Into the Mountains
Part 1 of 90 Days in Nepal
Nepal. Captivating, intriguing, authentic; home to the highest peaks and most exquisite valleys; a land of snows on the roof of the world; home to the legendary Sherpas of Everest and the Tharus of the jungles - all crammed into a small nation half the size of California.
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By Kevin McFarland
Visited from April through June, 2018
I N T R O D U C T I O N
Growing up I often found myself scrolling through books detailing its reserves, pouring over traveler’s tales and missionary’s fates, dreaming about trekking village to village and sharing tea with locals, to even obsessing over a single video game due to its Nepali setting. I could go on and on with my imaginations of Nepal, as here, with its irregularly shaped flag and ineffable charisma, has been firmly fixtured on the top of my bucket list. What this nation, Nepal, conveys to myself and others will surely vary. The difference of meaning from just myself and my wife, Mary, was a chasm. To most, Nepal is known as a small strip of Himalayan land between two great nations, China and India, and beyond that, besides Everest, nothing else. And yet to others, its geographical location cannot even be remotely pinpointed. Regardless the differences, the Nepal chapter of our lives was about to start. And for me, that was a big deal.
Before the story unfolds, let me remind the readers that I am known to be a careful risk-taker. What I mean is that I prefer to go off-roading in life, but with a deliberately crafted itinerary. Take for instance, our journey through the Chinese region of Xinjiang in June 2017, the most remote part of China with ethnic clashes and instability blended with an aura of historical and geographical wonders. In 19 days, we overlanded 11,000 km using only public transportation and hitchhiking, dodged police checkpoints (which ultimately caught up to us in the final day), pitched our tent in the most unlikely of places, and experienced the kindness of locals, whether it be Uyghurs or Kazakhs, Muslims or Buddhists.
But this excursion was by no means a play-it-by-the-ear kind of trip; I vigilantly researched and arranged the schedule for the trip, down to even when we would hitchhike and which bus number to take in town. I relish in being in control of the situation, although it can’t always be so. But with detailed planning, the chances for something to go awry lessens. You see, this may seem intelligent to some and ease worries on the parent’s part, it is not necessarily how life should be lived daily. When we are what seems to be, in control, we become our own “saviors” with little need of help. For Nepal, my extent of planning extended to two items: we will stay here for 90 days (the length of our visa), regardless what happens, and I want to take a couple weeks for trekking in the Himalayas. That’s it. This lack of planning is wholly intentional, and as we know not one person in Nepal, the door is wide open for anything to happen – and I mean anything.
T H E - B E G I N N I N G
All journeys have a beginning somewhere; after all, one never just arrives at the destination without making the effort to get there. Whereas Nepal can be thought of the center of the Earth (after all, it does contain 8 of the 10 highest peaks on Earth, squished between the two most populous nations), our journey begins on what some may call the edge of the Earth, the rim of the Pacific Ocean, where water clashes with the Earth. This is true for both my hometown, San Diego, and Mary’s hometown, Wenzhou, both coastal towns on the Pacific, albeit opposite sides of it. Whereas I see sunsets overlooking over the Pacific, Mary sees sunrises over the Pacific. It is there, on the Western Pacific of China’s eastern coast, our journey unfolds.
The date is April 12, 2018 and we are cruising on a high-speed rail line from Cangnan to Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang, China. We are travelling to Hangzhou not as a tourist (we’ve done that already in 2015 and 2017), but for its international airport. In our possession are two backpacks, weighed in at exactly 7 kg each (15 lbs) and a small laptop bag. Yes, it is true we are moving to another country with just 30 pounds between the both of us. Is it by choice? Somewhat. Is it to save the ridiculous checked-in baggage fees? You bet.
I don’t want to exaggerate; we have more than 30 pounds between us. I am wearing three pants, two t-shirts, two sweaters, and a jacket, with about five books in my pockets. Mary has on two pants and about five upper layers and some books too. We also have our cameras around our necks, and Go-Pro, chargers, and phones in pockets. I enjoy packing challenges, but Air Asia’s 7 kg per person limit has really tested my skills, patience, and sweat-resistance. At least we will be warm on the plane. I open my phone to check out the weather for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our layover destination for two days – 103 degrees with thunderous conditions. I may die with those five layers in Malaysia before I even make it to Nepal.
After an uncomfortably warm two days in Malaysia, the connecting flight resumed swiftly northwest over the Bay of Bengal, Brahmaputra Delta, Gangetic Plain, and eventually into the Kathmandu Valley, where Nepal’s capital, largest city, and historic settlement of Kathmandu awaited. Our plane landed on the small airstrip, too small for the nation’s capital and only international airport. We disembarked the plane to board a shuttle bus that transported less than 100 feet – it would have been quicker to walk. All passengers then entered the small immigration room where we manually input our biometric information. The moment has come at last, where I can set foot on Nepali soil. After filling out the forms electronically, we made our way to the officers, paid the fee and entered Nepal.
ENTERED NEPAL. I had to let that sink in. I have made my way to this nation in the mountains at last. What surprises will it hold?
- This is Part 1 of a 4-Part Weekly Series "90 Days in Nepal."
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