Although I would not call myself a “friend of Nepal” yet – because of lacking knowledge – I decide to join a monthly roundtable in Cologne, some days before my departure, organized by the consulate. Consul Ram Pratap Thapa invites Nepal-travelers and people who apply for visas to meetings at the only Nepali-Tibetan Restaurant in town: Buddha’s Eye. When I arrive, there are already a dozen people gathered around the table. I get a seat next to the consul.
Mister Thapa turns out to be a very down to earth guy and after a few minutes he flips through his photos from Nepal and videos with bands playing traditional music on his smartphone to show me what to expect. I pester him and the German travelers with questions. They enthuse about the good hearted and hospitable people, the good food with unique spices, the nature. Ram Thapa comes from a smaller city near Kathmandu and has been living in Germany for 40 years. He is a retired banker, now committing his time to an umbrella organization for NGOs with reference to Nepal.
He also talks about difficulties in the public school system, hardships after the earthquake in 2015 and donations and tax money not necessarily well spent. And about religious freedom. The majority of the Nepalese are Hindu, the second largest group are Buddhists (Buddha is suspected to be born in Nepal). Nepal has been a kingdom with Hindu as the state religion and it is only since 2008 that the country opened up more and more for other religions. This has been counteracted though by a law that forbids missionary work (similar to India) which is mainly aimed a against the Christians. “Becoming” a Hindu is impossible anyway: The confession can only be acquired by birth.
An elderly female traveler tells me about her experiences with home stays. “You do not get to know a country by joining groups or living separated from the ordinary people”, she says. Her eyes sparkle when she reports on children who asked her for sweets but she “taught” them to eat nuts instead. Resembles missionary work, I think to myself, but of course it might better to make them keep a healthy non-western life style. She gave a family cash to build up their home again. The consul starts to explain the whole menu to me. The base of Nepali food is “Dhal (yellow or black lentils), Bhat (rice) and Tarkari (vegetables)”. I go for a dish with roasted yellow lentils in a kind of ginger curry – and hope to eat a lot more spicy once I am in Nepal.
“What do you think, does it fit?” This is the subject line of Stefans last email before my departure. He has finally sent his wish list that I have been asking for for weeks. I wanted to get tipps for gifts that would please him and his family. Weeks ago he had dropped the word “IKEA”. I joked about it. “Well, if it’s not furniture, haha.” Now I am sitting in front of his wish list and become more and more skeptical. Plates made of porcelain? Bowls? Hooks? Little drawers? Oh dear. My first reaction: Is he insane? My second: Why am I so narrow-minded? If a good old friend asks me to bring him porcellan and if he longs for hanging his clothes on stable rails from IKEA – then it is obviously badly needed – although there is IKEA in India. So I make my way to IKEA Cologne and fill my shopping cart with tableware, Mulig (a 90 centimeter rail), Rimforsa (a 60 centimeter bar), Variera (a 55 centimeter drawer) and a whole pile of hooks weighing approximately several kilos. Packing challenge accepted! Just in time, Stefans parcel with earplugs arrives. It is so much, that it would probably suffice until 2050. I throw them all in my backpack. All in all a weird combination of souvenirs. And no toy for his little girl, no gift for his wife – it just doesn’t fit any more. Being forced to pack in the the minimalist way possible starts to be fun. In addition, it can be a tempting thought to just throw off ballast once you arrive at your destination. Like throwing off everyday life that tends to stress you out the week before you go on a journey. It must be liberating to live with nothing. What do you really need? Like: Really? I feel that this is my first journey with the fewest nonsense stuff ever. Ok, I could not resist to pack some straws, because somebody told me it might be handy when you do not want to sip out of a glass from you do not know where. But: I am working on that. “Oh Yvonne and: We haven’t moved to our new place yet”, Stefan texts me. “Be prepared for an Indian toilet”. Well, I will probably take “throwing off ballast” to a whole new level.