I came to the rainiest part of Nepal during the rainiest time of year. When it’s not subject to heavy downpours, Pokhara is positioned as the perfect launching point for treks to the neighboring Annapurna Range. But there are few souls willing to brave the mud bogs and scourge of leeches that the monsoon brings to the southern slopes of the Himalayas. As for me, I had an old rain jacket with a busted zipper, a pair of treadless flip-flops, wrap pants, and a feeling that I wouldn’t be trekking to any snow-capped peaks. I didn’t even see any snow-capped peaks for a thick blanket of clouds that lay on top of them. All I could see was green and mist, but it was lovely all the same.
One lucky day, it stopped raining long enough to go exploring in the nearby foothills. I roamed through small villages and family farms; past angry mother buffalos and thousands of dragonflies, women working in the fields and men playing cards; through tranquil rice paddies and over the powerful Seti River. By the time I made it back to the main road, I had only one treadless flip-flop, wrap pants filled with burrs,
and leeches between my toes, but a deep and lively sense of well-being.
On an even luckier evening, the clouds cleared enough to be able to make out the nearby mountaintops. Towering over 1,000 meters high, and within an arm’s reach, were the majestic peaks of three of the ten highest mountains in the world: Manaslu, Annapurna and Dhaulagri. Slightly shorter, but even closer and more picturesque was the steep, pointed profile of Machhapuchhre. Standing in their shadow, I felt small, yet filled with a mysterious sense of power. For a little over an hour, I hardly blinked, cherishing each precious second of the view. Then, just as fast as they had appeared, the peaks disappeared behind the clouds, not to be seen again for the rest of my stay in Nepal.
Although magical, my favorite part of Nepal wasn’t that momentary glimpse of magnificent peaks; it wasn’t the food (which compensated for a lack of taste by adding too much spice) either. It was the children. Chubby, little Buddha babies with big smiles that hid their eyes into folds of skin as they gladly grabbed for my finger. Youngsters who scrambled down stairs and rushed out of
doorways to clasp their palms in front of their face (Namaste!) or wave their hands frantically above their heads (Hello!). It was always kids who showed me to the correct bus or invited me into their homes for tea. Restricted by the rain as I was, I spent my first few days in Nepal touring different homes, tasting different cups of tea and making parents proud of their English-speaking children.
My least favorite part of Nepal – as it is with every remote community that has become popular for its natural beauty, and which bases its economy on the money of outsiders – was dealing with people who were only interested in making a profit from me, or cashing in on the conception that all Western women are fast and loose. Normally, couchsurfing provides me with a few blessed souls who are the exception to this generalization, but unfortunately, hoteliers, trekking guides, and NGO operators have infiltrated the Nepalese chapter of CS. Knowing that the weather would be less than ideal, I thought it would be a good use of my time to volunteer at an orphanage and sent a request to stay with a man who worked with
one. But as soon as he realized that I wasn’t going to pay money for any of his thousands of suggestions, he politely asked me to leave. Having spent four days without a sign of the orphanage, I was happy to go. My departure brought me to a guesthouse in Lakeside.
Lakeside Pokhara is one of those places that are built completely for the convenience of tourists. Every other establishment is either a hotel, an over-priced restaurant, a souvenir shop, an adrenaline tour booking agency, or a money changer. I’m always uncomfortable in these places because I can’t shake the feeling that people don’t see me as a human, but rather as a walking bank or bordello. And, constantly subjected to this perception of myself, I found myself conforming to it. Every time I left my room, I became a consumer. I drank fruit juice I didn’t need and ate Momos I could get for half the price a few kilometers away. I felt an urgent need to hightail it out of there.
But for Mira, I would have. A fellow life-long traveler, she understands me completely. She understands the conflicting emotions that arise from the desire to
be in new places and the longing to belong, anywhere. She knows what it’s like to leave things behind, to be road weary, to miss home. She was incredibly good company and a reminder of the lesson inherent in the lake in front of us, the lesson of stillness. Having learned that lesson, I feel ready to face the road ahead of me. At this point, I don’t know where that road leads (beyond the Indian border, which may or may not let me back in), but I’m happy wherever it may be.
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