Arriving into the chaos of Kathmandu, pills Nepal, there my stress level went from 1 to 10 in about two minutes. Coming out of the airport, I left Jenni to guard the bags among swarming people while I searched for an ATM. I found it, but it as broken. We jumped into a cab promising to pay the driver somehow on the way.
The first thing you notice is that there are no street names…which is a big problem when you have no idea where you are going. We were fortunate to stay with an ex-pat family who are friends of a friend in San Francisco. They had emailed us a hand-drawn map to their home and we began our treasure hunt. I couldn’t print out the map at the airport, so I had to bust out my Macbook Air to show the driver. He couldn’t understand the map, so half a dozen times I got out of the car with him where I again waved my computer to a crowd. I then tried four consecutive ATMs that again failed. When we found one that worked, I took out the maximum amount four times. Knowing that my shiny computer and the cash the driver saw me put in my wallet could feed a family of four for half a decade, I wondered if I could still remember how to tackle from my rugby days in college.
With the heat, polluted air, and non-stop car honking I wasn’t sure how long we could take Kathmandu after those first few hours and still stay sane while traveling abroad. We relaxed immediately after arriving to our hosts peaceful home. Continually meeting Nepalese people who greeted you with Namaste meaning “the spirit in me respects the spirit in you,” the country won us over quite quickly.
VIDEO: Wonder why backpackers love Nepal? Check out our video about the Himalayas, Nepal’s Equality Laws, and the Supergays who make it all happen…
Ever since reading Krakauer’s Into Thin Air in high school, I had an urge to see Everest. So like most tourists to Nepal, we came to trek. Our friends Dave and Laura joined us for a ten-day circuit to the Annapurna base camp, a trek known for dramatic panoramic views of the Himalayas. Seeing our first set of friends from home rejuvenated us after traveling on our own for so long (and also prevented us from killing one another while traveling as a couple).
After climbing 3000 steps going straight up (turns out you have to work really hard for those dramatic views), Jenni seriously asked herself whether she actually enjoyed hiking. But the striking Himalayas (see photos), the company of trekkers from around the world, and the warm hospitality of the local families kept us going. After days of debate, I persuaded Jenni to attempt a 20-day climb to Everest base camp. We extended our visas, bought plane tickets to the jumping-off point for Everest, and spent a week in Kathmandu resting our legs while searching for Supergays.
Nepal blew us away in terms of its progressiveness in gay rights. Our friend Nani Sahra Walker made the soon to be released documentary, Other Nature, about LGBT rights in Nepal (see trailer here) and we couldn’t believe the stories she told us. In a country where arranged marriages, caste systems, and sexism are still the norm, the Supreme Court of Nepal enacted the most progressive laws in all of Asia in 2009, ordering the issue of same-sex marriages, creating a legal third gender for transgender individuals, and protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination.
We met Nepal’s standout activist behind the Supreme Court decision, Supergay Sunil Pant. Now a member of Parliament, Sunil started the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s LGBT and HIV organization. The BDS now has over 1000 employees across the country. Under the bold leadership of Sunil, BDS sued the government in 2007 in a demand to end discrimination against LGBT individuals. Sunil and BDS continue pushing the country’s laws forward beyond society’s status quo. Nepal doesn’t yet have a single gay bar, but Sunil’s latest project is building an LGBT Center in the capital city.
Alongside Sunil is Supertrans Bhumika Shrestha who has the confidence of a runway model and a fierce love for her country. She works for the Blue Diamond Society and is now a representative for one of the leading political parties in Nepal. As a respected human rights activist and public official, Bhumika serves as a role model for the transgender community. With her supportive mother, extended family, and boyfriend behind her, Bhumika fights for society to catch up the the judgements of a progressive court.
Just as we were about to head towards Everest, a storm came in and thousands of tourists attempting to get to Everest Base Camp were left stranded. We changed our plans and set our sights on Langtang, a region next to Tibet. While I was initially crushed by the thought of leaving Nepal without realizing my Everest dreams, I enjoyed the gentle pace of the Langtang trek because of the people. Along the route, we stayed in guesthouses run by hospitable and hard-working Tibetan refugees. Our daily schedule had us hiking from 8am to 3pm, after which it was too cold to do anything but sit around the fire in the guesthouses with our hosts.
In these intimate settings with local families, we had daily cross cultural conversations responding the dreaded question, “Do you have a husband?” After meeting the Supergays of Nepal, we felt compelled to come out to our hosts and told them about the LGBT people we met in their own country. In a country known for tolerance of ethnic and religious differences (and of course helped by the fact that we were paying foreign guests), we never felt unwelcome. I’m not certain how the Nepalese perceive us when we tell them about our relationship, but I do know that in this little way we have an opportunity to positively change their attitudes about homosexuality.
We ended up staying 40 days in Nepal, more than any other country we’ll visit this year. No doubt that I will want to go back someday to catch a view of Everest. We’re content knowing that we’ll return and can’t wait to visit Nepal’s LGBT center next time.