Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Village of Tadapani

Ghorepani acts as a hub for several different trekking routes, so leaving the city was the most crowded we experienced. It was really impressive to see some of the Nepali porters carrying loads for trekkers. Sometimes I think the packs were as big as the person underneath the load. That concept is foreign to me: to go to a place like Nepal to hike in the Himalayas and then hire someone to carry my stuff. (Well, not to mention hike from village to village staying in nice tea-houses and eating hot food every meal.) But that's not how I grew up backpacking.
Lots of people trekking on a very clear day. Notice the porters
in the bottom left.
Nice view and clear skies. You never would
have thought that we missed our view of the
mountains from Poon Hill that morning. 
Trekking through a Rhododendron forest. The
flowers were gorgeously pink! 
We trekked through a beautiful rhododendron forest, up and down along ridges and valleys, and then descended into a canyon. There was a village in the middle where we stopped for lunch just before it started to rain. Lunch was good: our guides/friends let us order ourselves. In fact, up to that point we didn't even know they had menus at the tea-houses. I immediately ordered a tuna pizza because it looked so good. Plus they weren't serving chicken because they didn't have refrigeration. I'm thankful, but I needed my protein and tuna stepped up to the plate. For the rest of the trek we were allowed to order for ourselves and we tried an assortment of different cultural foods. It was fun to notice though that every single place we stopped essentially had the same menu, right down to the pictures decorating the borders.

I wanted to mention we passed a hydroelectric facility constructed by several villages pooling their resources. While in Tadapani, we had power and lights 24/7 unlike anywhere else in Nepal and really hot water for showering. It is impressive the communities that people have knit here. People not only shared their money but their time and efforts to improve the lives of everyone. I remember back to Ulleri and the thousands of steps we climbed. We hiked along at a similar pace as a young man carrying a 12 ft electrical pole. We were told that each family had to send one representative to the valley bottom to carry up a pole to set up electrical lines to bring power to the village.
I ordered tuna pizza for lunch because it sounded so good.
This was the first lunch or dinner we had in 3-4 days that wasn't
The trek wound up being our longest day, particularly because we climbed to the top of Poon Hill before sunrise that morning. If I remember correctly we hiked close to 6 hours total by the end of the day.
Playing the saber devices and showing the flip book for an evening
program in the village square.
Once in Tadapani, we set up a program in the center of the village and went around inviting people to come and listen to the Saber players. Though we didn't have as large an audience as we had the previous day in Ghorepani I feel as though we were more successful here. It was more intimate, if that makes any sense. We had a wide range of people too: some came running and some were reluctant to stay and listen and still some didn't understand at first the connection between the pictures and the recording. But we went through the entire program and left those interested with a CD and more flip books. 
The view from our hotel/tea-house in Tadapani. Annapurna
south on the left, Hiunchulli in the middle, and Fish-tail on the right.
The lady in the pink sweater was the owner of the hotel and was
drying a kind of leafy green to serve with meals (and to eat themselves).
We woke up the following morning to clear skies and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. After breakfast we did a little souvenir shopping and headed out on our way to Gandruk. It was another gorgeous day of hiking, mostly descending. By that time we've settling into a regime of hiking and resting for everyone to stay together. Some of our friends were having a hard time by then, having never hiked that far before. But everyone continued in high spirits!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Flip Book Contents

I've mentioned the Saber recorders and the flipbooks that we carried with us on our trek quite a bit in recent posts. I thought I would take the time and dig up what we were actually sharing with people. The company Global Recordings Network (which I mentioned in a post before we left) developed the material to be translated into languages around the world. The series we presented can be seen here: It's entitled the Good News and summarizes the story of the Bible, pointing the way to Jesus through the whole thing. I'd encourage you to read it; easy to do in one sitting and I think one of the best summaries I've ever read of how the awesome creator of the universe loves us and wants us to be with him.. The text in the left column was the audio people listened to and the pictures on the right made up the pages of the flipbook.

On to Ghorepani

Our first view of Himalayan Mountains during the first evening in Ulleri. The sky had cleared after the fury of the rainstorm, but then hid among the clouds again by the next morning. 
We awoke the next morning, some of us in the group still bleeding from the leech attack the previous evening, to a very western-style breakfast of toast, eggs, coffee, and juice. The relatively clear view of the sky from the previous evening was now gone but the view of the valley and villages down below was just as stunning in the rays of the early morning sun. After we were all packed, we returned to the village square in hopes that we might be able to play our audio presentation to some locals before their work day started. It seemed as if everyone was busy and couldn't spare the time to listen to a program, which was understandable, so we passed out some tracts to people and then went on our merry way.
A very nice breakfast out on the patio. 
We had met some Christians along the way and while we were passing out tracts. Our Nepali friends found out that there was a church just outside of the town in the direction we were traveling. Being Saturday morning, they were preparing to have a morning service but we couldn't stay long enough to worship with them. We met the pastor and prayed with him over our efforts and the Christians that were gathering there that morning. Some of the kids we had met at the Children's Home the night before were there. Fun to make that connection.
The church building in Ulleri. 
We continued our trek on a well-maintained path, growing tired of stone steps only after the second day of Trekking. The day unfolded very much like the previous (and the days to follow even): hiking, stopped for lunch of dal-baht, more hiking, passing out our tracts, and visiting with people. We arrived at Ghorepani relatively early in the day and had a chance to play some basketball and volleyball with some local teenagers of the village. They let us play one match of friendly volleyball and then kind of ushered us out when they wanted to start playing for money! It wasn't a lot of money either, but threw us off enough that we declined.
A mother and child along the trekking path. The girl repeatedly said the one word she knew of English: "Chocolate?" expecting a treat like she had received in the past from Western travelers. Many young children we met asked for chocolate or candy.
Another group shot, waterfall in the lower right. 
We saw a number of domestic water buffalo along our trip. Since they revere cows so much in the Hindu religion, water buffalo becomes the "beef" in a sense: used to plow fields and other labor as well as provide meat. Shemiah here is quite literally "taking the bull by the horns."
Welcome to Ghorepani!
The basketball court where we played the afternoon we arrived. The long slender blue-roofed building alongside it is the school.
We played basketball until we wheezed from the altitude; it's difficult to wrap your head around being near 10 thousand feet in elevation with a village and large trees everywhere. The idea sprang up to do a program with the teenagers down at the basketball court. So we hustled up to the hotel and got the materials necessary. Our Nepali friend told us we needed to hurry as the basketball players might finish up and leave, getting our supplies and meeting back up in about 5 minutes.  While we were all ready on time and ready to do the program, our Nepali friends were getting in the shower, changing clothes, and otherwise getting "freshened up." Our group loved to give our friends a hard time because they used this phrase over and over: "We'll just freshen up and then meet back for dinner."

This was a healthy dose of "Nepali Time." Everything is a little slower it seemed in Nepal. And if you had a meeting with a Nepali you could expect that they might be a half an hour late and they would think nothing of it. If you wanted it to be on time (at least in our group), you had to clarify whether or not a time was "American", meaning solid and on-time, or "Nepali:" flexible, loose, and usually late.

When we finally met down at the square, some of us started playing music from the Saber player while the rest of us went around and told people about the program. I was blown away by how eager people were to come and listen to the recording. It seemed as though they were excited about Saturday night entertainment, the last day of the week being a day of rest and relaxation. We are really spoiled with our 2 day weekend! The program is about an hour, which I may have mentioned before, and might have been its downfall since the temperature of the evening fell steadily. Some people left for their hotels or homes but many people toughed it out and listened to the whole thing. One of our friends spoke to them at the end and addressed where they could follow up on the story and if anyone had any questions. We had CDs of the recorded material and passed some of them out to interested people.

Then we went back to the tea-house and had dinner. Our friends showed us some card tricks for our evening entertainment and then we ascended the stairs to our beds.

The next morning, we woke up at 4 am to hike to the top of Poon Hill for a sunrise view of the surrounding Himalayas. Our group was the first to reach the top of the hill, evening beating the local Nepali who was carrying thermoses of hot water to sell coffee and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, the clouds had other ideas about our lovely view and it never materialized. But we had fun with some pictures and enjoyed being at an iconic high point.
The lookout tower built at the top of Poon Hill. 
Happy crew despite the lack of mountainous view. 
I have proof that I really was there! 3210 meters or 10,531 feet in elevation. Ghorepani is 2874 m or 9429 ft. 
As we descended we could finally see one of the giant mountains of the Himalayas: Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh highest peak.  
Our attempt at getting a picture in front of the amazing view. Yeah! It was gorgeous! If only I could remove the peak labels from the sky...

We descended down to the tea-house for breakfast and then packed up, hitting the trail relatively early. Our destination was Tadapani and the hike that day turned out to be our longest...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Riding Buses

Our Nepal team didn't have a whole lot of time to rest; we had to keep moving. The day after we arrived we took a bus 6 hours to the next largest city in Nepal, Pokhara. It was intense. Imagine if you will the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National park only with all the vehicles that are allowed on the GSH (trucks, buses, etc) bumper to bumper. At least this was how it was descending out of the big city. The majority of the time of the trip was in the first quarter of the distance because of the slow moving traffic.
Enjoying the views of the countryside out the window of the bus. 
Trucks and buses in Nepal were very funny: they all had custom paint jobs and sported English phrases like "Miss You" or "See You". These were painted on the back presumably referring to "I'll see ya later because I just passed you...". I was surprised that I never saw "Eat Dust", but they might be have a little less road angst than we have in the US. There were also many religious symbols. By the way they drive it is easy to understand why drivers would want to believe in something outside themselves to protect them. Most of the vehicles we saw also had custom horns that had multiple tones as if it were going up and down a chromatic scale. Each was unique and got your attention pretty fast. And they used them a lot too, more as a form of communication than in anger or surprise as we do in the States. I wish this culture of driving we have would change. (I've started to use the horn on my scooter in this fashion: using it proactively to let people know I'm there rather than "yelling" at someone who cuts me off.)
Colorful truck we are following and about to pass. The back says "SPORTS".
And that's the front after we passed it. 
Finally, the drivers also had a system of passing: the faster truck or bus would come up behind the slower one and honk, then the front driver would use the turn signal to indicate whether it was safe to pass or not. When passing you used the horn to let the other driver or motorcycle that they were moving back into the left lane. Oh yeah, did I mention that yet? They drive on the left side of the road in Nepal, from the British colonial influence. That didn't help me sit any more still or comfortably in my seat...
My first official plate of dal-baht. I got better at eating it. Notice the fork: I was still a novice at this point. 

We had two major breaks on the trip: one for a bathroom break and one for lunch. And I say major because we also stopped within the first two hours of driving for a pit stop on the side of the road. Guys just piled out and peed off the side of the road. Sorry ladies, modesty meant you had to wait for the "major" stop. Lunch on this day was our first experience with dal-baht. Baht means rice in Nepali (and Hindi I think) and dal is a lentil stew-thing. It was pretty good, thankfully, because we ate it for 2 days straight at the beginning of our trek. People in Nepal eat dal-baht with their hands too! Pretty fun. You should try it sometime...

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. We arrived into Pokhara right after a large rainstorm hit and dropped larger than marble-sized hail. Glad we were in the bus and not on the trail. It was the start of the monsoon season, so we expected a little rain. The unfortunate downside was clouds shrouded what was supposed to be our amazing view of the surrounding mountains: the Annapurna group and Manaslu range. Even when we came back from the trek we never saw the famous view. But I bought a poster to remember what it should have been like.
Colorful boats on the lake in Pokhara. Notice the cloudy skies. Darn.
We walked around the town a bit that evening and did some souvenir scouting. There was a beautiful lake and we walked down to the water front. And we found a place that served Illy coffee, a really famous brand in Italy. Several of us ordered espressos and they were amazing! Maybe the best latte I've ever had. (Sorry Larkin) Then it was dinner and off to bed.

The next day we got on a different bus that took us to our trailhead. We drove for an hour and a half on a road similar to the GSH but with only one paved lane in the middle. Our bus passed oncoming traffic and vehicles going the same direction with two wheels on the gravel shoulder. Scary! We dropped Jeff's trekking team off 30 minutes in, prayed for their success and safety, and then continued over the next ridge to our beginning location, Birethanti.  We went through the village passing out tracts and greeting people as we went. Namaste is hello, and that's about as much Nepali as we knew at that point.
Checking in at the beginning of the trek.
Kids running off to school for the day.
We had to check-in and show our trekking permits and then we were off on the trail. The first bit was a two track road that locals use to get supplies into their villages. Tourists have complained because it took away from the original natural beauty that can be found in a trail, but now the villagers can get their goods to market in Pokhara and get a fair price and they are better able to get quick medical help. Past a certain point though supplies and goods were either packed around by people or teams of mules. I was so amazed by the people here. You could say that the trails and roads and villages were literally built on the backs of the people. They are tough.
The start of the trail (or road). 
Team 2 Legit to Quit: (l to r) Thomas, Dustin, Sean, Colter, Andrew, Shemiah
Mules coming down a flight of steps. The village at the top of the stairs is where we ate lunch. 
 We hiked about 2 or 3 hours and then had lunch (dal-baht). Then we climbed up lots of stairs, close to 2000 feet of them, to where we planned to stay the night in Ulleri. On the way we got caught in a rainstorm complemented with hail. We were forced to take shelter in under the roof of a tea house (Nepali version of hotel/restaurant) and wait it out. Then we were treated with the most beautiful rainbow that I have ever seen: very vibrant colors and a complete bow across the sky. What a reminder of God's mercy for us, a promise that he gives us life and life to the full.
At the bottom of the picture is the village where we ate lunch.
"Wel Come to Ulleri" (they couldn't seem to understand that Welcome is one word.)
We arrived and checked into our tea house. The rooms had beds with mattresses and even blankets if you wanted but I used my sleeping bag since I had carried it all that way. That night we were able to play the Saber device recording for a group of kids at a children's home. They loved it! And it was fun to greet them and ask them simple questions like "what is your name?" and "how old are you?" in Nepali. Out team was also attacked by leeches that night! Nasty buggers! Then it was dinner (dal-baht) and off to bed to get ready for the next day.
Squatty-Potty. Gotta love it. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hit List 2013

In and among the posts of Nepal you will be seeing updates of life as usual here in beautiful Bozeman, MT. It really feels like summer here and we are getting outside!
Happy family at Lava Lake!
The local outdoor journal Outside Bozeman is sponsoring the Hit List competition for the third year in a row. They have picked 20 outside activities around southwest Montana (this year the distance of activities from Bozeman has a little larger radius than last year). The Bozeman Lanes got an honorable mention last year for completing 14 of the 20 activities together and getting engaged along the way. Well, this year the "love birds" want a little more than a shout-out and we are going for the win!
Climbing at Practice Rock with our mountain hound.
On Sunday afternoon we hiked to Lava Lake in the Gallatin Canyon, just making it back to the car before we were hit by an afternoon rainstorm. Then yesterday under bluebird skies we went with a friend and her pooch to Practice Rock in Hyalite Canyon to rock climb. It was so good to get out on real rock having been in the gym quite a bit this spring. A little early season jitters on the first trad lead of the season melted away to smooth pleasure pulling hard on solid hand-jams and sweeping overhangs. This is going to be a good summer...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First Day in Nepal

Now on the ground in the Nepal airport, our team regrouped at the baggage carousel. It was really nice after a couple days of travel to have entered another country. None of us had trouble gaining our visa into Nepal and we are all set to start our adventure. And once we got our bags, it did.
Getting our bags in the Kathmandu airport. 
Now picture nearly 30 people, each with a carry-on backpack and two additional bags each weighing 50 pounds on carts being pushed through the airport. We were quite the site. Our leader had done this many times before and instructed us to have the ladies be in charge of the carry-on bags and the men push the carts with the larger luggage. Then the ladies walked at the side of the carts between us and the security workers and we all set off together and overwhelmed the customs agents. They basically waved us through as a large group and we gained the fresh air of the parking lot at full speed.
Andy in the back of the truck with our bags. They are piled pretty high, glad they brought the truck they did. 
Once outside in the dazzling sunshine and the sweltering heat and humidity we found our Nepali friends in the parking lot and loaded our bags into the back of a truck. The supplies inside them made their way to a storage area where they will be distributed on an a more individual, needs-based method than we had anticipated. We initially had the thought of carrying those supplies into the mountain villages ourselves while trekking but were later told that this wasn't the best means. Gift giving could be misinterpreted and we want the supplies to go to those who need it rather than those just taking free things.

Then our group headed toward the bus to take us to our hotel. I had been told this before but in my travels it hasn't been that much of a problem: be aware of people wanting to help you with your bags. In this instance they were literally taking them off our backs and loading them into the back of the bus for us. They are very nice and considerate, albeit fairly aggressive about it, but then they will demand money even if they only "touched" your bag on its way into the back of the bus.
If I was in Hawaii I would have thought I had been given a lei! Marigolds in Nepal.
Our friends greeted us on the bus and then "welcomed" us to Nepal by giving each of us garland necklaces of marigold flowers. They were very beautiful! I noticed marigolds strung together decorating other door frames and floating in bowls of water in other places. I never asked but assume marigolds to hold some sort of significance to the people of Nepal.

We took a slight detour on the way to the hotel to visit a Hindu temple built to honor the god Shiva. The idea was to go on our first day into the country to begin to get a feel for the country and its culture, as well as it being conveniently located close to the airport. It is recognized as a World Heritage site by some world-wide organization (UNESCO maybe?) so there is an entrance fee to maintain that status. I don't know what the money would be used for however, it was kind of a dirty place.
A Hindu funeral. Notice the majority of people are in white.
They were in the midst of funeral ceremonies while we were there and the smoke from the burning bodies was almost overwhelming. Burning the bodies is part of the reincarnation process and is a large, family involved affair. If you are mourning as a Hindu, you wear white, as opposed to black in Western culture. Much of the ritual has to do with separating the body from the spirit of the person so that they may be released to start another cycle of life or, if they have gained enlightenment, release from this world. Here's an interesting wikipedia article about it. In this place, once the body is burned the ash and leftover wood are pushed into the sacred water of the river below. The water is considered holy and is used to cleanse people of certain things. People also bathe in it, brush their teeth with it, and attempt to die with their feet in it because they believe it will help them have a better chance of success in the next life.
A Hindu Lingam idol depicting male and female reproductive organs. From my understanding this is a representation of Shiva and his Hindu goddess consort and is worshiped as a fertility idol. 
I am including information about the Hindu and Buddhist religions as I understand it from my trip. I don't agree with the teachings and am merely wanting to share what I learned and try to have you as a reader understand some of things that we experiences. We saw a lot of evil and corruption in these beliefs and practices. Many people we encountered seemed to have lost hope and joy in their lives because of Hinduism and we could see it in their faces and their eyes. I hope that in sharing what we saw and experienced I might be able to share some of the happiness, freedom, life, love, and joy that I have in my relationship with Jesus.

The rest of the evening went by in a blur. We got to our hotel (greeted in the lobby with fresh mango juice!) and checked in. We had a training meeting to go over the materials that the teams would be taking into the Himalayas and to discuss scheduling for the week. It was very hard to stay awake in the hot room. Then we all had dinner together before saying our good byes as the four teams would head their separate ways the following morning. Dinner was almost comical: we were all zombies barely able to stay awake to eat. I think I fell asleep a couple of times before our food came, and I don't even remember what we ate other than it was a buffet and it had rice. But I could confidently guess that nearly everyone of our meals had rice in it so that may or may not be an actual memory...