Light to Kathmandu

A trip to Nepal would not be complete without a little mountain trekking. We strapped on our backpacks filled with a plethora of snacks and began our ascent to Mt. Everest. With a little determination, we knew we could make it to the top in time for lunch…

Just kidding. Our destination was Namobuddha, a holy site considered to be one of Buddhism’s most important pilgrimages and a symbol of human sacrifice. The bus dropped us off at 1,400 meters and the weather was perfect – cool with a slight overcast that kept the sun at bay. Even at this height, looking out at the hills and seeing thousands of terraces and villages was another breathtaking view. It’s crazy to think about the hundreds of years it took to create these self-sustainable resources that the Nepali people have used to survive day by day!

Women Making BedUnder the direction of our guide, we weaved on and off various dirt paths, rocky roads and even some backyards. During one of our shortcuts through a backyard, many of us stopped to watch a group of Nepalis weave a bed together using sticks and a special thread – surely a luxury among a village whose houses had dirt floors!

Stacey with Girl

Three hours of climbing and absorbing the incredible views later, we finally arrived at Namobuddha. We were now 1,750 meters high and could see 360 degrees all around, except for the thousands of prayer flags that encompassed us on top of the hill. Prayer flags in Nepal come in five colors and represent each of the basic elements: yellow is earth, green is water, red is fire, white is air and blue is space. Each flag bears the same mantra, Om Moni Padme Hum, which translates to “Jewel in the Lotus.” Prayer flags are always hung up high, so that the wind will carry the blessings and prayers far across the country and throughout the world.

Shoes at MonastaryWhile at the monastery, our group had the unique opportunity to witness the monks practicing a puja, which is a religious ritual in which they offer chants and offerings to their gods. Upon entering the monastery, we were completely overwhelmed with all of the beautiful colors that decorated the floors, ceilings, walls and pillars – an act of artistry difficult to match. They chanted various mantras and on several occasions the musicians began to play; two drums, two cymbals, two short horns and two very long horns created a cacophony of sound that best reminded me of a call to war. There were monks there of all ages, even as young as five years old.

Our morning and afternoon of trekking finally came to a close and we rode the bus home to begin packing. We had a few minutes before dinner, so many of us ventured into the Thamel marketplace for some last minute bartering. Dinner at a very hippy and trippy place called OR2K came and went all too quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to our new friends Sapana and Kriti. Luckily we will be seeing them again soon in August when they arrive to begin their studies at Shenandoah University.

Back at the hotel, with our luggage all packed and ready to load, Ramesh our tour guide presented us with some very special gifts. When we arrived he placed garlands of orange marigolds around our necks to welcome us to Nepal; as we prepared to leave, he gave us scarves to say goodbye. He definitely has a special place in all of our hearts and our trip would not have been the same without him and his crazy Korean ringtone that made us laugh every time it went off.

We said our goodbyes, boarded the plane and were finally on our way home. As with any adventure, you are a different person when you return than when you first began. Sure we’ll suffer from jet lag for the next week, but as we begin to process and make clear the blur of events that we encountered, we’ll begin to notice the changes that were made within us. Speaking from a personal note, and I know that everyone on the trip would agree, I could not have asked for a better group of people to explore Nepal with and I’m thankful for the sacrifices that were made to make this trip happen. May this be the first of many travels for all of us, and just one of many stories to be shared for years to come.

– AD

Map 3.17.2013

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यौ अरे सो बेऔतिफ़ुल (You are so Beautiful)

Day seven in Nepal began with a second visit to the Takashashila School to help the girls write letters to their sponsors. When we arrived, we stepped out to find the older group of girls seated on straw mats. We took our seats among the girls and realized we were in for a special treat when a small group of girls dressed in Nepali dance attire began dancing to a traditional Nepali folk song. Following the dance performance, another girl (with much courage I might add) sang a song titled, “Two Voices, One Song” in English with only a microphone and a soft accompaniment track. The students allowed for us to share a little bit of Western culture with them and so Erin danced ballet for them. Once again, their faces lit up and we could hear excited murmuring coming from the girls. Michael also sang “Oh Shenandoah” and the girls loved it. The arts are an incredible tool for bridging gaps between cultures and we were all so lucky to be a part of this opportunity.

As the program ended, the girls lined up to receive snacks and a brand new backpack filled with school supplies for the next school year. We then joined the students inside the school as they began to write letters to their sponsors. They were each given a piece of loose leaf paper and several themes to write about, such as their upcoming exams, the weather, personal stories, etc. Many of the girls wrote about us coming to visit them and as I glanced over their shoulders, I noticed that they referred to us as brothers and sisters. We had only just met them less than an hour ago and yet they already held us in such high regard – a trait that is more difficult to find in the states.

Once finished with their draft, a teacher would check their grammar and spelling and then hand the girls a piece of Nepali paper which is made of straw. They copied their letters onto this paper and then decorated it using a variety of colored pencils. It was so great to witness the girls writing the letters – I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the receiving end and the anticipation of opening your mailbox and finding another letter each month!

Nepali Girls DancingIn the afternoon, we said goodbye to the older girls and welcomed the younger ones that began to arrive. They were so full of energy as they chased each other throughout the playground and their laughter and excitement filled the air with a joy that only children can bring. When it was time for the next performance to begin, the children settled onto the mats and this time we got to start the show. We joined Michael for another round of “Oh Shenandoah” and Erin danced again. I remember the girls I was sitting next to turning to me and saying how beautiful she danced! A group of six girls then took the stage in brightly colored dresses and did their own dance, followed by two other girls who read poems that they had written in English. The rest of the afternoon was spent helping them write letters as well, and many of us commented on how strong their grammar was and how neat their handwriting looked – American kids have got some competition!

Kate and Friends at Nepali ChuloFor dinner, we went to a restaurant called “Nepali Chulo” (chulo meaning ‘stop’ in Nepali). Walking in the door, we were greeted by a woman who dipped her finger in a chalky/oily substance and then place a red tika on our foreheads. The room we gathered in to eat was already filled with students and teachers from the schools associated with the Little Sisters Fund. We took our seats and mingled with the Nepali guests. Throughout the course of the meal, we witnessed several performances of traditional Nepali dances that were accompanied by a group of live musicians who sang and played instruments such as the flute, accordion, tambourine and drums. At one point, there was a giant peacock (don’t worry, it wasn’t a real peacock, just a Nepali dancer dressed as one) that entered the room and danced. He walked around and went “hunting” for tips, taking the money right out of your hand (or in Tracey’s case her teeth) with its beak.

What made this night truly special though, wasn’t the food or the entertainment, but a new opportunity that was given to two very special students. After a very difficult and emotionally exhausting interview process for six girls, two were chosen to study at Shenandoah University with their tuition paid in full. Seeing Sapana’s face as she was told this incredible news is a picture that none of us will forget. Many tears and hugs followed, and I can’t imagine the rush of emotions she felt in that moment. The other girl, Kriti, was at home studying for a major exam, and so we had to call her over the phone and tell her the news – and I’m sure she experienced the same thing. In just one moment, two lives were completely changed. They’ll go to the United States, study at a great university, meet some amazing friends, and take their experiences and knowledge back to Nepal to pass on to their loved ones and their country.

– AD


From Healing Hands to Helping Hearts

March 15 added yet ANOTHER fabulous and exhilarating day to our trip. Refreshed and ready to go, our crew set off today with a mission in mind…to delve even deeper into the lives of the beautiful Nepali people.

Students on Temple Stairs 2All 13 of us first stumbled upon the city of Bhaktapur, the previous capital in Nepal in the 12th through 15th centuries. We took a tour through the Bhaktapur Durbar Square and ran into beautiful pottery, temples, and restaurants at every corner. Religious harmony really unifies the city of Bhaktapur. The city sits in its magnificence and splendor along its many historical sites and sacred statues.  We even had a chance to see artists working their craft in painting the Mandala, the Buddhist and Hindu sacred circular symbol. Ornately finished and with such hard fine work each Mandala is painted with care.

Next we ventured to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital to get a sense of the healthcare in Nepal. We were greeted by professors from the university who showed us various parts of the hospital such as the Emergency Room, Medicine Floor, Ophthalmology, Pharmacy and Outpatient Physical Therapy departments to name just a few.  The hospital is highly regarded as the area’s best teaching hospital, providing top patient care in Kathmandu.

We recognized the differences in conditions between American hospitals immediately – the hustle and bustle, hectic nature, differences in overall sanitation and hygiene. Health care access to the average citizen in Nepal is poor and limited due to high costs and low availability.

The ED was similar to the US with a waiting room, triage area, although to a smaller scale and with one big central room to treat everyone who comes through. The triage area was very small and dense and patients seemed to wait longer to be seen (a problem that both nations will always face). One floor up from the Emergency room, one would find the nurses and doctors, who kept a watchful eye on eight beds. The patients there had a limited 24-hour stay due to the increased demand for beds.

Nepal is continually faced with the challenge and strife of retaining their very own educated physicians to treat their people. We were privileged to meet well renowned Ophthalmologists and Cardiothoracic surgeons who have changed numerous lives in Nepal and who chose to stay here for the love of their own people and home country.

OrphanageAfter being hosted for lunch at the Takshashila Academy by Dr. Jayaraj Acharya, previous US Ambassador, we hopped in our van and bounced over to the Children Care Club orphanage. There we met Rose Garden, the housemother who is a caretaker for nineteen children. When we arrived, the children were anxiously waiting for us with bright smiling faces. As if their smiles could not get any wider, after giving them books and toys, they lit up with even more joy. We had such a great time taking pictures with the kids, playing hokey pokey, helping the kids with their English homework, and even listening to their sweet angelic singing voices that I will never forget. We all exchanged warm wishes and regards. Then, feeling somewhat bittersweet, we left the orphanage and got back onto our van. As I walked away I turned back and looked at their bright smiling faces again and felt a sense of confidence in the children, and said a prayer for them in my heart, wishing all of them, including Rose Garden happiness in their lives and a splendid and brilliant future. I know that they will make life into something that is beautiful and joyful.

– KR

Map 3.15.2013


Finally Home

To those of you following the blog, I must apologize for the lack of blog posts for the past few days. The internet connection at our hotel in Nepal was VERY cantankerous. But on the plus side, we all landed at the Dulles airport yesterday afternoon with our luggage in tact. We were exhausted and will be suffering from jet lag for the next few days, so if you see us and we’re a little cranky, bear with us. We are so excited to be able to tell you about our adventure in person now, but there will be a few more blog posts being posted in the next few days, so I hope you’ll check them out!

– AD


Wear an Old Coat and Buy a New Book

Yesterday’s adventure began with an exhilarating ride up to Nagarkot. It took us about two hours to make it up this very windy and narrow road up the mountain. We had the chance to view the beautiful countryside of Nepal and once again saw more of the terraced farming land. When we arrived close to the top of the mountain, we had to step out of the bus and climb the rest of the way up a steep and rocky road. Once we made it to the top, we were overcome with the welcome we were given; the children of Chundadevi School, dressed in their light blue tops and navy bottoms, lined up on both sides of the entrance and applauded us as we entered the schoolyard. They gave each of us a garland of flowers that they had strung together by hand right before we came. The flowers were yellow, pink and purple and were placed around our necks as we entered.

Inside the complex, the children then lined themselves up according to their grade and began to respond to different commands given by a teacher. At one point, the children sang the new Nepali national anthem and bowed their heads out of respect. This new national anthem was declared in 2007 and the entire text reads as this:

Woven from hundreds of flowers, we are one garland that’s Nepali,
Spread sovereign from Mechi to Mahakali.

A playground for nature’s wealth unending,
Out of the sacrifice of our braves, a nation free and unyeilding.

A land of knowledge, of peace, the plains, hills and mountains tall,
Indivisible, this beloved land of ours, our motherland Nepal.

Of many races, languages, religions, and cultures of incredible sprawl,
This progressive nation of ours, all hail Nepal.

School QuoteOnce the kids were dismissed, we were allowed to take a peek into the classrooms. They were fairly small and were filled with benches and tables. The walls were painted with pictures of various objects such as animals and toys and the words were written in English and Nepali. The Nepali students themselves were so sweet and full of energy. They sang their ABCs for us and we sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with them. At one point, we all gathered together in a classroom with some of the younger school girls (grades one through eight) and they introduced themselves to us and we introduced ourselves to them. Their personalities were evident in even their introductions; some were shy and some were more than happy to make sure you knew who they were!

Erin, who is a dance education major, brought her pointe shoes to share a ballet dance with the girls. It was incredible to watch the faces of the children light up as she did her dance! A few even joined her and tried to learn some of the basic ballet moves. Some of the older girls decided to share some of the Nepali culture as well and they performed a dance too. It was an amazing cultural exchange between two vastly different and yet vastly similar ways of life.

This school that we visited is run by a non-profit organization called the Little Sisters Fund (LSF). Believing that education, particularly for female students, is crucial for social change, the LSF seeks to connect donors with girls that live in circumstances that may prevent them from obtaining an education for a successful future. Trevor, one of the co-founders of the organization, made a speech to the girls while we visited. He told them to work hard in school and to obey their mothers, which are two very important foundations to establish in order to secure a better future not only for the girls, but for the entire nation of Nepal.

On our way out of Nargakot, we learned that a strike was going to take place from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm that afternoon. Apparently, these strikes (usually politically-based) happen quite often and the entire city shuts down during the strike. With Nepal still being its infant stage in regards to becoming a democratic nation, the people are still in the process of learning to use their newfound voices and unfortunately strikes are one of the few ways they know. During a strike, local businesses will close but the schools are also forced to shut down, meaning thousands of children are missing out on the opportunities to further their knowledge and understanding for the future. Note: In case you were worried about us during the strike, we were completely safe. Nepal relies on tourism as a major source of income and thus tourists remain mostly unaffected by the strikes.

Student Tour at Kathmandu UniversityDuring the afternoon, we had the incredible opportunity of visiting Kathmandu University. Founded in 1991, it is a very new school but advanced in academics. As we walked out into the quad, our group leaders set us up with some nearby students and we broke off into smaller groups that could give us a tour around campus. Not only did we get to see their library, classrooms and hostels (dorms), we had the opportunity to get to know the students as well. It was so cool to learn how similar college students are even halfway across the world. And thanks to e-mail and social media, we can keep in touch with these students and develop some incredible international and life-long  friendships.

-AD

Map 3.14.2013


What did YOU do before Noon Today?

So sorry we haven’t been able to post on the blog for the past few days; internet has been hard to nail down but now you’re getting three (maybe that’ll keep you satisfied until tomorow – ha!)

This morning we quite literally woke up to the sounds of the jungle. The sunrise was absolutely beautiful; there is a special area right next to the river where we could sit and enjoy tea and coffee while the sun rose over the water. Before we knew it, it was time to hop into the jeeps again and make our way back to the area where we rode elephants less than twenty-four hours ago. This time though, we climbed aboard a giant wooden canoe (yes, all fourteen of us fit inside) and our tour guides steered our canoe into the river. We saw monkeys, herrings and other birds and even the backside of a rhinoceros – oh yeah and a few crocodiles too. They were very difficult to spot; they looked like rocks on land their snouts and eyes were nearly impossible to spot in the water. Don’t worry, parents, none of your children were eaten on this part of the trip.

When our canoe reached the bank, we were greeted by a large herd of cattle. After some deliberation, our group decided to take the jungle walk, despite the forewarned dangers of charging rhinos, mauling tigers and ferocious sloth bears. Don’t worry, we learned all about how to evade these terrifying creatures. For example, if a rhino charges at you, either a) climb a tree; b) hide behind a tree and prepare for several advances; or c) run in a zigzag pattern and hope for the best. For tigers though, don’t run; look them in the eyes (making the facial expression of your choice) and back away slowly. Don’t worry, parents, none of your children were eaten on this part of the trip either.

We also had the chance to visit the elephant breeding center and got to see some baby elephants, including one that was only six days old (cue “awwww”). He was so awkward and funny and could barely walk.

After a quick pit stop at the resort again, we made our way to an elephant bathing area. Once each member climbed onto the bare back of an elephant, this beautiful creature waded out into the river, filled its trunk with water and drenched those on its back. This happened several times and then the Nepali man drove the elephant into deeper water. On command, the elephant plopped its bottom on the ground and those on its back rolled right off and splashed into the river. When each person had their turn, we gave the elephant a massage using smooth rocks.

This is what we did before noon today.

-AD

Vicky on Elephant

Vicky

Erin and Michael

Erin and Michael

Stacey and Kate

Stacey and Kate

Group Elephant Massage

Group Massage for the Elephant!


Falling Eggplants, Vigorous Sneezes and Shattered Bellybuttons in the Heart of the Jungle

We finally ventured outside the city limits of Kathmandu. Our trip took us down a winding mountain road (kinda scary at times, especially with Nepali traffic that is best described as Grand Theft Auto: Nepal). The view however was incredible; the terraced mountainsides and beautiful green pastures were breathtaking. Altogether, we traveled about 200 kilometers (a little over one hundred miles) and it took us five and a half hours to get there. Don’t worry, we sang about every song known to man and played just about every car game imaginable to keep ourselves entertained.

We wasted no time once we arrived; we boarded the jeeps at the resort and travelled down the dusty (and bumpy) roads to the elephant safari area. In order to get onto the back of an elephant, we had to climb up a staircase and then climb into a wooden seating area made for four people. Standing next to these enormous creatures and being on the back of one is such an incredible experience. Our safari took us wading through river water and then deep into the jungle of Chitwan National Forest. Each group saw a variety of animals, including deer, a crocodile, various birds and best of all, a rhinoceros bathing itself in the water. Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us.

Our last activity of the evening included a visit into the village of Chitwan for a special show at the Sauraha Tharu Cultural House. The performance began with a song and dance from a group of Nepali women, followed by a dance using sticks and featuring a drum by the men. Everything was beautifully done and had a lot of energy. At one point, a boy came onto the stage and did a solo performance by twirling a long stick and was followed by a guy who twirled a flaming torch (very fast I might add). The performance ended with a dance in which the Nepali men invited members of the audience to join them on stage. Our very own Erin joined the fun and we all agreed that not only did she master the dance almost immediately, she was better at it than some of the Nepali dancers themselves!

-AD

Map 3.12.2013