Our first two days in Nepal have quickly whisked by, but at the same time it feels like we’ve been here for months, as Nepali life has drawn us in, and as we’ve sought to embrace Nepali life.
The whole team’s first day was a great orientation to this vibrant and consuming culture, with a mixture of new clothes, amusing language barriers and triumphs, confronting sights, unique food and fascinating religion.
Our morning began (for the ladies!) in Asan Tole, a shopping area brimming with Kurta and Saree shops, along a cobble-stoned lane frequented by families on motorbikes and young boys making a living out of short rickshaw trips. We had about 90 minutes to wander and get fitted up in some beautiful Nepali fashion. Every shop was the same: shelves and shelves of colourful kurtas and eager shopkeepers ready to match your skin tone with just the right colour.
Kirsty and I (you’ll meet the team in a post tomorrow!) were lucky to stumble into a wonderful shop pretty quickly and boy did the owner know how to get business! After a solid 45 minutes of mixing and matching tops and pants, we finally decided on our outfits and agreed to return in 30 minutes to collect our new outfit. Our new friend (the shop owner) knew us too well though, noticing Kirsty had her eye on a beautiful dusty pink Saree. Not needing to beg to long to try it on, he carefully wrapped the long, heavy and jeweled garment around her like magic and Kirsty was sold! Not to be outdone, I asked if I could try one on too, a red one to suit my skin tone. Again, like a craftsman, he carefully wrapped the material around me, “You are a real Nepali lady now!” Shortly after we walked out with a Kurta and Saree each and a promise to return next time we were in Nepal.
The men met us for lunch after some successful shopping all around (bar some ripping off with rupees that we were able to resolve). We walked down a little alley to find a hidden restaurant known for their Mo-Mos – Nepali dumplings that are simply to die for! (Picture below!) We ordered “buff” and veggie mo-mos whilst I sat there and wondered if “buff” meant our dumplings were strong and strapping. Not to be! We were having buffalo! After each polishing off a plate of the delicious delicacies, we hopped into a few taxis, ready to travel the narrow and bustling streets to Swayambhu Temple.
A taxi ride through Nepali streets is something you must experience when coming here – the sharp turns, the “speeding” in the small Suzuki, the near misses of people and motorbikes. It often felt like that scene in Harry Potter as he whizzes though the streets of London in the narrow bus – it felt like our taxi suddenly squeezed through impossible holes like magic!
Arriving at Swayambhu, we began our ascent up the steep hill of hundreds of uneven steps, keen sellers of bags and jewelry and trees full of prayer flags and monkeys! The experience was a contrast of peacefulness, a feeling Buddhist prayer flags seem to embody and chaos as we dodged the monkeys and evaded the pressing sellers. Reaching the top was a feat in itself, but turning around to see a view of Kathmandu valley made the trip well worth it. At the temple, we had time to reflect and pray for Nepali people, Nepali Buddhists, Nepali Christians and of course, take in all the colour!
Before our next stop, an INF orientation, we had time for a quick tea-break (I’m traveling with 7 English people on this trip – I think there’s always time for a tea-break!) to refresh ourselves before an afternoon of learning about the organisation that has brought us all to Nepal.
After a quick tour of the INF worldwide office, we were treated to a couple of hours of teaching and Q&A with Martin, the communications director, Val, the Nepali diaspora program director (and INF’s longest serving member!) and Seeta, the acting executive director of INF. We learnt a lot about the wonderful work INF is doing here in Nepal with health, development, the church and Nepali diaspora around the world. There’s no doubt why so many Nepali people know exactly who INF are when I share why I’m here – INF has such a presence here in Nepal and definitely has a place in the hearts of many Nepali people.
We continued our learning over dinner with the wider INF team, including some of the families working here. Dinner was daal bhat and it was so tasty, I think we’re going to like getting used to eating it whilst we’re here!
As we venture around Nepal in the next two weeks, I look forward to sharing our insights and experiences of the INF projects and people we are visiting. I am particularly looking forward to visiting the Green Pasture Leprosy Hospital in Pokhara.
Stay tuned next time for a recap of our adventure to Pokhara – from the delayed plane ride to the serene atmosphere, sitting right under the Himalayas, as well as a proper introduction to the Vision Trip team.