Last week, I visited my 22nd country: Nepal! I have a personal goal of visiting a new country every year and was thrilled to make it to Nepal before my 23rd birthday. I have also dreamt of visiting Nepal for ages: I have many close Nepali friends, a deep appreciation for the syncretic architecture, and an unparalleled love for momos. The visit was especially special because I stayed with Apekshya, one of my best friends, and celebrated both her birthday and Nepali New Year with her.
I hadn’t seen Apekshya since our time together at Oxford where we were inseparable from first sight. Most of our five days together were thus spent talking nonstop—she is attending MIT for her PhD in Political Science in the fall (!) so hopefully we’ll get to see each other more regularly once we’re both stateside.
Between conversations, I got to see much of Kathmandu, a really lovely city. I’ve never traveled in South Asia outside India and was struck by the similarities across borders: unruly traffic, sidewalk vendors, colorful buildings, etc. That being said, Kathmandu felt more spacious and calm to me than any Indian city I’ve visited (other than maybe Chandigarh). Most of the restaurants we frequented had sizable courtyards and open gardens, something I’ve never seen in India. The city had recently passed a no honking ordinance and the absence of noise was welcome. The sheer number of foreigners everywhere also was notable! Besides the throngs of tourists, Kathmandu is the headquarters for SAARC and is home to many international aid agencies—that employ a sizable population of westerners. In this regard, Kathmandu actually reminded me of Ulaanbaatar; when a city acts as a gateway to an entire country, it ends up being a very cosmopolitan and diverse place.
During our three days of intensive sightseeing, we ended up covering almost all the important sites within the Kathmandu Valley: Bhaktapur, Patan, and Kathmandu Durbar Squares, Boudha Stupa, Swayumbhu, and Pashupathinath Temple. Sacred sites in Nepal often include elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, a unique take on religious practice in the predominantly Hindu country. For instance, at Swayumbhu, the stupa site includes a shrine to a local goddess who protects children against smallpox. Even the Hanuman temple that we visited had a designated Buddha shrine.
One of my favorite afternoons was spent at Kathmandu Durbar Square: Apekshya and I ate lunch and were walking around when I saw a signboard for Silver Nepal, a jewelry shop. Several years ago, my friend Suraj had me help him out on an advertising project for his dad’s shop, Silver Nepal. Convinced that it had to be the same shop, I decided to give it a shot and go inside. His father, who I recognized from an old photo, walked downstairs and after recognizing him, I exclaimed, “Hi Uncle! I’m Suraj’s friend Meera from W&L!” Upon revealing my full name, he told me, “Yes I’ve seen your comments on Facebook!” We spent a few minutes at the shop and talking about Suraj and Kathmandu and I could not believe the coincidence of the whole situation!
All in all, I loved my time in Nepal! I enjoyed touring the sites and visiting the museums but especially spending time with Apekshya—she is one of my favorite people ever and we always have so much to share and laugh about. I’m sure I’ll be back to Nepal and next time, I hope to get outside Kathmandu as well to do some trekking! To those who have not visited South Asia but hope to, I would recommend visiting Nepal before heading to India—it’s a beautiful country that is a bit calmer and cleaner and can help you get accustomed to the pace of life on the subcontinent.