On 11th August, Jackie, David and I arrived in Kathmandu to be greeted by Gita with her Nepali welcome of scarves and flowers. We then crammed the many bags into the boot as well as the seven of us (including the driver) into the four seater car!
A day before we left Kathmandu David took me up to Pashupathinath to see the burning ghats, which left me with mixed feelings. I really wanted to see this part of Hindu culture due to my studying of religion at College. I also wanted to take a step into Nepali culture. Although this is an incredibly emotional place, it couldn't help but feel commercial. This was firstly because of the 1,000 rupee entry charge levied for foreigners and, secondly, because of the number of tourists constantly taking photographs. Consequently, it all began to feel too much like a performance. I can't say we stayed for long.
The following we day we left for Narayangarh. After six hours of sitting on a coach we made it. We were welcomed very warmly by the family who then proceeded to force feed us rice and daal.
I soon learnt about the the Nepali early starts, by 5.30 AM the whole house was awake and by 6.30 homework club was in full swing. This isn't a time of day I was expecting to do maths but a cup of chia got me through! I'm sure I’ll soon get used to the early starts. Throughout the morning David and Jackie presented sponsored children with their pencil cases.
The following week, Jackie and David are planning on showing me Chitwan and Pokhara before I fully settle into two months of living in Narayangarh.
On the Friday we were taken to be shown around two private schools. Of course both these places were a walk of an hour or more from Gita and Nirajan's home. David managed to hitch a ride on the back of Nirajan's motor bike while Jackie, Gita and myself took local transport. This was by Tempo which is a tuk tuk, but quite unlike any tuk tuk I'd ever seen before. It is a cross between the standard tuk tuk and a small van. Jackie and Gita crouched in the back while I stood on the step outside and held grimly onto the roof. Luxury! Once we arrived and I'd prised my fingers off the roof, we were given a tour of the school. The younger children sang us nursery rhymes, and David taught Nirajan's class so he could put his feet up.
That evening we decided to go to the local bakery. In countries like Nepal there is a local price and a foreigner price so I expected a slightly higher price at the bakery. However the price they asked wasn't short of a daylight mugging. So I decided not to buy anything and went back to the house where Jackie mentioned this to Gita in passing. This was a mistake, as Gita refuses to allow us to be overcharged in any way. I was marched back to the bakery where Gita informed the staff that I was her brother and that I should get the Nepali rate. It was just a little embarrassing.
The next day it came to light that one of Nirajan's colleagues had been accused of being a witch. This is still a huge accusation in Nepali society, and there are newspaper stories of villagers killing people over these allegations. So we gathered outside his house to support this man. After a while, it was then time to go and visit the street children. We joined them in their local cafe while they ate their breakfast. David then explained to me that although the main objective is to the children off the streets, it is also to educate them about health and drugs while they are there.
On the Monday Jackie, David and I were due to go to Pokhara but, due to some unforeseen issues, they had to stay behind for the day and I went on ahead. I had a typical local bus journey, with a 40 litre backpack on my lap and a Nepali man asleep on my shoulder!
On Tuesday afternoon, David and Jackie arrived; they then showed me a trio of shops selling products made by women from rural communities using natural fibres which were sold at fixed prices. These fair trade products are aimed at giving these women skills so they can earn a much better wage.
By Thursday it was time for us to meet Nirajan at Begnastaal (taal meaning lake in Nepali) so we could go and visit Gita's childhood home. After meeting Nirajan we then spent three hours on a Tata bus. On a road made up of mud and stones, I don't think we went faster than 10 mph the whole journey. We arrived at Gita's brothers home; it probably has to be one of the most amazing places I've been. We had a view across the whole valley, his home was a small holding where he kept water buffalo, goats (who are very badly behaved) and bee hives.
The next day we were shown around another Government school where we found out they were teaching a computer skills class without a computer. Rural areas get much less support from Non-
Saturday marked our journey back to Narayangarh. After a very large plate of rice pudding (which they eat with curried vegetables, I couldn’t bring myself to do this) we started on the seven hour journey back.
On the Sunday after returning from Pokhara, we went to buy the computer, which was far less complicated than we had expected! It only took an hour, and after being in Nepal for a while this was quite a shock. David and I placed the machine in a rickshaw and took it back to Nirajan and Gita's house. Now it's just a case of delivering the computer to the Ashpokhari school in September, which will be easier said than done!
On the next day, we delivered the equipment donated by our friends and sponsors to the local school. This included both science and nursery equipment, as well as necessary funds for computer training. However proceedings came to an abrupt end when a boy came into the school yard with an open fracture to his lower left arm. As I watched him, I realised that Nepal's government doesn't make sure that at least one teacher per school has undertaken first aid training. I then found myself by the boy asking for an ambulance. I was given a piece of clothing to cover the boy’s arm, then it was a case of finding an ambulance able to take him to hospital. In Nepal there's no single emergency number; each ambulance has its own contact number, so it is a case of trying them one by one until you reach one that is available. Once we had found one, the ambulance staff refused to attend until they knew that someone had the necessary funds to pay for the boy’s treatment. OSOC more than happily volunteered these funds as it was paramount that we got this child some medical assistance immediately. When the ambulance finally did arrive, it turned out to be no more than a jeep and a bench, while the driver had no medical knowledge. Once the boy had been placed in the ambulance and driven off, I suddenly felt a huge wave of frustration at the situation. I couldn't grasp that the medical people were so determined not to help this child without payment, and we are not talking about £1,000 or some similar massive amount; we are talking about 1,400 rupees, or £8 in our currency.
After that eventful Monday, the week then reverted into into the rhythm of homework club and visiting the street children. On the Wednesday night, Jackie and David said their goodbyes, which involved a lot of Nepali singing and dancing. Then on the Thursday we headed to Kathmandu, which took nine hours to travel about 100 kilometres. It was a long day!
On the Saturday morning we said our farewells at the airport. This marked the end of the first chapter of my adventures as an OSOC project supporter in Nepal. It was also the beginning of the next phase which will take place during the next eight weeks.
On Sunday I travelled back from Kathmandu. Thankfully, this only took five hours this time, as opposed to the previous nine hour trek. On my return, I was warmly welcomed back with a glass of Chia. I was then informed that on Saturday we would go to to our rural town north of Pokhara to deliver the computer.
On the next morning, I put a first aid kit together. This consisted of a Tupperware box containing 40 assorted plasters, 20 bandages and antiseptic. These are just basic things where no training is required to use them.
Tuesday marked the start of a two day strike at the private schools. Gita and Nirajan's home became a substitute for school as children regularly arrived to do work which didn’t require adult supervision to ensure that it was completed.
Nirajan decided to use his days off to show me the small village of Devghat which is by a river. This is where the elderly go to live if they don't wish to be a burden on their family. It is also an area for burning ghats.
Saturday arrived and we began our bus adventure to Pokhara. The first leg was fine as I had bought two seats on the bus; one and half for the computer equipment and my luggage and half a seat for myself. Although I don't speak a word of the language, I started the second bus journey in an argument with a Nepali woman! Even though I had bought two seats, she decided the computer should go on the roof, so she could take the seat instead. As usual, Gita soon sorted her out!
On Sunday, I went with Gita's brother to take the computer to the school. We hiked up (and I mean hiked!) up to the school at midday. I handed the machine over and installed it for them on a improvised bench, since a computer stand is to be delivered next week. The computer was wonderfully well received.
Having delivered the computer, and not able to face another eight hour local bus journey straight away, I decided instead to revisit Pokhara for a few days. This trip, on a packed bus, took me a mere four hours travelling at an impressive average speed of 20 kilometres per hour.
Pokhara marked a chance to drink proper English tea and stay as far away from rice as possible! This meant Italian and Mexican cuisine (without Spanish rice).
On Wednesday, I decided that it was time to prise myself away from my book and the lake, and do something a bit more exciting. So I booked myself a day’s mountain biking. I arrived at eight o’clock feeling buoyant, enthusiastic and optimistic; these feelings only lasted for about twenty minutes. It turns out that although no weight was gained during my time in Australia, driving everywhere together with the lack of exercise really hasn't really developed my fitness. Also, I have never cycled in such humidity at a temperature of thirty degrees before. Nevertheless, I kept pushing (by pushing I mean walking my bike up the mountain) and eventually reached the top, whereupon my guide, who had easily cycled the whole way, promptly lit up a cigarette. No words can adequately describe my feelings at that moment.
After four hours of pushing my bike up a mountain, followed by clinging on grimly during the down hill descent (I was so tired I could barely balance the bike) I made it to the bottom. Covered in mud, cuts and bruises it was finally over. Although I hated every minute of the experience, I would gladly do it again, but only after spending a few months conditioning work back in the swimming pool together with lots of cycling.
On Friday it was time to return to Narayangarh I enjoyed four hours sitting on a bus with my bag on my lap as the guy next to me managed to spread himself on to half of my chair while falling asleep on my shoulder. At this point, I dispensed with traditional British politeness, and felt more than justified in pushing his head away each time. With a child sat behind me pulling at my hair regularly, while her mother was continuously vomiting out of the window, this was easily my worst local bus journey so far.
I arrived back and was told that on the next day at seven, we would go to visit the street children. In my head I heard eight, so rose at seven thirty. Whoops! Thankfully everyone is on Nepali time, so it didn't matter. We discovered that fifteen of the street children had moved on to another town, although we are unsure where or why. We fed a group of those who remained.
Gita has told me that the local school has started its computer training. This is excellent news. Sunday has also seen the start of another strike in the private schools. Apparently, this one is because of the election. I think it's secretly an excuse for taking a Sunday off.
I got a hair cut. Now this may not strike you as major but it involved an Englishman who spoke no Nepali and a Nepalese man who spoke no English. He was armed with a single razor blade which he will use to tidy all the bits on your neck; this is fear! This coupled with no concept of what a 'two' is. After using a passer by as a translator who spoke limited English we started with me thinking I may have just accidentally asked for a Mohican. Luckily the back was cut as well. However the way he cut my fringe definitely had the starting a of a bowl hair cut; fortunately I can push it to one side. On a plus side, the ordeal only cost me eighty rupee (equivalent to fifty pence) as well as a good photo opportunity of his shop.
After that my week was quite uneventful until Saturday when Nirajan and I went to a village called Chhopak which is nearby Gorkha. The local rotary club had paid to send a team of about fifteen doctors up to a rural village to spend a day doing medical checks and providing free drugs to those that needed them. Fortunately, as the doctors are working for private hospitals, they could all afford cars. This meant that it was a very comfortable ride until we reached the junction heading to the village. This is where the road ran out and all fifteen of us had to pile in to a jeep. With eight people in the back and four people standing on the back bumper we set off. After the day’s proceedings we took a short drive up to see Gorkha which has a magnificent set of rice terraces leading up to it.
This week I learnt where my socks were mysteriously vanishing to. My roommate the rat (who I've given up trying to evict) has been taking them and building a nest. After reclaiming my socks I gave him some newspaper. Hopefully that will stop him stealing my laundry.
On the Friday I decided to head to Chitwan National Park for a few days. After a bizarre journey from the bus station via horse and cart I arrived and then went about searching for a room for 500 rupees (about three pounds). Once that was sorted I set out to explore. That afternoon, over iced coffee, I watched elephants file down the main road back to their stables, as well as a steady stream of crocodiles drift down the river.
The next day I went about sorting out an elephant safari; once booked, I found out that it would start at 6.30 AM. Looks like I can't escape these early starts! Still, at least this time I won't be cycling up a mountain.
On Sunday I went on the elephant safari which was a nice way to spend two hours in the morning. I managed to see some rhino which was very interesting. I am going to stay here for another three days and shall tell you all about it next week.
On the Tuesday I decided to go on a jungle walk. Once again we started at 6.30AM. However this time it was so worth it. By far some of the most spectacular scenery I have seen yet. Unfortunately I wasn't lucky enough to see a Bengal Tiger, we did see plenty of animal tracks, spotted deer, kingfishers and some quite rare crocodiles. Apparently there's only around 500 of these species left in Asia.
Got back to Narayangarh on Wednesday. Homework club has now finished until next Monday as their exams are over. This means an end to the 6.30 AM starts.
This weekend I was left alone over the weekend as the family headed up to a town near Pokhara to sort out passports. I got to practice the chickpea curry which Gita taught me. Managed to pull it off quite well.
The festivals have started this week. Part of this festival is that lots of neighbourhoods build twenty-
I also decided to go and spend two days back in Chitwan as it would be my last chance to see the place before I leave. Turned into a really good few days, I'd recently met an intern working there named Jack. He took me down to see the Elephant Chain-
This weekend I got caught out by the Nepali measurements. Nirajan told me that he would take me somewhere that is no further than 10 km away. 35 km later we arrived at quite an impressive river flat. You'd have thought I'd learn by now.
This is my last day in Narayangarh, tomorrow we go up north to Gita’s brothers home. I’ll spend a few days up there and then head to Pokhara to do some trekking.
On the Monday we set off to go to the countryside near Pokhara. However, the further we went up the worse the weather got. When we reached the junction for Pokhara, I felt a need to chicken out as the previous times I've done this drive I was terrified. So after a day of rain, there was no way I was going on a dirt road up a mountain. After a hurried good bye I set off to Pokhara.
I had a few friends from Chitwan staying at the time. So we spent the week holed up in cafes drinking tea as the cyclone that hit Bombay was giving Nepal monster rainstorms.
On one of the few dry days, Jamie and I decided to hike up to the paragliding launch site. The guide book said thirty minutes tops. I think this writer was well and truly on Nepali time as a gruelling hour later we got to the top. Thankfully we were rewarded with a large four tea bag pot of tea.
Two of my friends have now left; one back to Chitwan and the other returning to Australia. With Jamie remaining, we decided to head up to Kathmandu for the weekend. Halfway up he decided to stay an extra week and do a trek with me. (Which was a result as it meant the guide is half as cheap!)
We will be heading off on our trek hopefully on Tuesday. After that I only have a few days left before I am due home so I shall leave this blog here. Thank you to everyone who has been reading about my time in Nepal; I hope you have enjoyed hearing about this adventure.
Harry and Jackie are welcomed at Gita and Nirajan's home
A gathering of the sponsored homework students with the gifts from their sponsors
Harry handing over computer to school
Harry working in the homework club
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