Dave's Nepal Visit - January 2016 (Days 13-22)

Day 13 - Fortunately I'm feeling well after my stomach objected to the rice bombardment. Gita was very understanding and said she had something that would help. I'm not keen usually on local remedies, but they usually do no harm and agreed to accept the treatment. Gita then turned up with...dhal bhaat, with goat! Oh well, if you can't beat 'em…

Off again today, this time to Gorkha to see the school that OSOC gave aid to after the earthquake. As Gita has to be back at school tomorrow it's another 5 AM start. It's always sunny in Nepal above the cloud base and as the bus climbed through the clouds we were treated to a stunning view of the Gorkha palace along the ridge above the city, with a backdrop of the high Himalaya, dominated by Manislu, world's 8th highest mountain. Every time I get my first view of the Himalaya it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

The school was severely damaged and, although the framework of the classrooms is still standing it is too dangerous to use. UNICEF and OSOC leapt into action to provide bamboo walled, corrugated zinc roofed classrooms built on the football pitch. OK most of the year, but in the monsoon the pitch turned to a quagmire and the zinc roofs were deafening. UNICEF are going to provide a permanent replacement. It is estimated that 34,000 classrooms were destroyed in the earthquake, I shudder to think of the consequences if had been a school day.

We received the usual warm welcome and were festooned with garlands. The school lost almost all of their resources, so we stopped off in Gorkha to purchase copy books and pencils for the primary students.

Day 14 - Return of the dodgy stomach. Spent the day feeling sorry for myself and fending off offers of rice, local remedies and trip to hospital.

No more planned OSOC trips before I return to Kathmandu. When well I will adopt tourist mode and visit a few of my favourite local places.

Time to catch up on the news. The Nepali constitution has just received its first amendment. It is remarkable that the constitution ever got agreed, because after the civil war, instead of using the existing boundaries, they decided to throw everything up in the air. With over a hundred castes, and with 123 recognised mother languages, it is impressive that a constitution was agreed.

Much of the debate was about the nature of the new republic, looking at different models from around the world. I'm pleased that they decided against following the UK model and did not restore the monarchy or create an upper house where entry may be purchased.

Of course not everyone was going to be happy. The most upset are the Madhesi, inhabitants of the Terai on the southern Indian border. Their issue was the disparity between representation of the Madhesi (half the population now lives in the Terai since malaria was eradicated). Their response was to blockade the border points, resulting in a fuel crisis. The amendment gives greater representation, but not enough for the more radical Madhesi. Time will tell if the compromise and the cold weather releases the blockade.

Unfortunately the fuel crisis has not improved the air quality as everyone is chopping down trees and cooking by firewood. It has however encouraged the use of zero emission vehicles such as cycle rickshaws, electric rickshaws and, of course, all Volkswagen vehicles.

Day 15 - Back on my feet. In town getting some gifts - no, I'm not going to tell you what I have bought you, it will be a surprise. I decided to try out the on-street barber. I've watched him and he seems pretty good. Unfortunately I forget the golden rule of haggling; agree a price before accepting the service. I don't feel in a strong bargaining position when the barber pauses with the cutthroat razor a tremble away from my carotid artery and asks if 100 rupees is acceptable. I agree, but the barber doesn't immediately understand as I dare not give the customary head bobble with my assent. All is fine and he completes a fine job. It occurs to me that he has missed a trick; 100 rupees is about 60p, given the circumstances he could have suggested £100. I enjoy haggling, but when traders (such as the barber or the shoe shine man who asked for 50 rupees per shoe, who gets one shoe shined?) ask for the same amount as they ask Nepalis I usually give them more

Whilst wandering around town I am recognised by a couple of people (I do stand out from the rest) who thank me for the work that OSOC is doing. It gives a warm feeling, but gives me cause to reflect on the injustices in the world; life chances should not depend on an accident of birth in terms of place and time. Children in Nepal should not have to rely on our generous donors, but thank goodness they are there. I was fortunate to be born in a wealthy country at a time when education was free.

Day 16  - Today went to one of my favourite places, Devghat. A peaceful place just outside the mayhem that is Narayangarh. The confluence of two rivers is a very auspicious place in Hindu culture. Hence the waters here are where most Narayangarh folk want their ashes to be placed. Many people move here to spend their final years when they tire of life - think of Dorset and you're there.

To get there you have to cross the suspension bridge. If you have the Severn Bridge in your mind's eye, put it to one side; replace it by a crooked footpath suspended from a few wires a hundred feet over a raging torrent. Those of you who know me will know that I have problems with Nepal's bridges; I can't help but think about the broken suspension cables, the missing pieces of walkway and how I'm going to get past the motorbike laden with wood wider than the bridge coming the other way.

Once the crossing is complete we are in a holy place, with temples and monasteries. Obviously it is important to be respectful, as many visitors are here to pay homage to their family. In Nepal white is the colour of mourning, so it is easy to see who has lost a close family relative. Orange is the colour of pilgrimage, a prominent colour in Devghat.

For the journey back I chicken out of the bridge crossing and we go by boat. Two men paddle, the rest of us are given sticks to beat off the Marsh Mugger crocodiles as we negotiate the waters.

Then back on the bus, which has a puncture, the wag behind me points out that there is a westerner on board with a spare tyre; cheeky, can he not see how walking football has created this sleek athletic figure?


Surveying a damaged classroom at Gorkha

At Lions Chowk, Narayangarh

Gita with the gas bottle Nepali Friends

Gita with a full gas bottle.

Nepali Friends

At Lions Chowk, Narayangarh

Day 17 - Today in homework club I helped the students write letters to their sponsors. Their enthusiasm for the task increases a smidgeon when they see I am handing out chocolate bars for completed letters. They work well in the club, ably assisted by Prakash, the teacher

Much of the learning in Nepal is by rote. Typically for a test they have a sequence of predetermined questions for which they learn the answers. To check their understanding I sometimes swap the order of the questions. The first time I tried this they exclaim "Mr David-sir, that is the wrong question!", but they are used to my wicked ways now

Yesterday I purchased a lockable cupboard for the audio-visual DVDs in the school. The cupboard is 5 by 3 by 2 feet. We try to fit it on to an electric rickshaw, but it won't go; modern technology is so impractical. Whilst debating how to get it home an enterprising rickshaw-cyclist announces that he can transport it. A cycle rickshaw has a seat 3 by 1 feet, but I am not surprised at the offer; when we migrated back to the UK we donated 2 beds to an orphanage that I had been working in, a rickshaw took BOTH beds together across town. The rickshaw-cyclist does surprise me when he says that he can get the cupboard and Gita and me on the rickshaw. This is achieved by squeezing me on the seat, bending my legs in ways I had not imagined, then sliding the cupboard in between me and the saddle, Gita sits on the back. We then cross town and when the cramp sets in I realise that I would have had more space if I had climbed into the cupboard before we set off. No matter, we arrive back safe and sound. I then discover that Gita has negotiated the princely sum of 100 rupees (60p); whilst she is not looking I pay the driver double the amount. I will be in trouble when Gita reads this; others in the past have accused me of, single-handed, artificially inflating Narayangarh's rickshaw prices.

Today has been a good day, we have cooking gas. We spot a queue for gas whilst going to market, hurry home for our empty bottle. I take my place with 33 bottles in front of me. To be fair, the owner marks each bottle with the place in the queue. Gita has a word with the proprietor and I am puzzled to see the Nepali numeral 7 written on ours. I dutifully carry our bottle past 26 neighbours, none of whom seem quite as friendly as they usually are. My Nepali is not enough to translate "nothing to do with me, guv", so I just smile sweetly.

Day 18 -  Today I go to another of my favourite places in the vicinity, Maula Kalika. It's a temple atop the highest hill around (why do they always put temples on top of hills?). About 500 metres, this climb nearly killed me the first time after we migrated here, but after a year with no car, good diet and plenty of exercise, we were scampering up. What is really impressive is seeing anyone with ambitions to be a Gurkha. With notoriously tough entry criteria, they train by transporting goods up the hill, running up with 2 cases of water on their back - that's 24 kilos (50 pounds in old money).

At the top there are two white people - I try not to stare. Eventually succumb and ask the standard Nepali questions; "Where are you from? What is your name? Are you married? How many children do you have? How big is your house? How much land do you have?" Actually I stop after the first two; they are volunteers at a nearby orphanage from Belgium and France, just arrived. I give them a few recommendations and suggest they get in touch if they want to return to Nepal. They are impressed when I exchange a few Nepali phrases with their guide; almost certainly unjustified, I probably said something like "I am a blue grasshopper on Tuesdays".

Going back to the questions, the Nepalis have a healthy openness about money. Nirajan once explained that when two old friends meet they talk about how they have been doing; if they are doing well then they will build another storey on their house or buy some land. He was puzzled when I explained that the English never talk about their money; even more puzzled when he asked what we do talk about - "the weather?". In Nepal the weather is rarely a surprise. In the early days I used to ask what the weather would be the next day; people would shrug and say "the same as today". It's true, the only sudden changes are the start and end of the monsoon, other than natural disasters, which are fortunately rare if dramatic

Day 19 - Return to Kathmandu. I did consider spoiling myself by getting the tourist bus. What's the difference? Cushions on the seats, no holes in the floor, no one on the roof, not even anyone standing in the bus. Somehow I feel out of place with so many westerners, I'm happier as the only "videsi" (foreigner) on a local bus. Of course it can be somewhat crowded, no one gets refused a ride, there's always room for one more, inside, on top or hanging on the side. Bit like First Great Western into Paddington.

On buses local people have this curious habit of speaking to their fellow passengers, and from time to time they even break out into song. I think this could catch on; when I return to the UK I'll make a point of speaking to everyone on the train and sing a jolly song to see how many join in. The Nepalis find the concept of a "quiet carriage" somewhat bizarre.

The plan was thwarted by a landslide on the Narayangarh Mugling road, the major route from the south to the rest of Nepal. Blocking all traffic for 15 hours. This is why it is foolish to plan to travel with no contingency in Nepal; I have three days before my flight from Kathmandu. However I managed to find a flight ticket despite tourists trying to snap up the last seats. A short flight, with brief view of the Ganesh Himalaya. Named after one of my favourite Hindu gods, the elephant headed Ganesha.

Then on to Kathmandu and return to my pied-à-terre the Premium hotel. Had my first hot shower for three weeks"

Day 20  - A couple of days in Kathmandu, a chance to meet up with friends in Kathmandu and a bit of last minute shopping.

For exercise I walk up to Swoyumbunath. Another temple on another hill, but this one is the most visited in Nepal. Sacred to both Hindu and Buddhist on a clear day gives a fantastic view over the Kathmandu valley. The valley used to be a lake, but drained many moons ago and is now home to some two and a half million souls.

At the top I meet a man who has spent some time studying in London. He is keen to practice his excellent English, but feels compelled to sprinkle in some cockney phrases that he picked up; "tell me about it, mate", "knock it on the 'ead, John" and "would you Adam 'n' Eve it?" in a strong Nepali accent don't quite work.

Day 21 - Last full day in Nepal, at least until October.

After dashing around for three weeks I am exhausted, so have a chill out day, time to look back on my trip.

It feels that I have packed so much into my time here. It has been humbling to see the resilience of the people living in villages devastated by the earthquake. It has been good to be able to help in a small way the schools recovering from the effects of the earthquake. I have been reminded of the awful conditions that some children have to live in, sleeping on the streets and picking rubbish for a few rupees so that they can eat. It was uplifting after a long journey to be welcomed by the smiles on the faces of the children at Homework club; students often come to the club to ask to join, so it is heartening that we have been able to find more sponsors.

But most of all it was great meeting up with friends, old and new, and seeing more of the beautiful country of Nepal.

I will miss our Nepali family, but we will be back in October with our Trekkers, Everest here we come!

Day 22 - OK, end of my trip, so I am signing off my diary. Thank you to all who have been reading it.

It's been fun writing it and I hope you have found it entertaining and educational, perhaps giving an insight into the wonderful country and culture of Nepal.

[A Tune for Nepal] [A Day in the Life]  [The Bear Necessities]

 [Dave’s Nepal Visit (January 2016) - Part One (Days 1-12)]

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[A Tune for Nepal]   [A Day in the Life]   [The Bear Necessities]

 [Dave’s Nepal Visit (January 2016) - Part One (Days 1-12)]

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 Dave's Nepal Visit - January 2016 (Days 13-22)