And I still recall what made it happen
I am back in Nepal.
It’s hard to say precisely how many times I’ve visited, but I will never forget my very first encounter with this charming little mountain country. It was in October 1988. And until today, I vividly remember the golden sun rays miraculously breaking through the fluffy clouds while descending into Kathmandu Valley.
And the enormous joy I felt.
I was 22 years old at the time and on a backpacking trip around the world. Nepal was my second stop after Thailand. One that would drill itself into my heart like no other.
It was the beginning of a grand soul affair.
Back then, my knowledge about this small mountainous nation was limited. I knew its capital, that a portion of Mt. Everest lay on Nepalese soil, that the inhabitants consumed large quantities of rice, and that most of the population followed Hinduism. At that point in time, Nepal was the sole Hindu kingdom in the world.
What awaited me felt like the landing of my soul. Even before the aircraft came to a halt, I had an inkling that I was home. While disembarking, a bloody goat head was draped around the aircraft to soothe evil spirits as part of a religious festival that was already in full swing.
The next 1.5 months flew by, but I vividly recall that every day held a new miracle.
It felt like something out of the tales of 1001 night.
I wandered through Kathmandu’s ancient alleys, where time seemed to stand still. Where people shared captivating yet mundane stories that echoed from the surrounding walls. Whitewashed stupas at the city gates welcomed its visitors, their spires rising through an ocean of colorful prayer flags into the azure sky.
I discovered rice paddies that stretched out as far as the eye could see, through which I steered my pushbike in raw awe. German bakeries were filled with the heavenly fragrance of fresh raisin buns and apple strudel. And souvenir stores crammed with things I’d never seen before in my life.
And there were the Himalayas majestically towering above life and into eternity. A place you could only explore on foot those days. On adventurous, weeklong treks that cut deep into the jumble of endless mountain ranges, remote valleys, and sacred sites.
But above all, there were these kindhearted people whose smiles and merry attitude became the oxygen for my yearning soul.
I fell in love in no time.
But there was also the other side of the coin.
Nepal was a poverty-stricken country then, which remained hidden from many travelers, well camouflaged. Behind the alleged idyll of lavishly blooming bougainvillea and rhododendron, snow-covered mountains, romantic-looking villages, and the mantra-like cheerfulness of its inhabitants.
At the time, I mistook the remoteness of the villages for exoticism and the hardship of many Nepalis for resilience.
But if you allowed yourself to immerse fully, you could peek behind this allegedly peaceful scene. And it was there, away from the tourist streams, that the country’s arduousness and deprivation came to light.
Where people eked out a meager existence: uneducated, with many mouths to feed, deliberately excluded from life’s abundance. Where people received scanty wages for hauling incredible loads on their slim backs across the country. Where humans and animals shared delipidated spaces they called home. Where everyone held a non-negotiable position in society and life according to their caste.
Despite all, Nepal never fails to charm me.
I know that much of what I loved back then no longer exists. Nepal is undergoing a massive transition. The former idyll has given way to insane traffic, concrete, noise, and rapid, sterile urbanization. The gap between rich and poor is widening at an alarming speed. And in many places, the spirit of socializing has been replaced by the fast-paced and hectic nature of meeting deadlines and achieving financial goals.
But in between, there are still those oases that take me back in time.
Where I perceive the sound of temple bells of days long past, inhale the scent of millions of lovely incense sticks that sweeten the moist summer air, tune into the rattling of the prayer wheels of bypassing devotees caressing my senses, or catch the vibrational charm that has nourished my heart and soul for so long.
And while returning to Nepal one more time, I am deeply grateful.
For thirty 30+ years of unfailing love and friendship. For its magical powers that keep grounding me when nothing else does. For the numerous intimate insights I have been allowed to gain over time, which guided me to where I stand today.
Thank you very much for spending a precious moment with me in Nepal, which carries more than the label HOME. It’s the seat of my soul.
And if you’re an adventurous woman and keen on exploring Nepal on the back of a motorbike with us, this is for you.
Much love, as always — Kerstin
On a personal note: We have recently created a Ko-fi page. Not to ask you for a coffee but to support Tanzanian women and a worthy cause. If that’s something you’re interested in, please take a look at what we’re up to.