I’d been to Nepal before. Trekking with Lyn & friends in the Annapurna region last year. First trek. First trip to Nepal.
There’s a reason "Namaste" is used for Greetings & Goodbyes. Once you’ve heard it, used it – you’ll want to return. And so did I.
"This time," I said to Lyn over coffee one morning at our local spot, "I’d like to do a slow trek, see a different area, hang around & see what happens in some of the villages & hamlets. Stay a couple of nights, here & there."
“We can do that.” And so the “Bistari Didi” trek began to take shape, scratched out in my dog-eared notebook.
Lyn rang a couple of days later: “Prakas will take you …. And you might like to come up to Budhathum a remote village situated 10 hours drive from Kathmandu. We can stay in homestay him and we’ll go to see the schools”
Would I what! I’d died & gone to heaven! Two of our wonderful guides from last year, who’d become great friends – trekking with Prakas and visiting TB & his family.
This is a glimpse of our 5 days living, laughing & exploring and staying with a Nepalese sounded awesome. Karoline a fellow Bhutan traveller, and our guide Thag Bahadur set off from the Yak & Yeti with our driver after breakfast on the 2nd April 2013.
Lyn’s notes are, as ever, spot on …. “ Remote Maguwa Village.”
To give you an idea of "remote", it’s about 9 hours’ drive from Kathmandu in a private vehicle. We had a Landcruiser, (oh what a feeling Toyota!) drove 3 hours west on sealed highway to Dhading. As the main highway between Nepal & India, you can imagine how busy it is. We were glad to be heading out of town, as the traffic was bumper to bumper like a giant colourful caterpillar going nowhere fast coming into KTM. At average 40kmh, we were positively zooming past!
This is the main street of Dhading – where we bought vinyl for a new room at our hosts house, poly pipe for the shower in the newly built bathroom, gas cylinders for the hotplate & other supplies.
From Dhading it is about 3 hours (42 kms) to Arughat Bazar, on unsealed, rocky, bulldusty road, winding around hillsides & up & down hills & valleys
Two minutes Arughat Bazaar, we stop at a wonderful hotel for lunch. Excellent Dal Bhat in a charming garden setting. Meet Dan the Dog (Australian Shepherd), the film star owner & his down to earth & charming wife. The plan is to stay here overnight on our way back to Kathmandu next week.
Arughat Bazar is a biggish regional market town, and we stop to buy fruit, vegetables and a few other supplies, including an outdoor umbrella. A bit of reorganization is required!
Those colourful plastic bags contain books, clothes & shoes donated by various people and brought over thanks to Singapore & other airlines’ generous extra 10kg allowances.
From Dhading to the village Budhadhum Dhaje 1, the road deteriorates. It takes another 6 hours or so to reach our homestay. Best to employ the, “ sit loose in the saddle" method & go with the flow. No road graders here - they wouldn't fit and the government ministers far too busy lining their own pockets to do anything for the regions that voted for them on their election promises.
The car windows go up & down as we juggle dust & cooling breeze - no aircon here and it's pretty warm. High 20's - mid 30's I'd guess. The routine is “window down, mask on”, “windows up, masks off”
I grew up in the country and am used to rough roads on & around our places; FNQ and the NT – but this one is a very strong contender for my “worst road” award. It has the magic combination – rocks, bulldust covered 2ft deep holes, whee ltracks so deep you need to drive on the ridges between or lose your sump; blind “S” bends and seemingly impossible inclines & descents.
I'm in awe of the drivers on these roads, there's barely enough room to pass in many places. Yet these guys expertly ply huge buses, packed like sardine tins in & on top; tankers & supply trucks, the occasional 1 toner of cattle or goats, around hairpin bends, passing & overtaking where they can; always tooting their horn on approaching bends or when overtaking. They don't drive very fast - you can't in this terrain & their cooperative attitude makes the system work with good humour.
It wouldn't work at home - we're far too impatient & some of our louts with their "road rage" mentality could take a big lesson from these guys!
It doesn’t always work here either, though. The teenage driver of this truck misjudged the distance and the depth of the wheel tracks. Just before we reached our final destination village, we were “kissed” – ever so slowly & gently, but not exactly what either party had in mind!
Thag Bahadur's common sense & country boy experience soon had us freed. Dig under the truck’s outside wheels, it drops down & away from our 4WD. At no time did anyone raise their voice, lose their cool or any of the reactions one would expect in our so called “civilized & sophisticated” world!
Finally, we’re home – Lyn, Tara & the girls give us a warm welcome … and a cold beer!
Thag Bahadur and his lovely wife Tara and children Tara (in pink) with (L-R) Asmyer, Gangu, Narita, Shanti, Melina.
TB immediately sets about installing the shower hose so we can wash off the dust before the water gets too cold. The water comes from a spring and is warmed in the polythene pipe laying on the ground by the sun. Before the shower & toilet block was built, everyone washed using a basin or under the hose in the open. New toilet & shower block is great!
Their house is quite new – only about …1 year old, roomy & comfortable in contrast to their previous home, this tiny cottage a few meters away. The new house is 2 storeys, with bedrooms and a balcony upstairs; two large rooms and a veranda downstairs.
Out here, TB and his eldest daughter cook wonderful meals for us on a double burner gas hotplate. The best potato chips I’ve ever tasted – with mustard oil. Dal Bhat and other dishes are cooked on the traditional earth oven in the little cottage.
Everyone helps in a Nepalese family, and children learn to carry things in the traditional baskets from the time they are very small. The older children help with the younger ones, just as we did in our parents & grandparents’ time. We say, “It takes a village to rear a child”, but it really means something here. All the kids have chores and learn the art of carrying things in baskets from the time they are tots, when they follow Mum around with a tiny, empty basket.
Our homestay has a new bathroom and toilet block in the background. “Hot water system” on the ground on the right.
A baby goat was born during our stay. No embarrassing “sex lessons” for these children – they know where babies come from! A first time mother, the Nanny goat was not the slightest interested in her progeny – so Tara, Karoline & a couple of the human kids give her some encouragement in the breast feeding department. By the next morning, Nanny was the complete doting mother – she just needed a coach!
We’d brought clothes, shoes, books and other things. Many thanks to Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways for the extra 10kg allowances for Lyn’s clients! Thanks to Lyn for organising a wonderful memorable holiday
Having kitted out the local kids with what fitted, we set off for Shree Basari Secondary school, where new classrooms are in progress, thanks in very large part to Lyn’s connection with & fund raising by East Lindfield Public School and Oxford Falls Grammar School, in Sydney.
It’s a lovely walk (about 30 minutes ) and along the way we found some happy new owners for the remaining shoes.
Our hosts daughter Shanti finished her high school exams a week or so before and is waiting for her exam results. With 500,000 Nepalese children finishing high school, it takes 3 months to announce the results. HSC students & parents in Australia will know the agony of waiting. Hopefully, Shanti will be able to go to College later in the new term. Meanwhile, she’s happy to revisit her old School and carries some books we’ve brought for the primary school.
A visit to the Medical Centre brings home the need for and value of this small facility. Three local women have called in for medication and advice – there’s also a room with a bed. Thankfully, no one needs it today.
Like many facilities in this desperately poor area, it’s often foreigners who see and respond to the need. By our western standards, the buildings & services sponsored by these benefactors are of the most basic level.
The reality is they provide a vital service where there was none in these remote & inaccessible areas previously. Or, in the case of the schools, tiny one or two room schools with virtually no equipment – and little incentive for parents to send their children, who would otherwise be engaged in working at home. As an aside, when Sir Edmund Hilary sponsored the school at Khumjung, parents were encouraged to send their children to school with gifts of tea, coffee, salt and other items. At Thamo, also in the Everest region, the local primary school parents’ association imposed a NPR100/child/day fine – and attendance shot up.
Many diseases and health issues are common to remote, impoverished areas lacking in sanitation & education. There are interesting sights everywhere; no washing machine or dryers here – this man is drying his clothes on rocks, beside a thriving vegetable patch.
Corrugated iron, lighter and cheaper than slate, has become a popular roofing and cladding material. The downside is that it rusts, and is more easily blown off in wind storms.
We reach the school at lunch time on the last day of term. Three Western women are a novelty & the subject of much curiosity. but of course Lyn is an old friend & warmly welcomed by the Headmaster, Deputy, teachers & other school personnel.
These are some of the desks & benches bought with a $600 donation from our trekking group last year. We only donated $60 each. Just look what these people have been able to achieve with it. It’s fewer than 20 coffees to us and long forgotten. But it buys something of value in Nepal that will help boys & girls from this village get an education. And that lasts for generations.
New classrooms are in progress, but a landslip behind the building had to be cleared and a retaining wall built – so progress has been slower than everyone expected. Everyone is disappointed that precious funds and time had to be diverted to the retaining wall – but that’s life in Nepal, where landslips & slides are common. At least the building wasn’t damaged. Now the retaining wall is built, work can continue with the construction, as funds allow.
Everything has to be done by hand here. There are no electric or motor driven angle grinders, concrete mixers or jackhammers. Each of the rocks in those walls has been chiselled to size by someone. A lot of the timber has been recycled, clear by the nails and cuts in the pile near the new classroom, but my Nepalese is far too poor to ask about its history. There is a new toilet block on the left and below, and one can see the retaining wall behind the classrooms on the right. Back at the main school, the End of Year formalities were about to start and we were invited to join the Official table.
The warmth, sincerity & gratitude with which a Teacher, the Headmaster and the Head of the School Council welcomed us and thanked Lyn and the Schools for all the help for their school, was humbling.
A visiting NGO spoke of the dream of having a Library for the school. Imagine one of our schools not having even the most rudimentary Library!
Lyn’s response glowed with her love of the people and dedication to helping educate the children of this area – and I was most impressed with her Nepalese! Karoline & I had to make do with English, which is taught at the school, so irrespective of how little our audience understood, they were way ahead of us in the English: Nepali language stakes! Taking our leave from Shree Basari, a bunch of kids skipped along with us as we headed back home.
The local Primary school is only a few minutes from our homestay, and we took some English language books there on our way back home. This is a very basic little school, in an absolutely beautiful setting. A lively game of volleyball was in progress, and when the ball went out of play over the precipice, one of the boys flew after it like a mountain goat, catching it before it hit the stream below. You have to be agile to play ball games in terrain like this!
The following day we hiked 1-1/2 hours to visit Shree Basari School, the gratitude and real value of East Lindfield Public School’s wonderful help is proudly displayed, both in the smart buildings and this charming sign “East Lendfield Public School Austraulia “ I think we need to donate a new sign.
Every visitor’s dream is to meet the locals – and we were so warmly welcomed. This really was an unforgettable and wonderful few days. Priceless.
Next stop was lunch at our hosts sisters home, where we were enjoying a delicious Dal Bhat. An end to a fabulours 4 days.