They were from two different worlds. Two entirely different people. But upon their coming together, they created. They found their own path and together they had their own world and in their own world, they were the same. Everyone else outside of it, everyone else was over there. Away. And they together, they together were here. They were right here. They were the same.
C. Joybell C.
As soon as the plane touched down a wave of excitement filled my body. I was in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha and home to the highest mountain in the world!
The bumpy and windy drive West to Pokhara gave me my first glimpse into the Nepali way of life. Old lorries crowded the roads, green terraced gardens, swing bridges connected villages on opposite sides of the river, smiling faces, free range chickens, prayer flags, colourful buildings and green mountains.
After driving alongside the Trisuli River, 6 hours later we arrived at our guest house up on a mountain and we were greeted by our host, a friendly Nepali man, who welcomed us down the steps and into his family home.
The main house, a traditional three story brick building, had two of the five guest rooms and a large open-air dining room on the patio, with stunning views out to the mountains.
Our room on the top floor was huge, and it contained three beds, a bathroom fit for a queen and our own private patio with a table and sun loungers.
For the money we paid, it was a bargain!
We ordered dinner from the traditional Nepalese menu and the food was delicious. The wife of our host had prepared our meals with fresh ingredients from their organic garden and I had never in my life tasted such amazing yoghurt, made fresh from yak’s milk.
I went to bed exhausted but satisfied.
After a good night’s sleep, I awoke at sunrise and walked up the steps to be blown away by glistening white snow capped peaks emerging from the clouds beneath the sun. The Himalayas were right there in front of me and I was mesmerized by their beauty. This was the closest I had been to them and the sheer sight of them made my heart sing.
This is what I had been looking for. Moments that took my breath away, and in that moment I fell in love with Nepal.
I ordered fresh fruit for breakfast and spent the rest of the day recovering from all the travel that I had done in India. A week here was going to be pure bliss here!
Later on in the day I went for a walk to The World Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist monument only a few minutes from our guest house. The stupa is one of eight in the world and it was built to create peace and unity amongst people of all races and creeds.
The white building glistened against the blue sky and hundreds of colourful prayer flags blew in the gentle breeze.
A steep flight of stairs at the base of the pagoda led to a Buddha sitting beneath a golden archway, and panoramic views of the Annapurna range, Pokhara City and Phewa Lake.
The pagoda had two tiers for tourists and religious people to circumnavigate, the second tier displayed four golden statues of Buddha presented from four different countries; Dharmacakra Mudra from Japan, Bodh Gaya from Sri Lanka, Kushinagar from Thailand and Lumbini from Nepal, each representing important events relating to Buddha.
The following day I walked in my jandals (which I’d later regret), down the mountainside and we caught a boat across the mirror-like waters of Phewa Tal, Nepal’s second largest lake, to the main town.
Wide smiling Tibetan refugee ladies were sitting along the lakeside selling jewelry and trinkets and the streets were filled with shops selling pashminas, Buddhist masks, prayer flags, Tibetan crafts and cheap trekking gear. I found the people to be less pushy when it came to buying and it was generally a nicer experience to shop than in India.
After feasting on noodles and momos, we caught a taxi back to our guesthouse up on the hill and enjoyed more home cooking out on the patio before retiring to bed with full bellies.
The next day we went for a walk further up the mountain, to a look-out tower that had spectacular views of the Himalayan mountain range.
We met with locals and free-range yaks along the road, which led to a path at the base of a hill. We climbed up the steep track and I was blown away, yet again, by the amazing views at the top.
Clear views of Fishtail (the only forbidden mountain to climb in Nepal), Hiunchuli and the Annapurnas.
The strange pull that had led me to the Himalayas had now sparked a yearning in me to return to trek the mountains.
Staying in Pokhara had by far been the highlight of my whole trip and a week was going by rather fast, so we decided to stay a day longer, leaving only 2 days in Kathmandu.
We spent our final day in Old Pokhara, visiting some well-known sites including Devi’s Falls, Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave, and a Tibetan Refugee Camp called Tashi Ling.
The refugee camp is one of 12 in Nepal, which was set up to support and house some of the 60,000 Tibetans in exile, who fled from their homes after the Chinese invasion. It’s estimated that 2,500 refugees cross the border every year to settle in India and Nepal, a sad reality for those who have become misplaced and cannot reside in their own country because of religious and political unrest.
Tibetan woman lined up at the entrance waiting to sell us jewelry from their stalls. Selling to tourists was their main source of income and they competed with each other to try to close the sale. It was hard choosing who to buy from and I wanted to look at every stall in an attempt to not to make anyone feel left out, so I ended up buying from a few different ladies, hoping that somehow it would make a small difference in their lives.
We spent our last night chatting with our host family and devouring delicious home cooking before packing our bags to leave the next morning.
It was sad saying goodbye to such a lovely family but somehow I felt I would go back and visit one day.
The next morning we caught a bus to Kathmandu, where we would spend the final days of our trip, before returning to New Zealand. The bus ride went smoothly but I sat with a strange feeling. Like something was going to happen.
Was my intuition trying to tell me something?
Kathmandu was a bustling city, jammed packed full of people, beeping horns and car fumes. Our hotel was tucked down a quiet lane, away from the congested roads, in the backpacker district of Thamel. The narrow roads were a shoppers paradise and they were filled with people, cars, rickshaws and motorbikes, all trying to manoeuvre around each other.
We checked into our hotel then strolled down the busy road to look at all the shops. Two young guys handed us a flyer to watch reggae music at a local restaurant so after shopping, we followed the directions on the pamphlet and managed to find it with the help of some locals.
The café was surprisingly ‘cool’ and the music was even better. I didn’t realize that type of culture existed in Nepal, and I really enjoyed the vibe there. After a few non alcoholic drinks we left and ended up in another bar with live music. The music was amazing and I wanted to stay longer but mum wanted to leave and she didn’t want to find her own way back to the hotel, so I begrudgingly left with her.
Traveling with mum was at times not easy and we had our fair share of arguments, particularly on that night, where we both ended up falling asleep not talking to each other.
I awoke the next day, with a sudden urge to explore Kathmandu on my own, so I left the girls at the hotel and caught a taxi to Bodhanath.
Each day, thousands of pilgrims visited Asia’s largest Stupa in Bodhanath, to make a ritual circumnavigation beneath the watchful eyes of the Buddha.
Maroon robed Tibetan monks wandered around the white washed dome, and shops selling the usual fare surrounded it.
I walked clockwise around the white temple, while stopping every so often to look inside a shop. It felt good to be on my own for a change and I was really glad to be spending my last day doing what I wanted without having to consider two other people.
I waved down another taxi and went straight to Pashupatinath, which contains Nepal’s most important Hindu Temple, on the banks of the Holi Bagmati River.
Sadhus and Shiva devotees flocked to the area and many Nepali’s choose to be cremated on the banks of the river.
Being a Non-Hindu, I wasn’t allowed to enter the main temple but I was allowed to walk around the surrounding complex of Shaivite shrines, lingams (symbols of Shiva) and ghats (stone steps) to watch the public open-air cremations.
The air surrounding the ghats was thick with smoke and the smell of burning flesh was something I was unprepared for.
I watched a man set a light an old lady’s body who was lying on top of a bed of sticks, from a viewing platform above. I saw the flames shoot out from her mouth and I watched as they enveloped her whole body. It was shocking, but fascinating to see how a different culture embraced death.
Further along the path were numerous Hindu Temples, which were often used as lodgings for visiting sadhus (holy men), and devotees who were bathing in the dubious looking waters of the ghats below.
Visiting Pashupatinath and watching the cremations will be an experience that will forever be etched into my mind.
I walked further along the path until I eventually reached a main road and I waved down a taxi for Durbar Square, all the while that strange feeling like something was going to happen was still sitting in the background.
I paid an entrance fee at the ticket booth and walked towards a western looking coffee shop for lunch before venturing out into the square.
After filling up on orange juice and cheesecake I strolled through the markets and then found myself lost amongst the historical buildings. To gather my bearings, I stopped to ask a shop-keeper where I was and at the same time I was suddenly approached by a good-looking Nepali guy. I automatically thought he was either a tour guide or he was going to try to sell me something and I got ready to brush him off.
It turned out he only wanted my company and he asked if he could walk with me through the square. I was unsure at first, but agreed anyway and we began walking together and chatting as if we were friends that had already known each other.
I instantly felt at ease with him and I was really enjoying his company. He seemed different to typical Nepalese people and there was something about him that intrigued me.
We walked towards a little restaurant down a dark alleyway, where he introduced me to his friend. I felt like a fish out of water in an environment that I wasn’t used to, with two men whom I had only just met, yet something was telling me that it was okay. So I stayed.
After a few drinks, he accompanied me to Swayambhunath, a Buddhist Temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which soars above the city on a hilltop mobbed by monkeys, aptly named the “Monkey Temple.” The compound was centered around a gleaming white stupa, topped by a gilded spire painted with the eyes of the Buddha and thousands of prayer flags.
He paid the entrance fee, we walked up the steps towards a wishing well and he reached into his pocket and handed me out a coin. Without thinking, I threw it towards the centre of the well and it landed on a small platform in the middle. I couldn’t believe it, it had landed in the middle and I didn’t even aim for it to land there! I closed my eyes and made a wish, all the while thinking that it must have been a sign from the universe.
We walked further up the steps and came to a platform, which surrounded the stupa. It had all sorts of religious monuments including temples, shrines and a museum. I walked towards the base, which was ringed by prayer wheels embossed with the sacred mantra “om mani padme hum” and was told that visiting pilgrims would spin each one as they passed by in a clockwise direction.
It was a fascinating place to visit, rich in Buddhist and Hindu iconography.
The rain started to set in so we made a dash down the long flight of steep steps towards a taxi.
He asked me if I minded going to his house where he could get changed and pick up some money so he could take me out for dinner, I was still feeling hesitant but something inside me said to go, so I agreed.
I asked myself if the hesitation was coming from past experiences with people who had let me down and I told myself in the taxi that if everything is as it seems after going to his house then I would trust him. This was a huge test of faith for me as my trust issues seemed to have magnified since visiting India, but deep down I felt drawn to go.
He sensed my nervousness and began singing Bob Marley’s “Don’t worry about a thing, cos every little thing’s gonna be okay” And I wondered how he knew that was one of my favourite songs that I would play over and over in my van back in New Zealand?
His attempt to make me smile and put my mind to ease worked and I relaxed.
Sure enough, we pulled up outside of his house near Patan, and I went inside and met his mum and dad, he got changed, picked up some money and we returned to Thamel.
We agreed to meet in the lobby of a nearby hotel, so I quickly changed out of my wet clothes and met him back within the hour.
I told him it was my last night and I wanted to make the most of it and do everything I could in one night so we walked towards some live music that was playing at a local bar and we sat down inside, at a small table in front of the band.
He ordered us drinks and momos for dinner and I sat wondering how I could feel so comfortable with someone who I’d only just met hours before.
As I ate, he began divulging his feelings towards me, which took me by surprise. How could he be so open with me so fast? I had never met someone who was willing to be so real and honest on a first ‘date’ so I started stuffing his mouth full of momos in an attempt to avoid hearing it. I didn’t want to hear his feelings, I was leaving the next day and how could he have feelings for me in such a short space of time?
I also didn’t believe in the ‘falling in love on the first date’ fairy-tale. Had he been sent to me to test my ability to trust and let go?
I was keen to hear more live music so we left and stumbled across the most amazing band that played all my favourite Jimi Hendrix songs in another bar nearby. We sat side by side at the table enjoying the music and I suddenly realised I was in trouble. I was beginning to develop feelings for this guy. He was warm, outgoing, and he made me laugh.
There was something about him that was special and as the night went on, the more I tried to avoid developing feelings for him, the stronger it became.
There was a certain craziness about him which I was highly attracted to and his light brown eyes made my heart melt. What was happening here? As my mind tried to figure out what my heart was feeling I wondered what I was going to do. Should I leave now and pretend we didn’t meet or should I stay and get to know him more?
Something kept me from leaving, perhaps my heart knew that time and space doesn’t exist in the spirit world and maybe he was the reason why I was so drawn to the Himalayas.
When I looked into his eyes it was as if I could see right through him, to the essence of who he was, behind the smiles that was hiding pain, to the depths of his soul.
My soul had recognized his soul and I couldn’t deny it.
We danced at a local nightclub and I tried to avoid kissing him on the dance-floor but our lips ended up meeting each others and it sent a wave of energy through my whole body.
I had so much fun that I didn’t want the night to end, but in Kathmandu the clubs and bars closed early, so I walked with him back to his hotel and we stayed awake for most of the night talking and getting to know each other.
Time passed as if it didn’t exist and next thing I knew, it had become light outside and I suddenly realised that mum and Yana must have been worried about me.
The chemistry between us was intense and like a magnet, I had to pull myself away from him, so he walked me back to my hotel where we arranged to meet after breakfast.
When I opened the door to my room I was met with Yana and mum’s concerned faces and they both began questioning me. I explained to them what had happened and quickly packed up my things and mentally prepared myself to say goodbye to him before I left to the airport.
We sat opposite each other at the table and I watched as the few hours that I had left slipped away while we looked at each other with longing in our eyes.
I didn’t like goodbyes and I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to spend more time with him.
Why did I have to meet him on my last day in Nepal?
I held back the tears as we hugged each other tightly, and I didn’t want to let him go.
The day before I had met a stranger and now I was saying goodbye to someone I felt I had known forever.
Still holding in the tears, knowing that some magic had happened, I walked towards my hotel to catch a taxi to the airport and every ounce of my being felt devastated.
As the plane left the tarmac my thoughts were suddenly directed back to the present and I was about to embark on the scariest flight yet. The plane began to shake from side to side and it appeared to be having trouble staying steady. Mum, Yana and I looked at each other in fear and we held onto our seats. The plane continued to violently shake until we were above the clouds, then my thoughts resumed back to him, giving me butterflies all the way back to Delhi.
We arrived at our hotel in Delhi and I was reassured by the messages that I received from him and somehow I knew that my life was going to change in some way.
Was meeting him on my last day all part of a divine plan?
I woke up the next day to a rollercoaster wave of emotions. All the tears that I had held in the day before now wanted to surface so I locked myself in the toilet, before catching the taxi to the airport back to New Zealand, and let myself cry.
I cried for everything that I had gone through over the past year that had led me to India and Nepal. I cried because my trip had come to an end and I was now faced with going back to New Zealand. I cried for the loss of my family. I cried for the love that I had found and was now leaving behind.
Would I ever see him again?
After a long flight, I found myself back in New Zealand and I stayed at mum’s friends house before picking up my camper van the following day. It was my dad’s birthday but I knew I wouldn’t be talking to him, we hadn’t spoken for months and I was still not ready to.
Feeling jet lagged, I switched on my phone to find out there had been an earthquake in Nepal the day after I left. I messaged Rubin straight away and waited but there was no reply.
I felt so helpless and I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Buildings and homes had collapsed, thousands of people were injured and dead and I was just there, only 48 hours before it hit.
I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I had fallen in love with him and I hadn’t got the chance to tell him.
Was he still alive?