Sunday, 16 December 2012

Last Post From Nepal

13.12.12, approx. 10.30pm Nepal Time

It’s hard to know what to say at this point.  I feel like breaking into a mournful refrain of ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’.  All my bags are packed and I’m ready to goooo… OK that’s enough.

So today was my last day with the children at Rasuwa Langtang Liring Orphan Society.  I got there early to see them waiting for me, dressed in their brand new hoodies, trousers, trainers and even new socks.  They also got woollen hats and backpacks for school.  It was lovely seeing them in new things.  I was told that they knew they were getting clothes today and were so excited they were up from 3am!! I’m so glad that they are happy with them.  In return, I was presented with a Himalayan hat, with fluffy sides and gold embroidery, which I was assured looked very nice!

After a hurried breakfast and an even more hurried change into uniforms, we made our way to school.  With many handshakes, high fives and fist bumps, eventually I managed to get them all shepherded into the playground. 

I was invited to my supervisor Khyam’s house for breakfast, and I was pleased to meet his lovely wife.  She cooked a very tasty meal for us and was kind enough to give me some bracelets and bindi to take home with me.  She had heard a lot about me from Khyam and told me she was happy to finally meet me.  After receiving generous gifts of Nepali tea and other items, I went back to Gatthaghar.  My careful packing yesterday had to be redone to accommodate the presents I was given this morning.  I hate to think how much my suitcase weighs now, it is supposed to be less than 20kg, and I’m pretty sure it is more than that!

Anyway, soon enough it was time to meet the children from school.  Usually I go to the orphanage around 4pm, so they were not expecting me to be waiting outside the gates for them at home-time.  They were clearly delighted, which meant I couldn’t stop grinning either.  We walked home and played upstairs for a while, before they gathered downstairs in the common room for church.  As usual, I sat and watched them as they sang, read from the Bible and prayed.  Afterwards, I sang ‘Oh Holy Night’ to them, as they so often sang to me and I wanted to do something in return.  They all cheered and clapped when I finished, which is the best reaction I’ve ever received for an impromptu sing-song!

Unfortunately, once my song was over I knew I had to say goodbye.  I gave them a letter with my address and email details so they were able to contact me, and as I was talking to them one of the girls started to cry.  That set me off! I tried not to, as I knew the younger ones wouldn’t understand and would cry too, but I couldn’t stop; the thought of not seeing them again for a long time was heart-breaking.  I called them all over for a big group hug, then hugged them each in turn.  I swear, if my suitcase wasn’t full of Christmas gifts, I’d be smuggling one or two of them back to the UK!  (Joking, obviously, before someone reports me…)

I pulled myself away eventually, wiped away my tears and smiled lots to show the little ones it was OK; I know the tears must have been confusing for some of them.  We took a few more pictures before I went up to say goodbye to the house mother and aunty.  A group of girls held my hands and walked me out to the main path, as the rest of the kids shouted and waved from the roof and balconies.  The girls went back inside, and as I walked away, I turned to see two of the boys pelting after me.  They walked with me the whole way back to my house before scarpering off again.  I was so moved by the children’s reactions, especially when 2 other boys came up to me to hand me some chocolate they had bought with their own money.  They also said such heartfelt thanks for their clothes, shoes and other things, and I’m so glad that they were all appreciated so much.  I can’t wait to share the pictures with those who donated so kindly.

When I got back to the house, I had some hot, sweet tea to settle myself down, and took snacks like prawn crackers and biscuits with the family.  We had a number of guests, and two teachers from the Aastha Women’s school, which I visited a few weeks ago, came to have dinner and ask me about my stay in Nepal.  As they were leaving, they gave me a beautiful black and blue shawl, which I will be proud to wear at home.  The generosity of the people here is something I have mentioned before, but even I had never experienced it on this level until now.  There is absolutely no need for me to be given anything and yet they do so freely and sincerely.  It is really humbling. 

So, after all the gifts have been given and ‘goodnight’ has been said, here I am.  Tomorrow I will be up when the cockerel crows (literally, I swear he is standing on my windowsill at times, he’s so flipping loud!) to pack the last few items.  Then I will head up to the kitchen to take chiya and biscuits, then receive tika to wish me a safe and happy journey.  I really can’t imagine what it will be like without seeing my Nepali family every day, I will miss each of them so much.  They have been incredibly kind, and I can’t thank them enough for all they have done for me. 

It still hasn’t really hit me that I am going home.  I suppose it won’t dawn on me until I am on the plane, or if I’m particularly dozy, when I get to London!

It is so weird to be writing this as my final post from Nepal.  But who knows,  I could be back in Kathmandu again and the blog will live once more!  Until then, thank you to anybody that bothered to read my posts, and I hope they have been enjoyable. 


Chloe x

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmas comes to Kathmandu!

My final days in Nepal seemed so far away at one point, and yet here they are.  In three days I will have said all of my goodbyes, made my last visits and I will be in London.  I can’t explain how it feels at the moment.  I suppose the best way to describe it is that it seems unreal.  I have been welcomed so warmly into my host family’s home that I feel like a permanent fixture now, and the thought of leaving makes me sad.  However, the thought of being back at home, seeing my family and friends again, has me giddy with joy.  Either way, there will be tears on Friday, I’m sure. 

This trip has been so important to me.  I’ve learned a lot in three months, and I feel like my heart has tripled in size to make space for 33 little children here in Gatthaghar, as well as my new family.  Not only am I more grateful for what I have at home, but I am glad to have made more connections here in Nepal, all which tie me ever tighter to this wonderful country and the people that call it home. 

Back to the present (and presents!), this week was about bringing Christmas to the orphanage, albeit a little early.  Fellow volunteer Kit and I spent time yesterday buying decorations, party hats, balloons and snacks in nearby Koteshwor to throw a party this evening.  As this would be Kit’s last visit to the orphanage before flying home to the UK on Wednesday, we decided to make it special.  We met at half 2 in the orphanage to put up tinsel and shiny streamers, and to scatter balloons around the common room.  Tiny sparkly Christmas trees hung at the windows and doors, and my camera was set up on a tripod in the corner to catch their reaction as they filed in from school.  We weren’t disappointed; their cries of surprise and joy were enough to fill the Grinch with Christmas cheer!  We played Christmas songs, and served chocolates, sweets and crisps to each of them, chased down with fruit juice, while they sat wearing shiny party hats and throwing around the balloons.  After, we were thanked by the children and they presented us with a little notebook each, with every child’s name and class written inside.  We also received a little badge with Nepal’s national flower on it.  It was such a lovely gesture, and I was touched by their consideration.

As the cups and party food were cleared away, they began to sing songs and dance along to the beat of a drum and tambourine.  They put on a real show and I felt so happy as I sat and watched them; their smiles and enthusiasm were infectious.  As they finished and headed upstairs to get dinner, I got more than a few hugs and exclamations of ‘Thank you, Sister’.  It was a simple party but they appreciated everything they received so much.  A particularly poignant moment occurred as we were pouring out the food and drink for the little ones; the Band Aid song ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ came on.  I don’t think I’ll ever hear that song again without thinking of their little faces and feeling a little sad.  One line from the new version, which used to make me laugh as it is rapped and seemed so incongruous with the rest of the song, suddenly made sense: ‘You ain’t gotta feel guilt, just selfless, give a little help to the helpless.’   Spending so much time with them, it is so easy to forget the circumstances that brought the children all together in the orphanage.  They may not all be orphaned, but all have faced difficulties and have been denied the things they deserve, that every child deserves.  Some have had to grow up quickly to become mentors to the smaller ones, and it is hard to believe that the oldest of them is only 12 years old.  Their maturity and leadership is admirable.

As a result of many kind donations from my friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, I can do my bit this Christmas, and give the kids some much-needed presents.  On Thursday, I will be making my last visit to the orphanage, and I will be presenting them with new jumpers, trousers, shoes, socks, school bags, woollen hats and floor mats.  This will make a big difference to them, and I can’t wait to see their reactions.  In total, the donations came to a staggering 115,000 Nepali Rupees, which works out roughly as £820!  You can’t imagine the difference the clothes and items will make to the children.  They rarely receive new things to call their own, and I am glad that I will be leaving them a bit warmer and happier than they would be without these gifts.   So to anyone who donated, THANK YOU.  I hope you can agree with me when I say it’s better to give than receive.

Although I will be at home for Christmas, I feel so grateful for being able to spend some of the season here.  Spending time with the children has been such a gift, and has made this a Christmas I will never forget. 

Friday, 7 December 2012

Pokhara Part 2 - Eat, Sleep and Be Merry!

After the excitement of paragliding, the rest of the week was about taking it easy.  Tuesday started with a walk to Devi’s Falls, a gushing waterfall that snaked through rock before pouring down into deep caves.  Although it was nice to visit, I think it paled in comparison to the Claddagh Glen back in my home county of Fermanagh, but maybe I’m biased.  As it wasn’t far from the falls, we decided to visit the International Mountain Museum.  The building was like an aircraft hangar, filled with displays about indigenous people and wildlife as well as details about mountaineering expeditions to Nepal’s highest peaks.  Despite not being interested in trekking or mountaineering, there was plenty to look at.  The stuffed creatures, such as the beautiful snow leopard (one of my favourite animals), were somewhat strange and I can’t say they were a great example of taxidermy, but they were interesting nonetheless. 

I was up extremely early on Wednesday morning, as Kit and I had decided to go and see the sunrise up at Sarankot.  The manager of my hotel, Chandra, organised a taxi for us and we headed up as far as he could take us, before a 30 minute uphill hike in the dark.  DEFINITELY not what I would usually be doing before dawn!  Once at the top, it was clear to see why this was a popular spot.  The mountains were right in front of us, with a line of reddish-gold streaking along the eastern horizon.  Everything else was dark.  Slowly but surely, a tiny rim of fire crept over the edge as the sun made its appearance.  The photos from that morning were beautiful, but as is always the case, they simply failed to capture the incredibly delicate shifts in colour and light. After the sun rose and the mountains changed from dark, flat silhouettes to graphic 3D peaks, we headed back to Lakeside.  We had lunch in Once Upon A Time, a nice spot further down the main street than we had gone before, and I finished the day by heading back to the hotel to chat to some other guests.  That night we ate in Byanjang, a nice spot but very quiet when we were there which was a pity, as all it lacked was a bit of atmosphere (and a bit less chilli in my curry!)

Thursday was Kit’s day to travel back to Kathmandu, and it was time for me to switch hotels.  As happy as I was with Karma Guest House, I had booked a three-night stay down the road at the Temple Tree Resort and Spa.  I packed up my bags, and made my way to my new lodgings.  I was not disappointed! The main building was immaculate, with helpful staff at the check-in desk who spoke excellent English.  I was shown through to the back garden area, which was dominated by a pristine pool, shaped like Phewa Tal lake.  There was a poolside bar where I was given a complimentary glass of iced tea, before being shown to my room.  I was in room 1, so I couldn’t have been closer to the pool, bar and restaurant if I tried!  The room itself was beautiful, decorated in earthy red tones, with a little terrace out the back looking out towards the pool and spa.  The bed was a dream, with a dense mattress piled high with cosy pillows.  Heavenly!  I discovered that the en suite bathroom had a shower and bath, which ran hot water from 5am – 10am and 5pm – 10pm.  I think I might have bounced around with glee at this point!  I made myself comfortable on the bed, turned on the flat-screen TV and sank into relaxation mode.

Dinner was an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Needless to say, I went to town on that.  Baked potatoes, fish, chow mein, rice, stir-fried vegetables, chicken, the lot.  I was barely fit to waddle back to my room afterwards! 

The next day I booked myself in for an aromatherapy full body massage.  I’d never had a proper massage before, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Although I was poked, prodded and manipulated a little too hard to doze off or completely relax, I enjoyed the experience regardless. 

On the third day, I took some time to go back to Lakeside.  I got speaking to a Tibetan woman named Dolma, who I had met earlier in the week.  She was selling handicrafts out of a dusty rucksack that looked like it was full of boulders instead of the beautiful jewellery and other things she was carrying.  I had bought a few things from her when I first met her, but was keen to find her again to pick up a few more items, so I was glad to spot her again.  She told me about how she walked nearly two hours to get to Lakeside from her settlement, how the Tibetan people were treated badly even in Nepal, and how the stones and silver she used were from her homeland of Tibet.  The pieces were gorgeous; some were made of amethyst and garnet, others of turquoise and sandstone, some with lapis lazuli, amber and onyx.  I enjoyed talking to her and I was glad to walk away with some pretty necklaces and bracelets, leaving behind a very happy lady with a few more rupees in her pocket.

The remainder of my time at Temple Tree was spent simply enjoying the food, the impeccable service of the staff who could not do enough for me, and the quiet and comfort of my room.  As mentioned in a previous post, I appreciate peace and solitude at times, and find it does me good to have time to reflect.  I thought about my time so far in Nepal, the friends I had made, the things I had seen and the places I had visited.  The final three weeks would no doubt fly by, and I wanted to make sure that I made the most of them. It was good to have time away to put things in perspective before being launched back into life in Gatthaghar.

I was very sad to leave Pokhara, as it was such a lovely place to stay and I enjoyed myself so much, but I would definitely consider coming back sometime in the future ... I don’t think I’m done with it just yet!

Pokhara Part 1 - Defying Gravity!

As planned, I took a week off away from Kathmandu in the rather lovely area of Pokhara.  I was looking forward to this as it was not only a new place to visit for me, but I had planned to do a few things that were a break from the ordinary.

I flew from Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu on Saturday 17th November.  Now, I see myself as a good flier, always fairly comfortable in the skies, but I have to admit, Nepal domestic flights make me nervous.  Accidents are alarmingly common here, and as such I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when we landed safely in Pokhara. 

I made my way to my first accommodation, which would be the Karma Guest House.  At less than £5 per night, this place was excellent, with a soft bed and thick, dense pillows, and friendly staff to help me out when I needed it.  Their friendly dog was there to greet me when I arrived, and it was nice to be able to stroke it; Gatthaghar is crawling with stray dogs who look friendly enough, but as rabies is rife here, it’s better to stay well away.

My first day in Pokhara mainly involved taking in the scenery and getting accustomed to the shops and restaurants in Lakeside.  It was clearly a popular place for tourists and trekkers, and as I walked through the town and looked up, the sky was dotted with paragliders, floating down to earth from their jump-off point at Sarankot.  Despite being a fairly busy town, Pokhara is so unlike Kathmandu.  The air is crystal clear, the views are unbelievable and the general atmosphere is one of calm and relaxation.  Everyone there just seemed to be looking to chill out and go at a leisurely pace, eating good food and doing fun things.  Suits me!!  I met up with fellow Rasuwa Langtang Orphanage volunteer Kit, who arrived that afternoon, and went for two-for-one happy hour cocktails at Busy Bee cafĂ©.  This was followed by Chinese food in the aptly named China Town.  The food was great, although the place was surprisingly quiet. 

The following day, we decided to take a boat out on the lake for a while. At 300 rupees for an hour without a driver (about £2.10) we struck out from the shore, and were stunned by the beauty of the views from the water.  The snowy Annapurna mountain range could be seen above the trees lining the lake, and the peaks were reflected in the water.  The sun was beating down on us as we rowed, but it was a pleasant way to get around.  We came close to an island temple which rang out with bells and shouts as worshippers came and went via boat.  It was a lovely way to spend time, and I was pleased to find I was rather good at steering the long boat from the back, even if we weren’t going anywhere particularly fast!

Once back on dry land, we went for lunch and planned the rest of the day.  We decided to follow the guidebook’s suggestion of heading up to the World Peace Pagoda to see the sunset, and (for some inexplicable reason) we decided to take the long way up.  This meant an uphill hike for an hour and a half.  You guys have met me right?  This isn’t my usual idea of fun.  I have to say, although I was tired by the time I reached the top, the walk was pleasant enough and the views from the top were definitely worth it.  Plus, the feeling that my lungs were going to explode went away fairly quickly, so I was happy enough after that! The Pagoda depicts the life of Buddha around its walls, and is in a prime position for people to watch the sun go down, painting the mountains gold before changing to pink and lilac to blue.  It was really beautiful.  Being the organised beings that we are, Kit and I followed the other visitors down the hill as dark approached.  We had no idea how we were going to get back to Lakeside though.  Walking back the way we came in the dark was not an option, so we hoped the other people knew where they were going.  We ended up in a car park where some tourist buses and cars were parked (note: we could have got a taxi this far and walked for 5 minutes to get to the Pagoda. But we didn’t. The scenic route was a lot more interesting though!). There were no taxis here though, and we had to ask around about the best way to get to Lakeside.  Seeing us standing around looking lost, we were invited on to a college tour bus which was also heading to Lakeside. We would have to stand but at least we would get there fairly quickly.  After swaying so hard around a bad bend that I nearly fell out of the open door, I was offered a low, wicker stool to sit on near the floor. It wasn’t particularly stable but at least I wasn’t at risk of being chucked out on every corner!

Eventually we made it back to Lakeside and were told we didn’t have to give them any money, so we thanked them and they went on their way.  Handy or what? Top tip learned though: if you’re going somewhere to see a sunset, have a plan for how you’re going to get back home again in the dark!

That evening we went to a restaurant called Moondance which had a large range of dishes.   Despite my promise not to go near curry (or to be more precise, dal bhat) while I was in Pokhara, I ended up with a rather delicious Thai red curry.  And despite my previous promise, that was 2 nights in a row of boiled rice, despite having eaten it twice nearly every day I’ve been in Nepal!

So on to Monday.  This was the big one. PARAGLIDING. 

I had talked about doing this for several months.  However, talking about it and then realising that you’re in a jeep heading up a hill with a pile of strangers to go run off the side and hope the air carries you is a different kettle of fish.  I wasn’t afraid though, surprisingly.  I was excited, and didn’t have much time to spare to get to the ‘WHAT AM I DOING?!’ part of the exercise.  Once we got out of the jeep and out on to a sloping field, I was teamed up with a Korean instructor and told I was going first.  I was strapped into the gear immediately, which was rather like a large rucksack that curved underneath into a soft seat.  A helmet was on my head, straps were being checked and I was being told to take three steps down the field, then take another ten.  By step eight or nine I was airborne.  What an incredible feeling! It felt easy, joining the other paragliders as they sailed around me.  And the views! From the mountains, to the city, to the lake, I took it all in.  It was amazing!  I was able to take out my camera and snap a few shots, but mostly I wanted to focus on the landscape and the experience.  I was smiling like my face was going to split in two, I just couldn’t believe I was up in the air, flying around with the birds of prey.  My instructor handed me a camera on a pole (which I was convinced I was going to drop) and started clicking photos and taking videos.  I’m ashamed to admit, there were some Titanic-style arm movements.  I didn’t claim I was the king of the world though … so, you know, silver lining and all that.  I’m actually gobsmacked at the fact that I didn’t crack into a reprise of ‘Defying Gravity’, but the instructor would have probably thought I was suffering from temporary insanity caused by the altitude and headed back to land.

After whizzing round in circles, mucking around on camera and generally moving around a LOT, I was struck by my old familiar friend, motion sickness.  My companion on long bus journeys, I had neglected to consider motion sickness might be a problem when being buffeted up and down and round and round the skies.  About halfway through, I thought it was going to get the better of me.  I was confronted with a conundrum I never thought I would ever have cause to consider … how does one vomit in the sky?  I had to swallow my pride (my PRIDE!) and tell the instructor I was feeling a little peaky.  Thankfully, the sickness went as quickly as it had come.  We floated down closer to land now, and the instructor handed over controls to me.  I took them calmly, while thinking ‘Wow, that lake’s getting close’, but luckily I was able to steer around fairly easily.  It felt nice knowing that a pull here, a tweak there, was all it took to wheel around whichever direction I felt like.  I brought us down closer to the landing field, before handing back control as we came in to land.  Elegant being that I am, I landed on my feet then straight on to my backside, which I would advise against.  Still, it was an otherwise-smooth landing and I was soon snapped out of the gear and left to sit and watch the other gliders coming in.  I just sat there thinking, ‘Did I actually just do that?!’ and I don’t think it hit me until the adrenaline wore off later that day.  It wasn’t something I would usually do, but I’m so glad that I did.  The location couldn’t have been more perfect, with picture-perfect scenery and beautiful weather.  I would recommend it to anyone, as long as they don’t have a fear of heights and can deal with motion sickness! It’s an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget!