Nepal sits tucked away between the giants of the frozen Himalayas to the north and India's hot and humid jungle to the south. When we think of Nepal, it is easy to picture Everest, the Sherpas, Buddist monks and the unique shaped triangular flag. Many people who visit Nepal proclaim that this is a land that 'does something to you.'
Nepal is similar is size to Greece and home to 26.5 million inhabitants. Home to Mount Everest, the variation in altitude stems from 90m in the lowlands to 8848m atop of the World's highest summit. This gives Nepal 3 of the 5 global climate zones, namely Arctic, desert and tropical jungle. It is one of the poorest countries on Earth with the majority of the population sustained by agriculture. Nepal's Prime Minister is Sushil Koirala and the national currency is the Nepalese Rupee.
The country was at the crossroads of major trade routes for many years. This is reflected in the modern day culture. There are nearly 100 languages spoken throughout the land, many are defined dialects of the Nepali mother tongue. Religion in Nepal is almost entirely Hindu (80%) with 9% practising Buddhism. The capital city is Kathmandu, home to 1 million people.
It took me 5 minutes to fall in love with Nepal, around the same length of time it took a local monkey to approach me in the street.
I am glad that I am a Christian and do not have to spend large amounts of time thinking about the afterlife. Buddhists and Hindus really do put a lot of time and effort into thinking about what happens next. My guide, Tshering Pande Bhote, takes me to the river in Kathmandu where the cremation of the dead happens. The deceased are wrapped in an orange carpet and their feet dipped into the river. The bodies are then placed onto one of many bonfires on the wharf and transported to the next life. It draws quite a crowd.
The river is also used to heal the dying. Interestingly, those who are healed by the river will then live out the rest of their lives living and working in one of the local temples.
A short ride to the next town of Bakktapur and we visit a place where the royal family have come to practice tantric sex since the 1600's. I certainly have a lot to learn! Even more exciting than this was a visit to a school of art. The speciality here is intricate painting. Brushes only contain a single strand and to become a master painter requires a 10 year apprenticeship. Each piece takes 450 hours for an artist to complete. The level of work is such that I now own 2 pieces of artwork purchased from the school.
Tshering is not just 'any' guide. He is the only guide in Nepal with a licence to hang from a helicopter during mountain rescues. Of the 14 major peaks, Tshering has stood on 6 so far, planning to reach them all before too long.
I could not leave Nepal without climbing Everest. Okay so we only made it to 4618m (over half way) and we did take a helicopter at one point to get over a valley, but life at 60% Oxygen levels is hard! Altitude sickness sets in if progress is too fast. Regular breaks are needed but sap all energy from you. Just surviving at this altitude is hard for those who are not used to this. We stayed at Everest View Hotel and the views take what little breath you have left away.
We got to meet Mingmen Sherpa. He was the 24th person to reach all 14 peaks that sit above 8000m. Only 35 people in total have done this, the last being his brother.
Many Sherpas are proud to recant their stories of life on the mountains. But many tell me to the tales they know of Edmund Hilary, the first man to climb Everest in May 1953. The Sherpa tell me not of his passage to the top, but what legacy he has left for their people. Hilary helped to build 2 hospitals, 38 schools and an airport in the region. The schools were filled with English-speaking teachers from India so that the the local Nepali people could learn the language and open themselves up to tourism. The climbing season will see over 30000 people make it to Everest Basecamp with relative ease.
Life is simple in the mountains. Completely different from the city. However I love the simple, happy and disease free lifestyle up here. So different from the hustle and bustle of city life...
"In this place there is no bus or taxi Sir, but I can bike you to India."
I had taken a flight to a small town in southern Nepal. The aviation industry in Nepal is well developed. The road network was not though. I had landed at an airfield in the middle of a no man's land. Between here and the boarder crossing there would be no motorised vehicles bigger than a moped.
We soon came to a village. For the first time since I left Norway, I felt a very long way from home. There was no electricity in this village. No cars. No mopeds. No mod-cons. Houses were build out of mud and stone. Floors were bare dirt. Beds and benches were simply built on top of the soil floor. Out here it sits well below freezing for months on end. In the monsoon, my driver tells me that all houses will be flooded foe 2-3 months.
There will be another 2 hours to travel and then I reach India and its 1.2 billion people.
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