I was in Nepal for 6 weeks, 4 of those volunteering, another 2 weeks trekking in the Tibetan regions of north Nepal's Himalayan area called Annapurna Conservation Area.
I began like this:
While planning an escape from my expensive 4 months in Europe I decided to come to Nepal and volunteer before going back to India for yoga school. I found INFO Nepal (www.infonepal.org) by looking on the internet and chose them because I liked the colors of their webpage (really!), well…also they had a quick same-day reply back to me and good communication!
I arrived in Kathmandu July 13th, 2007 and was happily greeted at the airport by INFO Nepal staff and over the next 5 days taken sightseeing, out for dinner, and received five days of very helpful Nepali language lessons as well. While in Kathmandu I was also greeted by Nepal's ferocious rainy daily gauranteed monsoon weather. It was something i unfortunately overlooked before coming here, but oh well at least i've avoided the hordes of tourists that show up in September-December! Some of the sights our group visited are the legendary so-called Monkey Temple (due to all the monkeys hanging out), real name Swayambhunath which is a holy Buddhist stupa where big Buddha himself is said to have spent time at (this is his neighborhood ya know...from birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal to Bodhgaya, India to Kathmandu he roamed). Back then the enlightened masters could only walk to reach new people & areas to spread their message. Nowadays, we have living saints such as Dalai Lama & Amma traveling the corners of the world sharing their wisdom & transformational energy, but perhaps as they say, most real gurus choose to stay out of the public and live unknown secluded lifes as hermits with a few students. This Swayambhunath temple on top of a big hill is also a holy Hindu site and is interesting for the convergence of both religions. Legend says that this whole Kathmandu Valley was a big flooded water basin , with this holy mountain just having one lotus on top and covered by water until some god (i forget which one?) made the area dry out & declared this the holiest spot. Another holy holy site we went to is Pratishapath, which is like a mini-Varanasi version of burning bodies in ghats on another dirty river. Unfornately foreigners could not go inside the temples at both of these places so we were limited to walking around and seeing everything from limited views. Another sightseeing must see our volunteer group visited was Durbar Square, the old Kathmandu center of temples & royal buildings built in various centuries, many big paghoda style-red, brown, & black with intricate wood carvings. Finally we went to Boudhanath stupa, a mecca for Buddhist, especially Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan refugees. Huge stupa (white circular temple which symbolizes the 5 elements and is said to be very helpful for prayer as it contains inside the relics of their highest lamas & 1000's of prayers, a kind of time capsule for praying). The stupa is surrounded by the new religion of materialism-lots of Tibetan shops circling the area selling Tibetan crafts, bells, clothes, and the likes. I bought an umbrella, cause it was dumping down heaps of rain that could make you go insane!
Kathmandoo-doo, as I have renamed it, is one very interesting ancient city. It is a cross-cultural crossroads of many ethnicities such as Tibetans, Tamang, Gorkhas (famous for their joining British army and being fierce warriors), Newari & dozens of others all mingling in this true melting pot where Tibet, China & India converge & form Nepal. Walking around the streets you cannot help but get a feeling that this place is an absolute madhouse! Swarms of local taxi hounds approach you offering their cars, bicycle rickshaws & others offering you "hash, mr....you smoke, want buy tiger balm?" At first it's not so bad, but after India (which is worse for this constant pestering & desperation) and after many weeks ...it gets very old & becomes difficult not to react in rudeness to their intrusions of space. But one must realize, it is coming from a desperate economy & not their faults they have been raised into this rudeness. Another thing i discovered is that congested traffic makes congested lungs! Respiratory tract infection (which 25% of travelers get) is common due to the clouds of black smoke coming from nearly every car, bus, truck & motorcycle. You need a mask here, maybe even a gas mask! The noise pollution is very bad too-honk, honk, honking becomes the normal sound of daily grinds as you wind around the many roads of Nepal & India. Its because the population is so high here, density of metropolis life causes the urge to honk somebody off the road. We westerners think its rude & uncalled for, but it is actually necessary to keep people out of the way when taxiing through narrow streets-don't wanna run over any feets! While walking around here you can see signs such as "Yeti Airlines", and "Yeti Health &
Massage" (see photos) proving that the legend of the Yeti lives on (the
yeti is a type of sasquatch ape man spotted many times in the mountains
of these lands). You see, this is a very mysterious place full of
ancient secrets, myths, legends & lore. Some make-believe, some
true & others left unknown to the mystery of this universe. It is common to come across little shops with tables of fresh animal kills for sale, such as big pig & goat heads, huge blobs of bloody unidentified meats, and other flesh for sale. very strange to see on the road with all the dust & garbage piles nearby! would anybody really want to eat this? you are what ya eat! anyhow, those garbage piles were everywhere in Kathmandoo-doo! And piles of doo-doo too, hence the new city name. I read in the papers that there is another protest, this time against picking up the garbage heaps, i believe being led by the agitating Maoist party (communist dedicated to turning Nepal into the ideals of Mao, Lenin & some new ideas). This has caused some eye diseases & other sicknesses to spread around the city!
I saw a few people that had the puffed up red eyes and one told me his doctor said this was caused by the garbage problem. They have no trash bins on the streets here, just the ole pile method...which isn't working! I hope things change here soon as these people deserve a government that funds good city infrastructure, which would include not only garbage bins & trucks, but fixing all these potholed roads, & banning the mixture of kerosene into gas that is causing the black smoke from vehicles! So, you take 2 million + people and add all these factors and you get the dark side of Kathmandoo-doo. On the bright side, it is an exciting place with many good restaurants serving international food for pennies, live local bands playing tunes 7 days a week, & a people that are genuinely good-natured and glad to have you here.
After 5 days of this sightseeing, eating, and many language lessons we went to a village and each stayed in a seperate house with host-family. Going to Dhulikel for 2 days immersed me into village life and was a great experience in itself. My placement in Naudanda was an amazing experience as well. I taught English to 3-4 classes each day (breaks in between) at Sirjana Secondary School, located about 1 hour northwest from Pokhara near the trailheads famous for trekking.
I stayed for 2 weeks with the principal of the school, Tikaram, and his big
family of 4 daugters (ages 7, 9, 13, 15) and one son Pratik (1.5 yrs old….finally had a son on the last try!!!). And what a sweet boy with a radiant smile and great little laugh he has. I was instantly his big-brother ("dai" in Nepali) and made part of the family! Tikaram is probably middle-class for Nepal as he owns his own 3 storey home with a store on the bottom, rooms for his family (and my own room) on 2nd floor, and the top floor is rented out to a family. They have a tv with satellite so many English channels such as HBO, Cinemax, CNN, etc for relaxing after a day at the school. I was here during the heavy rainy monsoon season of July and August so literally there was not much else to do then (unless you like hiking in mud with leeches on the steep slippery hills nearby). Bring lots of books!
Everyday I would usually get up around 7am and read, yoga, meditate until 8am or so, then the tv room was available. At 9am I would eat breakfast with Tikaram, and as a traditional Nepali family that means dhal bhat only, everyday, morning and evening. (I really love my western breakfast so I brought bags of mueslix and ate that with milk or curd, and dhal bhat for lunch and dinner…so still eating it twice a day!).
After breakfast we drove his motorcycle (almost everyday raining) 30 minutes up some mountain roads and one backroad to the remotely located little school. I found the teachers to be all very likeable, friendly, and socialable people! The kids were extremely excited to have me there and every class I entered was with a standing greeting they are taught to say to respect the teachers. They were pretty well behaved, most of the time! The class sizes ranged from 8 to 58 kids per class (the biggest being when a few teachers were sick and I took over a combined class…bring a megaphone for that loud chaos!). I generally used the books that they use for my teaching method, but always made time for some new games or other methods that would be kind of spontaneous.
They love games…that's for sure! I brought stickers to give out to the winning teams, which they really loved. I also helped begin to organize methods for learning typing using their low-fi computers and typing educational software. I encouraged them that this was a very useful important tool for living in these current times. I showed off my fast skills and the fact that you don’t have to look at your hands and "hunt and peck" each letter, and thereby encouraged them that they too can type this fast in 6 to 9 months of serious practice. Before this computer class (which an older German man is doing 3 days a week) it was just chaos and 'messing around' each day. I felt this was as important as learning good English, to type is to communicate faster, save time, and perhaps secure a job with a little more income. Also not just learning English typing , but Nepali. Of course, only 3 of their 9 computers had these typing software, but soon they will have on all. My gift to the school (which by the way you will be expected and a little pressured by Tikaram and staff to give) was a few educational cd-roms. My last day their I found out that the government just approved to have the school rebuilt beginning December 2007, so that is very very good news as many rooms were leaking rain, very dirty and this will be a major improvement!
And remember what Ghandi said…"Be the change in the world you want to see" (was that Ghandi? Did I get that quote right? Anyway…)
13 days trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area, half of the legendary trek called the 'Annapurna Circuit". I chose to fly from Pokhara in a small plane for 25 minutes to Jomsom village in the desert Tibetan plateau regions of north north Nepal (about 25 km from Tibet border). This region, and many other north areas of India & Nepal are full of Tibetan culture, some refugees, but many have inhabited these lands for centuries if not day one. With my hired guide, 20 year old Naresh, we walked through the ancient village & into dry canyons along the Kali Gadhaki river a few hours to Kagbeni, where we got room & called it a day. Next morning we hiked 4 hard hours or so up the desert hills (no trees here!) to the holy hindu & buddhist temple & village of Muktinath. Here little purple flames come out of the earth & water & are seen as an act of Shiva, & worshipped as such. We walked here, then past the "Bob Marley Lodge" back to our guesthouse for a 2nd night stay. We continued on for 3 days of this desert heat & sun, with a view teasing views of the big snowy peaks beyond, followed by 6 days of grey & rainy jungle mountain trekking with no views of the major HImalayan ranges that hid beneath the clouds! Until...Ghorepani & Gundruk village our 11th, 12th & 13th day...we were finally blessed with the vision of these 20,000+ feet monster mountains! Meeting other trekkers along the way and sharing traveling stories, playing cards, & reading lots of books made this trip a relaxing and interesting adventure.
On the 6 hour drive back on the "tourist" bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu we winded and grinded through many mountains, over many rivers (both using bridges and for the smaller ones just going for it!), and finally got back to stinky Kathmandoo-doo. Here I saw a lady on the outskirts of town along the highway (many of these shacks, homes, little shops just live the noisest life along these roads...not ideal). She was sitting down and had her baby getting milk from her breast in one hand, and puffing on a cigarette with the other. I couldnt believe what I was seeing. That was a first! wish i got a picture..
Outside the Indian Embassy, as I anticipated my return to Mother India (a place I both love & despise), I overheard a young western traveler explaining "the army makes you crazy. The catch-22 is you can get out of it by becoming or pretending to be crazy." Many Israeli travelers know this as they are all required to do service in their army & many travel to escape or recupperate. I talked with one beautiful brunette young Israeli lady for awhile while waiting in line. She lives in a kibbutz. I have just finished reading "Exodus" by Leon Uris and am really fascinated with the history of Jewish people & the forming of Israel as they reclaimed their original lands. Very very interesting & I hope to visit their someday. She told me that Israeli's now only get 2 months after their first 6 months for Indian visas as so many have set up homes in India & overstay their time. Most citizens can go 6 months, leave to Nepal, and return 6 months. US citizens can stay 10 years if they apply for special visa. I only want to return for 3 months maximum. The plan...10 hours south first to Lumbini, Nepal to see Buddha's birthplace, then 10 more hours south to Varanasi. The oldest living city and holiest of holy places in Hindu culture. The center of the universe where Shiva was born according to ancient Hindu texts. 1,700 years or more before Jesus walked the earth people mingled here. It has been destroyed by the Mughal invasion ,but the spirit is unconquerable. They say if you die here, you will not be reborn and instead go to HIndu heaven. THat is why they cremate the dead on their holiest of holy rivers, the Ganges, which is also the dirtiest of dirtiest!
After a day or two only in big, dirty, holy Varanasi i aim to get back to Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, where i began this long journey last October. I want to spend 2 weeks there seeing Dalai Lama again, visiting Indian & Tibetan friends, practicing more massage (and receiving by being model!), and find a tibetan child to sponsor ($30 month means a life to them! i finally decided to go for it, as i know the Tibetans Children Village is honest & uses 100% $ wisely). Around Sept 20th i will return to Rishikesh for 2 months of intensive yoga at the awesome Trika yoga school (where i studied last November). My grand plan for returning to North America is to fly to Miami and meet my dad and drive across country for our 10th time together (the 1st time when i was 6 months old and these trips are what got me addicted to traveling!). For his 60th birthday present we may go to the Carribean or Hawaii for a few weeks before I return to the lovely but rainy pacific northwest & home in beautiful British Columbia. But...that's then, and this is NOW! One day at a time....
I truly hope that all of YOU, my friends & family, are enjoying your lives, finding meaning, living fully, experiencing good relationships, challenging yourselves to grow & doing what makes you blossom. I look forward to seeing you again upon return to the New World! I am truly excited, after 13 months & 3 more of being a nomad, to settle down again and have a room to call my own, a music studio instead of just my laptop, my old social work jobs and perhaps new one, and music events-community-etc..
But for now...off on another adventure!