Motorcycles whizzing passed me as I stood alone on the hot dusty road in Thamel, Kathmandu,
Nepal. Garbage was strewn around in big bundles which locals burned at night. Baby blue medical face masks were pinned to each passing biker to cover themselves from the impending black smog one could not avoid inhaling from the cluttered traffic. The smells of fragrant Dal Bhat curry (lentils and rice) mixed with Danish cinnamon pastries and damp hanging washing of dirty clothes was pungent. The roads were dirty and visions of mothers washing their naked babies under a bridge in cardboard box makeshift houses in Chabahil where I worked nearby in an orphanage remains clear in my mind.
Nepal was one of those “Eat, Love, Pray” trips I took selfishly in 2010 to escape and to “know
myself.” It was really to get over the breakup with my first love; my ex fiancé. The breakup took
years to properly get over and this was of my own doing. I broke free from an enclosing marriage
and decided to travel the world. Nepal was simply a choice because it was as far away as possible from London where I was living at the time.
I created a bucket list and checked almost everything off it during that 1st post-up year. The bucket list to do list was my therapy but the only real thing that worked to get full closure was time and cutting off all contact and memories of my ex fiancé.
To give you some background, I am Californian-born and recently found out I’m a mix of Israeli and Norwegian. I live in London and run a top PR agency and we flew 200 media and influencers all over the world in the last year to 5 different destinations.
Some may say students or people in general who go abroad to work in 3rd world countries are often for self-serving purposes and, at the end of the day, they return to the comfort and relaxation of their 1st world reality the are accustomed to. But nothing can be truly selfless and at least their financial investment and time abroad does add to the economy of those far off places they seek their experience in.
Nepal was an eye-opener. It was the first 3 rd world country I visited. The level of poverty, lack of
healthcare, lack of education and lack of basic infrastructure was huge. I worked in the Jeewan
Utthan orphanage where the children lived in bunk beds in a cement build building beside a river literally drowning in garbage.
The electricity only worked a few hours a day and a lot of these children were simply abandoned
because they were blind, sick, unwanted, or children of divorced parents. The stories were sad but
the children were generally really happy. The lack of appropriate medical care was astonishing as
one of the little boys had a Frankenstein style metal leg caste with long metal rods sticking directly into his skin as his auntie never tended to his broken leg for years. The blind and deaf girl left beside a rubbish heap died shortly after I was there.
I slept on the cement floor and my pillow was my tennis shoe. I didn’t bother bringing a sleeping bag as I travel light. After two weeks volunteering there, it was time to return to my London home yet the day I was supposed to travel the Icelandic volcano eruption happened.
I was left in the visa immigration line to renew my visa and I was forced to remain in Nepal for a further two weeks with almost zero funds left. I was literally stranded.
Sitting in a Danish café, eating a cinnamon roll, I decided to call the only Nepalese person I knew
outside of the orphanage – a masseur I used once in the city of Thamel. I proposed we take the bus west to the cleaner city of Pokhara – a lakeside town with a Buddhist temple on an isle in the middle of a lake where we paddled to in a canoe. We then traversed to the 40 degree Celsius Chitwan jungle on the Tibetan border where we bathed with elephants in the Rapti river and gawked as prehistoric looking camels casually strolled through the dusty streets.
I can only advise these 5 tips to interested travellers and volunteers who want to go to Nepal:
1. Bring your own medication. We had a Canadian student volunteer who looked like her hands
were peeling off – I gave it the name jungle rot. I took her to the local pharmacist in Nepal
and they had no idea. Not a good situation to be in miles away from home. Also, bring your
own medication for food poisoning, potential stomach trouble and lice as those were the most common illnesses amongst us foreigners.
2. If you are volunteering, bring or buy simple things whilst you’re there – wet wipes, soap, shampoo and conditioner and perhaps medication
3. Drink bottled water and avoid vegetables. The local water problems are something you don’t want to have to suffer with
4. Go off the beaten track. The most interesting part of my month was actually going on the
small bus and riding on the back of a motorcycle to Pokhara and Chitwan. I also really loved
simply walking through the market stalls, exploring the holiest temple outside Tibet
“Boudhanath Stupa”, being a daredevil and joining some young Israeli soldiers on the Last
Resort Bungee jumping and doing Canyon Swing, paragliding tandem with a Korean-only
speaking instructor off a mountain in Pokhara, and bathing with the elephants in the Chitwan jungle’s Rapti River
5. Open your eyes and take it in. Luckily, Wi-Fi is scarce so put your phone away and simply
take everything in with open eyes and an open heart. Learn by listening and observing.
JPR Media Group