Solo traveling did not come easy for me. It took me four years of wishful thinking before I could summon enough courage to travel alone to somewhere distant and adventurous.
For someone raised in a family where girls are looked down upon, it took the lure of a free stipend from a Personal Development Fund from Maverick, the company I work for, to decide me to travel. The fun, equivalent to a month’s salary, is what the company gives its staff who have worked there for a year to develop themselves. They can do so traveling to a place they haven’t been before or taking a course that develops them as persons.
Resolute, I bought air tickets for Kathmandu, packed my bag, and told my parents that I was visiting my best friend in Bangkok, a necessary little white lie to placate my conservative parents.
On the way to Kathmandu, I transited in Bangkok, where I duly met with my best friend, took pictures with her and sent it to my parents to assure them that I was where I said I’d be. Then I took the flight to Nepal.
A cold breath of air, although dusty and polluted, greeted me when I landed at Kathmandu’s Tribuvhan International Airport. A sense of pride also swelled in me, as I realized that for the first time I was really doing this on my own.
But this elation was short lived. As I stepped out of the airport, a taxi driver aggressively tried to get me to use his services, pulling at my backpack. Experiencing a first-timer panic, I quickly pulled back my bag, and ran back into the safety of the airport.
Looking for alternatives, I found a bus that could drop me in Patan, a historical city quarter where I had booked my homestay, but the bus quickly filled up and became packed, even on its roof.
Despair. I started panicking again but quickly managed to locate an airport stand for pre-paid taxi services. It was not a difficult decision, and I swiftly got myself a taxi to Durbar square, not far from the homestay.
Once at the Durbar square and after spending some time gawking, mouth wide open, at the rows and rows of ancient buildings there, I then googled directions to my homestay. But panic struck once again when my phone battery abruptly died midway.
Being someone with serious trust issues since my childhood, opening up to or even asking for direction from strangers was daunting to me.
Nevertheless, I summoned all my courage and asked for direction from an old man manning a nearby stall. Unable to speak English, he gestured for me to follow him.
“He is going to kidnap me!”, the thought quickly crossed my mind, but I finally followed him. Fortunately he turned out to be a nice guy who took me safely to my destination.
I spent the next two days wandering around Patan. Not very big but it had a lot to explore. I visited lots of temples, sacred ponds, and museums. My favorite temple was the Hiranya Mahabihar, a.k.a, The Golden temple. And of course, as a non-Nepali speaking alien, I got continuously ripped off, having to pay much higher tourist entrance tickets.
These were some pictures I took admiring the historical buildings of Patan.
The next day, longing to see the Himalayas, I left for Namobuddha Monastery. I had arranged for a local guide to pick me up at the bus stop in Dhulikhel, a small town not too far away. From Dhulikhel, it was a six-hour track to the monastery at the top of a hill, and from there another eight-hour trek on the next day to Nagarkot, from where I hoped to have a clear view of the Himalayas.
It didn’t seem to me like a hard trek, but just two hours into the trek, I was already huffing and puffing like a walrus. It took me 2.5 hours more to get to the monastery, so it was already closed when I arrived. The thought of going through a longer trek on the following day was just too much for me. So, I just cancelled the second leg.
Me in front of a Buddha statue on my way to Namobuddha (left). A scene from my trek to Namobuddha (right).
Luckily, the hotel was nice, with amazing green views and its multitude of free-roaming fat cats. But the Himalayas were still nowhere to be seen, so, I went straight to bed, without even changing. Dinner was shared with all the other hotel guests and I sat next to a bald Frenchman wearing a monk’s robe. He said he was a photographer currently writing a book about meditation.
I only found out, to my horror, after I chatting with the hotel owner over breakfast, that the man, Matthieu Ricard, was actually famous. According to Google, he had tons and tons of published writing and photography books, including one that my father even owns at home.
My last day in Nepal, was spent splurging at a traditional Nepali spa under the pretext of getting rid of all my cramps from the trek. The treatment included hot oil poured on my forehead with the attendant assuring me that meditation will make the oil not feel that hot. It did turn bearable after ten minutes, meditation or not.
Some of the artworks posted around the streets of Patan as part of an art exhibition by Micro Galleries.
By then I had reluctantly accepted the sad reality that although I went to Nepal I would not see the Himalayas. But, as I looked out of the window on my return flight, suddenly there it was, in all its splendors! I was ecstatic! What a really great way to end the trip.
The Nepal trip made me realize that although I have always been kind of shy and worried of what people thought of me, I actually have the confidence and the courage to do whatever I want, if I set myself to it. The trip helped me conquer my fears and trust issues. Thank you, Maverick! Talk about a personal development fund!
Written by Rania Hasan, People Development Officer