Boudha Countryside Culture exchange. Dashain Experiences Family Festival Helambu Himalayas Hospitality Joyful Kathmandu Melamchi Village Nagarkot Nepal People Travel Trekking Village Welcoming

The Nepal Experience

Living in Boudha, the Tibetan neighborhood of Kathmandu, and studying at RYI, a very international community, one can sometimes become a little disconnected from the greater context of this unique country of Nepal. Kathmandu is a big city that attracts people from everywhere who want and need to make a fortune, people live in big houses in small expensive apartments, just like in all the big cities around the world. And of course there is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I feel like I am living in some kind of parallel society, a bubble of RYI students from around the world, including Nepal, and some loose contacts to the shop keepers, restaurant owners, monks and beggars with whom I’ve been sharing the neighborhood for the last couple of years. That’s why I like to spend at least my reading weeks (a one week holiday that we get once every semester) in the countryside. Be it trekking in one of the many valleys in the region, or be it just hanging out in one of the little towns in Kathmandu valley that have great views of the Himalayan mountain range if the weather cooperates. And that’s where I have experienced the famous Nepali hospitality so many times that travel blogs and guide books are praising. 

Once we went trekking in Helambu, and in Melamchigaon we stayed with an old couple who told us their story in a mixture of Tibetan, Nepali and English, we played cards with their little grandson, and ended up staying longer than planned because we felt so at home. Of course, they also offered me to marry one of their suitable relatives – the inevitable wedding proposal that happens every single time when they find out that I am unmarried. Which is what also happened a couple of days ago – it was the main day of Dashain, one of the main festivals in Nepal – when my friend and I hiked up to Nagarkot and took a wrong turn, leading us right into the courtyard of an old couple and their family. When we realized our mistake, they had already urged us to sit down and “rest a little”. We then had the following conversation at least five times during our stay there: “Sabai aaucha tapaaiilaaii!” (You understand everything!) – and me replying: “Aliali maatrai aauucha” (I just know a little bit). Then, of course, I had to eat – no matter how much I tried to explain to them that I had just eaten and was really full, they seemed to be deaf for these arguments. And so I found myself in their little living room/sewing studio, when the (grand)father of the family started the typical tikka ritual that he probably did dozens of times during Dashain, for all the various members of the family and extended family. For that he has a big plate of rice that has been dyed red, covered in a sticky mushy paste that makes it stick to your forehead and becomes hard once it dries. But before sticking the rice to my forehead, he threw some of the rice around me, bestowing good wishes upon me, such as may I get married soon, make lots of money (he repeated that one a lot, maybe he sensed that with a BA in Buddist studies I’ll rely on prayers like that…), and generally have a happy life. Then I got the tikka and also some pieces of kushi grass that he put into my hair. During that little ceremony, more and more family members joined us and watched me with curiosity, but it was the little granddaughters that actually questioned me about my name, my country, my age and so on. Then they also showed me their skill in writing in English, and I was actually very impressed with one of the girls who was only four and wrote flawless English sentences. Unfortunately I forgot the Nepali word for “smart” (oh the irony), so I just tried to show a very impressed face to her grandparents. After having my belly filled and my tikka applied, we sat a bit outside in the sun, where I once again tried to explain why I didn’t have a husband yet, which for whatever reason the women of the family found hilarious. But even the funnest afternoons have to come to an end and so we left them again, promising to visit again on our way back (which we did!) and continuing our journey on the right path. During my stay here in Nepal, there have been so many occasions like that, where families are happy to invite complete strangers passing their houses for food and tea, and sometimes even raksi (a self-made alcohol). Moments like that I always try to conserve in my memory, for when Kathmandu overwhelms me once again and I ask myself the question why I am staying here for so long, when I have a very efficient, clean and quiet country to go home to. Nepal is not only Kathmandu, and it is filled with warmhearted, welcoming, joyful people who are happy to share their culture and food with anyone who is interested.
~Maitri Berners