Rediscovering Nepal

Author: Samita Shrestha

Tags: Asia, Heritage, Quarter Finalist

In the summer of 2014, my mother, father, brother, sister, and I traveled to my parents’ homeland: Kathmandu, Nepal. We hadn’t visited Nepal since 2007 to catch up with relatives, but this time we were visiting on a special occasion. That summer was my paternal grandfather’s “Junko”-the celebration of witnessing one thousand full moons.

We first stayed at my grandfather’s apartment complex in Kuleshwor, in the Oriental Colony. There, my family and I were able to witness a beautiful view of the city of Kathmandu. From the young children playing soccer in the park, to the bustling streets of the main road, both of which were below the beautiful Nepali hillsides. I could not believe my eyes.

In preparation for the Junko, my mother took us to her father’s apartment complex in New Road, one of Nepal’s most lively markets. Just as I was walking I witnessed a variety of merchants, from women selling beautiful sarees to a grocer sitting on the sidewalk selling mangos. There, my mother’s father, a rather social, dignified man, found my sister and me the perfect place to get mehndi, also known as henna, for the ceremony: the very street corner of New Road. At least 20 women were in line for just one woman to give them mehndi. It wasn’t until it was my turn that I understood why these women were so patient. The skillful woman gracefully drew beautiful traditional patterns of flowers and peacocks on both of my hands.

On the night of the big event my family and I arrived to the hotel venue in traditional clothing; my mother, sister, and I wore sarees, while my brother and father wore suits with a Nepali “topi”, or hat. The ceremony began with the grandchildren and the  great-grandchildren of my grandfather pulling him on a small chariot, which symbolized his wisdom as respected elder. Later that evening, over 300 people came to attend the reception, some of whom were my cousins, who I became closer with after dancing, laughing, and celebrating into the night.

The next week, two of my older cousins decided to take me to Durba Square, a site featuring popular historical monuments and tourist attractions. We hailed a taxi for about 500.00 Nepali rupees and approached what I use to see as only distant memories of my previous visit to Nepal. Hundreds of people surrounded the temples, many of whom were local townspeople while others were ecstatic tourists. As my cousins and I looked around for a place to eat, we eventually found a cafe called  “Himalayan Java Coffee”, which sold some of the best momos, or traditional Nepali snacks similar to Chinese Dumplings, that I had ever tasted (with the exception of my mother’s, of course).

After returning to the U.S., I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride for my Nepali Heritage. I took this rediscovered pride with me as I started boarding school in the fall. As I continued to carry my experience in my heart, I had changed for the better. Unfortunately, on the morning of April 25th, 2015, I woke up to the devastating news that much of what I had discovered throughout the streets of Nepal-the historical monuments, the temples, and the markets-had been completely destroyed by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The monuments in the picture you see below, of the temple behind its guard statues, have been completely destroyed. However, the fact that this story, my story, does not end in a happy note, makes me all the more thankful to have taken this life changing trip.