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Friday March 28, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday March 28, 2014 MYT 7:20:06 AM
by jojo struys
A profound experience: The columnist riding an elephant after helping to bathe the animal.
WHEN I was a child, I remember being beside myself with excitement at Christmas because I could not wait to open my presents. Thinking back, what excited me more than the presents themselves was the mystery of not knowing what was inside the ‘box’.
I had a similar feeling only two months ago when I discovered I was going to a place I had never been to before.
When I found out my Letting Go de-stress travelogue was flying me to Nepal, I was quite awed by the thought that I would be visiting the home of the tallest mountain on Earth, and much like the mist that settles over the Himalayas, I had always found this part of the world exotic and shrouded in mystery.
As I was passing by the guardhouse, I waved at the friendly security guard saying, “Hey, I’m going to Kathmandu!”
And despite not knowing much about his country, I had a good feeling about it when his face split into a wide grin, “You will like it, ma’am. Very beautiful!”
When I was about to land in Nepal, I was glued to the window seat because as far as I could see, there were layers of mountains that looked as though they were mingling with the clouds. It was an utterly breathtaking sight. I could not wait to check into my hotel room and embark on my adventure in Nepal.
That very afternoon, I made my way into the ancient village of Bhaktapur for a lesson in hand-made pottery and I was enchanted. My guide asked if everything was okay because I stopped walking in mid-stride just to take it all in. It was like stepping back in time.
Life in action here carried on humbly and simply the way it has been for hundreds of years. Art and culture was so effortlessly preserved, from the way the buildings looked to the way everyone was dressed.
There were rows and rows of earthen pots being laid out to dry with women in yak-wool and pashmina shawls looking almost elegant as they shaped their vases so expertly with their clay covered fingers.
I felt almost under-dressed for my pottery lesson because the locals looked ready to pose for a glossy poster of life in the Himalayas, but this was genuinely how everyone dressed every day, even if they were covered in dust and doing menial labour.
A few days later, I was on Yeti Airlines and feeling like a kid in a candy store when I had my first glimpse of Mount Everest, on the boundary of Nepal and Tibet, China.
It looked so close to the plane that I wanted to reach out and touch it. Mount Everest stood serenely with an air of mystery about her and was a head above the rest in the Himalayan range at a whopping 8,850m.
I then made my way to the valley of Chitwan on a gruelling journey by road that had me biting my very short nails off. Aside from the fear of landslides, the buses and vans drove on windy, bumpy roads so near the edge of the cliff that I had to hold my breath on several scary moments on this treacherous journey.
I was most relieved when I arrived at all my destinations in one piece.
Apart from these near scrapes, Nepal has been one of the best places I have ever visited. It is a land of tremendous diversity, rich culture and raw beauty.
Everywhere you look, is a picture of a face or scene, waiting to be captured.
It was hard to tear my camera crew and myself away from some locations because we wanted to keep shooting until we ran out of memory cards. There was simply so much great content.
My guide had also arranged for me to bathe an elephant in the river. I thought I had heard him wrong until this gentle giant showed up on the riverbank with its caretaker and knelt down for me to climb onto her bare back.
It was profound to have such an enormous creature enjoying her bath so much that she laid down in the water, like a domestic cat turning over to get her belly tickled. I was scrubbing her face as though it was normal to be giving a one-tonne elephant a facial in the outdoors.
From visiting the birthplace of Buddha in Lumbini near the Indian border, to learning the Tharu folk dance in the Himalayan foothills, to receiving a sound healing with musicians and meditators, I have brought home more than a pocketful of memories of my trip to Nepal.
I can totally see why Nepal has been ranked No. 1 in Asia for TripAdvisor’s top travel destinations on the rise for 2014. This culturally diverse, and beautiful country along with its friendly people has echoed what my hosts from Incentive Holidays told me on Day 1.
They said many people who had come to Nepal wished to return so the country’s slogan was, “Once is not enough”. Now that I have been there, I can vouch for this.
> Jojo Struys is a TV host/producer shooting an international travelogue revolving round uniquely cultural ways people can de-stress around Asia Pacific. You can catch up with her on instagram@jojo_struys
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