They say most come to Nepal to see the Himalayas. They come back a second time for the people. My first impression of Nepal was, “yeah, the people are nice, but people are nice everywhere.” At the end of our three and a half weeks there, I can with confidence say, I met some remarkable individuals in Nepal.
You’ve already been introduced to our guide, Raja in How I Learned to Trust My Feet on the Annapurna Circuit. Raja, from day one, was a great guide and I’d now proudly call him a friend. Dedicated to the mountains, Raja had always wanted to be a trek guide. After some tough years working odd jobs, he started as a porter and worked his way up to become a senior guide. His tenacious spirit was evident in everything he did along the trek trail. He helped villagers repair irrigation pipes. Told jokes to passing school girls. Prepared our dinner when the teahouse owners were swamped with other guests. He’d help all the other trekkers without guides with advice and bits of knowledge along the way. When we finished our trek in Jomson, we took both Raja and Raj out for beers. Unfortunately, Raj, our porter, couldn’t join us in Pokhara and Kathmandu, but we were able to break bread with Raja two more times before we left Nepal. When we go back to Nepal, he’ll be the first phone call we make. Sidenote: Planning a trip to Nepal? I can pass along Raja’s contact info – just ask!
Raja also made another introduction to us, a friend of his named Lakpa who runs a paragliding company (Flying Himalaya Paragliding) in Pokhara. Raja set up the paragliding excursion for us, and promised we would really enjoy paragliding as well as the company of Lakpa, who is known by his friends as Laughing Buddha. When talking with Lakpa, it only takes minutes to see how he got his nickname, as he bursts into fits of giggles at random.
Lakpa took me up for a 60-minute paragliding session where I flew high over Pokhara seeing sweeping views of the lake below and the mountains all around us. It was amazing. Lakpa encouraged me to ask questions the whole session to keep me distracted from the heights. So I asked Lakpa about himself. A unique individual, he earned his living for many years guiding tours for Mountain Madness on Everest and surrounding peaks. One of his greatest adventures came when he and a friend became the only people to ever paraglide off of Everest and then raft down to the coast of India. Yes, the Everest that happens to be the highest peak in the world. They were voted National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year (Read the story.) What’s even more spectacular is that he did it on his own. No sponsors. No crazy influx of cash to conquer such a feat. Just a wild hair and a vivacious spirit.
We continued to chat long after both Jay and I finished our paragliding sessions. Lakpa asked what our plans were for the next few days in Pokhara. “Oh, you want to go to the stupa across the lake? Borrow my kayak instead of paying for a boat.” And my favorite, “you need transportation to get 30 minutes outside of Pokhara? Just take my vintage looking Royal Enfield.” At first, we felt we just met this man, there is no way he is serious. But he was. He let us take his motorcycle for as long as we wanted! That evening, we picked it up (Jay went for a practice loop – the gears were all on the opposite side he was used to), and parked it at our hotel overnight.
One of our draws to Nepal was that one of Jay’s best friends helped start an organization called Tiny Hands International fighting human trafficking in Nepal years ago that Jay has always wanted to come check out. The organization uses transit monitoring programs to fight trafficking at the border (an estimated 30,000 young women and children are trafficked into India from Nepal and Bangladesh every year to be sold as slaves), but they also have homes for victims of trafficking and homeless kids throughout Nepal as well. Two just homes are just outside of Pokhara on a compound with the Dream School, a place for them to receive a great education and learn Christian values. Driving Lakpa’s motorcycle, we showed up one Monday morning for a tour of the homes and school. The staff opened the doors to us with warmth and smiles as we looked on and was able to experience first hand the good being done in the community thanks to Tiny Hands. I stole a glance over at Jay and saw a wide grin on his face beaming with pride as he looked at picture on the wall of his friend and the rest of the Tiny Hands’ board.
When we returned Lakpa’s motorcycle later that day, he continued to press us for ways he could help make our stay in Pokhara more enjoyable. He settled for telling us more about his other endeavors (he owns an avocado farm in the Everest region) over a coke. We promised to stop by next time we’re in Pokhara. We will.
Nepal helped both of us grow in ways we weren’t expecting. I know I will always carry what I gained from my time in Nepal close to my heart. As I wrap up this series, I leave you with a postcard from Pokhara, and invite you to join me Bali. I’m not sure anything can top our three weeks in the mountains. But three weeks at a tropical beach just might.