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Hippies, Hindus, and Holy Men

Rishikesh and Haridwar


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In our last days before going to Nepal we visited Rishikesh, a new age spiritual center set along the Ganges River. It is the place were the Ganges exits the foothills of the Himalaya and meets the plains. Upstream from the city there are many Ashrams (spiritual community or retreat) set alongside the river where pilgrims, devotees, and spiritual tourists gather. It is also the self proclaimed “yoga capital of the world” and the gateway to the Himalaya. There are plenty of opportunities for adventure here from white water rafting, mountain biking, and trekking. On both sides of the Ganges were interesting areas with a mix of ashrams, accommodation, restaurants, and shops. It was similar to Varanasi but a lot more laid back and the Ganges was a whole lot cleaner. Linking both sides of the river were two huge “pedestrian” suspension bridges. Despite this designation, cows and motorbikes made it onto the already overcrowded bridges. On one side of the river there were nice beaches were you could relax after taking a dip in the river.

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Suspension Bridge
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A dip in the Ganges to wash away a lifetime of sins and impurities, I feel bad for the people down stream!
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Crowded Suspension Bridge and Shri Trayanbakshwar Temple
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Shiva Statue over the Ganges
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“Ganga Aarti” Evening offering at a riverside ashram

We set ourselves high above the river in a quiet area called High Bank at the Bhandari Swiss Cottage. There were a few other hotels, restaurants and an ashram that gave our secluded area a commune type feeling. In the 1960’s the Beatles visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram and put Rishikesh on the map for the spiritual hippie type crowd that it draws. You are never far from opportunities to learn to play the sitar, mediate, chant mantras, get a massage, try any type of yoga including laughing and humming yoga, or have your palm read. I went in for some basic yoga but that was about the end of my new age spirituality. Exploring the Ashram the Beatles went to was a lot of fun. It has been abandoned and now the surrounding forests have taken over. Apparently there is some conflict on what to do with the land and it is currently in the hands of the forest department and not officially open to the public, we had to bribe a lazy security guard to unlock the gate.. There were many little apartments or houses that were tiny round stone buildings with a small staircase leading up to an eggshell dome and a small patio. It is rumored that John, Paul, George, and Ringo stayed in these and the John was in #9. Number nine, number nine, number nine…. It is also said that his is were they wrote much of the white album. It was a large facility that was fun to explore. A few other tourists told us they spooked a leopard out of the bush and it was we were told that people have seen leopards as well as wild elephants while exploring the large facility.

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Locked Gates at Beatles Ashram
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A nice home for a few Beatles?
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Beatles Ashram
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Number 9?
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I am the Egg Man. Egg shaped dome on top of one of the larger buildings of the Ashram

The main event in our trip to Rishikesh was to visit the town of Haridwar were the Kumbh Mela was happening. This is an immense Hindu Gathering happening once every 12 years at 4 different locations. The gathering draws pilgrims from all over the sub continent and the world. The main event is bathing in the river but pilgrims come and live in tent cities that stretch out for miles during the 3 month long gathering. Many Holy men and gurus are always in attendance and there are religious discussions, singing, and mass feedings of the poor who have made the long journey. The exact timing of the event in Haridwar is linked to a certain time when Jupiter and the Sun are both in the zodiac sign Aries. The last Kumbh Mela drew more then 17 million pilgrims. In 2001 the Great Kumbh Mela, which comes after 12 regular ones or every 144 years, occurred and over 60 million people attended. It is said to have been the largest gathering of human kind ever. We were actually afraid of visiting Haridwar when we fist learned of the gathering shortly after entering India. I had pictures in my head of a Woodstock like situation were the masses poured in, transportation came to a halt, and food and water would need to be rationed out by the government. After talking to a few travelers we learned that it was actually really well organized, a real shock for India, and that it was easy to travel and find accommodation.
With this information we decided to give it a go and were glad we did. We could clearly see the effects of the mass influx of people with the tent cities. The amount of police and military presence was impressive. They had built kind of human corrals like you may see at the ski lift that stretched out all over town controlling traffic. Most of the activity was along the river. There were 4 main footbridges crossing the river from the main road and the tent cities to the site of the old town and the bathing Ghats. The Ghats themselves covered a huge area and there was even a concrete island in the river that was completely occupied by masses of people. Police were everywhere and if you were not down on one of the Ghats they made sure you kept moving.
We wondered around the Ghats a little bit before moving into town. The amount of deformed and diseased beggars on the streets was hard to take. There were also tons of the Sadhus, or holy men trying to reach enlightenment, walking the streets. They are usually clad in saffron robes and rub ash, traditionally ash from cremations, on their skin. Most have long dreadlocks and beards and sometimes carry a trident. The Naga Sadhus take it as far as to not wear clothing even in the winter. So, while relaxing in a open air street side café sipping chai we were treated to a few naked old men walking by covered in ash.
We visited Haridwar on one of the designated bathing days and there was an impressive amount of people but it was far from what I imagined when we read the figures of 17 million people. Even so it was amazing to see so many people come together to celebrate their beliefs. India once again proved to be unlike any other place on earth. Mark Twain visited the Kumbh Mela in 1895 and said “It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.”

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Massive Shiva statue, Haridwar
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The Amount of roadside stops and police presence in and around Haridwar was impressive, and appreciated
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A small representation of the Tent Cities
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Bathing Ghats
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Crowds on the bridge leading over the river, the Island, and the main ghat
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“Cause we are all in this together, and we love to take a bath” Kumbh Mela, Haridwar
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Sadhu

It was frowned upon to take pictures at the Kumbh Mela and their had been reports of angry Sadhus smashing cameras so I did not take to many shots. If you want to see more look it up online. The whole thing was really interesting to us and after the fact we did read a lot more about it on line.

We took it easy for the next few days in Rishikesh before heading out by train to Delhi. Our experience getting into Delhi was much easier than when we came through before even though we did not arrive until 11:00 at night. We were fortunate to get an honest rickshaw driver who brought us directly to the hotel we asked to go to knowing he would not get a commission. I unfortunately had come down with another cold that I suffered on the train and in Delhi. I managed to gather enough strength and motivation to go out to see a movie and India gave us a nice farewell present to remind us of the patience that one needs to survive. As with everything else the movie started about 45 minutes late and broke down halfway through. Nobody said anything or offered any apologies and it was left to us to figure out what to do about it! We loved or time in India and think that after Nepal we will return to explore the far northern reaches were the Himalaya extend into India.

Posted by pmunson 01:45 Archived in India Comments (1)

Meghan's Debut

Summary of India


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Okay, I am making my debut. Little do you all know how much time I actually spend on Peters blogs, I double check the facts that he makes, check spelling (we are the blind leading the blind there), basic editing and over all making sure it makes sense. In addition I do take a picture from time to time, believe it not. I have discovered that Peter is much more about photo composition and strives to capture very picturesque and beautiful photographs, thus the posed camels at sunset on the wavy sand dunes! I tend to take pictures that capture a more journalistic view. Although many of these have made the blog cut I thought I would take a minute and share some photos over the last 6 weeks with my antidotes and insight. Never mind that we are in Dehli for a day before flying out to Nepal and Peter is sick. I get the GI stuff he gets the respiratory stuff, and well when Peter is not feeing well it is much better to let him rest and take some time “off”. That leaves me with a huge, overwhelming city to my own and well, I am chickening out on getting out there on my own. I have met a few women traveling on their own, and quite frankly the are ballsier than I. The attention is overwhelming but manageable when not only can I say that I married and but actually back it up with a physical person! We’ll see maybe later. I know that Peter was looking forward to attending a flick and catching Alice in Wonderland. (added later - so we made it out the cinema. The movie stared 45 minutes late, was in and out of focus and 3D, yes, the movie was to be in 3D, the movie stopped, glasses collected and the whole audience left to wonder whether it would restart. In typical Indian fashion there was no communication, direction or explanation. With in time, refunds were handed out and we where back in out guest house.)

So many of these pictures may or may not have already been published. I don’t have the patience to research at this point.

The following pictures are some typical side of road type scenes. The first is a common street food stall. This picture was taken in Kolcata (Calcutta).

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The tea stall is found everywhere. This happens to be Jaisalmer. Chai (Indian Tea, made with black tea, milk, water, sugar and a mix (Masala) of spices most common are green cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. Always made in small batches so its fresh, a small cup is 3-5 ruppees. (45 Rs = 1$) Plastic or paper cups are sometimes available, small juice type glasses are more common. Because the batches are small, the Chai guy whips up a batch enough for about 6 small glasses. Serves them out, collects the used glasses does a quick clean just in time for the next batch to be ready. We have a chai average of at least 2 to 3 a day, more if visiting homes or on the trains. The chai guy rounds the train cars so you never have to wait more then a few minutes before you hear “chai, graham Chaaaaaaiiiiiiiiii”.

Balancing acts
The world over, people have mastered the art of carrying loads on their heads. In and out of traffic and people the act is taken to an all new level. A picture that we haven’t taken, are the porters at the train stations. Dressed in white pants and bright red tops with a coil of red fabric on their heads they board the higher class train cars looking for people to assist. We have seen 3 to four suit cases being whisked away upon the heads of porters to waiting cars moments after the train hits the platform.
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A picture taken from the train. Some of the beauty of the Indian country side. For the amount of people that jam into the cities, just outside awaits an open and calm land. Traveling overland, particularly trains lends itself to good window gazing. Some sights are less then appealing however. Anywhere along the train tracks first thing in to morning you are most likely to encounter villagers in the fields squatting down and pooping!
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Traffic is a total joke in most places. Traffic laws seem to be only followed by private taxies, trucks and buses (sometimes). Cycle rickshaws, motorcycles, motorickshwas, scooters, bicycles, ox carts, camel carts, people, donkeys, cows, dogs, and monkeys (all things we have seen in the streets and highways) do not. Anything with two wheels often falls into the pedestrian category. Most recently, we where on pedestrian only suspension bridge over the Ganges river complete with cows and motorcycles. The horn has come to mean absolutely nothing to us. I take that back, I use the sound of the horn to roughly tell me what time in the morning it is. For instance, many of the dingy back packer type places we stay have very little or no windows. When I start to hear horns in the morning I know that its roughly 630am. I am not lying.
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When you do see a police officer tying to his or her best with the traffic, they are equipped with a whistle and large stick. Good luck!
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This picture take from the bus window. This truck was passing us, an entirely terrifying experience if only I could have captured how close the pass was.

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The famous Rickshaw! Also known has motorickshaw. These guys you can love or hate (often times both). They can get you through any sort of traffic and if we ever needed it there is no way I would rely on an ambulance, I’m calling one of them!

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These busses are the rickiest things you can imagine, but the government of India has changed them all over the natural gas (I guess there is a lot of the stuff in India) This has greatly improved the air quality of Delhi, it just is so comical to me and adds considerably to the land of contradictions!.

Laundry in India

Clothes are mainly washed by hand and when you send them out to be done the Dhobi is the guy that does them. It is very different then the way I taught by my host mother while living in Mexico. The process is a whole lot more physical and aggressive. Clothes are beaten clean in a series of twisting and slamming against rocks. Amazingly it works.

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As seen along the Ganges.
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Laundry out to dry. Here it looks like sheets and towels - probably from neighboring guesthouses and hotels.
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Spreading out of a women’s sari to dry.

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Peter doing laundry by hand in the bathroom at the hotel.
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How Peter and I dry out clothes,

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Cricket it next to Hinduism for national religion. From back alley ways to small villages the game is played. Friends we have met along the way from Australia and new Zealand explain to us how the children can rattle off the great cricket players from their respective countries. Indian Cricket players are just a big as any American football player, both in pocket book and popularity.

Train Travel
Train travel in India is amazing. The trains reach every corner of the country and no town of decent size is left out. Train tickets can be bought online either through the Indian railway site or a site kind of like Orbitz, or from the station and travel agents.

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Busy Howrah Train Station - over a million people pass through a day.
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Passengers getting on the second class cars. Tickets for the second class cars does not reserve you a seat, so when the train pulls up to the platform it is an all out race to jump on and secure a seat. Peter and I traveled in the sleeper class, the trains we took were long journeys. Not to say the Indians don’t travel in the chair class for multiple day trips. Sleeper class had reserved seats and bunks (berths). The sleeper class car were further divided up into general sleeper and AC class. AC class bought you bedding (yes, sheets, blanket and pillow) a “closed” car (random people can’t just jump in) and a air conditioning. We traveled in both classes and enjoyed each for different reasons. The AC class afforded a lot more comfort, but your company was many upper middle to upper class Indians that although friendly didn’t exude the same openness. The general sleeper class had a lot more color and character (and lot fewer “rules“) and often were jammed pack with interlopers just catching the train for a short trip.
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Micky D’s anyone?
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Yes, we did it, but I can confess it only happened once. (If you don’t count Pizza Hut and Starbucks in Thailand!) we ventured in to the familiar, McDonalds. Just take a look and see how haggard we were and that may explain it. After a really hot day of fighting traffic, people and cows we took refuge in the cool embrace of the AC. But this one was different, no beef! No big macs to be seen. Instead the McVeggie and the Spicy Paneer Wrap, plus a number of chicken offerings. I went in for the McVeggie with fires and it never tasted so good!

Did I say cows?!
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Posted by pmunson 03:22 Archived in India Comments (2)

Kathmandu

First Impressions


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We are off to Nepal! A couple of months before we left, we decided to add some volunteer work to our itinerary. After searching through opportunities on line, we signed up for a program through International Volunteer Headquarters. www.volunteerhq.org Their partner agency in Nepal is called Hope and Home. www.hopenhome.org. We initially choose Nepal as the country to volunteer because we wanted to visit the Himalaya and Hope and Home offered a medical placement for volunteering. Meghan wanted to work in health care and have something to contribute to her education in nursing. So here we are, flying from Delhi to Katmandu where all of the typical travel duties arranged for us! Hope and Home, the organization for whom we will donate our time, efforts, and money, have sent a representative to the airport and for the first time in my life I will have a stranger holding a sign with my name on it when we clear customs. Raj is more than friendly and enthusiastic about our arrival and quickly whisks us away to our pre arranged stay at the Katmandu Peace Guesthouse. Driving through the streets of Kathmandu and comparing them to Delhi and India in general, things initially appear to be much quieter and more relaxed.

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A Glimpse of the Himalaya from the plane

At the Guest house we were pleased to meet two other volunteers who have also chosen to arrive a few days early to warm up to Nepal. We spend our first full day together walking trough the congested streets and alleyways with dark open fronted shops of the old town to Durbar Square. This was a touristy section of town were one can explore old temples and monuments. The Kasthamandap is found here and is considered one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. It dates back to the 12th century and legend has it that it was built from a single tree. The square is made up of Old brick buildings mixed with 3 tiered temples. The square is also home to the Kumari Chowk were a “Living Goddess” resides. The Cult of the Kumari worship a prepubescent girl whom they believe is the reincarnation of a legendary goddess. A young child is selected based on a series of qualifications and “serves” until puberty. Apparently the girl (or her family) gets a good amount of money out of the deal but once she reaches puberty she will have a hard time transitioning out of the cloistered lifestyle. Legend has it that anyone who marries this girl will die early in life. We waited around for the 4 year old to appear in a 2nd story window for her daily 4 o’clock showing before heading back to her private life inside. Unfortunately Photography was not allowed.

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Mountains of knit hats for sale in Kathmandu
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Masks
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A small Stupa in a neighborhood courtyard we found down a dark alley
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Temple and statues, Kathmandu Durbar Square
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Wood Carvings
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Legend has it that if you lie in front of this stone carving you will vomit blood.

Mecca for outdoor gear shopping!
As the jumping off point for any big expedition into the Himalaya from the mountains of the Anapurna area to Everest, Kathmandu is swarmed by the adventure tourist. The shopping in to Thamel area reflects the tastes of such a tourists are offers up an unbelievable selection of outdoor gear shops. Store fronts spill out gear with styles and labels from North face and Arc-teryx to Mammut and Chaco! Down sleeping bags, “gore tex” jackets, hiking boots, Nalgene and Sigg water bottles, full down overalls is just an idea up what up for sale. Upon inquiring price and upon closer observation you start to get an idea of what is going on. Jackets that would sell at home for over $400 are for sale here for less then a hundred! Needless to say, Nepal has the knock off market down. Not too bad if you are wearing the gear casually, but I wouldn’t want to test my luck with a “gore-tex” jacket when the conditions really demanded one. Fortunately, legitimate gear is also available at the North Face and Mountain Hard Wear stores!
On our way back to the guest house we noticed a shop selling tags and labels to high end outdoor gear. I figured as this is part of the black market it would be done on the sly and behind closed doors but this shop had hundreds of rolls of the tags right in the front window! I could even see them on the computer inside working on duplicating a new logo on the computer.

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Just a sample of the tags available!
We spent the next few days just lounging around the guest house. I was in a sort of funk, being over the daily activities and sightseeing and wanting a few days off. I started to question myself on the decision to come and volunteer, and the pollution in Kathmandu had me feeling ill. It is ranked as one of the worlds most polluted cities and the fumes on the street leave you gasping for air. Kathmandu is set in a valley were the smog is trapped by the surrounding mountains, similar to Denver. The problem is so bad that we can not even see the mountains through the smog. Many locals where masks to block the polution but that does not prevent a large number of respiratory problems, reportedly 12 times worse than the rest of Nepal. Our guidebook recommends not staying long before heading out on a trek as most travelers suffer from chest colds and sinus infections. Meghan and I both are both feeling the effects of this and are constantly hacking and coughing.

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Kids at the Guesthouse on Facebook! They may not have much but they do have more friends than I do.

For some reason I was completely caught off guard by this. Nepal is a 3rd world country and Kathmandu is its capital but for some reason all I though about when coming to Nepal was the Himalaya and its snow caped mountains and clean rivers. The river running through the city is black and the banks are lined with garbage. We learned that only 30% of the cities sewage is treated and in many cases sewage flows openly into the river. There is also an electricity problem. The country’s electricity is all hydro power and although Nepal is more than rich in water resource the infrastructure to capture this energy is lacking. Also we heard that Nepal sells lots of energy to India and China. This leaves Nepal with its growing population (doubling in Kathmandu Valley between the early 1990’s and late 2000’s) in the dark for more then half the day. The “load shedding” occurs at different times each day and is never reliable. This coupled with a unstable government and a recent civil war leave the Nepali people with an insurmountable “Everest” of problems. Learning all of this over the days leading up to our placement has reassured my initial doubts and I am glad to be giving back a bit in the little country that is king of the mountains and the beautiful country I love so much in Colorado.

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A cyclist trying to ward off the pollution, Kathmandu
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Mmmmm…. Momo’s. A Staple Nepali dish. I was the only one brave enough ot of our group of eight to eat with the locals at this street side glorified food stall of a restaurant. The dish is a steamed dumpling usually filled with minced buffalo meat served with a spicy chutney and a curios green broth.

Getting started with Hope and Home was a little bit more laid back than I had expected. Information kind of just trickled in and it did not feel like anything was actually pre arranged despite our signing up for the program over 6 months ago. This was not really a problem for us as we did not really have any preconceived notions of what we were going to be doing and were willing to go with the flow. After Meghan asked about how hot it would be in the Chitwan Valley, were we anticipated being placed, the program coordinator moved us to the more touristy area of Pokhara. This meant being closer to the main stream of tourism and not so far removed as we were hoping for but it does come with a few advantages. We are being placed in a home stay as opposed to a guest house, this will give us more exposure to the daily live of the Nepali people than a hotel for Volunteers. Also the temperatures will be milder and we will be close to a lot of fun activities for the weekends when we are not working. One disadvantage for Meghan is that it sounds like the Health work will not be as busy as it would have been in Chitwan. Of course this is all assumptions based on limited information so we will keep an open mind and see what comes of it all.
Hope and Home arranged an orientation period where for 4 days we would have language and culture classes in the mornings and go sightseeing in the afternoon. There were 8 of us going through the orientation. Mark and Sylvia, a Swiss couple who currently were living in Melbourne. Chin, an Australian who was born in Malaysia. Jordan who was from Ireland and a young Scott/Aussie named Jaime. Then there was Erik from Sweden. He had us all rolling with his unique personality and endless questions such as “are you fat in America?” Our language instructor’s name was Uzina, a young and well educated Nepali who was obviously troubled with her countries political and infrastructure problems.

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Kathmandu Volunteer Friends
For sightseeing we were brought to the Swayambhu Stupa (or monkey temple) This was a large Stupa and temple complex set on a hill just outside of the city. A stupa is a dome shaped Buddhist monument found all over Nepal. There were a few other little monuments and a like its English namesake it was filled with monkeys. There were also more prayer flags here than I have ever seen in one place but I am sure the prayer flags will become commonplace after a few more days as they are everywhere.

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Kathmandu disappearing into the Haze and Smog From Monkey Temple
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Some of the 6,000 pair wheals surrounding the Temple
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The stupa was being rehabilitated during our visit
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The monkeys were clearly the main attraction for most tourists
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Too many Tibetan Prayer Flags
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Smaller Stupas below the Monkey Temple

We also were brought to a geographical feature that plays into ancient Nepali folklore. As the story goes the Kathmandu Valley was once a giant lake, A lotus flower fell upon the sight that is now the Monkey Temple, and the surrounding hillside was sliced with a great sword to drain the lake for the people to inhabit. That is the quick don’t quote me on it ½ word of mouth ½ guidebook version. Anyhow we did visit the impressive Chobar Gorge that did appear to be the drain of the Kathmandu Valley. Unfortunately the river running through it was shockingly polluted based on what I have already described. The smell wafting up the canyon walls was foul. Once again I was disturbed at hiw such a beautiful place could be so polluted.

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The river resembled an oil spill flowing through a city dump.

Our last day of sightseeing with Hope and Home was at the Patan Durbar Square. Patan has been absorbed by Kathmandu’s sprawl but at one time was a completely separate city. The Durbar square, Durbar meaning palace or royal court. We liked this one a whole lot more than the one in Kathmandu. It was really similar but the buildings we just a little more interesting and their was not so many people trying to sell you stuff. I finished the orentation by getting drunk with Erik, Chin, Jordan, and Jamie on the roof of the guest house. Something I have not done in a long time…. Like since southern Thailand… and It was a lot of fun. Five guys from 5 different countries and 5 different backgrounds sharing life’s stories and their views on things.
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Eyes of the Primordial Buddha seen on all stupa’s and most tourist trinkets. The symbol between the eyes is the Nepali #1 which can be interpreted as a symbol of unity.
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Golden Temple. Patan
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Statue inside Golden Temple
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Patan Durbar Square
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Posted by pmunson 20:33 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

A Village Home Stay

Getting started with our volunteer work in Nepal


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We left Kathmandu early in the morning for the 7 ½ hour bus ride to Pokhara. We were sat in the back of the “AC” bus (AC is Nepali for windows) and as usual we were on the sunny side. It was a long hot and sweaty ride. The road immediately started climbing out of Kathmandu past endless terraced farmland over the first line of mountainous defense put up by the foothills. After climbing and then descending we followed one river valley to the next as we slowly made the 200k journey. Yes, it was Sloooooow. 200k in 7 1/2 hours is a little under 17 MPH. This is about the same time it took me ride the 200k Triple Bypass on my Bicycle! The winding and dilapidated road kept the speed low but we had plenty to look at and generally enjoyed the trip. Hope and Home had a taxi waiting to pick us up at the bus station and after picking up the local program coordinator we headed out of town and into the country were we would be staying. The city slowly fizzled out and soon we felt like we were really far away from things even though it was only about a 45 minute ride to the small village of Jugi Mori.

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Leaving Kathmandu’s polluted streets behind
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Terraced farmland

We turned up a dirt road and headed into a green valley were life appeared to be about same as it has been for many years. Men were plowing terraced fields with buffalo drawn wooden plows. Women were harvesting wheat by hand into straw baskets then carried them on their backs. All but a few homes were very basic. We met our host Mom whom we would call Aama (Nepali word for mother, or someone old enough to be your mother) and her 12 year old son Bikram. Their home was very basic and actually really cool. Their was a modest front porch and the home immediately opened up to hallway of mismatched and roughly cut wooden planks. Two short doors on either side made way to two modest rooms. One for Aama and Bikram and one for Meghan and I. Despite being in the front of the house both were windowless and measured no more than 7 feet by 12 feet. Out the back was an open patio to the left and a basic kitchen to the right. I call it the kitchen but you would not recognize it. There were a few shelves for dishes but other than that their was no tables or countertops. All the cooking was done on a dirt floor. In the back there was also a 2nd floor were Aama’s mother in law lives in. They do not talk with each other so we have not seen the upstairs to describe it for you.(The mother-in-law is a whole other issue in Nepal and India alike. When sons marry, their wives come to live in their home with his parents. There are a multitude of reasons, but the mother-in-law can and from what we understand very often makes the new wife’s life very hard. This theme came up many, many times in conversation with women in Nepal and a lot of the literature we read about India and Nepal. Our Aama and her mother-in-law literally lived on top of one another but we never heard one word between them! We didn‘t care for her much either.) In the courtyard there are two concrete stalls similar to an outhouse. One contained the eastern squat toilet and the other was the “shower” were buckets of cold water waited for a refreshing bucket shower. Moving back and behind the kitchen was an alcove were the family buffalo lived and the outside cook fire was located. At the time of our visit the beast was pregnant and unfortunately not producing milk for our tea. Down a few steep steps was an community alleyway that ran behind the houses that lined the road and further past this was the garden and hay tower. They did have electricity that powered a few bare light bulbs, charged the cellular phone, and lit up the TV. They did not have any running water or “natural gas” (ha ha… I will get to that later) Water came from a spigot out in the road and was carried into the house each day for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. However, most of this usually happened out in the road to save the effort of carrying water. Every day we would see people bathing and doing the laundry under the community spigot.

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Jugi Mori at the end of the valley
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Amma and Bikram
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Freshly Furrowed Fields
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Nepali women humping wood out of the forest above Jugi Mori
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Meghan naps in our tiny room
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Looking down the road from our home stay

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Part of the garden and the hay tower.
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A healthy bushel of wheat that Amma carried on her back from the fields. Meghan could hardly lift this and it kept me on the Claritin for our entire stay. We are weak Americans.
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I often bathed at the spigot as the locals do and the neighborhood ladies would not give me any privacy!

Amma had an interesting system for powering the gas stove and fertilizing the garden. The buffalo powered both with her piss and shit! The urine would run out of the stall and into a tank under ground. The buffalo’s excrement would be scooped into a basin (by hand, no need for a shovel) and once enough had accumulated a hand crank would push it all down into the basin with the urine. Somehow the methane that would be generated by all this crap was collected and used to power the gas stove. If this was not enough the piss and water that was used in the basin to help get the doodie down magically irrigated the garden. Welcome to the wonderful self-sustaining Nepali country home. All you need is a buffalo, a green thumb, and a stuffy nose! Actually the smell is never all that bad.

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Don’t mind me… Just brewing up some more fuel for the fire.
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Who wants to crank the crap basin? Not nearly as fun as farting the groover for all you river rats.

Shortly after our arrival things took a down turn for us and particularly me. We chose the volunteer placement agency primarily based on the fact that they had a position were Meghan could work at a health post. This was described as a place were doctors worked and were basic medical procedures were performed. As described in my previous post the location of our placement was changed at the last minute and the health post turned out to be a total joke. The program coordinator left it to 12 year old Bikram to show Meghan were she would be volunteering. Here she learned that they did not even know she was coming or showed any interest in her being there. Apparently all they did was lend an ear to the few patients that may show up in a day and quickly handed out antibiotics. This is most likely not a fair review but it was nothing like expected and she quickly decided her time would be better spent in the orphanage with me. Here Meghan made a much more graceful adjustment than I did. The combination of the big let down on the health post work, a chaotic introduction to the orphanage, and a major case of culture shock that hit me completely out of the blue after over 5 months of travel, I felt completely grounded. I was in an amazing Himalayan valley with countless trails out my back door, I had an opportunity to lift the spirits of a few underprivileged kids (however briefly it may be) and all I could focus on was the negative. Fortunately it did not last long and after a day alone in our tiny room with my mind racing I was able to pull myself back together and start enjoying myself again.

Some shots from around Jugi Mori and the trails heading up into the mountains.

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Wheat was in season and we got to watch Amma hand process it to the point were it would be ground into flower.
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Tray used to separate the grains
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Bikram has some fun with the drying grains
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A Nepali country home
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Terraced farmland making the most of the valley floor
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A cluster of rooftops atop a narrow ridge above Jugi Mori
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About an hour and a half walk past the end of the road and up stone staircases the entire way I found this small group of homes. I was invited in, offered tea, and asked to spend the night and continue to the top of the mountain in the morning! Perhaps I will go back with Meghan and take up the offer.
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My would be and impromptu mountain guides home and lovely patio looking over the hazy valley.
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Typical row housing that lines the dirt lanes spreading up mountain valleys in the small towns of Nepal
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Sahdu or “Holy Man” who came begging for rice and offering up 5 rupee photographs.

For the first day stayed with Amma there was another American Volunteer staying with her. Izzy was actually from Denver and this was her second time in Nepal staying with Amma and working at the orphanage. She also taught English at the school and was great to have around to show us the ropes. We all walked to the orphanage on the first day. It was about an hour walk or a 15 minute ride on a bus that only ran every hour. We would learn later that the bus was always filled to capacity and the standing room only was about 4 inches short of my lofty five feet eleven inches. This made for an uncomfortable ride and left me more apt to walk. This was not all that bad because it was a really beautiful walk and would be getting our legs ready for any upcoming trekking. After a few days with Izzy she left for Kathmandu and we were on our own with Amma and Bikram.

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A view from our walk
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The Chicken Bus

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The Annapurna Self-Sustaining Orphan Home was a small building on a good sized lot with a large garden, 3 goats, 1.5 cows, and a pregnant buffalo. Usually chickens were present as well, 200 on the last round and an expected 700 forthcoming, but we arrived only to find a empty coop. They ran the same methane gas and fertilization system as at our home stay. At the time we visited there were 22 kids ranging in ages from 2.5 to 13, mostly younger than older. Sensing new blood they immediately swarmed and without hesitation attacked the human jungle gym that is Peter and Meghan. We each were surrounded and had more kids climbing on us than we could possibly hold. As the initial dizziness faded away I focused in on the general chaos that was happening all around me. It looked like the smaller kids were human snot factories and keeping the constantly runny noses clean was a full time job. Toilet training a work in progress and occasionally one could see the younger boys running around naked while decorating the place with erratic streams of urine, sometimes wile still on the run from an un-approving house mother! The clothing was a hodgepodge that was well used and communally shared. Trying to keep it on the kids was a whole other issue. The little ones had no problem taking it off but were completely incapable of putting it back on without adult supervision. Impromptu games played with balls made from rubber bands tied together sprang up in a small dirt patch that was not taken up by the sprawling garden. It was obvious that they barely had enough to get by on, and did all that they could to make ends meet. Their were no cupboards full of food in the kitchen, no shelves stocked with books, or closets with balls and kids games to play with. Despite this everyone came off as incredibly happy and optimistic. All this was run by the 32 year old Sarada and 3 incredibly hard working house mothers. Sarada was the visionary and the House mothers, Hari, Bati, and Kishna, were the backbone of the operation. They were not short on love but in the first few days it felt like that was all we were capable of giving. The house Mothers were resistant to giving us tasks to complete and Sarada simply told us to do as we pleased. This brought on feelings of worthlessness and at first we felt a great disparity between the help we were providing and the added strain on the orphanage that our presence created. After a few days we were able to settle into a routine and pick up on some chores to help out. We also realized that just being with the kids, as part of a constant presence of volunteers, showed them that they were cared for and loved in a world that in some ways had not been so kind to them.

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Back of the Orphanage, viewed from the cabbage patch
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Rear courtyard and play area
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Buff
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One of the goats
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View of 21,000 foot Machapuchhre Towering over the orphanage’s green house. Green house is made of Bamboo and clear tarps.

Posted by pmunson 11:19 Archived in Nepal Tagged volunteer Comments (2)

Annapurna Self Sutaining Orphan Home

Jugi Mori and the Orphanage


View rtw on pmunson's travel map.

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A typical day can be described as follows. We would usually get up around 6:00 or so and Amma would have tea for us shortly after. It was hard to sleep in as Amma was usually up well before and the noise and traffic on the dirt lane started early. Before any of this we would hear grandma hawking up phlegm and sending it out the front door. Haaaaawwwwkkkk, Phhhhheeeewwwwww! Nepali people love to spit as much as the Indians do and Grandma had a winner every morning. Even with the early light our windowless room was dark and it was always nice when we had power in the morning to light up the room. This happened about 1/3 of the time. The load shedding power scheme was far from convenient and some days the power would be on just when you needed it and some days it would not. If we were brave or stinky enough we would go in for the cold bucket bath in the morning followed by “breakfast” or Daal Bhaat at 9. Daal Bhaat is the national dish and what we ate for two meals every single day. Daal is lentils and Bhaat is rice. There was usually a vegetable curry in the mix as well. Sounds boring and repetitive? It was, but before long we were craving it. Amma mixed it up a little bit with different veggies, some sort of veggie meatballs, and on two occasions chicken and goat. We all would sit in a circle on the floor in the kitchen and proceed to chow down. Amma would usually wait until we were close to done before serving herself more than double the amount I could possibly imagine eating. She would go in with her hands and put down the mountain of rice and lentils before I could finish the last few bites of what was on my plate. It was a primal display of consumption violating any sort of western table manors. After this she would sprinkle some water on the dirt floor and wipe up with her hands. This was all a little bit to get accustomed to but we love Amma all the same.

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Amma Serves up some breakfast Daal Bhaat
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Mmmmm…. Daal Bhaat

After eating we would either walk or catch the bus to the orphanage. I will go into more detail later but we would go right into playing with the kids and trying to help out were we could. The children were on summer holiday when we arrived. They played and mainly entertained themselves with in the orphanage. We were able to help out with some light cleaning and a few odd chores in the garden but the house mothers were reluctant to give us too much to do. There were two other volunteers from Scotland, Katie and Jessica, who were staying at the orphanage and we all tried entertaining the children. We had coloring time and other games but it did not take long to feel completely powerless to the group of 22 loosely supervised kids and after a few hours we would be ready for a break. Typically we would sneak out for a cold drink or some internet time at a nearby internet café. The little kids went in for nap time in the middle of the day and things usually quieted down for a hour or so before the afternoon mayhem would resume. Sometime between 4 and 6 we would call it quits and head back. The last bus ran at 6:00 and if we were not walking by then we would not make it back before dark. Back in the village we would go out and explore if we had the energy or just hang out and read until round 2 of the daal bhaat sometime around 8:30. It was usually quick to bed after that, especially if the power was off. We had a lot of meals by candle light which was actually really nice.

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Another night in the room without power. They call the electricity “light” as that is its primary function in the village.

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Three Generations. Amma, Daughter, and Grandson

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The mountains coming out on a rare clear day

The children returned to school on the 19th of April and were in class from 10am to 4pm. These were the hours we had been going to the orphanage so it was tough for us to see them for too long. We loved the village but over time wished we were staying at the orphanage. I am not sure how we would have handled this after hearing about the complete lack of privacy or break from the kids. We started heading to the orphanage early in the morning and eating with them as opposed to eating with Amma. Doing this we were able to see them for a few hours before they went to school but we felt guilty about using up the limited resources. We took advantage of the quietness around the place and did some painting and made a trip to a wholesaler to purchase food and supplies. We would again see the kids for a few hours in the afternoon usually stretching it to catch the last bus or making it a late walk home. This made for long days with a big boring stretch in the middle. We tried to do what we could but wound up spending a lot of time just chatting with Jessica, Katie, and Emily. Looking back we were glad we had the first two weeks during school break because it did give us a lot of time with the kids.

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Lining up the good shoes for the first day back to school
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Sarada walking the kids to school
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Meghan Walking them Back

All in all we really enjoyed the opportunity to live in the village and go to the orphanage for a few weeks. It was really difficult at times but rewarding on many levels. We got to know the personalities of the kids over time and they came to know us as well. The amount of love the house mothers, especially Hari, had for the children was immeasurable. Sarada was able to make it all work with next to nothing and the children were really happy. Living in the village put us in the lap of Nepali culture, something most visitors do not see on their quick trips into the mountains for trekking. We reunited with some friends we met in India and they said visiting us at the orphanage was the highlight of their trip to Nepal. After this experience I have a new appreciation of all that Meghan and I had growing up in loving homes with opportunity to do anything we desired to achieve. The kids and the Nepali people do so much with so little it is really inspiring. Hopefully with the care and the education sponsorships they receive, they will be able to provide a better life for their children.

If anyone reading this is interested in sponsoring a child to go to school, as Meghan and I hope to do when we are back on our feet again and earning an income, please let me know and we can put you in touch with the right people. This is an opportunity for direct sponsorship with no middleman.

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Hard Working Hari

The Kids

Fist a few shots from our friend Brad who came to visit the orphanage with his superior photography skills!

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Yours truly and Safal. Safal was one of the little ones with a huge personality. He liked to sneak out side the gate when ever he could and Meghan and I both found him out on the street (sometimes naked) on multiple occasions! He had an amazing laugh, and it did not take much to get him going.
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Ujwall - He was a little scraper and always liked to infuriate me by simply replying “yes” whenever I told him no. He was new to the Orphanage and still claiming his territory.
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Bhushan - This was the one usually caught with his pants down peeing on something. I can not tell you how many times I put pants on this kid! When he did have his pants on he was usually up to some sort of mischief. Incredibly cute though.
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Sushila - Often confused with Shrijana. Two little girls who looked alike. The little ones were so much fun to play with and loved attention.
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Ujwall, Sonam, Shrijana, and Bushan
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Sonam
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Shrijana and Sakar having fun as usual

Thanks Brad!

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Muna, Sharmila, Sunita, Shanta, and Ajwall. There is a separate girls room at the top of a metal staircase were they all are standing. The kids loved to climb on the staircase like a jungle gym which was terrifying. Nepali kids do not have the sterile safety net that most western kids do. These kids were really tough and the little bumps and bruises that would have most kids wailing were usually greeted with laughter.
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Anjali displaying her artwork - She was always interested in whatever we had to do and generally a good sport.
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Meghan gets some shade in the staircase with Shushila, Sakar, and Subash.
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Nap Time - Trying to get 8+ kids to sleep in the same room at the same time was a nightmare to do and a dream once done. (another bunk on the other side of the room)
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Shristi - The youngest at 2.5. She attended her first day of school during our stay and you could tell Sarada had a hard time sending her off.
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Asha and Saraswati - The two oldest girls all dressed up and ready for the first day back at school.
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Saraswati and Shristi - The older kids did a far share of caring for the little ones.
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Shrijana outside the front gate with her contagious big smile.
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Big smile on Safal

During our last few days there was a strike that stopped all the busses and closed down the schools for a day, directly after this their was another strike protesting a 15% increase in the cost of private schooling. This meant three days off school for the kids and we were glad to have the extra time with them. We went to a park one day and let them run around and then down to the river to swim on our last day. This was really great and we had a ton of fun. When we made the announcement that our last day was coming up a lot of the kids, especially some of the older ones, really opened up. We left in a flood of emotions as Sarada and Asha presented us with garland flower necklaces and decorated our foreheads with tika (auspicious mark made of rice, red abhir powder, and curd used in religious ceremonies, festivals, and before long journeys). We had already started talking about trying to come back for a week or so after our time trekking but the farewell really sealed the deal. We did not realize how much this experience had affected us until it was over and I know it is something that has made a lasting impression on our lives.

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Swimming in the river… A nice break from the heat and a great way to spend our last day
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Sabin, the oldest boy, shows off some funky kung-fu stance. The four oldest woke at 5am!! each morning for their martial art training.
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Meghan and Bhushan

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Everyone piling in as we start to say our goodbyes. Emily and Georgina, two of the other vols also pictured.
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Sarada on the left
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Meghan gets a mirror to check out her adornments while writing thank you in the guest book
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Could I leave you without at least one Nepali sunset?

Posted by pmunson 07:28 Archived in Nepal Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

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