After a harrowing 38 hours of transit we touched down on the tarmac of Tribhuvan International Airport. As we stepped from our gleaming, air conditioned, Korean Air Boeing 777 into the rust encrusted shuttle bus awaiting us on the steaming, 80 degree runway, it was apparent that we, as Dorothy so eloquently put it, “were not in Kansas anymore”. This journey that we had planned and prepared for during many months of taxing research had finally begun, and it was as we walked through the old red brick terminal, sweaty and jet lagged, that the implication of this began to finally sink in.
There is no way to accurately describe what it is like to return to a place like Nepal, and I’m sure that such an experience is different for everyone. For me, however, it was the smell that brought every memory rushing back. Sweet and earthy in a distinct combination that I have never found back home; one whiff and it was as if I had never left.
Upon first glance, very little seemed to have changed since my last visit three years ago, but on closer inspection, here and there along the roadside, gaping holes could be seen, where it was apparent buildings, shops, and homes had once stood. Much of the rubble had been cleared away to make room for the hopeful foundations of new buildings which may or may not be cultivated at some point in the future. Piles of bricks lined the roadsides and the remnants of tents and other temporary shelters remained in the few open spaces as a testament to the unbelievable destruction and devastation that had so recently been inflicted on this country. Yet, the people were carrying on with their daily lives.
The view from our window
I’m not sure what I had expected to see, but such a physical manifestation of these people’s ability to persevere was both incredibly humbling, and altogether inspiring. Yet to say that they merely persevered would be a gross understatement. It has become clear with every new meeting, every discussion, and every joyful reunion, that, when faced with disaster and situations that would seemingly bring even the boldest of us to our knees, many individuals accepted this challenge and confronted it head on.
After having braved the streets and kamikaze drivers of Kathmandu, we finally arrived at the house of our landlord and dear friend, Chunta. We had just a few moments to get acquainted with our home to be before we were greeted by Ram Karki and his son Pradeep. Ram has been an integral part of my life since close to 16 years before I was born. A life long friend of my parents and one of the best trekking guides I know, Ram has run Bloomsday, helped build our house, knows every single trail and village of Nepal like the back of his hand, and is one of the wisest souls I have ever had the honor to meet. Pradeep is now 18 and an exuberant reflection of his father. A brilliant student with a deep passion for history and the cultivation of his country, Pradeep is one of the few individuals whom I can wholeheartedly call Dia (brother). At the conclusion of a joyful reunion, we said pheri betaaula (see you soon) to Ram, and followed Pradeep on our first excursion into the city. Suffice it to say that no matter how many times I wander the streets of Kathmandu, I am always amazed by the small details and subtle exchanges that I see, I learn something new every time. A walk through the streets of this city is a lesson in humanity that could never be replicated inside a classroom.
Our first Nepali lesson from Pradeep
To honor an age old tradition of my family, our first morning in Nepal was spent climbing the hundreds of steps to the sacred Stupa of Swayambhu. As per custom, we circled the main stupa clockwise while spinning the countless prayer wheels along the base, all the while chanting the silent mantra Oh Mani Padme Hum under our breath, and thanking the Gods for our safe travel to the other side of the world.
Until next time, thanks for reading, and keep making those conscious connections!