Kathmandu: looking at the familiar with new eyes
I’ve traveled extensively throughout Asia for the last several years, after some time cities, people, cultures start to feel familiar and similar. I had a comparable experience after spending 1 ½ years in Europe, the magnificent cathedrals didn’t have the same awe after the 30th cathedrals. I’ve been in South Asia for over two months know, there is an underlying current of familiarity in Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan and Nepal. I arrived in Kathmandu airport and noticed the same unorganization and disarray of India, I was tired of dealing with the chaos of South Asia and decided I’m to spend the day resting and reading at my home-stay 15 minutes outside the city center.
At the guesthouse, a Brazilian man named Louis arrived a few hours after me. He was full of life and excitement about being in Kathmandu, he had been travelling in Asia for several months also. Louis and I exchanged a few travel stories and then decided to go out to grab a snack. What impressed me was for Louis English was not easy but that didn’t stop him from telling me story after story about his life, his travels and his family. He was out of luck – I don’t know a word of Portuguese! Louis was in Nepal to trek to Everest base camp and had funding to write a book about his trekking experience.
I’ve had tremendous luck with meeting interesting, intelligent and thought-provoking people throughout my journey this year. Louis was no exception, we were both in Kathmandu for 4 days and I knew spending time with him would be inspirational and a learning opportunity for me.
I didn’t have much planned for Kathmandu, since I was heading off to Vipassana mediation in a few days, I agreed to join Louis in shopping for his trekking gear in Thamel. As much as I hate shopping, it was a delight shopping for someone else, I got to practice my bargaining skills in Hindi while learning about different types of trekking gear available for the Himalayas. Turns out bargaining can be a challenge when you only know how to count til 15 in Hindi.
In between shopping we sprinkled in some sightseeing, massages by the blind and sampling local cuisine. I noticed Louis constantly observing our environment in Kathmandu without judgement. He saw the good in every situation. Every experience I had with him was positive and uplifting. He didn’t see chaos, he saw how an earthquake devastated country was continuing daily life. He didn’t see hawkers trying to scam us, he saw it as an opportunity to interact with the locals. I was grateful to spend my initial days in Nepal with Louis, he had a big impact on how I experienced the rest of my 6 weeks in Nepal.
We reunited after 3 weeks in Kathmandu, he finished his Everest basecamp trek and I finished my meditation course and village volunteer job. This was an unplanned reunion. We were both defeated, Louis struggled with altitude sickness on his trek and I didn’t make quite the impact I expected at the village I was volunteering at. We discussed our experiences and decided to make the best of Kathmandu together. Our last few days together were subdued compared to our initial time in Kathmandu but we enjoyed visiting Buddhist shrines, savored the food culture of Kathmandu and squeezed in a bit of shopping. We used this time to reflect on the life we have lived up to this point. He brought into perspective for me what a privileged life I lead and it's important never to take this for granted - I've been fortunate for everything life has offered me: strong, stable family, supportive friends, a successful career, education, respect within the community I live in and good health - I am obligated to contribute my fair share in society. I'm grateful that my paths crossed with Louis, if distance wasn't an issue he would definitely be part of my inner circle of friends.