Hi. The following is a letter a sent to families whose students went to Nepal. It represents a lot of my feelings about the recent trip.
Catlin Gabel School
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Namasté to everyone,
This simple greeting is a wonderful symbol of how Nepal worked its special magic on all. I’ve heard the word translated as “I salute the spirit within you,” a brief, yet eloquent way to recognize another’s humanity.
Certainly at the heart of global travel, especially to a country as different from ours as Nepal is, students quickly felt the upbeat feeling of just saying hello in this way. Now, with a fortnight back home, I’ve had opportunity to reflect on the overall experience and am excited to share some thoughts.
First, thank you for your trust in Becky, Laurie, and me to travel with your children to a distant land. Regardless of everything else we were doing, being smart about being safe was coursing through us at all times. And what a delight knowing that we stayed safe, did all we wanted to and more, and had an absolutely fabulous adventure.
My thanks also extends to just relishing the time we had together. For me especially, ‘sharing’ Nepal, with all its wonder and peculiarities, felt great. All the planning and preparation led to a trip with successful days and minimal glitches.
As our lives quickly roll along with Portland-based events, here’s a review of the trip’s events.
Korean Air was awesome, treating us well on-board and in Seoul. Most of us slept well the first night out at an upscale Best Western (included in our flight cost). The dinner and breakfast buffets were extensive and our rooms incredibly comfortable. The airline also provided us with free bus service to and from central Seoul on our final day of travel, March 23rd. We had a great lunch in a Korean-style restaurant and enjoyed time at a palace. Korean Air’s hospitality eased the transitions in both directions.
Nepal and the fullness of the Kathmandu Valley came at us fast. We started touring historic and religious sites early on our second day in country. The settings of the structures were dramatic, and the phenomenal artistry and intricate detail of the designs overwhelmed us with sensory input. All the locations are also alive with daily practice, so we were instantly immersed in the genuine cultural life of the community. In addition, hawkers and beggars, and garbage mixed with clouds of incense pervade the cityscape. Touring requires a lot of focus and energy. What a benefit to end the day at modest hotels where quiet time for reflection was easily found.
Generally, we adapted well to the food, often having a choice between western and local fare. Local dumplings, called momos, were a favorite, as were some of the rice and noodle dishes commonly found throughout the region.
The group displayed tremendous poise during the trekking week. The bus breaking down about 3-hours out of Kathmandu was a drag, yet students spent the long repair-time writing in their journals, birding, and taking in the spectacular terraced farmland setting at the side of the road. Because of the delay, we did stop after nightfall at a different town than planned, yet were comfortable in a modest guesthouse that night.
Five days of walking followed and each was a challenge. The phrase. “There is no flat ground in Nepal” proved mostly true as we ascended and descended trails through simple mountain villages. The high peaks instantly beckoned and spirits remained strong despite the stresses put on our bodies.
Despite difficult walking, the weather was great. Warming to the 70s each day, we never had to hike in rain or cold. Thunderstorms did occur on three nights but we were well under cover. The result was beautifully white-dusted high peaks in the morning sun as the higher elevations had snow. For our most challenging climb, we ascended about 2000’ to a viewpoint close to Nepal’s border with Tibet. In fact, we could see a number of Tibetan villages in the distance framed by an impressive mountain range. There were snowball fights, prancing, singing, hot tea, food, and group photos, of course when we reached the top. The highpoint was on a ridge and getting there involved long stretches through rhododendron forests and open slopes. Turning a final corner marked with a stone mound and prayer flag was an uplifting sensation difficult to describe. I was at the back of the pack and thoroughly enjoyed the happy scene of the group celebration already in progress. Smiles were broad and a profound sense of accomplishment was palpable. That was one of many special moments when our reasons for journeying to Nepal was confirmed.
After the trek, we rounded out the Kathmandu time in good fashion. We visited the former royal palace and noted that being an all-powerful monarchs is no guarantee of having good taste in design. The palace was impressive, of course, yet was also a mishmash of styles. With all the special art we saw at public shrines and temples, we wondered why that same level of quality was absent from the royal residence.
Later that day, students had a fine afternoon in Kathmandu’s most famous tourist zone, Thamel. Although the extensive marketplace could not be fully appreciated, all found some treasures to bring home. Along with seeing visitors from many parts of the world, students enjoyed the shopping time and had a fabulous pizza lunch to sustain them.
A personal highlight was our meeting with the Nepal youth group. These students were from various Kathmandu high schools and are part of a media arts collective/advocacy group called Sattya. After getting to know each other a bit, we discussed the film Food, Inc. and the topics it raised about large-scale food production. A longer session involved the students working in pairs to create a short radio spot on a given topic. The Sattya people chose issues ranging from global climate change to healthcare, and the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Student performances were delightful with lots of clever language and humorous delivery. The day was so wonderful and allowed us to interact with Nepalese completely outside the tourist world. Please check out the photos and group discussion blog at http://sattya.org/collective/2010/03/update-fast-food-debate/
Our last nights were in a Tibetan district called Boudanath. Its tremendous centerpiece, a stone and metal stupa, is at the heart of local Buddhist practice. Reputed to have relics of the Buddha inside, practitioners circle the structure throughout the day, chanting and clicking their prayer beads. Many refugees have settled in the area that is now home to a dozen monasteries and numerous religious goods shops. Our guesthouse was cozy and run by joyous people. Its rooftop view enchanted us because it faced the stupa, but it also offered a great view of the surrounding urban world. It kept us above Kathmandu’s density and noise and also offered time and place for reflection on the great adventure we were bringing to a close.
From Boudanath to the airport and beyond was the long haul home. Again, Seoul was welcoming, but the hotel this time was far more modest. The many hours on the airplanes held distractions: movies, music, reading, and fitful attempts at sleep. How welcoming to see the families at the Portland airport. We were exhausted, yet happy with our memories.
The strength of home is precisely the right base for launching the kind of travel we accomplished. We moved well through the stresses Nepal offered for many good reasons, your support being a primary one. Thanks again for your faith, trust, and willingness to let your children soar. It was a joy being part of their first experience with Nepal.