The great thing about backpacking for many consecutive months is that you are able to visit and really get to know so many countries. The downside, however, is that you can’t always get your timing right. We visited China and Tibet in the warm summer months of July and August and had enjoyed the endless sunshine on the mountainous plateau of Tibet. We enjoyed some hiking in Tibet and just assumed that if we continued on over the mountain range to Nepal, we could continue to enjoy the mountainous scenery. But we quickly discovered as we crossed to the other side of the Himalayas that the reason we had such beautiful sunny weather in Tibet, was that the huge mountains were protecting us by holding back the large clouds that were looming over Nepal. Apparently we had arrived in rainy season. Not to be deterred by a little rain, we looked into booking a hiking trip. However, after speaking with fellow travellers who captivated and cautioned us with tales of landslides blocking roads and poor visibility of and within the mountain ranges, we decided that we might be better off making our trip to Nepal more of a cultural one. At first we were disappointed to miss out on what we thought was the highlight of Nepal, but as we began to check out what we see and could do around Kathmandu we found plenty.
We take so many things for granted in America, from our creature comforts to our freedom of speech. We expect transportation to operate efficiently, technology to be readily accessible and emergency personnel to respond quickly in times of distress. We assume there will always be electricity, plumbing and clean drinking water. And we don’t give a second thought to the fact that our children’s public education is free and that citizens eighteen and older have the right to vote. We nonchalantly presume that these 'givens' will always be there and it is only when we leave the country and travel somewhere else that we realize our good fortune; to say that travelling opens your eyes and widens your world perspectives is an understatement.
I had the opportunity last fall to visit Nepal, a place coveted for its magnificent mountains, age-old cultures, adventure opportunities and spirituality. For many travelers, this country at the top of the world, with its mystical allure, is paradise on earth. Look beyond the scenic grandeur and the beautifully adorned temples, however, and you will see that Nepal is a developing country with numerous economic, political and societal challenges. It quickly becomes very clear that the Nepalese don’t take anything in their lives for granted. Not food, power, employment or education. Not even libraries. Twenty years ago, such meccas of literacy were foreign to the majority of the people here, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. It was a time in the country’s history marked by failed projects, hospitals without doctors, little to no infrastructure, dilapidated schools and a 30 percent literacy rate. Education among rural villages in particular was severely lacking and books were almost nonexistent. One woman was about to change this situation.