Outbound to Kathmandu I sit next to Gordon. A retired tax inspector from the UK; a ‘man of a certain age’. Gordon was typical of a Nepali veteran who returns time and again. Having summited Island Peak, been out to Kanchenjunga amongst other trips he was resigned to the discomfort and difficulties that a journey in Nepal can sometimes demand. His first visit, the Dhaulagiri circuit ended for him at Japanese or Army Base camp after being injured by rock fall. A very marginal evacuation by helicopter had not put him off, even though that had been his first visit. Despite everything he was back again.
Olly turned up in my Jiri Lodge slightly the worse for ‘raksi’ and enjoying his farewell session with his guide. Olly is in his late thirties and has been in Nepal nearly ten times. He enjoys the valleys and exploring those odd corners of Nepal that don’t attract the multitudes. Speaking very passable Nepali he loves to immerse himself in Nepal for three weeks or so every year. Like Gordon, Olly has travelled extensively in the big mountains and prefers Nepal to South America. Nepal’s attraction being the people, their culture, and their infectious outgoing friendship.
My mind was seeking to answer the question ‘why were so many people returning again and again?’ This would be my seventh visit to the Himalaya and most of them in Nepal. I knew exactly what I was in for, and being ‘of a certain age’ (61) I should be enjoying warm Mediterranean coastal resorts with fine wines and food. Instead another 5 weeks of dhal bat, uncertain sanitary arrangements and certain hardships. Why? Leaving Jiri for Shivalaya I got an immediate answer ten minutes up the trail. Kip and Brian were two Irish trekkers on repeat visits to Nepal. Brian was here to escape; get away, and enjoy the culture, the views too. Kip is a highly regarded professional fashion photographer in Dublin.( email@example.com ) He had eyes for a very different type of beauty this trip; his eyes and camera were always searching out the next view and vista. Bothdemonstrated huge respect, empathy and understanding of Nepali rural lifestyle and culture. One time I threwa tiny piece of rubbish on a cooking fire in a lodge, simultaneously they both rounded upon me for my crime. Their ability to relate to the people of Nepal gained them access to temples, houses and families throughout there trek. Both were very much at home in Nepal. Interestingly Brian would always have a good moan in the evenings about the cold and things, yet meet him in the sunshine on the trail and he was his usual effusive self. He loves Nepal.
Jenevive was from Switzerland. She was on her second visit, particularly interested in the people, landscape, nature and the Buddhism. For Jenevive Nepal was about harmony, peace, enjoying a good feeling. I found her meditating in the local Monastery. She confessed that a small piece of heart brings her back to Nepal. To this end she has helped raise funds for the Lukla hospital which she had just visited. Completely contrasting the reflective Jenevive was Natalie from Golden in Canada. Here was a vivacious live wire who loved the people, the mountains, the villages, the chaos, Yak cheese, Raksi, and the Nepal trekking scene. Natalie hit a cord when she explained that Nepal was where she can walk without a big backpack, stay in reasonable accommodation and be independent for two to three weeks in the mountains. This makes Nepal accessible and a destination of choice.
Sometimes you meet professional travellers. These are people who travel for several years and demonstrate huge skills in their exploration of the world. Zavier and Celine were cyclists from Switzerland who were taking time out from the bikes to trek in Nepal. Their 90 day visa had seen them in the Annapurna region, they were finishing the SoluKhumbu area and were going on to explore elsewhere on their bikes. They thought that travelling in Nepal was simplicity itself, compared with central asia and crossing the borders of the many ‘stans’, Mongolia and China. This journey was a lifestyle choice for them of multiple years which would be incomplete without visiting Nepal. Visit their web site www.ylia.ch
Jeremy and Rita were American teachers taking a year out to spend time in India, Nepal and six months climbing in Yosemite. Their commitment to Nepal was obvious; they got married in Tengboche Monastery. Able trekkers and climbers they found the people and mountains of Nepal a huge fascination. As they moved around the trails, high passes and onto the top of the Ri’s they demonstrated just how comfortable you can be in Nepal. Similarly I met Graham who was from the UK and another ‘man of a certain age’. He had been travelling all his life, all over the world particularly with school groups. His passion was to share his love of travelling with others, engaging them in culture, vistas and with people. Since retiring he now organises small tours for interested people in Nepal and guides them on their journeys. His huge experience from travelling around the world with so many people makes his clients incredibly comfortable. His advice and support makes a trip possible for those who might find large organised groups less than accommodating. Meanwhile another ‘man of a certain age’ hailed from Alaska and was demonstrating just how at ease you can make yourself in Nepal. Stretch had climbed in Nepal, Ladakh and Pakistan previously. He was enjoying the pleasure of lodge life in a walk around the Khumbu with his wife Becky and not having the pressure of a full blown expedition.He had put up some pretty impressive first ascents on ice in his native state, yet the Nepal journey was clearly satisfying his need for the mountain fix.
Ohua had been to Nepal before and was busy enjoying the mountains on a regular basis. Her home in Beijing offered no chance for mountaineering,she loves the opportunity to be in the mountains and hills. Already having been to Nepal 3 times she was planning to explore Dolpo and Upper Mustang in the future. Meeting Brian Blackwell from Brisbane in Australia was typical of the ‘man of a certain age’ label. He had been travelling in Nepal since 1968 on an annual basis. Now leading his own groups he speaks fluent Nepali and has a fund of stories and tales about the people, events and places he has travelled. Like Graham, he loves to interpret and engage those he is leading with the life and culture of Nepal. He talks of many highs and lows, both altitude and events. Dealing with Maoists, the welfare of porters, changes in the trekking scene, the dangers of some locations are all part of Brian’s rich years visiting and bringing groups to Nepal.
So why do I visit so often? I was caught unawares by the answer. I met Phil descending the Renjo La and we were similar ages, pace and background. A UK ex pat who has been travelling for over 30 years, an accomplished climber and mountaineer whose passion for travel compromised both career and marriage. He thought about the ‘why’ question for a moment and his reply was spot on. He said ‘Cocaine’, that’s all. He was so right. Nepal is a recreational drug of choice. Fortunately a legal one!