In early April, National Geographic Traveller Aus/NZ editor Geordie Torr and competition winner Laura Waters joined a group of Kathmandu Summit Club members for a 14-day ‘Rebuild Nepal’ trek through the foothills of the Himalaya. Having raised funds for the Australian Himalayan Foundation (AHF) as a way of giving back to the communities that they would visit, the group visited schools in the Solukhumbu district to see first-hand some of the work that’s being carried out by rural education and environment NGO REED Nepal, with support from the AHF and Kathmandu, before joining the ‘tourist circuit’ for views of Mount Everest and other famous Himalayan peaks.
We’re all waking early each morning, but we were a bit more bleary-eyed than usual this morning as the local dogs had kept most of us awake for a large chunk of the night barking in close proximity to the tents. Early rising means that we get to see the interplay of light and landscape each morning, as the sun suddenly peeks over a nearby ridge, flooding the scene before us with warm rays. Our campsite is overlooked on two sides by the village and the paths that pass through it, and we were clearly a source of fascination to the locals – especially the children – who took turns to stand or squat and quietly observe us as we prepared for the day’s walk.
When we eventually got going, we walked down through a series of terraces to the village school. We didn’t have a tour organised this time, so we just had a bit of a look around and then continued downhill until we reached, and crossed, a small stream. As we made our way up the opposite hillside, the slanting sunlight bounced off the rocks on the path, which were so shiny as to look as though they were made of silver. A lot of the stone in this region is phyllite, a metamorphic rock formed from shale. The heat and pressure that bring about the metamorphosis cause clay in the shale to form little sheets of mica, which is particularly shiny. Here, the passage of countless feet over the rocks had buffed them up to a near-mirror-like reflectivity.
Partway up the hillside, we stopped for a rest and a chat with a doctor heading down the hill – on his way to the village we had just left as part of a tour of the local area. Nearby, a woman was harvesting wheat, cutting the stalks with a small scythe and throwing the heads of grain into a basket on her back.
Higher up the hill, we stopped for a tour of another school. A larger school, with around 500 students, it caters to years one to 12, although so far it has only had students up to year 11. While the school was in pretty good condition, it was still fairly basic; some of the classrooms had dirt floors. This village is located at about 1,400 metres, so it doesn’t get too cold in winter – down to about 10°C-12°C.
After leaving the school, we started heading uphill in earnest, the path taking us into and through a patch of forest. As we walked up, we were greeted by children heading down to the school for their exams. The traditional greeting in Nepal is ‘Namaste’, usually with a very drawn out ‘aaaaay’ at the end. A traditional Hindu greeting, namaste literally means ‘bowing to the god in you’. It’s said with the hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards – as if in prayer. As this particular region isn’t much visited by tourists, the locals are curious about us and very welcoming – we are often hailed with a hearty ‘namaste’ as we pass people working in the terraced fields, or by small children standing in doorways of their houses.
We only had a short walk today, arriving at tonight’s campsite, which was in the grounds of another school, in the late morning. When we arrived, some of the porters were playing volleyball in the playground. Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in the area; all of the schools that we’ve visited have had a court and many proudly display shields and cups that have been won in inter-school competitions. Today’s game had to be curtailed, however, as our camp was due to be set up adjacent to the court.
While the camp was being constructed, we had lunch in one of the classrooms. By the time we were done, our tents were up, so we set about putting our stuff away and then most of us did some much-needed laundry. The days are warm and sunny at the moment, so everything dries nice and quickly. We rapidly ran out of water, so I grabbed a container and went and filled it up at the closest of the village’s communal water points, where three young girls were also washing clothes. The hills around here are peppered with natural springs, and the villages that we pass through are all equipped with these communal water points, which are plumbed into a spring, providing a ready water supply.
With our newly cleaned clothing flapping from the guy ropes of our tents, we all went for a short walk around the rather small village and then science teachers Prue and Chrissie put on a special science demonstration in the school playground. After rounding up a group of local children (and a few adults), they elicited a steady stream of oohs and aahs from them using a few simple props and some well-practiced techniques. As they performed, Ekraj worked manfully to translate their spiel for the audience, stumbling occasionally as he tried to find the right words to explain the scientific concepts underlying the experiments.
Later, we ate dinner in the same classroom as before. Among the dishes was a very tasty goat curry, made with meat from a goat slaughtered for us earlier in the day. It’s in this way that the economic benefits of our trek are being spread along our route, the kitchen team purchasing fresh ingredients for our meals as we pass through the villages.
Australian Himalayan Foundation
Kathmandu community partnerships
Kathmandu Summit Club treks