What is it like to return to a country and travel it again? – Nepal

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ January 19th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Stupa in downtown Kathmandu

How has Kathmandu Nepal changed in the years since I've been there ...

Expectations of traveling back to Nepal

There’s a lot to be said about leaving good memories in the past. Going back to relive them rarely, if ever, measures up. So what should you do when you go back to a country that had just so many of these good memories?

For me my guesthouse in Nepal is just as I remembered it. Slightly damp. Heavy blankets. Scalding hot showers. And still full of wonderful Nepalese smiles.

I am embarrassed to write that they remembered me well. Indeed, they still have photographs of my time there before on the walls. It brings back a wealth of memories.

My friend looks at me and after a few days confesses something like only a Nepalese lady can. With honesty.

In all honesty when returning to a special place:

“There’s going to be some bad changes, and hopefully some for the better”

I’m about to find out …

Coming back to a place is never the same

They don’t know of my medical results here. Only that I am without a beer in my hand this time. And, a little paler.

Paradoxically as I have been worried about how Kathmandu has changed, I must also remember that I have too.

The streets outside have not changed much in stature, but they are about to. As I take my first few breaths of its polluted air I realize I have been lucky. I have arrived yet again at a pivotal moment in time for Nepal.

Nepal is right now, right at this very moment, on the verge of another huge change.

What’s changed in Kathmandu? Motorbikes, Tourists & the Chinese

There are more motorbikes than ever on the crowded streets of Kathmandu city. To abbreviate a long-running diatribe of old memories here’s a mini list of first observations I’ve noticed since my last visit to Nepal.

Fruit stall on the streets of Kathmandu

Fruit stall on the streets of Kathmandu

  • More motorbikes
  • More young men riding said motorbikes
  • Mandala street has been bought, and made to look new again
  • There seem to be more tourists than before, though that can be a fickle thing
  • There really are way more tourist women becoming the girlfriends of Nepalese men. Way more
  • Nepalese young people are gaining an ego
  • The old Nepalese people are as friendly as ever
  • Maoist types are now deemed as “cool” by many rebellious youths
  • The food is still utterly fantastic
  • Prices have gone up nearly 50%
  • Nepal Tourism have slapped more stupid visitor permits on everything these days
  • More Korean / Chinese investors than ever
  • Rum Doodle has moved … a bar with big feet, not my place, but it was a landmark
  • Less cows on the road
  • Fresh faced hippies still come up here from India like lost souls
  • Backpackers and designer hippies from Thailand still don’t get Nepal. Are easily knocked down by rickshaws, cows and touts which still provides me with many a laugh from a cold rooftop coffee-house
  • At this time of year it’s cold … I like it
  • Did I mention the extra motorbikes …

Old bits of paper still count …

“300 rupees?!”

“Last time 200!”

“This time 300!”

“What official is pocketing the extra 100?”

The Nepalese lady looked up for the first time and I smiled widely at her.

I was doing my best to avoid paying for a pass through one of Kathmandu’s most frequented areas, Durba Square. You have a choice: pay everyday, or pay a little extra for a visa length pass.

Tough Nepalese ladies …

Nepalese ladies are tough. Honest and quite good at business. In all my travels Nepalese women top the bill on all these fronts.

I didn’t mention that I’d held onto my previous Durbar Square Pass. An important item when you noticed the layout’s not changed. I pointed to a document from some official pasted onto the wall.

Kathmandu's Durba Square

Kathmandu's Durba Square a main thoroughfare you as a tourist must pay to get through

“I think it got eaten up!”

We laugh as the joke spread around the room.

Durba Square is in the center of touristy Kathmandu. There’s a charge to visit it for tourists. The money is meant to go into restoring the area.

Has Durba Square changed? misgivings remain …

A visa length pass for 300 rupees helps you avoid paying every time you want to walk through the main public thoroughfare linking Thamel, Paknajol and New Road together. Yes, you have to pay to walk through a such a main thoroughfare in Nepal. Unless you are Nepalese of course. Or, like me, you hold on to your last pass and hope a guard doesn’t look to closely. And, if they do … well, it’s Nepal and you’ll just act confused and agree to pay the 300 rupees.

Sadly, instead of seeing a lot of restoration work, the Durba square area now seems to house more taxis than anything else.  Perhaps the official in charge owns a few cabs …

Back in the heart of Kathmandu I start to experience the good things again

I flashed my old card at a nearby guard and got a nod. I can relax a little more now. Though I must say I still try to avoid the area.

Blessings to Shiva were underway on the far side. Evening markets were being set up. The smell of the nights smokey fires were starting to fill the air.

I peaked in to see if the Living Goddess, the Kumari, was still in residence. The house still looked the same. “No photo, no photo” signs quite prominent. I will return.

If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do, it’s meet a living god. The thought of even photographing them …

Kathmandu where the people still remember you

Woman's face in Nepal

Nepalese women are tough business people, better than the men by far it seems. Though don't tell the Nepalese men that ...

More making up for my misgivings about change in returning to a place were a few new surprising side effects from Kathmandu.

The people here and the outstanding memory they seem to possess.

The export trader remembering me as he pointed out across the street and came running across. We shared tea and a conversation about the changes in Nepal over the past few years. And the non-change of electricity load shedding that grinds Nepal to a halt for up to 16 hours a day.

I walked into a second-hand book store. The man looked at me. Blinked and as I waved, smiled wisely. He remembered me for my “discount, discount” phrase.

Then came the DVD lady. I walked in looking for something to take back for the evening. Her lower lip swelled with a bashful smile.

“No more exchange DVD.”

“No more shop here.” I retorted. She was serious though. Always the business lady. I bought two movies begrudgingly and settled on a new 2 for 1 deal instead.

Then came the internet cafe. The man took one look at me and extended a hand.

“Welcome back sir, welcome back. A long time …”

There is a difference in coming back to a land where people remember you

I remember returning to places in Thailand, and Malaysia. Even after a few months or even weeks people forget. Sure there’s the exception, however I sense an air of well-practiced profitable miming going on.

Here in Kathmandu names are remembered, dates spoken of and past conversations recalled. It’s impressive.

I am bashful to wonder if it’s me, or them. I think the latter.

Finally in my old momo restaurant. You’d swear I was away only for a week. The two young guys remembered me. They have longer hair than before and I’m only sure of remembering one of them myself.  Either way my usual order of steaming chicken momos and lemon soda awaited.

It was indeed a good choice to come back to Kathmandu. Changes or not, there is still nowhere else like this place on earth.

A place where everyone remembers you.

Coming Soon:

Dawn life in Kathmandu 

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30 Great responses to What is it like to return to a country and travel it again? – Nepal

  1. mandy says:

    Sweet!! This post ended with such heart warming note, unlike the previous blog re. arriving at KTM airport, what a hassle & chaos that left me wonder if I ever want to travel as a single lady there :D

    One thing I observe Asian women (from darker skin countries, no racial discrimination intended here) are more hardworking than the men, and a lot of them are breadwinners for the family.

    After this post, I’m afraid they gonna come out with new pass for the Durba Square ;)

    • Hey Mandy!

      Yea, arriving in via a plane can be stressful, but don’t let it put you off. I’ve met many, many single ladies traveling solo in Nepal with very few reports of harassment :)

      I’ve also noted hard working Asian women too, many doing so behind the scenes.

      Not to worry about the Durba square pass, just go there early before the guards show up. Or if you’ll be in Kathmandu a long time, and don’t want the hassle you might find it easier to pay for a pass. If anything, it’s a nice keepsake. ;)

  2. Aah, the land of momos and smiles. It’s inevitable that time changes things: tourism, commerce & contemporary culture starts to infringe on the old memories that once found a country refreshing for having held back from. But I think it as sad as change sometimes is, it ROCKS that you’ve experienced that feeling of coming back “home” to somewhere, where people remember you. I’ve only had that kind of travel experience once in Chiang Mai and tho it was only a 2 year passing, it was such a wonderful feeling to know your footsteps make good travel impressions. How long were you in Nepal last time?

    • Glad you had a similar experience after a whopping 2 years away!

      It is indeed a refreshing experience to walk the streets of town and be remembered. Kinda strange too.

      In 2008 I was there from December to March, then it was overland into Tibet and the riots!

  3. Kristina says:

    I was in Nepal for a month in 1998. I’ve longed to go back and wondered how things have (or have not) changed. Of course things are different now.
    It’s always nice when people remember you, isn’t it?

  4. Anna's World says:

    I remember going back to Paris many years after first visiting. The famous sights were still there. But now people were on cell phones, their were electronic booths, and brand new cars all around.

    It didn’t feel the same, but it did bring back some nostalgia

  5. Michael says:

    Is this perhaps the home at the end of the longest way?

  6. I find returning to a place weird – like caught simultaneously in the then and now like dream: for me, recently in Iran (Esfahan) & right now here in Bangkok (17th visit); it’s nice to be back – seeing the changes and old favs still going strong – BUT it’s never as exciting as that first ever visit. As for Nepal, I last returned there in 1991 … a revisit is long overdue. Enjoy.

    • I agree with you about a place never being as exciting as the first time. I’m trying to make it so this time, digging further, looking better. Hindsight and all that!

      17 times in Bangkok! You need one of those timeshare apartment things … well maybe not. A well traveled man you are without doubt!

  7. flipnomad says:

    i remember when i was there a couple of years back, the locals ive met are very very nice and friendly (with some exceptions of course)… im missing kathmandu… :-( i’ll try to get myself back to that place this year!!!

  8. Malcom says:

    I get feelings like that when I go back to towns over here where I grew up. The old gals remember me in some of the stores. Big waves even after all these years. In the big city even the guy I buy coffee from every week doesn’t say hello to me!

    • I thought everyone in Starbbucks was paid to remember names and say hello? ;)

      Yes, I think there’s a big difference in big city life, and smaller towns. Though KTM is very big, it still has a lot of old world values. Maybe that’s what’s missing, and not the usual “Big Cities are all alike” adaptation?

  9. It is the eternal travel quandry: to check out new places or return to old haunts. This post is a very well written reflection of the latter.

  10. James says:

    Nice to read something about going back to an old place instead of discovering something “new”.

    Reflections often give us greater insight into a place. It will be interesting to see how this influences you there.

  11. Simon says:

    Very interesting article, Dave. Although I’ve often thought about it, I’ve never gone back to the places which filled my heart and whose memories are still impressed in my mind. Nepal is one of those countries. I was fascinated when I was there er… some 15 years ago. What’s curious is that after reading you I don’t feel Nepal changed that much, after all.

    I had to laugh at your post on ‘Arriving in Nepal’… Brought me back to the time I arrived after a 20 hours flight, completely exhausted and could hardly understand what was going on around me :-)

    • Hi Simon,

      It took me some time to decide on going back for all the reasons you mentioned. Would it spoil the memory etc. I forcibly told myself “It would not be the same, so don’t look at it the same way”. And, go their with a new purpose.

      So far it’s working out well. Stay tuned, I’ll be digging deep again into Nepal so who knows what will turn up! :)

  12. Roxanne says:

    I love that there are still people who remember you there. It is a testament to what kind of traveler you are.

    What a beautiful topic to discuss too… I am terrified of returning to places in which I’ve lived and loved. I don’t mind returning to places I only knew as a passing traveler, but my heart aches at the thought of returning to Colombia for two weeks, instead of having a home there again. Or to Egypt to look at the Pyramids, instead of having a sheesha alley to which I return every night. In a sense, it breaks my heart less to NOT return, to go to places that are new to my eyes, as opposed to returning to a place I have loved deeply, but this time in a new capacity. Thank you for prompting me to think about all this.

    • Thanks Roxanne. It took me many years to build up whatever it takes to return here. I had to blank out the notion that it would be like the previous visit, and set myself some new goals.

      Approaching a return to a place with a different mindset really helped.

  13. wow..you are true and its really good note.Don`t be surprise when I say I am traveler though I am Nepali.Many thing Nepali only travel for profession but it doesn`t exist with me.Early 2011 I travelled across Great Himalayan Trail(2000km) alone (believe or not) and now I am starting with travel blogging and i found this site in search of travel bloggers.I always feel good when other write good about Nepal and make comment to withdraw attention.
    I hope your return to Nepal again.Good luck with your future travel.

  14. I absolutely love this post as I can completely understand and relate. I have returned many times to Kathmandu – and only now am having a break from KTM to allow me to visit other countries. Its soo true about Nepalis remembering you. I could not believe one waiter remembered a conversation we had a year ago – and only had met him once!! I heart KTM!

  15. Nepal is definitely included on my bucket list for this year. Great photos, can’t wait to feel it’s soil on my feet!

  16. Found your blog via search for momos which I discovered during my stay in Nepal in 2000. One of my top culinary delights!
    Loved your insights on Nepal today. It brought back so many memories.

  17. @cultoftravel Some good points from your tweet there. Familiarity and comfort do play a role do doubt. But there’s a difference compared to other countries I’ve been. Again, I think it’s the surprise that people remembered me so well.