LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT: NEPAL
I first set eyes on Nepal when I was a little girl. My father kept an atlas in my bedroom. It was a huge book, half my size. I would spend hours looking through the maps and data, struggling to turn the pages. And I didn’t understand much about what was written, but it fascinated me that so much jargon could be squashed into such tiny spaces on each page.
I remember asking my father what the tiny pink strip of land lying to the north of India was. He smiled as though he had suddenly been transported to the very place which these days I call my second home.
“It’s called Nepal and the world’s highest mountain is there,” he said. He then launched into the tales of how so many climbers had tried to conquer Everest. “It’s very dangerous, many people have died attempting it.” He gave me its exact height – 8848 metres – and told me that if you made it to the summit, it was like standing on top of the world.
Death is something that few of us discuss especially with our children. We skip around the subject even though it’s an inevitability that will come to all of us.
As a child, I was very sensitive. I would cry if I saw an animal in pain or dead on the road, but when my father and I spoke about the risk these climbers faced, there seemed nothing untoward. I accepted it just like I would knowing that if I didn’t eat, I would starve.
Twenty years or so later, I finally made it to Nepal. That tiny pink strip of land in the atlas had grown into something much bigger, well at least in my mind. I’d read every book on it, watched all the television programmes on it, and talked endlessly about my longing to go there. My obsession was so intoxicating that for my birthday that year, my parents presented me with a cake of the Himalayas. There was even a figure of a climber on it.
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, sits wedged in the Kathmandu Valley surrounded by mountains that, by Himalayan standards, are somewhat modest. Despite this, coming from close to the Peak District where the tallest ‘peak’ is 636 metres, that meant some mighty big mountains to me.
My first glimpse of what Nepal had to offer was on the approach to the city’s Tribhuvan International Airport. I was on a Nepal Airlines flight from London. It was packed full of locals and excited trekkers. I remember hearing the pilot casually mentioning over the PA system that the weather was warm and sunny on the ground, only to glimpse out of the window and be staggered at not only the size of the mountains but how close one of the wingtips was to hitting one of them. As the plane battled with the air currents, we miraculously managed to avoid colliding with an approaching rockface, curve sharply to the left around the base of the range, and straightened up so fast, that the mountains disappeared from view and all I could now see was the multi-coloured, higgledy-piggledy buildings across the never-ending Kathmandu skyline.
As a child, Nepal was a dream, a fantasy, but stepping off the plane onto the tarmac and feeling the winter sun against my face, hearing the low buzz of distant traffic and seeing the white peaks of the Himalaya on the horizon peeping through the grey, gritty smog, I realised it was love at first sight. But in many ways, it was more than that. It felt like I had finally come home: I was safe, loved, whole. I knew this wasn’t going to be simply a fling, rather a lifelong love affair.
I’ve travelled to over 100 countries (many of which I have visited multiple times) and despite each being unique and fascinating, and rich in history and culture, for me so far, there has never been another country quite like Nepal.
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