I left from Bhutan on the first day of the monsoon. In pouring rain, one of my colleagues kindly drove me to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. Watching the beautiful valleys and fields of Bhutan disappear in the clouds as the plane ascended from the Paro airport, I could not help but also wash my heart in rain. I have travelled to more than 20 countries but none of my departures (other than leaving Iran for Canada) have been filled with such sense of nostalgia.
Words will not describe my feelings. I am looking forward to going back to Canada and seeing my family and friends which I have missed, but leaving Bhutan was like leaving a child that looks at you as you walk out the door, saying goodbye without knowing when and if you can come back, and knowing they will grow and change the next time you see them. The innocence, kindness and imagination of this land is enormous and I have felt it intimately and have to let it go now!
Coming into Kathmandu, I felt tired and without much energy but decided to do my favourite activity: take a long walk! My friend Sonam had recommended visiting Bodhnath, the largest stupa in Asia and a very sacred Buddhist temple which is about 5k from Thamel where I am staying. I started to walk and after dodging a few hustlers was soon in a more quiet area of town.
On the way, I came across the Pashupatinath Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River and was approached by many panhandlers, “baba”s wanting to pose for pictures and “pandits” trying to convince me to do a 1000 rupee puja. I left, leaving empty. Some places are best not visited, some mountains best not climbed.
As I was walking away suddenly I saw isolated stairs descending to the water, I walked down and suddenly I was beside the sacred river. It was quiet and peaceful. I stayed here for some time and looked at a monkey who like myself was looking at the river and enjoying the silence (I think!). As I turned to leave, I saw an old Sadhu sitting in a building looking at me. I waved at him and he did the same, kindly turning his head in a message that I felt meant “I know”!
As I walked towards the Temple, the rain intensified. When I got to the temple it was simply pouring, so I decided to wait under a cover for sometime before continuing. Here, I met an old man who told me he was from Tibet and started complaining about health problems and how expensive it is to get medicine here. He said he comes to the temple to pray to get money for the medicine. When I replied saying I will try to help him, his eyes became bright and he started talking about how much money I can give him. I smiled and said, “no, that’s not how I can help, I will pray for you the way I pray for other beings so that their suffering becomes less!” He was not impressed and I walked away!
I have heard (and quoted) the saying that “the thief only sees the saint’s pockets”. I am no saint but on this trip I wanted to ask what does the saint see when he or she looks at the thief? I think a mixture of ignorance and obstructed misplaced love.
The monsoon is also strong here and walking in the rain I was soon completely soaked. Many people looked at me in surprise but I enjoyed the warm rain on my body with the knowledge of having dry clothes back at the hotel. After all, we are 80% water!
Walking back to Thamel, I was confronted with children sniffing glue and playing with stones next to posh tourist shops. Thamel is full of beautiful things and I had planned to pick up some fun souvenirs from here but seeing this scene combined with many shopkeepers designing their stores only for foreigners who want to buy an cool image killed my appetite for any shopping and I decided to walk back to the modest hotel and read. It’s not that these things do not happen anywhere else (including Bhutan) but my state of mind was too sensitive at this specific moment.
Don’t take me wrong, Nepal is excellent for shopping and all the power to people who have the interest and patience (usually I do too) but this time I just was not in the mood for that at all. Also, the styles I was so attracted to (festival gear, psychedelic patterns, asymmetric outfits) are novel the first few years you discover them and then become more of a uniform than a creative expression of beauty. So I will have to discover new aesthetics for myself this summer.
My time in Nepal was too short: I’ve heard of majestic mountains and quiet beautiful towns that you can reach in a couple of day. Maybe next time I budget a few more days to visit Pokhara, a place I’ve been recommended to go a number of times. As it was, after the deep connections I had made in Bhutan and the way I had become used to its unique untouched fabric, it was hard to adjust immediately to the big city vibe of Kahtmandu.