One of my (admittedly weird) fears about traveling so much is that I’m slowly but surely becoming jaded and under-awed by the corners of the world. I fear that I’m going to get all “Temple, Sh-memple. Monkeys – who cares? Polygamy? I’ve seen it.”
But then? Then I spent three weeks in the eastern district of Jhapa, Nepal and realized that I’d happened off the tourist trail into the wild west of Asia. And I loved it! It was some of the most challenging, most unusual, most mind-bending travel that I’ve ever experienced. And you might like it too!
Things that may recommend Jhapa, Nepal to you (or totally, totally deter you from ever setting foot there)
* Goats ride on top of buses
* Totally straight men hold hands. All the time.
* Momos: tiny steamed dumplings stuffed with cabbage, carrots and onions, dipped in spicy chutney
* Pretty much every type of available transportation is nerve-racking: overcrowded buses (with goats and people on top), speeding taxis that pass other vehicles on winding mountain roads, motorcycles with three passengers (and one helmet), bicycle rickshaws powered by tiny men.
* The national greeting “Namaste” means “I greet the divine within you”
* There are only 13 hours of electricity each day. What? Yes. But this means that you spend a few hours every night playing cards, pouring over photo albums and chopping vegetables by candlelight.
* Nepali men are sweet, respectful, non-lecherous and (let’s keep it real) very cute. Big dark eyes, high cheek bones and hip haircuts? Yes, please.
* You’ll encounter tea fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, covered in fog. Women in bright saris pick tea by hand and carry it in huge wicker baskets.
* Foreigners are such a rarity that every single day someone will want to take a picture with you. They’ll often invite you to dinner. Sometimes they’ll ask for your autograph. Seriously.
* Roosters crowing at dawn. Simultaneously endearingly old-fashioned and really annoying.
* Chai and biscuits at 4 pm every day.
* There are zero McDonalds and zero Starbucks in Nepal.
* Your hosts will feed you delicious, spicy, oily dishes until you’re ready to burst. And then they’ll insist that you take another serving.
* Common questions that you will be asked include: “What’s your caste?” “Why are you so white?” and “We heard American teachers can’t beat their students. How do you punish them then?”
* There are no sidewalks. There are only dusty, gravel and garbage filled spaces in front of stores. Sometimes someone makes a pile of said garbage and burns it. Sometimes wandering goats eat it.
* Having a ‘picnic’ means driving a bus full of people to a open space where lots of other buses full of people are also picnicing. Then you spend several hours building a fire and cooking, and then playing Venga Boys really loudly on the huge sound system that you brought. Sometimes other people are blaring other music at high volumes 20 feet away from you. Sometimes said people are really drunk, shirtless and engaged in very complicated Hindi choreography
* Regardless of income, your hosts and friends will give you gifts when you leave. I was in Jappa for three weeks and I received 11 gifts from fifth grade students, refugees and high school English teachers.
Have you ever traveled to some place really wild and ‘off the beaten track’? Would you want to go somewhere like this?