Monday, March 7, 2011

Hotel at the End of the Universe

Maybe in reading the title of this blog post, you thought it was a pathetic attempt at a witty quip about our accommodations in the Himalayas…

Or maybe your mind immediately fastened onto Douglas Adams’ book Restaurant at the End of the Universe in which the main characters go to “meet the meat” before dining…

Or maybe (like me) you recalled the Family Guy episode when Peter tumbles into the great beyond…
Lois: …I just bought use some new sheets at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Peter: Oh boy, I hope you stayed away from that "beyond" section.
(Cuts to scene where Peter is pushing a shopping cart into a door labeled BEYOND.)
Peter: (Swirling through vortex) Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh-- Oh, here are the coffee mugs... 

But I request that you stop those thoughts before they continue much further, for Steve and I did in fact spend a night at the Hotel at the End of the Universe.  I kid you not.

And, to boot, the view looked something like this…

What a magical place we stumbled upon, thanks to our trusty Lonely Planet guide’s recommendation.  For one evening we opted to leave the hustle and bustle of the lower Kathmandu valley to drive 2 hours up into the hills for the view and some relaxation.  The further we ascended, the more Steve gawked at the similarity between these hills and the Sierra Nevadas – an area of the world Steve is intimately familiar with having grown up hiking around the Lake Tahoe and Yosemite areas of California.  We trekked 3 hours up a paved road, past large weekend gatherings (which we later found out are a regular thing on government holidays), to a look-out tower that provided us with a 360° view of the valley and the Himalayas in the distance. The photos below detail parts of our hike and token tourist shots atop the tower.  

Back at our celestial hotel (who can resist such descriptions?  Apparently the locals can’t, as en route to our hotel we passed “Galaxy Hotel” and “Hotel Space Mountain” – too much of a good thing is….oh, never mind), we removed our tourist caps and recouped after days in the fast pace of Kathmandu and its surrounding towns.  The lack of ongoing electricity encouraged us to read and play cards by candlelight, enjoy some Nepalese beer and veggie pakoras, and eavesdrop on the young 20-something crowd that had gathered at the hotel for a reunion.  For hours, we just rested – recalling the many activities and sights we’d seen over the past week – but even moreso, reflecting on our experiences of the past 2 months. 

For 1.5 months now, we’ve been traveling around developing counties (Australia excluded of course, hence it only being 1.5 months despite our 2+ months on the road).  It has been wonderful to have the time to reflect at the “end of the universe” and now, at the Buddhist monastery in the town of Boudha, Nepal, where we’re living for 4 nights before departing this amazing country.  Supplementing our ongoing dialogues about what we’ve seen, experienced, will leave with, and are still amazed by, having 5 days before the big switch back into the western world has proven quite interesting.  In Thailand, we struggled with the idea of pushing ourselves out the door into the unknown,  encountering the intricacies of a southeast Asian country for the first time, and were amazed by our ability to adjust to the pace of life; in Bali, we addressed the idea of being tourists, consumers, and brief members of a society in which we found no amount of time on a “world trip” could suffice getting to know the place unless we moved there permanently for a tme (we have kicked ourselves a few times for not taking advantage of being freelancers for years and moving to a place like Ubud for a year+ while working from home….don’t worry, AU folks – we’re coming home); in India, the most challenging country of all, we struggled with and ultimately came to terms with being constantly observed by others, and as our friend Gloria put it so eloquently, “you can’t get away from the fact that you are Westerners,” not to mention being intimately involved with the “slum” life of India at Vidyanikethan, by far, one of the highlights of our entire trip; now, here, in Nepal, we’ve encountered some of that same “otherness” we found in other places, but we’ve approached it with a different set of eyes, and, in a way, an acceptance that we didn’t have prior to our trip.  

We’ve had the time to reflect on how we’ve grown accustomed to seeing impoverished children in dirty street clothes ask any passer-by for a rupee, and how, each time feels like a kick to the stomach – yet, still, we’ve gotten used to seeing that scene play out before us quite often.  We’re unphased by the number of animals (cows, goats, chickens, monkeys, dogs, hogs, etc.) that block the crazy city traffic of each country we’ve visited (and have often joked about how boring driving in Vancouver will be compared to, say, Mumbai).  We’re quite used to the lack of sanitation in developing countries that results in rivers filled with garbage, lack of public toilets, and thus, the use of sidewalks for bathroom purposes, and constant need to purchase clean water for 1.5 months for fear of contamination.  We’ve even, strangely, reaped the benefits of losing some added pounds while traveling due to non-Western food that doesn’t settle well with our uber-Western stomachs (don’t worry, we’re healthy and take all the necessary precautions to remain so, but why not look on the positive side and enjoy looking so shvelt?).

All of the above realities of travel in the developing world are important to acknowledge and to give oneself permission to learn from.  And I can’t stress enough how much we’ve enjoyed these exposures to life on the other side and how much we’ll take away from them.  Steve and I are both fortunate to be in fields that (big quote unquote) “help others.”  In fact, we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, since we feel it is our duty as members of a healthy and safe society to do as much as one can, in whatever way you can, to contribute to that society.  When we return to Vancouver, I’m happily diving back into my job at an arts education non-profit that not only provides after-school and weekend programs in the arts, but works extensively in outreach programs to bring arts education to children who would otherwise not receive it.  Steve, I am so proud to say (and will take this moment to gush about), will be starting law school in the fall, with the hopes of focusing on systemic and policy changes within BC and, perhaps, Canada.  All of this, I must stress, is not to toot our horns, but to share with our readers how traveling of this kind can open your eyes, and reinforce everything you believe in – if not change your views for the better.  But, one doesn’t have to travel to the other side of the world to be challenged to make change, it can happen locally…

Enough soliloquizing for now.  Funny how a night at the end of the universe and then a stay within the grounds of a monastery can make you break out the soap box.  I can conclude by saying, we’ve had an inspiring couple of months, and like every step of this trip, we’re so excited about the next one (that will be all the more enriched because we’ll be bringing every previous experience with us along the way).

This afternoon, Steve and I plan to visit the local Buddhist stupa to do laps for an hour under the prayer flags, while reflecting even more about our trip and anticipating the next move.  We’ve been doing a lot of walking these days – around cities, around stupas, and up in the clouds with a little guide (see photo below) – walking provides a great chance to see lots of things, but also to embark on a moving meditation perfect for reflection (or for planning where you’re going to have your next Nepalese meal).  I think walking to the end of the universe proved to be a great activity for us, even if it does warrant a few eye rolls at the mention of it.

 Next stop, the land of milk and hummus – Israel (unless you hear from Steve first)!


  1. What a lovely inspiring Post! Good luck with everything.

    PS: Nepal is such a gorgeous country! Would love to visit one day.


  2. The blog is quite interesting, illustrating a nice and unforgettable experience in Thailand. The author along with her friend had stayed in that hotel, which is named Hotel at the end of the Universe. One of friends browsed Asian Elephant Safari (, which is exciting and ultimate wilderness safari in Thailand, which will take you through the Thai forest along the Karen Hill Tribe people and is carried on the back of elephants.