Not even a month of travelling and I was ‘adopted’ by a Nepalese family. Kim invited me to celebrate the Tihar festival with his family in a remote village on a hill in a forest. The Hindu festival of lights is really important here in Nepal. In the five days it lasts, all the houses are lit with candles and kerosene lamps. Every day a different theme is celebrated, but basically life and prosperity. I arrived just in time for the last and most significant day, which celebrates the very important bond between brother and sister. Kim’s family decided I could take part in the ceremony as one of the brothers, something I felt greatly honoured by. I was the first foreigner to be invited to their village, which is completely off the tourist track and not easily reached: it took several hours on foot through a forest full of butterflies and monkeys to reach their farm.
The ceremony began and I was politely invited to the central room of the house. The room was made of baked clay and the cooking was done on a brazier dug into the floor. I sat next to my two
new Nepalese brothers while the sisters first walked around us, letting flowers fall on our heads, then sat before us, wished us a long life, and applied different-coloured tikas, religious marks, to our foreheads with their fingers. They gave us several flower necklaces with orange flowers that wither very slowly. Lastly, we were served food and beer. To conclude the ceremony, after marking their sisters’ foreheads with tikas, the brothers had to give them a small gift or symbolic sum of money.
After this ritual, everybody drank Rakshi, a rather nauseating Nepalese wine. A few hours later,
I realised that everybody was drunk and, of course, all interested in their ‘adopted’ foreigner.
There was singing, dancing and joking well into the night.
The next day, Kim walked with me from the village to the bus stop on the nearest road, which was not only almost impassable, but also a good two-hour walk away. Unfortunately, I missed the bus by just a few minutes, so we said goodbye and I got ready to wait for the next one. I had no idea that it would be the longest I’d ever waited for a bus: twenty long hours, with only the side of the road to sleep on in my sleeping bag, whilst waiting for some form of transport to show up.
At six the next morning, I decided to set off down the road. I had little water, hardly any money – no sign of a cash machine for two weeks – and, above all, no food. But as soon as I got moving, I started feeling better, knowing that I was on the way again towards something unknown. Luckily, after an hour or so I came across a box truck and managed to get a lift, although it was already jam-packed: fifty-odd people squashed like sardines in the space of only six metres by two. I was clearly not the only one finding it difficult to be going places, and later learned that the traffic had been paralysed for a day because of a fatal accident involving the bus I had missed by just a few minutes the previous day. The sisters’ blessing had worked!
I tried several times to find a comfortable position in the lorry, but none worked and in the end the journey was four hours of suffering. It struck me that travelling with the local people on public transport or whatever turns up is part of the adventure in places like Nepal. You can forget about comfort, your body will ache and ache - but there is something special in the togetherness and mutual support that grows between travellers - even with me, and I’m often the only foreigner. This is the basis of this country’s culture.