Reflections on team holiday, written by Rach.
There is so much to tell you! Nearly three weeks ago now, the three of us set off from Kathmandu on the first leg – a flying visit to Chitwan – of our team holiday. Chitwan is a district in the middle-south of Nepal, bordering India and containing one of Nepal’s twelve National Parks. Some of us had been on a jungle safari before, but as a friend told me before we left, the Nepali people would make this one special. And they were not wrong. We met some wonderful people at our guest-house, who welcomed us after a mammoth 11½-hour bus journey, opened the kitchen at 6am the next morning to serve us copious amounts of toast and honey, and guided us through a busy schedule of activities, a rich array of new and memorable experiences.
Ridden an elephant around the misty and incredibly peaceful Park. I loved seeing the relationship of trust between elephant (her name, Mayabati) and driver. This photo was taken by the driver, who instructed Mayabati to turn to the left and right, as he snapped her at different angles! He then proceeded to climb onto her trunk, which she lifted up so that he could sit behind her ears once more!
Been in a dugout canoe on the river, paddled punting-style past crocodiles. I chose not to reprise my own punting skills, practised (not mastered) while at uni. Needless to say, falling into Oxford’s River Cherwell was rather less dangerous than falling into Chitwan’s would have been!
Bumped through elephant grass and jungle in a jeep. This was made super exciting when we saw two rhinos in quick succession, and then a sloth bear. Bears are very difficult to find, and it scarpered before any of us could get a photo, but to catch a glimpse of its face before it ran away was amazing.
The departure from Chitwan saw us travel back along the mountain road which, two days before, we had traversed at a snail’s pace due to heavy traffic. Much to our relief, this time the road was clear though it did mean meeting, at speed, every bump in what is an astonishingly poor road surface! It was – and I promise that this is not an exaggeration – akin to a bucking bronco ride I once went on… and came off.
Arriving in Pokhara, from where we would begin our trek, I was apprehensive as my mind dwelt upon all that was yet unknown about this second part of our holiday. But I can inform that the jangling nerves were all worth it! What, then, does a trek in Nepal look like? And what exactly will I be doing again if I ever come back to this country?!
It’s all uphill!
Dropped off on that first day, an hour’s jeep ride from Pokhara and inside the Annapurna Conservation Area, the first 20 minutes of walking were the hardest. We were all a little alarmed by how steep the trail was, but were soon forced to resign ourselves to it. Almost all of the 8 hours of walking on Day 1 was uphill… the rest was downhill, undoing the uphill work! However, it made for such a sense of achievement at the end of every day. And, all the while, we were walking toward the mountains!
From our starting point at 1,700 metres, over the next 3 days, we ascended nearly 3000 metres; first through forest, and then out, above the treeline, into the open. One of my most memorable moments came as we neared the end of our time in the forest. I had my eyes mostly on the path, until a glance up to my left showed me our first mountain view through the trees. So snowy and so close, they made me literally jump! Our porter, who was behind me, had a good chuckle!
Each night of the trek was spent at a different ‘teahouse’. These are lodges offering accommodation and home-cooked food to trekkers. They are what makes trekking in Nepal accessible and manageable for so many.
Our route – called Mardi Himal – is relatively unpopulated apart from half a dozen teahouses. So as we climbed higher, away from the last village, I found it fascinating and humbling to realise that those running lodges – often a couple, but sometimes a person on their own – lived a life so incredibly isolated, their company that of trekkers just passing through.
Evenings spent in teahouse dining rooms were not only a vital way of staying warm (the temperature at night dropped to -15°C), around a fire lit in the centre of the room, but also time to meet fellow trekkers and their guides. On one occasion, the guides and porters initiated singing and dancing around the fire! On another, a group of Nepali young people, on their first trek, had rather too much to drink and spent the night cracking jokes through the thin plywood walls separating each teahouse room!
One guide and one porter
Both our guide and porter were very good to us, and we not only felt safe under their guidance, but enjoyed their company. Krishna dai, an Annapurna guide for over 20 years and a one-time restaurant owner (during the Maoist insurgency and civil war, when guiding jobs were few and far between), often commandeered a teahouse kitchen to make meals for us himself! Though we did eat a great deal of dal bhat – rice with lentil soup, standard trekking fare – his speciality was momos. Upon returning to Pokhara, we were invited to his house to meet his family and learn to make them! Nobody at home should expect too much of our momo-making skills, however. I think I will have to leave momos behind when I leave Nepal!
Silence and the stars
My abiding memory of the trek was a night-time toilet trip at 3300 metres(!), after which I stood outside, drinking in the fact that I could hear nothing, and see nothing and no-one other than a sky crammed full of stars and the lights of Pokhara way, way down.
It has been such a privilege to explore a (very) little more of Nepal during our team holiday. I can’t believe some of the things I have seen, and think I may have caught the trekking bug! Most of all, God has continued to be so faithful to us: the most attentive, constant, and loving guide of all.
It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. Psalm 18: 32-33 (NIV)