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Nostalgia for Nepal:

Nursing a Nasty Travel Bug

By Carolyn Bonello

September 28, 2008 

I seem to have caught the travel bug quite early on in life, and have not yet found a suitable remedy for it. Not that I really want a cure. The best symptomatic treatment I’ve found to nurse my itchy feet is an aggressive overdose of photo-snapping during acute stages of the bug, such that during phases of remission, when, for whatever reason I can’t travel and the bug is dormant (but definitely still there), I can gaze at my precious photos and at least enjoy virtual travel for a while.

Today, a hot and sticky August afternoon, I’m home, sitting  with my adorable dog, feeling miserable as I battle influenza bugs that seem to have riddled my body with aches and pains. Obviously, there’s the more serious travel bug lurking in the air too. I haven’t been away for six months. A shocking, miserable, neurotic, six months. And today is just one of those days where I need a good dose of analgesia to mask my pain. PHOTOS

Children fascinate me. I love to photograph them whilst I’m travelling. They are usually quite friendly and inquisitive, and will not shy away from the camera. Yes, I know that the phrase ‘a photo speaks a thousand words’ is so cliché, but, I have to say, it’s true. It can tell an entire story. Sometimes, a single photo transports me back to the sights and sounds and smells of a particular moment. It brings back vivid memories of a specific emotion that I would have experienced whilst traveling .

I sit cross-legged on the cool floor, with my favourite album open in front of me. I leaf through the delicate pages and slowly begin to re-live the colours and beauty which I had experienced in Nepal a few years back. I can almost taste the Dhal baat. I can nearly feel the humid air on my face. A particular photo catches my attention. It’s one of my favourite. That of a little girl. Probably one of the cutest, cuddliest little girls I have ever seen. I met her whilst trekking in the hills of the Annapurna region. I remember the moment clearly. It was a hot, sticky, humid day, and I was feeling rotten after a serious bout of amoebic dysentery. My legs were wobbly and I could barely walk. Our guide decided it would be best for me to take a break, so we stopped in this little village - Syauli Bazaar. Dying for some shade, I wandered off to a small wooden shack, and was about to lie on the grass when she appeared. Out of nowhere. The cute little girl in the photo. The one with spaghetti-straight hair neatly tied in pretty pigtails and a fringe half-covering her beautiful brown eyes. She was wearing a woollen white coat, buttoned right up to her neck. She stared at me curiously, wondering what I was doing. And then she spoke.

Namaste, Namaste. Sweet, sweet? You have sweet for me?’

I had grown accustomed to this phrase by now, and learned to carry a variety of sweets and other goodies wherever I went. Right now, however, I had run out. And the look of utter disappointment on her face was so expressive, that I had to have a shot. And that’s when I took the photo. By this time, three other children had appeared, her siblings I assumed. A chubby toddler, with similar pigtails neatly tied in red bows, held hands with a taller girl, who seemed to be the big sister, and behind, keeping her distance, was another girl who half-hid her face in a colourful headscarf. I smiled at them and they giggled back shyly. We had made friends, even though I had no sweets to give them.

I came across another photo. The girl with the graceful smile. The memories came flooding back. That wonderful, relaxing day in Pokhara. I had just spent the morning with my girlfriends on a Dungaa, rowing across the Phewa Tal lake, enjoying the magnificent views of the Machhapucchre (fish-tail) peak. Back ashore, we sat under a tree by the lakeside. About to devour a piping-hot cinnamon roll, I heard a soft voice.

‘You want to swim? Nice water to swim’

And that’s how I met her. Amisha. Meaning pure in Nepali. Which is exactly how I would describe her.  She had the most beautiful skin, long wisps of jet black hair, and a pretty smile. Probably around ten years old, she would definitely grow up to be a beautiful woman. She spoke English quite well. She was learning it at school, she said.

‘You want to meet my friends?’ she asked politely.

We spent the next couple of hours watching a dozen or so skinny Nepali boys doing summersaults, dives and several other contortional stunts in the lake. They were more interested in impressing Amisha, who, dressed in a pretty brown shirt with little pink flowers and matching shorts, refused to get wet. A little lady, she was. With her group of male admirers. Nepali adolescents are the same as any other western adolescents. Maybe not as trendily-dressed. Maybe not having the same gadgets money can buy. Maybe happier.

A different photo transports me back to the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. I was strolling around Durbar square one morning, trying to deal with the sensory overload that bombarded me. I vividly remember the smells of incense mixed with curry that perfumed the air. Little kids ran around, some carrying babies in slings on their fragile backs, young boys rode rusty bicycles, balancing massive bunches of rotting bananas in every possible available space, and men looking fresh in white linen kaftans sat lazily watching the world go by. Totally distracted by this scene, I tripped over a stone and fell. Struggling to get up, I suddenly came face to face with this hot and bothered little boy, who was desperately trying to get out of the scorching sun. He had finally found a small patch of shade under this metal structure, and he stood there like a statue, although his little legs were still burning. He was obviously very inappropriately dressed. His top was thick and fleecy, and he desperately needed pants. Licking his dry lips, he seemed parched. His mother, a youngish- looking woman, was one of hundreds of locals who come to set up shop here every morning, as early as sunrise, displaying their handcrafts on torn sheets in every angle of the square. They sit in the burning sun, desperately trying to sell at least one ceramic pot, beaded necklace, bronze Buddha or wood-carved elephant head. This boy’s mother had a particularly poor selection of beaded jewellery on display. She was a petite woman, wearing a red sari, delicately woven with intricate golden-thread patterns. Probably the only sari she owned. Her hair neatly tied in a bun, she looked elegant. Yet sad. She stared at me with pleading eyes. And I understood. I bought a red and blue necklace. Not that I needed it. I had hundreds. She hugged me. I had made her day. She could now buy her son a plate of rice.

I could go on forever. Each photo tells a different story. Rekindles emotions. Re-ignites feelings of  excitement. And most importantly, exacerbates the nasty bug I have learned to nurse so well – the addictive, contagious, travel bug.  

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