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.
It was around 8.15am when we got underway this morning. The air was cool, but with the sky largely cloudless, it didn’t take long to warm up. We started out heading uphill, through a patch of forest, its larger trees dripping thick moss, before easing out onto a flatter section that hugged the hillside, from which we were treated to views of some big mountains.
Along the way, we passed (and often stopped at) several ‘rest stops’ – essentially rough benches made from flat stones, many of them carved with images and prayers. KK explained that these were shrines dedicated to the memory of people who lived in the surrounding area – in effect, the Buddhist equivalent of park benches with brass ‘In memory of…’ plaques on them.
As we began to head downhill, the forest opened up and we came out into a grassy clearing on the ridgeline. Here we stopped for another rest break, taking in some even more impressive mountain views. We also stopped a bit further along the track at a large white Buddhist stupa, high on an exposed ridgeline. From here, KK pointed out tonight’s destination – a cluster of buildings nestled among the terraces way down below us on an adjacent hillside – and we all lamented the fact that we were going to be descending so far (not because of the descent itself, but the corresponding ascent that it would inevitably lead to).
Not long after, we reached a small village, where we had another school visit (and were given some more Khata scarves). This school, we were told, has nine teachers and 135 students in years one to eight. Students in the area who want to go on to further study must walk around two and a half hours to the nearest school that caters for years nine and ten (although some will be able to stay near the school with relatives). The students attend from 10am to 4pm, six days a week. With the school leaving certificate exams now nearly over, the students will have a few weeks off before the new school year starts. The school also closes for about a month during the rainy season, when the paths that the students take to get to school become muddily impassable.
A short way further down the track we found the lunch crew preparing our meal and were shown up some stairs to a large room where we would be dining. After a mug or two of cordial, our plates were loaded up with another tasty array of dishes – as usual rather heavy on the carbs.
After lunch, we made our way downhill through the terraced fields. As we dropped through each terrace – from which young potato and corn plants were emerging – we descended a set of narrow stone steps. There’s certainly no shortage of stones around here and the locals have clearly spent centuries putting them to good use – utilising them to build their houses, the dry stone walls that snake through the fields, the retaining walls that hold up the terraces and of course, the rough steps that we were now gingerly navigating.
Leaving the fields, we entered another patch of scrubby forest. Although we’re clearly at the end of the rhododendron season, with just a few clusters of the rich-red flowers still on display, we’ve arrived at the height of the flowering season for a type of epiphytic orchid, Coelogyne cristata. Here we found several clumps growing on vertical rock faces, sporting dense sprays of large frilly white flowers.
Then, finally, we reached today’s low point, crossing over a long suspension bridge before making our way uphill to the village where tonight’s camp was being prepared. As the team set about putting up the tents and getting the kitchen set up, a rather rickety old man appeared in the camp. With skin tanned to leather, squinted eyes like slits and a stout wooden walking stick, he slowly made his way among the tents, before finding a quiet spot in which to fold himself up on the ground so as to keep an eye on proceedings. KK explained that our visitor had had two daughters who both married and moved away. The man sold his house and land and moved in with one of the daughters, but didn’t like living in the new village and eventually moved back here. Now, without a family to support him, he relied largely on handouts from others in the village. During his last trip through the area, KK had organised a whip-round among the trekkers to pay for a new roof for the man’s shelter and he did the same again with us; the collection this time will help pay for some food.
It has been several days since we were last anywhere near a shower, so as the camp was being constructed, a few of us walked up into the village proper and washed our hair at the communal water point. The water was on the fresh side and we worked quickly, watched with great amusement by an elderly woman with a basket on her back.
Australian Himalayan Foundation
Kathmandu community partnerships
Kathmandu Summit Club treks