Following the devastating earthquake in Nepal, we asked Jo to write this article about her own very personal experiences as a Silver Traveller and about the warm and welcoming people she encountered in this beautiful country. She also reflects upon what has become of them.
Jo writes for Silver Travel Advisor:
I love Nepal. I love her mountains and her temples and her people.
Four years ago I spent Christmas in Nepal. I woke when my phone bleeped. I had a text.
“Merry Crishmus” Tika, my guide, was reminding me that I’d agreed to be up early to go hiking today.
Pokhara was twinkling with incongruous fairy-lights, but I did not look back as he led me through the city and across a suspension bridge into the foothills of the Himalaya. I puffed up, with boots and walking pole, as two women in flip-flops came down with oranges for the market. (Their oranges, grown at altitude, resemble our tangerines.) Would I like to buy some? Of course.
Less than a mile later we met a friend of Tika’s who took us to his house. Just one room, cobbled together with mud and stone, and with the tin roof weighed down with boulders. His tree was laden with oranges. We shared obligatory fruit but could not linger long, as his aunt expected us for lunch.
High in the mountains there is little choice and we ate a traditional Nepali meal of rice, spinach and lentil dhal. At least she had a biogas stove and no longer had to collect wood from the forest for cooking. And her tree was overloaded with oranges; she picked some, just for us.
On the way home we paused by a small temple. Tika spent precious moments praying while I gazed across the valley to the mountains, stark and beautiful. The birds sang; the air was sweet and clear. One old couple toddled out of their little house, to give us oranges.
We visited one other sister before making it back into town (another orange, of course).
I just had time to shower and change before joining Tika and his family for supper. I had bought them chocolates. Presents, I explained, are part of our Christmas tradition. And we’ll give you a traditional meal, Tika’s wife told me. She bent over a tiny stove on her rooftop to cook the rice, and spinach, and lentil dhal. Followed by …
At home, families would be sated by now, many so full that they could do nothing but flop in front of Mary Poppins. While I had been with people who had shared nothing but lentil dhal and oranges. And not because it was Christmas, but because this was all they had.
Now many don’t even have that.
Tika and his family are alive. He was in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck but has made it home. His cousin, Ajay, who lives in the city, is living in a tent. On my last visit he drove me round Kathmandu on his motorbike. We saw Durbur Square and the Buddhanath and Pushpatinath, of course. Then he took me to a small temple south of the city where a family was having a picnic. The eldest girl had won a scholarship at university to study engineering. She was tiny, self-effacing, almost embarrassed by the attention. Yet her father, if he could, would have sung her praised from the rooftops. To hear him you’d think that nobody had ever has such a beautiful, talented, hard-working daughter before.
I stood at a distance, not wishing to intrude. Yet within minutes the father noticed me and pulled me into the fray.
We sat on the stone floor, eyes stinging from the incense and smoke from small ghee candles. I shared in their food and their smiles and their laughter. As the day came to a close the man put a small splash of ash on my forehead as a blessing.
I never learned all their names. And now I have no idea if they are struggling in tents or are buried under the rubble.
Silver Travel Advisor supports Age International who are working hard for the older people affected by the tragic earthquake. Your donations to help them carry out their invaluable work would be appreciated.
Click here to donate