Philosophy Stories Travel

Finding My Way: Kathmandu, Nepal

From airport struggles, to being straight up lost, to even finding a bit of romance. Here are a few journal entries from my first few days in Nepal.

Kathmandu, Nepal

July 20, 2018

3am my flight departed from Dubai, and by 9am I could see the endless city below me. We dipped into a dusty cloud, and grinded to a turbulent halt. I exited into a world of heat. The airport looked more like an abandoned hospital than an international wayfarer. There was tacky red carpet and it seemed half deserted. I waited in a few lines, dealt with some faulty machines, paid a hefty fee for a three month visa, and went to get in line to leave. For two nights of red eye flights in a row, I felt miraculously well. I had spent the night prior flying to Dubai, and the day walking with my heavy pack through the city. But apparently I was the only one with a 3 month visa and waited alone in front of a booth for someone to come for over an hour. I asked someone to inform people that no one was there three times, and the immigration officer that was working the booth was just leisurely gossiping with a group in his office. Finally, when he came, I guess he decided he wanted to teach me a lesson. First he looked at my passport, and then asked for two other forms of ID. This has never happened to me before, but luckily I did have my driving license and a debit card. Then he meticulously rubbed and bent each page of my passport until he got to the middle of it. The binding, I guess, is slightly worn and a string is coming loose.

“Why is your passport damaged?” He said smugly, tugging at the strings, trying to pull it loose.

“I’ve never been informed that that was considered damaged.” I said wishing he would stop damaging it more. After having a few people come over, look at my passport, and ask me questions about it, he left the booth again with my passport sitting on the desk. “It’s for security. Please just wait.” He said with a grin. I could see him in the office doing nothing. I waited so long, that the entire airport had completely emptied out and eventually I resulted to just sitting on the floor in front of this one booth.

I found myself so frustrated and targeted by this guy. I felt like he was just trying to use his measly bit of power to antagonize me. But then I started thinking, man this is how so many people feel when coming to the US. I’m shocked by this because I’m privileged and not used to being profiled. I even know some friends that have been denied complete entry from a country just because they had arabic features.

“Why are you waiting here? Is this your passport?” Another officer asked as he walked by, seeing my passport on the empty desk.

“Yes.” I said. He shouted something at the other guy and he shouted back, still laughing. My passport got stamped in a second and I could finally leave. Yet as soon as I made my way out, I was harassed by a swarm of eager taxi and pushy hotel sales people. It was overwhelming. I pushed my way through to the Tourist Info Booth just to ask how to take a bus to the city center, but the person there just tried to get me to get in a taxi to go to his hotel. Even if it was a fine price, it was bullshit that the tourist office was just another sales post. I decided to just forgo it all and start walking.

I immediately felt skeptical of my presence in Nepal at all. Was this a mistake? I had missed this part of the world for so long, was I remembering it correctly? I hadn’t been to Kathmandu, but I really didn’t expect this. I choked on the air thick with smog and dust. Trash was everywhere, and the bus stop was overwhelming. Buses would slow to a brief stop, shout something their destinations in Nepali, and jet off again. About three buses at a time were arriving. I was standing on a corner trying to ignore a lady tugging at my shirt asking for money. I found a girl who seemed to understand me, and asked her if she could help me identify which bus went to the city center.

“I am going to the clock tower stop.” She said, which according to my map was just outside of the city center. Perfect!

“Oh great! I will just follow you then!” I felt relieved. Just a minute later, she grabbed my arm.
“Let’s go!” We ran into the street, where the bus had stopped, two lanes over, and jumped on. We were off.

A friendly man on the bus next to me began asking me questions.

“Oh! I am a teacher also! I teach English!” He said, overjoyed when he heard that I’d be teaching at a school in Pokhara. The bus was crowded, and I was conscious of my backpack. We did not seem to be getting to the city center. The land outside looked barren with rows of cement 4 story building and a four-lane dirt road. I just needed to get somewhere with wifi so I could download the maps.me for Kathmandu and figure out where on earth I was. The girl eventually got off in a place that was definitely not the city center, and the teacher sitting next to me urged me, “No you don’t get off here, wait one more stop and you’ll be at the city center.” He had a huge doey eyes and a big friendly smile on his face, so I shrugged, “Okay.” Sometimes you just got to have a little faith. Although that stop never came. It attribute getting so lost to there being just a  huge language barrier, despite even meeting an English teacher. Once we did get off, it was this polluted industrial area with a disgusting river going through it. He was definitely not helpful, but he was kind and it was okay. He ran driver to driver, asking the best way to get to the city center. We managed to find a bus stop, but apparently buses come so infrequently, that when a taxi stopped, he spoke with him for a few minutes, and then recommended I go. I agreed to pay 1000 rupees, which was twice the original price from the airport, but at this point I was beyond arguing. I just wanted to get somewhere. 1000 Nepalese rupees is just under $10 by the way.

We began driving up a small hilly road that winded farther and farther up. I could see the city becoming smaller behind me. It really felt strange to go this way to get to the city center. I had a paper map with me. I asked the driver and while pointing, “Are you taking me to Thamel, the city center?” I said to confirm.

“Yes.” He said with absolute confidence. Okay. He knows this town obviously. Definitely a lot better than I do. You’re in cab. Just relax. But my skepticism just grew. Despite it, I was happy to see the hills. Soon the smog and dust seemed so far away. Maybe I really will like Kathmandu! I thought happily. I was surrounded by forest and trees, overlooking the Kathmandu valley. I had been dreaming of Nepal for so long. I was finally here.

Then we rolled into a small town and he stopped the car. We had arrived. I paid him and he briskly drove off. I walked over to the first person I saw and asked, “Is this Thamel? Kathmandu city center?” They looked at me very confused. “No. This is Chengunari.” So, he didn’t understand what I had said when I asked him to take me to the city center. And that English teacher guy also had no fucking clue where I was trying to go. But here I was. Actually, probably for the best. I’m into serendipitous mistakes like this. It was a small village with stone streets and old stone buildings. A few shops, and a booth, indicating a ticket price to continue to the ancient temple in the center of the town.

“Are there any guest houses here?” I asked the ticket person.

“No. None are here.” He said. Wait what. My positivity was seriously being challenged.

“Seriously?! None?” It was getting late in the day, and the hours of being lost were taking their effect.

“No. There aren’t.” He confirmed.

“Okay. Well, is there at least anywhere with wifi?” I was exasperated. My biggest mistake was not downloading the Kathmandu map before arriving here.

“Yes.” He pointed to a small lunch spot. That’s when my day started to turn around.

I entered the cafe and set my bag down to meet eyes with a green-eyed, handsome Nepali man. Benayak would be my first friend in Nepal. That afternoon, I drank tea and played chess with him for hours. He gave me some Nepali lessons that still serve me to this day. He even arranged a homestay for me at a local family’s house, and I proceeded to realize how this whole misadventure was going to be okay. Chengu is a charming place. A truly ancient and holy town. In the center the Chengu Narayan temple, which has guards all hours of the day, and is a protected heritage sight. This temple is considered to be the oldest temple in the history of Nepal.

July 21, 2018

“Fashion is merely a way of saying, ‘I belong to your world. I’m wearing the same uniform as you. Don’t shoot.'” -Paulo Coelo The Winner Stands Alone

Today at 5 am, I went with my host (mom?) to do early worship. The whole town circled the temple with plates of fire and offerings. I love Nepal.

July 22, 2018

Today is Benayak’s day off so we are going on a tour. I am writing this from the temple where a historic sacrifice was made. Read the plaque below for the story!

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“Do you have a crush?” Benayak asks. We are sitting below a sky of prayer flags. I think immediately of someone…”-or a boyfriend?” He continues.

“Well, not a boyfriend.” I said.

“Do you like me?” He asked, not making eye contact with me. His whole body was turned away actually and he was fiddling with some grass.

“I’m really happy to have met you.” I said, wondering why he was saying this without even looking at me.

“Since meeting you, I haven’t slept so well.” He admitted, his voice sounding sad. He looked up just to catch my eye for a second, and then immediately looked down again. “Have you ever been in love?” He asked me.

I thought of my first love, the consuming endless feeling. The friends that just thinking of can bring me to tears. The love that I’m hoping for one day. Then again, all the times I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, and been wrong about love.

“I don’t really know what love is.” I answered, “I’ve loved people, animals, places… I love my family…”

“I think I am falling in love.” He said, his voice cracking slightly.

“Oh.” I said unsure of how to respond. A minute of silence passed. I returned his question, “Have you ever been in love before?”

“No. Well not until now. Only with you.” He still was looking down. I didn’t feel love from him. It was kind of strange. Is that just because it is genuine? I wondered.

I don’t take it seriously when people say they love me without knowing me. It’s almost offensive. It’s just so impractical and untrue. If someone who’s seen me at my worst can still love me, then that’s meaningful to me. But none the less, I know love isn’t so logical. And this culture is quite different from the west.

The culture of marriage and promises of life commitments come before any exploration or certainty. His green eyes were framed by eyebrows furrowed with worry. He seemed seriously distraught.

“Remember how you told me that tourists at your shop call you handsome, and you told me that you didn’t really like that because there are more important things?” He had told me that earlier, and I thought it was cool of him to say.

“Well, I feel that way about love. There’s more important things. We don’t always need to own things that are good, or that we like. Sometimes it’s so much more genuine just to enjoy friendship with someone.” I knew that this was an important moment to be kind, but also to communicate clearly. I cannot say that I love Benayak because I have only known him two days now. I’ll admit, I looked forward to spending today with him, and have stayed around in Chengu this long mostly because of him. Actually, he’s been in my dreams the last two nights. I had a nightmare where I was lost and I was searching desperately for him. I was so shocked by this dream. Maybe I do feel a connection with him, but actually as he was saying this, I immediately thought of someone who I do feel a love connection with. Someone who’s in Montana *eye rolls* Goddamit heart.

“But I do love you Raleigh. I’ve never met anyone that I’ve loved like this before. I don’t have any gift for you or any ring, but if you love me too, then you can decide if you want to marry me.”

Okay. Okay. It was getting to be too much. But I get it. I can be calm. I can be kind. I think of myself, and try to understand him. Honestly, if I felt the way he did, I probably just would never have admitted it.

“You’re very brave to ask me that.” I said gently.

“I do not feel brave,” he retorted, “My whole body is shaking.” He looked at me quickly then looked away. His hands really were shaking. Part of me wanted to kiss him then. It was really sweet. I could just scoot closer and put an arm around him. That was the kind of love I could offer. That was the only way I really could think of speaking to him. I had no words. But I also held back, knowing that would be the absolute worst thing I could do. It would be incredibly misleading for one, and it would do nothing but make him fall harder, and from the pain I could see he had from just asking me this, I realized the kindest thing I could do was to stay where I was.

“Marriage is kind of a big deal.” I said, careful with my words. “You have to really think about what the future will look like and know the person well. It would be hard for me to live in Nepal because this is not my culture and people don’t speak my language. The same goes for you in the US. I don’t think you’d be happy there. Plus, I’ve only known you a few days and I couldn’t possibly marry someone I don’t know.” I said the last part maybe a little harshly. I looked at him.

“Okay. I will give you time.” He said. “Yes, in Nepal, divorce is very difficult. So if you marry, you must be with them forever.” He wasn’t making it better, and maybe I wasn’t either. I didn’t say anything this time. It was getting more difficult for me to sit there. Oddly enough, I’m so much more used to guys who are emotionally barren. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had confidently moved in for a kiss, but this? Trembling while handing me his heart on a platter? I felt a pressure in my heart like I was being suffocated. I stood and asked him if he was ready to go.

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July 23, 2018

“The young all have the same dream to save the world.” Paulo Coelo The Winner Stands Alone

Today Benayak told me again that he loved me, and asked if I loved him too. This time, I just said “No.” I think it’s time for me to leave Chengu.

People use their heads to carry rocks. It’s backbreaking work.

July 24, 2018

I’ve become an escape artist. I’ve had a few disappearing acts. It’s become so easy to leave anything behind.

A boy just passed me playing Lana del Ray. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. American music is everywhere.

I had the urge to kiss Benayak again today. But I will never kiss him. I owe him at least that much. Since he asked me to marry him, all of our interactions have been heavy and depressing.

His voice is deep. His eyes are steady now, but downcast.

“Am I not perfect?” He asks.

All I can think is that he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t even know what it means to love.

I leave for good this time.

He’s still in my dreams. Maybe that’s grounding for me. I need someone real here in Nepal. Since leaving Arcata, all my dreams until now have been of places far away.

July 25, 2018

“Short verbs, strong sentences” – Bernadine Healy

Intentions for the bus ride: Detachment meditation.

“I disenvow all entities attached to me. I call all parts of myself back. I am light. I am free.”

I would love to see more of the Americas, Eastern Europe, and Asia. I really have seen a lot of the world already. I’m so lucky in that regard. I hope the school I’m going to is good. I hope I’m an okay teacher. I hope I have some time for trekking. I hope I don’t die on this bus ride.

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8 comments on “Finding My Way: Kathmandu, Nepal

  1. Wow, you are one brave young woman. I really admire what you are experiencing and look forward to more journals. I am also reading a daily blog from a friend’s son who is biking from Saratoga, CA to his home in Saratoga Springs, NY. I wish you the best in experiences to read about
    Ann Cleaver

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  2. Arnoud Philippo de Jong

    Hi Raleigh. Thank you for your text about your travel experience in Nepal. The way you write makes me feel to travel as well. Because of your story I remember an experience in China. It was in a bus: while driving she did ask me ‘do you want to marry me?’. If I remember well, she wrote this on a paper. I was very surprised. Of course I could not say ‘yes’,… I did not have any communication with her. And later, I realized, that maybe her question to marry me was to be able to escape from China. I did feel very sorry for her. If my thinking was right: if you are young and don’t want to live in your own country. The only possibility to escape from your country…. to marry a foreigner…unbelievable. I do realize that I will never forget this experience.
    I wish you a very good time in Nepal. And I am very curious about your experiences. Please write about your life in Nepal. The country is still on ‘my list’ of countries I would like to travel in.
    Love from Petrer in Spain, Arnoud. ❤

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  3. What a beautiful and talented writer you are! Can’t wait to read more and more, Raleigh.

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  4. Your stories are a joy to read. Surely, writing will forever be a part of your future (as will be travel and thoughtful experiencing). Follow your heart 🙂

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  5. Ginkgo Torquemada

    Raleigh ! I love your bravery and fearlessness into the world. It inspires me to be more brave in my own travels. Much love to you on your journeys. ❤️

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  6. Binayak sharma

    Thank you Raleigh including me in your journal,I just want to say that Never choose a friend without complete understanding and never lose a friend because of a small misunderstanding.thank you!!

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  7. Exhaustive but interesting and informative 🙂 . Happy journey and keep sharing !

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