Saturday, 2 April 2016

First impressions of Nepal

We have arrived in Nepal. 36 hours from Hiroshima to Kathmandu via buses, trains, planes, stop-overs and delays. Uttam, the principal of the charity school where we are headed, waits with a sign to welcome us.

Cutting through the normal predatory babble of taxi drivers looking for fresh meat to fleece, we were taken to the car and driven through the manic streets of Kathmandu out towards Dhulikhel. Craziness abounds once more. No longer the regimented, automaton behavior we have become used to. Now we are surrounded with manic horn blowing notifying everyone of one’s presence or displeasure . Cars carving up bikes and bikes on pavements and everyone squeezing through impossible gaps or passing on corners. Dust is everywhere, building work is everywhere and exhaust fumes fill the air. Not sure that this is my sort of town but will pass judgment on it when we come back to explore more fully in the future.
What I will say is its great to be back amongst gritty life.

The town of Dhulikhel is old and Innate Guest House (where we are staying for a couple of days), like everything, is perched on a hill. This particular one being on the outskirts of the town and a short dusty walk down a road with numerous small shops and groups of locals who stand and chat, seemingly, for hours. These are generally friendly and we have to “Namaste” someone or other every few minutes on our way to the town. As towns go this one ain't all that until you suddenly find yourself lost in the old town. 

A myriad of little lanes and old buildings, many cracked, and many more bedecked with corrugated iron roofs or propped with wooden struts. The architecture is a refreshing change from that of Japan with many buildings being ornate, run down and hugely photographic. 

We take every opportunity to talk to people and get permissions to take pictures where appropriate - olds ladies, cute kids, groups of men etc. many of the faces are worn and tired but light up when they smile.

After browsing through the old town for a few hours wer head off to the supposed highlight of the place which is the view point from the old temple at the top of the ‘The thousand steps’. Urmmmm. The thousand steps actually number 558 and the temple is a bit of shit hole. The way up is littered with rubbish and the view was obscured with mist. Even so it stretched out our legs after the long flight and was still fun to do - as is everything with Rachel.

Just a little bit about why we are in Nepal. We are here to work as volunteers in a charity run schools for poor kids and especially poor girls (who are encouraged not to get an education) in a little village called Saping. The school was set up by Uttam Raj Giree, a local man with a vision for his village. He is a charming character who decided that there were far too many uneducated and socially trapped people in his little village and some 15 years ago decided to do something for them. The school has grown from humble beginnings to 63 students and receives some funding from a Japanese organization to cover the basics and from whatever sponsor money can be raised elsewhere. We have managed to raise about 4000 dollars through friends and the Hiroshima YMCA and will be spending 6 weeks here teaching kids English, maths and science and will be helping with repairs of earthquake damage and development work at the school.

The bus ride from Dhulikhel to Dulolghat is pretty much what you would picture a bus ride in a third world economy country to be like. The Bus is dilapidated with faded paintwork that is pitted with rust in various places, repaired with filler in others and dented liberally all about. We wait beside a stall selling oranges, grapes and strung up dusty packets of snacks and warm water in a rutted square of baked mud which serves as the bus terminal. Eventually our particular bus rolls to a stop in cloud of red dust and diesel fumes. Westerners are not such a rare sight in these parts although we have only seen three other white faces in 2 days and so warrant more than just idle curiosity. We clamber aboard the already full bus and stumble along the walkway clutching our reduced in size, but still heavy packs. The central aisle is already scattered with other passenger’s parcels atop a carpet of full rice sacks which are lain end to end along the bus. And the only spare seats (2) are at the rear of the bus. I sit down on the back row which also kindly shuffles into sardine formation to allow Rachel to fit in as well. Uttam, his friend Nani and her nephew occupy another single seat a short way off and after rearrangements of bodies and bags and bits and pieces the bus trundles off. The occupants of the bus chatter, doze and hang on as we fly down the roads that are too poorly constructed, too narrow and too busy for the amount of traffic on them. The man in front has a box of chicks beside him that he is trying to keep cool. There is considerable noise and a faint smell of ammonia from these creatures whom he occasionally feeds by scattering feed on them. Apart from that the bus does not yet have that heavy rancor of travel sweat and perfumes and soap smells still rule supreme. The journey is one of two or three hours and gradually the charm of it all wears thinner as more and more people embark both inside and on the roof. The smell of a leaking petrol container gets stronger and the roads get worse. 

There is a short stop for roadside noodles and warm coke in Dulolghat before we leave the tarmac roads for rutted dirt roads that wind up the side of steep valley. With lurching, jolting movements the bus, now enveloped in a dust cloud, zig zags its way up the side of the valley with the precipitous drop only a foot or two away from the crumbling edges of the road. Luggage tumbles off the roof or the bus every now and then and the bus stops whilst it’s retrieved. Eventually we arrive at a junction in the road where, amidst some effort, we extricate ourselves and are left with final blasts from the horn and spray of dust to take stock of our surrounds.  We now have a 60 minute walk to the village which involves following a footpath that requires additionally clambering over rocks, balancing on the raised edges of dry paddy fields, tramping through dry stream beds and dusty tracks through pine forests. 

The whole time the views of the surrounding hills with cultivated slopes being worked by water buffalo and brightly clothed women, and endless terraces of rice fields gladden our hearts. We make a short break in the walk to Saping to have tea and delicious homemade yoghurt with sugar and rice flakes at Nani’s mothers house. All is quite and slightly misty.

When we arrive at the school we are greeted by small boys, wandering cows and grumbling skies that threaten rain. What a setting. The school sits on a narrow ledge some 10m wide that is cut into the hillside to accommodate the buildings. Both two story buildings (about 30m x 4m) overlook the south facing valley. One has classrooms below and an open hall above whilst the other has classrooms below, our bedroom and a library above.  The Buildings are rustic, roughly constructed with no doors or windows although there are wooden shutters on the upper windows  (thank goodness its coming up for summer here). The floors downstairs are packed mud and upstairs, rough hewn floor boards. The kitchen is perched above another little building and consists of a two ring burner, a shelf and little work area about 300m square. Below is a lean to affair with squat toilet, shower and sink.

I don’t want to say to much just yet on the place and what it will be like living here but I think it will be ok. At the moment it strikes us as fantastic and exactly what we wanted after the excesses and comforts of Japan but…Lets see huh?

OK just to finish off this first impressions blog. Since we have arrived in Nepal we have, in two days, had a beautiful sunny day where we got a little burnt. It then became cloudy and very windy with rain, and even a little hail.  Today our journey here has given us sun, thunder and lightning. The winds from the previous day were stronger here so the power lines are down and there is no electricity for a few days. Whilst we ate our first meal of Dhal Bhat last night there was a small earth tremor that sent the dogs off barking and children running to and fro shouting “Earthquake”. It was a only a minor tremor though and passed without note. Finally just as it was getting to dusk the earth seemed to spit up a swarm of flying ants (flying termites we think) from holes in the agitated mud. The sky was filled with flying insects and the ground was covered with thousands of termites (all probably shouting “earthquake” to one another). We quickly closed the shutters and Uttam lit fires over the main holes to smoke them out completely whilst we ate in near darkness. Talk about a biblical welcome! As I write this on our first morning here. The sun is rising, goats bleat, thousands of birds chirrup, cockerels crow, villages are working in the fields, Rachel snores and Uttam is outside sweeping up the debris of his genocidal act against the termite nation.

This will probably be the last post for awhile as it has taken two days to up load most of this one. 


  1. It all sounds bloody fantastic, I have to say again I wish I was 30 years younger and had the werewithall to do it...I am quite jealous. I particularly like the sound of the school perched on a hillside and all those lovely sounds of nature. Enjoy your experience and you will remember it I'm sure in years to come.
    HO UK

  2. It all sounds bloody horrible. I have to say for the first time I'm glad I'm not 30 years younger with an urge to do it... I am not at all jealous. I particularly can do without the accommodation and biblical plagues. Enjoy your experience, you're not going to forget for years to come.
    JC UK
    (Just for the record you know I love and respect your efforts to help the school)