I caught the travel bug early in life and spent years travelling the world on my own in my twenties. I rode horses in the Sahara of Egypt, climbed ancient ruins in Cambodia, learned to surf in Morocco and stayed in a treehouse amongst howling gibbons in the jungles of Laos. But one place touched my heart like no other and has called me back over and over again: Nepal.
Most travellers think of Nepal as the ultimate adventure destination and certainly, challenging mountain trails and roaring rivers abound for trekkers and rafters alike. The other popular tourist drawcard is Chitwan national park, an oasis of wildlife where one can witness white-horned rhinos, monkeys, crocodiles and occasionally the elusive tiger from the (not-so-comfortable) vantage point on the back of an elephant.
But for those who are called by something deeper than the seeing of sights, for those who yearn for an inner as well as an outer journey, Nepal is also the ultimate destination for the soulful traveller.
As a naturopath and a yoga and meditation teacher, Nepal soon became my favourite place to retreat from the grind of modern-day life and immerse myself in my passions for wellness and spirituality. I fell in love with Pokhara especially, a serene town in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas that sprawls along a vast lake. When the sky is clear the view is doubly incredible: the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains are reflected in the calm waters of the lake. Several times I spent a sunny afternoon rowing a little boat to visit Varahi Mandi, Pokhara’s most famous Hindu temple that stands on a tiny island in the centre of the lake. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, local pilgrims make offerings and prayers while dozens of cooing pigeons nest in the loft of the temple and peck at the scattered rice.
Pokhara is one of those places that you intend to spend just a few days in, but end up staying for much longer. The vibrancy of the local mind-body-spirit community means that there is a plethora of activities to explore on a whim, posters are plastered all around advertising everything from reiki to chanting to yoga to Tibetan massage. The Himalayas are also the original home of Ayurveda, the medicinal sister science to yoga, and there are several highly reputable clinics and spas offering age-old treatments for detoxification and stress-reduction.
Reiki and massage aside,I think what really keeps drawing me back to Nepal are the humble, open-hearted Nepali people. I remember once staying in Bandipur, a then little-known gem of a village with winding cobble-stone streets and original Newari architecture draped along a mountain ridge. I developed a debilitating case of food poisoning and had to spend days holed up in my room. I was supposed to meet a friend in Kathmandu by the end of the week, but I didn’t have the strength for the bus journey back, so I gathered every ounce of energy I had to hobble to the local call centre so that I could phone him and tell him I couldn’t make our agreed date. When I finished the call, two elderly Nepalese gentlemen sitting on a bench outside in traditional attire called me over, their eyes filled with sadness. “We heard you talking on the phone, you are very sick, yes?” one of them asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but I will be ok”. “But you are all alone here, no one is with you?” the other worriedly asked. In my weakened state I could feel my lip starting to tremble. “Yes, I am here alone”, I answered somewhat shakily. The first one looked incredulous “Really?…..No friends?’
By now I could feel my eyes starting to mist up….”No, just me, no friends with me”. Their faces softened in kindness, and they both instantly informed me that they were now my new friends and that I was no longer alone, and if I needed anything, I could always find them sitting on the bench beside the call centre. Throughout my many trips back to Nepal since that first time, I have had the privilege of experiencing the generosity and genuine friendliness of the locals again and again.
For those of us who have read spiritual classics like “Autobiography of a Yogi” and “the Snow Leopard”, the Himalayas hold an almost mythical allure and have long been known as the world’s Shangri-La, that legendary utopian paradise of harmony and peace. Hundreds of generations of rishis, yogis, monks and sages have been called to this sacred place to meditate and unravel the mysteries within.
For me, the wisdom of these ancient Buddhist, Hindu and yogic traditions of the Himalayan region certainly beckoned and I longed to delve deeper into the mysteries of life, to slow down and contemplate the big questions. I often felt disillusioned with the cultural tendencies of the West that often ignore this part of life in the relentless quest for bigger, faster, better. I was relieved to discover that there are places in this world where this wisdom was never lost. Where the spiritual and the sacred are a part of everyday life. Where eons of deep knowledge have accumulated to give us a road map on the path Home. Nepal is such a place, and while yes, you could surely try to discover new horizons on a trek to Mount Everest, perhaps it could be more rewarding to let Nepal take you down a sublime but less travelled path – the journey within.
For the last seven years it has been a joy and a privilege to share my love of Nepal with others through my signature retreat, “Discover the Peace Within”. Much more than just a retreat, there is no Nepal offering quite like this … Join us in October 2017 for the spiritual adventure of a lifetime: click here to read more.