Notes From The Road: The Wild West of Asia

One of my (admittedly weird) fears about traveling so much is that I’m slowly but surely becoming jaded and under-awed by the corners of the world. I fear that I’m going to get all “Temple, Sh-memple. Monkeys – who cares? Polygamy? I’ve seen it.”

But then? Then I spent three weeks in the eastern district of Jhapa, Nepal and realized that I’d happened off the tourist trail into the wild west of Asia. And I loved it! It was some of the most challenging, most unusual, most mind-bending travel that I’ve ever experienced. And you might like it too!

Things that may recommend Jhapa, Nepal to you (or totally, totally deter you from ever setting foot there)

* Goats ride on top of buses

* Totally straight men hold hands. All the time.

* Momos: tiny steamed dumplings stuffed with cabbage, carrots and onions, dipped in spicy chutney

* Pretty much every type of available transportation is nerve-racking: overcrowded buses (with goats and people on top), speeding taxis that pass other vehicles on winding mountain roads, motorcycles with three passengers (and one helmet), bicycle rickshaws powered by tiny men.

* The national greeting “Namaste” means “I greet the divine within you”

* There are only 13 hours of electricity each day. What? Yes. But this means that you spend a few hours every night playing cards, pouring over photo albums and chopping vegetables by candlelight.

* Nepali men are sweet, respectful, non-lecherous and (let’s keep it real) very cute. Big dark eyes, high cheek bones and hip haircuts? Yes, please.

* You’ll encounter tea fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, covered in fog. Women in bright saris pick tea by hand and carry it in huge wicker baskets.

* Foreigners are such a rarity that every single day someone will want to take a picture with you. They’ll often invite you to dinner. Sometimes they’ll ask for your autograph. Seriously.

* Roosters crowing at dawn. Simultaneously endearingly old-fashioned and really annoying.

* Chai and biscuits at 4 pm every day.

* There are zero McDonalds and zero Starbucks in Nepal.

* Your hosts will feed you delicious, spicy, oily dishes until you’re ready to burst. And then they’ll insist that you take another serving.

* Common questions that you will be asked include: “What’s your caste?” “Why are you so white?” and “We heard American teachers can’t beat their students. How do you punish them then?”

* There are no sidewalks. There are only dusty, gravel and garbage filled spaces in front of stores. Sometimes someone makes a pile of said garbage and burns it. Sometimes wandering goats eat it.

* Having a ‘picnic’ means driving a bus full of people to a open space where lots of other buses full of people are also picnicing. Then you spend several hours building a fire and cooking, and then playing Venga Boys really loudly on the huge sound system that you brought. Sometimes other people are blaring other music at high volumes 20 feet away from you. Sometimes said people are really drunk, shirtless and engaged in very complicated Hindi choreography

* Regardless of income, your hosts and friends will give you gifts when you leave. I was in Jappa for three weeks and I received 11 gifts from fifth grade students, refugees and high school English teachers.

Have you ever traveled to some place really wild and ‘off the beaten track’? Would you want to go somewhere like this?

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  1. Alicia

    That sounds like such a great experience. It seems like it would definitely broaden anyone's horizons.

  2. nova

    I don't know why but the hand holding men just made me so happy! Ha!

  3. Amy --- Just A Titch

    Aw, Sarah, it sounds amazing. I'd love to go somewhere like that. Also, the beating students thing made me LAUGH. I guess a lunch detention probably sounds like small potatoes to them, huh? 😉

  4. LynnieBee

    Wow, I think I would want to go there, actually, it sounds completely unlike anywhere I've ever been, and that's amazing, terrifying, and awesome 🙂

  5. Sora

    I'm a very non-adventurous sort of traveler myself, but I love reading about other people's adventures, which is one of the many reasons I frequent your blog. I'm the sort of person who would love to travel to places like Greece and Ireland (when I say "places like," I actually mean that these are the only places I want to go, and one day I will), but I don't see myself going to India or Nepal, it's too scary for me.

  6. Catherine

    My BF and I made momos last night! Sounds like an amazing place to be. Thanks for sharing, Sarah. 😀

  7. Gillian

    I want to go to there. Non lecherous men? Sign me up.

  8. Reyna

    You make me want to see parts of the world that I didn't really know existed.

  9. Angie.

    Ah, just reading about your experiences in far off places makes me want to just pick up and leave my house right now. I've ALWAYS wanted to go to India.

  10. Chelsey

    I love it!
    What was the organization you were working with? I'm planning a round the world trip for next year and am seriously considering including Nepal after all of your amazing stories and pictures.

  11. Heather - Inner cupcake

    Those momos sound sooo delicious. And now I'm really hungry. I knew I should have eaten more for breakfast today. I love getting these posts from the road updates.

  12. Alli

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful adventures with us. You make me want to go there immediately! The questions they ask are so intriguing and I'd love to ask them some. I think it'd be such a sweet time! Ok, time for a silly question, what are the bathrooms like there? A friend of mine went to India once and said when he rode a train that there was just a hole in the floor…. I think that would deter me.

  13. Heidi Rose

    The little spark that lives inside of me and wants me to go traveling grew a little brighter as I read this.

  14. M

    I love to travel…and in customs where gifts are given…what is appropriate to give-Any thoughts?

    When I was in South Korea the one thing that came to mind when my group was taken for dinner was to snap a group picture and send a thank you note with the picture…not sure how appreciated it would be

    Happy & safe travels!

  15. Jen

    It sounds so crazy and fun! I've never been anywhere like that, but it sounds so very Liz Gilbert in India and Bali to me. I'm glad you found a place that can open your wide horizons even wider.

  16. Eline

    It sounds quite familiar to me, actually, except for the picnic part – I was in a tiny village in the Himalayas in India for 2 weeks once, and the experience was quite comparable to yours 🙂

  17. fawn

    umm… yes and yes!!!, ha ha

  18. resolute twig

    that is awesome.
    totally makes me want to visit 🙂

  19. Lena

    So beautiful pictures. I'm feeling such a yearning for travelling, it hurts. I'll have to stop by more often to geht delightfully hurt again. 🙂

    Love from Germany.

  20. SnapandPrint

    I adore how you write about your travel experiences. It is very to the point yet creates brainscapes of what you are experiencing very easily.

  21. Luinae

    It sounds AMAZING! I will have to add it to the list of places I would like to go. The idea of men holding hands makes me go awwwww.

  22. Joelle

    "Your hosts will feed you delicious, spicy, oily dishes until you're ready to burst. And then they'll insist that you take another serving."

    This sounds so familiar! In Romania the group I was with was served in one meal more food than I normally eat in a day, and then insisted on TWO more courses of equal size. And it was all so, so good.

    Nepal sounds amazing.

  23. Corrine/Frock And Roll

    Amazing, Sarah – I know some guys from Nepal and they are some of the sweetest people that I've ever encountered. Have a blast!

  24. Lisa Grace

    that sounds absolutely amazing. I'd love to travel somewhere like that.


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