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Namaste, (The Divine In Me Bows To The Divine In You). This was the word that regardless of the inter-continental language barrier, got us through our 28-day expedition in Nepal. Our school presented us with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity 18 months before our proposed departure date and myself along with nine others snatched up the chance to go to this beautiful country. We fund-raised the required amount to pay for our expenses (flights, kit, vaccinations, food, accommodation, trekking permits etc) and after a highly-anticipated wait, on the 10th July we set off for Nepal.
After almost 24 hours of travelling (there are no direct flights to Nepal from the UK so we had to connect through India) we landed at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Our descent into Nepal showed us the types of landscapes we would expect to see but compared to other countries, flying into and out of Nepal was a surreal experience, the unforgiving mountain ranges that are spread throughout Nepal undoubtedly make it difficult for any pilot to navigate and land there but nonetheless, ten students and three teachers had safely landed and were ready for whatever this country had to throw at us.
The start of our expedition was based in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. The endless amounts of sights, sounds, smells and colors will never fail to amaze you in the fast-paced nature of this cultural treasure-trove. If you suffer from any type of respiratory condition or even have a dust allergy, I highly recommend buying a dusk mask which can be sourced locally in the city. The majority of vehicles in Nepal are old and have outdated engines that spew out black exhaust fumes so dusk masks are essential. If the locals can be seen wearing them it is clear that pollution must be a problem!
Lying in the Kathmandu Valley, the city gives amazing views of the surrounding foothills but it wasn't until we embarked on our 12-day Annapurna Base Camp trek that we got our first views of some of the worlds tallest mountains and the main reasons why so many people visit Nepal.
Before our 12-day trek we completed a practice trek in Nagarkot at the rim of Kathmandu Valley to highlight any problems with kit and to get used to the increase in walking that we would be doing on the trek to ABC. Although Nagarkot is only at an elevation of 2,175m the landscape from the viewpoint was breathtaking.
Views and the Monastery at Nagarkot
The trek gave us a panoramic view of the Kathmandu Valley and we were also lucky to see this without any fog or rain as monsoon season in Nepal normally starts in June and peaks in mid July to mid August, the exact time we were there!
On our way back down from Nagarkot we stopped at Dhagpo Sheydrub Ling Monastery where we were able to talk to young monks and learn about Buddhism, one of the two main religions in Nepal along with Hinduism. The cultural and ethnic diversity is something that makes Nepal such an interesting country to visit and despite its relatively small size, the nation is rich in different religious and cultural beliefs as well as many distinct ethnic groups.
Trekking in Nepal was and will be one of the best experiences I have ever had. The combination of breathtaking views, nature and the lack of western influence forces you to appreciate the natural beauty of the country you are in and if this was not already something you had, you quickly develop an appreciation for your surroundings the more you trek. The trekking route was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. Instead of hearing the constant drone of motorcycle horns in the capital, you are met with the sounds of fast-flowing water, insects and branches rustling against each other.
On the trek, you have the option to either camp or stay in teahouses (guesthouses with basic bedrooms, a communal eating area, shower and toilet ((sometimes squat toilet!)) facilities). As the price to stay in teahouses was so affordable, we opted for this and got to experience staying a different teahouse on each night of our trek. Each place would have their own USP but the one similarity each place had was the quality of food. Dal Bhat is the staple meal in Nepal which consists of a lentil soup, rice and sometimes curried vegetables and out of the 12 nights spent at teahouses, Dal Bhat was my dinner of choice for eight or nine of these nights!
ABC Trekking Route
On day eight we finally reached Annapurna Base Camp which saw us at an altitude of 4,130m. The views here were humbling and seeing the memorials of those who lost their lives trying to scale Annapurna (8,091m) emphasised the feat of mountain climbing. At this altitude some of us began to feel the effects that altitude has on our body and although it wasn’t quite Mt. Everest, it was noticeable that we were higher than usual. Our group of ten had to split as some members developed symptoms of altitude sickness which would only worsen if they progressed up the mountain. As a result only 6 of us progressed to ABC and the other 4 descended back down the trekking route. On the way up to ABC we also passed through Machapuchre Base Camp (3,700m). This mountain is off limits for climbing as it is considered sacred by many in Nepal. Despite this it is still a prominent mountain at an altitude of 6,993m and gave some amazing views.
ABC, MBC and the View
We eventually headed back down the trekking route and successfully completed the trek back in Pokhara where we parted ways with our porters and guides. They undoubtedly made the trek better and gave us the best possible experience of trekking in Nepal.
After the trek we had a day of downtime in Pokhara before we volunteered at a local primary school for six days. In our free day we visited the World Peace Pagoda in Lumbini which is the supposed birthplace of Buddha.
For many, volunteering was best part of the trip as having the chance to work with and teach the kids as well as make improvements to the school was priceless. In the 6 days we were there we painted two classrooms with murals, fitted stairs so a second floor could be built, laid out some paths so the kids could get to/from the school easier and made some improvements to make the overall school safer. This part of the trip really put into perspective how privileged we really are. Being in an environment like that forces us to re-evaluate some of the things we take for granted in everyday life.
Something we could all take from this part of the trip is the contentedness of the children. Many if not all of them lived in some capacity of poverty but were never unhappy and never ungrateful. This shows that many things we consider to be necessities in life can actually be classed as luxuries as a necessity to us may be a luxury they may never get to see or experience. It is almost incomparable what we class as the two as to them a hot dinner would be a necessity whereas to us an iPhone charger would warrant the same importance.
2 Friends We Made and the World Peace Pagoda
We made many friends, sang many songs and did many dances but unfortunately our project phase had to come to an end. We parted ways with our new school friends knowing that we made a difference to their lives and to those of kids who will go to the school in the future. With this in mind, we headed back to Kathmandu but first stopped for some white water rafting on the Trishuli River. This was an exhilarating experience and a nice form of R&R in Nepal.
After rafting we headed back into Kathmandu and it seemed to be even more chaotic than the last time! We initially had two nights there but our flights changed so we got an extra night in the capital. We spent these last couple days exploring the cultural parts of Kathmandu visiting various temples and sights in the city.
Highlights of Kathmandu
Although there for a whole month, I don't feel that I got to fully experience everything that the country has to offer, the things we did do were amazing but Nepal is the type of country that you have to go to a couple of times to experience everything. There are memories from this trip that I will cherish forever but until the next time, "धन्यवाद" (thank you).