Ronan Keating once said, ‘Life is a rollercoaster’. He had clearly been to Nepal. It’s certainly a country of extremes where the unnerving serenity of the mountains is matched by the incessant noise and choking fumes of the Kathmandu streets. So here is my guide to the cultural highlights of this brilliant country. As a Nepali told me, ‘Nepal is chaos, but no one’s killing each other’.
Nepalese food, for starters, is an absolute dream. Unless, of course, you don’t like curry. Highlights include Nepali tea – lightly spiced and heavily sugared – and ‘momos’, which are golden fried pastry packets of joy, in vegetable or chicken form. As well as this, most nights we’re presented with what can only be described as multi-coloured prawn crackers without the prawn, in the shape of flowers; various breads; dahl; and unending quantities of rice. Of course, the highs of curry are sometimes followed by that classic dodgy tummy and long-drop loo combo… Definitely a rite of passage for every traveller in Nepal. On the topic of hygiene, the shower where we’re staying definitely enjoys a carefree attitude to its function in life. It could perhaps be more accurately described as an infrequent dribble. A bucket and a packet of baby wipes are really all you need. Other than that, I will be forever glad that I learnt to french plait at an early age.
The transport system (system in the loosest sense of the word) for one thing, is incredible. As many people as physically possible, or improbable, are shoved into a tuk tuk for a journey that costs about 13p. The tuk tuk’s somewhat jovial name is perhaps quite enlightening; hinting at the fact that it is pretty much a bigger version of a toy car. To be fair, paying 13p to bounce along the pot-holed highway in a tin truck seems like a far better deal than spending 4 pounds for a dirty smelly tube journey with a drunk on one side and trance music tinnily emanating from someone’s headphones on the other. By day three, we’d beaten the Nepalese at their own game by hailing a taxi, haggling the fare down to 300 rupees, and packing in 6 of us, plus the driver. Of course, it was hugely uncomfortable but definitely felt like a massively successful cultural experience.
Kathmandu and the nearby cities of Laltitpur and Balkamari are each home to a Durbar Square – packed full of dominating geometric temples, intricate Newari architecture and shrines upon shrines upon shrines. However, upon these ancient places of religious worship there are some pretty fruity carvings to be found. There are two elephants in the missionary position (if not utterly impossile, surely at least rather unlikely?); other acrobatics of both human and animal kind; and, my personal favourite, a carving that depicts a woman bending down to wash her hair while her lover enjoys himself from behind. In another, a woman cooks dinner whilst giving her man friend a good time. Yeah, I hear ya sisters. Of course, the mature and cultured thing to do would be to muse upon the fact that, in many ways, the creation of art is an erotic act in itself. Alternatively, some of us just zoom in on all the rude bits, make a facebook album and wait for the likes to come rolling in. Incidentally, whilst chatting to our guide about differing cultural attitudes to sex, he remarked that ‘We are quite strict here. There is absolutely no sex allowed with children or animals’.
‘What more could there possibly be to experience?’ I hear you ask. Well, this intrepid traveller intends to get her chi fully out of whack and relive the heydays of Duke of Edinburgh trips with a trek along the Annapurna mountain trail, if only to realign it all in a three-day yoga course. Other plans involve obtaining as much wannabe Gap Yah bling as possible, trying to get a gurkha knife through customs and potentially getting a tattoo in sanskrit merely for some parental, arrival gate based drama. See kids, culture can be fun.