take a trip to Nepal. I had never been there, so I decided - let’s go!
I was advised to request a window seat on the left side of the plane when flying from Dubai into Kathmandu. The benefit of this became clear as the plane approached the destination and the snowcapped Himalayan Annapurna Mountain range majestically appeared above the clouds. The closer the plane flew to the ragged edges of the mesmerizing Himalayan mountain peaks I wanted to stretch out my hand to touch the mystical mountain. As I sat in quiet contemplation and admiration my thoughts were taken back to the fascinating accounts and stories I had read about adventurous Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions.
I had arrived! A dream had come true! I was about to enter the world of my exploration heroes.
Taking the taxi ride from the airport into Kathmandu was a pupil-dilating experience. My senses were instantly overloaded by a riot of sights, sounds, and smells.
As the car barrelled along little alleyways to reach my hotel in the Thamel area I got to marvel at medieval temples and buildings made of red brick and intricately carved wooden finishes. Kathmandu promised to be an amazing and intoxicating place to explore.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square with its conglomeration of pagoda and shikhara-style temples is a charming architectural showpiece, highlighting the ancient arts of Nepal. Walking around the square gives the impression of uniformity in design with the buildings featuring effigies of kings perched on top of stone monoliths, guardian deities looking out from sanctuaries, beautiful wood carvings of the struts, lintels, gateways, and windows.
Through the windows, there are visions of artists performing the ancient craft of Thangka painting, magnificent cashmere and yak wool shawls for sale and perfectly forged singing bowls to be purchased.
An immense pilgrimage destination for Tibetans where devotees stroll in prayer around a massive gleaming white dome adorned with Tibetan prayer flags, marigolds and a set of Buddha's eyes on all four sides at the top of the dome.
The square surrounding the stupa presents the visitor with riveting sights and sounds - Buddhist monks chanting, loud music, the din of prayers being chanted by the devotees strolling around the stupa, handheld prayer wheels drumming, children laughing and chasing after the doves feeding on seeds on the ground.
Nestled in the hills of the Annapurna Mountain range and on lake Phewa lies the enchanting town, Pokhara.
This area is mostly a playground for trekkers and mountaineers and my travel buddy decided to take a 25 minute ‘Heli Tour’ to Annapurna base camp. The pilot skillfully flew them through the snowy mountain pass to land on the magical Annapurna Mountain where they spent 30 minutes in silence with the only sound coming from flapping Tibetan prayer flags. I was told this was a transforming experience for all the helicopter passengers that day.
On the days when she appears from behind her clouded shroud, Annapurna can be viewed from all over Pokhara. A religious experience for me was the morning when I went up to the hill town of Sarangkot to get a panoramic view of the Himalayan peaks, from Dhaulagiri in the west to the perfect pyramid of Macchhapuchhare, known as Fish Tail Mountain peak of Annapurna II to Lamjung in the east.
The magnificent transformation of the peaks from purple-pink to golden is a humbling sight. I was fortunate that morning to capture the images I had been dreaming of.
On a challenging, winding mountain road I was driven, stopping at roadside Dhaba’s for buffalo milk chai and local beer on to the birthplace of one of history’s most beloved and revered figures, Siddhartha Gautama is known as the historical Buddha - Lumbini. A sacred Buddhist pilgrim destination, where monasteries and temples are built by Buddhist nations from across the globe on the marshland surrounding the modest Maya Devi Temple, located on the exact spot where the Buddha was born. The atmosphere was one of silence and reverence with Buddhist monks and adherents praying, chanting and prayers flags fluttering. This was a great opportunity to sit quietly in contemplation after the arduous road trip I had experienced.
Village life on the terraced hills of Nepal
My passion for travel is largely fuelled by the joy I get from interacting with the local folk in the regions I travel to. At each destination, I tend to slip away to wander into local villages with my camera and an open heart.
In Nepal, most of the villages are perched on terraced farmlands that overlook beautiful valleys. Life is very rudimentary, houses are used mainly for sleeping and all daily activities like cooking, washing utensils, huddling around kindling fires, having family discussions all take place outside.
The families are subsistence farmers in that they grow their own crops. At each house you will find a few chickens running around, a buffalo or two tethered by rope to a tree and a couple of goats. The villagers eat well and the staple dish is Dal Bhat, a mouthwatering thali. These meals are prepared on clay stoves in the house or in a room adjacent to the house.
As I walked the terraced terrain I was met by friendly, inquisitive faces who invited me in to join the family for a Dal Bhat and buffalo milk tea. As we sipped our tea and communicated by using facial expressions and hand gestures, I was integrated into the daily activities of the family.
In a village outside of Lumbini, I visited a family who has a thriving goat farm. My fortune was that it was a goat breeding season. Little children were walking around the village cradling baby goats dressed in children’s clothing. I realized the value of the farm animal in the life of the villagers.
I said farewell to my new found friends and I moved on to take a walk in the terraced farmlands. I was greeted by women with heavy loads of hay on their heads. I was humbled by these Nepalese villagers who in a very short time taught me the importance of simple existence.
I looked around and was grateful for the connections I made in Nepal and the opportunity to express my respect and love for nature.
"Nepal ONCE is not enough".
As I close my eyes, I know that Nepal will never leave my heart.