Updated: Nov 6, 2022
VP (Internal), EWB (Singapore)
In March 2022, Vin and I went on a recce trip to Kathmandu, Nepal. The purpose of this trip was to visit the Bungamati region where the Peace Child Ministry (our partner on our Nepal water project) is located.
The day we arrived happened to be the day of Happy Holi, a Hindu festival. The festival is celebrated by expressing their gratitude and blessings by throwing coloured powder at each other. As we explored the streets of Kathmandu, laughter and playful footsteps laced the air, and we were greeted with the sight of everything (from the likes of kids, to the elderly to even dogs!) being covered in bright-coloured powders.
I was initially told to write this about the trip and the project we were working on in Nepal. However, as I looked back at the photos and started to reflect on the trip, I decided that writing about the sights and people of this wonderful country would be a lot more poignant (for myself at least). After all, you can always read our post-trip report here if you want details about the project.
Getting around Nepal
Nepal is sandwiched between India and China, surrounded by the Himalayan belt (map insert attached). What this means is that access to and navigating the terrain can sometimes be an arduous feat. Getting from one region to another in Nepal via land is only accessible by cars / buses / trucks. Trains, which have become so ubiquitous in almost every country, are nowhere to be seen in Nepal.
The reason for this is that being near the Himalayan belt implies that there is a fault line in the region (I don’t want to go into the details, so just a quick one for those who are unaware - the Himalayan mountains are formed at a convergent plate boundary yada yada, and these plate boundaries are essentially your fault lines).
Having fault lines running through your country results in many earthquakes when the plates move in different directions. Nepal has had 5 earthquakes in the past 40 or so years. Hence, on top of it being no easy feat to tunnel through mountains, it also does not make sense to invest into costly transportation infrastructure only for it to be destroyed by yet another earthquake. Locals are then left to utilize the rudimentary, narrow, congested single carriageways winding around the mountainous regions for travel and goods transport, which poses many hazards.
“See you at the big tree!”
The entrancing experience starts when you start trying to navigate to places. There are hardly any addresses and to direct others around, you will typically have to use a landmark. Most planned meet-ups will sound something along the lines of: “I will meet you at the big tree at the junction”. This was rather exciting because you would not be able to get around without interacting with the locals and added something enigmatic to the exploration of the country (Yes, I am a born and bred city gal who has grown up with Google Maps).
I found this particularly interesting because it gave me just a sliver of an insight to the way the locals interact with their world. They used physical landmarks to direct them, similar to how Polynesian navigators would follow the birds and the stars. This requires them to be ever so slightly more attuned to their physical landscape vs navigating with street numbers in most structured cityscapes now.
“See you after lunch!” “What time is that?” “Sometime after breakfast and before dinner!”
In the valley of Kathmandu, I was enclosed by the impregnable, immutable mountains of the Himalayan range, adorned with a light haze that made me feel like time passed differently. It felt stretched and it seemed to create this chasm that eventually filled itself with peace and serenity.
It was almost as if the mountains created this protective force field, preventing time and the people within from being warped by the demands and developments of modern society. There was no such thing as being late in Nepal - having a concept of “late-ness” would mean having a structured expectation of happenings within a day.
Think of everything you would love about Germany - clockwork trains, well-paved roads and tightly upheld regulations. Now if Germany was a shape, I would describe it as a square, with straight lines and tight corners you can predict. Nepal then would be a… blob? In the way that blobs are unpredictable in its manner of shape and how you are always uncertain about its contents, but yet there is somehow something comforting and alluring about a blob versus the safety of a square.
This lack of concept of time in Nepal, is of course not great when you have a connecting flight to catch, but can work wonders when you have been waiting 2 hours for a friend and end up sauntering into the nearest bookshop and getting lost in Doyle’s Lost World. The lack of control over what constitutes time somehow gave me more agency over exploration.
Now I think I have written enough about time and space today, till the next one!