Never ending peace & love

A trip of a lifetime to Nepal changes my worldview

Overlooking the city of Kathmandu from Swayambhunath Temple.
Overlooking the city of Kathmandu from Swayambhunath Temple. 
Photo: 

When I first set out to solidify my travel itinerary for the month of May, Nepal was not even in the top 10 on my list of hopeful destinations. 

I had always dreamed of the seemingly typical places in Asia like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and more, but never of this little place secretly squished between India and China. Maybe it’s because my knowledge of the country was little to none — I only knew it was home to the famous Mount Everest. With no desire to freeze and perish 8,000m above civilization, Nepal had been ruled out. 

However, my travel partner Dave had other ideas, placing the country at the top of his own list. After being thoroughly convinced by him to change my mind and slightly reassured by a quick Google Images search, Dave and I booked two one-way tickets out to Nepal’s booming capital Kathmandu, and set off on an adventure of the truly unknown. 

Once we arrived and took our first steps outside the Kathmandu airport, we were immediately swarmed by crowds of locals and persistent salesmen. Captivated by the light shades of our hair and skin, they did everything in their power to bargain, bribe and barter for various things we didn’t want or need to no avail. 

Leaving the air-conditioned privacy of the airplane to the heat and havoc of the city was seriously overwhelming. Although I was excited to begin our adventure, I felt an uneasiness rise within me. I’ve lived outside of Canada before — albeit in England — but everything that followed was completely foreign to me.

After having a taxi forced upon us for a “special price” — despite our insistence on walking — we drove through the streets of Nepal desiring the safety of our hostel. Along the way, the view from the cab window was a mix of both rural and urban. While motorcycles roared by us on the narrow streets of Kathmandu, the sights of cows, goats, and stray dogs were probably the last thing I was expecting to see.  

Along the way, there were crowds of people that packed the market stalls, covering their mouths with surgical masks. The city boomed with the continuous drone of car horns and clouds of dust and pollution created a visible smog in the air. 

I might not have realized it then, but once I stepped out of the cab and actually onto the street I saw that there’s a beauty to the chaos of Nepal, and specifically to the people that live within it. 

Being one of the poorest countries in the world, it became familiar for us to witness those facing the trials of poverty. Over our time exploring Nepal, we grew accustomed to seeing locals bathing publicly on the streets from buckets of water, treading barefoot in the garbage that littered the streets, or sifting through the remaining debris of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in search of salable materials. 

I can’t word it any other way — life is extremely hard in Nepal. Yet despite the prevalence of such a hand-to-mouth existence I can safely say that it is one of the happiest places I have ever been. The people seem to adapt to or at least patiently endure the systematic chaos of the city. If you are lucky enough to travel there, the result is a humbling experience that seriously highlighted the absurdity of our own first-world “problems”.

***

The story that truly shows the profound hospitality and kindness of the Nepali people happened just a week into our trip in a smaller part of the country called Sidhing. Dave and I had just finished a strenuous 5-day trek called ‘Mardi Himal’ and were planning on spending the night in Sidhing before heading back to our hostel in the city of Pokhara. Despite the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains from so high up, the descent was not so pretty. By hour five of the steep downhill decline, we were starting to get irritated by the heat and the pain in our knees.

Finally arriving in Sidhing, we rejoined with a group of fellow trekkers we had met a few nights before and got a bedroom set up for us in the same place they were staying for the night. 

On a trek like Mardi Himal, the places to stay on the mountains are limited and extremely modest. Despite that, all of the stops we had made over the past week for meals had so far included some kind of dining area as well as a menu, trying to accomplish a restaurant feel. 

Flopping onto the bed once in the room, there was a knock on the door from a local woman and her son inviting us to come have dinner.

The woman who came to the door led us past the guest houses and into a small cellar room where we found our fellow hikers, sitting cross legged on individual carpets on the dirt floor. 

Slightly confused, Dave and I took our places on the remaining two rugs and began to play catch-up to the reason why we had not been led to a dining room or given menus. 

The reality was that this was actually the dining room.  We realized that we had been invited to dinner in her home with her family. Our host spoke little English, but in seeing myself and the other three large cross-legged men shifting uncomfortably in the tiny spaces afforded to us, she and her son apologized for the size of their home and promised a warm meal to make up for it. 

In such a tiny concrete space — with flies covering the walls like wallpaper — the woman passed around plates and piled them up with food while leaving her own plate empty. We encouraged her to join us for the meal, but she insisted on serving her guests and her son before herself. With so little to give, this woman and her son were completely happy to invite us into their home and offer what they could to make us feel welcome. 

Once we had finished, our host finally served herself dinner. She explained to us in broken English a Nepali saying that she lived their life by. The verse “Atithi Devo Bhava” from ancient Hindu scripture translates into “the guests are like the Gods”, and it truly explains the Nepali hospitality. 

Once explained, it became clear where the priorities of our host lay, not valuing materialistic wealth, but people and love. When she left the room to put her son to bed, the four of us sat on our individual rugs on the floor and took a moment to appreciate the night we shared together, forced to recognize our own privilege. Just a few hours before, Dave and I were moaning about our sore knees, and now we had watched this woman create a feast out of nothing, kneeling on the dirt surrounded by mosquitos, with a beaming smile on her face. 

In that moment, we realized how much we take for granted in our own everyday lives and how simple it can be to have compassion. I have witnessed acts of greed, apathy and hate amongst people who are fortunate enough to lead safe and healthy existences. This family on the other hand — who had little to nothing — was happy to put the needs of their guests, four strangers, ahead of their own. Our dinner that night reminded us of the importance of community and benevolence.

***

Our dinner in Sidhing was just one of the many times we experienced the warmth of Nepali hospitality. It is truly an amazing experience to understand the beauty of Nepal’s organized chaos. Although parts of the country are in physical turmoil, the people live in a societal nirvana. Tracing our route back to the airport on our day of departure, my entire attitude towards the city was changed. We passed neighborly men walking hand-in-hand, we smelled the familiar aromas in the air of the traditional Dal Bhat meal and of incense burning from within the market shops, and most of all, we had a changed perspective on life. 

Watching the country shrink from the airplane as we left, I began to reflect on the general outlook of the Nepali people I had met in my few weeks of travel compared to my own previous attitude. 

During the past school year, I can recall moments of frustration, stress and anger that are natural for the average university student. While I found them justifiable complaints at the time, I began to dissect where they often originated — stressful assignments, housemates failing to clean their dishes, no more honey garlic wraps at QP —and I felt my face slowly flush with shame at the realization. Although sometimes my moments of anger or stress were reasonable and appropriate reactions, others were entirely groundless, I was healthy, safe, supported, educated — I had no real reason to complain. 

The Nepali people, on the other hand, have all the reason in the world to complain — they have little access to food, clean water, education, and dry shelter — and yet choose to be joyful instead. Being surrounded by such a positive outlook on life helped me to gain perspective of my own fortunate reality. 

We are extremely lucky to live in a safe, caring community here at Queen’s with the access to such an incredible education. Although there are times when it can become stressful and taxing, there’s an importance placed by Nepali people on emotional strength, human spirit and love that we must strive to emulate.

From the bottom of my list of hopeful destinations, my return to Nepal in the future has now been placed firmly at the top. The people of Nepal — despite the trials of poverty and the devastating repercussions of the Gorkha Earthquake — still understand the importance of friendship and compassion, and prioritizing love. 

The name Nepal has been known to stand for “Never Ending Peace And Love” and, being there for this brief time in May, I can understand why.

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