Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nepal, I Hate You. Let Me Count the Ways...

(As this is one of the most popular posts on this blog, please do read to the end of it, *including* comments!)

What do you imagine when you think of Nepal?

I used to imagine a pristine Himalayan kingdom full of smiling Sherpas and soaring, snow-capped mountains. I thought I would love Nepal.

Before leaving the United States, I talked with a young woman who had spent 3 weeks in Nepal as part of a Cornell Outdoor Education trip. I was describing our travel plans and how excited I was about tramping in New Zealand, but she continually interrupted me to say, “Go to Nepal... go to Nepal... Go To Nepal!!” It seems like the type of place that everyone loves.

Wouldn't I?

a typical stream:  1 part water, 2 parts trash
I spent 10 weeks and 1 day in Nepal. I made an honest effort to get inside the culture, even learning the basics of reading and writing in Devanagari script so I could better understand the language. I tried to learn about the Nepali people as a society and also to get to know individual Nepalis that I met along the way.

But I never loved Nepal.

a tee-shirt for sale in thamel.  looks like i'm not the only one...
I had a good time, of course. The morning that we climbed Kala Pattar and saw Mount Everest is one of the highlights of my life. Trekking is great. But I didn't, and I don't, love Nepal.

On the contrary, there were many moments when I outright hated the place. One of those moments was the evening of our return to Kathmandu after the illness of a friend had defeated our hopes of trying the Helambu Circuit. The night before, bedbugs had feasted on my chest and waistline. I had a stomach ache, and I couldn't sleep. In order to vent my frustrations, I wrote the following.

The ABC's of Why I Hate Nepal

Air pollution. Wheeeeeze cough cough.
kathmandu is out there somewhere...  under the haze...
Bedbugs. I can't sleep at night.
Cascading waterfalls. We get the craps so often they've got their own nickname. Runner up: Cheats who treat us like walking ATMs.
Dal baht... so sick of dal baht.
Environmental degradation like I've never seen before.
Frustration. Ask three different people a question and get four different answers. If it's someone's job to pick up a phone, rest assured that he will not answer. Price quotes are always 50% too high, but quotes for bus trip lengths are always 50% too low. Don't bother trying to get anything done—the Nepali government doesn't, so why should you?
Groups of more than 8 individuals on a package trek booked from the home country. You are wearing brand new boots (enjoy those blisters) and you're holding those trekking poles incorrectly. Your guides book out trail accommodation days in advance. Please step aside so I can pass you on the trail, and also, screw you.
Haze. I know there are mountains out there somewhere...
Illness. I've lost count of the number of times I've been sick.
Jaded, rich “teahouse” employees who can't be bothered to say “namaste.”
Kathmandu. This ain't Shangri-La. I've been through this city four times, and I've yet to find anything remotely beautiful.
Local buses. I've used up my stash of Dramamine.
if it makes you feel any better, locals vomit too
Men. Your flirtation comes across as harassment. I'm taken, and you're not attractive.
Noise pollution. Beeping your motorbike horn does not make the traffic move faster.
Overpaying for everything. See also: Cheats, Frustration, Visas.
Pokhara. Overrated.
Quirky, “spiritual” travelers. You're not special—you're just under the influence of cheap hash.
Rickshaws. Not quaint. Actually, a pain in the ass when I'm trying to walk from here to there.
Shits, The. See also: Illness.
Thamel. God, especially Thamel. The definition of a tourist ghetto.
Unsympathetic beggars. I see you running down the street. You see me, you start limping and hold out a hand. Do you really think I'm going to give you anything?
Visas. Most expensive one to date. And I'm tired of hearing about how hard it is to get a USA visa.
Water that tastes like blood, metal, dirt, or all three. Also water-borne diseases.
X marks the spot—oh wait, no it doesn't, because the trekking maps here are frustratingly, dangerously inaccurate.
Yaks, because they're impossible to pass on a trail.
Zithro. I've taken it so often in this country that it will never be effective for me again.
sick as hell
Runners up:
TIMS permits
...Nepalis constantly throwing rocks at stray dogs--does your religion mean nothing to you? huffing out of bags; leeches; foreigners who idealize Nepal
.........playing Venga Boys on the local bus/ in the bar next door
............hocking up and spitting out phlegm onto the street or trail
...............the grooves worn into the tourist trail between Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan
..................ostentatious displays of wealth from rich Nepalis
.....................and most of all, anyone who puts their left hand on their ass, and then on my food, without touching a bar of soap in between.

There. That felt better. :-)

By the way, Dave posted a really excellent of his thoughts and experiences over here.  I agree with pretty much everything he had to say.


  1. Oh, yikes! Wow, you almost never hear about stuff like this re:Nepal; it's always "oh it was so spiritual, oh it was so amazing, oh I climbed a big mountain and it was spiritual and amazing."

    If one didn't like trekking, necessarily, would you recommend giving Nepal a miss? I mean, is there anything else to do there but trek (and smoke hash)?

  2. Well, it CAN be spiritual and it CAN be amazing... for some people. And even for me, there were some very spiritual and very amazing moments. To be fair, I didn't fall in love with ANY of the places I've visited in Asia.* People talk about Thailand like it's paradise, and I did enjoy it, but I didn't LOVE it.

    I think that individuals have an affinity for certain places and not other places. I don't understand the rhyme or the reason that allows one place to make its way into your heart, but makes another place tedious or obnoxious or whatever.

    If you're into trekking, it's really the highlight of the country, because it allows you to get away from the main settled areas and into the countryside with its amazing scenery and rural character. If you're not into trekking, but you like culture and history, you might like Kathmandu. You can also visit Chitwan National Park for nature that doesn't require much walking.

    So, I would recommend that anyone who is interested in Nepal should visit to decide for him/herself.

  3. *In the next day or two, I'm going to post something about the Anatolian/ Asian side of Turkey... and then this statement will be false. :-)

  4. Common guys there is good and bad everywhere, i heard such good things about new york when i went there i also saw the "ghetto side" which wasnt that great. Nepal is a beautiful country with nice people and nice mountains, yes it is a poor country but there is good and bad everywhere isint it??

  5. Charisa, that's exactly the point. I found so many Westerners who really idealize Nepal. There are many wonderful things about the country, but there is another side as well.

    I am a United States citizen, and there are many things I like AND dislike about my country. New York, too!

    I think it's important to recognize both the good and the bad in everything. Since most people I've met think of Nepal as a pristine, peaceful Himalayan kingdom, I wanted to show the other side of the story (also to remind everyone that, as travelers, we have the option to leave... if you're Nepali and live in Kathmandu, that air pollution is a fact of your every day life).

  6. Reading this made me feel so bad.
    People come here to enjoy, feel heaven.
    But they don't realize the poverty, hunger, shortage.
    You were rich, born in a developed country.
    We were born poor, who eat dal-bhat, do ups and downs in the mountains.
    Unattractive men!! wow thanks. Im unattractive, fine. You felt sick during your visit, people die here everyday. Please don;t feel so high, please dont laugh at poverty; hunger is the serious defect in mankind. Please never visit my country again. It was not for you.

  7. Dear Sarbesh, I am very sorry that reading this made you feel bad. I should write another post about all of the good in your country, as well.

    I wrote this post about the not-very-good parts of Nepal because I was very tired of hearing from Westerners, "Oh, Nepal is the most perfect place!" When I hear that, I know that there is a good chance that they haven't seen (or don't want to see) the hunger, poverty, or shortages. Maybe they never left the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu, or if they did, they certainly did not think about what it means to live like the average Nepali person. This post was meant for that type of person who will not confront the truths of living in poverty, not to make Nepali people feel badly about their country.

    When I was visiting your country, I did try my best to live as a common person. I don't know if I succeeded, because I stayed only 10 weeks. I saw how hard it is to work all day with only one dal bhat meal, always sick from the pollution and the stomach problems. I think that life in poverty is very, very hard. I also think that rich nations have an obligation to help those in poverty if the help is desired.

    I hope to return to your country some day. I expect that it will be another difficult experience for me, but this is the truth of life in Nepal for the majority.

  8. Not just you Nicole,many visitors would have faced similar kind of problems here in nepal.people wouldnot like to talk about their bad experiences.we all do most of the times.I truely agree with you on few of the things you focused on.water,air and noise pollution here in the kathmandu valley is getting worse which i face everyday.Haze like this these days,they say it didnt happen in the past and its because of global climate change.There are problems every where.Nepal being a poor country has more problems.Looks like your one frustrations has lead you easily to another one while staying here in Nepal.we need to learn some from you and you need to learn some from us.I too hope to see a better Nepal and i welcome you here again for some good experiences.

  9. I was reading an essay written by someone who had lived in Guatemala for a year. One time, he was with another tourist. They passed a Guatemalan woman and her child, and the woman smiled and said hello. The tourist said, "Oh, it's so great that they (the Guatemalans) have nothing, yet they can be so happy."

    The man who was living in Guatemala was really frustrated with the tourist. How can you assume someone is happy with their life because they smile and say hello? Maybe they are just polite. :-)

    Foreigners go to a developing country and "see how happy people are with so little," wanting to believe that Guatemalans (or Nepali people) live in a dream world, free of conflict, struggle, and desire. In reality, we as foreigners want to believe this because then we don't have to feel guilty for having SO MUCH.

    Many westerners believe that we've got it all figured out here in wealthy countries, that we've done something right, that we can take credit for our success as individuals and as a country. It's a lie and we are deceiving ourselves because the truth is uncomfortable. It was only CHANCE, an accident, that we were born in a wealthy country and not a poor country. And our countries became wealthy partially through accidents of history and geography and partially through taking advantage of other countries. So, much (though not all) of our "success" is either accidental or gained through shady and nasty dealings.

    Nepal is both spiritual and amazing, but not because it's a pristine dream world of Himalayan mountains. It's spiritual and amazing because life goes on, with the good and the bad, the complicated and the guilty and the blessed, no matter where or how you live.

  10. It was interesting to read your post as a Nepali girl living overseas. I admit that I have felt at shame a lot of times about the condition of my country. Sure, there is natural scenery and bla bla but that wouldn't really overpower the lack of hot water, good hotels, crazy pollution and often fraud nature of people, would it.
    I am often deeply frustrated about the situation of my country, you should just feel lucky that you were born in a developed world.
    I have nothing to say, except perhaps that there are beautiful things too in Nepal (which you haven't denied yourself), but I have a hard time liking my own country, so it's obvious for a foreigner from first world to NOT like the place a bit.

  11. most of the things you wrote about are true! but what i found amusing was that you found Pokhara to be over-rated? Could you care explaining?

  12. Hey Anonymous,

    As far as I could tell, tourism has a much bigger impact on the "fabric of life" in Pokhara as compared to, say, Kathmandu or any other small city in Nepal. That's not necessarily a bad thing - it means that if you visit Pokhara, it's very easy to find accommodations, people who speak international languages, a variety of foods, etc.

    My background is in urban studies and city planning. I tend to get a little bored in cities whose economies are dominated by tourism, because tend to have similar urban forms, functions, and general "feel." If urbanism isn't something that interests you, then my comment probably isn't relevant! I found Kathmandu to be much more interesting (especially outside of Thamel) than Pokhara.

    A great comparison would be Quetzaltenango/ Xela and Antigua in Guatemala. Xela has no defined tourist district, yet there are plenty of guesthouses, Spanish schools, and restaurants in which someone will speak at least a little bit of English. Sort of like Kathmandu (leaving aside Thamel). Now contrast that again to Antigua, Guatemala... I find Antigua much less interesting than Xela, like Pokhara.

    Hope that explanation helps!

  13. I was not fond of Nepal either. Worst part is the people and the pollution. I dont understand the malechauvanism/ the huge difference between men and women. You hafe to be a strong ore blind woman not to let that get to you. And the religious fanatism, that dull the population.

    I saw a waterbuffalow bathing in garbage on my way to Pokhara. I still have that picture in my head. And the picture of all the rivers with all the garbage, on my way to Pokhara.
    By the way, I liked Pokhara so much more than Kathmandu, where I found the madness of all the things mentioned above to be amplified.

  14. People easily gets annoyed,when they are sick. I don`t think you had really seen the real Nepal. Making a reservation from a travel agency does not show you what you are will to be seen. Live free and wild until you will visit in Nepal. Enjoy and have a safe journey