"Nepal was the setting for my first big adventure"
My first trek, twenty years ago, to the Annapurna sanctuary was all it took for me to catch the bug for this little Kingdom tucked between the giants of India and China, defended by the tallest mountains in the world and with its feet in the sub-tropical Bengal jungle.
This country of many faces has it all: thousand-year-old cultures, warm people and as many different landscapes as there are mountains. From Mustang to the Milke Danda ridge, not forgetting the mythical region of Khumbu, I never tire of treading the paths of the colourful and welcoming Himalayas.
Should we return to Nepal after the terrible earthquake?
Many travellers were initially hesitant, but gradually the enthusiasts and the walkers returned.
However, this colossal barrier between the Indian Plain and the lofty Tibet Plateau only came into being as a result of the tremendous forces between the two tectonic plates in constant battle, something the people of Nepal were tragically reminded of in the spring of 2015.
Once the astonishment, fear and mourning for lost loved ones had passed, attention turned to rebuilding and starting afresh. It was an immense task, but the courage of the Nepalese people was equal to the challenge.
A friend, a mountain guide, accompanied by craftspeople from the Compagnons du Devoir organisation, gave me the idea of taking part in the reconstruction effort.
It was a lightbulb moment! I was immediately enamoured with the idea of being able to go back to be of real use. Fast forward to the autumn of 2016 and the foothills of Khumbu, where I lent a hand in projects run by the Italian foundation 'Monviso', which works for local development by improving access to electricity, education and healthcare centres.
People spend one or two weeks on the ground depending on the time they can spare, helping to prepare IT lessons, freshen up the clinic and the new first-aid rooms and even repaint the 'H' on the helipad.
The experience felt almost timeless as we immersed ourselves in the daily rhythms of these mountain villages and their pastoral ways of life, which too often we don't stop to appreciate when we explore this country.
So is now the time to return to Nepal? Without a doubt!
The answer is obvious when you consider the importance of tourism to the local economy, and particularly because, despite all the dramatic images published by the media during the earthquake, Nepal has very quickly recovered everything that makes this little mountainous country so wonderful.
Aside from several historical sites that are still under reconstruction, visitors will be hard pressed to detect the traces left by the earthquake. The warm welcome of the Nepalese people, the riches of their culture and the majestic mountains will once again captivate all who visit.
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