- Pre-Deployment Training Weekend:
- On the weekend of 7th to 8th September, our students took part in a training course to prepare for their upcoming expedition to Nepal on 17th October. This training course saw them work on various first aid drills and learn numerous essential skills before they deployed.
All good so far! We left Ampleforth in good time to get to Manchester Airport on Thursday. We arrived with three hours before our flight was due to leave, but we needed it! It took us over two hours to get through check-in because the processing was so slow. Then security was another slow go area! But, we were on the plane in time and thankfully there were no mishaps with paperwork or passports! The first leg was seven hours to Abu Dhabi then after a four and a half hour hop, skip and a jump, we arrived in Kathmandu at 3:30pm local time.
Airport delays continued with the processing of visas and baggage collection but we got through and were greeted by the Nepal branch of True Adventure with flower garlands and smiling faces. Divided into four vehicles we then wound our way through the slow moving, yet chaotic Kathmandu traffic, and arrived in Thamal district at the Kathmandu Guesthouse around 6.00pm. After a brief from Major Ram Gurung (our in-Country rep) we had our first Gurkha curry, followed by an evening of sorting out bags and a relatively early night. Tomorrow we shall visit Kathmandu tourist sites and have our first shopping excursion into the Thamal.
Today was our first full day in Kathmandu. Having arrived the night before in darkness, it was strange for the team to depart from the hotel this morning into the busy, bustling and dirty narrow streets of Thamel (the district we are staying in). Today was all about sightseeing, shopping and settling into life in Nepal. The morning started with a bus ride to Swayambunath (the Monkey Temple). This involved climbing to great heights to look over Kathmandu and enjoying burning incense around the impressive stupa. From there we made our way into the centre of old Kathmandu (Durbar Square), where we visited the Golden Temple and everyone in the party was blessed by the living Goddess!
This must have helped make our journey to the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal (Buddhanath) slightly easier, since we got there unimpeded. This is where we had lunch before returning to the hotel allowing the students a chance for a short spell of shopping before going for dinner at one of the local restaurants. The day ended with another brief opportunity to shop before the students returned to the hotel where they were briefed on the busy schedule ahead for tomorrow. We shall leave in four hours to drive the seven hour journey to Pokhara.
An early start today for the long journey to Pokhara. It seemed too good to be true when we were driving through almost empty streets up to the main pass and sure enough, it was too good to be true. A broken down lorry meant the usual delay was enjoyed by us all! However, we soon found our rhythm and made good progress. That is until the drive shaft broke! So in the end, we got to our destination after about eight hours: not too bad considering. After checking in we had time to visit Lakeside before celebrating Mass and then enjoying a little bit of shopping. Tomorrow, we shall meet some of the villagers from our trek route destinations who now live in Pokhara before driving there in what should be a five to six hour journey. We then begin the long trek phase and shall be without Wi-Fi for the next four days.
On Monday we left Pokhara’s Lakeside to head off on our trek, but before we departed we visited the British Gurkha camp in Pokhara. Here, Lt Col (Retd) John White (OA) has been working for four years helping the Gurkha Welfare Trust in various welfare related matters, ranging from post earthquake reconstruction projects to pension and medical welfare issues. Whilst there, we also visited a memorial plaque established by John Burlison (also an OA).
After that we made the five hour journey to Gilung along precipitous and interesting roads. A reception programme followed along with a night of dancing with the mothers' group. The next day (our first full day in Gilung) involved a tour of the village and a school programme of dancing and singing, which included our own students and staff. The reception we received in Gilung was tremendous and extremely memorable with students and staff making friends with their hosts.
The following day we left Gilung to trek our first full day of walking to Pasgaun. The start of this route is a fairly gentle downhill that then leads to a brutal introduction to Nepali uphill. Whilst the students and staff found it challenging, the mules and porters we were using to carry our bags made it look easy! When we got to Pasgaun some seven hours later, there was a flower garland reception line waiting for us. We had some admin time, which included having supper with our host families, before convening for a dance show specially laid on for us. Gifts were exchanged and thanks were passed between each group. In Gilung, Francis and Ida thanked the villagers and in Pasgaun it was Anna and Philipp who did this.
The next morning (Thursday), we continued climbing to our highest point (2,100m). The route was a single-track stone path surrounded by thick jungle with intermittent flat patches of grazing land for animals. If we stopped at these patches we found that we became the victims of ‘grazing’ leeches. Several individuals had to have them removed! The downhill stretch that followed the high point was long and slippery, but offered beautiful views of the glacially formed valleys far below us. We could also see Bhujung, our destination and the largest Gurung village in Lamjung district, on the far side of the valley. During this part of the trek we enjoyed crossing two-foot suspension bridges, seeing 100m tall waterfalls and, for some, the benefits of blister plasters.
In Bhujung we were split between four houses. The local shopkeepers didn’t know what had hit them when 25 hungry teenagers descended upon their usually quiet village counters. It was also a new experience for the students witnessing buffaloes wandering through the narrow cobbled pathways in the village.
The last day of actual trekking was Friday when we walked from Bhujung to Ghale Gaun. This was the shortest trek section of three and a half hours and was Nepali ‘flat’ (gently uphill). Ghale Gaun was the home to the last Gurung King and is a popular Nepali tourist destination. This village also offered great views of the mountains, especially Manasulu. At the start of the day we said farewell to our porters and the mule team who all returned to Gilung. Our bags were carried to Ghale Gaun in Jeeps and we walked the same route. On the way a motorcycle passed us with one of our bags. It turned out that the bag had fallen off the back of the Jeep and these strangers had picked it up to return it to us. The fact that they wouldn’t accept any form of tip or payment is typical of the wonderful hospitality and generosity of the Nepali people.
En route to Ghale Gaun we had lunch next to another school where coincidentally, the Headmaster turned out to be the Headmaster at Gilung in 2014 when we did our first school trip.
Today we woke early to prepare ourselves for the long journey back to Kathmandu. Some woke in time to watch sunrise over Manasulu and the Annapurna range. They were not disappointed! After breakfast, we started the journey with a two hour Jeep ride down the side of a very precipitous hill to Besi Sahar. There, we transferred to a comparatively luxurious bus for what was supposed to be a five and a half hour journey back to the Capital. It took somewhere in the region of nine hours! Traffic heading into Kathmandu in the evening on the night of Tihar is not something I would recommend. However, we finally got back to the Kathmandu hotel - after five days of cold washing it was a welcome relief to have hot water again. Tomorrow will be a day of catch up shopping for those that need it and this is therefore likely to be the last post. Nepal and it’s wonderful people have been generous, kind and welcoming. We shall miss you all but will see you again hopefully in a couple of years. Dhanyabad!
As an after note, we have been invited to return to Gilung and/or Pasgaun whenever we would like. Any student who wishes to return (or their families for that matter) will always be welcomed there. It seemed a shame to leave on the main day for Tihar when flower decorations and lights were being put up all over Kathmandu, but everyone was looking forward to coming home, some having had haircuts, Indian head massages and henna tattoos! It seems like such short time ago that we left to go on this wonderful expedition and now it is over. I’m now planning the next trip for 2021!