Less garbage, less cows. That is the first thing that strikes me when we drive from the airport of Kathmandu to our hotel: Traditional Comfort. It is a brand new building and stands out of the others. Many are damaged, some are ruins. The rooftop terrace with the typical buddhist mantra flags gives us a first idea of the city.
In the afternoon, there is time for wandering. It is a more or less walkable city – thank God. The fourth ATM works and I decide to the area that B.K. – our new CEO in Nepal – calls downtown: Thamel.
The district resembles Old Delhi a tiny bit but it is in the hands of shopping lovers and tourists. The first dinner is a total immersion into the Nepali kitchen. We have a six course menu at the speciality restaurant Krisharpan. Prince Charles has dined here, former German president Roman Herzog and Demi Moore. Sitting on low chairs with a huge napkin on I feel a little strapped but after the first course I do not want to move an inch. Delight! Crunchy rice and crunchy lentils, momos, broccoli soup, black rice, chicken curry, spinach, lukewarm carrot pudding – yum. And everybody gets an individual paper menu and a heavy schnapps (“rakshi”) in between. Afterwards everybody gets a brick as a souvenir. A “heavily” awkward souvenir – but nice. The next day we walk around Bhaktapur, pass medieval buildings, restored temples and ornaments that were destroyed during the earthquake in 2015, we make our way to Nyatapola Temple (schoolkids are sitting in front of it, painting lesson) and we reach Durbar Square where the German government – former chancellor Helmut Kohl – has sponsored a small temple and where one temple is showing scenes from the Kamasutra. In all this architecture loaded with history there are numerous shops that sell souvenirs, papers, spices, vegetables and fish, clothing, paintings, knives and last but least: wooden artwork.
Enough architecture for the moment – time for some social education. We visit a non-profit organization called “Sisterhood of Survivors“. They help girls who are victims of human trafficking. All of the members of “Sasane” have themselves been abused. After a warm welcome we are given a cooking class in how to make the typical Nepali “momos“. Misanti Gurun has been in the Sasane program for only three months and she explains the momo recipe. The folding is complicated but crucial: If the bags of dough do not survive in the steamer all work is for nothing. The dumplings need between 15-20 minutes in the steamer – depending on their filling (meat fillings might take a little longer). While we prepare what we think could be momos, we eat the dumplings the girls have already prepared for us. I like that – should be like that when I cook! After this first course we have a full Nepali lunch and then we go deeper into what Sasana is doing. They rescue poor girls from the traffickers – with the help of local police and other social organizations. “Girls, humans, can unlike other drugs be sold several times”, Lakshmi says. “That is why human trafficking is increasing – not only in Nepal but worldwide. Most of the girls come from poor mountain villages, they hope for a better life in the city and do not realize what they are going into or their parents sell them to get some money. Then they are forced to work in night clubs and prostitution and there is no way back. Making momos with us – what a contrast. What must they have gone through?
The founder of Sansara (established in 2008) is Indira Gurung. Unlike others who still recover from what they have experienced recently, she is ready to share her story.
Sansara’s aim is to empower girls, educate them and provide a paralegal training. Thus the girls are able to work at police stations and help other victims by giving them legal advice for free. Because affected women often do not dare to speak out or go to the police and they do not have the resources to pay a lawyer. With the help of Sansana they are educated and learn English. The fact of trafficking is just one peak of abuse and discrimination women are facing in Nepal. As B.K. tells us, women are suppressed in their marriages and are expected to subdued by men. For example, they are believed to be unclean during their menstruation. They are not allowed to leave the house, in some remote villages they are caged into a barn together with the animals until their period is over. Some even die. This is shockingly backward. How does this go together with the many good values of Hinduism and Buddhism?
About 15% of the Nepali citizens are Buddhists. After leaving the Sansana house we go to one of the largest Buddhist temples (“stupa”) in the world: Boudhanath. Two giant Buddha eyes greet us. “Go round the stupa only clockwise”, B.K. says. Ok! People are walking in circles turning prayer wheels with their right hand (the “clean” hand), incenses are burned everywhere and shops play the soothing Buddhist mantra:
Flags with that mantra are stretched all over he place and flutter in the air. They are supposed to take the evil away.
In the evening I meet Louisa who has been working and living in Kathmandu for several years. We talk about the hardships of helping a country like Nepal, NGO work work ethic and mentality, Nepals shift towards a democratic (and less corrupt) state (there are elections happening right now), water trucks that do never clean their tanks (“better brush your teeth with drinking water”) and what’s living in the expat community is like. We sit on cushions on the floor and indulge in modern Nepali cuisine at a place called “Places“: Fries with banana chutney, Momos with pumpkin filling and chili chocolate sauce, crackers with a kind of tomato tatar and lemon-ginger-tea. Unfortunately, I have to go to bed early. The alarm is set for 5 am. Six of us are taking an Everest flight.
We are not the only ones who want to see the highest mountain on earth a little bit closer. The waiting hall at the airport is packed with people. Our flight is delayed, they are waiting for an update on the weather conditions. We are lucky: The flight is not cancelled (that happens regularly) and we board the Yeti airlines plane. Window seat for everyone! After half an hour we get closer to Mount Everest. But still the stewardess only points out which mountain is NOT Everest. Bad timing – I am invited to the cockpit last when we are obviously just crossing Everest. I get lost in a small talk with the co-pilot and do not realize that we were only about 20 kilometers away from the giant. But the scenery is majestic anyway – my eyes get wet in view of the beauty the Himalayas have to offer.
Everything is over so fast. We are already on our way back. Champagne is served. Maria: “It is eight o’clock and we have already seen Everest – how can this day get any better?”, Well, it can. On the agenda for the afternoon is the visit of a monastery. This might be mind-blowing. But that’s another story, to be told soon. Bonfire is lit, dinner is almost ready – gotta go.