Talking to strangers scared me. Taking part in new challenges froze me, being left in the unknown made me break down.
My first time travelling overseas as an adult and the thought of entering the unknown made me want to curl up into a ball in the corner of the room and rock myself to sleep. Just to make my anxieties have anxieties, I went with Jason who seems to LOVE the idea of entering the unknown. I am one of those people who, before I leave the house I have an agenda in my head of who, what, why, where and when. If I didn’t know every little detail I would make up excuses not to go. Since I have started going out with Jason, who never has any clue what the plans are. I have learnt that I cannot let my fears hold me back. So instead, with sweaty palms, I take the leap of faith and hope my brain and heart won’t explode when I’m stuck alone in a crowded street not knowing where to go or what to do. For Jason that is all very exciting, for me I just stand there stunned with my eyes wide open and my jaw slowly dropping to my shaking feet that are glued to the floor. My trip to Kathmandu with Jason was definitely one of those eye popping, jaw dropping experiences.
It’s always quite scary arriving in a foreign country. I haven’t travelled overseas much but I’m pretty sure arriving in Kathmandu airport is more of a pupil dilating experience than anywhere else. We were picked up from the airport in a tiny toaster looking van driven by a madman who seemed to enjoy ignoring basic road rules. Well that’s what I thought until I realized the whole city was filled with madmen and there are in fact no road rules. He hooted as he squeezed between cars in the narrow streets, barely missing the person on the right and a family piled onto an 180cc motorbike on our left. The streets were filled with deafening hooter sounds from all directions (beep, beep, I’m driving behind you and don’t know where my brakes are). Jason and I just looked at each other, but what could we do? That was when I realized that we had just been sucked into the vortex of Kathmandu’s fast pace and chaotic atmosphere.
After driving for a few minutes we arrived in Thamel (Nepal’s gateway of tourists). The streets were lit up with many bars, restaurants and shops lining the streets with crowds of people of all nationalities meandering through the hustle and bustle. If you like crowded conditions and tons of people, then this is the place for you. It was a bit overwhelming for me. When we walked through the streets of Thamel our senses went into overdrive with the abundance of sights, sounds and smells.
The next day we saw a totally different side to Kathmandu. Lit up in sunshine, the city was warm and welcoming as the word “Namaste” echoed down the street between the beeping of the cars and the horrific sound of spitting, but not any spitting, ‘ultimate’ spitting, where we could hear the saliva being collected from deep down in the esophagus and forced out with power onto the floor in front of us. After drinking a bottle of Everest beer I felt so much more confident, I was ready to conquer the chaos of the city (Don’t underestimate the power of alcohol).
After a little bit of patience (and alcohol) I learnt to lose myself in this magical mayhem and instead of rushing through it all, we uncovered some of its charms. As we walked down the street under the moonlight we would hear the welcoming sound of music playing above us, which lead us upstairs into a small den of locals enjoying a beer with a live band playing in front of them. The streets were filled with old wooden or stone sculptures outside tiny temple looking structures that held burning candles and incense. These structures were really good to use as landmarks as it was very easy to get lost. One evening as the sun was setting we found ourselves wondering out of the tourist streets into the local ‘territory’ where the locals were selling crates of vegetables and caged chicken on the side of the road (to be honest I didn’t pay to much attention to what was going on, I was in too much of a panic to find my way back). We closed our eyes as we ran across the main roads, and hoped that no one would hit us, we looked for the familiar lit up streets. The buildings in Kathmandu are old and decaying with decadent architecture and intricate details carved into wooden doorways and pillars; particularly in Durbar Square.
As a shy person I always try find the calmness in the chaos. If you crave complete serenity, you wont find it here. However beneath the chaos of the main lanes and market place lie a simple way of life and the kind nature of the local people. Music, rituals, painting and sculpture seem to be the ‘way of life’. Because of their culture they have a deeper connection to the human life. Although there was always a crowd of people, there was as sense of calmness in the temples (the Hindu temple, the Buddha temple and the monkey Temple). These temples truly depict the life style of the various ethnic groups living in Nepal.
Travelling seems to be an extrovert’s dream- meeting new people, crowded streets, new challenges and experiences. But for me, even though I was terrified and stunned, I loved every minute of being part of the fascinating culture. It just takes me awhile to process it all, and yes I would probably go back. So be scared, uncomfortable, but do it anyway. Stretch boundaries slowly, conquer one awkward situation at a time. Kathmandu can be an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place, that’s why we sought immediate comfort in the nearby mountains and the amazing scenery…
To Be Continued…