Traveling teaches you life. You learn about others, about yourself, about the past, the present and it creates ideas for the future. Each country you visit has something unique to bring you, a certain lesson through the adventures you’ll experience. You cannot stay idle while traveling, you grow up no matter what.
After some months in India, I’ve learned a lot, especially when I left the country from Varanasi to go to Nepal. Have you ever seen someone burning on the side of the Ganges? I thought I learnt about death there but I was more than mistaken. It was the peaceful and laid back Nepal that took on itself to teach me that lesson. Looking at a corpse burning in a ceremony near the sacred river in Varanasi makes you think about the ending of life but not necessarily about your ending, you do not see yourself in it.
Nepal started with life, with birth; in Lumbini. After Varanasi, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha felt green, peaceful, alive. A great teacher was born there.
After a while in Kathmandu which I appreciated very much for all its faults and qualities, I visited a little village 3 hours from the city. I was stuck in a huge traffic jam in the little highway going up and down the hills in narrow turns always close to the edge with reckless drivers going way too fast. This time, one actually drove too fast. A bus that was heading to the Indian border (the one I took in the opposite direction one week before) lost control and went flying down the valley below. It was smashed down there, wheels facing the sky, debris everywhere, more than twenty deaths or so I was told.
I could have taken that bus, I take many buses, all the time. You don’t have any other choice while traveling, you need to get somewhere somehow and there are risks. Often they drive fast on the edges of cliff and often I’m thinking wow this guy really drives too fast, we’re on the edge of falling but it made me realize. It made me think about how it would be to be in this line of thought as usual and feel a little tingle, a little nudge as the bus really falls and having one split second to realize that, oh shit he really went too fast, oh shit it really is falling. This gruesome possibility opened up to me not as a mere risk, something “for the others” something that maybe could happen but as an actual possibility. I’ve seen myself in that bus with time slowing to an almost stop and trying to think as I would have. Family and friends come first. No real sadness about myself, there’s no point, but some kind of sadness for all those close to me that would weep, that would worry. What else would happen in that split second?
Would I regret being there? Would I regret traveling and doing what I like? No, I would be disappointed, there’s so much more to see that I have not. I would not regret having a life full of adventures, how short it could be. I would be sad, life is beautiful and I would have wished to enjoy it a lot more. No regrets, I would see how pointless it is and would only be sad towards the absence of future.
After all these thoughts, imagining myself in the falling bus it hit me; I’m not in this bus, I’m not disappointed of not being able to do and see all I wanted to see. I still have the opportunity to do all of this and that’s exactly what I should do with the time I have. I thought the lesson was over but it was only the beginning.
Three days later, I took a bus at 7am from Kathmandu, going on the same road, same time, worrying a tiny bit about the bus. While I was eating in a roadside restaurant, at around 11:45,the earth shook for two minutes. I was safe once again but I later understood that thousand died, especially in Kathmandu where I was hours ago. Had it been for one more day in the capital, I could have been hurt or dead. I’ve looked online as you all did at the images of the devastation in the city. Recognizing places I had been hours before, where I had taken images I’m quite proud. These pictures are now the last ones of this particular Kathmandu.
Kathmandu of the present is in a rough state and Kathmandu of the future will be rebuilt at least slightly differently. Nepal also taught me the impermanence of things, material as well as human. I once again imagined me under a building in Kathmandu, running for my life or thinking about my family but now things were different. I had friends over there, people I knew for going to the same restaurant every day for a week. It sounds strange but I did not know the names of most of these people but I was worried for them.
It was not over, not even in the safe haven that was Pokhara. It shook again, the following day. Even more deaths in the capital and in the villages. Many smaller aftershocks punctuated the days making you paranoid. Was that a quake? Was that my heart beating? I learned to watch the water bottles, it’s a good indicator (thank you Jurassic Park) to discern your heart beating from the ground shaking. It was still not over, news spread that there would be the biggest earthquake to date, 9.5 on Richter, that is 32 times more powerful than the one that ravaged the country. My little room in Pokhara was not even safe anymore. When was it forecasted? Oh just in one hour. I’ve learned how to make every minute counts.
I’ve also learned how it is to be waiting for the end of the world. It’s surrealist, absurd. There is a possibility that everything will fall down, tens of thousands of deaths or maybe plainly nothing. Are people scared and crying? Nope, they’re playing soccer in a field while looking at the sunset over the lake and the mountains (Pokhara really is a nice place, go there) and preparing the fire and the tent. It is just plainly weird. Finally, as time goes by and gets near, you are expecting, waiting for the ground to shake, getting ready. Did it come? A little bit, a couple of small quakes, maybe some stuff on the shelf of a shop fell down, maybe not.
I still learned what I had to learn. I thought I would trek and discover the mountains but Nepal had other plans for me. I learn what it is to wait for the end of days, what it feels to have 1 second of life remaining, what it feels to have your whole life remaining. Nepal taught me death and Nepal taught me life.