“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been and there you long to return” – Leonardo Da Vinci
It was one year to the day I arrived home that I strapped my backpack to my shoulders and wandered out the front door – once again heading to the horizon on the pursuit of life and adventure in whatever way necessary. My destination for this voyage of adventure and beauty was the country of Nepal – a place I had longed to explore after learning of the friendly culture and the beautiful scenery of the largest mountain range in the world – the Himalayas. A journey there would almost certainly involve a trip into these mammoth mountains to retreat from the chaos of society and relax/reflect on life, the world and myself amongst the great vistas and awe-inspiring peaks of nature. On the 6th of March, 2017 I caught my plane and headed back out into the wild of planet earth – the first time I have boarded a one-way flight with no set date of returning. My feelings were intermixed with excitement, anticipation, surrealism – the usual lot before embarking on such a trip into the unknown.
En route I stopped over in Dubai: the unsustainable, shamelessly flash land of rich millionaire Arabs built by the hands and deaths of slave labour in the middle of the desert. Observing it from above, I couldn’t help but imagine what aliens would think as they descended into earth’s atmosphere and witnessed the chaos of it all below. In a land of a burning, harsh climate and little access to materials/water lay skyscrapers 850m high, vast man-made sand islands assembled to host enormous houses with swimming pools, and myriads of roads, polished infrastructure and super-developed urban areas – their sidewalks lined with high-powered diesel supercars. It’s a city that was speedily forced into existence by the pockets of oil tycoons who seemingly pumped the sand full of money until it became the shiny object that lay below me. Perhaps the aliens would sense our incessant, frantic nature to spread and consume in whatever way possible and turn around. Or maybe they’d park down on the beach and get some Instagram shots. Who knows.
Anyway, enough of that; the adventure waited in the Nepal and not the middle east. Kathmandu was the destination and a few hours on a uncomfortable and cramped plane ride later I rocked up to the airport as the sun set dramatically on the mountains surrounding the capital city. I disembarked, bought my visa and made my way to the Thamel area to find the hostel and meet my friend Bryan – a Dutch guy who I met and spent some time with in New Zealand. After working together and staying in touch over the internet, we had arranged to liaison in Nepal and combine adventures. We both share a similar status in regard to our own personal philosophies of life – increasingly disenfranchised with many aspects of our own culture (sedentary living, overtly materialistic and a difficulty satisfying outdoor and adventurous living) – we both shared a vision of living lives full of freedom, adventure, learning and exploration. I met him and his travelling friend of a couple of weeks – Diana from Germany, who was on a big adventure herself having just arrived in Nepal following months of travelling in Iran, India and Sri Lanka. You know, the sort of places your mum told you not to go.
After initial meeting and greeting, we checked into a homely hostel just off the main road; $3 US a night for a bed, a friendly place full of trekkers/hippies/travellers and a highly-perched rooftop that overlooked the sprawling, rustic city-scape of central Kathmandu. The view was spectacular. It was great to be back in a foreign country observing alien architecture, high-rising hills, and distant temples whilst hearing the chaotic swirling noises of car horns, barking stray dogs and busy, bustling market streets. It’s in the chaotic, alien environment of such places where your senses are immediately ignited and heightened to cope with the sheer amount of new information they’re processing. A simple walk down the street can leave your neck sore from the constant turning to observe, for instance: a small man carrying nine boxed printers on his back with the support rope attached to his forehead; countless motorbikes and small cars flying down tightly compacted streets as they avoid bystanders by inches; all sorts of ‘interesting’ looking meats and foods sprawled out on tables alongside the street; and hundreds of power cables and wires all tangled together ominously as they dangle a few feet above your head in between narrow alleyways.
We spent the next days in the shadow of the Himalayas exploring Kathmandu; from the monkey Hindu temple that overlooks the city (quite literally the monkey temple as the area was covered with free-roaming Monkeys), to the national palace of the past monarchy that ended in 2001 when it is alleged a drunken prince of the family went crazy after an argument at a family dinner and decided to load up on guns and brutally execute everybody including the King and Queen. Quite an unbelievable story and event, I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before. The walls of the palace garden still bear remnants of the massacre with signs showing the exact area each royal was killed, and even bullet marks along the walls giving a vivid detail to the nature of the chaos. After the incident the government of Nepal collected their thoughts and declared the end of monarchy as a populist party took control of the country – leading many to speculate and question the official story. It’s fascinating nonetheless and definitely worth a visit to the palace to see first hand; just try to ignore the dozens of dead stuffed animals (tigers, polar bear, leopard, crocodile) being used as carpets for the royals as they lay next to statues of the Buddha. No room for needless death, destruction and ego in Buddhist philosophy but the designers and royals obviously missed that memo.
Although the main purpose of this trip was to hike among the biggest mountain range in the world, there was also something else I had hoped to experience for a long time – Holi festival – which made arrival at the start of March perfect in coinciding with good trekking weather and the Hindu festival. The official description of Holi festival is that “Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival, known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. The festival is said to signify the victory of good over evil, and the arrival of spring. It’s celebrated all over India, Nepal and now around the world, and is all about partying and enjoyment”. I think that sums up the celebration and, having seen videos and heard stories (particularly from one famous travel blogger who declared it the craziest festival he has ever experienced throughout travelling the whole world), I had high expectations.
I awoke on Sunday, March 12th and climbed up to the roof of the hostel to enjoy the panoramic view of the capital city and soak in the beginning of a day I was sure to remember until old age. Although early in the morning the sounds of “Happy Holi” and the general, joyous noise of people having fun like playing children rang out from the city. Some guys were down at the front of the hostel covering each other in powdered paint and hose-supplied water. As they played and laughed, water bombs from the neighbouring rooftops rained down on them from small, laughing children. I could already see I was in for a chaotic and fun day. Me, Bryan and Diana joined a group of around twelve people from the hostel and heading downtown into the battleground of paint, water, love and life. The chaos began.
The next hours my senses were taken to the absolute extreme. Thousands of people roamed the streets like hyper children and drenched each other as they splashed and slapped paint on each other’s faces. Nearly every single person adorned a big, silly childish grin on their face as they danced, celebrated, observed and hugged/greeted each other. One second you would be hugging some random stranger as they covered you in paint, then you would turn the next corner and get absolutely covered in water from the above rooftops. The next corner would behold a random group of multicoloured, fancy dressed people drinking and raving to amp-powered Nepalese music. Our group immediately bonded well as one of the Nepalese workers led us into the centre of the anarchy. We loaded up on small bags of paint, tea, beer and water and made our way to the downtown universe of bright colours and happy people.
The chaos continued in the Asian sun as we joined groups of people all bonded in circles dancing with a pure lust for life. The explosion of colour continued as paint powder rose into the air and covered every single soul in the festival. After two hours there wasn’t a single speck on mine and Bryan’s face that wasn’t red, yellow, green, purple, or blue. The sheer dazzling display of bright colour, loud music, enormous crowds, speeding motorbikes, water fighting and dancing made all human senses heightened to the point of ecstasy. I was sure to have a headache at the end of the day – but I knew absolutely it would be worth it. It’s a very rare event in life you see people so connected and open with each other, smiling and dancing and enjoying life in the present moment. Coming from Western society and culture I imagined how such a festival would go down in the moody streets of the U.K; certainly you were sure to get abuse, anger or even violence from people if you slapped paint and water on them randomly. Here, nearly every single person I saw was happy and loving of the moments of chaos and anarchy. It was truly beautiful to see and to remember we all have the ability to keep our child soul.
After some hours navigating the chaos, concerts and streets, our now depleted group of six people got some food and headed back to the comfort of the hostel to drink, eat and smoke whilst reflecting on a day well-lived. These were the days that lead backpackers to a life-long obsession with world travel. There is simply too much to explore and experience on this crazy planet, and the more you experience, the greater the list grows. For now, the next adventure awaited in the form of a three-week long trek through the hills, mountains and villages of Nepal as me and Bryan headed to conquer Mount Everest base camp and gaze the sight of Planet Earth’s mightiest mountain. We bought our trekking permits, booked our bus, loaded up on snacks, warm clothes and set our sights to the mountains. Kathmandu had been fun, but the journey down the rabbit hole was about to go a little bit deeper…