Divine peaks & intransigent Maoists… or “Welcome to Nepal!”

As I was flying from Chengdu, China to Kathmandu, Nepal – over the most spectacular vistas you will ever see from the window of a plane (8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world are in Nepal and they’re on glorious display), you might have thought I would be in a paroxysm of delight. And I was … sort of.

The only Tibetan I met.

But I was also plenty cranky because we were flying over Tibet – where I was supposed to be going for three spectacular days, if my visa had not been rejected by the Chinese government. Yes, after I’d spend $200 to assure that my passport, Chinese visa, 30-day in advance Tibet visa application, confirmed flights, carefully crafted bio (in which I assiduously tried to avoid using the word “writer”) and thorough retinue of places I wished to travel was in order, China flipped me the bird.

Now, the fact that you even need a separate visa to go to Tibet, which China is obsessive about referring to as its own territory, adds salt to the wound of having to pay $500+ for a stupid Chinese visa … it’s like paying an arm and a leg for a USA visa, then having to pay extra to visit Montana (which would be totally worth it, btw). In any case, I was bitter about my aborted visit to Tibet when I could SEE IT from the plane… in fact, we landed in Lhasa and spent an hour in its militaristic little terminal.

The Lhasa Airport (all I saw of Tibet)

To make my bitterness even more acute, my adjusted plans to visit additional Heifer projects in Nepal (after my last-minute rejection in Tibet) were jettisoned by threatened Maoist strikes throughout that country. So yeah, I was experiencing a little Global PMS (Post-Maoist Sh#$%t).

But then I got to Kathmandu and the sheer, delightful energy of the place blew my crankiness straight away.

This dusty, frenetic city of 1 million people is wall-to-wall shopping, drinking, eating, building, bargains, music, stupas, shrines, westernized food, trekkers, scarily fit Europeans, aging hippies, buskers, players, monks and prayer wheels.

The eyes of the Buddha are upon you.

Nepal was a surprise to me on many levels – probably because I assumed I knew quite a bit about the country (so many people I know have been there) but in truth, I was clueless.

I thought Nepal was mostly Buddhist; it’s actually 90% Hindu, with an ingrained caste system that is rigid and unforgiving, particularly for women.

I also thought Nepal was a monarchy; but the King and his family were assassinated in 2001, and a Maoist revolution succeeded in 2006 (hence the strikes that truncated my project visits). This small landlocked country, sandwiched between the titans of India and China, is the only Asian nation never to be colonized and knows well how to walk the delicate line between diplomacy and independence.

Nepal’s 3 regions: Terai lowlands, Hill Country & Mountains — and what mountains!

Not to sound too tourist guide-y, but Nepal is a land of contrasts, from the rice paddies of Chitwan to the nosebleed peaks of Annapurna and Everest– and a country of constant surprises.

The swastika is a Hindu symbol for prosperity, and the Star of David stands for knowledge – but what a juxtaposition to see on a home’s entrance gate!

I knew Nepal’s 26 million people were poor, but I didn’t realize that 40% of children under five are underweight and likely to be stunted in growth.

And I didn’t realize there would be so many adorable things to buy, but for once I’d have no appetite for shopping.

I was happy to be in Nepal, and a bit sad to be alone in my sweet room at Kathmandu Guest House.But mostly, I just needed to go see some Heifer projects and people… the cure for all crankiness.

(But that’s tomorrow’s story.)

Categories: Children, Heifer International, Hunger, Nepal, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “Divine peaks & intransigent Maoists… or “Welcome to Nepal!”

  1. Gosh, Betty, your blog should ALSO be must-reading for social studies students! There is so, so much I don’t know! Thanks for teaching me (more than you realize).

    • Darling Pattie — Maybe it’s because I was a history major, but one of the funnest parts of this journey is really getting to know about these countries … their history, culture, traditions, etc… I really LOVE that! And believe me, there is SO SO much as I don’t know — so I’m sharing my enlightened ignorance!! xoxooxb

  2. What an amazing experience. I can’t believe you find the time to journal it all as you are experiencing it. Thanks for including us on your journey.

    • Thanks, Richard, I’m so glad you’re along for the ride!! I have to admit that I actually write AFTER I get home because the trips are usually so action-packed, with such long days on the road, that it’s all I can do to just download my photos, give ’em captions and fall into bed. Plus .. it’s always good to have some time to reflect on how I feel before writing… I’m off to Cameroon on Sunday so I’m wildly trying to finish up my posts on Nepal. It keeps me hopping!

  3. Whew. Bureaucracy is no fun at all. Now that you are past all that, I will look forward to another glorious adventure.

  4. OH Betty – despite the frustrations and hassles, you make me so so hungry for Asia! Though we have never been there (some day!) my husband’s business imports a lot of goods from there. The people are so very lovely to deal with and operate with their own sense of urgency. (Everything shuts down for several days or even weeks for any and all holidays it seems…)

    I am looking forward to hearing this part of your journey so very much.

    • Just to clarify. my utterly muddled thought up/down(?) there.. I have been to Asia many times, China, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India – but I have never been to Nepal, and that is who my husband does business with…

      Must be time for bed!

    • How funny you should say that TS …they told me one reason I didn’t get my Tibetan visa was that it was New Year’s in March, and the government offices shut down. For a MONTH! Now that’s what I call a celebration… Hope you get there soon!!

  5. Thanks Betty! This is like social studies class(proud mother of daughter who only missed one ? on CRCT). So hard to get into China…who knew. Well, I just gave to your organization a one time gift, hope it helps.

  6. karli

    I truly enjoy traveling the world with you vicariously. I really felt your travel frustration in this latest piece. I can’t wait to hear/see all the good Heifer news soon. The photo with the mounds of green yarn intrigued me, is it sheep’s wool or do they have other fiber bearing beasties?

    • Karli — I’m pretty sure that was sheep’s wool but they have a lot of alpaca (which is usually curlier) and even yak wool too. Oddly, a lot of the crafts were very similar to the stuff I saw in Peru !!

  7. Gosh, those mountains are stunning, but wait–$500 for a visa! No wonder China has so much money these days. Looking forward to reading more about your visit!

    • Well, I should have clarified — the visa was about $200 but then I had to get extra visa pages for my passport (great sign!!) which was another $150 to the USA, then all the shipping/handling/expediting/etc. was another $150 … SO annoying, but what are you gonna do??

  8. Martha Radatz

    Yes, I think I’ve also always found that Heifer is a great cure for crankiness! Hope you’ll be able to launch into some programs & people soon.
    I will have to check my facts, but I believe when we were in Thailand we were told that that country had never been colonized either.
    I am so much enjoying traveling with you!

    • Maybe they all say that they’ve never been colonized .. but now that I’m thinking about it — who would have colonized Thailand?? Deborah Kerr?? I’m back in the programs saddle today .. can’t wait to write about the people!! Thanks for the comment, Martha!!.

  9. Chitij Karki

    Glad to see you writing about Nepal…your pictures are quite awesome!

    • Thanks, Chitji!! You’ll have to let me know if I’ve got something wrong — and I can’t wait to start writing about the programs & people!!

  10. As you know I love staring out plane windows Betty. Nothing I’ve seen compares to your shot. Just amazing !

    • I was literally beside myself — I kept saying is that Everest? Can I possibly be looking at EVEREST? And yeah, I was. I love the window and always keep the shade up. It’s such a delight to see … the world!

  11. zoantharia

    Your blog is amazing!
    The bits and pieces of stories and photos make me want to visit Nepal too! But my husband and I need to save for this trip and we wanted to try Tibet also but more for photography. But the culture and people (based on your photos) seemed quite more interesting!

    Best of luck to you. I hope you could see Tibet too some other time.

    • Thanks so much, Zoa — I will keep trying to get to Tibet! the best way in is thru Nepal, I understand … but now the airport in Nepal is closed because they want it to be international and the only way to influence the government seems to be thru … strikes!

  12. teresa hart

    Justifiable crankiness, I live in San Diego and the Dali Llama just visited here. I met him one time, very briefly, amazing energy. Love the photo of the little budda….


  13. Anonymous

    Photos and comments right on- no way to know what it’s really like until you are there! Sorry you missed Tibet-we did too several years ago while at solar eclipse tour China.Chinese government fearful of demonstrations. If you can change plans, Go to Dharmshala (Kangra Airport) in Himachal Pradesh, India for visit at Tibetal governent in exile. Peter and I just back from 6 weeks visiting 45 min. from there with daughter and family who are on sabbatical, Kim continuing work with single women’s movement. Since we won the $50,000 Ashoka Changemakers’s grant last year, seeing their progress organizing for their rights as independent citizens and setting up their first demonstration project of women farmers, an older and younger woman with children becoming a new family unit. Awesome to see 10,000 women, many with cell phones, meeting throughout the state of HP, marching, holding press conferences, meeting with officials to demand their rights- specific items put forth each widows day celebration . Poor women united is powerful!
    If it a possibility for you to visit there, I will get you in contact with Kim.

    • Amazing to see your journey thru your daughter with all those beautiful women in India! I applaud your commitment to her cause .. it’s a beautiful thing to behold! Namaste… b

  14. The photos in this post are stunning! Never knew until I saw your photo/comment about the swastika (and subsequently researched it!) that the symbol is and was in use by several different cultures.

  15. Lisa — I was totally shocked, too when we drove by it — and then I made us back up a mile so I could get this picture. I loved Nepal and it’s a photographer’s dream, that is for sure!! thanks for the comment!!

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