Star Rating: *****
Pages: 308 (E-book Version)
First published by Simi Books in 2014
“The country, largest along its east-west axis, looked like a whale beached
between India and China, themselves two vast oceans teeming with life.
The country was relatively small compared to its neighbouring giants,
but considering the extreme variations in altitude within its boundaries,
I got the sense that I’d have more than my fair share of sightseeing to do.”
(Jaya Nepal! – E-Book page 20)
Sandwiched between India and China, Nepal is a country best known for being the main gateway to the highest mountain in the world. Every year, people ascend the steep slopes in a gratifying hope that they will, at the very least, reach base camp whilst fighting off altitude sickness, fatigue and varying weather conditions. If however, you don’t believe that climbing such giddy heights is for you then there are plenty of other reasons to travel to this beautiful, scenic country.
Jaya Nepal!, may be a fictitious story based on the experiences of a Peace Corps Volunteer but thanks to the author’s due diligence with his research the vivid, colourful descriptions transport you to an entirely different world, right from the comfort of your own arm chair.
Benjamin Creed heads to Nepal after completing his degree in an attempt to find solace and direction after heartbreak. Following in the footsteps of his parents, he believes that working with the local community to improve lives will, in turn, help him to achieve the redemption he so eagerly seeks. Affable and slightly dysfunctional, he soon wins the hearts of all of those that he meets.
Kathmandu is the beating heart of Nepal, and the location for Benji’s first encounter with his Peace Corps colleagues. Unsure of what to expect he heads off, with great excitement, to begin a new chapter of his life.
During his first few weeks, not only does he begin to relax in his new surroundings but he also begins to stumble upon some unlikely characters that will turn out to become life-long friends.
After meeting Bronte, Beth and the rest of the N-199 group at Rum Doodles Restaurant and Bar — which just to confirm really does exist — Benji not only learns more about the turbulent history of the Peace Corps in Nepal he also starts to understand just how diverse the various projects that fellow-volunteers, both past and present, have co-ordinated in order to support the community – working in orphanages, helping to improve the water and sewage systems and supporting the monks of Kopan Monastery to improve their understanding of mathematics. In light of these revelations, Benji begins to contemplate what he can do to further support whilst he is there.
Specialising in Health Care, he is soon enlisted to help out at the community hospital in Pespicola Townplanning, a residential area just outside the city limits. Under the guidance of Dr Singh and with the support of the other health care workers, Benji soon finds a place to call home and begins to enrich the lives of those around him, providing education on nutrition and suitable alternatives to their smoking stoves.
When not supporting the community hospital Benji is determined to see Nepal. On one trip to the Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal’s most sacred Hindu Shrine located on the banks of the Bagmati River, he stumbles upon a rather bizarre sight. A British man, in brightly-coloured speedos, wading through the waters in search of valuables left behind by the burning ghats. Whilst it is an absurd scene Benji cannot help but be entranced by what he sees. Heading down for a closer look he is soon befriended by the Nepalese speaking Englishman known as Nepali Pete. Thanks to Nepali Pete, Benji not only sees the obvious sights around the Temple but also gains an insight into the people and the wider world of Nepal.
Throughout the novel Benji has many great experiences – floating to dizzy heights in a hot air balloon and then crashing into main square of Kathmandu almost causing a riot, white-water rafting with his fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, rubbing shoulders with some unsavoury characters whilst eating the best chocolate cake in the city at the Slice of Life Bakery and taking a solo road trip to India in order to reclaim his friendship with lost love Adriana.
When you start reading this novel you will believe that this is a story that highlights the best that Nepal has to offer, look closer however, and you will discover that this is about an American lad that has lost his way and is in need of some personal soul-searching in order to find the right path.
Whether you want to find out more about Nepal, the Peace Corps Volunteers or are simply after a fantastic, realistic story to read I guarantee that this is a book you will enjoy.
If you still believe that Nepal is only for people who wish to turn themselves into mountain goats in order to climb to the top of a mountain than you really must read this novel – it will open your eyes to a wider, diverse landscape that will have you chomping at the bit to visit.
Disclaimer: I was provided with an advanced copy of Jaya Nepal! to read but would like to highlight that this did not swag my thoughts on the novel.