Following on from a successful trip in 2016, the 15th July saw 14 students, Mr Cherry and Ms Freeman boarding a bus at QEGS for the start of the 2017 expedition. After meeting up with the expedition leader, Isi Booker at Heathrow there was a repeat of the flight into Kathmandu with a transfer at Delhi which left students wondering what to do with change in Indian rupees when they’d paid with sterling. Following a successful second attempt to land the aircraft at Kathmandu we transferred by bus to the Utse hotel in the tourist area of Thamel where we received a welcome talk by Gautam, who would be leading the trekking phase of the expedition, and some tea and biscuits.
After an early night’s sleep and a Tibetan breakfast, the next day saw us heading for the Nepal office of Practical Action – a charity that assists remote areas in developing resilient livelihoods covering issues such as water supply, sanitation, energy and disaster preparedness as well as looking at how food security could be improved. We had the pleasure of handing over a donation from a former traveller who was sufficiently impressed by their work that he had donated £1500 to the charity.
The afternoon saw a trip to the now repaired Boudhanath Stupa where, owing to the visit of a High Lama, we were unfortunate not to be able to meet with the monks at the nearby Buddhist monastery.
The day ended with packing in preparation for the trip out to the project site in Pokhara.
The six hour drive to Pokhara saw the bus climbing up winding hillside roads with stunning views of the Nepalese countryside before a similarly spectacular descent into Pokhara and our accommodation for the duration of the project phase – the Tashi Ling Tibetan Refugee Camp where we received a warm, traditional greeting from Sonam, the Global Action Projects Director, and the ladies that would be looking after us.
The first full day on the project started with stunning views before breakfast of the Annapurna range – the cloud had cleared from the previous night and the sight of the snow-capped mountains was simply breath-taking.
Our time at the Kundahar Adharbut School saw us beginning the digging of a hole to accommodate an on-site water tank to guarantee a supply of water to the school. As is common in Nepal, state schools receive little help from the government and many rely on donations and volunteers to keep running. Even so, the outcomes for students can be limited with many not progressing into further education.
It was soon realised that Plan B was needed. The digging quickly revealed large amounts of stone below the surface and we were making little impression on it.
Day two and we were armed with paintbrushes and rollers whilst a digger had been brought in to work on the hole for the water tank (the hole needed to be seven feet deep – we had no chance!). Initial work involved painting the outside of one building with runny yellow paint. Some of us then moved into a classroom with runny white paint! Whilst this was going on some of the students were taking the opportunity to teach some of the children who had been brought into school especially (it was actually the pupils’ holidays!).
By the end of the day the digger had failed to remove large rocks at the bottom of the hole and local workers were attacking them with a sledgehammer and stone chisel.
The next day didn’t involve project work at all! We visited the British Gurkha Camp and representatives of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme. We had presentations on the work of the charity, their water supply programme, their post-earthquake relief work and long term-reconstruction and rehabilitation programme for building schools and houses in areas where support was needed. They also outlined how they support elderly ex-Gurkhas who, for various reasons after serving with the British Army, were not entitled to receive a military pension. After presenting a donation to the charity we spent the afternoon at the Gurkha Residential Home Kaski meeting the residents and playing a variety of games with them including the popular ‘Goats and Tigers’ board game.
The next day was a little different with the group having a morning’s trek up to the local Peace Stupa which overlooks the lake at Pokhara.
The rest of the project time resulted in all of the school buildings receiving a two-tone paint job on the outside and one block having the majority of the classrooms painted in a similar vein with a suitably impressed local painter giving us his approval.
The end of the project involved the donating of £500 to the Green Town branch of the Lions organisation on behalf of the Horncastle Lions so that work could be continued and the receiving of a plaque to be returned to the UK and the Horncastle branch.
The final day at Tashi Ling was one to remember. If a brief trip into Pokhara had introduced the students to the idea of haggling the students soon discovered how good the local ladies were when negotiating deals for the jewellery and souvenirs that they sold to generate their incomes. But now was a chance for a cultural exchange and a bit of sporting activity. A competitive football match saw the two teams share the honours with a 3-3 draw whilst a display of song and dance by the Tibetan girls and ladies saw our students respond with the Cha-Cha Slide. After that it turned into a general party.
If the exertions of the previous night were not enough the next day saw the group being driven to Nayapul and the start of the trek – fortunately supported by guides and porters. The group learnt quickly what the meaning of ‘some steep sections’ actually meant. The climb was approximately 1100m and the majority of this occurred after lunch at a local tea house – roughly 3300 steps (although we heard varying figures for this).
The night was spent at a teahouse in Ulleri (altitude 2020m) and we then headed for Ghorepani (altitude 2860m) and the group began to understand the meaning of ‘Nepali flat’ (a ‘little bit’ up and a ‘little bit’ down) and met a few more steps.
Day three and we climbed to the highest point of the walk (c. 3300m) before beginning our descent to Tadapani (2630m) through the rhododendron forest. This was where the group really began to appreciate what monsoon rain could look like – the rivers were spectacular.
Day four saw us descending rapidly to Ghandruk (1940m) and an opportunity to discover more about the local ethnic group – the Gurungs. Students learned about their culture, dress (and they tried it on), their agriculture and homes and took the chance to visit a small Gurung Buddhist monastery. The group also visited the offices of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project which manages conservation work in the 2,946 square miles of the protected area.
The final day of the trek involved the descent back to Nayapul and the trip back to the Hotel Third Pole in Pokhara. This was followed by a slow return journey to Kathmandu the following day.
Back in the capital there was a busy day ahead. It began with a trip to the Kopan monastery and an introduction to Buddhism and meditation. An early lunch followed that then saw the group depart for Durbar Square – the main temple and palace complex in Kathmandu. The evening saw a well-kept secret revealed – a trip to the Fire and Ice pizza restaurant.
Overall it was a fantastic experience for students and all of them were very enthusiastic about the trip and the things that they had had the opportunity to see and learn. Many were surprised at how quickly they had adapted to being in Nepal and I wouldn’t be at all shocked if a number of them go on to undertake further expeditions in the future.