A HUGE CULTURAL SURPRISE

02 Dec, 2018 Great Nepal Treks


A HUGE CULTURAL SURPRISE

When we started thinking about going to Nepal, it was all about seeing Mt. Everest, the high mountain villages, Kathmandu, all of those ancient temples, cremations alongside rivers, and of course being able to confront tigers, rhinos, and elephants in the wild.  What never factored into the equation was being immersed in the Nepali culture. Like many Americans, we have been turned off for years seeing pictures of people jammed together, crowded streets teeming with humanity, trash everywhere, and those often written about “smells and noise.”  Yet the draw of the mountains and historical sites kept calling us.  

We are world nomads, now continuously on the road for over two years.  We left the United States following our retirement and are pursuing a lifelong dream of “really seeing the world.  So far 36 countries.  When Nepal came up on our horizon, we said, “sure, why not…it’s time.”  We planned a one month stay in Kathmandu, rented an apartment in the city center, and contacted a few local agencies to plan some activities.  Our requests were simple, the typical tourist stuff.  We wanted to do a mountain hike…not too high and not too long.  We wanted of course to see the famous sites. And we wanted to visit Chitwan National Park and go on a wildlife safari.  We got a few responses, all written in broken and terribly composed English.  Mostly, the responses were about the money, with little content or justification for the expenditure.  “For just $100 USD we can….”  They contained snippets from other websites and element descriptions copied from Wikipedia and popular travel sites.

One response stood above the rest.  Amrit, from Great Nepal Treks and Expeditions, started off his correspondence with a pleasant and polite personal message.  Before going in for the “sell” he repeated our request, acknowledged us personally, and asked lots of questions about our areas of interest, activity level, and timing.  Never once in any of his opening reply did he discuss money.  This was refreshing in comparison to the other numerous replies. I decided to give him a shot and responded with a series of emails in regard to his questions.  What came back were a few ideas….AND MORE QUESTIONS. That’s when I really started to develop some real interest.  I remember telling my wife, “hey, this guy wants to know more about us and not just what’s in my wallet!”  Over the course of a few weeks and a dozen emails back and forth, we eventually settled on a five-day mountain trek and one city tour; a total investment of less than $500.  I kept thinking that this guy really worked hard and didn’t get much from his efforts; this was a year in advance and only a small deposit was going to hold it all together for a very long time.

We arrived in Kathmandu from Tibet, got a pre-paid taxi at the airport, and made it to our apartment rental with no trouble or hassle.  Upon arrival we were met by our host who began her greeting with an apology. I’ll never forget her approach.  It impressed me so much that I wrote it down in my journal.  She said in the humblest of ways, “I am grateful you are finally here.  You are most welcome in my home.  I have been so looking forward to meeting you.  And I have a small problem.  The clients from before you want to stay one more night and are refusing to leave the apartment.  You are my valued customers and it is my job to make sure you are cared for and are happy.  So, if you do not mind, I offer to put you in another apartment for one night as my guest…no charge…and tomorrow my son will help you move to the other. Is this okay?” How could you say no to such a respectful and warm approach?  And this began our love affair with the Nepali people.

A few days later, and more than two weeks in advance of our first booking, Amrit came to our apartment to welcome us to Kathmandu.  He was accompanied by another gentleman who said nothing, smiled a lot, and listened to Amrit’s presentation.  We learned much later on that he was the company’s sales manager.   Now that was subtle.  Amrit brought us a small welcome gift, a few brochures and printouts of things to do, and spent time reviewing our upcoming plans.  He visited for well over an hour and in the end offered his personal services to us should we need “anything at all” during our stay.  All of this for less than $500 of business.  Wow!  And the love affair grew.

I have personally been in the travel industry for years, owned a large travel agency and tour company in Alaska, and always took pride in our reputation for good service.  I have to admit I cannot ever recall meeting with a guest upon arrival to simply confirm and review the plans I had already sold and well documented.  Amrit’s charm, his amazing politeness, and his sense of calm and “let life happen,” emulated our apartment host’s approach from a few days earlier.  We had already been on the streets, eaten at a few restaurants, dodged a dozen cows, been almost run over by cars, taxis, and tuk-tuks, and waded through the noise, the crowds, and the garbage.   Through all of this, EACH experience came with a big smile, a warm greeting, and a simple charm that is quite disarming.  We were starting to see a pattern and the love was growing by leaps and bounds.

A day later we received a call from Amrit.  He said his boss wanted to meet us in person and he offered to buy us a coffee.  We said it wasn’t necessary. He insisted. We agreed.  The next day we met Surya Bahadur Ghimire, the company’s founder, and enjoyed a pleasant and extended conversation about travel.  He asked all the questions, was charming and engaging, and honestly, we were left in a quandary.  “What was that all about?”  The next day we received an email invitation to enjoy free day tour to a nearly location for a great view of Kathmandu.  We aren’t used to receiving free travel so we immediately accepted, although we did have our suspicions.  

We were told our driver and guide would meet us at the same coffee house and were given the date and time. To our surprise, Surya ended up being our driver and guide.  What was supposed to be a few hours, ended up being a full day visiting a local mountaintop by cable car, then a lovely lunch, then a visit to a private school he sponsors, and ended with an invitation to join him for a celebration the following week.  We were shocked by this amount of generosity.  And all we had done was book $500 of business with his firm.  There had to be a catch…we just knew it…and we quietly waited.

Over the course of the next two weeks we befriended the owner of an embroidery shop in the alleyway leading to our apartment.  Every day he would come out of his store when he saw us coming, shake our hand and say hello, offer to help us if we needed something, and never once tried to sell us something.  We enjoyed great service and smiles from the folks at the local food store who recognized us again and again, and had pleasant conversations with our favorite vegetable vendor at the market.  Our encounters with the local people came with charm and grace, sweet smiles, and a humble thank you.  We were making friends quickly.  Up until Nepal, this not happened during any another long term stay in a previous country.  

Our trek took place as planned.  We were met by our driver and guide and the next five days of climbing up one hill, down into a valley, and then up another was full of unbelievable sights.  The mountains were spectacular, the weather forgiving, the accommodation better than expected, and the encounters with everyone were so amazingly pleasant and welcoming.  Even the local folks would stop what they were doing and offer a welcoming “namaste”.  We felt we were certainly in Shangri-La where all live is full of happiness and joy.  Amazing. Now we knew we were in love.

Upon our return we were once again met by Surya and taken to a local celebration for an organization that sponsors small loans to local folks in hopes of spurring economic community growth. At this point we were not surprised to learn that Surya was the host of the event and a major leader in the organization.  We were treated like royalty, adorned with traditional welcome scarves, floral garlands, and seated on stage with the other honored guests. This amount of kindness was needless to say, overwhelming and our hearts were full.  And at this point we were forever referred to as “honored father and mother.”  This is something very common, as we have learned, and is an immense sign of respect for people of age.  We realized that this wasn’t special treatment just for us…Nepali treats everyone this way…and the love grew.

During our extended visit we made friends for life and Great Nepal Treks and Expeditions became our “go-to” for everything Nepali.  We purchased two additional day tours and met with Amrit a few more times. In the end, we spent less than a $1000 in total.  We got so much more in return.  We have since received many follow-up emails wishing us a pleasant journey and good fortune. What an amazing experience and a grand tourism experience!  The epidemy of excellent customer service, good will, and an unending respect for humanity. 

What a gift indeed!  We WILL BE BACK!!!

Tom and Bobbie