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.
With the trek proper about to begin, we now have an established routine to follow: a mug of tea and washy-washy at 6.30am, followed by an hour to pack up before breakfast. Everything has to go into two bags – a daypack that we’ll carry ourselves and a much larger bag that the porters will kindly carry for us. We’re provided with freshly boiled water for drinking after breakfast, lunch and dinner – it’s up to us to juggle our water bottles so that we have a litre or so that’s cool enough to drink and another that’s in the process of cooling.
After breakfast, we walked up to the road and waved goodbye to all of our gear, which is being transported in a tractor trailer to the nearby village of Nele, which is where we’ll begin walking. We then climbed into the two vehicles that would transport us to Nele. The road was very narrow and extremely bumpy, and although we didn’t have far to go, it still took us about two hours to reach our destination. A group of local men were hanging around the vehicles as we disembarked and it took us a moment to register that these were our porters.
We split up to explore Nele, a quiet, dusty outpost with some tumbledown dwellings, a few shops, a few very basic restaurants and not much else. Some of the shops were obviously set up cater to tourists; although this part of Nepal isn’t on the normal tourist circuit, the fact that Nele is located on a road ensures that at least a smattering of foreigners regularly passes through it.
As we walked around, we were hailed by eager students keen to practice their English. Our arrival in Nepal has coincided with this year’s school leaving certificate examinations, the final exams in the secondary school system. Known as the ‘iron gate’, the exams must be taken in order to complete the tenth grade of study and move on to higher secondary or intermediate-level education. Often as we passed through a village we would encounter a stream of students on their way to or from the exams. We also came across a few of the porters making their way up and through the village, our bags loaded up on their backs. It was a sobering experience, seeing them struggling under the weight of our belongings - one that is set to be a regular occurrence during the trek.
Eventually, we all met up again and walked up above the village to the local school. There we were met by some of the staff, who presented us with Khata scarves and then answered our questions about the school. We learnt that its 16 teachers look after around 400 students from the surrounding area. Ekraj told us that REED Nepal regularly comes to the school, providing it with learning materials and conducting teacher training, sometimes with volunteer teachers from countries such as Canada and New Zealand. The trainers then return four times to monitor the teachers and provide feedback to ensure that the training has been effective. We were also given a tour of some of the classrooms, which were bedecked with artworks created by the students and lovingly constructed posters designed to help them to learn English.
After the school visit, we headed further uphill for lunch. Nearby, a group of woodcutters was turning a large pine tree into a variety of different wood products – from firewood to large beams for construction. The latter were being cut as we ate. A large log had been placed on a makeshift platform and two men, one below and one above, were cutting through it with a large crosscut saw.
After lunch, we officially began our trek. Daypacks were shouldered, trekking poles were brandished and we headed off, making our way slowly uphill on a rough and rocky track that took us through some agricultural land and into a more forested area. KK was obviously keen to break us in gently, because not much more than an hour had passed when we emerged onto a grassy area and found the beginnings of our camp spread out over the ground.
The tents were quickly raised and everyone set about moving into tonight’s accommodation, but I wasn’t quite ready to stop yet, so I headed up the hill behind the camp to see what I could see. I hadn’t intended to go far, but as I made my way up the slope, the top of the ridge began to look invitingly close. Deceptively close, that is – by the time I had meandered my way along a series of cattle tracks through some fairly thick scrub, up an ever-steepening slope and to the summit, I was properly exhausted. My efforts were rewarded by some great views and the discovery of a fascinating Buddhist shrine, made up of a central stone pillar and a series of low cairns. All around were offerings of various sorts: small bamboo baskets, prayer flag and some Khata scarves tied to shrubs and stones.
When I arrived back at camp, it was time for the afternoon washy-washy. Above the camp was a well-used track and as we milled about, hanging freshly washed socks on the tents, we saw several porters pass by, their baskets loaded with everything from firewood to fodder. The latter seems to be mainly the preserve of young girls, generally travelling in pairs.
By now, a strong wind had begun to blow, and several of us repaired to the dining tent to play some cards and await the evening meal. The increasingly strong gusts buffeted the tent as we ate, and when we finally emerged, the wind had blown all of the clouds from the sky, and we were greeted by a glorious canopy of stars.
Australian Himalayan Foundation
Kathmandu community partnerships
Kathmandu Summit Club treks