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A volunteers experiences in Kathmandu, Batase and Chitwan

Arriving in Kathmandu was chaotic! Before I left for Nepal I was advised to get off the plane at Kathmandu airport as quickly as I could and head straight for the visa counter as being at the front of the line could save you a 1 or 2 hour wait. As soon as the seatbelt sign was switched off on the aeroplane my only objective was to get to that counter. I’m happy to say I was successfully the first person in line.

Amy and I collected our huge back packs and pushed our way out to the car park. I was beyond relieved to meet the boys that were holding the ‘Take On Nepal’ sign. It meant that I had finally arrived in the country I would be spending the next 6 months in. Greeting us with huge smiles and promising english were 2 of our guides, Anil and Sandip. I’d like to think they were just as excited to meet us as we were to meet them, but that I will never know. We headed to our car and a crowd of men swarmed us and offered to take our bags and put them in the car. We were so exhausted from our flights and bombarded with offers that we allowed them to take our packs and put them into the boot of the vehicle. This was our first mistake and big lesson.

Lesson #1: ALWAYS CARRY YOUR OWN BAGS.

After they had packed the car they waved their hands in our faces for money. I assumed that they were from the company and I had to pay them. I handed them $20. It wasn’t until 20 more hands violently reached out into our car window that I realised I had made a mistake. They weren’t from the company and I shouldn’t have given them anything. Amy and I laughed about it and made a mental note not to let anyone ‘help’ us unless we were prepared to pay them or they’re from the Take On Nepal family.

The car ride to the hotel was very interesting for me. I had never travelled to a third world country before and the poverty I was seeing shocked me. I knew the conditions I would be faced with but it was none the less confronting to witness first hand. The lack of road rules, the intensity of the horn honking and the littered roads and footpaths. Regardless of how polluted and fast paced this city was I was very eager to get in and amongst the small shops, filthy alley ways and smiling people. My adventure had started.

After our guides checked us into Pilgrims Hotel in Thamel Amy and I asked them to help us find sleeping bags, down jackets, a grocery store and a SIM card for my phone. Not only did they do this but they gave us an hour long tour of the best Nepali restaurants, western cafés, bars, and tourist hang out places to ensure that our time in Kathmandu was gratifying. We spent an hour in the sleeping back shop chatting to the staff and exchanging smiles whilst we sipped our honey tea. Anil and Sandip walked us back to our hotel before Amy and I ate dinner at one of the local Nepali restaurants that they suggested we try traditional food at. We ordered Veggie momo, veggie curry and veggie pakauda. We were in heaven. All 3 dishes were delicious. We walked back to Pilgrims and enjoyed a drink on the veranda before going to bed.

The next morning we headed up to the roof to watch the sunrise over Kathmandu. Although there was a lot of fog and the air was relatively polluted it was still a beautiful sight. We devoured our first breakfast buffet at our hotel and fuelled our bodies for a big day of exploring. We walked the streets of Thamel for hours. We bought more momo and pakauda from a tiny cafe in the back streets of Thamel and ate them on the side of the road. We were intrigued by the school children, elders, monks and street dogs that walked past us that morning. We continued to walk the streets and snap photos of everything and everyone.

We came across one young women who founded an organisation that manufactures reusable sanitary pads for females in rural areas of Nepal. She shared her story with us and suggested that we come to her workshop and teach the women English. Sadly, we didn’t get to visit the workshop but I have hope that when Amy returns in February we will be able to spend some time there. After that we learnt our second lesson.

Lesson #2 DON’T BELIEVE MEN WHO TELL YOU THEY’LL TAKE YOU ON A FREE TOUR OF THE AREA AND SHOW YOU A FESTIVAL.

Amy came across a young man who seemed very keen to take us on a tour around the area near his home, to show us some of the smaller temples in Thamel and to take us to a festival nearby. I asked Amy if she thought we would need to pay him but she’s didn’t think we would so the gullible duo followed this man around for an hour. He took us to some tiny temples, showed us some confronting damage to buildings from the earthquake in 2015 and then spoke to us about his art school. Little did we know that the entire time he was leading us towards a shop where he sells very beautiful but very expensive mandalas. We looked at the detailed artworks for 45 minutes before we managed to convince them that we had no money to buy any. The man followed us out and told us he would continue to show us around but by this point I knew all he wanted was money. We decided to find our own way home and gave him a small tip. He wasn’t happy that we didn’t buy any of his art and only gave him a small amount of money.

It had been a long day. I flagged down a rickshaw and we got the slowest, bumpiest and most frightening ride home. The driver got us lost but that was okay. It was a reminder about the challenges we would be facing due to the language barrier. Another adventure for us! Our first full day in Kathmandu was awesome and I couldn’t be happier with my travel buddy, Amy.

Our sight seeing day with the volunteer group and all of our guides was great. We met in the lobby at Pilgrims Hotel before we began our walk to the Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple. The Swayambhunath is located on the top of a huge hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. The huge troop of monkeys and smell of incense and butter lamps invites you up the 365 steep stairs to get to the temple complex. The stairs were exhausting and I learnt my third lesson of the trip.

Lesson #3 – ALWAYS HAVE A WATER BOTTLE ON YOU.

The air is dusty in Kathmandu and I coughed a lot. It gets very hot very quickly and it isn’t safe to drink water out of the taps. We walked around spinning the prayer wheels and browsing at the small trinket stalls held by the locals before taking photos of the small temples and shrines that surrounded the massive white stupa. We walked down to the world peace pond and had a turn at throwing a coin into the pond for good luck. My aim was off and I was unlucky this time.

On our way to lunch we found Som! He took photos and videos of the group before we ate at a tiny Nepali café and it was delicious. After lunch we split up and some people went shopping whilst others had a nap in the hotel to overcome the jet lag. In the evening we shared a traditional Nepali dinner with our guides, porters and all of the young girls and boys from the village that were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be competing in a trail running event the next day. I was told about the opportunities the village children and teens are exposed to because of the continual effort and funding from the Friends of Himalayan Children Inc – a non for profit organisation assisting in supporting children and young women in rural villages in Nepal. Communicating with the children was a challenging yet exciting experience. Some of them were very shy but others were outgoing and willing to share their stories and their excitement to be running in the race the next day. I experienced my first ever round table with the entire group and listened to Som talk about what the program aims to do. This night gave me some insight into what I would be experiencing during the next 20 days – and to say I was excited is an understatement.

For the first time since I had arrived in Nepal I was nervous. It was time to hike to Batase. I was super excited but anxious about my foot. 10 weeks before I left for Nepal I fractured my heel bone. The hike to Batase was going to be the only strenuous walk I had done since my injury. We woke up early and ate a huge buffet breakfast at Pilgrims before meeting as a group with the guides, porters and volunteers. The energy in the lobby was crazy! I was eager to experience a hike with the majority of the porters and training guides being females. Everyone was so positive and happy to be together to start our trek.

The mini bus arrived and one by one we filled the seats up, squeezing in the last few people. With our packs strapped to the roof and our water bottles full, off we went on an hours drive to the starting point of our trek -Sundarijal, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Once we arrived I double-tied my shoe laces and used a squat toilet for the first time! What an exciting experience that was for everyone, haha! The officers took our passports and wrote us a ticket so that we could enter the national park legally.

We had a cup of tea and the porters ate some noodles soup. Soon after we began our walk I engaged in a conversation with one of the women porters – Rita. Rita is an incredibly bright student and an unbelievably resilient young lady. I discovered that durning her past she had faced overwhelming hardships and would still be doing so if it wasn’t for the continual support of the Friends of Himalayan Children Inc. Rita now studies in Kathmandu with other FHC sponsored students in the hope to fulfil her dream of becoming a banker. It was through this discussion that I learnt about the sponsorship program FHC has up and running. It is only $1 a day to sponsor a child living at the FHC hostel in Batase Village and attending the local school. It’s a tiny price to pay for all the hard work that happens in Som’s Village to keep the once neglected children safe from harm and other dangerous issues.

The walk to Batase was the perfect way to bond with our team of volunteers, porters, training guides and Take On Nepal staff. Sharing stories about ourselves and listening to others experiences was a great distraction from the stairs we were waking up. The scenery was beautiful. It was lovely to see us work as a group when one of our team members was struggling. Someone carried her day pack, another person made sure she was drinking enough water, another reassured her she would be fine and everybody walked at her pace. We had several breaks on the way to Chisopani to munch on some snacks and hydrate ourselves. We walked through the jungle, past a monestry and made lots of memories on the way.

I continued to speak to some of our porters about their stories and was shocked with what I learnt. It prepared me for the stories I would hear about in Batase – so I thought. Finally after 6 hours we reached Chisopani. At 2300m, the view of the Himalayas was breathtaking! The beauty of the mountains was juxtaposed incredibly by the remains of buildings that were left from the earthquake. Piles of rubble, wires and rubbish were stacked up on the side of the footpath. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. These buildings were leaning on unbelievable angles. It was insane. I couldn’t wait to take my shoes and socks off and asses the severity of my blisters. To my surprise they were okay!

We were served some noodle soup and everyone was really appreciative of the hospitality after such a long day. Most of us had a nap until dinner time. I showed the women porters Snapchat for the first time and they were entertained until we went to bed. The accommodation at the tea house was nice and homey. Everyone went to bed early to recover from the first day of trekking and to prepare for the second. The next morning we woke up early for the sunrise over the Himalayas. I wore 5 layers of clothing and was still freezing but as the sun twinkled over the ice-capped peaks I decided the cold was worth it. We enjoyed tea together before breakfast. I didn’t feel too well so I decided not to eat a big breakfast. I later learnt lesson number four of my trip.

Lesson #4 – EAT A DECENT BREAKFAST BEFORE HIKING.

I regretted my decision not to eat a sustainable breakfast as soon as we started walking to Batase. I felt light headed and weak the entire walk. On top of the lethargy and exhaustion my foot began to hurt. As much as I wanted to sit down and rest forever, I kept going. My fellow volunteers were great and gave me mandarins and granola bars and the group didn’t walk too fast. We passed 2 schools on our way to Batase and the children were so friendly and cute it excited me even more to arrive in the village. When we did finally make it to Batase I miraculously gained all of my energy back. The adrenaline must’ve kicked in because I was ready to explore the village. We were greeted by Som’s older sister, the other hostel cooks and his Mum and Dad. Their English was poor but their smiles were rich and I was humbled by the welcoming we received.

Chitwan was the perfect way to finish off my first group experience in Nepal. I was surrounded by beautiful people, stunning scenery and a range of incredible wildlife. Once again our guides went above and beyond to ensure that our time here was wonderful. The passion that they showed encouraged me to appreciate the different types of flora and fauna we were lucky enough to see during our exploration. The bus trip from Kathmandu to Chitwan was long and bumpy but totally worth every pothole and toilet break. I babysat an 8 week old puppy the entire journey and he kept me somewhat distracted for the duration of our bus trip so it went a lot quicker than I expected.

The staff at the Jungle Safari Lodge were very attentive and friendly and warmly welcomed us to their hotel. I couldn’t believe that they provided toilet paper and bottled water, to me this was such a luxury. We spent our first afternoon enjoying a delicious meal at the lodge followed by a jungle walk through Chitwan National Park. We attended a cultural show in the evening and were thoroughly entertained by the peacock dance. The next morning we went canoeing in a river full of huge crocodiles. This was the overall highlight of my time in Chitwan. On our way back to the Jungle Safari Lodge we went for another jungle walk and visited the elephant breeding farm. The baby elephants were adorable!

After another tasty meal we headed off on our jeep safari. We were lucky enough to see rhinos, deers, monkeys, elephants and hundreds of species of birds. We went to the crocodile breeding farm and walked around for a while to stretch our legs before hopping back into the jeep. On our last evening in Chitwan we had a bonfire and a couple of beverages before heading to bed. The next morning we shared our last meal together as a group before some of us headed to Pokhara and the others returned to Kathmandu. We took some time to reflect on the incredible journey we had been on together and thanked one another for the support, love and encouragement we had shown one another for the past 18 days.

Although our guides specialise in Everest treks and tours it was a real privilege to have guides who knew so much about Chitwan as well. Their professionalism and passion continued on throughout our entire trip, enhancing the overall experience we shared. The information about where we were, the plants and animals we saw and the people’s stories we heard along the way was clear and concise whilst engaging and practical. This was an awesome experience that I will never forget.

 

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