2012 Study Tour: Namaste Nepal
Hi all, my name's Jessie and I was lucky enough to be a member of the very first Seven Women Study Tour to Nepal. I wrote bits and pieces of this blog throughout the trip and didn't get a change to upload it. So here it is now, enjoy :)
For the past two weeks I’ve found myself completely taken aback by Nepal. So much so that I have failed to write one single blog. But here I am, squeezing in time between our hectic itinerary to reflect on what has been an absolutely incredible trip.
I guess I should start from the beginning and talk my way through the trip in chronological order. Before arriving in Nepal I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’d been to a developing nation in Asia before, so I didn’t experience that intense feeling of being smacked in the face with culture shock. Despite this I was still astonished at what awaited me in this dust ridden place. The valley of Kathmandu is in a word, hectic. The roads are a nightmare and the shop keepers are all persistent for your business. The streets are packed and everything is sitting under a layer of thick dust as it hasn’t rained for months.
Poverty seems to be widespread although after doing development studies I’m well aware that our Western views don’t always fit into the categories we expect. I guess what I’m getting at is that the people are happy. In a nutshell the Nepalese people are friendly, warm and have a great sense of humour. Take our Nepalese guide for example, Padam (aka. Paddy). He has taken three weeks off work just to help our group out and is probably the most legendary person I have ever met. Everyone absolutely loves him.
The group as a whole is completely different from what I’d imagined it to be. Despite the differences in interests and lifestyles, we’ve all managed to get along really well, and I feel as though they’re my family. Speaking of family hello to everyone back at home in particular Mum, Dad, El and Pam! For some reason I have not felt homesick one bit. Maybe I’m constantly comparing this trip to Fiji and in comparison this is like a leisurely holiday. It’s made me so grateful for taking that experience as it’s managed so make me feel as though I can handle pretty much anything. I was a little afraid I’d think I was missing out on my wonderful Summer weeks back home but it just doesn’t even come close to comparing to what I’ve been up to.
Surprise surprise I’m onto my fifth paragraph and still haven’t really started talking about the experiences we’ve been having over here. Brooke if you’re reading this I’ll get straight into it just for you, if I don’t start now I’ll be 5 pages in before I do.
Our itinerary has been go go go right from day 1. We have managed to fit into 20 days what I would usually fit into about 6 months. If I were to talk about every experience you would be reading this blog for days so I’ll go with dotpoints highlighting favourite parts.
-Guided Tour to Patan Durbar Square - packed with Hindu temples
-Poshpotinath temple- Public crematorium. This was confronting to say the least. People were literally getting cremated in front of our eyes. Right by the river. Unforgettable experience as you can imagine.
-Seven Women Centre- This is the centre that our leader Steph has established. The whole reason why I came on this study tour. It was established to empower disabled women by training them in a skill. Getting to know the women and work alongside them doing tasks was just amazing. I raised some money before I came (thanks again to all who donated) and managed to get 35 A3 photos framed to decorate the new centre with. They are photos of all the women and will make the new centre seem a bit more homey. Other members also had other tasks which I was able to also get involved in. Some of these included 2 big murals, one on the rooftop and another on the front fence, work in the vegie patch, new shelves for the women, sorting out clothing donations and helping organise new bedding and linen.
-Maheshwors Felt Factory- This was a great chance to see how felt products are made. I’ve seen these incredible felt ball mats that sell for hundreds back home and I can now fully appreciate just how long they take to make. It took me about half an hour to roll one ball. Not including sourcing the felt, rolling it, dyeing it, sewing them all together etc.
-Beni’s recycled plastic Enterprise- This woman was really inspiring to listen to and had such a beautiful nature. She had an arranged marriage at the age of ten and it was incredible to listen to her life story. She sold items made from recycled plastic wrappers.
-Boudinath Stupa- This was the biggest Buddhist temple in Nepal. I can’t quite explain just how big it was. The girls and I made great friends with the waiter at a rooftop restaurant and anything he wanted to say he would sing it to us.
-Indian Slum- After the Stupa we visited Steph’s friend Rina’s slum. There is a whole group of Indian migrants that live on this piece of government land and it was the first time I got to experience this. Although they were obviously extremely poor they all seemed happy and there was such a strong sense of community. It was beautiful to see. I also held a snake which was a bit weird, I was told that it’s ‘fangs’ were cut off so I was just hoping to god it would be okay. Luckily, it was.
-Nargakot lookout tower/village- had an incredible morning trek up to a lookout tower where we could see the Himalayan mountain range. Probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. The feeling that I got when I got to the top couldn’t compare to anything else. In the future I’d love to do a proper trek and get up close and personal with the mountain ranges. The village was also a beautiful experience.
-Tour of Bhaktapur- We stayed the night in Bhaktapur which was really cold and we didn’t really have much power at all (brown outs are a daily occurrence, hence no photos). Despite this it was an amazing feeling walking around the square imagining what it was like all those years ago. I’d love to go into the history of it all but there’s just too much to say.
-Thanka painting workshop- In Nepal and other parts of the world you can see Thanka paintings. I had previously thought they were quite ugly and didn’t realise that they had stories behind them. Going to this workshop we saw the most intricate paintings I have almost ever seen. The work and background knowledge that goes into them is just unbelievable. Definitely changed my views on them!
-Precious National College- We spent a morning/afternoon at a school which was a great experience. We were paired up and got to teach a class for the morning. It was so rewarding and brought back many memories from Fiji. We had such a cheeky little class (class 4) and I found myself fully immersed in the lesson. We also played Volley ball in the afternoon which was awesome fun, I forgot how much I enjoyed team sports!
-Chitwan National Park- We spent two nights here and it was absolutely incredible. We spent a whole morning on the back of elephants roaming around the park checking out rhinos and all the other wildlife. We took a canoe ride down the river too which was stunning. It’s funny writing all this down because although I’m trying to describe things it’s as though I’m just throwing a whole bunch of adjectives at you thinking that you will understand just how amazing these experiences are. But I guess the truth is it cannot be explained. Those who have travelled will understand just how unique these types of things are and writing about them just doesn’t do them justice. But for blog’s sake I will continue. After the canoe ride we took a couple of hours walk around the park. We were fortunate to see a group of elephants (two babies included) walking around the park. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat just doing what they do.
-Gorkha Homestay- This was an experience and half. We travelled by bus then jeep to this tiny remote village called Gorkha. We stayed in a traditional Nepalese house and ate probably the best Dahl Baht I’ve ever eaten (traditional dish). I won’t lie the experience did push the limits. I have never ever been so cold in my life. I slept in thermal pants, pyjama pants, normal socks, huge woollen lined socks, a singlet, long sleeved top, long sleeved fleece, vest, jacket, snow jacket, beanie, arm warmers and gloves. I was also spooning Clara the whole night in a single bed and it’s safe to say I was still freeeeezing cold. It was actually ridiculous. Anyway we had an interesting program at the school the next day where they awkwardly asked us for donations for a fence. After looking behind me at the materials that would have made a great fence I felt as though something a little dodgy was going on.
-Monkey Temple- There had been a few times at night where a group of us would be up on the rooftop having a few drinks or just enjoying each other’s company. The lights of Thamel weren’t all that exciting although there was what looked like a palace lit up on the top of a big hill. We eventually found out that it was in fact a monkey temple. So one afternoon Paddy took a group of us for a walk there. There were literally hundreds of steps but what awaited us at the top was well worth it. The view was absolutely incredible and the temple was beautiful. Safe to say the calves were a little sore the next day!
-Fred Hollows Foundation –I was a little nervous about going to a Nepalese hospital as the standard of living is obviously quite different to that at home. Despite my preconceptions I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-equipped and extremely clean hospital. It was amazing to see the work that they did with cornea transplants and I found myself holding a cornea in my own hands (In a jar of course!). We were also fortunate enough to see an operation taking place within the hospital.
-Night out at Fireclub- As our itinerary was absolutely packed it was tricky to find a night where we could go out and have a few drinks. Eventually we had a free Saturday so Friday night was the night. We went to a few pubs but settled for Fireclub which was just a hilarious night all round. Both the girls and guys were getting a little violated and the night ended in Matt getting up on Leigh’s shoulders stripping. He continued this trend on the way home when he hitched a lift on the back of a rickshaw (in which Clara was riding) and let’s just say everyone got to know Matt pretty well this night.
-Lalipur Fair trade shops- For those of you who know me well you will be well acquainted with my love for linen. Nepal was no exception. The fair trade shopping in Lalipur allowed me to fuel my obsession and I found myself having to buy an extra bag to fit in all of my purchases. They were all priced so well and I knew that they had all been hand made by women from all over Nepal. We went back again and Clara, Hannah and I just couldn’t help ourselves.
-Paintballing- This was quite an unexpected experience but was quite easily one of the top 3 highlights of the trip. We had a few free hours in the afternoon where I was planning on catching up on some well needed rest. Hannah and I had just made it back to the hotel when Matt, Marty, Lee and Clara were just about to leave for paintballing. After some coaxing Hannah and I were keen. We split up and went in different taxis, unfortunately our taxi went to the wrong place and we found ourselves on the top of a 5 story department story wading through boxes and cactus. It turns out there are 5 supermarkets with that name and we spent another half hour attempting to navigate the new taxi driver to where we wanted to go. We eventually made it to the right place and found ourselves on a really high rooftop with a big paintball set up right on the top. We met some extremely interesting characters here and I can’t quite describe how much fun it was. Adrenalin was pumping and everyone was just in the best mood. We decided splitting the taxi was a bad idea so we thought we’d challenge ourselves a bit. The taxis in Nepal are all the same, tiny little Suzukis that are far from roadworthy. I’d have to say they are smaller than my little Barina at home, quite easily actually. Anyway there were three full grown men and another three girls that somehow managed to squeeze in. And when I say squeeze I mean squeeze. There were limbs everywhere, my body has never ever been in the position that it was on and we were all in hysterics. I was actually crying most of the way as it was just such a funny place to be in. Even looking back on it now puts a smile on my face.
-ACP (Association of Craft Producers) visit- This was an interesting trip and really challenged me and my thoughts on fair trade. ACP is the largest fair trade factory in Nepal and specialises in 22 skills (felt making, sewing, knitting, pottery etc). It was such a huge factory and there was some incredible work happening. Although it was interesting I couldn’t help but find myself wondering what fair trade actually was and what channels people had to go through to get their work classified as fair trade. What I saw at ACP wasn’t quite what I thought fair trade would be. It was extremely cold, there were rooms that had a lot of chemicals, the machinery was old and looked quite dangerous and I was unsure on safety precautions. I’m really looking forward to writing my research essay on fair trade when I return home because I’d be really interested in finding out more.
I think I better hold up on the big list as there are literally just too many things to write about! I cannot explain how jam packed the trip has been and how many amazing people we have met. There were so many experiences that both confirmed and challenged some of my views. The leadership on the trip was incredible. Steph, Erin and Paddy were all legends and put in their all.
I couldn’t keep writing for days about the trip but I’m 2,500 words in and I think I should probably wind it up. In a Nutshell Nepal is beautiful. The trip was unforgettable and I’ve made some incredible friends. I’m so grateful and feel really privileged to have been part of such a great team. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading and I look forward to catching up with you all when I return.