The main difference between our stay in Nepal and our trip through India and Vietnam is how we approached it. In fact, our travels through Asia can be divided into two parts, part one being our three-month stay in Nepal. The second part is the two months we travelled in both India and Vietnam.
We went to Nepal for two reasons. Firstly, we wanted to trek in the mountains. Secondly, we wanted to do some voluntary work. Even though we did not stay put for anywhere for longer than 28 days – that is how long we worked at the orphanage in Rampur – we were in the same place for months. We talked to people. We spent time with people.
Sometimes we spent a week or so in the company of the same person, which means you involuntarily get to know this person. This even happens when you just have casual conversations. After all, isn’t it so that you really learn about a people and their culture through their everyday life – that what seems ordinary and mundane? Habits and routines make the world go round.
Nepal became a part of us. And we became a part of Nepal. We would know where to go and how to get there – for a reasonable price! We took local buses; not very comfortable, but cheap. We walked around as if we had some place to be; we didn’t of course, but we knew where we were going! They only thing that made us different from Nepali people is the fact that we don’t speak Nepali. Oh, and the color of our skin…
So very different was staying in India and Vietnam.
We were going from place to place, always on the move. Sometimes we didn’t even spend twelve hours in the same place, but we would see everything there is to see. One time we spend seven hours in a car to be able to see some caves for about an hour and a half. Previously, we were on a train for about 17 hours, and afterwards we spent 10 hours on the following train. It was exhausting.
Looking back, we often wonder what we were thinking to spend three months in a country the size of a peanut and only spend a month (33 days to be precise) in a country the size of the whole of Europe.
But we were very glad to leave India. It is breathtaking and beautiful: we saw the Taj Mahal and tigers, we partied in Goa, and made a fishing rod out of wood and stolen copper. What else can one wish for? Well, less aggressive people for one, and more reasonable prices for non-Indians (paying R$ 750 may not be a lot to see the world’s most beautiful building, but ist is when locals only pay R$ 50).
How very glad we were to arrive Vietnam. The four of us actually highfived when we didn’t get ripped off on our first taxidrive. It is so much easier to get om with the Vietnamese. They will help you when you ask them for directions without it being followed by ‘You can thank me now by giving me money’. They will up the price, but they will also respond to your bargaining with respect and reason. They do not think we are the rich white people that have caused everything that is bad in the world. And they laugh. They smile. They will touch your arm and smile and continue on their path as if all it took to make their day is you simply passing by. It is wonderfully weird.
But we don’t understand why. We don’t know deeper layers. In India and Vietnam, we were just passers-by whose arms get rubbed. In Nepal, we got to understand why they don’t like Americans and why it is ok for someone’s girlfriend to just marry another guy. In India, we were walking dollar signs. In Vietnam, we were the kids with the motorbikes everyone wants but no-one thinks are handy. In Nepal, we were the guys that kept showing up, faces they remembered – if only for some days longer than usual.
There is no time to travel everywhere the Nepali way; the world is too big. I wonder how I will feel after a year down under. India is big, they speak a different language everywhere, so it is like travelling through Europe: a new country every so many hours. Australia is bigger than India, but everyone speaks English, and there are a whole lot less people!
Time will tell.