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Once upon a time in Nepal

Updated May 01, 2015

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Having fallen in love with this beautiful land and its humble people, it was heartbreaking to watch the effects of the terrible earthquake on the television. —Photo by author
Having fallen in love with this beautiful land and its humble people, it was heartbreaking to watch the effects of the terrible earthquake on the television. —Photo by author

The night was cold in Chitwan National Park. Braving the chilly wind, my wife and I sat outside on the top floor of a restaurant, waiting patiently for our momos to be served.

We didn’t have to wait long.

Every hotel, motel, café, and food stall in Nepal can cook for you a dish of momos pretty quickly. These delicious dumplings are typically steamed, though they can also be baked or fried. We both preferred the steamed variety, which was offered with a deliciously juicy vegetarian, chicken, beef, or seafood filling; however you preferred. The dumplings were soft yet firm; permeable enough to soak in the mouthwatering spicy tomato dipping sauce (which is the star of the momo dish), yet firm enough to hold all the contents together.

The momo dish. —Creative Commons/Jana Reifegerste
The momo dish. —Creative Commons/Jana Reifegerste

The waiter placed the hot metal plates of momos on our table as he politely inquired about our trip so far. A brief interaction was enough to see that he was like how most people from Nepal are – happy, hardworking, and bighearted.

Also read: Quake deals heavy blow to Nepal’s rich cultural heritage

Here, I noticed that a middle-aged couple was looking at us invitingly, in friendly Nepali fashion. The couple, along with two children and a genial old lady, was seated around a hot blazing fire that the restaurant had started for its guests.

We did not hesitate when they beckoned us to join them.

—Photo by author
—Photo by author

“Where are you from?” asked the lady after she had made sure we were comfortable.

“Pakistan!” my wife smiled.

“Oh Pakistan!” they all said in unison.

“We love Pakistan. We love the Pakistani culture,” said the gentleman.

“Yes,” the grandmother chimed in. “And Pakistani women are so beautiful.”

“Oh we think the Nepali people are so beautiful,” my wife replied.

“You know we really love Pakistani dramas!” said the gentleman smiling, with his wife nodding.

I imagined he was talking about the contemporary hit Humsafar. Although most of the TV channels in the various hotel rooms we had stayed in were Indian, there were a few Pakistani offerings as well.

Instead, we both laughed out when he surprisingly mentioned a few of the classics, “My favourite Pakistani dramas are Dhoop KinarayTanhaiyan… such fantastic shows.”

Our families talked into the night, exchanging views on culture and politics. Everywhere in the country, we had been similarly received, with genuine warmth.

Meeting the Nepali people was like meeting distant cousins who had been living overseas. There were differences of course, but we were magnetised by the land, culture, people, and the aura of peace and contentment; we felt an innate, mystical connection, one that was older than our souls.

The ethos of Nepal and the Nepali people is exemplified by the Sanskrit mantra, Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ. You can hear this melodious chant airing on speakers in every corner of Nepal.

The late Tibetan scholar, Dilgo Khyentse, explained it best,

"The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say, yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable 'Om', it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, 'Ma' helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and 'Ni' helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. 'Pä', the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, 'Me' helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable 'Hum' helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom."

See: The sweet sound of Nepalese instruments

In my travels, I have found few people to embody their religious teachings, as well as the Nepalese. Their acceptance of Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ translates into the manner with which they interact with themselves, others, and their natural surroundings.

—Photo by author
—Photo by author
—Photo by author
—Photo by author
—Photo by author
—Photo by author
—Photo by author
—Photo by author

If you are an animal-lover, then you will find a simple walk on any of Nepal's many streets – whether in urban Khatmandu, rural Chitwan National Park or the picturesque Phokara – exceptionally endearing.

The Nepali people are in such harmony with any beast, that you can find countless stray dogs willing to snuggle up to you, offers their heads for petting, and follow you like a loyal age old friend. It was remarkable to see feral animals so comfortable with humans, especially beasts such as donkeys and goats, who are mistreated so badly in Pakistan.

The first time I saw a donkey in Nepal, I almost failed to recognise it as one it, so happy and healthy it was!

Read on: Nepal Tourism Year: The spirit of adventure

This feeling of harmony with nature was especially strong in Chitwan National Park, where we rode into forests on top of friendly elephants, took tours across crocodile-infested lakes, and walked across jungles where we observed rare rhinos from a distance.

—Photo by author
—Photo by author

Similarly peaceful were the many ancient temples and pagodas found across Nepal. The feeling of serenity in these religious sites was unmistakable.

It was also remarkable to observe the strength of the Nepalese work ethic.

Like Pakistan, Nepal faces social and economic challenges. Yet during our 10-day stay, we found not one person begging for money, bemoaning the ills of life, or losing their temper. Regardless of their situation, they worked hard and with a positive outlook.

Having fallen in love with this beautiful land and its humble people, it was heartbreaking to watch the effects of the terrible earthquake on television.

Read: Nepal quake victims still stranded, PM says toll could be 10,000

It seemed that every town we had visited has been hit with devastation. Hotels, houses, shops, temples, hospitals have been torn into two. The Nepali people did not have much in terms of material things, and what they had has been taken from them.

To date, there are nearly 6,100 reportedly dead and 6,500 injured, with numbers only rising.

For donations, find here a list of organisations engaged in relief work for the earthquake victims.


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