“If adventure has a final and all-embracing motive, it is surely this: we go out because it is our nature to go out, to climb mountains, and to paddle rivers, to fly to the planets and plunge into the depths of the oceans…”
365 days of homestays, high altitude cycling, and beautiful landscapes throughout Nepal.
“Their nails are caked with dirt and their stained clothes are torn in parts, but they are happy. They are free, living in an off-the-grid universe of their own, where they rely solely upon themselves for survival.”
“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.”
Though I could have spent weeks exploring other villages throughout the area (I didn’t want to impose any longer in the one I loved), I felt that it had been the perfect experience, and that I was ready to spend a week idly walking around, reading, and writing. I headed back down to the terai, the flat plains of Nepal, where I rented a room at a small “hotel” for four days. I spent most of my time reading and finished six or seven books (almost two thousand pages). I wandered around a bit, but, once again, was slightly put off by the inordinate amount of attention I received, so I spent most of my time on the roof of my hotel.
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”
I have read about children walking hours to and from school, but I never imagined it to be quite like this. I set off one morning with two of the boys, thinking I was taking a trip to the “market” a few kilometers away. About an hour away, when I was ready to turn back, I encountered half a dozen other children from the village walking down the small winding footpaths to the valley as well. I didn’t realize it, but they (and I) were all headed to a school function, a cultural program where they sing and dance and preform for the parents. They kept telling me “school, school,” but after so many hours of walking, I couldn’t believe their school was really this far away. Sure enough, over two hours later, we arrived.
“Travel is rebellion in its purest form… We follow our heart. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We only own what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We, sometimes, never choose to come back.”
On the second morning of my stay in Far Western Nepal the eight year old girl signaled me to follow her. We ended up running up and down the little paths that connect the houses, collecting children from different houses along the way. It was hilarious and one of the best moments I have had yet, flying down the hillside with a half dozen happy children.
“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”
Their house is filled with smoke, and without electricity, the natural light seeping in from the open door gives the mud hut a homey feel. A couple and their two children I met in a field in Far Western Nepal have brought me back to their small humble abode, a one room mud house with a few blankets on the floor in one corner, and a pile of wood for the fire in the other. The ceiling is covered with hanging corn, drying to be made into flour, and besides that, there is hardly anything else in the house. They have three or four cows outside and fields surrounding them where they grow crops, they are self sufficient farmers living off of the land. Their small village is composed of a dozen or so houses spread out near the top of one of the rolling foothills in the Himalayas.
“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
After hoping up off the bus I walked alongside the road for a few minutes until I saw a small path leading down. I took it and found myself staring at a group of six or seven children around a huge steaming cauldron. They peered at me cautiously, and the youngest ones even ran away. I stayed where I was, not sure if I should approach even though I was curious as to what they were making. A few minutes later a women, followed by a pigtailed eight year old girl, came up behind me and laughingly invited me down. Though many of the children stayed away, obviously still frightened by me, the women asked me where I was going. Pretty soon a man approached, her husband, and handed me a warm thick heap of brown sugar on a leaf. Sweet and flavorful, unlike any sugar I have tasted in the west, I realized the huge steaming pot in front of me was filled with sugar cane syrup they were transforming into sugar.
Nineteen hours of sitting on the bus and a full twenty-four hours of sleepless travel later, and I’m finally here in far Western Nepal. Besides that vague description, I actually don’t have a clue where I am. Far Western Nepal is a foreign land even to the Nepalis themselves. Delhi, the capital of India, is closer than Kathmandu to this region which results in it being left out politically and even physically. In fact, until the mid 1990’s when the bridges and highway were finished, this section of Nepal was completely cut off from the rest of the country during the monsoon season every year. Guide books, which cover every other section of Nepal extensively, put in just a small paragraph saying it is a remote region that lacks facilities and is virtually unexplored. And the Lonely Planet wastes no time adding that it is a very dangerous region, controlled by the sporadically violent Maoists, and should be avoided. To be honest, I am very glad the guidebooks have such a hilariously inaccurate description of this area as it has kept it tourist-free, a hidden gem in a country which relies so heavily on foreigners.
“…It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”
I love Nepal. I am finally able to camp again, I am no longer followed by young sleazy adolescents, and I can live off of bananas, juicy oranges, and of course, rice, dal, and samosas, for only three dollars a day. Though I am still anxious to get to the mountains (I can see the start of them to my left at all times, talk about tantalizing!), I am enjoying all the small farming villages I have been passing through these last few days. Nepal is obviously poor, even more so than India, but the people are beautiful and smiling which is what counts. Hundreds of children wave and follow me daily (no joke, I swear every child has a “white cyclist radar” and is able to sense me coming from kilometers away), and most of the women smile and wave as well. Even the old wrinkled grandmas hobbling slowly down the road carrying who knows what in a giant basket on their head stop to smile and wave, something that never happened in India. Though it is still impossible to do anything without a crowd, at least it is always a friendly one.
“Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.”
“We have a small house, but very big hearts,” the enthusiastic twelve year boy told me moments after his sister (who I had stopped to buy bananas from) brought me home to my first Nepali family. And he couldn’t have been more right. The family was poor, farmers with little more than a roadside stand and a small country house (the kind I have been eyeing longingly) to their name, but I have yet to meet someone anywhere in the world happier than Lokraj, my new little brother for the next few days. His sister, the one who invited me here, is a beautiful laughing girl herself, and the family quickly became my favorite one I have stayed with so far. The children’s mother and father are old, old enough to be their grandparents (I wonder if maybe that is the case), and absolutely wonderful people as well.