In 2011 I spent two months in Kathmandu teaching English to Buddhist monks and volunteering at an orphanage. Living in Nepal was probably the most challenging thing I’d done at the time but my experience there had such a positive effect on me that it pretty much started the whole teaching and traveling career I have now.
Of course, the life-changing experience I got was nothing like the one I initially expected. So in that spirit, here’s an honest travel listicle about the unexpected, uncommon and often uncomfortable things that shaped my first amazing trip outside my geographical comfort zone.
Here are my top ten things to do in Nepal...
1) Get dysentery
Sunrise at Sarangkot
There’s a reason this is number one. Let’s be honest, it’s probably going to happen. If you think your eyes are inadequate to process the majesty of the Himalayas then be assured your innards are inadequate to process the tap water.
I'm not sure if it was brushing my teeth in the shower that caused my downfall, or ordering that steak medium rare, but I spent most of my time in Kathmandu on antibiotics for either dysentery or giardia.
When someone offers you dodgy street food at the bus stop, say "chai de na," which translates from Nepali as “do not need.”
Trust me, you don't need it.
2) Compare your shoe size to Buddha’s
Photo credit: Kati Romics
One of the most significant historical sites in Kathmandu is Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple because of all the primates climbing around.
Before you attempt the exhausting climb up 365 steps to check out the stupa and give the wildlife a chance to steal your camera, you can stop to admire an impressive stone carving representing the feet of Buddha.
You know what they say. Big feet, big… enlightenment.
3) Feed cannabis to goats
Some of the best mountain views in the Kathmandu valley can be had in the village of Nargakot, so me and my friend Jake enlisted our buddy/guide Ganesh to come with us for a night. There are two things I remember from that excursion:
First, seeing a spider on the guesthouse wall so massive that when Jake tried to kill it by throwing a shoe at it, the arachnid either remained unscathed as the footwear bounced off it, or it caught the shoe and actively threw it back at us. I’m not sure which because I’d been getting passively stoned all evening.
Yeah, Jake and Ganesh were quite partial to the green stuff. Which is probably why Ganesh forgot it was a national holiday on the day we were due to depart, leaving us stranded up a mountain with a long walk instead of a bus.
Jake stops for lunch
Thankfully, the hike from Nargakot to Bhaktapur was made more interesting by what we found growing at the side of the road.
Jake was particularly pleased. And the local goats we saw grazing looked quite relaxed.
No wonder Nepal is such a peaceful country.
4) Fall off an elephant
One of the ‘must see’ destinations in Nepal is Chitwan National Park, where you can view various native beasts in their natural environment, including rhinoceroses, and if you’re lucky, Bengal tigers.
Our wildlife spotting package included a jungle walk to look for tigers - don’t worry, our guide had a big stick for protection - and a jeep ride. On foot we didn’t catch a glimpse of anything (thankfully) but by vehicle we did manage to see some rhinos.
The highlight though was a chance to wade into the river and help bathe the elephants. The gentle creatures allow you to climb onto their backs and then of course the mahouts encourage them to try and throw you off again. It’s a lot of fun and not the sort of thing you’d experience at London Zoo.
My visit to Chitwan wasn’t complete without a course of anti-malarials but sunset cocktails by the river made up for all the side-effects they gave me.
5) Play lime football with monklets
I wasn’t just in Nepal to antagonize the fauna. I was actually there to give some English lessons to young Buddhist monks.
Before teaching, I'd often hang out for a while with the kids. As I arrived at the gate, one would take me into the office, say "Juice, sir?" and pour me a glass of warm, flat Fanta. In the heat I fondly remember it as the most refreshing drink I’ve ever tasted.
Out in the courtyard the kids would often be having a kick about under the prayer flags, only in absence of a ball they'd use a citrus fruit.
6) Spend a night in prison
Not pictured: Kathmandu jail
Two of the other volunteers used to complain constantly about the accommodation. They had plenty of suggestions about how to improve our family owned guesthouse and make it a booming business, most of which included the addition of flat screen TVs. They didn’t seem to understand when I suggested that maybe the family only wanted a modest income to meet their needs, and didn’t want to expand.
After I suggested that, one woman summoned all the hyperbole she could muster and said that she couldn't imagine a worse place to spend the night.
A few days later, she was arrested.
Apparently her and Ganesh (Ah, Ganesh) were stumbling out of a Thamel tourist bar one night when she decided to crack open some roadies for the walk home. Drinking on the street is highly illegal and the police were not impressed. She said that the local cops accosted her, but she was also loud, fat and Australian, so I’m going to hazard an educated guess that she didn’t go down quietly or politely. I imagine broken glass, racial slurs and her thumping a diminutive officer in the stomach while Ganesh tries to climb a tree or something to escape.
That’s just speculation and it was her word versus theirs. The experience of sleeping in a Nepali drunk tank was so traumatizing however that she flew back home the following evening.
So I guess she did find somewhere worse than the guesthouse to spend the night.
7) Make a difference. Seriously.
In all seriousness, there’s probably no better time to visit Nepal and do something worthwhile. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the orphanage we supported.
8 - 10) Eat momos
Momos are a traditional Nepali dumpling, similar to Japanese gyoza but meatier. They’re delicious and you should eat as many of them as possible. That’s why they occupy spaces eight, nine and ten on this list. They’re that important.
What? This isn’t fucking Buzzfeed.
Photo credit: Me, Kati Romics (cover photo too), Wikimedia Commons (Momos - I was too busy eating them to take a picture.)