Let’s talk about traveling and fear. I don’t know if it is because of my age or just having children or all of the F-ed up things happening in the world, but my travel anxiety now goes through the roof. My work offered me an amazing opportunity to attend a conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a once in a life time trip that I just couldn’t pass up. This was my first big trip since having kids and I was having such a hard time dealing with the thought of leaving them, especially the baby. It felt selfish to leave her. I had never been without her and I kept thinking of the moment she woke up in her crib and I would be gone and it was ripping my heart out. On my last night, I held her in my arms and tears streamed down my face. When I laid her down in her crib, I just stood there looking at her, touching her cheek until she finally looked up at me wondering what the hell I was doing. I left early the next morning and Face-timed the boys from the airport as I was boarding. I ugly cried for 20 minutes after hanging up with them, so apologies to the poor person sitting next to me.
I had a 3 hour lay over in London followed by a 1 hour lay over in Delhi. I was nervous about making a connecting flight with so little time because the airline didn’t know if my bags would go through to Nepal or if I had to get them and re-check them in India. I got line, asked the attendant about my issue, was told to stand in another long line only to be told to go back to the original line I was standing in and was instantly reminded of how infuriating traveling in India can be. I was finally given a hand written boarding ticket and was patted down because the security belt was broken. I reached my connecting flight as the door was closing.
Two hours later, I looked out the window to see the tops of the Himalayan mountain range slice through the clouds. The immense size of them is enough to take your breathe away. Everest makes the rest look like ant hills. I disembarked along with about 200 chickens to a pretty chaotic scene. I was so relieved to see my bags waiting for me. We had to go back through security to exit for some reason and then I had to find transportation in a sea of people. I can never sleep on planes and I had been traveling for 24 hours straight. The hotel was not far from the airport but it took hours in the traffic. I slumped over my bags and passed out.
We stayed in the Kathmandu Grand Hotel which was basic but clean and comfortable. The man wielding the kukri at the front door gave us a great sense of security. There were hot showers and WiFi, but the connection was pretty terrible and I wasn’t able to call home much. One look at the ball of wires and you can see why!
The hotel was in Thamel, the backpacking Mecca of the city. Thamel is the best place to stay for an authentic experience. The streets are closed off from cars, so you can wander from shop to shop and have endless choices of great restaurants all the while prayer flags are fluttering above your head. Don’t plan to buy any actual hiking gear here, as it is all knock offs. North Face is screen printed on everything.
Each day we would walk though the city to reach the conference which was at the Yak and Yeti, a large posh hotel. There was a shuttle but we loved experiencing the back allies, meeting the street dogs and seeing how people lived. It was hard to see so many dogs roaming, but most wore collars and were loved by the people. One day, I stopped to pet a dog and my friend went to take a picture. All of a sudden there were armed guards yelling at us and telling us to leave. We later found out that we were in front of the American Embassy and it is forbidden to take pictures. Some people from the conference were actually brought in for questioning and had their passports taken.
It was very eerie to walk past the old palace grounds where the royal family was massacred. On June 1, 2001, the royal family gathered for their monthly family dinner when the Crown Prince entered the room with a machine gun and slowly picked off each family member as they pleaded for their lives. He killed his father, the King of Nepal first, followed by 8 other family members before turning his gun on himself. He shot himself in the head, critically injuring himself. He was pronounced King while at the hospital in a coma but died three days later. It was later found that he was angry with his family’s opposition to his marriage but there is a lot of controversy about this because despite being right-handed, his self-inflicted head wound was located in his left temple and there were two bullets found lodged in his temple instead of one. Also, Prince Gyanendra, Dipendra’s uncle who succeeded him was not only absent from the party, but his wife and son were of the only survivors of the massacre. There was no real forensic evidence done and the entire palace was demolished within days in an effort to “release the spirit of the dead King from Nepal.” This put a lot of distrust in the monarchy, which soon crumbled.
We soon found out that all of the security was because there was a huge vote going on in Nepal as they were trying to become separate states. They used mirrors to check under our cars for explosive devises and bombs were set off in the country side. With all that said, I never felt unsafe there. I walked around alone at night and never had an issue. The people are so kind and helpful everywhere you go. I never even had a language barrier because the children are taught English in school.
One of the things that I loved about Kathmandu is that they are not giving into the fact that they are in a cold climate. They have year round outdoor cafes and restaurants everywhere and they will just place a small fire pit near you to keep you warm. I was there in December. The weather was really nice and sunny but it got quite cold at night.
One sunny day, my friend and I took a walk to see the nearby Garden of Dreams. We were talking and laughing when we turned a corner and there sat a small child, arms extended with a bowl in her hands asking for money. She was the same age as my baby girl and it instantly hit me so hard, I just burst into tears. All of my motherly instincts kicked in and I just wanted to scoop her up into my arms, take her home, bathe her and give her a good meal. I would have adopted her in a heartbeat. I sat with her, and to my shame, gave her money and took her picture.
I later read that it is the worst thing that you can do because it basically promoted her life on the street. The mothers of these children take them out of school so that they can go begging since the children make so much more money than an adult would. Her mother sat nearby directing all of her children to different tourists to ask them for money. The kids would be giggling and playing together and then quickly turn on the tears when they saw a tourist, perfectly trained into the act. My friend even saw a woman squeeze her baby to make her cry. I can’t imagine feeling that kind of desperation.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Every time I thought of that baby, the tears would come. I just hated the unfairness of it all. My daughter would have every opportunity given to her just due to the location of her birth while this baby girl would probably be sold off to become a sex slave once her mother became desperate enough. Human trafficking is a huge issue in Nepal since there is so much poverty. Children are sold to wealthy Indians as there are no laws to protect them. I have looked into how I can help and can’t seem to find any trustworthy group so if you know of an organization I can support, please let me know.
The first five days of my time in Kathmandu were spent attending the Asia for Animals Conference, which is where all of the groups working to improve animal welfare come together to network and share ideas. It is always an enlightening experience to see what is working for some NGO’s and what is not.
While at the conference, we watched a group of Buddhist monks work on a sand mandala. After spending days getting each tiny granule of colored sand in place, they will simply wipe it all away as a practice in unattachment. The thought of them destroying such a masterpiece was excruciating, yet watching them work had such a meditative affect on me.
After the conference, I was able to do some sightseeing around Nepal. Click here for a list of the best places to see in Kathmandu. We also traveled to Chitwan National Park for wildlife trekking. It was such an amazing trip, despite all of the fear and anxiety I faced in the beginning. In fact, I felt fine the second I disembarked from the plane. I realized quickly how good it is for me to break away from diaper duties and remember who I was before becoming a mother.
The moral of the story is: take the trip. No matter how hard it is, always take the trip.