As a teenager I had to choose between visiting China or Nepal, as an unfit 14 year old I chose the option with the least trekking. However I knew I had to visit Nepal, and in 2014 – still unfit – I booked. Arriving in Kathmandu I was met by our guide. He showed me the best way to and from the hotel and set me on my way to somewhere good for lunch.
I did not pay enough attention and was soon lost. After walking down the same narrow alleyway three times a Nepalese man, maybe 40 years old, who had been smoking a cigarette on the corner walked over ‘are you lost? You look lost’. I was a little suspicious, I had heard stories of scammers approaching westerners and showing them things then demanding payment for guide services. But I was lost and if it cost me a few AUD to get back on track I would be fine with that. I told him where I was going (trying to go) and laughing again he tells me it is only a few minutes – and on his way to work. Ah there it was, he would shuttle me into whatever store we showed up at and overcharge me for whatever wares they were selling. But I’m a tough cookie and an even tougher sell – if I don’t want to buy something then I won’t.
Risk assumed, I followed him down the walkways. We walked through a temple area and he showed me his favourite, a shine for teeth because he has excellent teeth and he was thankful for his dentist. I was regaled with stories of his children, why certain temples were more popular than others, and what to be careful of in the tourist centre. We arrived at the lunch spot I was looking for and I was bid farewell. Wait, where was the hook? As we said goodbye he smiled and said, I work in a mandala gallery, by the blue sign and up the stairs – if you want to see some mandalas while you’re here come and see me! He told me to be safe and enjoy Nepal, and left me to my lunch. There was no hook. He didn’t even ask me for a tip.
Later in the day I found my way back to that road, and decided to look at some mandalas. I was rewarded. The small dark room was full, every surface displayed beautiful and intricately drawn mandalas. I found mine tucked behind a large green parchment propped in the corner. Hand drawn, gold on black card, I fell in love with a 1:1 square mandala. I paid a grand total of 20 AUD for it and it sits proudly, framed, on my desk in Australia. Every time I work there I am reminded of my experience, my assumptions challenged, and the kindness of a stranger with whom I did not even share names.
Do I now blindly follow any man offering help? No I do not, but i do not let the scary stories and assumptions dictate my travel. Assess the risks, be safe, but don’t be so safe you never get on the plane <3