Hi. The following is a letter a sent to families whose students went to Nepal. It represents a lot of my feelings about the recent trip.
Catlin Gabel School
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Namasté to everyone,
This simple greeting is a wonderful symbol of how Nepal worked its special magic on all. I’ve heard the word translated as “I salute the spirit within you,” a brief, yet eloquent way to recognize another’s humanity.
Certainly at the heart of global travel, especially to a country as different from ours as Nepal is, students quickly felt the upbeat feeling of just saying hello in this way. Now, with a fortnight back home, I’ve had opportunity to reflect on the overall experience and am excited to share some thoughts.
First, thank you for your trust in Becky, Laurie, and me to travel with your children to a distant land. Regardless of everything else we were doing, being smart about being safe was coursing through us at all times. And what a delight knowing that we stayed safe, did all we wanted to and more, and had an absolutely fabulous adventure.
My thanks also extends to just relishing the time we had together. For me especially, ‘sharing’ Nepal, with all its wonder and peculiarities, felt great. All the planning and preparation led to a trip with successful days and minimal glitches.
As our lives quickly roll along with Portland-based events, here’s a review of the trip’s events.
Korean Air was awesome, treating us well on-board and in Seoul. Most of us slept well the first night out at an upscale Best Western (included in our flight cost). The dinner and breakfast buffets were extensive and our rooms incredibly comfortable. The airline also provided us with free bus service to and from central Seoul on our final day of travel, March 23rd. We had a great lunch in a Korean-style restaurant and enjoyed time at a palace. Korean Air’s hospitality eased the transitions in both directions.
Nepal and the fullness of the Kathmandu Valley came at us fast. We started touring historic and religious sites early on our second day in country. The settings of the structures were dramatic, and the phenomenal artistry and intricate detail of the designs overwhelmed us with sensory input. All the locations are also alive with daily practice, so we were instantly immersed in the genuine cultural life of the community. In addition, hawkers and beggars, and garbage mixed with clouds of incense pervade the cityscape. Touring requires a lot of focus and energy. What a benefit to end the day at modest hotels where quiet time for reflection was easily found.
Generally, we adapted well to the food, often having a choice between western and local fare. Local dumplings, called momos, were a favorite, as were some of the rice and noodle dishes commonly found throughout the region.
The group displayed tremendous poise during the trekking week. The bus breaking down about 3-hours out of Kathmandu was a drag, yet students spent the long repair-time writing in their journals, birding, and taking in the spectacular terraced farmland setting at the side of the road. Because of the delay, we did stop after nightfall at a different town than planned, yet were comfortable in a modest guesthouse that night.
Five days of walking followed and each was a challenge. The phrase. “There is no flat ground in Nepal” proved mostly true as we ascended and descended trails through simple mountain villages. The high peaks instantly beckoned and spirits remained strong despite the stresses put on our bodies.
Despite difficult walking, the weather was great. Warming to the 70s each day, we never had to hike in rain or cold. Thunderstorms did occur on three nights but we were well under cover. The result was beautifully white-dusted high peaks in the morning sun as the higher elevations had snow. For our most challenging climb, we ascended about 2000’ to a viewpoint close to Nepal’s border with Tibet. In fact, we could see a number of Tibetan villages in the distance framed by an impressive mountain range. There were snowball fights, prancing, singing, hot tea, food, and group photos, of course when we reached the top. The highpoint was on a ridge and getting there involved long stretches through rhododendron forests and open slopes. Turning a final corner marked with a stone mound and prayer flag was an uplifting sensation difficult to describe. I was at the back of the pack and thoroughly enjoyed the happy scene of the group celebration already in progress. Smiles were broad and a profound sense of accomplishment was palpable. That was one of many special moments when our reasons for journeying to Nepal was confirmed.
After the trek, we rounded out the Kathmandu time in good fashion. We visited the former royal palace and noted that being an all-powerful monarchs is no guarantee of having good taste in design. The palace was impressive, of course, yet was also a mishmash of styles. With all the special art we saw at public shrines and temples, we wondered why that same level of quality was absent from the royal residence.
Later that day, students had a fine afternoon in Kathmandu’s most famous tourist zone, Thamel. Although the extensive marketplace could not be fully appreciated, all found some treasures to bring home. Along with seeing visitors from many parts of the world, students enjoyed the shopping time and had a fabulous pizza lunch to sustain them.
A personal highlight was our meeting with the Nepal youth group. These students were from various Kathmandu high schools and are part of a media arts collective/advocacy group called Sattya. After getting to know each other a bit, we discussed the film Food, Inc. and the topics it raised about large-scale food production. A longer session involved the students working in pairs to create a short radio spot on a given topic. The Sattya people chose issues ranging from global climate change to healthcare, and the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Student performances were delightful with lots of clever language and humorous delivery. The day was so wonderful and allowed us to interact with Nepalese completely outside the tourist world. Please check out the photos and group discussion blog at http://sattya.org/collective/2010/03/update-fast-food-debate/
Our last nights were in a Tibetan district called Boudanath. Its tremendous centerpiece, a stone and metal stupa, is at the heart of local Buddhist practice. Reputed to have relics of the Buddha inside, practitioners circle the structure throughout the day, chanting and clicking their prayer beads. Many refugees have settled in the area that is now home to a dozen monasteries and numerous religious goods shops. Our guesthouse was cozy and run by joyous people. Its rooftop view enchanted us because it faced the stupa, but it also offered a great view of the surrounding urban world. It kept us above Kathmandu’s density and noise and also offered time and place for reflection on the great adventure we were bringing to a close.
From Boudanath to the airport and beyond was the long haul home. Again, Seoul was welcoming, but the hotel this time was far more modest. The many hours on the airplanes held distractions: movies, music, reading, and fitful attempts at sleep. How welcoming to see the families at the Portland airport. We were exhausted, yet happy with our memories.
The strength of home is precisely the right base for launching the kind of travel we accomplished. We moved well through the stresses Nepal offered for many good reasons, your support being a primary one. Thanks again for your faith, trust, and willingness to let your children soar. It was a joy being part of their first experience with Nepal.
We are in Seoul. We will spend a few hours sightseeing and then will catch an evening flight to Seattle. We look forward to seeing all our families tomorrow. (Actually, it will be today for us. It is 9:50am Tuesday morning in Seoul and will still be Tuesday when we land in Portland!)
We had a great time making connections and conversation with a group of Nepali teenagers. We discussed our impressions of Nepal. The topic of garbage had both countries actively questioning and commenting. We also talked about the movie Food Inc., which we had all previously watched. Nepal has recently gained its first KFC and Pizza Hut. How food is produced and eaten is quite different here. Each of our students paired with one of their students to produce a five minute radio broadcast. The topics were randomly assigned, but all had something to do with food. A wonderful time was had by all.
THe whole group.
Sarah and Sam with Tata Pani Villege children
Becky at the 12,000 foot level of Kamje Kharka.
Laurie, Becky and David in our summit pose. We are higher than Mt Hood. This is just one part of the panorama we could see. It was close to 360 degrees. Wish you had been there too.
Riding the bus to the start of the trek. 14 hrs to get there. Very dusty and bumpy!
Dawn breaking on our first morning.
Chickens for lunch?
At our first view point.
Children at Gatling villiage.
Drawing in the early morning.
Taking a break!
An awesome mountain climber.
Trekking up to Tatopani -- where there were hot springs!
Porters packaging up our bags. Each porter carried 2 or 3 bags!
Trying to lift a porter's load.
Pondering the mountains.
On the way up to 12000+ feet.
With one of our guides
At the top!
Snowball fight at 12000 feet!
On the way back down.
Contemplating a swim....
Women bathing at fountain.
David and Luke
Sarah and Flora
Man with Cabbage
These photos were taken on an early morning walk through Bhaktapur. Even though we got up at 5:30 to see the morning rituals it was a wonderful experience.
We're back in Kathmandu after two exciting days in Bhaktapur visiting historical sites. The temples were large, old, and quite beautiful. The people were almost always friendly and smiled when we gave them the polite Nepali greeting of a bow and the words "Namaste." Shopping in and around the public squares was an adventure, and we all worked on our bartering skills. Some of the vendors were more aggressive than others, including a certain silver-encrusted turtleshell salesman who followed Dylan and me for over 30 minutes. We finally escaped him by running up some temple stairs and jumping down the other side. Unfortunately, he found us a few minutes later. :) Persistant, eh? The group returned to the Hotel Tibet in Kathmandu this afternoon and everyone has been relaxing. We select roomates by drawing cards and by some freaky glitch, all the girls drew the same partners as last night!! Pretty soon we'll be briefed about the trek, which starts tomorrow, and then we'll go grab some last minute supplies, have dinner, pack, and go to bed. What a trip so far!
Comments by Margaret Fossand and Dylan Shields
We arrived in Kathmandu this afternoon (Monday). The flight in provided spectacular views of the Himalayas and a dramatic entry into Kathmandu. The weather is warm and sunny. After an impressive drive drive through some back streets that I swear were not wide enough for the bus, much less the cars that passed us, we've settled into our hotel and have started to explore. This city is big and busy and crazy. We are in a nice little hotel on a quiet side street. We are enjoying people watching while we get our bearings. We are now all off to bed...
We are sitting in the Incheon airport waiting to make the next leg of the journey to Kathmandu. The plane ride into Incheon was 12 hours long. I couldn't sleep on the plane so i watched half a dozen movies. My favorite movie that i watched was Where the wild things are, except i felt really sad after watching it. For some reason i can't unitalicize right now. Anyways, Im scared for the flight back because i will have already watched all of the good movies. I might be forced to watch The Blind Side. 7 and a half hours into Kathmandu... Can't wait!