We all have our own unique reasons for traveling. Many travel because they need to, some travel by choice and some simply because they cherish it. Karan Rai travels because he wants to explore new places and experience new things. Always an outdoorsy person he loved to be out in the open. He loved the feel of fresh air on his face, to gaze at the open skies and revel in the beauty that came with the sun changing color during different times of the day.
Currently a business student awaiting his final exam results, Karan has, for long, sneaked in days during his college days (when classes were ongoing) to travel. But traveling to him has become more than a change of scenery. It’s a necessity he now can’t seem to do without. “Traveling suits my personality. I’ve always enjoyed being out and meeting new people. Traveling not only allows me to gain new experiences but also develop perspectives,” he says adding that traveling is the single greatest way to learning.
Besides the popular traveling destinations in Nepal (namely Pokhara and Lumbini) Karan has been to Mustang three times now and also trekked the Annapurna Circuit passing the Tilicho lake and Thorong La Pass. He’s been to Gosaikunda, Ghandruk, Ghorepani (Poonhill) and Kalinchowk. His next travel destination is the Shey Phoksundo in Dolpa.
To travel far and to the unknown was an escape he embraced wholeheartedly. In his travels he has met with people from all countries and locals who may seem just like him but have had experiences very different to his. “I see people from my own country but the differences between us is so stark and apparent that every time I learn to see people in a new light,” he explains.
Karan also mentions that for most travelers reaching the destination is the priority and not the journey. “Where’s the fun in that,” he exclaims. According to him, trails in Nepal are some of the most challenging and one often struggles through them. “The roads are gravelly, extremely steep and they are very demanding especially in the circuit treks,” he says elaborating that people neglect to take in the vistas and are too focused on their labored breaths and the toll traveling is taking on them. This, he says, defeats the purpose of traveling and takes away the fun from it.
For Karan, the thrill is in the climb and not the summit. He recounts episodes of travels where he walked until his feet were numb, sipped warm tea in surging winds, and spoke to strangers as though they were long lost friends. He feels that the more he travels the more adaptive, social and consistent he feels.
He particularly notes his last trek to the Annapurna Circuit. On the last day of his stay at Mustang (Jomsom), he had to wake up early to catch a bus to Pokhara but he woke up late. He rushed to the bus stop and found that all buses to Pokhara were packed and that there were no seats available. It was then that he found a group of Newari boys heatedly conversing with one another. The discussion involved working out a plan to board a bus. Karan and his newly made accomplices found themselves a wooden bench and installed it in the aisles of one of the buses. The ride wasn’t generous on their bodies and they found their muscles aching for days but it was thrilling and that made it memorable. “That was one experience that seeing mountains couldn’t give me,” he says.
On the way, he met locals from the Thakali villages who spoke of their culture and festivals to anyone who would listen, helped foreign ladies with translations and permits with particular enthusiasm and shared a few good laughs with his newly made friends. This adapting to the situation and making the best out of it made him realize that, mountains or plains, the real fun is within our own selves, and with people like us. Experiences such as these is what keeps him on the road most of the time. You never know what you are faced with and what you have to put yourself through. And that, he says, is what makes the experience even more real.
Traveling in Nepal, Karan admits, is not an easy task. The roads and transportation are unreliable, accommodations sub par, trails unmarked and so on. There is also a very obvious discrimination between Nepali visitors and foreign visitors. The treatment is biased with locals often favoring foreign tourists and lodge keepers can be downright unwelcoming at times, he says.
“There are many Nepali people keen on touring and traveling, as there should be, but I somehow worry if the preferential treatment will serve as a disincentive,” he laments. However, he maintains that more Nepalis have to travel. “You have no idea what you’re missing out on,” he says adding that the grandeur of our country’s natural beauty makes the unfairness you are subjected to once in a while a little bearable. “For me, it feels like a small price to pay,” he concludes.