STRAY DOGS AND TIN SHEDS

It was the sound of men mak­ing of­fer­ings to Lord Shiva around a sym­met­ri­cal tree be­neath my room, which first woke me. About the tree they walked, mum­bling loudly, hands lively as they vi­su­alised their God and their con­ver­sa­tion with him. This is the dail

Say Yes To Adventure - - News - WORDS: Kerensa Clark IM­AGES: Kerensa Clark and sup­plied LO­CA­TION: Nepal

THE TREE, PERCHED on the edge of the moun­tain­side, held par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for the peo­ple of Changu­narayan, and so the men placed tikka pow­der upon its bark

– the trunk red­dened with past of­fer­ings the mon­soon rains had yet to wash away. Open­ing the rooftop door, I was pro­jected into a dream­ily still morn­ing. A soft pink glow had res­i­dence in the sky and a loosely drap­ing mist clung to the val­ley floor. Warmth em­braced me, and the faint gen­tle aroma of earthy rain was in the air. The city lay peace­ful, yet spread be­fore me some 15 or so kilo­me­tres away and I could barely dis­cern the odd mu­si­cal tones of bus horns in the dis­tance. I in­haled deeply. I was here. Be­yond faded hills on the op­po­site side of the val­ley, the 7,406-me­tre mas­sif of Ganesh Hi­mal stood re­flect­ing the sun's morn­ing glow in hues of pink, yel­low and or­ange; at once I felt both in­signif­i­cant and unas­sail­able – “I am here Nepal; fi­nally!”

I had planned this trip to the coun­try of my child­hood dreams for my en­tire life – for as long as I could re­mem­ber; plotting where I would go, what I would wish to see (Sa­gar­matha of course), what I would eat and what I would pho­to­graph. My plan­ning then had been through the eyes of me as a tourist – the coun­try would show me what I ex­pected of it; I would not need to go look­ing for the real Nepal. I would no doubt wear those stupid pants that be­come shorts, and I would walk about Thamel in search of hik­ing boots and a trekking agency in an awe­filled daze. That was then.

Now that life­time of dream­ing has slipped by with ad­ven­tures in other lands and even liv­ing for six years in two dif­fer­ent coun­tries. My youngest child spent the first two years of his life liv­ing over­seas. Now ap­proach­ing 50, my view of travel has changed. My aware­ness is that of gen­tly in­ter­act­ing with the coun­try and its peo­ples; em­brac­ing their cul­ture and not im­pos­ing my own. It is as if I am look­ing for a home; a home to which I can give my whole heart. So – I am here look­ing for the real Nepal.

It is three months since the April and May earth­quakes. It is the mon­soon. An ac­quain­tance run­ning treks to Ever­est Base Camp ad­vised I stay away dur­ing the mon­soon; “Oh it's rain­ing all the time” he said. I had no in­ten­tion of go­ing to Ever­est Base Camp. The trekking trails up to­wards Ever­est were closed any­way. He had never been to Nepal dur­ing the rainy sea­son; his clients did not wish to get their feet wet. Nei­ther did he.

I was here with in­tent to help (in some small way) peo­ple af­fected by the quakes. Tourists had spent decades trav­el­ling to Nepal in their stupid cut­off pants, eat­ing in the homes of Nepali on the trail to view the world's high­est moun­tain, drop­ping their rub­bish and money along the way. Where are they now? Nepal was de­void of tourists – scared off by af­ter­shocks and land­slides. Many of the for­eign­ers who were in the coun­try were ‘disas­ter tourists' – point­ing in­va­sive cam­eras at dev­as­ta­tion so they could go home and say they had seen it… that they had been here.

‘Help'… surely we should be ask­ing the Nepali what ‘help' should look, feel and sound like for them. Be­ing

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