The landlocked nation of Nepal has captivated foreigners for centuries, from the British reverence for the Gurkha fighting force to the modern day traveler looking to explore the mighty Himalaya, Nepal is toward the top of many a bucket list.
Though it is becoming more and more common as travel destination, particularly among backpackers, the nation is still misunderstood in many ways. Below are 3 key areas to help a traveler understand more about this incredible nation and fully experience what it has to offer.
While the country has so much to offer in terms of spiritual, cultural and physical journeys to the foreign traveler, the people of Nepal are struggling. The poverty rate is the highest in Asia and the majority of the population live on less than $2 a day.
Volunteering is one small way we can help. Education in particular, is perhaps the way many of us can make the biggest impact.
Beware though, not all volunteering is equal and some aspects may even be somewhat detrimental. There are established organisations that now offer volunteering as a ‘service’, taking advantage of well-to-do Westerners and charging them relatively large sums for the opportunity of helping build a couple of houses or carry out general laboring work that would be much more efficiently handled by a local. These organisations are there to make a profit for themselves and often very little of the money is actually passed on to the region that is desperately in need of it.
If you are looking at getting into a volunteering role, either short or longer term, it may be an idea to seek out an opportunity once you’ve arrived in the country. There are a wealth of resources and information across hostels, local agencies, information centres and even restaurants and bars as to where you can look for a role that suits your requirements and skillset. Talk to the locals and expats and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
As someone who has trekked on 6 continents around the world, trust me when I say that the trekking offered in Nepal is second to none. Once you’ve laid eyes upon the towering Himalayan peaks, you’ll never look at another landscape the same way again.
The calssics are of course Everest Basecamp, Annapurna basecamp and the Annapurna Circuit. If you choose one of these options, guaranteed you won’t be disappointed. However if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path or a little more challenging, try the Langtang, Manaslu or 3 passes.
Trekking is what Nepal is renowned for, though there are a host of other adventure sports and activities to get the old heart pumping. Whitewater rafting is prevalent around the Pokhara region, as is paragliding. Turn to your right as you stare out over the lake and you’ll see dozens of little specs flying off the surrounding hillsides on any given day.
At the southern end of the country, away from the immensity of the Himalayas, lies a luscious tropical jungle. Not only can you trek through certain parts, there are also safari services that allow you to view animals like tigers, buffalo and monkeys in their natural environment.
Learning from the Culture
The culture throughout this nation is pretty incredible, with traditions dating back over 2 millennia. Buddha was born in the southern town of Lumbini and hence Buddhism has been a central part of Nepalese culture ever since. Hinduism makes up the other side of religious worship and the 2 have managed to co-exist throughout the ages. To represent these 2 intrinsic beliefs, Nepal’s flag consists of 2 points, the only flag on Earth that isn’t a rectangular shape.
If you happen to visit in September/October, you will likely be fortunate enough to witness the incredible display of the Dasain festival, the largest in the nation, stretching over 15 days and including a variety of celebrations. Fear not though, festivals are as common as cows and you’ll undoubtedly run into one whatever time of year you choose to visit.
The culture is endlessly appealing; the customs, the world heritage temples (though unfortunately many have been destroyed after the latest earthquake), the food, the clothing, the animal worship though the culmination of all this and the overarching positive experience of Nepal, is its people. They are without question the kindest, most warm-hearted and helpful population I’ve come across. Period. It would take a truly cold-blooded individual to come away from a journey through Nepal and not fall in love with the collective group of individuals you will have encountered along the way. That to me, is what makes Nepal truly special.
Backpacking 4 Betty is more than a program – for me, it’s a way of life. Why do we do what we do? I have spent many years asking this question. That quest took me through Seminary and all the way to Asia which claimed the majority of my last 3 years. Often we never ask why. We simply do things- out of habit, customs, obligations, and sometimes simple boredom. Backpacking 4 Betty believes in doing with purpose, doing out of love, doing, why? Because why not?
When we know ourselves- our passions, dreams, goals, fears, etc … we can more easily navigate all aspects of our life. I was taught strength comes from the ability to be flexible in all circumstances, to have integrity in difficulty, and to always lead with an open heart & hand, never closed. The caveat to staying strong is always Balance. Knowing yourself and your needs, being able to fulfill those needs is important. Because in that place of contentment, you can truly give abundantly. Only from a strong foundation can intense giving be realized.
Only you can know yourself. Backpacking 4 Betty encourages both self awareness and extreme giving. There are times in life to be more selfish and times to be more selfless. I’ve always known my heart was restless in America. Traveling brings me to life. The challenge of navigating, respecting, and attempting to understand another culture is thrilling. You NEVER know what’s going to happen next, much like the formation of B4B.
After the earthquake, I attempted to volunteer for many organizations- all focused on water (this why is another Blog). No one wanted me, so why not start something myself? 2 years later, it is the best decisions I have ever made. I love Nepal- the good, the bad, and the ugly (which there is plenty of). It has both incredible amounts of inspiration and staggering amounts of challenges. This is why knowing which challenges (much like the formation and development of B4B for myself) are going to grow you without breaking your spirit.
What B4B does changes based on resources, volunteers, and situations. However, we are always focused on health- mainly making clean water available to more people throughout Nepal. Our WHY though, never changes. It is because we can. Because we should. When life throws you into a situation that demands a response… what can you do? We responded to the earthquake and now we continue.
Going through Seminary taught me to be extremely cautious in these situations. It is hard to say what we “should” do. Especially in relation to helping others. In Nepal, it is also an ethical question- it is not my home, it is not my culture. However, it is our world. Whether we see it improve or be destroyed is our collective responsibility. Therefore, with love and through continued cooperation with locals, B4B challenges everyone in our mission to know our why even more than what we do! Why do we work in Nepal, why do we focus on water … why we care.
We also challenge you to know the same about yourself!!
What are you living for? Why do you do what you do? Don’t know…? Maybe it is time to visit Nepal. To go and do nothing- no volunteering, no work, just be. Be there to experience the present, to figure out what drives you. From that place you can use your skills and passions to help the world. Helping not from a place of obligation or martyrdom, but from love. Love of what you do and then doing that for the benefit of others.
Humanity is a community. Coexisting is difficult enough with greedy and reactive people. However, through self awareness we become less reactive and realize there is no need for greed, only giving. B4B reminds us that while we may be the center of our universe, it is a universe shared with others. This is the “4”. For better, For other.