Please allow me to be blunt. With regards to travel, there are at least two dilemmas that face us all – we each have a limited amount of time on earth and there are 196 countries, including our own, that we can choose to visit during that time frame. So why should Nepal be on your “short-list” of countries to visit, ahead of the nearly two hundred others to choose from? That’s an excellent question! Please allow me to indulge you in the reasons that I will keep returning to Nepal – and why I hope to see you there – in the many years to come…
I have been fortunate to visit Nepal on two different occasions – in 2007 and 2013 – for a combined five months and, even though the country is relatively small at just the size of Arkansas/Bangladesh, I have yet to even scratch the surface on the abundance of activities possible. With the mighty Himalayas providing a natural border with China and Tibet to the north, Chitwan National Park and the tropical plains of the Terai bordering India to the south and the undulating hills in between binding the country together, Nepal’s landscape rivals that of perhaps no other. Hyperbole withheld, each truly is magnificent in its own beauty and offers, combined, nearly an unlimited amount of activities from which to choose.
Although the über-popular Annapurna and Everest regions offer tourists a taste of Nepal’s outdoor splendor, with eight of the ten highest world peaks within its borders as well as ninety more peaks exceeding 7,000 meters (23,000 feet), Nepal offers truly an endless amount of hiking, trekking and mountaineering experiences across many various terrains. Due to the natural watershed from the Himalaya, Nepal also offers many opportunities to those inclined to test the white waters. Of the many rivers to choose from, the Upper Bhote Koshi and its world-class 5+ rapids and the more recreational Trishuli River are the most popular. There is even a world famous 160m (525 foot) bungee jump available to adventurers in a beautiful gorge above the mighty Bhote Koshi. Not to be outdone, the vast Terai awaits visitors to Asia’s best-preserved jungle – Chitwan National Park – where one can tour the jungle by elephant or on foot in search of rhinoceros, tigers and crocodiles, bathe with elephants, interact with elephants at the elephant sanctuary, take a canoe ride to get a up-close view of the biodiversity and bird watch. Although Chitwan tends to be an afterthought in most tourists’ minds due to the attraction of the Himalaya, one could truly spend an entire vacation in the Terai alone. And, last but certainly not least, the above-stated hill region, which binds the Terai and the mountainous regions, offers travelers plenty of hiking and a chance to experience the real Nepal and its magnificent culture and people.
I don’t know about you, but wherever I travel, it seems as though the people that I meet or come across tend to be a big part of the experience that I remember most. In fact, I’d venture to say that the people I meet during and through my travels are probably more important than the places I visit. Simply stated, they can either make or break your trip. I have been fortunate to travel to many places on this great earth, and without question, some of the nicest, most genuine people I have met have been in Nepal, whether they be Nepali or a tourist.
Culture, like family, runs deep in the Nepali people. Hardworking, resilient, always smiling and warm-hearted, these are the Nepali people that I know and love. Nepali people are the type that will welcome a complete stranger into their home, just because they are interested in getting to know more about him/her and their culture and want to share theirs. On multiple occasions, I have been invited to stay with a family in their village or invited into someone’s home for lunch or dinner. If you travel in Nepal with an open heart, these are the experiences you will encounter and is, by far, the best way to get to know the people, who call Nepal home.
I believe that because the people who travel to Nepal, generally speaking, come for a specific reason, whether it be for trekking in the Himalaya, visiting the source of Buddhism, a desire to be surrounded by nature on a majestic elephant or the longing to help those in need, I have found that tourists in Nepal tend to be some of the most open-minded, sincere and open-hearted people I have met throughout my travels. In fact, if you based the amount of friends – people who would today invite me into their homes to stay overnight if I was in their home country – I have from my two trips to Nepal compared to all others against the population of Nepal, my friends per capita would be overwhelmingly in favor of Nepal. Special people are drawn to this special country… there is something spiritual about it.
+(Large)Part of the joy I derive from travel comes by visiting places that have yet not been overdeveloped and have a lot of room in which to grow. While it is true that Nepal’s largest cities – Kathmandu and Pokhara – are very developed, there is A LOT of room for growth, even in the tourist areas. This means that not only is it easier to get to know the true culture of Nepal before multinational hotels devour the prime locations, but one also has the opportunity to make a significant positive impact on the country economically just by visiting it, which, to me, is the truest form of civilization… to help each other on a one-to-one basis and, in turn, on a personal level.Moreover, because of the low cost of living in Nepal, one has the opportunity to volunteer for longer periods of time than one might in a more developed country. Also, there is significant opportunity to help burgeoning (social) entrepreneurs to grow their businesses so that the positive impact of growth can be amplified even greater to help those in need. Lastly, because of the warm, laid-back atmosphere and family-oriented culture in Nepal, for a tourist, Nepal is a place where one can find a fantastic work-life balance, if one chooses.
When I traveled to Nepal in 2007, it was the first time that I had ever traveled to an Asian country. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I would mesh well in such a different culture. But what I found was a renaissance to the days when family and private life mattered more than the almighty dollar. While it is very true that Nepal is a poor country – the average person earns less than $700 per year – and it is also true that although a visa to the United States still remains in ultra-high demand in Nepal (since the United States is still considered to be the “land of opportunity”), when given the choice, however, to earn more money than a typical Nepali could ever hope to accrue in one’s life with the trade-off being only able to spend a much limited amount of time with one’s significant other and children, my personal poll with the Nepali I have spoken to since 2007 has been 100%… in favor of choosing the life that exists now in Nepal versus that of the Western world.
It was, for all of the above reasons, why in 2007 I nearly stayed in Nepal… with the thought of at least 10 years being the length of my stay. Coming from someone, who had just quit his job and had planned to travel for a couple of years throughout Asia, this was a huge mental leap for me. Yet, had it not been for a return ticket home from Mumbai in order to settle my affairs before embarking again for Asia (a story that has not yet come to fruition due to a spiritual encounter), I doubt I would be writing this blog from Chicago. That is how special a place Nepal is for me, and why I know that it will be for you too.
Because Ingvill and I believe so much in the need for tourists to return to Nepal, we have decided to introduce a special introductory offer: for each person who purchases a t-shirt from the Happy Heart Universe store or donates $100 or more to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund, we will offer our hands-on assistance in helping you to travel to Nepal this autumn. All you need to do is to send us an e-mail to Ingvill@livealifeinmotion.com, along with an attached PDF of your purchase/donation, and we will help you to organize your trip this autumn to Nepal.
(Valid until December 1, 2015. Note: If you purchased a Happy Heart Universe or made a donation of $100 or more to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund prior to the publishing date of this article, this introductory offer is extended to you as well. We thank you again for your generosity.)