“I’m surprised to see that people come back. Time and time again. This is not a resort. You must really like it to actually want to come back…” These were the bemused musings uttered by a lady-stranger I met today on learning that this is my 3rd visit to Kathmandu.
It made me think. Why am I back? Why do people come back? Time and time again. Do I “really like it”? What do I like?
Another view, expressed by a man-friend back home, divulged that he wished he could be here with me to experience this “exotic” place.
Is it exotic? What is exotic? Is that why I’ve returned? To experience the “exotic”?
Yes, I have indeed returned and yes, there are many things I love about Nepal. But is it exotic? I’m not sure about that. Perhaps exotic in the sense that it is different. Very different from home. Although on second thoughts, it’s actually not all that different from home. Not any more. There are shops. There’s traffic. There’s internet. A lot of people fixated on their mobile phones…
Let’s see - exotic? It feels far from home. And the food is certainly spicier. Cows wander across the busy roads. Does that make it exotic? Perhaps.
I wouldn't say it’s exotic in a tropical island/paradisical retreat sort of way. There are no clear blue waters. No beaches. No butterflies.
It’s landlocked for a start. There are noisy, fighting dogs – especially at night. Hard beds. No clean drinking water. There’s diarrhoea and vomiting. Abdominal cramps. Sweating. Loneliness in a place that’s so busy. Loud, blaring, constantly honking horns. A lot of dust. A lot of pollution. And a few dodgy men.
But there are many, many kind and wonderful men and women. Smiling people. Happy people. Genuine people. Generous people. Hard-working people. Honest people. Good people. Loving people. I do love the people of Nepal. So, I suppose that is why I have returned.
And I do enjoy the food. Although some of the more fiery foods disagree with my bowels, I still enjoy a good, zesty curry. I adore the sights and smells (not the smells of urine, traffic, dogs or sewage so much)… But the smells of incense, chillies, curries, flowers, sweet chai….
The sight of beautiful, mesmerising, multi-coloured prayer flags flapping in the wind. The sight of the monumental Himalayan foothills, silhouetted against a gentle sunset when the smog clears on a cool Autumn evening. The sight of familiar faces – seeing their gleeful expressions and feeling their warmth and friendship.
There’s something strangely satisfying too about washing your own clothes by hand. Splashing yourself in the process - with just a little water at first - then completely soaking yourself when you accidentally turn the shower on instead of the tap. That’s amusing. Who would have thought washing clothes could be so immensely satisfying… and amusing… and humbling.
Humbling to recognise that I’m so privileged back home in England - to readily access a washing machine - while here I'm on my hands and knees, scrubbing and sloshing in the bathroom - with a bucket, cold water and washing-up liquid. I really take such luxuries for granted.
Humbling to realise that I’m so fortunate here in Nepal – to have a roof over my head providing a safe haven and the ability to wash myself and my clothes straight from a tap. Not needing to go to the nearest (visibly dirty) river to wash them. How lucky I am to have clothes at all – to wash and to wear. How blessed I am to have the strength, health, vitality and hands to wash. To work. To touch.
Feet to walk. To tread carefully. And run carelessly.
So, here I am again… far from home. They say home is where the heart is. There is definitely a big part of my heart back in England. But I’ve also left significant pieces of my heart all over this world that I’ve wandered. I’m trying to keep my heart here too. So that it can become my home again for a short while. I hope that I can keep my heart open to all the incredible people here.
I’m grateful for my friends and family. Near and far. All those who have touched and continue to touch my life. My heart. My hand.
I’m thinking more clearly here. Appreciating the time and space to reflect. To Ponder. Pray. Plan. Despite the noise, despite the pollution, despite the hustle and bustle, despite the confusion - I’m seeing more plainly, hearing more astutely and feeling more truly. I do really like Nepal. I like the exotic, I like the familiar. It’s good to be back.