Saturday, June 11, 2011

Perspective in Nepal

Nepal is such a different place from anywhere else we've been, that it's basically impossible to write a post about it without rambling away in a million different directions. Please forgive me if this is the least organized post I've ever written.

Here are some highlights of Nepal that I wanted to mention, which don't really relate to each other in any meaningful way but are kind of interesting anyway!

1. Nepalis are friendly in a very affectionate, touchy way. They hug, they hold hands (although not if you're of the opposite sex - God forbid!), they pat everyone on the arm like old buddies. It's so unbearably cute that it instantly makes you fall in love with everyone. (Strange, but true.) They also call each other "brother" and "sister," which I find very endearing and wish we did in English.

2. The majority of Nepalis live in remote villages that have little contact with the rest of the country. This results in hundreds of different cultures, all within one country, that each have their own language, clothing, traditions, and even facial traits. It's kind of mind-blowing. We think we're multicultural in the States - imagine if every state spoke a different language and even looked completely different. It would be MADNESS.

3. Many women wear saris, which I think may be the most beautiful thing a woman can wear. Deeply colorful, flowy and often shiny -- is there anything more feminine? The answer is no. Sometimes I simply can't stop staring at the women here. It's probably a bit creepy, but I can't help it. I want to buy like 300 saris and just keep wearing them for the rest of my life, but I won't because that would be expensive. And weird.

4. Pokhara is a charming little town. It's nestled in between a pretty lake and some of the tallest mountains in the world. We went paragliding and did a few hikes, where we were offered weed by various villagers who apparently really wanted to get us high. Pokhara was so pleasant, we frequently chatted about moving there. If only it wasn't for the thousands of tourists who flock there every winter to climb the Annapurna mountains. Why do tourists always have to ruin everything (except us, we don't ruin anything of course)? Sigh.

5. I think Nepal may have converted me into a trekker. Up next: Mt. Kilimanjaro!

6. Nepalis are religious, but in a laid back sort of way. Many are Buddhist or Hindu, but a bunch of them are a combination of both. They took Buddhism and Hinduism and incorporated them into each other. They just decided -- Okay, Buddha was the 9th reincarnation of Vishnu! BAM, two religions become one. I love when we can all just get along.

But there are also many downsides in Nepal. Lack of education, healthcare, clean water, electricity. A caste system, many homeless people, corrupt government. Landslides, poor roads, garbage, pollution. Basically any problem you can think of, Nepal has it. The scale and pervasiveness of the issues here leaves one shocked and depressed. It's the first country we've visited that really feels "third world." Even in Kathmandu, the capital city, there are still electricity blackouts every day. In the mountains, the villagers start their fires by blowing on them -- they don't even have bellows, a device that was popular before Jesus was born.

I know that money doesn't actually make people much happier. That is, there appears to be a threshold beyond which, as long as people have food, water, safety, health, warmth, families and love, they are content. Being here has made me think about this concept a lot. I don't know what the actual threshold is -- I'm sure it varies a lot depending on many variables -- but I wonder where Nepal stands on that line.

I can understand that people are reasonably happy as long as their basic needs are met, but my mind just keeps asking -- what about having running water inside your house? What about being able to go the hospital and being sure that the syringe they're using isn't dirty? What about having a clean street instead of piles of trash everywhere? What about being able to travel 200km without needing to spend 10 hours on a bus with people hacking and spitting everywhere? (That last part was mostly for my own nostalgia.) These things must have an effect on people's happiness. Or is it just that I'm accustomed to a different standard of living, so I give these variables more weight than a Nepali would?

I really don't know. I suspect that Nepalis are content for the most part despite these hardships, but either way my opinion is uninformed. I'd love to come back here someday and explore this country and its people a bit more. Bino has become a friend more than a guide -- we had dinner at his place with his brothers; he gave us lychees! -- but I feel like I want to delve much deeper into this fascinating place. I'm glad we came here; it's been illuminating and beautiful, even if a little challenging at times.

But tomorrow we'll be in Turkey, and I'm excited about that too.

1 comment:

  1. Great summary! This is the second time today that Napal has come up for me.

    I completely agree with your comments on the "basic needs of life" and happiness. $ does buy you out of a certain amount of suffering but after that? Good question. We saw a lot of very poor yet quite happy and very friendly people in Grenada (and several other islands). It does make you wonder where that line lies as we definitely saw the unhappy poor as well.