“Life is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get” and needless to say, so is travel.
Once you set foot in that foreign land - anything can happen. It was like that when I first touched down in Kathmandu. It felt like utter chaos as I left the tranquility of the inner airport. I had been warned, but as a newbie traveller, I still was not prepared.
It was overwhelming - the humid air, the noise and the onslaught of people vying for my attention. So much was coming at me, my senses were in overdrive. There was a moment of panic before the sense of relief that washed over me. I had found the tour company driver for my two weeks of trekking in Nepal. His sign clearly showing Peregrine Adventures. I had been warned not to get into any taxi, but to be certain that it was the one that would be taking me to Shanker Palace - home base for tours with Peregrine.
It was my first time travelling alone - I was more than a little nervous as my driver negotiated the crazy streets of Kathmandu, me white knuckled in the back.
Twenty minutes of chaos...and then there was calm. It felt like I was entering paradise as we turned into the former palace grounds and gardens leading up to the entrance. Finally, a chance to absorb what I had thrown myself into.
Welcome to Kathmandu, the gateway to the Nepalese Himalayas and the Everest region. Like many who come to Kathmandu, seeing Everest was one step closer. As with any organised tour, there is free time and structured time. Having arrived early, I had plenty of time to explore the city and soak in the atmosphere before the group briefing and optional cultural evening and dinner (Nepalese dinner theatre).
Immediately, I found people coming to me for money, offering private tours and recommendations. Rickshaw drivers yelled “come here pretty lady”, grumpy and gruff when I walked away. Tourism is one of Nepalʼs biggest industry and the perception of visitors is that they are rich - and needless to say, the Nepalese need the dollars. At first it was off-putting being face to face with the barrage of services offered. In reality, it was not so bad - a little culture shock for me, but no one meant any harm and as I quickly on my way.
Crossing the busy streets was like playing a game of chicken - cars, mopeds and buses were flying in what appeared to be chaos - reminiscent of the taxi ride earlier. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason, just the incessant honking of horns as cars and trucks vied for space with the overloaded motorbikes. In a word - insanity! Out of the blue, the chaos appeared to let up.
A uniformed policeman with a face bandana (due to smog and exhaust) appeared to be managing the roads. A cow, sacred and therefore untouchable, wandered in to the street. As I walked, I could feel the grit on my face. I could only imagine what I was breathing in. One day in and I was longing for the mountains!
Let the fun begin
Having survived my first foray into the streets of Kathmandu, it was time to meet my fellow trekkers. A cultural dinner was on the schedule and would prove to be entertaining as the entertainers performed traditional dances and introduced the legend of the Yeti.
One more day til the mountains, we were off to experience the many cultural riches of Nepal. First stop - Bodhnath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.
Built in the 14th century and rich in Buddhist symbolism, Bodhnath is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and remains an important site for pilgrimage and mediation. Surrounding the Stupa are streets and narrow alleys lined with colorful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and street vendors.
Take a moment to watch the traditional Mandala painting. The work is so intricate, a symbolic offering by Buddhist practitioners, presented to religious teachers, Buddhas and deities of the past and present. Watch the women as they weave their incredible rugs.
The tours of the Bodhnath and learning about the funeral rituals on the banks of the holy Bagmati River were amazing. While not for the faint of heart, those who were interested were able to watch a traditional Hindu funeral with the body cremated along the river bank on a funeral pyre.
The guides really brought the Nepalese culture to life. The stories of the gods and beliefs of the Nepalese were as vibrant as the painted statues and monuments found throughout Kathmandu.
The moment I had been waiting for was finally here. We left the hotel early the next morning for the stunning yet hair raising flight through the mountain peaks...destination, Lukla! The views were so breathtaking and the mountains so close, it felt like you could open the window and scoop up the snow with your hands.
This flight is not for the faint of heart, but for those of us on a short vacation from work it's the only way to get into the mountains. Let the trekking begin!
About the author: Both Canadian and Australian, Anita loves getting out there and experiencing it all. Always looking for the next adventure, the question remains - where to next?" She is the chief adventurer at Travel Destination Bucketlist where stories of her past, present and future antics can be found.
If you're ready to get your walking shoes on, take a look at all our trips to the Himalayas.