By Pam Johnson
Editor’s Note: Pam Johnson and her husband Woody are in the midst of a yearlong trip abroad, visiting 12 countries in 12 months. Pam will file monthly stories along the way.
From the peaks of the highest mountains in the world to the dense jungle flatlands, Nepal is a land of wonder, beauty, contrasts, and the friendliest of people.
Our introductory impressions in Kathmandu were the warm faces and helpful hands of the Nepalis. Happily, these continued during our stay throughout the country. The people were welcoming and delightful. The bright smiles of the youngest children and the toothless grins of those who have lived many, many years, have carved themselves into my memory and will remain special to me forever.
First thing on our agenda was lunch, where we had dal bhat, a traditional Nepali dish of rice, lentils, spices, and vegetables. This became one of my favorite meals during our time in Nepal. Other traditional foods we enjoyed included curry, fried rice, and thukpa (a Tibetan noodle soup). One dish I anticipated for three years, after hearing about it from a friend, was Mac & Yak (macaroni and cheese made with yak cheese.) Its deliciousness and the uniqueness lived up to my expectations.
We spent our month in Pokhara, the second-largest city in Nepal. It is located on Phewa Lake with the Himalayas as a backdrop. Unfortunately, it was smoggy our whole month there (caused by burning across the country and in India), so we only caught brief glimpses of the highest mountain peaks. However, despite the disappointment of the shrouded mountains, we loved this town! It’s full of hustle and bustle, motor scooters, loud parties, coffee shops, markets, cafés, and it even has an outdoor “jungle setting” movie theater. We would just step outside our door and were surrounded by so much culture—from people carrying heavy loads using a forehead strap, to mothers bathing their children with buckets of water, to students in uniforms going to school, to cows walking down the street. (Cows are considered sacred to the Hindu people, so they’re pretty much left to roam.)
Pokhara is famous for yoga retreats, extreme sports, and being the jumping-off point for many mountain treks. Our first outdoor adventure was a 2-day trek to the Australian Base Camp. We drove an hour into the foothills (as tall as our East Tennessee mountains) to the trailhead. Again, it was smoggy, so we focused on the beauty of the forests and villages and wildlife. The hike took us up rocky paths and hundreds of stone steps. Amazingly, people live along this trail and make this journey often for supplies.
We stayed at one of the several trekking lodges at the base camp, a lovely location at an elevation of 6,700 feet. We hoped and prayed for the smoke and clouds to lift by the next day. And, thankfully, they did! What a spectacular view of the two Annapurna peaks (each over 26,000 feet), Machhapuchhre (Fishtail Mountain) at almost 23,000 feet, and the surrounding mountains. It was most definitely worth the wait.
Another fabulous adventure was the extreme opposite of being high in the chilly mountains: a safari in the jungle of Chitwan National Park. We took a day-long jeep safari and saw elephants, rhinos, monkeys, bears, crocodiles, peacocks and other birds, and my favorite—a sleek, gorgeous tiger. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this wildlife in Nepal, since Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book occurred across the border in India. It felt like we were dropped right into the middle of his novel.
Our days in Nepal were filled with drinking masala tea or mango smoothies at outdoor cafés, walking and bird watching on the trail that wraps around part of the lake, exploring the city, chatting with the locals, visiting with friends at our guesthouse, and people-watching from our deck above the city roads. We will miss both the chaos of the busy streets and the easy-going pace of daily life of this intriguing country.
To sum it all up, here’s a word potpourri of Nepal:
Mountains and jungles, cafés and smog
Wires and scooters, monkeys and gods
Road construction, treks, and masala tea
Smoothies and beggars and yoga retreats
Forehead bands, dal bhat, and eye-catching beads
Cows and dogs that roam village streets
Momos and tikas and fruity lemonades
Bright-colored houses and garments and gear
“Namaste” greetings and warm, friendly smiles
Nepal grabbed my heart and won’t ever let go.
Nepal, a fascinating place. If it isn’t already on your bucket list, you need to add it.
If you’d like to hear more about our travel adventures and see more photos, please visit my blog and follow me on Instagram and TikTok @amimionthemove. Check back next month for the next stop on the Johnsons’ journey.