Mar 12, 2017

The People You Meet: Chaotic Clouds of Colour - Celebrating Holi in KTM

Happy Holi..!

Today I celebrated the Hindu festival of Holi under clouds of technicolored powder along with millions of people in Nepal, India, and around the world. This annual raucous Festival of Colours is a celebration of the vibrancy of spring, fertility, love and the triumph of good over evil. I flew in from Toronto the previous day especially for the festival and the opportunity to celebrate a festival that had long been on my adventure travel bucket list!

With a fresh round of jetlag, I sat down with a steaming pot of coffee and mountain of french toast at The Terrace (my home away from home) to develop a holi (or rather holy!) plan of attack. My objective - to participate in the infamous technicolour Holi celebrations which would imminently unfold between the cars, motorcyles, pedestrians and cows of Kathmandu’s chaotic and dusty streets. I’d mentioned to Raaz, my host at The Terrace, that I’d planned to venture out to “experience” the festival and he chuckled to himself – no doubt anticipating the state of my return and already preparing for the laundry request.

To celebrate Holi, festival revelers of all ages dress in white clothing and come together to celebrate by smearing bright colours on the faces of family and friends and by throwing water-filled balloons and dye-filled squirt guns while greeting each other with wishes of ‘Happy Holi’. I’d heard that in Thamel – the ‘backpacker area’ of Kathmandu – the festival can get quite raucous. The festival dates vary from year to year so if you plan on booking your trip to Nepal (or India!) around Holi festival dates, it’s best to check them in advance.

I set out on my adventure at around 10am, hoping to get a ‘taste’ of the action without having to engage in full fledged battle with hyperactive Nepali children and overzealous Western tourists. Logically, throwing brightly coloured dye and squirting water out of guns at unsuspecting tourists does involve consumption of copious amounts of alcohol so the earlier start was also strategically planned around getting a more “controlled” experience (damage control!).  

I decided to participate in Thamel because it was within walking distance of my guest house in Durbar Marg and an area that I know well (with strategic hiding places which I’d scoped out to duck for cover). There are however areas all around Kathmandu where holi is celebrated. There are private, family gatherings focused on family, food and fun as well as more public festivities which can attract thousands of revelers e.g., Durbar Square.

As I set out into the street, I realized that my fashion faux pas was that I didn’t wear white… (which may also have been my saving grace – future tourists take note!). On hindsight, this turned me from ‘target’ to ‘tourist’ and gave me some initial ‘cover’ and time to fully assess the celebrations from a distance.

And the celebrations didn’t disappoint – it was, in two words, ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT and so much fun. For many reasons I wish that I would have come better prepared. Having experienced Kathmandu in many different ways and guises over the past 17 years, it was wonderful to see the streets so alive with colour and filled with laughter. Men, women and children of all ages gathered in the main thoroughfares of Thamel and smeared canary yellow and blood-red dye on each others faces laughing and screaming ‘Happy Holi’ while water-balloons pelted down from the arms of laughing children sat in the open windows of the buildings above. At one point, a pick-up truck flew through the dusty square, open backed and crammed with people chucking water balloons and pointing dye-filled water pistols at revelers on the street. Rammed strategically into the back of the pickup truck sat a smug looking man caked in blue dye holding a giant (and especially expensive looking) video camera completely covered in plastic. This clearly wasn’t his first rodeo.

Despite some weak attempts to stay as ‘dye free’ as possible I did end up getting suitably and appropriately inked that morning. The giant smiles on the faces of the children who approached me open-handed with red dye were 100% worth the industrial sized box of wet-wipes it took to wash the colour off..! Whilst my experience was very much on the periphery of the festival, I’d certainly recommend it to others thinking of including it in future Nepal / India adventures. Do your research before you go and come prepared… It will certainly be a day that you’ll not soon forget!

Have Fun and Smile..!

Finally, what struck me today in the streets of Kathmandu were the smiles and the fun. With that in mind, on this day of Holi, I'd like to wish you and your families more smiles, less worries; more compassion, less judgment; more blessings, more love and more prosperity today and in the year ahead…!

Mar 9, 2017

A Life In Transit...

"I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions." –Stephen Covey (educator, author, businessman)

A backpacking trip that started 17 years ago now brings me full-circle... Today I find myself in the organised chaos of Kathmandu as all of my worldly belongings (now filling a more than a few backpacks) make their way over the Atlantic ocean and to my new home in Toronto. 

Smells, sounds & sights - Kathmandu, Nepal
I start my journey in Kathmandu – my ‘home away from home,’ enjoying the unparalleled hospitality of the Sherpa family at their cosy bed & breakfast, ‘The Terrace’. The Terrace is an oasis of tranquillity moments away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy-hub of Thamel. With its beautifully decorated rooms, delicious breakfasts and steaming coffee, it’s  an idyllic place to unwind, regroup, and reenergise before and after a trek or to use as a strategic outpost before venturing into the endlessly fascinating (but sometimes infuriating!) back streets of Kathmandu. Plus The Terrace is strategically located above the flagship Sherpa Adventure Gear shop so a great place to stock up on any kit that may have been forgotten...! 

I can’t help but be fascinated by the crazy city. I’m not sure what it is... Perhaps it’s because everyone and everything seems to ‘blend’ into the fabric of the streets, 'bonded' by the pollution and dust; a city where ‘everything goes’ (or doesn’t go at all). Haphazardly hung electrical wires, cracked buildings, bumper-to-bumper traffic, ramshackled rickshaws and pot-holed sidewalks serve as the backdrop for local merchants selling their wares – gurkha knives, Buddha statues, DVDs and rows and rows of outdoor gear and pashmina shops. And between these are the money changers, the booksellers, the trekking agents, rickshaw drivers, and the artists. And of course, the tourists.  The background noise is relentless and overwhelming to the point where the noise becomes indiscernible. Honking horns blend with music echoing from the shops, friendly ‘Namaste’s, and the hypnotic chant of ‘Om mani padme hum’. An urban orchestra.

Chaotic clouds of colour - Holi Festival, Kathmandu
Whilst in Kathmandu, I’ll celebrate the Holi Festival on 12 March. Holi is better known as the ‘festival of colour’  and based on what I've read about the celebrations in Kathmandu, it's a day of raucous celebration where the dusty brown streets of Kathmandu are brought to life through chaotic clouds of colour and singing and dancing. The festival marks the start of spring and the triumph of good over evil.  

The celebration consists of ‘playing’ Holi when revellers paint each other’s faces with brightly coloured red, yellow, purple, blue, orange or pink powder or by throwing colored water at each other from buckets and water balloons. It’s all in good fun – organised anarchy - and almost everyone walking along the street in Kathmandu on the day of the Holi Festival should consider themselves a moving target and run the risk of being a mobile colour chart for days or weeks after. Yikes..!

Portfolios, projects & progress - The Chaudhary Foundation
After the Nepal earthquake in April 2015, I was introduced to the Chaudhary Foundation. The Foundation is the corporate social responsibility arm of the Chaudhary Group, Nepal's largest conglomerate. I’ve greatly enjoyed keeping in touch with the CF team over the past 1.5 years and have been inspired by their commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Nepali people through initiatives in the social (education, health and sports); the economic (social business and enterprise initiatives); and finally the environmental sectors. In October 2015 and in March 2016, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the Foundations successful 'temporary shelter' programme which provided thousands of shelters and hundreds of schools to those communities hardest hit by the earthquake. I look forward to spending a few days with the team learning more about their portfolio of initiatives being rolled out across the country.

Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan
On 20 March I’ll travel to the Kingdom of Bhutan. There are images of places you see in books and magazines that capture your imagination, invoke curiosity and prompt wanderlust of epic proportions. Bhutan has always been one of these places for me since I first saw pictures of it in an old geography text book (pre-internet!). Closed to foreigners until the 1960s this little Kingdom has managed to preserve its rich cultural traditions and protect the diversity of its flora and fauna whilst carefully embracing global developments… I look forward in particular to seeing the mandatory national dress and, of course, the iconic Tigers Nest monastery perched precariously in a cliff face high above the small city of Paro.

Resourcefulness, resilience & respect - The Khumbu
The next chapter of the journey will take me back to Nepal into the Khumbu of the Himalaya. From a personal perspective, the journey is a poignant one as it’s my first time back since visiting the ‘Everest region’ immediately following the 2015 earthquake.  I look forward to revisiting the many families the people met along the way on that emotional 2015 journey – particularly the villages toward Namche and in Thame. 

When I left in 2015, I remember seeing the resilience and resourcefulness of the local people as they started rebuilding their homes mere days after the quake.  I can’t wait to see how this resilience has manifested itself in the new homes, guesthouses, shops and schools which again line the well-trodden trail. 

Change, climbs, & (new) challenges - Lobuche Peak
I’ll continue my trek deeper into the Khumbu retracing steps towards Ama Dablam, Cholatse and Everest – stopping at the base of Lobuche Peak to step into my crampons, big boots and don my helmet to climb the 6100m peak. I must admit, I’m absolutely itching with excitement at climbing in the Himalayas again after a 2-year ‘pause’ to focus on my job and also regain some of the confidence and focus lost when the earth moved in 2015. Regaining confidence and focus has been a journey in itself and I’ve learned more then I ever imagined possible – about resilience, resourcefulness, and respect for our living planet. I’ll be literally ‘soaking up’ the Himalayan panorama with newfound joy and excitement. I’ve earned this!

Everest expeditions & experiences - Everest Base Camp
From Loboche I’ll continue on to Everest Base Camp. Here I’ll meet with a team of colleagues and friends from PwC who have made the long trek to raise both money and awareness for the health charity, Wellbeing of Women.  I’ve worked with the team from Wellbeing of Women for the past 3.5 years, organising charity challenge trips to Kilimanjaro. This will be our first Wellbeing of Women charity challenge trip to Everest Base Camp and I’m thrilled that the timing has worked out to allow me to join the team and celebrate their success..! Thus far we’ve raised over £140,000 / $175,000 to enable the funding of research into the health and wellbeing of women and babies. This includes IVF, premature birth, stillbirth, cervical and ovarian cancer… among many other lifesaving projects.  You can find out more about this amazing charity via,

To New Beginnings... - Toronto
And finally, what will no doubt be the biggest adventure of all – my new home in Toronto…! I can’t wait to join PwC and their Consulting arm in Toronto, picking up where I left off in London.

It’s been a long time since I called Canada ‘home.’ As this new chapter begins I am filled with gratitude for the many people who have been part of the journey thus far... Some of these people have inspired me with their genius and art. Others have shared with me insights about how I can live. Others have devoted their life to helping others. Some have conquered mountains while others have built business empires. Some are great artists while others have entertained with their brilliant musical talents. One thing that they all have in common is that they are passionate, talented, and amazing people who have added colour to my life and have helped to gently shape the moments that make up the journey – both at work and at play.

Without the tremendous support of these people life would not be nearly as fascinating and mountains would be significantly higher.

Onward and upward!