Nepal: Mr Lee’s Journey to the Roof of the World
Looking back over the years, I realized I was able to witness the wonder of Nepal before the 2015 earthquake that devastated that country. I look over pictures and remember the people that I met and more importantly the impression those people and their culture left on me which I will carry with for a lifetime.
Looking at these pictures, I remember the entire journey as if it were yesterday. I was in Malaysia visiting home during the festive Chinese New Year when I received an invite from an old friend, Howey, to join him and his son-in-law, Jonathan, in Nepal for several days hiking, ministering, and eating. I agreed jumping at the opportunity to visit the land locked country.
Why Nepal you may ask?
For me, I have a modest affection for 3rd and 4th world countries. I would love to see them up close and personal before they are exposed to McDonald’s, to Coke, and other modern Western influences. Nepal, birthplace of 1 of the 2 people to first scale Mount Everest, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, I imagine would be a romantically rural destination to visit with the Himalaya’s, world’s tallest mountains, for scenery.
February 14th, Valentine’s Day, I flew Malaysian Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu with both Howey and Jonathan. The plan was to situate ourselves in Kathmandu, then hike through the mountains for a 3 day trek to the small town of Beni to help out with a youth camp there and then return.
After nearly 4 1/2 hours, we flew into an overcast Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) and due to the lack of visibility were denied an aerial view of the famed mountain ranges.
KTM, for an international airport, turned out to be smaller than I had imagined, similar to Thailand’s Hat Yai International Airport. After disembarking the plane, we applied for a Visa at the the price $20 U.S. dollar (USD).
Not having a passport photo handy, I purchased their photo service for $5 USD for 2 pictures (I only needed 1 photo). Overall the entry process was easy and not a hassle. The local exchange rate was $1 USD to 97 Nepalese Rupees (NPR).
Kathmandu Guest House Entrance
Not sure which wire went where!?!?
Meeting Up with Friends at the Hotel
We were soon approached by Michael, our Nepalese handler, whose father was the former pastor of the local Binay Church, but now in Denmark ministering to a Nepalese church there. The 4 of us packed into an old Nissan headed for the Kathmandu Guest House (KGH), which would be our home for the next 2 nights. KGH in the past served as hosts to celebrities like the Beatles and President Carter, and commemorated their names on walkway tiles leading into the hotel.
I lucked out and had a room all to myself with an attached bathroom. However, to be frank with you, do not expect Marriott standards! For all it’s rustic charm, I ended up with a leaky shower head, unstable hot water, spongy mattress and spotty WiFi to round things out.
Streets of Kathmandu
After unpacking the 3 of us decided to take to the streets of Kathmandu for some local scenery and much needed food. The streets were a chaotic affair, not following traffic rules, people crossing wherever they chose without rhyme or reason near misses with both car and motorcycle every which way. The pathways were filled with the brakes squealing, loud honking and angry yelling; not once did I hear a single driver curse (at least not in English).
The entire time, traversing downtown Kathmandu without adding more to the congestion, I found the scene to be both really scary and amazing. While exploring, we bypassed the wafting international smells of local Nepalese curries, and more Western delicacies like deep fried KFC, and oven baked Pizza Hut.
I was really surprised by the large presence of non-local fast food. For lunch we decided to order a large $5 USD pizza and $1 USD Coke. Despite my picky palate, or maybe it was the spice of hunger, I found the lunch to be not that bad at all.
Afterwards, dodging traffic of our own, we worked up an appetite and sat down to a hefty BBQ chicken for an early dinner which I also found to be quite tasty. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that relative to the local economy that food was expensive but since everything is so tourist dependent, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
The Attraction of Nepal
I’m told that every year the mountains of Nepal attract more and more tourists filling the economy with foreign currency. Those glorious peaks that challenge beings much more adventurous than I; drawing thrill seekers like a moth to a flame, to climb them for nothing more than the simple joy of climbing them because they are there to be climbed.
Of course, you don’t have to risk your life and limb to appreciate their rugged beauty and snow capped majesty. The thought of them alone still amazes me!
What I imagine I’ll be seeing in the days to come!
We later stopped by the local Binay Church where we witness children between the ages of 7-16 being tutored by college students and adults; I found it surprising that most of them spoke English. I spoke with one of the uniformed tutors; a lovely lady by the name of Renu told me that she was looking to finish college with a degree in accounting. During the day time, the weather hovered around 55 degrees F while at night the temperature plummeted to a cooler 40 degrees F.
Due to the infrastructure, I discovered that like the hot water, electricity is not to be taken for granted. Other than the always on generator produced lights, general electricity didn’t come back on till somewhere between midnight and 1am when my fan turned back on; the increased cold woke me up. With the electricity back on, I quickly turned off the fan and switched on the portable space heater and went back to sleep on my lumpy bed.
Catching Up with the Team
We later met up with rest of our overseas team, U.S. Pastor Tow and a Burmese lady by the name of Pan Tei. Another local team joined us on our journey consisting of 5 young and musically talented Nepalese band members who brought along their guitars, drums, keyboard and violin! I wouldn’t have imagined a violin. We drove 1/2 hour over Nepal’s paved and unpaved roads to reach a Tibetan Christian Church filled the minority Christians of the region.
While most Tibetans are Buddhists, there were pockets of Christians too. This church was a fervor filled with believers who were charismatic about their faith; it wasn’t uncommon for services to run for 3 1/2 hours. Besides us, there was a group from Petra Church in Singapore, a few medical missionaries as well. Their songs were very lively even though I didn’t understand a single word. These friendly people shared their space and their hearts with us, who were complete strangers.
We then drove to the renown Boudhanath Temple known for it’s huge stupa, a bell shaped monument containing holy relics. You can see people walking around the stupa and turning prayer wheels as they went around it. There’s a Nepalese myth that a person, regardless of sinful life, so long as they have walked around this stupa is granted a 2nd chance at redemption.
A side view of Boudhanath Temple
We later had a Tibetan lunch which was very similar to Indian food, including home made papadums (Indian grain like crackers).
Kathmandu Durbar Square
From the base of Hiranya Varna Mahavihar Buddhist Temple
We then visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site located at Kathmandu Durbar Square. This was the home to the palaces and temples of the 16th century Hindu kings who ruled over the city. Entrance into the Square was a $7 USD fee. Unfortunately due to the inherent weather of February, we were caught in the rain while visiting the area. On we explored and took pictures, cold and miserable…
That night, after exploring Nepalese culinary aptitude for Italian cooking, we sought trekking supplies for the hikes that lay in the days ahead. Depending on how you feel about such things, there were a lot of “North Face” and “Patagonia” products being peddled relatively cheaply. You could get backpacks for the less $20 USD and jackets for between $20 – $30 USD, but prepared to haggle them down for a bargain.
Ultimately, I bought a backpack, waterproof pants, and gloves. I then retired back to KGH to rest and prepare for the exciting days ahead! I was looking forward to climbing the mountains of Nepal!
Where was the last place you went to help someone’s life?