[Part 1: Kathmandu, Chitwan, Lumbini]
Okay, I’ve been in a real struggle just to find a way to summarize my trip so I can share it out. Two months is not too long, but long enough for moments to stock into a scarily huge pile of memories that I’m way too greedy to cross out any and end up not knowing where to start.
But here it is, I present to you *drumroll* the shortlisted magic moments of my spontaneous trip to Nepal, the first solo traveling trip with no proper itinerary.
But first, let me reveal a bit about why I went for Nepal.
2 years ago I had a weird dream. In that dream, I was brought to a breathtaking waterfall, a huge one. I remember vividly that the water was so strong that the mist almost blurred the whole thing. I was so small in the scene, and startled by the view that I could barely breathe. On waking up, I found myself gasping. It took a few breaths for me to calm down. I was curious. Where was that! To my terror, a voice in my head whispered, Nepal. At that point, I didn’t even know Nepal was what country or what city or what state in which continent. I skipped a heartbeat again, is this a kind of signal or something... Maybe. I quickly decided, Nepal one day then!
Time went by, Nepal modestly got down to one very small corner in my heart. Until one day, I quit my job, ended one satisfying IELTS course, moved out, having at that moment no attachment and responsibilities. It’s time! I quickly decided to go because well, when else can I be so young and free? Just like that, a one way ticket to Nepal was booked.
Have you ever had signals like that before? If yes, you’d better go for it soon. Now after the trip, I’m pretty sure it’s the guiding from the Universe, or whatever higher influence He may be. Okay let’s jump to the magic moments.
1. Getting into the waiting lounge for the flight to Kathmandu from KLIA.
*Kathmandu: capital city of Nepal KLIA: Kuala Lumpur International Airport, for transit.
I decided to go for the trip not more than one month before my flight. After the decision, I had to sprint towards the finish line of my job, my IELTS class and some other tasks at the same time. They consumed all my available brain cells, so I didn’t have much left to spare for the trip. I ended up doing all the paper work preparation and packing within the last 3 days before the flight, which is so not recommended ==”
The day came, I took my backpack and rushed to the airport. My flight to KL was at night. 2 hours is of course not enough for a good night sleep. I then had to sleep in the airport for hours at KLIA and woke up being not too far from a pathetic zombie. Not until I got into the waiting lounge for Kathmandu flight that I noticed that people around me started to look... different. Ah uhm, women with red signs in the middle of their foreheads, men with darker skin tone, bigger eyes, thicker eyebrows and very different fashion styles that somehow looked intimidating to me. I snapped a photo and sent it to my friend with a scared emoji. “You’re going to their country, brace yourself”, he text back. Well, okay...! I took a good look around, feeling goosebumps all over my body, waking up to the reality that I’m finally running after my long saved dream. Woohooo.
2. An afternoon well spent in a land far far away
My first stop was Kathmandu. I’ll tell more about how it welcomed me with a literal bomb later. The capital’s environment is not so fresh and clean (well it’s an understatement...) so even though it had 7 UNESCO heritage sites, I went for like... 0.5. I’m a terrible tourist I know ==” I sticked with the host family I found on workaway*, spent most of my time running around the house and garden to find things to help out.
One fine afternoon, after having the home-cooked dal baht (Nepali traditional food) and planting some garlic with Ama, I felt like reading a book. I took out the kindle that anh Thành lent me before the trip (how thoughtful), scrolled through the list, and Em là để yêu of Phan Ý Yên caught my attention. Wow, it’s been ages since I last read this kind of romance! Then I made myself a good cup of ginger lemon honey tea (people drink this a lot here), settled, and started the first chapter. It unexpectedly went on for hours. During those precious hours, from time to time, tears ran its way down my cheeks when I caught myself in the stories. Other times, I rest my head down on the table, reminiscing on some memories I thought faded away. Sunlight from the backyard kept pouring in, giving the place a cosy feel even though it was 15 Celcius. For some precious moments, I and my emotional self was safe there, in a far away land.
The romance ended when I caught sight of a rat confidently running through all the food and pots and spoons and all the fresh veggies that I’ve been eating for a week. Let’s just stop there.
*Research about workaway.info if you’re interested in long and budget traveling. It’s pretty cool.
3. Dancing in a free yoga class
Yeah, it’s Nepal (bordered with India) and they happen to have free yoga classes everywhere. I picked myself up early one morning to follow my new German friend to one class in the neighborhood. We jumped on a stuffy minibus that made its way through the bumpy road to drop us in front of a Patanjali shop, a famous medical brand from India. Going upstairs, I found a smiling yogi and a lot of locals getting ready.
We took our mats to the front row and settled. The section started with some normal warmup and then, music on, everyone started to dance. At first, I just moved shyly a little this way, a little that way as I called it dancing. But when I accidentally turned back, I saw people dancing wild and really enjoying themselves. There were little girls, old women and even guys, all losing themselves (in a pleasant way) in the music. My friend gave me an understanding look that said: “Amazing huh!” I laughed back and started swaying my hips a little stronger.
4. Climbing up a tree to see one-horned rhinos
I left Kathmandu after a week for Chitwan, a city famous for the national park with its one-horned rhinos. I didn’t stay in Sauraha though, the touristy side. Instead, I took a bus to a host place I found in workaway, 2 hours away from the city center.They have many Chitwan National Park related activities, jungle walk tour was one. It’s around $50 if booked in Sauraha but only half the price from my side Mighauli. When I first arrived, I was the only one in the place, so I had no choice but go for the jungle walk alone, with a guide of course.
He vigorously showed me all those much needed info about signs of tiger poops, rhino pees, elephant footprints, curry leaves, different kinds of birds and other interesting things.
Then there came one epic moment when he heard something and turned to me, commanded:
Climb up the tree! Huh? *still busy studying some tiger poop* Climb up that branch! Quick! It’s rhinos!
10 secs later I found myself on a branch of the closest tree. From there I had a good view of two rhinos moving slowly through the trees, making loud noises as they had their lunch. He carefully explained: “‘It’s a mother and a baby, they can be very aggressive, we have to be up here to be safe. Aren’t they nice!!!”. Uh huh. The fact that I was on a tree was even more intriguing for me than the-jungle-unicorn itself.
5. Good talks in the sun
In this workaway place in Chitwan, we have many farming, gardening work to choose from. We were many people as well, solo/ couple travellers from different parts of the world somehow made it to the farm at the same time. Destiny! We formed this “green team” that’s in charge of doing the grass. Everyday we would sit there for hours, each in our own creative chairs, mindlessly plucking the grass while talking about random things. Life. Environment. Election. Bicycle love stories. Once in awhile, Linda would suddenly sing some hymns, and all of us just automatically followed. Then Michel would take some lemongrass to make tea so awhile later, everyone could “call it a day”, clean the hands and come in for some natural tea with honey, waiting for dal baht to come.
Before I packed my stuffs to go for the 10 day Vipassana course, I came to Michel and Linda. (This friendly French couple even asked to adopt me haha).
I told them I didn’t feel so well, and I was worried, ‘cause I need to be well to join the course. Linda immediately gave me some mint oil to put on my neck. Michel smiled and said: “Maybe your body is just afraid of the challenge”, some acupuncture would help. He did it professionally and ended with a reiki cleaning. I really felt better. Then we sat there, books closed, and talked about... life. Again.
I still remember how I almost shed some tears hearing those words from Michel.
People tell me to stop fooling around, Michel. But I’m just following my heart. And I have a very strong feeling that I’m doing the right thing.
You’re doing an amazing thing. Look how many people out there saying they wish they could drop everything and go somewhere for awhile but not actually doing it. And you’re in Nepal for 2 months.
I guess I’m very lucky then.
Yeah, and you created your own luck. You’re brave.
On the last day when we were about to go out for Momo (another typical Nepali food), Michel and Linda came to me and said. Rosie, we have something for you. Then Michel opened his hand to reveal this magic tiger stone. “It would help to protect you from all negative energy”, he said, smilingly. Do I even need to describe how my heart melted and how I almost fell into a pile on the ground out of happiness... Let’s not forget that we were complete strangers just a few days ago!
Here I also met Matti and Laura, Katie and Taylor and Elena, a bunch of interesting world travellers of all ages, who really reassured me that I’m not the only one to skip town for months. They go for years!
6. Deep talk with spider (and some other insects and plants) in the meditation course
So I went for this 10 day meditation course called Vipassana that some of you may have heard of. They have this all over the world. Basically, you are not allowed to read, write, talk, exercise or even exchange eye contact with other people during the course. You literally just eat, sleep and meditate for probably 10 hours per day. I was quite confident to make it though everyone was looking at me like I’m the bravest girl on earth.
The first few days was quite smooth, but on the fourth day, after an important section, I felt an outburst of impatience inside that urged me to run away. It aggressively told me that I would not survive this. With that, I ran out of the meditation hall, straight to the spider on the way to the kitchen that I talked to from the first day, vent it out:
Did . You . Just . See . That?! Did you just see how sooo freaking longggggggg that section was? How am I supposed to deal with this huh?
Then went to have my dinner. When I got back to the meditation hall later, I surprisingly found myself very comfortable with a much lighter heart, like nothing happened. Hmm, the most understanding spider maybe?
I also watched bees hanging out around a pink flower, kissed a đậu hà lan, got close to one squirrel and tried to make friends with some birds. On the walk some day, I also got a clue of what I wanna do with my life. It’s an expected result when you can spend quality time with yourself with no distraction. It was a real freeing process. Hmm, I’ll write more about this later if I have a chance.
7. Riding a bicycle around Lumbini
My next stop after the course: Lumbini. Lumbini is said to be the birthplace of Buddha, one of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Besides the main area of the sacred birthplace with the stone, Maya Devi pond and a huge Bodhi tree, there are also a collection of temples with architecture following different schools of Buddhism. Apart from the spiritual part, it was also enjoyable enough just to ride around in jungle-like paths and let the fresh air pamper your face in between the comfortable temple seeing. In the middle of two zones also lies a beautiful channel with bridges that can fool you you’re in Venice.
I had a companion this time. We cycled around and whenever we felt like it, we could just stop somewhere and sat down. I still remember catching peace and happiness in a subtle move of time when we were sitting on a bench outside of the Myanmar temple, my friend suddenly passionately gave me a whole section on religion history while I was happily munching my holy Oreo biscuits for budget lunch. We planned to stay there for 1 day only but I ended up mè nheo for two ‘cause I enjoyed it too much.
That’s it for part 1. I still have a whole month of Pokhara and the Annapurna Circuit trek to write about. But let’s wait until I can summon this much of efforts another time...
Thanks for reading! <3 Have a magical day!
P/s: Special thanks to anh Thành for having supported me since the idea of this trip to when I needed some help to finish this note. This would not have been that smooth without you, really.