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
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