Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country
Nepal was in the grips of a humanitarian crisis. Blockades at the Indian border since the new constitution had restricted petrol, cooking gas, medicines, food and aid supplies from coming in and I had to forget about my plans of traveling around the country.
The Madhesi’s (tribes of ethnic minorities who reside in the Terai plains) whom have close ties to India, felt excluded by the new constitution, which was decided two months ago by upper-caste, hill dominated politicians, and they began protesting.
The Indian government denied any wrongdoing and blamed the blockade on the protesters but the Nepalese Government was adamant that India was responsible. Meanwhile, petrol supplies were dwindling, the cost of food increased, restaurants and hotels were closing down, people were having to cook outside on open fires, tourists were leaving, hospitals struggled to treat patients with a shortage of medicines and earthquake victims, who were still living in make shift shelters up in the hills, were suffering in the winter’s cold from a lack of aid supplies.
Taxi drivers were charging double to triple the usual fare and buses were overloaded with people and ran infrequently, which made it hard to get around. So I spent the next couple of months housebound and each time I stepped outside I was confronted with poverty, hard-ship and a feeling of unease and uncertainty.
I was lucky to be living in a nice big house, which was a safe haven away from all the chaos outside, but our gas supplies were low and it was likely that we would be having to cook outdoors on an open fire soon too.
I couldn’t help but feel sad. Sad for a country that was still mourning the victims of the deadly April earthquake. Sad for a country that was trying to rebuild. Sad for a nation who were now suffering the consequences of political tension.
I couldn’t imagine anything like this happening in a developed country, and if it did it would be planted all over the news! But here was Nepal, suffering in silence, with no help from the outside world.
I didn’t want to be here anymore, I wanted to go back to New Zealand where life is easy and I wouldn’t be confronted with such things, but the universe had other plans.
Going for short walks down the maze-like narrow alleyways in Patan, and visiting local temples became the highlight of my week. I tried to fight off the boredom and monotony, but this feeling of despondency enveloped me. Perhaps I was soaking up the nation’s despondency? I started to question why I even came here in the first place, and I lay around in bed tormented with un answered questions.
But despite being housebound, despite the cold showers and the cold food, despite the hard mattress and the lack of electricity, I was welcomed into Rubin’s family with open hearts, they accepted me like a daughter, and I basked in the warmth of being apart of a family.
Nepal felt like home.
To lift our spirits, Rubin and I decided to go to Pokhara and trek to Poon Hill. I was so excited to finally leave Kathmandu, even though I was in poor health.
We couldn’t find a tourist bus as it was during Dashai Festival so we caught a mini van, which cost double the usual price. Luckily we got to sit in the front, instead of being crammed in the back like sardines with the others, and about halfway into the 6-hour drive to Pokhara, I heard a loud bang. The driver quickly pulled over and I suddenly realized we had a flat tyre!
As I sat on the side of the road beneath the midday sun, watching the driver put on a dubious spare with no tread while over crowded buses with passengers sitting on rooftops hurtled past, I couldn’t help but feel gratitude. Gratitude for this life I was given and for the experiences that I was lucky enough to have had, the good, and the bad. I climbed back into the van with this new sense of gratitude and we continued onto Pokhara.
Pokhara was my favourite place in Nepal. It was blessed with views of the Annapurna mountain range, Fewa Lake, clean fresh air and fewer people.
I followed Rubin towards a guesthouse that was on the lakeside, just out-of-town and I was immediately pleased with his choice. It had a nice little garden, which I so missed living in Kathmandu, and our room upstairs was comfortable and clean, with a western toilet and an abundant supply of hot water.
We unpacked and then walked along the lakeside, past all the touristic shops selling clothes, handicrafts and souvenirs, to meet his nephew for dinner. Things were really slow in Pokhara too. Transport was expensive, there were fewer tourists, especially being peak season, and restaurants were struggling to cope with a shortage of gas. We ordered an over-priced pizza at a touristy restaurant and discussed whether we should postpone our trek for when the situation in the country improved, and I was in better health.
I was in two minds about if we should go, I had been so looking forward to trekking, but on the other hand, I knew the taxi to Nayapool (the starting point to our trek) would be really expensive and I would rather go when I was feeling better.
I awoke early, and we decided to cancel the trek and stay in Pokhara for a few days before returning to Kathmandu. So we set off early, eager to make the most of the day and our time there.
We hired an old wooden boat and rowed across the other side of the lake towards a rocky clearing for a swim. The water was icy cold but I took a quick dip without submerging my head because I thought the water looked dirty, and we fooled around like teenagers, drying off in the sun while receiving stares from the locals who were passing by in their boats.
After a full day of walking around and enjoying the sunshine, we decided against eating at the expensive tourist restaurants so Rubin took me to a local Tibetan family run restaurant where I tasted the most delicious thapa (noodle soup) momos, and Tibetan fried bread with vegetable filling. The whole meal cost us less than half the price of our pizza the night before!
The following morning I had a delicious ice-cold mango lassi and Tibetan fried bread at a cheap local café before hiring a boat and a man to row us across to the other side of the lake. We walked 20 minutes up a steep path, through the forest, to a Buddhist Peace Pagoda, which looked out over Pokhara and the Annapurna’s. Buddhist monks from Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji organization built the Stupa just after World War 2, and it is one of around 80 world peace pagodas in the world today.
It was a beautiful time of year to visit, all the flowers were in full bloom and the majestic towering white stupa provided stunning views of the Annapurna mountain range from its hilltop position.
We walked a few minutes further up the hill to visit the guesthouse that I stayed in with my mum and daughter back in April, and the friendly owner gave us bananas and cold drinks. Feeling refreshed, we walked back down the hill, passing kids playing football, chicken farms and local villages, towards a busy main road where we caught a local bus back to our guesthouse.
Four days went by too fast, and before I knew it, we were catching a tourist bus back to crazy Kathmandu.
My health wasn’t improving and I really wanted to get well enough to go trekking so Rubin took me to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist at a local clinic. I wasn’t convinced that seeing a specialist here would be any different from seeing 6 years worth of doctors and specialists in NZ, nonetheless, I went anyway.
I sat outside in the dark, cold hall and waited to be seen. The clinic was in a basic two-story concrete building with wooden bench seats and curtains draped in front of the doorways.
I had come prepared with a full medical history and list of symptoms, which I had written down the night before, hoping to avoid mis-understandings when trying to communicate.
After looking inside my ears, nose and throat with medical equipment that I hoped had been properly sterilized, he immediately suspected I had a sinus problem so he sent me downstairs for an X-ray and I returned the next day for the results.
Sure enough, after carefully examining the X-ray he told me I had chronic sinusitis and that I could try taking herbal medicine to relieve my symptoms.
Still not entirely convinced that I had been given the correct diagnosis, I thought I’d at-least try herbal medicine, so Rubin took me to an Ayurvedic doctor who prescribed me three types of herbal pills to take twice a day.
I never thought that 6 years worth of vertigo and dizziness could have been caused by sinus problems and it would take coming to Nepal, a third world country, and a cost of less than $10 NZD to get a diagnosis from a specialist that I didn’t have to wait months to see!
I had been on lengthy waiting lists of up to 6 months to see an ENT specialist in NZ and to go private would have cost me hundreds of dollars. I had been given MRI scans of my brain looking for tumors and testing for Multiple Sclerosis, amongst various wrong diagnoses, but not once did they think to look at my sinuses!
Feeling optimistic that I may actually have a proper diagnosis and explanation for all the symptoms I had been experiencing for such a long time, I started taking 16 herbal pills a day with the hope that I would heal myself and be able to go trekking before Christmas.
Tihar Festival, or more commonly known as Diwali, had arrived and despite the hardships that Nepali’s were faced with, the atmosphere was transformed into celebrations.
On each consecutive day crows, dogs, cows and oxen are worshipped with flower garlands, tika’s (a mark worn on the forehead) and offerings of food, and on the fifth and final day sisters and brothers worship each other.
Leading up to the festival, garlands of colourful flowers, candles and saal roti (a traditional Nepalese fried donut made from rice) were made. The night before the first day of the festival the garlands of flowers were hung as decorations around the house, candles and colourful lights lit up the room and the family gathered together to create a colourful mandala outside the front door to welcome in the money god Laxmi.
I would describe the festival as being a mixture of Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes all in one. On certain days little girls would gather in small groups with their own handmade musical instruments and sing and play music at the doors of their neighbours’ houses, hoping to get money and then the next day it was the boys turn. Firecrackers were let off at all hours of the day, sending out loud bangs and frightening the numerous street dogs and the colourful lights that lit up the streets, the exchange of gifts and the gathering together of family with special foods reminded me of Christmas.
When the celebrations had finished I booked a yoga class with a local yoga teacher from the Satyananda lineage. Premananda was the first certified Yoga Master in Nepal, he held a M.A. in Yoga Psychology and he trained at Bihar Yoga Bharati (The first Yoga university in the world, in India).
When I asked him why he only teaches private one on one classes, he explained to me that he believes in practicing with non-ego, and in a class full of students, it’s easy to compare yourself with others. His psycho yogic approach (using body to mind and mind to body to heal itself and gain total awareness), really interested me and even though it was fairly pricey, I decided to attend weekly sessions.
During my first visit, he welcomed me in with a warm Namaste, and I sat down on a cushion on the floor. Like most Nepali’s, he was short, in his 40’s to 50’s and he dressed in loose yellow yoga clothing. We negotiated a price before starting, and then he unfolded a yoga mat for me.
He sat on the floor directly opposite to me and he led me through a series of stretching poses to warm up my body before starting the asanas. I noticed how softly spoken and calm his voice was and how he was intensely studying my body as I worked through the poses, guided by only his voice and my breath while keeping my eyes closed.
After the gentle asanas, I practiced a pranayama technique, which stirred up some dormant emotions and left me wanting to cry and then he led me into a deep psychic sleep (Yoga Nidra).
My body was suddenly floating effortlessly above the floor, every muscle was completely relaxed and the sound of his voice was beginning to fade away as my mind fell into a deep sleep. All my worries, fears and anxieties disappeared and I was left with nothing but nothingness. A state of peace, with the universal source.
I didn’t want to wake up, but somehow I knew when it was time and I slowly rolled over to my side and sat up.
I felt like I was now beginning to learn what the essence of yoga really is. Not some watered down version that is so often taught in western classes. I was receiving invaluable lessons that I could pass down to my own students, and for the first time in my practice, I was learning how to bring full mind/body awareness into every breath and asana.
As the session drew to an end, I booked in another class for the following week, said my goodbyes, and followed Rubin up the path to the scooter. I jumped on the back and I was suddenly hit with a hard dose of reality as we rode down the bumpy dirt road, past homeless people living in tents, barefooted kids with messy hair playing outside in the dirt and blood stained paths smelling of death with animals tied up waiting to be slaughtered.
Yep, It wasn’t a dream. I really was living in Nepal.