Namaste, the universal greeting in Nepal, means, “I bow to the divine in you.” It is used consistently for hello, good-bye, thank you, accompanied by palms pressed together and a slight nod or bow.
Shut off to the world until 1948 when a few groups were allowed in to climb the Himalayas, Nepal has been a secretive nation, led by a monarch until the royal family was massacred in 2001, the subject of Blood Against the Snows by Jonathan Gregson. It’s more likely that tourists will turn to books focused on the Himalayas or religion, as Nepal is the birthplace of Siddhartha, who became Buddha. Hermann Hesse’s classic novel (1922) traces the quest of a high caste young man for enlightenment. Kathmandu is central for exploring these belief systems. Pashupatinath is the sacred shrine for Lord Shiva for Hindus. It is an end-of-life setting with a hospice near. We saw several pyres and one funeral in progress. The feet are dipped in the water of the Bagmati River, the body itself covered in a white shroud and laden with marigold garlands. After cremation, tended by a lower caste, the ashes are sprinkled in the river. Rhesus macaques, considered holy themselves, live near the temple.
Flights to see Everest—appropriately on Buddha Air—depart when the weather is clear at 30,000 feet. Sir Hillary bought land from the Sherpa farmers for $2600 to build an airstrip at Lukla. The earliest flights of the day are to this village, which provides information on clarity of mountain viewing. Trekkers may walk “Toilet Paper Trail” to Base Camp, which says something about the amount of waste. Or, tourists may take a helicopter and touch down at Base Camp briefly for the experience. For mountaineers, a museum at Pokhara focuses on the attempts and successes to summit Everest. One of the successful climbers has made a mission of cleaning the refuse left by expeditions. Yeti Airlines and Tara Air help ferry out trash that cannot be burned. More than twenty tons of trash are airlifted annually, not surprising, as 50,000 visit the remote villages in these impressive mountains. The Hindu Kush Himalayas has 94 of the world’s 100 highest mountains, including all 14 of the world’s peaks above 8,000 meters (24,000’).
The domestic terminal of the Kathmandu Airport has an excellent bookstore, which helped in developing this list:
Everest 1953, the story of Tensing Norjay and Sir Edmund Hillary’s triumph, by Mick Conefrey
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer about the 1996 ill-fated expedition
The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest by Anatoli Boukreev (his response to Krakauer).
Ghosts of Everest—about the search for Mallory and Irvine, by Jochem Hemmleb
Himalaya by Michael Palin of Monty Python fame
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
The Inheritance of Loss by Keran Desai, the Man Booker Prize for 2006
Seven Years in Tibetby Henrich Harrer (A 1909 book by Ekai Kawaguchi, Three Years in Tibet, which I learned about at the Mountaineering Museum, is one of the first to explore this closed society—free from Gutenberg.org.)
Hippie, Paulo Coelho’s account of his trip to Kathmandu and other places. In the 1960s, “Freak Street” offered cafes with hash-flavored brownies and the like.
The Gurka’s Daughter, a worthwhile collection of short stories by Prajwal Parajuly, that features Nepali in Nepal and beyond. Note that the famed Gurka soldiers did not draw a knife without drawing blood–even if it had to be their own.
While the Gods Were Sleeping is the account of Elizabeth Enslin, American anthropologist, and her marriage into a Brahmin family with life in a remote village.
Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy by Manjushree Thapa (2005), which explains the monarchy and its fall as well as the rise of the Maoist party. She is also the author of fiction: Tilled Earth, stories set in Kathmandu, and The Tutor of History.
A Dog Named Haku,by Margaret Engle, a children’s book that explains the five days of Diwali celebration through the eyes of two brothers.
Kathmandu is still recovering from the horrific earthquake of 2015 that killed 9,000 and toppled temples and buildings, but significant progress is being made. Infusing tourist dollars is helpful, and there is much to see and savor.
When not reading, we had magical moments of learning about Nepal’s famous handmade paper industry, viewing sunrise on the Annapurna range at Tiger Mountain Lodge near Pokhara, and tracking one-horned rhinos from atop elephants at Chitwan National Park and the Taj Mehgauli Serai-Rapti River Lodge.