The snowcapped Himalayas tugged at my soul ever since I saw parts of this breathtaking mountain range whilst in Sikkim, India in 2015. I decided that December 2019 was going to be my first visit to Nepal. I contacted Mich Immelman, founder of Curious Journeys, a South African based tour operator that provides specialised tours to India, Nepal and South East Asia. Mich is a passionate and intrepid traveler - she has been travelling India for sixteen years!
I asked Mich to put together an itinerary for me. In no time at all, she had come back to me with questions to ‘tailor make’ my tour. I immediately sensed her vast travel experience from the way in which she engaged with me about my hopes, interests and expectations of the trip.
Land of the Fluttering Flags
Nepal has so much to offer from a spiritual, cultural and historical perspective. Of course Nepal is also a fantastic place to trek in the beautiful Himalayan Mountain range at the Base Camps of Mt Everest and Annapurna. I remember feeling impressed by her approach and also that she really was intuitive in reading between the lines and coming up with exciting ideas that I had not thought of.
I was not keen to travel solo to a new country and suggested to Mich that we travel together. She immediately said ‘let’s go’. It was at this point that I realised that she is not just a ‘garden variety’ tour operator sitting behind a desk. Mich is a passionate adventurer who LOVES travel - this is clearly not just a job for her! For her, it is important to have had personal experience of the country before she sends her clients there. Her heart is totally in what she does and she loves to share her experiences with others.
I felt like I had hit the jackpot to be taking this trip with Mich, a warm and dynamic person who has vast travel experience, passion and love of adventure. A big part of the thrill of this trip is that neither of us had been to Nepal, so everything was a new discovery for us both. We only met each other the day before we flew out to Dubai to connect with the flight to the capital city, Kathmandu.
After extensive research, lovely accommodation was booked for us at the Taleju Boutique Hotel in Kathmandu for three nights. The rest of the trip was to unfold organically. Mich’s curiosity, excitement and unstoppable energy to experience Nepal as fully as possible infused itself throughout our journey. Her business, ‘Curious Journeys’ is perfectly named for her personality - she was insatiably curious and eager to experience and engage in a diverse range of Nepalese life with all her senses… the cuisine, spiritual practices of the locals, the cultural and historical heritage. Being a keen and gifted photographer, Mich would capture the specialness of Nepal and its people and share her images and a few words on the day’s event in the evenings. This made her a fascinating travel companion.
Aside from visiting the wonderful UNESCO sites, such as the World Peace Pagoda, the biggest Buddhist stupa in the world at Boudhanath, Bhaktapur City, Pashuphatinath Temple, Mich was interested in taking the ‘road less travelled’ and lead us off the beaten track into Nepalese village life. Villages tucked away, untouched by technology, as though time stood still there. We got to witness close up, the intimacy of rural family life, where colorfully clad Nepalese woman were planting rice, milking buffalo and carrying huge load of branches on long windy, roads to and from their tiny villages.
Mich had a particular interest in capturing images of the various kitchens along the way where Nepalese woman prepared food for their family or customers in their sweet, primitive little restaurants.
Of course, travelling anywhere has its low points and Nepal is no different. Internal flights are at the mercy of unpredictable, inclement weather in winter. An entire day was spent waiting at the Kathmandu Airport hoping that our 25 minute flight to Pokhara would take off. Although our flight was finally cancelled at 4 pm, the day was not as you might expect. With Mich it was a fun day with lots of laughs, even though we had to return to Kathmandu for the night and take a 6 hour drive to Pokhara the following day, a mere …(120 kms) away. The earthquake in Nepal in 2015 had a devastating effect on major parts of Nepal such as Kathmandu. Kilometers of roads are under construction, which means road closures for hours. Our 6 hour car trips could have been very annoying, but Mich encouraged us to stop, drink masala tea and Tuborg beer and to capture incredible images of little villages, colorful locals and beautiful scenery. Her wit and easy going nature brought about levity in the car despite awful and inconvenient weather conditions which significantly impacted our trip.
During long hours of travel together, I got to know Mich and her commitment to getting to know her clients in terms of the specifics of their needs, interests and expectations so she can make the best fit for each specifically. Mich’s high standards regarding quality and efficiency of service, ambience, comfort and cleanliness in hotel accommodation is absolutely uncompromising! You can be sure that she would not suggest accommodation that is outside of your expectation.
Needless to say this adventure took place against the breathtaking backdrop of the beautiful Annapurna Mountain Range, particularly visible from the little town of Pokhura. Breathtaking views, such as sunrise from Sarangkot.
In Nepal, wherever you turn is a photo opportunity, such as the gentle, character filled Nepalese going about their lives and selling their wares, Nepalese food, exquisite beauty of the mountains, lakes, Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples and shrines. In Pokhura, Mich managed to find locals performing the beautiful ceremony of the Aarti which was delightful.
We then visited Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, where we were privileged to experience the atmosphere created by a number of monks and nuns deep in contemplation, meditation and chanting. Again Mich shared her impressive knowledge of both Buddhism and Hindu culture with me.
Aside from trekking, I feel like I experienced Nepal in the fullest way possible.
You can be sure that any trip taken with or organised by Curious Journeys, promises to be vibrant, interesting and loads of fun. Travel is in her veins. Thank you Mich for making my holiday in Nepal the holiday of a lifetime. We left Johannesburg as strangers and returned as friends, with Nepal deeply etched in our hearts!