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FINDING SHANGRI-LA

Two chaps having a chat, NepalLet me start by saying “Nameste” – a Nepalese greeting, and a word which will always conjure up my fondest memories of Nepalese culture. It translates as ‘I bow to you’, just one facet of the respectful way the Nepalese treat all forms of life.  

For years I’d dreamt of exploring this vast, mountainous region of Asia – I was addicted to Michael Palin’s Himalaya, and hearing the tales of friends who had travelled before me only added to my jealousy. The moment I stepped off the plane and my foot contacted the ground of Kathmandu, I took a moment to stop and pinch myself. I had to make sure this was really happening.

I’d deliberately booked myself an extra few days in Kathmandu before the full group arrived, desperate to have enough time to explore this fascinating city.

Two saddhus in Kathmandu, NepalI relished the time alone to immerse myself in the heady atmosphere, strolling along crowded, narrow streets with souvenirs galore, or visiting the many mystical temples. You may be alone in Nepal, but you’ll never be lonely. I found myself simply sat in small cafes, sipping tea and watching the world bustle by. As each traveller passed, I wondered what foreign experiences they’d had, and what ventures lay ahead for me.

I wasn’t in suspense for long. We left Kathmandu for Bandipur along the highway, entertained by the passing motley assortment of trucks, weaving cars or motorbikes and buses crammed with people (and no doubt a few chickens). The busy sprawl of Kathmandu shrunk behind us as we rose higher and higher into the mountains. Snow-capped peaks formed a jagged horizon, stabbing into the immense, clear blue skies.

We couldn’t resist a stop in the Trisuli Valley, where the group divided – some for the raging adrenaline splash of white water rafting, while the rest of us clambered into cable cars bound for the Manakamana Temple. The dramatic, panoramic views were more than enough distraction from the uncomfortable popping sensation in the ears as we ascended to the sacred spot. Ribbons of prayer flags looped the tiered roofs, and my attention was instantly absorbed by the intricate, ornate details of the building. Alongside, a row of dreadlocked and ochre robed Sadhus sat accepting offerings in exchange for blessings and wise words.

Bandipur village was a haven of unfaltering charm. Our visit chimed perfectly with Diwali, the festival of light, and the whole place was bedecked with fairy lit oil lamps. Beneath the offerings heaped on every doorstep, the shop fronts offered a deceptive European appearance, with French style shutter windows and bijou hanging baskets. Wherever we wandered a chorus of ‘Nameste’ echoed our footsteps down the peaceful streets. Our guide, Chandra, had the most infectious laugh and was perennially keen to share stories and facts about Nepal, which always ended with his signature giggle. He took every opportunity to introduce us to the traditions of Nepalese life; Bandipur just showed us how warm and hospitable the Nepalese people are, always with a big smile and a “Nameste”.

Village in the Annapurna regionNo trip to the Himalayas could be said to be complete without at least some gentle walking. We headed into the Annapurna region, our anticipation evaporated with each glimpse of the Fish Tail teasing us from beyond the mist. By the time the walking boots were on, the only thing we were anxious about was to get going. The paths were all established and well-maintained, many with flights of tiny stone steps which quickly toned my thighs. We encountered not just other foreign trekkers, but a multitude of locals hiking along the same paths, laden down with anything from large water urns to mattresses. Half the fun was always wondering what surprise would be round the next corner – whatever it was, the only guarantee was the friendly ‘Nameste’ that would come along with it.

Elephant safari, Chitwan National Park, NepalWe rounded the trip off with Chitwan National Park. The scenic shift was a dramatic one. For the first time in days we were confronted with the phenomena of a flat landscape, with wide open plains and not so much as a mole hill in sight. We ventured out in dugout canoes and on elephant back safari, lurching through the park in search of rhinos. A trip highlight for many of us was a dip in the river with the elephants, watching them cavort and splash their dexterous trunks as they cooled their hot, rough skin. We ended the trip by returning to the bright lights of Kathmandu.

I never learnt the Nepalese word for ‘goodbye’. I didn’t make a conscious choice to learn ‘hello’ and not to learn ‘goodbye’, but that’s what happened. I think it’s quite telling. This is the kind of place I’d never want to say goodbye to – and I can’t, at least not yet. For now I’ll just keep saying “Nameste”, again and again.

By Paula Mason, Group Sales Specialist, who travelled on our Highlights of Nepal trip.

 

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