Farewell Nepal!

Farewell & thank you Nepal. You were lovely!

My last days in Nepal were a delight. I wandered around Kathmandu calling in to the shops of people I had become friendly with for a wee chat. I ate well, planned my trip & relaxed. I made friends at the hostel, visited the Garden of Dreams, wandered the streets & really enjoyed my last few days.

 

 

Garden of Dreams

A blissful Garden hidden behind a busy main road. The beautifully named garden is neo-classical style & was built in 1920s. It’s a peaceful hideaway from the hustle & bustle of town. The destruction from the 2015 Earthquake is evident as rebuilding is ongoing….

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I didn’t know I would visit you until a few days before & I am genuinely glad I have! I hope to make it back someday to tackle Everest Base Camp. I have a newfound confidence that I am capable & if I build some stamina I can do it. What an achievement it would be! A little Irish wanderer like myself getting to Everest Base Camp – amazing! Next time I see you Nepal, I’m coming for Everest!

Next up is Thailand & something I’ve never done before – a weight loss camp!

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Eating in Kathmandu, Nepal

Successfully eating my way around the world…..

Here’s some of what Kathmandu has to offer:

I can’t tell you how much I want Pad Thai right now!

Rosemary Cafe

This place does lovely breakfasts. I adored the french toast, bacon & maple syrup. It has a sweet outdoor seating area, good service & great food. I often came here alone to sort out my life with the decent wifi. Occasionally I would bring a friend & they were always impressed with this side street find.

 

OR2K

This is a really popular restaurant with numerous floors. It has a cool, chilled vibe, sociable on floor seating, a vast menu & quirky decor. This was a firm favourite with all my friends, but personally I thought it was a bit pricey & I didn’t really love the food. I would happily curl up here with a book & ginger, lemon & honey. They have a sister restaurant in Pokhara which is exactly the same decor & vibe. Worth checking out.

 

Chick N Falafel

There was a wrap bar under OR2K & I noticed before the queues outside. Taking this as a positive sign I joined the queue & had my first wrap! It was a spiced chicken, salad & sauce wrapped in a steaming mann – tasty, cheap & super filling. I loved it & wish I tried it sooner. After discovering it I had it every other day!

 

Pumpernickel Bakery

I came here for breakfast a few times & it was lovely. It has a laid back atmosphere & great food with freshly baked goods . The fruit, muesli, curd was my staple here & the great wifi meant that I would often sit here for a few hours planning my trip.

 

Utse Restaurant

The hostel recommended this restaurant to us as a hidden nepalese gem. This is a traditional menu with great options. We got thalis & were overwhelmed with the amount of food that arrived! Great value for the amount of food you get.

 

Thamel Momo Hut

Being the momo addict I am of course I couldn’t pass the momo hut without calling in. Lovely momos! Not the best I’ve had, but I won’t knock a momo!

 

New Orleans Cafe

This is a cute restaurant, a bit more expensive than others. It has a good menu & a selection from the west as well. The cocktail list was tempting!

 

Sum Cafe

This was part of our hostel, Thamel 327, offering a nice menu, average/expensive price. I had breakfast a few times here but would normally get a ginger, lemon, honey here then venture out for a walk & find somewhere else to eat. Friendly staff & great hostel!

 

 

 

Back to Kathmandu, Nepal

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Back in Kathmandu it is busier & louder than I remembered. The streets are smaller, dustier & more crowded. The beggars are closer & the sellers are louder. The narrow streets & tall buildings are not the breath of fresh air I experienced when I arrived from India. I’m relieved I only have a few days here & I hope they’ll be spent relaxing & planning my onwards trip as much as possible.

Debilitated by impatience I go ahead of my friend to the hostel, check in & lie in my bed exhausted. Exhausted from another day spent wishing my time away sitting on my arse on shitty cheap transport. I melt into the bed & my problems evaporate. My friend joins me & I pretend to be asleep, drowning her out with my wishes that she wasn’t here driving me crazy. I miss my independence & anonymity.

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Where next – Bus to Pokhara


I’m disappointed I don’t have enough money to allocate to a trip to Mount Everest. It is such a shame considering my close proximity. The fomo isn’t made any easier by the people I meet who are just back from trekking to Everest Base Camp. What an incredible achievement! I have accepted it isn’t possible for me on this trip & I have decided to venture Pokhara & into the Annapurna Mountain range.

The Annapurna Mountain range is to the West/Central of Nepal. It has the tenth tallest mountain in the world (Annapurna 1 at 8,091M) & 6 prominent peaks over 7200M. It is the first & largest conservation area in Nepal at 7629 square kilometres. The Annapurna peaks are notoriously difficult to climb with a fatality to summit ratio of 34% – deeming them the most dangerous in the world.

Many people in our hostel had been to Pokhara & portrayed it as a peaceful backpacker getaway from the city. The way they described the lake with such fondness & how serene it was completely sucked me in. I was looking forward to escaping to a relaxing haven! Fellow backpackers have told me the Annapurna treks are beautiful, less crowded than Everest base camp trek & not as exploited. As a beginner trekking in Nepal on a budget, it seems like an amazing hiking option!

My Brazilian friend & I booked an early morning 8 hour bus (closer to 10 hours in reality due to massive stints sitting in long queues of traffic) from Kathamandu to Pokhara. We booked the cheapest bus available accepting defeat that it would be an awful trip. As expected, the journey was long, extremely uncomfortable & tiring. We stopped for a break twice & had a 1 hour lunch stop at a roadside restaurant full of people doing the same expedition. I was snacking on a mixture of fruit & junk food on the bus, feeling like crap inside & out.

The views were incredibly beautiful. I woke my friend up on a couple of occasions so she wouldn’t miss out & she was thankful to appreciate the scenery. The mountains were so picturesque. I tried my best to take pictures but I shouldn’t have bothered, the quality is so poor. Apologies the selection of pics don’t do the area justice….

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When we arrived at the bus station my friend was fed up & insisted on a taxi to the hostel. We were dropped off to the hostel where I made the booking & they said they were fully booked & put us in a shared room in neighbouring accommodation. It was so dirty & expensive for what it was. I complained & we were moved to a better room. We were cranky from travel, tired & hungry for decent food. After a brief explore we curled up in bed with plans to only stay 1 night in this hotel. The following day we checked out & went to the much nicer Little Buddha guest house next door.

Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

Boudhanath Stupa is slightly out of town so after Durbar Square my friend & I made our way to the busy bus station on the side of town. There were what seemed like hundreds of buses & little instruction as to their destination. We asked someone who seemed to hold a look of authority & he pointed us on to to a rickety bus. We perched in the front unsure of where we were going to end up. The journey was almost an hour long & god help whoever sat beside us as they were offered mints & encouraged to chat & answer our random questions. The people are good natured, smiley & helpful. We feel relaxed in their company & similar in traits. The bus abandoned us in the middle of a busy street & we looked at each other unsure of which direction to go in. Just as we were sighing at the prospect of guessing our next move & getting harassed by taxi drivers, the young boy who sitting beside us on the bus appeared & pointed us in the right direction. Thank you!

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Boudhanath Stupa dates back to the 14th Century & became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It is the biggest stupa in Nepal & one of the largest ancient stupas in the world. It is believed the stupa entombs the remains of Kassapa Buddha & it is embellished with many buddhist symbols. It is the epicentre of tibetan culture in Nepal & is an important place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists as well as Nepalis.

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The area was extremely busy. We paid our entrance fee & joined the throng of tourists & locals walking clockwise along the prayer wheels. It is believed that if you circle the stupa even once you will be granted a chance to atone for your sins. There were so many people & beggers everywhere. Bodnath Stupa was also damaged extensively by the earthquake the previous year & men & women were working non stop to reconstruct the stupa & restore it to its previous glory.

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Starving we took a break & had some average pizza in a restaurant down a side alley. By this stage the claustrophobia had gotten too much for me. I went for a walk alone but I couldn’t handle the beggars & people with puppies & the crowds so instead of continuing around the temple I told my friend I would meet her at the entrance & fled seeking peace. Sorry, I’m a terrible tourist! Can’t I just wander around somewhere peaceful chatting to locals & sampling food? That’s all I want to do!

We took a taxi back to Thamel & haggled to less than half the price of the initial rip off offer. It felt better to get back to the manageable bustle of Thamel. I don’t think tourist sights are my jam. My friends are keen to visit another temple but I doubt I will join them. I certainly won’t join them for their trip to the monkey temple either! They are also going to to Pashupatinath Temple to witness the traditional burial & cremation ceremony. I am curious about this but morally I don’t feel right about rocking up with a DSL camera & a bag of popcorn while these people are experiencing life’s worst hardships. Some things are sacred & not appropriate ‘tourist sights’.

 

Dumpling heaven! Cookery class in Kathmandu, Nepal

Dumpling, momo, gyoza – whatever the hell you want to call these little sacks of heaven. I am addicted to them!

Considering how many damn dumplings I ate in McLeod Ganj, I couldn’t very well not attend a dumpling making class! I signed up along with a lovely American girl from my dorm room. My Brazilian friend didn’t come as she has a cook at home & has no interest in cookery herself – The culture differences are so fascinating. Cooking is a big social part of my life. I enjoy being the host & provider for family & friends. The majority of my friends have a similar affection to cooking & we often take it in turns to host each other & sporadically bake cakes (ok, maybe that bit is mostly just me…I love baking).

I booked the course with Social Tours. They seem to be a very popular, well run & honest company offering a wide array of activities, classes & volunteering opportunities. If you go to Nepal you should definitely check them out. One of my friends from home frequently works with this company having started out as a volunteer with them. She speaks incredibly highly about them & you can see the bonds she has developed with the owners who she now considers dear friends. I also spoke to a young girl currently volunteering for them in a school. She was nearing the end of her program & visually upset to be leaving in one week. She was determined she would be back again & said her heart was in Nepal. I found this so encouraging after the horror stories of volunteer tourism & how, for example, orphanages are set up solely for the profit of this new tourism boom.

When my friend & I arrived for the course the atmosphere was very relaxed. We had a coffee & chilled in the common area chatting with the course coordinator. He was very friendly & spoke openly about his recent marriage, problems he encountered due to his caste & all the good work his company is doing. It is almost childlike the innocence & inquisitive manner we take speaking to each other with no prejudice, just wanting to learn more about each others cultures. Most people I speak to are surprised when I tell them I’m not married & I don’t have children. Some have even elaborated to tell me if it was someone in their country they would wonder what was wrong with them! I found this hilarious – although in hindsight this could be crying material gold next time I’m feeling emotional….

A girl took us to the shops to buy the ingredients for the dumplings. We got chicken (the frozen chickens were heaped upon each other in the open freezer & cut on the fly infested unclean chopping board), potatoes, spinach, herbs, cheese & a mars bar. We took our ingredients back to the centre & into the well organised clean kitchen area. We washed our hands & set to work creating our dumpling delights!

 

 

 

 


The two ladies taking the course were very friendly, talkative & open. We were able to find out about them & give them an insight into our lives. They said they rarely make dumplings because it can be time consuming & more expensive that traditional Dal Bhat. The majority of Nepalese eat dal bhat twice a day, everyday (according to all the locals I spoke to). Dal Bhat is a local favourite comprising of a curry, rice, a potato side, vegetables, chutney & bread. It is cheap & easy to make & very filling. On the mountains the trekking guides & porters eat it religiously as it keeps their strength up for the day.

Together we chopped the ingredients for the dumpling fillings while another lady prepared the dough to wrap the dumplings in. We filled these with our mixtures: spinach, potato & cheese, & chicken & coriander.

The ladies made the dumplings look so simple. They were masters of the folds & twists while my American friend struggled atrociously! It was hilarious as her dumplings looked dreadful & each one had to be redone so they wouldn’t split open during steaming. Have a guess which dumpling is hers in the picture below…

I managed mine ok, but I was only going half the pace of the rapid Nepalese! We made two different shapes of dumplings then the girls cut up the mars bar & put it in the dough wraps for dessert. We were so excited when the dumplings were ready!

The dumplings were steamed quickly & served to us in a lovely handmade leaf bowl. We were too busy chatting amongst each other to pay attention about the delicious peanut & spicy sauces the ladies made to accompany the savoury dumplings. They were amazing! The ladies set the table for the four of us then served up the dumplings. Oh my goodness they were incredible! We were so impressed with how flavoursome they were! We got another portion then had our sweet mars bar dumpling for after. It was divine! It sent us into that silence that only people experiencing true pleasure know!

With a full happy belly we paid for our afternoon cookery class (the price is what you think it’s worth), thanked everyone & walked contentedly back to our hostel rubbing our full tums.

If you get a chance I defiantly recommend coming here to do a cookery course & checking out the other activities Social Tours has available.*

 

*This is not a sponsored post

Seeing Hands – Blind Massage in Kathmandu, Nepal

I had heard of a popular massage clinic called Seeing Hands in Kathmandu. It is run entirely by blind people. The project began as a small charity providing professional massage training to the blind. The British founders wanted to create a business which reinvests in its growth & continues to train blind therapists. It has grown into a self sufficient social enterprise run by the blind to aid the blind. A remarkable venture!

The reviews on trip advisor were exceptional & I was keen to get a massage so I called in & made an appointment for myself & a girl from my hostel. We arrived early for our appointment & sat in the busy waiting room seeing the previous clients come out from their massage relaxed & rejuvenated – I couldn’t wait to be them! When we were called into our shared massage room we undressed & lay on our treatment tables already relaxed at the prospect of our upcoming massages!

Our therapists asked us questions relating to our massage preference & any points of tension while applying oil. My therapist had a confident stroke & I melted into the table, my muscles aching for some attention. Her pressure was firm but not as strong as I would prefer & after a few requests for more pressure I relented. The hour went in too quickly & all too soon we had to leave.

We dressed & walked down the stairs as though walking on clouds of air. I love that almost sedated feeling after a good massage. The man on reception was also blind, which I only realised after I unhelpfully handed him the money without advising him how much I gave him. We paid around £12 each for our 1 hour massages. It was considered pricey for the area but I feel strongly on supporting honest commendable businesses. I hope to get another massage after trekking. I felt this one was well deserved after India & my unnecessarily lengthy 30 hours of travel to Nepal.

If you are in Kathmandu (or Pokhara, where they have another branch) I really recommending getting a massage. It is for a really good cause. The profits from the company get reinvested to train new therapists & the therapists get paid for the treatments they provide. It offers such a good opportunity for disadvantaged people to become independent in difficult circumstances. I adore this business model & the commitment they have made to make such a positive impact on lives. I have to say it wasn’t in the top 5 massages of my life, but given the circumstances they did a really impressive job. I noticed people complain about the setting as being grimy but it was fine – I’ve been to a helluva lot of worse places! If you’re in the area I think Seeing Hands* is worth a try. Enjoy!

*Sadly I have to warn you to beware of similar companies exploiting their blind therapists, set up purely for profit.

Visiting Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

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These ladies were gathered around singing

Kathmandu Durbar Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site & one of 3 royal palace squares in the Kathmandu area. The oldest temples date back to 1560 & the first buildings are believed to be built in the 3rd century. At a time it was the centre of royal ceremonies & royal residence until the 19th century. The most recent royal ceremony took place in 2001. It is the heart of old town Kathmandu & a legacy of the traditional architecture.

My friend & I approached the entrance to Kathmandu Durbar Square & a swarm of people surrounded us asking for money, offering a reduced price ticket or offering to be our tour guide. After clearing the crowd of people trying to fleece us we paid our entry fee in the kiosk. This ticket is valid for one day, however if you go to the tourist office they will validate your entry ticket for the duration of your stay so you can visit Durbar Square as often as you wish.

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This gnarly tree was impressive

A steady flow of people approached us begging, selling, haggling… I felt like we couldn’t entirely relax & appreciate our surroundings. We adopted the age old technique of avoiding interaction by not smiling & not making eye contact. I really feel like I’m suffocating.

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Walking in clear air without a tribe of followers didn’t last for long as my friend & I were separated by a few ladies selling jewellery pieces. The ladies were seasoned sellers offering us a one off ‘special price’, of course. True to form, it wasn’t long before we were all sitting down comparing lives & asking them about their experience when the massive earthquake struck in 2015. This area specifically was hit with incredible force & many of the historic buildings were destroyed. You could obviously see the surrounding remnants of buildings & rubble where reconstruction is ongoing. The ladies said they were standing right where we were when the earth shook beneath their feet. They were terrified & didn’t know what to do. They were visibly affected retelling the story, their eyes wide with fear recounting it. They must have incredible strength of character to return & continue their work, with the fear of aftershocks lurking in their minds.

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The rubble & slow reconstruction served as a stark reminder of the destruction which took place one year ago

There were numerous stalls set up selling beautifully crafted items. I wanted to buy a chess set but didn’t have the space in my backpack to carry it. I asked the seller about another board game he was selling & he invited me to play a game. It was Goats & Lions. The aim of the game was to protect the goats from the lions. I was the goat & learnt the hard way that experience is no competition. I lost just as quickly when I was the lion. The man was fun, smiley & happy to teach me. He wasn’t even annoyed when I explained I sadly wouldn’t be able to buy it, as much as I wanted to.

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All the focus in Ireland couldn’t help me win this game!

 

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So beautifully crafted

Kumari, The living goddess, resides in Kumari Bahal in Durbar Square. This Nepalese tradition selects a young pre pubescent girl to be worshipped by Hindus & Nepalese Buddhists. They believe the Kumari is a manifestation of divine female energy. The young Kumari is chosen at the age of 4 & maintains this role until her first period when she retires her role & another Kumari is selected.

The screening process only accepts girls of excellent health without disease & who pass 32 perfections of a goddess including ‘voice soft & clear as a ducks’ & ‘eyelashes like a cow’. The rigorous selection process involves a medical, examining the girls horoscope & the social standing of her family & their devotion to the king. In a test to show no fear the young candidates must walk through gruesome scenes of sacrificed, decapitated animals as well as spending the night alone in a room surrounded by animal heads of the ritually slaughtered buffalos & goats. Having passed these conditions & harrowing tests the remaining girls are given an assortment of items & are asked to pick a personal item the previous kumari owned. Upon selection the Kumari leaves her family & moves to Kumari Bahal in Durbar Square. Here she is looked after by a team of careers & expected to act like a goddess & carry out ceremonial duties.

We went to see the living goddess however we weren’t graced with her presence. She holds private audiences where people interpret their fortune based on her reactions e.g. if she picked at food this would indicate financial loss or if the Kumari wept or rubbed her eyes this would indicate imminent death! I felt a bit uneasy about a living child being worshipped. It is an intriguing practice but you can’t help but feel concern towards them about their physcological state & well being. I believe in accepting all religions & respecting people’s beliefs – but to a point. Where is the line??

Sight seeing in Kathmandu, Nepal

After scoping out the Thamel area of Kathmandu, it was time to discover the ‘tourist hotspots’. The combination of these words always cause a tightening in my chest. They conjure up images of hordes of people, beggers, people selling things agressively, pick pockets, tourist prices & being hoodwinked. I endeavour to find the balance between discovering a cuntry & avoiding the tourist production line of people queueing up in the same place to take a picture of the same thing just for the sake of it or because it’s a ‘tourist attraction’. I am trying to be a conscious traveller by visiting things that pique an interest within me, looking at the bigger picture instead of joining that queue to take a picture of that building I have no connection with. I am also trying to be kinder on myself & make sacrifices according to my wellbeing. If the climate is unbearable for me I’m not going to force myself through it for a cookie cutter experience. I have to consider my comfort & happiness. I have memories of places I have visited where I can just recall the misery I was in from the heat or exhaustion or forcing myself out in sickness. It’s not worth it for me. I don’t have a long to do list in each country. I want to discover what I encounter as my feet take me their unique path. I’m not here to see what every other tourist sees.

In saying that, I went with my Brazilian friend around some of the tourist sights in Kathmandu. As much as I want to avoid the main tourist sights, some I am interested in. In Kathmandu I have done such little research & some of the places are walking distance from my hostel – I’m not that stubborn (usually) that I will actively avoid somewhere I haven’t made my mind up on purely because it is popular with tourists.

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Our first encounter was two young girls asking for chocolate. I don’t like to encourage the begging culture. In supporting these young girls I feel like I would be leading them down a path of begging & teaching them improper values that this is a possible way to get by & they would spend their lives on the streets begging, not striving for more. My friend had chocolate in her bag & big heart & she couldn’t resist. She opened the chocolate & shared it between the shy girls. She asked the girls for hugs & the girls obliged. I felt uncomfortable about the situation & was eager to get going. What’s your opinion on this? In giving do you think you may be supporting their ‘trade’, or do you always give believing you’re doing the right thing? It’s a very heart wrenching topic to have the privilege of not experiencing, as of yet, from the other side.

As we walked towards Durbar Square we were approached by beggars frequently. Sadhus were blessing us then asking for a donation, disfigured people were pulling at our clothes & others on the side of the streets were calling out to us. I felt completely overwhelmed & suffocated. Who do you help? Who is genuine? What can you do? In the touristy areas this culture is common & it breaks my heart.

When we entered the square we were swamped with people offering to be guides, demanding entry fee, selling souvenirs & begging. If this is tourism I would rather wander the less busy streets alone. Eventually we cleared the crowd & went to pay at the official kiosk. Although we managed to disperse our crowd of money thirsty followers, they were still lurking nearby, catching our eye at every opportunity. I’m ready to go back to the hostel for respite already!

The 25th April 2015 Earthquake in Nepal

On 25th April 2015 at 11.56am there was a major earthquake in Nepal. It had a magnitude of 7.9 & lasted 50 seconds. Over 8,800 people died & 21,000 were injured.There were over 38 aftershocks in the following 24 hours with one even reaching a magnitude of 6.8. The damage throughout the country was extensive as the earthquake triggered avalanches & landslides causing destruction throughout the country. Entire villages were completely destroyed & major temples & churches were reduced to rubble. Tremors were felt in neighbouring India, China, Bhutan & Bangladesh.

The aftereffects of the earthquake stretch further than deaths, injuries & destruction. Nearly 3.5million people were left homeless as a result. The direct poverty caused by the earthquake paired with the reduced tourism from fear of aftershocks drove Nepal into devastation forcing increased human trafficking & exploitation due to financial hardships. The economic & social aftermath has been devastating for Nepal & the increase in tourism again is bringing much needed money & support back to the country. Reconstruction of the country is ongoing & the recovery will be a long laborious process.


On 12th May 2015 the anticipated aftershock earthquake hit with a magnitude of 7.3. The epicentre was near Mount Everest on the Chinese border occurring along the same fault line as the previous 25th April earthquake. At least 153 people died & over 2000 people were injured.

Local people I have spoken to regarding the earthquake speak about it with a lingering disbelief. They speak about the ground shaking & a common feeling of not knowing what to do. A man we befriended in Pokhara told us he closed his business for 1 month to go to the mountains & rebuild villages for people who had lost everything. This spirit of rallying around without fear of consequence & unquestionable moral obligation is admirable. This man was one of many who reached out to help his own people sacrificing his business, livelihood & familial commitments to offer massive life changing aid of others. Their strength & compassion at times of incredible devastation is extremely commendable.

Around Kathmandu the wreckage is ever present. The Kathmandu Durbar Square was one of the sights of major destruction. Ancient buildings collapsed during the earthquake & much of the area is still being regenerated & recreated from nothing. It is a sad sight to witness the absolute annihilation of the area & the slow & challenging hope of rebuilding again. With little resources the regeneration is a time consuming process & many people are still homeless living in tents & tin huts – one year on. I urge you to come to Nepal to rebuild tourism, create jobs & bring money to the area, helping this county to thrive again.