I understood from the readings of travel writers such as Paul Theroux and V S Naipaul that travel writing is a form of creative nonfiction: factually accurate but one that is observant resulting in moments of truth. Eckhart Tolle calls it being in the present, being aware. I am not a travel writer by any imagination but with the movement control order resulting in working from home, I found myself scrolling through the photos in my camera on the I Phone. It was just then I realised how much of travel I have done. I must hasten to add that I am a terrible tourist. I travel on a business goal most times so I must admit that sometimes I do not appreciate the moment to understand the nuances of a culture or a nation. The memories unleashed by the delightful photos brought me to realise what I had missed. The physical experience of being in a country and understanding the people there can never be matched by any travel story.
I start with Nepal in South Asia simply because 2020 was one of those rare years when I welcomed the New Year in Nepal, far away from home. As Malindo Air circled to land in Kathmandu, I could not but view the beauty of the Himalayas. The spectacle looked stunning. Should I attempt to trek to the base camp of Mount Everest when I could not even walk 5 kms at home? My Thai co passenger was convinced that with the adequate training, senior citizens like me could trek not to the base camp but even to the peak. I smiled but could not bring upon myself to that thought. Certainly, not one that my family and well wishers would entertain. Forgetting the thoughts of climbing Mt. Everest, clutching my copy of ‘The Ride of a Lifetime’ by Walt Disney Chairman Robert Iger and carry-on luggage, on landing, I waded through the small and crowded airport. Clearing immigration clearance was pretty swift but choosing one among the many taxi drivers clamouring to take me on the hour-long journey to the Radisson Hotel was indeed a challenge.
One of my preconceived biases of Nepal was shattered when I discovered that Kathmandu can be very cold. As an avid history reader, I was keen to understand how the world’s only Hindu kingdom had a Maoist communist insurgency. While I had meetings with government bureaucrats including one with His Excellency Baburam Bhattarai, the 36th Prime Minister of Nepal, I made it as one of my goals to understand Nepal better. Ironically, even though a Brahmin, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had grown out of the Communist Party of Nepal. While he had espoused very much communist ideals in his political career, to me he came across as a pragmatist wanting to change the economic fortunes of his country. Nepal with a population of about 30 million and a nominal GDP of 30 million was ranked 101 in the world in contrast with Malaysia with a similar population with a GDP of 336 billion and ranked 39th. The Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, of Nepal was considered high, this was reflected in the everyday interactions with the public and the demand to seek jobs overseas.
Besides politics and business, I wanted to visit the famous temples of Nepal, the Pasupathi Nath Temple and the Monkey temple. The visit to the sprawling Narayanhity Royal Palace, the residence of the Nepalese monarchy provided a historical rendition of the monarchy that once ruled Nepal. The living rooms of the sad royal massacre also provided an overview of the ramifications of what can go wrong when political machinations exceed reality.
Trying to be a good tourist, I did not miss the long and arduous drive to take the cable car to Chandragiri Hills which is a 2551 meter-high natural haven. The hills are surrounded by temperate wilderness with a fantastic panorama of the Himalayas as the backdrop. The views of Mount Everest with the giant binoculars provided a breath-taking view.
My entire seven day stay with five-star accommodation and business class travel was one of the most affordable ones in all my travels. The view of Himalayas gave me peace and tranquillity and time to finish the book The Ride of a Lifetime.