Asia,  Hiking,  Nepal

Never Underestimate Nepal’s Monsoon Season

This short piece was written as an entry to National Geographic’s Travel Writer Competition, 2021. I hope that these 500 words transport you to Nepal in rainy season, as we travel through muddy valleys surrounded by some of the world’s highest mountains. 

There’s a lurch and the bus rocks. I peer down to see one wheel half-hanging precariously over the rocky cliff edge. The engine wheezes asthmatically as the vehicle struggles to gain traction against the landslide that almost swept us into the untamed waters of the Kali Gandaki; a river older than the Himalayas themselves. It splutters out and my hopes fall away like the stones we send bouncing into the gorge. We’re stuck.

Nepal’s buses are small, slightly rickety, and colourfully adorned with religious imagery. Carelessly careering around corners, they are a main form of transport for a country in which local wages render air travel inaccessible for most. Hours earlier I’d ducked into my tiny seat, sacrificing legroom for a space at the front and a window that promised panoramic views. I wasn’t expecting a bus like this to take me down the unpaved dirt tracks that wind their way through some of the tallest mountains in the world. Yet here I was.

Lightning flashes across the tar-black sky, momentarily illuminating the skeletons of two vehicles in the gorge beneath us. My knees tucked up against my chin, I try to push down the waves of anxiety threatening to pull me under should we fall into the turbulent waters below. The humid monsoon air does nothing to dissipate the overpowering scent of incense that is slowly filling the vehicle with a sweet-smelling haze. Droplets of rain hammer against the window, drowning out the faint sound of Bollywood tunes playing through tinny speakers.

The monsoon is Nepal’s wildest but most beautiful season. For three decades, the Annapurna Conservation Area has been prime trekking territory; controversial new roads make access easier for hikers and locals alike. The rains bring a welcome relief. The trails can finally breathe as the region takes on a veneer of deep, verdant green. Flora flourishes, and fauna too – we’d trekked through jungle-filled valleys alive with birdsong and scrambled across scree slopes, watching as herds of Himalayan Tahr traversed the craggy hillside effortlessly. Those willing to tolerate the weather are rewarded with an authentic experience of Himalayan culture and characters; something worth getting a little wet for.

There’s a commotion outside the window. The dim glow of headlight bulbs is enough to make out the rescue mission; a nearby village community arriving with machinery! I unravel myself from my seat and clamber out to help, a lone tourist in a sea of Nepalese faces. As we slowly extricate the vehicle from the mud, one thought stands out. Sure, visitors flock to Nepal to enjoy soaring summits, adrenaline-filled activities and a rich cultural history. But it’s the Nepali communities that keep people returning. A warm-hearted people with kindness that transcends language barriers and cultural differences to welcome a mud-splattered English girl to a celebratory meal. Perched on plastic chairs by the roadside, we eat the Nepalese way – with our hands of course.

Inspired? Discover more of Nepal here.

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Alice is a UK travel blogger who advocates sustainable travel and being more eco-conscious on a budget. She loves coffee, her houseplants and summiting mountains.

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