Nepal and India have so far gifted me with many amazing experiences and lessons. But I thought I’d take a moment to highlight just some of the unique observations made in this part of the world … things you’d be hard-pressed to find in my world back home.
Below are 14 things you won’t find in downtown Chicago:
1. The sacrificing of goats to the Hindu god Ganesh, in the center of town. I witnessed this in Bhaktapur, Nepal. It took five men to hold the goat down as one man severed it’s head off. When I walked past the shrine a few hours after the sacrifice, the fresh blood had not yet been washed away. PETA would be all over this, if goat sacrifices were to suddenly take place on the streets of Chicago.
2. The promotion of 24-hour electricity, hot water and a western toilets as a top selling point for accommodation. In the Himalayan mountain villages, these things are a huge luxury in the local tea houses — albeit, not always reliable luxuries.
3. The ubiquitous sound of bells and/or chanting to denote morning prayers. It is a melody in which I take comfort. It is a time of devotion and aspiration for a divine connection. I find it so beautiful. It is especially calming to walk to early morning yoga practice In Mysore as the call to prayer Is being recited in the distance over a loud speaker. This is a stark (and humorous) contrast to my first trip to the Middle East, when I awoke to the call to prayer being recited in Amman, Jordan. It was my first day in the city, and I got really scared, thinking the religious ritual was some sort of call to evacuate the city.
4. Men and women carrying nearly 100 pounds on their backs because there are no roads (thus no cars). The Sherpas of Nepal make a big living off their ability to do this at such high, high, high altitudes. I was consistently blown away by their resilience, strength and humility. I’d love to see the men and women of Chicago attempt this on a regular basis.
6. The use of “Namaste” as a greeting. This is commonplace in Nepal. The meaning of this word is beautiful: “I bow to the light that shines within you.” At first, this was really odd for me to say to people on the street, as I have always reserved this revered word for the yoga studio. If I said this to everyday people on the streets of Chicago, as I did in Nepal, they would think I was some New Age wacko. Sad, but true.
7. Face masks. This is a standard thing to wear in Kathmandu, where air pollution is so bad, I could physically feel myself inhaling particles of soot mixed with heavy air. I don’t recommend lingering long in Kathmandu without a mask. Even the monks wear them.
8. Simple locks on the door as a means of security. This bothered me at first, especially as a woman traveling solo. The locks reminded me of the lock I used in high school physical education class, and I am pretty sure those were easy to pick open.
9. Cows roaming the streets. This is common place in India and Nepal. On festival days, these revered creatures by Hindus are sometimes decorated. In Mysore, I observed cows painted yellow with turmeric for the Pongal festival, which celebrates the end of the harvest season. Yellow cows slept, ate, walked and shat in the street.
10. Elephants playing soccer. I stumbled upon this at a local festival in Chitwan, Nepal. If I didn’t have documented proof, people might think it was a dream or a state of drunken stupor. But it actually happened. (An elephant beauty pageant took place the next day. Still bummed that I missed that.)
11. Tuk-tuks. Otherwise known as auto rickshaws. These funny-looking, three-wheeled vehicles are the way to get around in India. The drivers are also the only people who I feel consistently cheat me because I am a foreigner, with their attempts to jack up the price or claim the meter isn’t working. Going across town in Mysore costs just a little more than a dollar, so haggling a few cents isn’t always worth the effort to me. Especially since this small amount of money would go so much further here, make a bigger difference here, versus back home in Chicago. In Chicago, 20 cents doesn’t even get you a gumball out of a candy machine at the Jewel. When I do haggle, it’s keeping other western travelers in mind — so these guys don’t think it’s so easy to get away with it every time.
12. Cremation out in the open. In the Hindu religion, this is part of the funeral process — that the body be set ablaze, front and center, in front of the immediate family, in public. I can’t imagine the City of Chicago would allow this ceremony to take place on the shores of Lake Michigan. I witnessed this ceremony at Pashupatinath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal.
13. Defecation in the streets by animals (and sometimes humans). It is not a big deal at all to most locals, but it is shocking to westerners traveling to this region of the world for the first time. When nature calls, you just … go. And nobody worries about the cleanup. While walking down roads and sidewalks in Mysore, I need to be super mindful of the massive cow droppings, or risk a creamy au natural foot mask cocooning my sandaled foot. When owners walk their dogs in the early morning in Mysore, I don’t see them holding little baggies to pick up the poop. This would be against the law in Chicago. But the funniest “call of nature” moment was in the hillside of Pokhara, Nepal, when I saw an 80-something-year-old granny peeing next to her tiny house. While standing, she hiked up her long skirt, spread her legs … then did her business. When she caught me watching her, she just smiled, as if to say, “No biggie.”
[No picture for this one … but come on, do you really need one?]
14. Wild monkeys scampering about. Sure, they look cute. But these mischievous creatures are known to steal food right out of people’s hands. I’ve witnessed it. Monkeys in India are like squirrels or raccoons in Chicago — you can admire them from afar, but be careful getting too close.
… and my journey is still ongoing. As I make new observations about things that just don’t happen back home in Chicago, I will add to this visual list.