Category Archives: Nepal

What Puking in Parvarti’s River Taught Me About Life

“I am Parvati!”

She ambushes me, taking my face in her hands, her head jiggling from side to side in a way I’ve heard about but never actually seen until now.

“Are you okay? You are sick?”

Yes. Talk about a solo female travel fail – I’ve gotten food poisoning in the middle of an 8-hour motorbike journey, on the very day I’m supposed to be meeting Deepak’s family.

The timing could not be worse, and what’s more – I can’t. Stop. Puking.

Parvarti is the neighbor girl who lives next door to Deepak’s family, and her beauty trumps any that has yet to appear in these posts.

She is more fabulouss than the would-be Polish model at The Lemon Tree, more womanly than Mrs. DeKash, more angelic than Deepak in stolen moments under the covers.

Her dark hair hangs loose around her shoulders, free and wild where the other women’s hair is tightly bound and wrapped.

Her skin is pale, a stark palette that highlights the richness of her eyebrows, dark half moons sketched with God’s paintbrush.

Her nose is slightly upturned, which makes her look impish, like she’s planning a practical joke that you’re going to just love.

She takes my hand, touches my hair, inspects me all over with wonder and excitement.

I let her give me the once over as everyone else in the village stares, which is far more comfortable than the way my stomach feels after the putrid, stagnant water I just drank.

“Would you like to see my river?!” yells Parvarti, absolutely bubbling over.

How could I say no? I’ve never heard anyone refer to a river as their river, and for all I know she might mean that literally.

Besides, even if I had a knife sticking out of my stomach and had to choose between going to the ER and going to see Parvarti’s river, I’d pick the river.  She’s that charming.

The others make way for us, as enamored with her beauty as they are with my strangeness.

She is the darling of the farm, and I imagine suitors from the surrounding provinces descending in droves to beg her grandmother for her hand.

Parvarti takes my hand in hers, and for a moment I imagine myself her chosen suitor as we walk together across the dirt road towards the surrounding fields.

She leads me along a network of dirt pathways, helping me keep my balance without toppling onto the budding crops.

Each pathway is about two feet wide and a foot high, and runs the length of the land so that farmers can walk between crops without stepping on them.

“This my garden” says Parvarti, gesturing to the plot of land to our right. “I grow onion, tomato, cauli-flowers.”

“And this garden?” I ask, gesturing to the empty, overgrown, weed-infested plot to the left. “Is this yours too?”

“That Deepak garden” laughs Parvarti. “Is not very good.”

If I wasn’t so distracted by my nausea, I might be more inclined to investigate the obvious metaphor I’m now looking at – the lush, abundant field tended by Parvarti’s hand, and the hot, unattended mess that has been borne of Deepak’s neglect.

We make our way through the fields to a cluster of trees that lie along the banks of a bubbling brook.

“My river!” exclaims Parvarti proudly, looking at me to see if I’m impressed.

I withdraw my hand from hers, look wildly around for the best place to go, see nowhere, walk a few feet towards the water, and vomit right into Parvarti’s precious river.

“I’m sorry!” I gasp between wretches. She says nothing but waits, watches me, stands patiently by a tree.

Again. And again. Into the tall grass. Into her river. There is nothing to clean myself with, I am filth incarnate, I have never been so ashamed.

I dare to look at Parvati, who is doing the head bob at me, looking mildly concerned.

“I’m so sorry” I say again, not knowing what else to say. What are you supposed to say when you puke in someone’s river?

As we walk back to the house, me having completely defiled the most precious thing in her life, Parvarti takes my hand again and begins humming a soft little Hindi song.

She doesn’t care that I’m filthy. She doesn’t care that I’ve just vommed in her river, the only possession she has, the thing that is most precious to her in the entire world.

In fact, the entire episode, which seems incredibly dramatic and awful and unsettling to me, doesn’t seem to have ruffled her feathers at all.

She passes me off to the other women with an easy smile, certain that I’m going to feel better soon.

She leaves just as easily as she arrived, not knowing that she has dwarfed my childish, petulant ego with the might of her magnificent heart.

To be like Parvarti – filled with joy in the face of the everyday, unconcerned in the face of disaster – has become my only goal in life.

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Murder, Mayhem, and an Asshole from New York (Part 1)

There were two Turkish restaurants in town. They stood side by side, on the gravel road that hugged the north side of the lake, and were owned by the same man.

The restaurant on the left served the same food as the restaurant on the right, and the owner tended to serve whichever crowd was largest, which would often force diners at the neglected restaurant to migrate to the busier one in hopes of being served.

The service was notoriously slow, the food notoriously delicious, and on a particular December evening a hungry pack of travelers had gathered to partake in shared plates of fried eggplant and manti with thick yogurt and pilaf and beer, endless bottles of dirt cheer beer in dusty bottles.

They sat on the floor on plush pillows, and friends trickled in one by one, in twos and fours, until the dimly-lit restaurant with the low ceiling was filled with foreign tramps and vagabonds – the British guy from India, the brunette writing the travel book, the American  woman who’d cycled South America, the Ecuadorian couple who’d just trekked the Annapurna circuit, and the spritely 20-year old in her sixth month of solo-cycling the planet.

Soon locals mixed with tourists and there was no rhyme or reason to the cozy haven, which spun with an energy the romantics among them would later describe as magical.

The fragrance of incense mixed with the scent of minced meat and sizzling vegetables. Candles served as the only source of light save a dim lamp with a tasseled shade that illuminated the host stand in the corner.

The feeling of being in the right place at the right time was palpable – this evening, this moment was exactly why everyone in the room had made the journey to Nepal, and why they traveled in the first place; to slip inside the beating heart of earth’s eternal family, to become one with the mind of the planet, to feel like they belonged precisely because of their differences.

And then two assholes had to go and ruin the whole thing.

The first asshole was this awful woman from New York,  a restaurant patron sitting a few tables away whom Chris never would have noticed if the American and the brunette hadn’t suddenly rolled their eyes in unison at the sound of her voice.

“I can’t stand it” said the American.

Right?!” agreed the brunette in irritation. “New Yorkers.”

“How can you tell she’s from New York?” asked Chris, baffled and impressed.

“That accent” said the brunette.

“The volume” said the American.

 “The complaining” said the 20-year old cyclist, who was Canadian, but apparently could spot a New Yorker when she heard one across the din of a tiny Turkish restaurant.

The Ecuadorians chatted with each other in Spanish, quite oblivious to the fact that had they understood English better, they too would have been suitably irritated.

“OH MY GOD I KNOW, RIGHT?” shouted the voice, completely oblivious to the agreed-upon volume levels that had been subliminally determined by everyone else in the restaurant.

Once it was pointed out to him, the bright, grating voice of the New York asshole was all Chris could hear. He made a mental note to be more like the Ecuadorians, and only travel to countries where he did not speak the language. When you don’t know what people are saying, he thought, it’s much easier to like them.

“EXCUSE ME? EXCUSE ME! HELLO! OH MY GOD OUR WAITER IS NOT EVEN – HI. HELLO. WE HAVE LIKE, ZERO NAPKINS AT OUR TABLE. NAP-KINS. TISSUE? YEAH. CAN YOU BRING SOME, LIKE, ASAP? THAT MEANS RIGHT NOW, NOT IN LIKE, THREE HOURS. THAAAAANK YOUUUUUU.”

They all listened to the obnoxious symphony for a few moments, the Americans and the Canadian shuddering.

“Holy shit” breathed Chris softly. “It’s positively dreadful.”

They nodded at him solemnly, sighing into their eggplant.

“The way we feel about her must be the way the rest of the world feels when they hear Americans speak” said the brunette.

Everyone agreed with the astute observation.

“…AND THEN I WAS LIKE, I’M FROM NEW YORK! I MEAN, AM I RIGHT?”

“She like a caricature of herself” mused Chris.

“It’s not completely her fault” said the brunette, ever the diplomat. “Her city is so big and loud that she has to compete to survive. She’s under the impression that if she doesn’t scream, she won’t be heard. If she doesn’t scream, she’ll die.”

“But we’re not in New York” said Chris.

“Touché” said the brunette, grinning.

Just then, as if demonstrating the validity of their observations, the New York asshole called  out across the entire dining room to the waiter, breaking about 17 cultural subtleties of dining in a Turkish restaurant in Nepal.

The entire dining process in Nepal takes quite a bit longer than it does in the West, because it is assumed that you are dining out for the experience, not simply to assuage your growing hunger.

That’s why it takes 20 minutes for your order to be taken, another 15 for the beer to come, and so on. Sometimes you have to eat a meal right before you go out to dinner, just so you don’t starve before your food arrives.

It’s also not customary for the waiter to bring you your bill; it would be considered rude, as if the proprietor was throwing you out of the restaurant before you were ready to leave. If you are ready for the bill, you must ask for the bill.

In typical American fashion, the New York asshole assumed that the lack of attention to her and her table wasn’t a cultural idiosyncrasy of Nepal, but a personal affront to her and a sign of deliberate neglect.

EXCUSE ME, CAN WE GET OUR CHECK, PLEASE? GOD.”

“If I murder her right now, will you visit me in Nepalese jail?” whispered the brunette to Chris.

“Only every single day” he whispered back.

It was ironic, though not inappropriate, that she’d brought up the topic of murder.

Especially since one was about to take place when the second asshole of the evening stepped through the back door of the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right, wielding a butcher knife in his right hand.

For Part 2, click here.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Murder, Mayhem, and an Asshole from New York (Part 2)

When these things happen, these sudden blips on the heart monitor of life, these moments you write home about and get interviewed about by local reporters (and if the event is really shocking, national reporters), everyone always says the same thing: “It all happened so fast.”

And so it was for the American woman, the Canadian cyclist, the Ecuadorian couple, the British guy from India, the brunette writer, and the New York Asshole that night in the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

The smattering of locals that had slipped inside the restaurant earlier in the evening had slumped into the back left corner, and were having a ball of a time getting drunk on raksi, the equivalent of Nepalese bathtub gin.

At one point during the evening, one of the Nepali men has joined their table, slurring his words and asking them all where they were from. Upon seeing Chris’ disapproving look and making sure none of the women at the table were likely to sleep with him that night, he gave up and returned to his den of debauchery in the corner.

Later, just as the brunette was set to murder the New York Asshole, there was a flash of white light to her left.

A man had entered the restaurant from the back door. He swept in swiftly and was immediately restrained by the young hostess and two male waiters who noticed him first.

The brunette looked to her left and saw, not two feet from her face, the cold steel of a fat butcher’s knife catching a glint of the tasseled lamplight.

The man broke free from the staff, raised his arm above his head, and with a wild war cry rushed toward the back table, toward the drunken locals and their empty bottle of raksi.

It could never be said that a roar went up from the crowd so much as a gasp, an immediate silence, a rush of out, out, out, out!

Chris had never had his animal instincts completely take over before. In that moment he had no thought for the brunette or the cyclist or the American or even the Ecuadorians. His only thought was to get as far away from that butcher knife as he possibly could as fast as he possibly could.

In the ensuing chaos,  with the crowd of diners bottlenecking the front door, the women grabbing their purses and shrieking, there was pivotal moment when Chris decided that no, he wasn’t overreacting and yes, this was indeed an emergency.

In that moment Chris made to turn from the scene of the crime toward to the door. And it was in that split second turn that he saw her hips, those same hips backing away from danger, leading the brunette away from death.

And as they sprinted full speed into the night, away from the restaurant and the butcher-wielding murderer, he couldn’t help thinking “this is the dance she does when she is afraid. She is afraid of me.”

It was also not lost on Chris that in a moment of mortal danger everyone, himself included, panicked as politely as possible, not wanting to make too big a scene in case this whole butcher knife-thing was just some sort of terrible practical joke.

——————–

When the smoke cleared there were four of them left, and what a quadruplet they were: Orion, constant and belted against the black winter sky, the New York Asshole, terrified and giddy, her tough exterior melted away in the face of real fear, Chris and the brunette, panting and out of breath as they’d been on their hike up to the stupa.

The rest of the crowd had dispersed, they’d lost their friends, everyone had run all the way home in terror and the excitement of something real and tangible actually happening, and happening to them.

They stood in the street, which was silent and dark, having stopped some 100 yards away from the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

Chris and the two women stared in each other’s faces for a few moments, looking for signs of just how frightened they should or shouldn’t be, looking to see if what just happened had, in fact, just happened.

“Should we go back?”

“We didn’t pay for our meals.”

“That poor restaurant owner, he just lost his entire night’s earnings.”

The New York Asshole had already paid her bill, as everyone in the restaurant was well aware, so she bid them farewell and they departed warmly, bonded in the way only tragedy can bond, connected on a level that’s only realized when the ego is silenced and for one sweet moment all that’s left is sheer, unadulterated humanity – that nameless innocence and sweetness common to all who walk the earth, even the jerk from New York.

Chris and the brunette decided to return and pay their bill. Perhaps they wanted another rush of excitement, another shot of danger. They weren’t alone.

A small crowd remained outside the restaurant. The police had come, they’d be questioned, they’d pay their bill, and they’d assure the devastated restaurant owner that no, this incident was not going to ruin his business forever. After all, people could always go eat at the other Turkish restaurant, the one on the left.

The butcher had been sent home with a warning, escorted by the police. Apparently one of the drunken locals had said something rude to him, something disrespectful, something that warranted a stabbing. But in the end no one was hurt except the restaurateur.

The man who was the intended victim, the one who’d almost been butchered to death, was wild-eyed and talking a mile a minute. He grabbed the brunette, shook her by the shoulders and said “You saw. You were closest. What did I do? I just needed to use the bathroom, he was in there, I told him to hurry up. It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong. Did I do something wrong? It’s not my fault.”

Chris gently lifted his fingers from the brunette’s shoulders, speaking in soothing tones, agreeing with him.

“Of course it’s not your fault.”

They extracted themselves from the shaken victim and walked home together, both quiet, both ruminating on the fact that they themselves could have been butchered tonight.

And yet not even that, not even being faced with their own deaths, was enough to convince either of them to speak up about their feelings for the other.

And so Orion’s belt was gazed upon, the hips tilted backward to prevent the kiss that didn’t happen, and they made plans to see each other again the following day.

For Part 1 of this post, click here.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

No Privacy Nepal

The man’s hand is cool on my forehead. The room is dark and his traditional flat-topped hat is silhouetted against the light leaking in from the flimsy, hung tapestry that serves as a door.

Like everyone else in the village, he has waltzed right into my sick room without knocking – not that there is even a door to knock upon.

After the incident at the river, The Mother, and possibly even Deepak, is finally convinced that I am ill and must rest.

And eat. Lots and lots of food.

In addition to plastic bottles filled with warm, stagnant water, women and children parade into the bedroom with dish after dish of what I assume they think will cure me.

I try to explain to Deepak that I cannot eat, that eating is what got me into this mess in the first place.

He’s not getting it.

“You just try” he says.

And I do, knowing full well the little bit of rice and soup I manage to ingest is coming right back up.

I’ve been placed in the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. DeKash, and if I wasn’t about to hurl, might feel a bit strange lying on the same rock-hard slab that serves as their marriage bed. This is where he makes love. With no doors, with people coming in and out whenever they please, with no secrets, no privacy anywhere.

Do they try to be quiet? Are they as loud as they please and everyone hears them and it’s fine because they’re married?

The tall man with the flattop hat removes his hand from my forehead and abruptly leaves the room, shouting something important-sounding to someone outside.

I wonder for a moment if he’s the village medicine man, or the mayor. His towering height must’ve been rewarded with some position of power.

Two humble shelves have been attached to the stone wall above my sick bed. One holds a stick of deodorant, a bottle of lotion, a pink plastic comb, and a tiny hand mirror.

The second shelf holds a carefully-coiled cell phone charger and a photograph of The Mother and Deepak’s father on their wedding day. They are sitting two feet apart from each other, unsmiling, having been positioned in front of an enormous Mount Everest backdrop. I’m certain when looking at the picture that it’s the only one she’s ever had taken of herself, the only one she’s ever kept.

Other photographs and posters dot the walls – Army Brother in his uniform, which makes him look exactly like Bullwinkle; a decorative plate that must’ve been someone’s wedding gift; a poster of a famous Bollywood actress baring her midriff.

The young boy who has remained at my bedside since the Mayor left stares at me expectantly, watching to see if I’m going to die, which he seems to think would be a pretty cool thing to see.

I can’t entertain him, and allow my eyes to close, knowing full well that he’s still standing six inches from me, staring at me intently.

Feeling like shit is a really quick, easy way to let all of your cultural conditioning about privacy and boundaries go out the window.

In and out, in and out they come. There’s a foreigner in the village! An American! A woman! She threw up in Parvarti’s river! And the Mayor says she’s going to die!

I’m the most exciting thing that’s happened since Shiva’s buffalo from two farms over was born with an extra leg. 

When the latest horde of visitors gets bored and decides to go torment the goats (who, by the way, have been in and out of my sick room as well), there is a lone figure leaning against the doorless doorway.

I squint in the din, looking for Deepak’s easy smile, but the lips are upturned in a smirk.

“You are sick” says DeKash, Deepak’s younger, unruly, inconveniently attractive brother.

We are alone in the room and through the stench of vomit and sweat and misery, my body still responds to him, inviting him closer.

“This is my room” says Dekash.

I know. More like this is your bed. The bed where you get naked with your wife after The Mother is finally asleep, being careful not to wake the snoozing buffalo.

His English is light years better than Deepak’s, perhaps that’s why Deepak is nowhere to be found. I’ve been pawned off on the women for health, on DeKash for conversation.

His presence makes something spin inside me, and the last thing my stomach needs is more spinning.  Another wave of nausea overtakes me, and I am sitting up frantically, pushing past DeKash, running for the “toilet.”

Everyone can hear me retching, it is everywhere, I am naked in front of these strangers, these judging eyes. The cement slab beneath the water pump is filled with my mess, and I can’t help but wonder how on earth people shit here.

Cold sweat breaks out on my forehead, I’m squatting in the filth, my nose and face a mess, shaking, tears leaking from my eyes.

Suddenly I feel two dry, warm hands pressed against my forehead, not letting go. They hold me fast, steadying me, calming the shakes. Hands well practiced at soothing, at making everything OK.

I place my hand over the mystery hands in gratitude, saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I cannot look at her but I know they are the hands of The Mother.

Without standing up, I reach my hand up, trying to touch the handle of the water pump with my fingers.

“Please” I beg, gesturing to the vomit, the mess I’ve made of their super weird toilet. “Please.”

She understands that I want it gone, I need it cleaned, I am ashamed.

I sit squatting on wet cement, the buffalo yawning at my plight, while The Mother pumps and pumps the water until all the evidence has been washed through the narrow openings in the grid covering the drain.

At rock bottom, squatting in one’s own filth, the perks of communal living begin to become apparent.

I am one of the flock, I need to be looked after. I must accept the help that’s offered me, for my own good and for the good of everyone here.

Each individual in the community is one limb of a connected body that survives or perishes based on how everyone works together.

They haven’t been barging into my sickroom because they’re curious. They’re naturally interested in my fate because it impacts them directly – in communal Nepal, all illnesses, recoveries, victories and defeats are suffered by all and celebrated by all.

It’s taken the steadying strength of The Mother’s warm hands to make me begin to see the enormous benefit, the enormous power, of living life this way.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

When one takes it upon oneself to get food poisoning in a remote village in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Nepal, one must be prepared to live like the Nepalese do in such a village.

That means whatever is coming up (and/or out) of your body is everybody's business, and that the town mayor may very well enter your sick room, place his hand on your forehead, and utter the curse of the dead to the delight of a dozen gawking children.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Traveling Alone Vs. Traveling With a Partner

Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world, an experience I believe every traveler should take advantage of at some point during his or her life.

Traveling alone enables you the freedom to do what you want, when you want, while showing you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.

As a solo traveler you are normally more social as well, going out of your way to meet locals and travelers alike because you don’t constantly have someone by your side. You end up creating long lasting friendships that defy distance and time.

But what happens when you meet your partner and you begin to travel as two instead of one?

Travel as a couple is supposed to be perfect, right? Visiting romantic, exotic places together, sharing new dishes at sunset, and visiting the world’s tallest peaks or most serene lakes hand in hand.

It’s impossible not to romanticize. After traveling alone for nearly two years, I have recently begun traveling with my partner, and though I wouldn’t exchange the experience for the world, I have realized that each type of travel – traveling as a couple and traveling alone – has its perks and disadvantages.

Our trip together started out rough.

Within a week of my partner joining me in Nepal he fell ill with everything from giardia to typhoid fever. His illness prevented us from cycling (a bummer when you have set out to cycle around the world) and completing a trek I had been waiting six months to do.

I was distraught. How was it that life was no longer going my way, that I was suddenly unable to do the things I wanted to do because of someone else?

But that’s the thing with traveling as two –  you learn to compromise. You learn to put the other person first even when it’s the last thing you truly want to do, and you learn to work around problems together rather than separately, just like you would need to in a successful relationship back home.

Just because we are on the road doesn’t mean that all of our troubles have disappeared, it just means we are faced with different ones than we would be back home.

Now that we have settled into more of a routine, a give and take that I have realized is extremely important while traveling with someone else, I love traveling with my guy.

For the first time, I have someone to share my adventures and stories with, someone who understands how hard the last pass was to cycle over or how great our last camping spot in the mountains was.

Traveling with someone is also a great way to strengthen and improve your relationship as it enables you both to work together through stressful or unusual situations.

Traveling with somebody shows you who that person truly is because you’re with them constantly, and enables them to see you clearly as well. It’s a learning experience, once that requires time and patience to perfect, but one that also provides both of you with an enormous reward, the beauty of traveling as two.

So which is right for you? If you are alone, take advantage of this time to explore the world for yourself in your own way, unhindered by anything but your own imagination.

And if you have already found that special person you want to travel with, then go for it instead, because travel as two is an adventure all its own.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Makalu: Trekking the Himalayas

The last four hours trekking the Himalayas haven’t been that bad. In fact, even though I have gained nearly 1,000 meters of altitude, it’s been pretty fun! That is, until 10 minutes ago….

Unfortunately, the last ten minutes have proven that the rest of the day is about to get a whole lot slower.

For the first time in over a decade there is still snow on the route, snow that has normally melted by the end of February but will clearly be here at least a few more weeks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love snow. I absolutely love the mountains, and usually when I see snow, I feel right at home being from a cold snowy place myself.

But I guess it’s a little different when that snow is greatly hindering your progress up a never ending vertical slope.

After a few more hours of panting and slipping I arrive, completely soaked, to a small house in the middle of nowhere.

This guest house, called a tea house in the trekking regions of Nepal, is run by a Tibetan Nepali woman, and is open throughout the season in order to provide climbers a dry place to sleep and eat on their approach to Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world.

 

trekking-the-himalayas-5

Though there are other trekkers who simply wish to visit the base camp, this area is mostly composed of true mountaineers, many of whom have already climbed some of the world’s most renowned peaks such as K2 and Everest.

I order a “dalbaht,” the typical rice and lentils found everywhere in Nepal, and though it’s much more expensive than usual, I understand why.

As we are now a four day’s walk from civilization, the food has to be carried up here everyday in order for us trekkers and climbers to eat.

In fact, on my way through the snow I met three teenage boys racing down the hill (in flip flops no less!). They were making their way down the mountain to a lower supply village in order to fill up the empty baskets on their heads, and then begin the long trudge back up the steep snowy slopes.

It is wet and cold as I set up the tent, and throughout the next two nights trekking the Himalayas I realize that the weather in this particular area is absolutely miserable.

The clouds are constant and the cold is bone-chilling because everything is so wet. I do get a fifteen minute break at sunrise though, and realize that the giant Himalayas are indeed surrounding us, tantalizing us by staying so hidden most of the time. 

trekking-the-himalayas-2

After talking with the lady who runs this tea house I realize that her family owns the guest houses farther along this trek as well.

While she is in charge of this one, her husband caters to the one on the other side of the gigantic pass in front of us. And beyond that, her husband’s brother is stationed at the next one.

Their children are all in private boarding schools lower down, and one is even going to school in Kathmandu. There is good money in running a tea house such as this, but it is also a lot of work.

trekking-the-himalayas-3
The woman is up at dawn preparing tea and food for the climbers and trekkers who want to get an early start to the day, and then spends the rest of the morning cleaning up in order to prepare for the next group who may or may not be trekking the Himalayas that day. 

It is cold, and in this case, very snowy, and to run this guest house she is forced to live away from her family for months at a time.

I’m thankful she is here though. Even though I am carrying a fair amount of food and am mostly self-sufficient due to the tent, there is no way I could carry enough to last me along this twenty-day trek without being able to buy meals at the mountain tea houses such as this one.

The Makalu base camp trek is a great alternative for trekkers who want something less crowded and popular than the overrun treks of Annapurna and Everest.

trekking-the-himalayas-1

 

Situated in the East, it’s inaccessibility is what keeps most people away as it requires a twenty-five hour bus ride (or half an hour flight) from Kathmandu to reach the last town in the area where the trek begins.

The long travel overland is more than worth it for the beauty this twenty-day trek grants you, and the peacefulness of being nearly alone among the 8,000-meter giants.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Trekking the Himalayas doesn't have to mean over-touristed circuits like Annapurna and Everest.

Head east of Kathmandu to Makalu for isolation and amazing views!

It takes 25 hours by bus to reach the trail head from Kathmandu, so be prepared to be surrounded by hardcore adventure travelers and true mountaineers.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Women of Nepal: At home in the kitchen

The family knew that Christmas was the Achilles’ heel of Westerners.

There were a few scattered festivals and parades throughout the town, but they were all presented in a way that lacked the cheer of the season.

A lone, Charlie Brown Christmas tree guarded the entrance to an alleyway on Lakeside Drive, and a handful of restaurants hung a few extra lights in honor of the season.

Many wrote “Happy Christmas” or simply “Christmas!” on the chalkboard signs that served to entice customers to enter, but besides the copious amount of mulled wine Chris and the brunette had enjoyed together, there wasn’t much that felt like Christmas.

And so Christmas was the family’s chance to unwrap her, unwrap the mystery of the writing room, find out more about the man who came to visit in the mornings, about the days at a time when she’d disappear completely and sometimes call them to say she wouldn’t be returning, but that of course she’d still be paying for the room.

The wife had prepared a special dinner – dried buffalo meat as an appetizer, followed by an extra special dahlbat with curried vegetables and potatoes and a beautiful, rich yogurt that may as well have been a dessert.

The brunette brought a handle of Red Stag at the husband’s request – it was his favorite, expensive.

Chris had managed to find a bottle of red wine which had definitely turned, but that him and the brunette drank anyway, painful sip after painful sip.

The husband talked about American music, then American movies, then American books.

The wife hid in the kitchen, periodically appearing to disperse more and more food. The sons were lost in a football match on the tiny television set, and the husband eventual lost himself in the bourbon.

And so it was that the Christmas dinner belonged to the two of them alone, surrounded as they were by an entire family, a silent family who spoke to each other and not to them, a wife who, as was custom, never joined the table to impart in the meal she’d just so painstakingly created.

And all they could see on this, this Christmas Eve, was each other, laughing across the table. Laughing, eating and drinking as the only two people on earth, until the yawns of the family forced them to retire to the brunette’s guest room.

“You make it feel like Christmas” said the brunette, and Chris’s heart swelled in his chest, ripe to burst.

They sat in the little alcove created by a table and two chairs, their stockinged feet upon the table, him smoking, her drinking, both marveling at how the wife never joined them.

“I feel bad she never ate! When does she eat?”

“It must be perfectly normal. It must be a woman’s duty, a wife’s duty.”

“It’s slavery. Indentured servitude. I’ll have none of it” he said.

“You’re such a feminist,” she said.

“Can you imagine slaving away for hours then standing by and watching while everyone else gets to eat, and no one even thanks you?”

“But to her, it’s honorable. To her, she is acting as a good wife. It’s only when you tell her something is wrong with it that she becomes dissatisfied.

And that’s what we do, isn’t it? Go around the planet telling people they she be dissatisfied with their lives, that they should want plasma screen televisions, that they should be discontent unless and until they have all the things we have, all the things we think we need to be happy.

And we do it not for them, but to convince ourselves that the pursuit of stuff is worth it – that the endless chase has some sort of purpose.

The most offensive person to the American ideal, the enemy of the ideal, is the person who is perfectly happy living a simple, quiet life without a car, without a nice house, without ego, without identity.

Shova is no one special. And Shova is happy as a clam. Her happiness defies everything we’ve been taught about what happiness should look like.

Happiness is waking early, lighting a stick of incense, and giving thanks for all the days that have brought you to this one.

I see the beauty in her eyes when she looks at her husband with pure adoration, and the tenderness with which he looks at her. And the honor and esteem she feels having cooked a wonderful meal her family enjoys, whether they say thank you or not. I see a woman who is thriving, at the top of her game, a woman who is living the dream.

We have decided there is no honor in her position, but she doesn’t know that, and because she doesn’t know that she is happy.

It is the greatest cruelty in the world to force your reality onto someone else, to say ‘See? What you have isn’t nearly good enough, you should be devastated.’

And I think that a lot of the time, that’s what we do when we come into developing countries trying to ‘help.’

But you know what? For all of our Western medicine and flat screen TVs and technology and individualism, all of our efforts to “fix” the “Third world,” it is our countries that are filled with miserable people.

People whose egos run their lives, people who are never content with what they have, people who have to schedule kid-time into their smartphone app, people so spoiled and stuffed with poison that they pay other people money so that they can eat less food, people who abuse themselves for decades then expect doctors to be able to fix them, people obsessed, obsessed, obsessed with fame and success, people who resent the famous and the successful, hypocrites who strive to be beautiful then hate those who achieve beauty, people for whom the best is never, never, never enough.

And me, and you, and all of those people could learn a thing or two from a woman breathing in and out, breathing life into her nostrils each morning as she lights her incense, with a song in her heart and on her lips, more than content with her lot, perfectly grateful to be of service, aware of the perfection of her position in the world, certain that she is blessed by her God and certain she is fulfilling his calling.”

He had listened to it all as he always did, letting her spew her ideas into the air of the room, watching her as whatever entity was speaking spoke through her. And he loved her fully and completely then.

“I still say she should open her own restaurant” he said softly, smiling.

She threw a pillow at him, laughing.

They regarded each other for a moment until she removed herself from the visual embrace, stepping out of it on tiptoe.

“You have to leave” she said suddenly with no explanation.

“Ok…” he tilted his head, confused. What had he done to offend her?

“It’s late” she said in way of explanation. A bullshit explanation.

He didn’t budge from his perch, and she sighed and stood up and began pacing the floor, backing her hips away as she’d done every night when they’d parted under the constellations.

“You have to leave because if you don’t leave, we’re going to make love, and I can’t. I just can’t.”

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Nepal’s Holi Festival of Colors

As my face is gently smeared with color for the fourth time I suddenly think “Oh! So that’s how it’s done.”

While foreigners viciously throw the powdered color used to celebrate Holi Festival, the Nepalis smear it on your face. gently, with reverence. And I’m trusting them to know how it’s supposed to be done – it’s their holiday after all.

As I parade down the street with my group of friends, we are continually smeared with paint and shot with water guns. This mix of water and color creates a sloppy yet beautiful mess all over our faces and clothes. And little do we know, this is just the start to the crazy festival of colors known as Holi Festival. 

The screaming and singing confirms that we are close before I can see the thousands of colorful Nepalis dancing in the square.

We have followed the crowd, which has led us into the heart of the city to the scene of a bustling party of extreme proportions, and of course, color.

As we try and make our way through we are “attacked” from every side. Being a Westerner, every Nepali wants to smear their own handful of power on your cheeks no matter how covered you may already be.

It’s hard to make any progress when all you see are green, red, and yellow hands in front of your face, but I don’t mind. Today is all about the experience.

Holi-festival-2

A group of young Nepalis pull us into a dancing circle, and we suddenly find ourselves learning to dance as they do, the music pounding in our ears.

It’s fun, but as I prefer to watch, I quietly sneak out to the sidelines to observe.

Around me there are thousands of young Nepalis laughing and celebrating, and I realize that a city has rarely looked as alive as it does today.

Though smearing color may be the purpose of this gathering, it also looks like a perfectly good excuse for a day off to party, get together with friends, and celebrate life. It’s the buzzing atmosphere that makes this day feel so special.

We sit down to eat at a small outdoor restaurant and watch as children run up and down the street chasing each other with water and color, mercilessly pouring both down on their friend’s heads. What a festival indeed.

I have always seen documentaries of Holi Festival depicting this infamous color-throwing Hindu holiday, but I never thought I would get to experience it for real.

Holi-festival-3

 

Though I knew the holiday took place in India, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it with my own eyes that it would also be celebrated in Nepal. 

Being smeared with the powder myself fulfilled my lifelong dream of partaking in the chaotic festival of colors. Creating and receiving a mess has never been so much fun.

Have you experienced Holi Festival? Where? Would you do it again?

by Shirine Taylor a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Holi Festival takes place in Nepal as well as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and many other countries around the world

2. One part of the Holi festival involves getting smeared head to toe with brightly colored paints, throwing paint at friends and strangers, and using water and water guns to liquefy paint powders

3. You probably don't want to bring your camera or smartphone to Holi Festival!!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top 10 Things Said During 6 Months of Travel

Last December, when I’d been out of the country for less than a month, I met Shirine, my friend and co-conspirator who frequently guest posts here on the blog.

At the time, Shirine had just finished 6 months of travel and was looking forward to another 5-6 years on the road.

I remember thinking “Wow! 6 months?! That is such a long time!”

The other day I passed the 6-month mark, and I really can’t believe I’ve made it this far, especially after getting off to such a rocky start.

I’m not a seasoned traveler like many bloggers – I’m a total newbie, especially compared to folks who’ve been on the road for 3, 5, 10 years.

But 6 months has been enough time to a) completely shift my perspective on, well, just about everything, and b) collect some awesome travel quotes.

I like when bloggers do milestone check-ins, recounting what they’ve learned after 12 months, 2 years, or a decade of nomadism.

Instead of going into what I’ve learned, which can be easily summed up as “Everything I thought I knew about everything was wrong,” I thought it’d be more fun to honor some of the verbal gems that have been thrown my way during my time in Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

#10 – “Why are you so fat?”

This woman is only 87 years old, but looks much older from a life of hard living

“Why are you so fat?”

Where it happened: A remote village somewhere outside Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: A paper-thin, impossibly frail, startling ancient grandmother. She was 87 but looked about 127, and she wasn’t trying to be rude. She really wanted to know what the hell I was eating to make me 4x her size.

My response: “Because I’m American. Can I take your picture?”

#9 – “Your number is old, but your face is young”

"You number is old, but your face is young"

“You number is old, but your face is young”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Who said it: My friend Thida, after asking how old I was. She was interested in hooking me up with her friend Ritti, but once she found out I was 32 (ancient in Asia, but especially in Cambodia), she changed her mind.

My response: “Thank you. In my country, it’s hip to date older women. Ritti should reconsider. I can be his cougar.”

#8 – “You give me your money!”

Where it happened: On a rickety local bus somewhere between Sa Dec and Chau Doc, Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Who said it: An old woman sitting next to me on the bus. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and when she saw me, I could see the wheels start turning.

I could tell she used to speak English, used to use it regularly, but that it had been years since she’d spoken the language, and languages have a funny way of abandoning you without constant attention.

She sat next to me, smiling and struggling, and I waited patiently for her to remember “Hello” and “How are you?” and “Nice to meet you, my name is Phuong.”

Instead, what popped out what the most important phrase in the English language,

My response: I smiled, repeated the phrase back to her, and held out my palm so she could give me her money. We had a good laugh and she didn’t pester me again.

#7 – “I would never eat my own dog”

Where it happened: Cat Ba Island  Vietnam

Who said it: My friend Mr. Tuyen as he was explaining the subtle nuances of dog-consumption to me.

“But to me, a dog is like a member of the family. I could never eat a dog.”

Mr. Tuyen then clarified that one never eats the family dog – that would be barbaric – one only eats other people’s family dogs. Or stray dogs, because they’re tasty too.

My response: “You’re sure this is chicken, right?”

#6 – “Why must you wash your body every day?”

"Why must you wash your body every day?"

“Why must you wash your body every day?”

Where it happened: The middle of nowhere in Nepal

Who said it: Deepak, in response to my request to take a shower after a gnarly round of food poisoning.

My request was denied because there was a) no shower, and b) no reason that Deepak could see to shower, since I’d just showered yesterday.

My response: Silence. Because when pressed, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason that I absolutely had to wash my body every day.

#5 – “Turn! It! Off!”

"Turn! It! Off!"

“Turn! It! Off!”

Where it happened: That same village in Nepal

Who said it: A group of 12 screaming children who were first frightened, then awed, then utterly bored with my iPhone.

They sort of hated my iPhone, in fact, and had much more fun chanting “Turn! It! Off!” then they did playing with the phone itself.

My response: I turned it off, and we played with the goats instead.

#4 – “My father is possessed by the Monkey King”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Who said it: My friend Ritti, as an explanation for his father’s symptoms of mental illness.

My response: “Why the Monkey King?” Why? Because my father screeches, scratches himself, throws things, and crawls around on the roof, that’s why.

The diagnosis actually sounded pretty reasonable to me when explained like that.

#3 – “What is this remedy?”

"What is this remedy?"

“What is this remedy?”

Where it happened: Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: Deepak’s brother, after I asked him for some soap and hot water.

My response: “This remedy is called soap. It is a foamy liquid that, when used regularly, can prevent rounds of vomiting like the one I’ve just endured due to your total lack of soap-use in preparing my meal.”

Just kidding, I didn’t say that. But he really was curious, as if hot water + soap was some sort of magical elixir with powers to wake the dead and move mountains. As if he’d never seen someone combine the two before (and truth be told, he probably hadn’t).

#2 – “She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young.”

Where it happened: Nepal. The village. Are you starting to notice a pattern of one-liner awesomeness here?

Who said it: Deepak, when a 13-year old newlywed stopped by my sick room to ogle me along with the rest of the villagers.

My response: “Ya think?!

#1 – “You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

"You know, I won't be a monk forever."

“You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

Where it happened: Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

Who said it: A 16-year old Buddhist monk who had just given me a tour of his temple.

My response: “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Ok, if I had gotten knocked up at 16. But still.

We then took some photos together, him giggling the entire time and saying things like “You know we can’t touch you, right?”

What’s the best one-liner you’ve heard while traveling?

What questions do you get asked all the time?

When people ask you questions that would be considered rude in your culture, does it piss you off or do you take it with a grain of salt?

Author: Rebekah Voss – the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com and a cheerleader for solo female travelers everywhere.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

10. "Why are you so fat?"

9. "Your number is old, but your face is young."

8. "You give me your money!"

7. "I would never eat my own dog."

6. "Why must you wash your body every day?"

5. "Turn! It! Off!"

4. "My father is possessed by the Monkey King."

3. "What is this remedy?"

2. "She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young."

1. "You know, I won't be a monk forever."

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 2

The armed guard watches from his high tower with a mix of curiosity and disgust as I vomit for the third time. I wonder if he’ll descend from his high perch to give me a fine or a ticket of some sort. As my body purges itself yet again, he seems to lose interest and lets his gaze gently return to the vast fields and forests of the Chitwan National Forest. “Just a little farther” says Deepak, wanting to get me home already, wanting to make me well. Yes, I understand, but if I get back on that bike and that bike gets back on the rocky road, we’re going to have an episode from The Exorcist. It’s full-blown food poisoning – from the flies, from the dahlbat, from no soap anywhere, ever. I am knee-deep in the dried grass of an open field that connects one part of the forest to another. A river cuts the field in two, rolling gently beneath the bridge Deepak is begging me to cross. “Just a second” I call, trying to puke as quietly as possible. This is so embarrassing.

How am I supposed to be an irresistible sex goddess with vomit on my chin?

My head throbs, and I bend from the waist in agonized anticipation of the next round. This waiting period is the purgatory of food poisoning. Through the fog of this hot, shamed, disgusting mess, my eyes suddenly focus on a small, speckled insect crawling on a leaf in front of me. The wind is threatening to blow the insect away, but it marches on, determined to get to the top of the leaf if it’s the last thing it does. “How beautiful” I think, as I fertilize the grass with the contents of my stomach yet again. In this moment – this hot, uncomfortable, worst-case-scenario moment, with its abysmal timing and strong indications of a miserable 24 hours to come – I have found beauty. I think of all the times in my life where everything appeared to be OK. When there was food in my belly and I had a warm place to sleep, friends that loved me, and all of my bills paid. And somehow I still managed to find cause for complaint everywhere I looked. My mind could not accept the acceptable, and I made war upon myself over and over again for 29 years of my life. And here I am, for some reason wide awake in this moment, a moment that would be very easy to resist and hate and complain about. I mean, out of all the days to get sick, I get sick on the day I’m meeting his mom? I get sick on the day I have to ride on a motorbike for 6 hours? I get sick during my possibly only chance to experience life in a Nepalese village? But my curious heart is filled with nothing but this bug. I see it, I see its beauty, and I think absolutely nothing  – I sink deeper and deeper into nothingness, the freest state I’ve found. And I’m nothing but grateful. Not for the illness, but maybe for the illness because it’s showing me that my own happiness is not dependent on external events. My happiness comes from within, and no amount of food poisoning in the world can shake what’s rightfully mine. This is the feeling of presence, of freedom from past and future. This is what Eckhart Tolle is talking about, what the monks of the world seek by trying not to, what Jesus was saying when he said he was the “light of the world.” The light of this world exists now, not just in the insect on the leaf, but in the attention I’m able to pay it in this God-given gift of now, in presence that cuts through the din as light shattering the darkness. 60 seconds ago I was retching, 60 seconds from now I may be again. But for now, for this eternal moment of now, all I can see is a perfect creation making its way across a leaf blowing in the wind. For part 1 of this series, click here.  This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

True beauty, true peace, can always be found in the eternal moment of now (even in the midst of a gnarly case of food poisoning).

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 1

The ride is cold and wet, then cold and damp, then cold and dusty.

No amount of stopping for tea and momo can fortify my body against the onslaught of a Nepalese highway – two maniacal, unpaved lanes choked with motorbikes and trucks and baby goats and bushel-burdened women climbing through the misty morning.

The road curves along the Seti River, which grows in size and power as we descend from the high mountains.

Rolling hills give way to rolling fields and valleys, and as a few warm rays of sunshine bring relief, I feel like Apollo descending Mt Olympus in his chariot.

We stop at Deepak‘s sister’s home, a small convenience store where they sell oranges and cigarettes.

5 men sit perched on tiny, hand-woven stools, Nepal’s answer to the infamous plastic chairs of Hanoi, or the bean bag chairs of late 90’s North America.

They can’t help but stare as we dismount with some difficulty, my legs not wanting to work after so many hours in the saddle.

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

And although he probably hasn’t seen her in a year, and most likely didn’t tell her he was coming, let alone coming with this white woman in tow, there is this wonderful easiness in the way we are received – it’s this very Nepalese way of welcoming guests that says “Of course you’re here, of course you’re welcome, let’s not make a big thing of it.”

Because to make a big thing of it would be to point out how long it’s been since you’ve been gone, and that could get awkward. The Nepalese don’t like awkward.

I nod and smile as best I can, and Deepak offers a few words of greeting in that same casual, nonchalant, “of course I’m here” tone.

chitwan

“We take lunch?” he asks, smiling at me warmly.

Suddenly he stops and looks at me closely, a bit alarmed.

“You wash the face.”

“What?” I think maybe he’s using the wrong word for something.

“We wash the hands and face” he repeats, and I think maybe I’m learning about some new ritual that must be followed before each meal.

“I’d really rather not wash my face, Deepak, I have makeup on.”

One of the loveliest benefits of being around people who don’t understand English is that you get to say somewhat intimate, embarrassing things to your partner without anyone else realizing you’re doing it.

I’ve often wondered if people around me speaking Vietnamese or Lao or Khmer are actually saying things like “I think I have a hemorrhoid, will you take a look?”, or “Just wait til I get you home tonight, you sexy thang.”

chitwan

Deepak looks confused, grabs a bottle of water, and begins pouring it onto the grass. He holds one hand underneath the stream until I offer to hold the bottle for him. He rubs his hands together as I pour, my sense of alarm growing by the minute.

My fears are confirmed when he withdraws his hands from the stream, shakes them off, and says “Your turn!”

My mind is racing as I rinse my hands underneath the water, trying to keep a polite smile on my face for everyone’s benefit.

Is this supposed to count as washing our hands?!

Where is the sink? Where is the soap? Is this how Deepak always washes his hands?

In Pokhara there was always soap in the bathrooms. And toilet paper. And Western-style toilets.

It had never occurred to me that things would be any different outside of the city.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe that was just a rinse.

“Now your face?” asks Deepak, as he pours bottled water on his own.

How is water alone going to wash my face?

“Very dirty” says Deepak.

“I am? Very dirty?” I ask, alarmed.

I scramble for a mirror and can’t believe my eyes – no wonder the sister and her husband and his posse had stared at me like that!

It had nothing to do with my white face, which was invisible beneath a thick mask of black, caked soot. I looked like Zorro, if Zorro had decided to go all out.

No wonder everyone in Nepal wears masks! I thought it was merely the pollution in Kathmandu that required protection. The air Pokhara is clear, but the air on the roads is not.

There doesn’t seem to be any kind of emissions regulations for vehicles here, and I counted at least 5 times when I had to hold my breath as we plummeted through a cloud of thick, black smoke expunged from a careless, farting truck.

Embarrassed, I ask for the bathroom. Deepak may be fine half-assing his hygiene, but I am washing these chemicals off of my face with soap, dammit.

chitwan

The bathroom is back there if you can find it.

I’m lead into the back room of the house via a tour that last about 10 seconds. I realize with some alarm that both husband and wife must sleep in the same room where they sell the coke and the cigarettes and the SIM cards.

I lock myself into the darkened bathroom and take a deep breath – an exercise I immediately regret as I choke on the dank smell or mold and urine.

There is no light, and by the light of my phone’s flashlight I see with much dismay that not only is there no soap – there is no sink.

It’s an indoor outhouse, and I’m on my own. the only water in sight is in a bucket meant to be used for “flushing” the toilet. After you’ve done your business, you must pour water down the chute to send your waste god-knows-where (quite likely directly into the water supply).

It takes an entire package of tissue and half a bottle of hand sanitizer before I begin to feel like it might be safe to eat with my hands.

Unable to remove the mask of Zorro completely, I now look like a preteen who doesn’t realized she’s chosen a shade of makeup 3 shades too dark.

I’m terribly uncomfortable and do my best to hide this fact from Deepak, who apparently sees nothing out of the ordinary with his sister’s set up. He waits for me patiently, sipping tea and chatting with the men.

“We eat?” he asks when I emerge from the soapless dungeon.

“Great!” I say, trying hard to appear cheerful and grateful and non-judgmental.

His sister has prepared dahlbat for us, or more likely for herself and her husband, but is now giving it to us since we’re here.

Found it!

We sit on tiny painted stools facing the interior of the shop, and use a glass case containing coke and cigarette reserves as our table.

It is from this position that I notice the flies for the first time. They are the happiest, fattest, most exuberant band of brothers I’ve ever observed, buzzing joyfully between piles of rice and pots of vegetables and everything in between.

“No big deal” I think.

We dig in to the dahl, and Deepak watches me like a delighted father, correcting my hand position as I form my fingers into a scoop and shovel the rice into my mouth.

I’m amazed at how easy this is for him to do, and watch as he effortlessly mixes the ingredients together with his fingers, spoons them into his mouth, and somehow manages to finish with perfectly clean hands.

I’m able to get most of the rice into my mouth, but the odd grain or 7 still manages to slip through cracks, falling to their deaths on the plate below.

It’s within the first few bites that I feel it.

Something deep within the innermost cavern of my belly saying “Wait, what?!” and then “Excuse me! What the hell are you giving me, here?”

I know it, I feel, and I keep eating anyway.

When Deepak is long finished and it becomes apparent that I won’t be able to, I apologize profusely saying “I am so full” and “I think I ate too much at breakfast.”

chitwan

The only thing worse than being served food by someone who barely has enough food for themselves and then not finishing it, is the way that food is making me feel right now.

I do not want to go back into that bathroom. I do not…..

Crap. Literally. Well, at least it’s coming out that end. Perhaps it was a one-time expulsion and we can continue on our merry way and –

Crap. My stomach is churning and gurgling, and I begin to worry about how I’m going to time all of this. And Deepak is waiting for me….and they all know I’m in the bathroom for the second time in 15 minutes!

It’s official. I rinse the regurgitated dahlbat down the hole, wiping my face with a t-shirt since there is no toilet paper and I’ve used all of my tissue on the first movement in this symphony.

My kingdom for a toothbrush, a shower, a bar of soap.

But back on the bike I go, thanking the sister for her hospitality and whispering to Deepak that I feel “a little bit sick.”

“It’s the weather” says Deepak, a mantra that seems to be repeated throughout all of Asia to explain everything from the migration of birds to sexually transmitted diseases.

He takes the burden of the backpack off my shoulders, and I wrap my arms around my own pack as we bump our way back to the main road. The long road to Chitwan just got a helluva lot longer.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Don't eat food if you see flies, even if it'd be really rude not to.

2. When you eat the food with flies because you didn't want to be rude, don't get on a motorbike afterwards.

3. When you get on a motorbike afterwards because there's no other form of transportation, be sure your backpack is well-stocked with tissue, toilet paper, towels, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Travel Rebel: Far Western Nepal Part 4

“Travel is rebellion in its purest form… We follow our hearts. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We only own what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We sometimes choose to never come back.” 

I’m running down a narrow path through the trees, leaping from rock to rock in an attempt to follow a young girl with pigtails who is leading the way.

Giggling as she runs, she is agile and confident on the small rocky path, scampering down the hillside like a goat.

She takes a sharp left turn up what looks like a wall of steep rock and within seconds is perched on the top, waiting for me with a grin. Her cheap plastic sandals don’t stop her. In fact, I don’t think anything could.

I turn around to look where she has led me and find a two story mud hut, a typical house in this region of Far Western Nepal, where the cows live in the bottom of the home and the family lives up top.

There is a small boy with torn shorts and a dirty shirt, and a girl wrapped in a small shawl waiting to join our fun.

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It’s 7am and the sun is beginning to light up the valley 2,000m below, announcing another beautiful day in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There are birds chirping and I hear the distant sound of a crying goat, but besides that, the hilly mountainside is peaceful and quiet as it always is.

We take off again, running through a field of yellow flowers on a muddy path towards the next house. There is a beautifully wrinkled elderly Nepali women adorned with a large bull nose ring and a colorful headscarf sitting on the ground amongst five or six goats.

She looks up, her toothless grin turning to surprise when she sees me. She hardly has time to ask who I am before one of the children is tugging me along again.

They lead me up and down the small paths on a tour of the dozen or so mud huts scattered up and down this section of the hillside.

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We come to the road, an unpaved rocky mess, and the race begins. “Ek, duo, teen,” (one, two, three) they yell, before taking off, sandals flying as they run as fast as they can up to the next house.

A small girl, her bare, stick-thin legs poking out awkwardly from her too-small shorts, is waiting for us and waving, eager to join in the fun as well. Her mother, feet and hands died orange with cow dung, comes out from behind the animals and gives her approval.

We fly down the road, all of us running with our arms out like airplanes yelling, “chitoooo, chito, chito, chitooooo” (quickly, quickly) until a beautiful woman with greenish light brown eyes flags us into her field.

She is holding her eighteen month-old daughter, an adorable girl covered in dirt like the rest of these nature-raised children. She invites me into her home, and I step inside to squat beside the small child’s laughing grandma.

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The baby eyes me warily before breaking out into a grin, extending her tiny fingers to grab onto my outstretched hand. The room is filled with smoke as are all of the houses in the area, and the sunlight pouring in from the doorway creates a cozy campfire feel.

There are a few pots and pans to one side, and to the other, a few blankets on the ground. It isn’t much, but it is home.

A small white kitten walks by and I quickly scoop him up and into my lap. He falls asleep instantly, purring contentedly while I wrap him inside my warm shawl.

The young girl grabs for her grandma, and they sit together laughing and cuddling. Their laughter is contagious, and soon all of the children in our gang are playing games, dancing, and giggling around the fire inside the small mud hut.

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It is an amazing feeling, running through the village with the children, visiting the different houses and cows, before sitting together around a warm fire.

I am an outsider, born into a world so different from their own, but they have accepted me with open arms and enabled me to immerse myself in their world completely, if only for a few days.

This is part 4 of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal written by contributing blogger Shirine Taylor. 

For Part 1, click here. 

For Part 2, click here

For Part 3, click here

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Life in the Mud Huts: Far Western Nepal Part 3

“Nostalgia in reverse: the longing for yet another strange land.”

I have had people stare, even gawk open-mouthed when they see me, but I have never had people run away in fright like they are right now.

After a treacherous, three-hour bumpy bus ride on the precarious rocky path that winds up and over the Himalayan foothills, I have arrived in a small village in Far Western Nepal.

The village is comprised of a handful of mud houses scattered along the hillside, and not much else. I sit down, making myself less threatening, and see a few more heads peek out cautiously behind the trees below.

I see a child stirring an enormous steaming pot of liquid with a stick, while another half dozen children look on. I am curious and want to see what they are making, but the children and even teenagers are obviously still wary of me.

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A women appears behind me, laughing a deep heartfelt laugh. She signals that I should continue down the path, and with her blessing, I approach the group around the large steaming cauldron.

“Basnu,” (sit down) she says, as I am handed a leaf wrapped around a warm, malleable hunk of brown sugar. It is delicious, sweet yet flavorful, and I realize that they are making this tasty brown sugar out of the boiling sugarcane syrup to my right.

Most of the children have scattered into the surrounding fields and sit perched atop enormous piles of discarded sugarcane branches. From these lookout points, they can alternate between practicing flips and watching me.

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After a while a man appears and calls the children down so they can enjoy their own leaf-full of this sugarcane delicacy. Though they continue to watch me suspiciously, the temptation of sugar is enough to draw them near, and a few of the giggling girls even come to sit next to me. I knew it was only a matter of time before I won them over.

Once they’ve finished eating, they quickly set up a game, sort of like dodge ball, whcih draws an increasing number of children from the surrounding hills. They laugh and run like children everywhere, using a makeshift ball they constructed out of an old shirt.

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After the game, as the children begin to peel away and return to their own houses, I am invited by the couple back to theirs, and readily agree to join them and their two children for the night.

Their house is small, a one room mud house with nothing but a few blankets on the ground and a pile of wood in the corner which serves as their stove.

There is corn hanging from every inch of the ceiling, drying before being made into the flour we will use to make dinner. The house is filled with dense smoke, there is no ventilation for the fire they are cooking over, but the smoke seems to swirl around the hut unnoticed.

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Though there is no electricity, light shines in through the wooden door creating a comfortable, homey feel.

We all squat around the fire as the mother and father work together to make dinner, a simple meal of roti that we dip in a bit of spices. They have no money and no processions except their cows and chickens, but they seem content to be living freely off of their land.

The forested hillside is scattered with mudhuts, none of which have electricity, and the darkness signals that it is time to sleep. Once night falls it is completely dark all around.

I crawl under the blanket with the two children who have warmed to me, already calling me “didi” (sister), and fall into a peaceful sleep surrounded by nature and good-hearted people.

This post is part of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal.

For Part 1, click here

For Part 2, click here

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

72 Hours in a Remote Village in Nepal

"Why must you wash your body every day?"

The 72 hours I spent in a remote village in Nepal have been burned into my memory – so much so that I’m writing a BOOK about them!

(no really – you can pre-order it here: http://amzn.to/1py99Ly)

In those 3 days….

I spent 8 hours on a motorbike but only traveled 50 miles (Pokhara to Chitwan – roads mostly made of ROCK.)

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I saw a buffalo get MILKED

 

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I got to hold a one-day old baby goat

 

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But that wasn’t all…..

  • I got food poisoning and threw up in a river
  • I stepped into a scene straight out of Oregon Trail (ox-pulled carts in 2013!)
  • I lived with no hot water and no indoor plumbing (while having food poisoning. Just think about that for a second.)
  • I washed my hair in a field full of garbage.
  • I fell in love with a wonderful family who took me in, offered me their home and took care of me when I was sick.

Check out this video I made during my time in a tiny farming community somewhere outside the Southern city of Chitwan, Nepal.

To watch now, click play:

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My Life in One Pair of Shoes

It all started when I broke my cardinal packing rule, AKA the Noah’s Ark Edict of 2013.

In preparing for world travel, I only allowed myself two of everything – two pairs of pants, two t-shirts, two long sleeved shirts, two bras, and so on.

The only areas in which I let myself splurge were with underwear and shoes.

I’ve never been as stylish as I’d like to be.  I’m not one of those women that can walk into a store, grab three pieces off three separate racks, and emerge from the dressing room looking like the lovechild of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O.

Maybe it’s because while I greatly admire fashion and the fashionable, I just can’t be bothered to make the effort. I’d much rather sleep in than spend time putting myself together each morning. I’d much rather take a bicycle ride than go shopping.

Or maybe it’s because anything that looks dynamite on a 5’11”, 110-pound fashion model always manages to make me look like I’m wearing a Robin Hood costume. That, or Mr. Potato Head.

Whatever it is, I wasn’t blessed with an innate sense of style.

Unless you’re talking about shoes.

I speak the language of shoes the way other women speak French. I can look at a pair and instantly know if the heel is the right size, if the curve of the arch is tall enough, if the color is a bit too camel-toned.

I could probably pick out a fantastic pair of shoes just by feeling them with my eyes closed.

So when it came time for my great exercise in minimalism, it was easy to give up the fabulous leather jacket I’d never wear during springtime in Southeast Asia, and the cocktail dress that would be painfully out of place in Nepal.

But my shoes? How could I possibly narrow them down to just two pairs?

Nearly 6 months later, none of the four pairs of shoes that made it into my bag that fateful November day are with me any longer. They’ve perished, dissolved into the mist of world travel, sacrificed to unseen nomadic gods.

As the proud owner of only one pair of shoes at this moment in time, I thought it would be fitting to eulogize my fallen comrades, seeing that they’ve carried me some 7,000 miles around the globe and back again.

Shoelogy – Remembering those shoes no longer with us

1. DSW Boots

Beloved reminders of Los Angeles, devoted protector of lower legs, eclectic chameleons for any season

I don’t even remember the designer (see? So not a fashioinista!), but I bought these fantastic over-the-knee leather boots right before I left for Nepal, and refused to leave them behind.

Then I arrived in Nepal, and the sheer fabulousness of these boots seemed to scream “MY FOOTWEAR COULD BUY AND SELL YOU ALL THREE TIMES OVER!”

They were embarrassing, inappropriate. When it came time to leave Nepal for the 85° weather of Southeast Asia, I simply left them in my Kathmandu hotel room.

I hoped the guy who worked at the front desk would give them to his sister or his girlfriend.

It felt so good to be rid of them, like an enormous weight was lifted.

2. Super Cute Chinese Laundry Flats

Humble servants, queens of comfort, examples of that elusive, true beauty to which we all aspire

Yes, they were sort of ballet flats, which I realize is so-five-years-ago but I didn’t care.

They were patent leather in a shade of pink so pale, so understated that it was like wearing an 18th century Geisha on my feet.

During the great boot sacrifice of New Year’s Eve, 2013, I closed the door to my hotel room, thought better of it, opened the door again and unpacked my bag.

I placed one flat inside the left boot, the other inside the right boot.

That way, whoever inherited the boots would be gifted with a little something extra, like being given a new car only to be told “that’s not all – look what’s on the passenger seat.” (In my gift-of-car fantasy there’s always a diamond ring on the passenger seat.)

3. Really Comfortable Hipsterish Brown Sneakers from Sketchers

Champions of long walks, climbers of many mountains, supportive confidantes

I did everything in these sneakers. Hiked the Himalayas. Trekked through the mountains in Northern Laos. Went jogging along the oceanfront in Vietnam.

They were getting old, and kind of smelly, and rather than stink up my hotel room at night I’d leave them outside my door. I was staying in my dear friend’s guest house, and thought it highly unlikely that anyone would want to steal my smelly old sneakers.

Until I woke up one morning and they were gone.

“Mr. Ba!” I said. “Where are my sneakers?”

After a few phone calls and much discussion, it turned out that one of the new staff members threw them in the garbage when he was cleaning my room.

That was the turning point, the moment that lead me to…

4. One Single, Solitary Pair of Flip Flops

Beach lovers, protectors from dirty bathroom floors, whimsical scamps on a mission

And then the ocean ate my flip flops.

It was nighttime, and the moonlight tide swirled in all around me, soaking my clothes and gulping up my remaining pair of shoes. (But it wasn’t my fault – I was justifiably distracted when it happened.)

For a few hours of my life, I was completely and utterly shoeless.

I was then gifted with a new pair of flip flops to replace the ones gobbled up by the sea, and I’ve yet to add another pair to my collection.

I sort of don’t want to.

After all, in Southeast Asia one can perform most required tasks while wearing flip flops, including riding a motor bike, doing construction work, exercising, and working in the rice fields.

Plus, I sort of like having one pair of shoes. World travel has highlighted the importance of traveling light, sure, but it’s more than that.

I used to have this terror of letting go – like if I didn’t own enough shoes, or enough pairs of jeans, I wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t know who I was. I wouldn’t be seen. Ownership gave me an identity, a relationship to the world around me.

“I am Rebekah and those are my jeans, my laptop, my flip flops.”

When you’re sitting on the beach with the ocean sparkling beneath the moonlight and the taste of salt on your skin, you realize that the world has so much more to give you than shoes (or clothes, or a new car, or really good knives).

You realize that instead of making you feel more important, more secure, more together, the shoes have been blocking the moon from your view.

Of course, my shoelessness is infinitely different than many people’s shoelessness, because I can go out and buy another pair whenever I want. That’s not the case in many parts of the planet, as world travel to places like Nepal and Cambodia has been quick to reveal.

While I can’t promise I’ll be a one-shoe wonder forever, for right now it is the thing that is keeping me grounded, and the thing that’s teaching me who I really am – sans baggage, sans fear, sans desire to acquire more and more and more stuff, just for stuff’s sake.

Minimalism is addicting, like getting a tattoo. If it feels this good to own one pair of shoes, imagine how I’ll feel with one shirt? One pair of pants? One pair of underwear?!

Okay, maybe not one pair of underwear, but you get the idea.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Accidentally owning a single pair of shoes has been the most spiritually fulfilling part of world travel thus far.

2. A Shoelogy is a eugoly for all the shoes you’ve lost during your travels. Don’t forget that it’s important to grieve.

3. Outfits that look good on fashion models make me look like Robin Hood.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Where Time Stands Still: Far Western Nepal Part 2

“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”

I have walked into a National Geographic IMAX documentary, into a world where time stands still.   The people of Far Western Nepal live removed from society in a peaceful, exquisite world all their own.

A beautiful girl with wide brown eyes, no older than seven, approaches with her baby sister tied to her back with a scarf.

They are mountain children, children who have grown up chasing goats along small rocky footpaths that wind down to the valley below.

Their nails are caked with dirt and their stained clothes are torn in parts, but they are happy. They are free, living in an off-the-grid universe of their own, where they rely solely upon themselves for survival.

They cultivate crops, tend to their livestock, and make tools from wood. It’s a universe where leaves turn into plates, burning sticks into flashlights, and old clothes into toys.

These children grow up with an education in nature, learning from a young age how to cultivate rice and make sugar from plants. If they want a formal education, the type held in a classroom, they have to walk three hours each way, with a grueling 2,000-meter elevation gain on the way home.

As the girls squat beside me on the dirt, we are met by another small child, waddling and giggling with one hand outstretched toward her friend and the other cradling a broken sandal.

Her hair is sticking up every which way and she has dirt smeared across her forehead, a sign of a girl being raised by the land.

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As the two small children meet on the path and grab for each other, they shriek with glee and stumble and fall, like little girls everywhere.

In the distance I see an elderly man, hunched over and leaning on his cane. He is followed by one lone goat, a runaway he is escorting back up to the herd.

There are a few more people around, two ladies collecting leaves and grass for the baskets on their heads, and an older woman squatting barefoot by an open fire as she prepares tea.

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A young boy makes his way up the other side of the road. He is no older than eight, and yells confidently at the herd of cows he is ushering home.

This world is void of car horns, bartering, or noisy shop doors slamming. The sizzling of the fire and the scurry of the chickens pecking around my feet are the only sounds I hear.

While much of our world continues to change rapidly, I have found a corner of the world where time stands still.

Where people live one hundred percent off the land.

Where beds don’t exist and money means nothing.

Where old women squat barefoot by open fires cooking rice they themselves hand picked from the field.

Where electricity is still a fare-fetched idea for the future.

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It is a simplistic lifestyle, hard at times, but it is freedom.

This post is part of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal. For Part 1, click here

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. There are still parts of the world where people live completely off the land, without electricity, money, or any education to speak of.

2. To guest poster Shirine, this off-the-grid lifestyle accounts for the unparalleled happiness of the people in Far Western Nepal.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Sunset at the World Peace Pagoda

I have no idea how to hike to the World Peace Pagoda, AKA “the stupa,” so I arrange for a taxi to take me there and bring me back. Sunset is supposed to be the best time to go.

The driver picks me up at the Harvest Moon at 4:30pm in another tiny clown car. I have to duck my head so as not to hit it on the roof of the cab, but my efforts are in vain – we plummet through the city, and I’m jostled and tossed in the backseat like a sack of potatoes, my head thumping upon the car roof every few seconds.

I end up pressing my hands against the ceiling so I won’t be completely brain-damaged by the time I arrive. I am, quite literally, raising the roof.

We ascend a steep hill, and the road changes from kind of paved, kind of not, to most decidedly not. It twists and winds ever upwards, and the cab driver slows to a crawl in order to make the sharp turns without sending us flying out over the city below.

I can see brush and tangled grass and rock. A young couple walks together through the dust, their motorbikes parked alongside the road like a pair of waiting steeds.

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Other taxi cabs descend as we climb, and we’re forced to dance an awkward do-see-do in order to get around each other. Higher and higher we go, the ascent is alarmingly swift, until the city below begins to reveal its true size – this is not a tiny town at all! It’s only the tourist area that’s tiny.

The rest of Pokhara scrambles toward the lake, choking, like a crowd of frightened movie goers bottlenecking for the exit door.  The lake sparkles far below like an elixir of life – it is the sun, and every crumbling building in the city stretches toward it like a starving palm.

The taxi, now sweating and sputtering with the effort of climbing a mountain not meant to be climbed by a tiny clown car, lurches itself onto a parking lot plateau like an exhausted trekker.

He parks, I get out, and manage to communicate that I expect he’ll be waiting for me when I return. I don’t know how long I have here, but the sun is threatening to walk if I don’t pay him the attention he deserves, and soon.

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Although we’ve spent the better part of 20 minutes driving a winding path up the mountain, the car tilted at a 45 degree angle the entire time, there are still more steps to climb in order to reach the stupa itself.

Several houses, shops and restaurants have sprung up around the steps leading to the World Peace Pagoda, and I can see the homes of mountain rice farmers resting in contradiction along adjacent peaks – small shacks with thatched roofs, the tiniest ramshackle abodes set atop the entire world. Humble peasants made rich with a king’s view.

My breath escapes me in fits and spurts, and I can’t keep myself steady. By now I’m used to this game, my lungs playing chicken with the paper thin mountain air.

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I emerge atop a flat, wide green with a single, straight path leading to the stupa.

A great, white monument with a rounded dome, the World Peace Pagoda was only built in 1973. The wide yard split by a single, straight path conjures images of the Taj Mahal. There is nothing to do and nowhere to go except straight toward the monument steps, which pull the viewer in as if they were magnetic.

But I’ve come so far to finally be here, to finally reach the top. It’s too much to just march straight up and look the stupa in the eye. I wander around the grounds, reading plaques set next various statues and relics. The sun continues to pout, refusing to stick around longer just for me.

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I want to eat the view. The entire Annapurna range stretches before me, more massive and higher than my mind can possibly conceive of.

It’s the first time in my life when I truly can’t believe my eyes. The mountains are so high, so white, that if you looked quickly you’d mistake them for clouds. And yet the peaks float above the clouds, which hang around their necks like fuzzy clown collars.

I am overwhelmed in the most wonderful way. It feels like meeting a celebrity who turns out to be super down to earth and who has taken it upon himself to fall in love with you. It’s like Maid in Manhattan, or one of those princess movies where Anne Hathaway turns out to be royalty.

It’s too much, it’s too good, and I wonder for a second if all of my relationships have failed because of too much love. Maybe I was too good to him, too patient, too kind, too understanding. Maybe we simply can’t handle too much of a good thing, or don’t think we deserve it.

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Maybe that’s why everyone around me is rushing straight for the stupa steps as if the view was a mirage, as if they weren’t tackled by the 360-degree painting that’s threatening to turn tears of anger into tears of joy.

I stroll from one side of the yard to the other – there truly is a panoramic view of the city, the lake, the mountains, the never-ending fields of green and brown that stretch across the earth in undisturbed patchwork.

I see that the lake is not in fact round, as I’d imagined, but that it curves quite sharply to the west, creating a bottleneck where boats cannot pass through.

I see pinks and oranges flickering on the white mountain peaks as the sun gives me one final chance to drink in its blessed light.

The stupa itself is unimpressive; modern and white-washed with the occasional golden relic presented upon a shelf that has been carved out of the building’s foundation. I’m somewhat incensed that one can’t “go inside” the stupa – it’s really just a monument, not a building that can be entered.

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Shoes must be removed before ascending the steps, and I grin remembering the scene in Slumdog Millionaire when Jamal helps himself to fine footwear outside the Taj Mahal.

A man begins speaking to me in rapid Nepali, forcing me back down the stairs. At first I think I’ve missed a ticket booth somewhere and am supposed to have paid, but I quickly realize that I’ve climbed too many stairs.

There are two levels to the stupa, and after some hand-gesturing I realize that I must circle the lower level first before I can ascend the final staircase and circle the upper level. I must walk clockwise around the stupa as I go.

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Women kneel and pray at each golden incarnation of the Buddha. My thoughts turn to the strangeness of religion in Nepal – I thought it would be filled with Tibetan Buddhist monks, yet everywhere I look are altars to Ganesh and Shiva. Hari and Shova are Hindu.

The people who “look Indian” seem to be Hindu, while the people who “look Tibetan” or Chinese seem to be Buddhist. It feels like a Hindu country to me, so I find it ironic that the defining monument of Pokhara itself is a Buddhist stupa, and that Nepal is the birthplace of the Buddha himself.

I beg the sun for a few more minutes but he’s stubborn, slipping behind the horizon and leaving nothing but streaks of fading twilight.

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My cab driver is waiting for me as promised, and we begin the treacherous descent back to town.

I brace my hands against the car ceiling to shield my head from further blows, and relish one of my favorite feelings in the world: I see the evening stretching out before me in all its glory.

Anything could happen. There will be drinking, and good food, and romance, and laughter.

Though it doesn’t feel like it, it’s the Christmas season and my heart is warmed to imagine the twinkling lights of home. Each fire burning in the town below becomes a lantern lit upon my family’s hearth; each street lamp the bulb upon a fragrant wreath of pine.

I’m in a festive mood, the sheer awesomeness of the mountain range infusing me with energy and anticipation.

I have been in Nepal for less than a week, 6 days in which God might as well have recreated the world.

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I decide that tonight will be my Christmas miracle. I feel Mariah Carey carols swirling around inside me, I am lighting a candle at 13 years old and praying for the boy I love, I am 17 and being touched for the first time in the backseat of a car as moonlight streams in through the windows, I am 7 years old and studying myself in the mirror and deciding that I like what I see.

Tonight, I give myself permission to fall in love without reason, without cause, without fear.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. You can take a taxi up to the World Peace Pagoda, or you can hike.

2. If you take a taxi, you should be able to get there and back for less than 1000 rupees ($10). Make sure the driver waits for you while you explore the grounds.

3. If you hike, you'll have to take a boat across the lake to the trail head. It's a climb to 1000 meters and should take about an hour.

4. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at the top if you want to have lunch on top of the world.

5. The stupa must be entered by first walking clockwise around the first level platform. After you've circled once you may then ascend to the second level platform and complete another clockwise circle.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Into the Unknown: Far Western Nepal Part 1

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel… Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

After twenty-four hours of sleepless travel, I hopped off the bus as they threw my backpack down on the ground.

I had arrived in Far Western Nepal, the most rural and undeveloped section of the country.This region is so remote that it’s closer to Delhi, the capital of India, than it is to Kathmandu.

Because of this, Far Western Nepal is left out politically and physically, a foreign land even to the Nepalese themselves.

In fact, until the mid 1990’s when the bridges were finished, this section of Nepal was completely cut off from the rest of the country for three months every year during the monsoon season.

A small, quiet highway has taken me into the terai, the flat area of Nepal where large open fields dominate the landscape.

I start walking alongside the people, cyclists, and cows who use the road more frequently than vehicles until I come to a village – just a few shops and mud huts gathered together to create a community.

I stop for a rest as a small crowd gathers around me, curious as to what a foreigner is doing in what appears to be the middle of nowhere.

An older gentlemen wearing the traditional small stripped hat of the region offers to take me fifteen kilometers up a small dirt path on his motorbike to a temple and lake.

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An hour long excursion turns into an all day adventure, when, after visiting the temple, we proceed up the unpaved rough road to the top of the immense Himalayan foothills in front of us.

Looking down I discover a whole different universe. There are a few mud huts two hundred meters down, and just below me, two ladies escorting their large black water buffalo up the hill.

They are farmers, one hundred percent self-sufficient farmers who live solely off of the land. There is no water, electricity, or anything made of plastic.

Money is useless here, there is nowhere to make or spend it. Upon watching life down below I knew that I would return, not just to watch, but to live with these families who have created their lives on the hillside.

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Guide books, which cover every inch of this tourist-dependent country in detail, write only a small paragraph about Far Western Nepal stating that the area lacks facilities and is virtually unexplored.

And if you turn to the Lonely Planet, it wastes no time depicting the area as dangerous, controlled by the sporadically violent Maoists, and a place that should be avoided.

The irony? This is the safest, friendliest part of the country I have visited.

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In fact, it is one of the safest places I have visited in all of Asia. The lack of facilities, the sheer distance, and the warnings from guide books have created an untouched jewel in a tourist filled country, a small piece of paradise where life remains centered around nature rather than money.

This is part 1 of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal written by contributing blogger Shirine Taylor. 

For Part 2, click here

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Don't believe what Lonely Planet and other guidebooks say about Far Western Nepal. Far from dangerous, this area provided Shirine with some of her favorite memories of Nepal and an unparalleled view into an ancient way of life.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The Most Beautiful Girl in Nepal

There's only one person in this picture who truly cares about the way she looks

My thoughts turn to the boy from last night, Deepak the Good. I smile sadly as I think I won’t hear from him, and how stupid it was of me to get my hopes up and think he might have actually liked me.

I’m too old. Too fat. Too old.

He probably has a stunning Nepali girlfriend who’s impossibly tiny and has skin like Brazilian caramel and manages to be both sexy, mysterious, and great wife material, all at the same time.

Maybe he’s dating the beautiful girl who works at The Lemon Tree with him. She has a face like a symphony, the kind that just takes your breath away.

I have this admittedly awkward habit of telling pretty girls that I think they’re pretty. I’m of the opinion that beautiful women are the most insecure, perhaps because a huge portion of their entire identity is built around something that time can’t wait to take away.

So I try to make them feel better by praising the exact thing that shouldn’t be important in the first place. I’m sure it all has to do with some deep-seated psychological issues with my own appearance, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it.

My parents took great care to devalue physical beauty as I was growing up. This served me well, since sometimes I was pretty and other times I wore braces and had eyebrows as thick as caterpillars.

I was not praised for being beautiful so much as for being intelligent, for getting good grades, for working hard. What feminists Pat and Margie were!

And yet here I am years later in Nepal, a veritable misogynist.

“You are very beautiful” I said to the beautiful waitress.

She shook her head fiercely, embarrassed. But since I’m intent on maintaining my title as the world’s most socially awkward person alive, I pressed further, attempting to force her to appreciate her own beauty as I did, and to comprehend her own loveliness right that second.

“You should be a model.”

Why do I do this? It’s not that I was hitting on her – I discovered long ago that I’d make a dreadful lesbian.

I think it has something to do with beauty being the ultimate achievement of the Western woman – whether we want to admit it or not, it is the thing that is prized above all other things.

“Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive.”

– Leslie M. McIntyre

Which is what I was trying to relay to this poor, trembling Chihuahua of a girl: “In my culture, you’re a success! In my culture, you win! In my culture, any of your failures would be forgiven instantaneously!”

It was then that the little Chihuahua proceeded to say something that transformed her into a bulldog before my very eyes.

In response to my suggestion that she was missing out on a lucrative modeling career in, say, Poland, she stared me dead in the eye and quipped “I have no interest in this.”

She went on to tell me that she was studying to be an accountant, but I didn’t hear much of what she said. My mind was racing. She didn’t care that she was beautiful. She didn’t care that I thought she was beautiful. She didn’t have any interest in earning money because of her beauty.

Every cell in her body spun in its place, keeping time with the spinning of the earth and the stars, just as mine did.

And yet her entire view of herself and the world was an inverse of mine. She may have been imprisoned by poverty, limited by the traditions and educational system in her country, forced to perform familial roles that she’d never think to question.

But as she grows older, as her beauty fades, she will allow it to pass like a friend into the foyer of her home. Her face, her body did not define her self in any way.

And it was surely that confidence, that sense of self, that rejection of ideals that made her truly beautiful in the first place.

Wow. I almost hope that if Deepak the Good has a girlfriend, it’s her.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

The parallel universe that exists in the quietest chamber of your heart, buried deep beneath years of conditioning and Cosmo magazine covers, isn't a figment of your imagination.

There is a place where it really doesn't matter what you look like. And not just in a lip-service, that's-what-I'm-supposed-to-believe kind of why.

In an honest way. In way that's impossibly free. In a way that's truly beautiful.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Sunrise at Sarangkot

Someone’s alarm goes off and I’m immediately pissed.

It’s a rare morning when the desire to continue sleeping doesn’t overwhelm me completely, dragging me back to bed like a clingy lover who doesn’t know when to let go.

I long for the day – that happy day – when I will suddenly wake up one morning at say, oh, 5am, joyfully jump into my running clothes, skip the coffee, and set off on my daily 5-mile jog, or mountain hike, or yoga session in the forest.

Today is not that day.

And it wasn’t my alarm that went off anyway, so what the hell….?

I squint in the darkness, trying to circumvent my mind’s fogginess, and realize with a bit of alarm that I don’t seem to be at the Harvest Moon.

The pale, pleasantly-painted indigo walls of this foreign room are offset by hand-sewn curtains in a shade of tangerine only acceptable in the dimmest light of early day. Shova would never be caught dead with such gaudy drapes.

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Plus, it’s fucking freezing, so it can’t possibly be the warm nest I’ve come to call home, the aptly named Harvest Moon “writer’s room,” where I can prance around naked in the middle of the chilly night behind double-paned windows as thick as layer cakes.

My nose is cold, my eyelashes are cold, the cold has woven itself around each strand of my hair.  And yet for some reason, every part of me below the blanket is cozy, comfortable, mysteriously immune to the high-altitude air seeping in through the cracks in the windows and door.

In my confusion I see that there is another bed in the room, and notice a thin, worn comforter carelessly tossed upon it. I look down and see that my body is covered with an identical comforter, whose threadbare fabric could not possibly be providing this much warmth.

I roll to the side – hoping to forget all about the alarm and my cold nose and the strange heat emanating from the lower half of my body, but – someone rolls with me.

The someone nuzzles the back of my neck with an equally cold nose, lets thick fingertips explore my left hip, and presses into me in a way that indicates that he is very much a morning person.

Holy shit, it’s Deepak.

Last night washes over me in an instant – the winding motorbike ride through Pokhara after a sudden decision to get out of town.

His call into the restaurant to say that he’d be gone for the evening shift.

The sky like the painting of a C+ art student who’s scolded for using colors that couldn’t possibly exist in nature – neon pinks, purples so rich you could taste them in your mouth, oranges that threatened to rip the sky apart and pull you through into another dimension.

Our timing was perfect, as we reached the summit of Sarangkot with just enough light left to illuminate our hunt for a guest house.

$7/night, plus you get to meet an angel.

$7/night, plus you get to meet an angel.

I thought that after visiting the stupa, the defining tourist destination of Pokhara, I’d have done my sight-seeing duty and could view the rest of my time in town as one long, extended happy hour.

But instead of finding camaraderie when discussing the stupa’s exquisite views of the lake and city, I was met with scoffs: “The stupa? Please. Where you really need to go is Sarangkot.”

The way Deepak’s eyes lit up when I suggested the place made me hope that there was something truly special about it (special beyond the fact that we’d have to stay overnight in order to enjoy a famous Sarangkot sunrise in the morning).

Sarangkot is a tiny village set atop a 1600-meter peak that lies about 30 minutes Northwest of Pokhara. It’s definitely hikeable from town, but in order to see the sunrise you’d have to leave in the middle of the night and climb with a headlamp, and I’m just not that adventurous (plus I can’t rock headgear, functional or otherwise).

I hoped that since I was rolling with a local we’d be able to score an incredible deal on our room, but our digs at the Mountain View Lodge and Restaurant were $7/night – just a dollar less than my room at Harvest Moon. This meant that I was indeed getting a fair price at my place, a realization that comforted me greatly.

When we stopped at the Mountain View to inquire about a room, we were greeted by a 6-year old welcome wagon of a girl whose name I can’t remember.

This child was grace incarnate. She was bubbling over with excitement to practice her English, which was impeccable, and to demonstrate her role as the family’s Master of Ceremonies.

She ushered us inside, arranged our room with her mother, ordered her older sister to make tea, and showed us to our lovenest. I spent all of 5 minutes with this person and I’ll never forget her as long as I live – she was the kind of kid who makes you happy to be alive, the kind of person you want to be around all the time. She was everything beautiful about Nepal with none of the ugliness.

As she quietly shut the door to our room, taking care to bow to me shyly as she did, I said a little prayer that she’d always stay exactly as she was, no matter what life threw her way.

Drinks and debauchery were enjoyed by all as the sun rested up for the next day’s opening act.

Romance, Nepali-style: cigarettes, beer, and coca-cola

Romance, Nepali-style: cigarettes, beer, and coca-cola

Deepak’s innocence and youth revealed itself throughout the evening, and I relished spending time with someone so easy to please (ok, ok, you want more details, but I don’t kiss and tell. Unless you buy the book, that is.)

The soft gray light outside is beginning to brighten. We need to move quickly if we’re not going to miss it.

We dress in the dark, Deepak shivering like he hadn’t been reared in the mountains and withstood similar temperatures his entire life.

“Too cold” he says, meaning “it’s very cold.” His substitution of “too” for “very” results in delightful phrases like “You’re too pretty” and “I’m too hungry”; as if I had somehow offended him with my good looks and his hunger was something that needed to be checked out by a doctor. I don’t have the heart to correct him – it’s too cute.

Sarangkot self portrait

Sarangkot self portrait

We bundle ourselves as best we can in the clothes we wore yesterday – impromptu trips to 1600 meters in the middle of December probably require a bit more planning, but oh well.

We climb the 100 or so narrow, winding steps through the mountain village to the lookout point. I still have to stop every 10 or 15 steps to catch my breath, and joke with Deepak that I’m not out of shape, it’s the altitude, I swear.

Rays of light begin to tap me on the shoulder, and I brace myself for beauty. It is quiet and still, I’m with a newfound love, perhaps we’re going to experience some sort of spiritual communion on the top of this impossibly high mountain in the middle of the Himalayas

In an instant, my dreams of having an out of body experience with Deepak are crushed by the cackling shouts of 50 tourists who’ve beaten us to the punch.

They’re chatting, coughing, laughing, and slurping tea sold to them by children too young to be working at all, let alone so early, let alone in such cold weather.

Something inside me retracts violently, ready to slide down the spiral of irritation, prepared to write off the entire experience as ruined.

And then an amazing thing happens. Deepak looks at the crowd gathered there, turns to me, and smiles in a way that says “Everyone is here! Everyone is here and we are too, because there is no separation between us and them. Because we have all come to see a beautiful thing happen. Because we have all gotten up at a godforsaken hour to watch God in action. Isn’t that incredible?!”

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There will be thousands of chances, thousands of moments, to fall in love with Deepak, but this is one of my favorites. He has this unique ability to undo all of my negative conditioning in a single moment. I marvel at his power to see a situation – any situation – as beautiful. And perhaps what’s even more astounding is his ability to make me see it that way too.

The chatter and laughter and coughing and camera-snapping are instantly transformed from a failure to respect the sanctity of the moment, to a noisy celebration of nature; a cheer leading session for God.

We squeeze through the crowd and press our bellies against the wooden fence that wraps around the viewing platform. Deepak puts his arms around me, and as the first electric ray of the neon sun peeks over the distant horizon, the crowd erupts into thunderous applause.

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This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. If you only have time to go to the stupa OR Sarangkot, go to Sarangkot.

2. The Mountain View Lodge and Restaurant has clean, cheap rooms that are perfect for a pre-sunrise snooze. Just be sure to bring warm clothing in the winter.

3. There is always a different way of looking at your current situation, even when it seems dreadful. Beauty and perfection can be found not only in simple things, but it things that at first glance appear downright irritating.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

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