Day 13 -
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 -
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 -
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 -
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
Fuel trucks queuing at the Birganj border
At Lions Chowk, Narayangarh.
The suspension bridge en route to Devghat
Day 17 -
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-
Yesterday I purchased a lockable cupboard for the audio-
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 -
At the top there are two white people -
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 -
Day 19 -
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-
Day 20 -
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.
Gita with a full gas bottle.
Day 21 -
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 -
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.
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