I hear you calling and I’m coming baby. Ten more days. Yay.
My heart is beating a little faster at the thought that next week there will be a most delightful convergence. I will be going to one of my favourite places with one of my most favourite people - Nepal and my brother.
We’re going to the Du. We’re going to Nepal.
It’s been a while and this one is just for us.
Dick and I have lived in different countries for a while now but distance doesn’t separate us. We have a blood bond. I’m one of the lucky ones that has my little bro as one of my best mates - my best mate in fact.
I am he. He is me.
Even though both of us have moved around a lot we have lived in the same cities before and on more than one occasion on the same street. Both our sons and daughters were born only months apart and the connection between the cousins is a strong one as well.
They are besties.
When we were younger and before our kids were born we used to go off and have adventures all the time. Beaches and motorbikes and off the beat places were our thing. We chased sunshine and moonbeams and exotic locations and substances. We still do but with jobs and responsibilities and other such encumbrances our adventure time is more limited nowadays – which I think makes it all the more special when we get away.
I discovered Nepal about four years ago now – not literally of course – it has been on the map for a couple of thousand years. I mean I went there and the magic of the place simply entranced me and I keep going back. I recall returning after my first visit and telling my brother about the mountains and the people and the streets of Kathmandu and him asking me what it was like. I told him that it was like a first kiss, a last dance – a symphony of light. He nodded knowingly and said, “Right when are we going?” We went a couple of months after that and now we are both Nepal addicts. We simply love the place and the people.
We really do.
From my perspective Nepal is diametrically opposed to Singapore and I think that perhaps that is one of the attractions.
Singapore is affluent and opulent and extravagant. It is staid and at times stifling and sterile. Opportunity abounds and money is worshipped. There is an abundance about the place and education is as much a given as it is taken for granted. How can something be both given and taken you may ask?
It just fucking is.
Nepal is impoverished however it is straightforward and simple – and it is devastatingly beautiful. For the majority of Nepalese survival is a daily battle and putting food on the table is a continuous struggle. Education is something that few children have an opportunity to pursue but given the chance they devour it.
They gobble it up.
Nepal puts my life into perspective and I often need that jolt. We all do. It is a wake up call. It is a kick in the ass and a slap in the face. In one fell swoop landing in Kathmandu punches the petty out of Peter. I like places and moments and people that take my breath away and there are many of these in Nepal. There are gasping moments of incredible beauty that has me reaching for my ventolin.
The Himalaya mountain ranges are majestic and magnificent and imposing and they set my heart racing.
The temples of Kathmandu are a wonder to behold too. They were constructed long before Christianity was invented and they were built to last. They are architecturally splendid and there is a placidity about them that even for an atheist such as me inspires a sense of spirituality and incorporeality.
It is a joy to meander the tiny alleyways of Thamel. Richard and I immerse ourselves in the beat and rhythm of the city and we wander aimlessly about the place with our Nepalese friends. When the mood catches us we sit down and drink chai with the Surdu and other Hindi holy men and we have long and wonderful conversations about life and the universe.
It is an ethereal experience.
We sometimes perch ourselves on rooftop gardens and sip on masala tea as we watch the world go by below us. At our whim we walk down tiny cobblestone alleyways and explore little stores that have been in business for ten generations. They have rickety doorways where you need to stoop to get in. We chat for hours to craftsmen and artisans about stone and woodcarving and we marvel at their wares. Our houses back in Australia are full of trinkets from Nepal and all of our loved ones sleep beneath colourful yak blankets.
We always wake early in the morning in Kathmandu and we walk down to one of the Buddhist temples in Patan Durbah just to hear the monks chant the mantra "om mani padme hum". It is as entrancing as it is hypnotic.
It is exquisite.
The lord Buddha was born in Nepal and he died in India. It is said that he was born as a grown child and as he took seven first steps seven lotus flowers bloomed from each of his footfall.
I think this is beautiful. Really beautiful.
It is also taught that Buddha once fasted for three months eating only one grain of rice and drinking one drop of water each day. He nearly died of starvation and he then realized that he was both human and fallible. This was one of his steps to enlightenment.
Humanity and humility – the epitome of Nepal.
After a couple of days in the Du we jump in a jeep and our old friend Babu drives us up to a village called Katunge. It is only a couple of hundred miles or so from Kathmandu but it is a rugged journey that takes a full day. The road is only open for a couple of months each year. Don't think road as in bitumen - this is more of a track. The track is scarred and rutted by deep ravines that are gorged out by the monsoon rains and four-wheel drive is essential or the way is otherwise impassable. The road was only constructed ten years ago - before then one had to walk to get up to the village.
Walking is the most common form of transport in Nepal and it is a very steep country. The most beautiful of places are accessible only by the most difficult of journeys.
I learned this a long time ago.
Many of Katunge's residents have never been to Kathmandu nor indeed have they left the village. It is a timeless place that is mostly unscathed by the modern world. The villagers here are sustenance farmers. They eat what they grow. They grow what they eat.
And so it goes.
Walking into Katunge is like stepping back in time. There are tiered gardens of rice and lentils there and clusters of mango trees. Everywhere is the astonishing might of the towering mountains and we often sleep amongst the clouds.
Think of Babylon.
Imagine Shangri La.
It truly has to be seen to be believed.
It is the mountain people though who are the most divine. There is no crime in the village and the place reeks of respect and dignity. It is a graceful and timeless place of unfathomable beauty and I am in awe of the simplicity and decency of the community. The villagers are by far the most happy and contented people that I have ever met.
When we are in Katunge we often just sit. Much of the time we are surrounded by little children from the school we built and time just passes. We laugh and we play during the day then as evening falls we get lost in the tranquility and serendipity of the place. At night the silence is serene. From our visage on the tiny balcony of the little stone house that we stay in we sit with Bhim and Babu and Dambar and we watch the sun set over the Annapurna ranges. They soar nearly eight thousand meters into the sky. We are mesmerized by the hugeness of the place and for a while at least we know our place in the Universe. We are overwhelmed by the vastness of our surrounds and we are at peace.
When we leave Katunge we immediately miss it.
I yearn for it now.
I yearn for my brother too.
Ten more days.