Nepal as few get to see it

Posted by Michael Pullman 20th April 2022
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Early April - What a perfect time to visit Nepal!  There were few tourists other than Nepalis and Indians on vacation. Worrying about Covid was almost a non-issue on our carefully planned trip.  Hotels were running well-below full occupancy and often hosted us alone in top rooms and at meals.  With very few tourists for over 2 years Nepalis were delighted to see travelers and went out of their way to help us.  My small group and I were thrilled to be traveling at this moment!

During the 2 ½ years since Covid first appeared, there have been huge changes in Nepal, some due to rebuilding from the 2015 earthquake, some due to just plain modernization. The most obvious change to anyone who has been to Nepal before is the new international arrival /departure airport.  Yes, Nepal has finally entered the 21st century.  Dealing with immigration and customs was easy, baggage arrived efficiently, and Nepali staff smiled at visitors when processing papers. 


A second shock is the change in the Kathmandu Valley – huge numbers of cars and good-sized motorcycles, high rise buildings all over the place, store displays of short dresses, blue jeans and tights, clear glass auto and cycle displays, many gas stations, an ever-increasing chain of Bhatbhateni mega grocery/department stores and tons of specialty restaurants and cafes serving pizza, fish and chips, spaghetti and other western foods.  Try the Avocado Café, for example. 


The main Dhurbar Squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur have gone through extensive rebuilding since the quake and are almost complete.  Even local etiquette seems to have changed. Where boys and girls rarely showed affection in public previously, now couples walked the streets holding hands or sat with arms around each other on temple steps. 

Driving from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur is totally different.  Where the roadsides were dotted with fields of wheat, corn and other vegetables, now a hodge-podge of high-rise apartments and multiple story homes in a multiplexity of colors – pink, yellow, green, turquoise – you name it. What work that has been done widening roads only allows more cars, motorcycles, trucks and busses to chug along. 


Outside the city, changes are also striking.  For example, when I first wandered Chitwan in the south to visit the animal park, Sauraha was a tiny town with only a few stores.  Today’s Sauraha still has elephants wandering the streets, but there are many more restaurants, hotels, stores and roads that have sprung up.


What brought me and my small group to Nepal?  In 1991 we began a non-profit called Rural Education and Development (READ), using library community centers as catalysts for rural development.  Since then, READ has built close to 70 centers from one end of Nepal to another, won the 2006 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $1,000,000 Access to learning award and, among other awards, received Nepal’s highest country honor – the Dr. Dilli Raman Regmi International Peace Award. 


READ epitomizes the decolonization of development.  Villages approach READ Nepal, write a proposal, come up with a business to fully sustain and support the library (furniture factory, ambulance service, storefront rental, cooperative), donate the land and provide 15-20% of the cost of the center.  Each village becomes its own non-governmental organization (NG0) and controls its own center. Over the years, READ has touched the lives of more than 2.5 million people and empowered more than 140 villages across the country.



In addition to touring, the purpose of this trip was to introduce a new board member and some other travelers to READ Nepal and dedicate a new READ rural library community center in the village of Takukot, near Gorkha and Pokhara. Without exception, the travelers were amazed by how READ had empowered villagers and enriched their lives. 


For example, one project, Tech Aged Girls (TAG), focused not just on giving girls an in-depth knowledge of technological skills, but also on enhancing their confidence, poise and speaking skills.  Several of the girls had railed against the practice of “chaupadi”, where menstruating girls were required to stay alone outside the house in a small, ill-equipped hut called a “goth.”  Not only had these girls convinced their families this was wrong, but convinced people in their village to stop this practice.  For more on READ, check out the website –


The itinerary of the READ trip was not only designed to introduce guests to READ, but to show travelers the diversity of this amazing country, a place that contains 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains and jumps from 100 feet above sea level to Mount Everest in less than 100 miles!


The program began in the Kathmandu valley visiting the valley and its people in ways that few tourists do.  Travelers saw sunrise at Swayambunath and aarti at Pashupathi as well as watched craftspeople at work, met and talked with locals and visited the READ office. 


From Kathmandu, we flew to Chitwan to visit the animal park.  Spring was the perfect time, as the grasses have just been cut and animal viewing is at its best.  We were lucky enough to see almost all the park had to offer, langhur, different types of deer, wild boar, many rhinos and their babies.  We even had a rare sighting of two sloth bears, usually very shy forest denizens. 


From Chitwan, we drove to Pokhara, where some went paragliding while others boated on the lake.  All of us also had the opportunity to take the newly opened cable car up to Sarangkot for sunrise on the Annapurnas.  This was not our first cable car, however.  On the way, we stopped at Manakamana, the wish-fulfilling temple to Kali that had recently been rebuilt and sees few tourists even in high season. The temple is a destination for all who have something special to ask the Goddess - students praying to pass exams, women expecting a child, couples getting married, people hoping for success in business and others. 


From Pokhara, we headed to Gorkha, the birthplace of the “George Washington” of Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the warrior credited with uniting Nepal in the mid-1700s.  Here we visited his palace and temple and then took a harrowing drive to a small village called Takukot to dedicate a new READ Center.  On arrival, we were greeted by all sorts of local people and paraded with horns, drums and dancing up the hill to the library site.  As honored guests, we sat with local officials and members of government on the dais, cut the ribbon to the new building and experienced a local celebration in true Nepali style.


Returning to Kathmandu, the group had a final farewell dinner that brought together a whole range of Nepali cultures – the founder of Kathmandu University, head of the Dilli Raman Regmi Foundation, a leading female activist, newspaper writers, READ staff and others associated with the program, teachers and just friends from other walks of Nepali life.  Truly, in every way, this trip was an opportunity to see a wide range of this amazing country, meet people from all walks of life and get inside the culture of a country as few people can.

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