Unsurprisingly, Nepal resembled a lot of cultural similarities as India...only perhaps with a more reserved culture. When I think of India, I think of a place packed with people, all shoving and vying for attention and help. Nepal isn't as packed, so I felt that while it had a similar desire/urge for "more" (whatever that means), they had more wiggle room and breathing space.
I landed in Kathmandu and stayed in Thamel for a few days before heading off for the wedding in the eastern part of the country.
Everyone who had been to Nepal before had only described Kathmandu to me as "dusty". I initially scoffed at this description, feeling like people were not trying hard enough to relay the vibe to me. When I got there, however, I realized that I, too, could only find one word to aptly describe the country's capital: DUSTY! And maybe noisy. The city is coated in a thick layer of dust that permeates everything and saturates the air ". If I could find a way to market dust in a desirable way, I felt that I could definitely help Nepal with part of its economic woes. Without a good business idea for selling dust, Kathmandu survives on many tourism opportunities.
On the first day there, I hired a car to show me the main tourist spots. We started with a beautiful tour of the Monkey Temple, which is covered in peaceful prayer flags and stone steps that lead up a hill overlooking much of the bustling urban sprawl. Of course, there was a colony of monkeys playing and running around the temple area. As the town woke up, we proceeded to visit Durbar Square where I got a taste of how the city may have looked a long time ago without the new concrete jungle around us. Much of the square was damaged after the 2015 earthquake, but there was a lot of rehabilitation activity around the beautiful wooden buildings and temples in the confined square area. There was still a lot to explore despite the construction, and I enjoyed climbing through the little doors and peering through windows into more open areas, discovering little coves of architecture and curious pieces of intricate artwork hiding from the main thoroughfare. Did you know that the Nepali style of columns is the thinnest type of columns? Now, you do!
I was slightly annoyed during my tour and ended it before I was done; I had become somewhat of a "tourist attraction" to a group of Bangladeshi men who thought that seeing a white girl in the area was amazing and worth stopping her from her explorations for pictures. I tried hiding behind trees and construction boards, but I was found by them every time and found myself being held a little too tightly in their pictures over and over again.
After hiding from Bangladeshis, I was driven to the serene and sacred Buddha Stupa that we walked around clockwise in a big circle. It was peaceful, but the square around the stupa has been very much overridden by tourist shops and hostels. I asked for a quiet, local Nepali lunch with the driver, so we went to get a thakali (which is like a cousin to the Indian thali) in a little house off of a side street nearby. The last place we visited that day was Pashupati - a temple and cremation site locals. It was nice to visit and busy with tourists weaving between locals who were there for meditation or remembrance. For me, though, it was also hard to be there, watching bodies burn on the waterfront (since it had only been a few months after my mom died and was cremated).
The rest of the time in Kathmandu I spent shopping around Thamel for nice artwork, scarves, and hunting down tea shops for reading and momo restaurants for eating.
After a day or two in Kathmandu, I took a plane. With the reputable Buddha Air. And I need to pause to talk about flying in Nepal. Finding airlines in Nepal wasn't too difficult - any Google search will show you a list of local airlines there. The challenge was finding an airline without a track record of crashing! When researching, we found out that arguably half of the world's least safe airlines were in Nepal. To be fair, Nepal is a very difficult country to fly around because of all of the different altitudes and treacherous terrain, coupled with small landing strips in hard-to-locate places and cloudy days. Buddha Air had only crashed once in its history; therefore, it was our choice flyer for the majority of the trip. Yeti Air was the second option, as it was popular and had a lot of flights.
Fortunately, all of our flights were successful, and the view of the countryside during the flights was beautiful and was full of rolling green and spiked tops.
Once I landed on my first plane, we drove through a flat area that are part of the Terai plains (I never realized that Nepal was anything but mountains!); the flight was going to the surprisingly flat region of Dharan. From the small airport, I was driven to my girlfriend's house to attend the evening's wedding preparations - I was able to make it in time to join the women's' henna drawing activities and got a delicate design painted on my hand.
The next day was the wedding. It was loud and energetic and confusing and awesome. It was an all-day affair that started at 6am with sari wrapping (I had been given a sari to wear for the day) and makeup...and ended near midnight with dancing and heavy rain that flooded our simple guest house accommodations.
The whole day was an unforgettable experience.
I was surprised that I was asked to be in the wedding - the guy friend from the US didn't have a lot of family on his end who were there for the wedding, so I was asked to represent part of his family. I happily obliged.
The music at the wedding was a cacophony of instruments that mimicked animals sounds - from elephants and monkeys to birds and other animals I couldn't pinpoint. The wedding was Hindu, and as Hindu weddings are typically a few days long; as the wedding had to be packed into a mere day (the US crowd had flights to catch), everyone scrambled everywhere to make sure all of the necessary ceremonies and celebrations occurred. I think we checked all of the boxes by the end of the day - we had rice paste pushed onto our foreheads, we offered plates of food to the right people, we ate ample food, we danced, we respected some solemn marching, and we witnessed a lot of pouring of water on the betrotheds' feet.
The day after the wedding the boyfriend and I tiredly grumbled out of our flooded room and rolled into a car that drove us back to the airport so that we could take 2 more short flights to Pokhara on the other side of the country.
Though the wedding was our favorite experience of the trip, going to Pokhara and the deadly Anapurna Mountains may have been the most breathtaking part. It was a heavily touristy place (we found all of the white people we hadn't seen elsewhere), which made sense because it was so beautiful. We were there in the off-season and the clouds hid the snowline of the mountain peaks surrounding us, threatening rain the whole time...but a few times we were lucky and the clouds lifted to present us awe-inspiring visions of immense crags and mixtures of gray and white. We were staying in a gorgeous boutique hotel with a balcony on the lakeside of the mountain range, so a lot of our time was spent sitting and admiring the rolling and jagged mountains surrounding the town. No wonder a lot of Tibetans find refuge there.
We started our tour of the town with a tranquil row around the lake to see the different views of the hills and mountains. We got off the boat once at a Hindu temple in the middle of the lake and took our time soaking in the beauty around us. We then found ourselves trying Thakali food - a regional type of food - and it was delicious (and spicy).
One day we felt bold enough to go on a car ride to a fancy resort sitting alone on a mountaintop to see the views. The concierge at our hotel politely mentioned that the roads would be a bit bumpy, but I believe he did not sufficiently describe the danger we were putting ourselves in. "Off season" in Nepal (much like India) means Monsoon season (aka rainy season). Unlike some countries with strong infrastructures, Nepal's roads are largely unpaved, and that especially goes for the hillside and mountain rides hugging the higher altitudes. The roads were rough - really rough - and it was clear some minor landslides were in process or had already happened recently. The roads were not wide enough for our Jeep, let alone sharing with the mopeds and busses that slowly navigated around our car. It was death-defying, and I was sure we were not going to make it up, let alone back down.
Once we finally made it to the resort, I genuinely needed a glass of wine to calm my nerves and regain the courage to go back down. I asked one of the staff how they made it to the hotel every day, and she explained that they lived at the resort during monsoon season to avoid the roads. Also, during that period of time most guests seem to arrive via helicopter. Noted.
At least the views of the valley below coupled with the mountains were as dazzling as we had hoped and kept us company until I had regained my nerves for the ride back. Despite the terror of the roads, the view was genuinely worth it. On the ride back we got to see people going up the same roads, only sitting outside on the top of the busses.
We stopped by at Begnas Lake on the way back to the hotel. It felt like a nice community spot that just happened to have breathtaking mountain views 360 degrees. People were swimming and rowing in the lake as the sun started to go down. I could see myself going there with friends for a friendly evening, as well.
Sadly, I had to cut our trip a day short due to a stupid error by the airlines. We scrambled to the airport early and boarded a plane to get us back to Kathmandu. We checked into an iconic hotel for the boyfriend (and for me to shower, feeling irritated I couldn't stay there the night we had planned) and ate a heap of buffet food there before I darted to the airport for my long flight home.