The plan was simple: work my ass off, save money, and travel abroad for the first time in my life. The execution, however, proved to be somewhat more complicated, as are most things when you’re born with an Egyptian passport.
The working your ass off part was easy enough; you just work 10-12 hours a day, keep your inner shopaholic in check, and hope your money will asexually reproduce in your bank account. Still, by the end of 2017, somehow I had managed to save some money to travel, presumably enough. I found a friend to travel with me, and we set quite a limited budget, which was enough at the end of the day really. Next was finding a country with a simple enough visa process, and within our budget range.
We had our sights set on Eastern Europe due to us sharing the same fondness of both nature and history/arts, and just like that, Serbia emerged as our candidate after some extensive research. We had three months till go time, and being Egyptians who thrive on procrastination, we slouched for almost two months and got our papers ready in the final week or so of the second. When we finally went to the embassy, with 35 days left till the long vacation we both signed off on at work, we found that we were missing a document. Plus, we were also told the visa takes up to a month to get issued; the lady screaming her heart out trying to find out why her visa got rejected at the embassy wasn't much encouragement either. Serbia was no more.
I started coming to grips with the fact that I might not travel for the first time that year. Then, out of nowhere, my friend called suggesting we go to Nepal because its visa process was supposedly fast. After some quick research, Nepal’s visa process proved easier than scoring tickets to a Amr Diab concert. Before we knew it, one day after applying, we found ourselves with a valid visa!
We started extensively researching the country to set a plan. We were to land in Kathmandu and spend a couple of days there, and then spend one night in Chitwan, three in Pokhara, and then two in Kathmandu again before the flight home. The weeks before the trip were exciting and a bit worrisome at the same time; I’d never gone on a trip abroad before and you sort of get these mixed feelings and worries about the number of things that could go wrong. Fast forward weeks of anticipation and anxiety, and the trip day was finally here.
My first ever window seat
It was my first time in an airport, and I loved every second of it. The sight of planes on the runway was just pure awe and joy, watching people come and go on planes from the window while you’re waiting for your own makes everything else seem trivial. I think in that moment I knew this was not going to be my last trip, and all my worries quickly vanished. Getting on the plane, I ignored the fact that my window seat – my first ever – was next to the fire escape – after all, I had five more flights before this all ended. I had two transits, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Mumbai. Finally, 18 hours and three planes later, we landed in Kathmandu, and our journey began.
Right out the airport, we got picked up by a cab driver who knew where the address of our hostel was. It was in an area called Thamel, which turned out to be like no other place I’ve ever been to; it was an odd mishmash between El-Azhar Street, downtown Cairo, El-Hussein, and Khan el Khalily. The streets are narrow and intertwined, and it’s riddled with shops, vendors, restaurants, and carts that sell handmade products and souvenirs and much more. Our cab driver offered to take us to an “acquaintance” who could act as a free info desk. My friend and I exchanged a glance that said “We’re going to be sold as sex slaves, aren’t we.” Fortunately, we weren’t. Long story short, the acquaintance was his brother who hustled us by setting us up with a tour program but for twice the actual cost – wasn’t a bad program, though.
Artwork on the back of our first hostel
Our first hostel was a quiet little place in the heart of Thamel. We settled in, got some rest, and woke up ready to discover the city. Looking back, I could walk for hours on end in the streets of Thamel without getting bored; the colorful pashminas and scarves hanging from every corner, the little souvenirs spread out in the streets, the shops selling kukri (a Nepalese ancient dagger), the little Buddhist monuments and statues, the food kiosks here and there, it was all just mesmerizing to be in the presence of such beauty and simplicity. The people were beyond nice; I mean, I don’t feel that safe at night in my own country! Everyone is smiling, even the vendors you politely dismiss; everyone’s willing to offer help with directions or anything else you need.
Our first day in the country we spent exploring Thamel and roaming around. The second day began with a private car to take us to any temple we want. We started off early in the morning by going to The Monkey Temple, a beautiful piece of ancient religious architecture atop a hill in Kathmandu. It temple had vendors who sold souvenirs and relics, and one actually approached us but he didn’t try to sell us anything – instead, he talked to us for about 20 minutes about the history of the Buddhist temple and the gods it represents. Then, he started offering his products in case we were interested. Turns out the monkey temple was named so because it’s filled with monkeys! Make that holy monkeys, though they weren’t quite holy in their behavior. We kept roaming from temple to temple and exploring the streets of the city, and at night we laid back in the hostel, talking to absolute strangers and just enjoying being in the presence of people of different backgrounds.
The streets of Thamel
Two days later, we had the first bus ride to Chitwan, and what a ride it was. I'd say Dante's descent into hell was easier. The map distance between Kathmandu and Chitwan is around 170 km, but this ride took us 12 hours! We moved at 7 AM and reached our ecolodge at 7 PM. The roads in Nepal can be described as nonexistent to say the least, and, lucky us, there was construction on the road as well. Funny thing is we were only staying the night in Chitwan, and we wasted most of it getting there, but boy did I wish I could’ve stayed longer. The ecolodge was beautiful beyond measure, with every shack made of natural elements –– with some even being tree houses!
Sunset in Chitwan before our bus ride to Pokhara
The place had a quiet, serene atmosphere to it, and the fact that Chitwan itself was green as far as they eyes added more layers to its beauty. Did I mention the elephants? Yeah, they were everywhere in Chitwan! We had one parked right next to our ecolodge. We said we’d stay up the night to savour the beauty of the place, but by 1 AM we were face-down in our beds.
Our cabin in Chitwan
We woke up at 6; I remember that sunrise vividly till this very moment, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but green around you. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Our next bus to Pokhara was at 7 AM, and luckily this one only took eight hours. Fortunately, the road to Pokhara was surrounded by rivers and majestic mountains everywhere, making it a much better ride than to Chitwan.
The road to Pokhara
Upon reaching Pokhara, we took a cab to our guest house, only to be surprised that it’s a 15-20-minute hike up a bumpy mountain with our full backpacks. We summoned our inner Omar Samra and somehow made it to the guesthouse, and the view was worth every drop of sweat and every sore muscle. The place was high up on a mountain with a view overlooking Phewa Lake and the Annapurna Mountain Range; it was like having a room in the clouds.
View from our guesthouse, overlooking Phewa Lake and the mountains (including Annapurna)
We spent three nights in Pokhara, and it’s by far the most gorgeous place we’ve visited in Nepal. The first night we strolled down the city and found ourselves in a blues/rock bar. Lucky for us, they were playing the Beatles that night. Now, I must my friend and I looked pretty funny, him drinking green tea as if in a café in Korba and me drinking 7-Up, but we enjoyed a lovely night of music by a very talented local band, despite my friend and I being 2 out of 4 people actually listening to the band, who were fricking awesome.
The second day in Pokhara started with a scheduled tw-hour hike up a mountain with a private tour guide. Now this might sound easy, two hours and a private guide. Believe me when I tell you, it isn’t; going down was even harder than going up, because you had to exert extra effort to maintain balance and not fall off a thousand-meter high mountain. The trip to the summit of the mountain is not just for the heck of it; there’s a gorgeous Buddhist temple called Shanti Stupa on top, overlooking the entire city of Pokhara. Later that night, we went to what has got to be the best cinema experience of my entire existence, and I’ve been to many. The cinema we went to was also atop a hill –– yay more hiking –– and in open air. Think nighttime, the stars right above your head at an altitude, fireflies circling the air, warm candlelight, and exquisite cinema. You’re provided with a blanket because the weather does get cold, and drinks and food are delivered to your seat. Much to my happiness, the movie playing that night was one of the best releases of 2016 and one of the most touching films made in the last decade, Captain Fantastic.
In the morning of our last day in Pokhara we went paragliding, so we went up a ridiculously high mountain by car and that was it. All I thought while up there was "humans weren’t meant to fly!" But I stood my ground, and fly we did. It’s hard to describe what it’s like being that high up in the air, with mountains surrounding you and miles of green beauty down below; it was a breathtakingly satisfying experience. On our final night in Pokhara we decided to chill in our guesthouse atop the mountain, enjoying the view. We lit a small fire in the garden in front of our rooms and just sat listening to music under a blanket of stars, and I can honestly say this was one of the most relaxing nights of my life.
Morning coffee in the guesthouse in Pokhara
We came back to Kathmandu for our final two days, and spent them doing a lot of shopping. Then, it was time to go home, and we said goodbye to beautiful Nepal with heavy hearts, but we vowed to come back again. The three flights home were exhausting, but I came back with one realization: I want to do this for as long as I live – travelling and meeting new people and seeing new places excited me like nothing in my life ever has.