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Romance in Nepal - November, 2016

Romance In Nepal

Mt. Everest photo from charter airplane by Tom Blake

When I was a kid, I was fascinated to learn that Sir Edmund Hillary, of New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa from Nepal, had become the first people to climb Nepal’s 29,028 feet Mt. Everest, the tallest peak in the world. Their historic climb happened on May 29, 1953. I hoped that someday I would get to see that mountain, which the Nepalese people proudly call “The top of the world.”

That dream came true two weeks ago; my partner Greta and I spent nine days in Nepal, most in Kathmandu, the capital. Tourism is the biggest industry in the country. Many, many people come here because of the majestic Himalayan mountains—most to observe them, some to climb and hike them--the latter are called trekkers.

Kathmandu is a bustling city, with gridlock on the streets from motor bikes and buses. A 2015 earthquake devastated Kathmandu. Reconstruction creates a major dust and smog problem, particularly this time of year, when there is no wind. Often our group members wore masks to filter the air; we consumed gallons of bottled water.

Tom and Greta wearing masks

One trip highlight was viewing Mt. Everest up close. Of course, not as close as Sir Edmund and Tenzing did, but from a chartered Buddah Air site-seeing turbo prop plane.

Buddha Air turbo prop charter that flew alongside the Himalayan Mountains for an hour

One evening, our tour company, Gate1, arranged for a woman to speak to our group of 13 about mountain climbing. Her name: Myra Sherpa, from the Sherpa tribe. She is one of only 11 women Sherpa climbers in the world. She is 40. Her husband is also a Sherpa.

Myra Sherpa on left with Tom and Greta--she has climbed Mt. Everest 4 times

Myra has climbed mountains over 20,000 feet 18 times, including Mt. Everest four times. She is only one of four women to conquer K2, considered to be the most difficult mountain in the world to climb. What an inspiration Myra was.

To climb Everest, a permit costs $11,000. Staying at a base camp requires almost three weeks to acclimatize one’s body. Bottled oxygen is used by 95% of Everest climbers, less than 200 have made it to the Everest peak without it. Overall, climbing a high peak can cost up $75,000.

Gate1 arranged for our group to have dinner at the home of a Tibetan refugee family in the city of Pokara, which is nestled at the base of the Annapurna Mountains, another famous range in Nepal.

The family lives in a refugee camp of 450 people who relocated from Tibet nearly 50 years ago. The host’s name was Tenzing, which I thought was totally cool, having admired Sherpa Tenzing for 64 years.

Tenzing - a Tibetan refugee living in Nepal. At his home where he served us a nice dinner

Tibet is on the opposite side of the Himalayan mountains from Nepal. Tenzing wanted a Tibetan woman in his life, but there are only a few thousand Tibetans living in Nepal.

During dinner, I asked how he met his wife. His reply, which surprised our group: “On the internet, of course!” He explained there is a Tibetans-living-in-Nepal singles website.

Marriage is a big deal in Nepal. As we traveled around, we saw many wedding parties from our tour bus. Cars and small buses were draped in flowers. Horns would blare; newlyweds would wave from inside the vehicles. Often, wedding parties walked down the streets and alleys led by a band, with drums pounding, instruments playing, and rice being tossed at the newlyweds.

(Nepal and India have lots of monkeys running loose. We saw a monkey eating the rice tossed by a wedding party that had recently passed by.)

Monkey and pigeons eating rice after a wedding party passed by. Nothing is wasted in Nepal

Our group learned from our Nepalese guide that most of the marriages of young people, often less than 20-years-old, were “arranged marriages.” The parents picked the mates. Engaged couples are not allowed to live together before marrying and after they marry, they live—often for months or years--with the husband’s parents (yikes!)

Historically, in Nepal, widowed people have found dating or finding a new mate virtually impossible. They have been ostracized by society, as if the situations they are in were their fault. How sad. Niraj, our guide, said that archaic way of thinking was slowly changing.

Our tour took us also to the Chitwan National Park. There, we spent two days and nights in the jungle, riding elephants and seeing rhinos.

Rhino in jungle--we saw about five different ones

We handed out gifts to village school children, who were beautiful kids.

The village children came to school on their day off to receive gifts from our tour group

Despite Nepal facing multiple challenges, they are rebuilding. The people are highly ethical. Twice, while Greta and I bought souveners, I inadvertently paid with a 500-rupee bill ($5.00), thinking it was a 100-rupee bill ($1.00). Both times, each merchant chased after us and returned the 400 rupees we had overpaid. Think about that: in a poor country, hard-working, struggling merchants put honesty ahead of greed.

On a fun note: Two of our tour group members, Bob and Laurie, a couple from Michigan, arrived at the Kathmandu Airport wearing singer Bob Seger t-shirts. Some members of our group were puzzled. Who is Bob Seger? Why Bob Seger tee shirts in Kathmandu?

Bob and Laurie said to themselves, “Tom and Greta will know.” They were right. Bob Seger, a singer from the 1970s, from Detroit, had a hit song called, “Katmandu.” Greta and I, being Bob Seger fans, understood why they wore those tee shirts. We photographed Bob and Laurie wearing their tee shirts in front of the Kathmandu airport terminal.

If you are wondering about traveling to Nepal, give it a chance. The country is beautiful, as are its people. So, I sign off saying “Namaste.” The word of greeting and respect in both Nepal and India.

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