A flower is accepted with a smile.
Camp at Tingsa La, 3300m.
All in a day's work for our porter.
Nepal through my eyes.
If you are looking for an adventure holiday that will bring you a lifetime experience, then trekking in Nepal is the destination for you.
Not only do you get to see the Himalayas but you also get to experience Nepalese culture and the Nepali people, which go into making a fulfilling holiday on all levels.
As a producer of ninemsn's Getaway membership, I have been involved with the promotion and support of the "See Nepal Wilderness Challenge" (SNWC) for the past three years, via our website. As an extension of my role with ninemsn's Getaway, I attend travel expos around Australia yearly and have helped promote further the SNWC. It is always fulfilling to return the following year and have people come up to you that had previously attended, full of praise and enthusiasm for the SNWC and Fred Hollows they'd heard about it at our Getaway stand, participated and wanted to thank us for bringing it to their attention.
I decided that this was my year to sign up for the 2001 See Nepal Wilderness Challenge with the Fred Hollows Foundation. This was to be the start of a lifetime experience. The challenge is in two parts: one; you have to get fit, and two; you have to raise $1000 for the Fred Hollows Foundation. As a result, you are offered a discounted rate on a 13-day Nepal tour operated by World Expeditions.
My work colleague Jodie Kilkeary, who also signed up for the challenge, and I decided to each raise the $1000 jointly by holding a special fundraising event in the Members' Stand at Randwick Racecourse. Prizes for the best-dressed female/male were awarded along with a romantic escape as the door prize. We actually had no problem raising the required $1000. As soon as our friends/family/work colleagues heard what the fundraising money was for helping restore eyesight to people in developing countries they asked where to sign! What Jodie and I didn't realise at the time was that this was the easy part of the challenge!
Upon talking with my fellow trekkers over a cup of hot chocolate on the tour in Nepal, I heard how they had raised their funds: Eddy shaved his head (which turned out to be a saviour when we went five days without being able to wash our hair!); Chrissa hired out a movie cinema and organised for her friends and family to attend a special movie showing with food and drinks supplied; Shannon and Lissy ran a successful raffle; and Adam organised a casual clothes day at his usually suit-attire only office. There were plenty of unique ways to raise funds!
The next part of the challenge was to get fit. I organised a personal training program with lots of legwork squats, lunges, walking and step-ups this part of the challenge was certainly more hard work then raising the $1000! (Especially after getting sick four weeks prior to departure from the typhoid capsules.)
The lifetime experience begins:
Departing Sydney on Anzac Day 2001 and flying into Kathmandu was exhilarating with my first glimpse of the Himalayas and views of villages dotting the terraced mountains and ridges, a sense of what I had embarked upon was felt, something that would be forever special a lifetime experience and so much more.
Arriving at Tribhuvan Airport was a fascinating experience upon exiting the airport terminal, we were presented with a sea of faces and placards there certainly wasn't a shortage of accommodation to choose from! There was such a thrill to be had standing on terra firma in Nepal my dream had come true. Directly outside the airport, you are confronted with life in Kathmandu sacred cows taking residence in the middle of the road oblivious to the surrounding traffic chaos, people washing in trickles of water beside the road, bikes, buses, cars and pedestrians purposely moving this way and that.
Once at the hotel, the sight of a bed was very tempting for the tired body but like all travelling you must try to keep to local time and stay awake until nightfall. Washing our hands and face was a momentary cause for concern when we saw how dirty the water was, until we realised that the water was in fact supposed to be brown, as it was bore water.
Our first thing to do: orientate ourselves to the surrounding areas of the Radisson Hotel. Traipsing down Lazimpat Road, I caught my first glimpse of a Nepalese butcher carcasses lay out on a table in the sun with flies as the quality inspectors! A mental note was made not to eat any meat in Kathmandu! The street was lined with shops selling everything from clothes to electrical equipment to fax/email/ISD services. Jodie and I soon came across a shop full of Nepalese goods, which would see our return and Nepalese rupiahs after the trek!
The tour group gathered in the hotel foyer that evening (still having had no sleep) for our first cuisine experience at a Nepalese restaurant. This was a great opportunity for everyone to meet and get to know each other. As we walked to the Thamel area, bikes, cars, taxis and buses were going in all directions and we had just crossed the road when, within a blink ... darkness. Kathmandu had entered into a scheduled "blackout". So there we were, walking down this busy street, trying to watch where we were stepping, in pitch black, bells and horns sounding and just headlights lighting our way and we made it to the restaurant an exhilarating and surreal experience! Dinner was delightful and we all thoroughly enjoyed our first taste of Nepalese food servings were extremely generous and tasty. Towards the end of the meal, though, a number of us got quite delirious from sleep deprivation, falling into fits of laughter at the smallest things time for bed!
After a welcomed sleep, we spent the next day touring Kathmandu Valley wow, what an amazing city! Yes, the city is extremely polluted, especially pre-monsoonal, and the roads full of litter but, like anything, one should not judge a book by its cover for it's inside that the true beauty lives.
Our first stop was the Tilganga Eye Centre, which was the vision of the late Fred Hollows. Unfortunately, Fred didn't get to see the Eye Centre in all its glory for he passed away before it was complete. The centre features three facilities; the Intraocular Lens Laboratory, which produces the small lenses used to treat cataract blindness; the Surgicentre, where cataract surgery is performed and local doctors are trained in surgical techniques; and the Nepal Eye Bank, which supplies tissue for corneal grafts. A quote from the Fred Hollows Foundation sums up the Tilganga Eye Centre perfectly: "The late Fred Hollows, founder and inspiration for the Fred Hollows Foundation, believed that everyone, everywhere should have access to the best that modern medical knowledge can provide."
And the Tilganga Eye Centre, thanks to the generous support of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders, is testimony to that. To be there and see the hopes in the eyes of the patients in the waiting room and the smiles on those that had received the eyesight-restoring operation was just awe-inspiring I just wish everyone were able to witness that.
We walked across the road to the Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal's Hindu temple. The Bagmati River, a holy river, runs directly behind Pashupatinath and so it has become a popular place for public cremations. I found it to be a very moving experience and the bandanna that I was holding to my face was not only to filter the polluted air but also to hide the tears streaming down my face. However, a remarkable achievement has occurred here the local doctors from across the road at the Tilganga Eye Bank have overcome religious Hindu beliefs and received permission from a number of families in the past and continue to do so to obtain corneas from the body before cremation, which they use for corneal grafts: just remarkable.
Another fascinating place visited was Bodhnath, a place of worship and the centre for Nepal's population of Tibetans. Bodhnath is the largest stupa in Nepal and amongst the largest in the world. It's a very special experience and a place where many trekkers visit before heading to the mountains, asking for a "safe journey". Plus, you get a sensational vista of Kathmandu from there as well.
The trek begins:
Our issued red duffle bags dragged behind us as we made our way to the foyer, ready for our three-hour bus ride to Barabise, a town south-east of Kathmandu. With a full belly from breakfast, we boarded the bus that looked like something out of Saturday Night Fever, and our duffle bags were loaded on top of the bus with military precision.
The bus ride was another chance for everyone to get to know each other as well as sightsee. I was amazed by the change of pace and scenery as we weaved our way to Barabise. Our first stop (and last chance to use a "real" toilet) was very special to me this was where I communicated with a Nepalese child for the first time, by offering a flower taken from a tree that the little girl was trying to reach and it was accepted, with a smile adorable!
Barabise is where we met our 37 porters. It was the most extraordinary sight to behold: each porter laid out two pieces of rope, placed two duffle bags and a tent bag on them and tied them tightly with their teeth! The load was smoothly and, to our virgin eyes, effortlessly lifted with a band that was placed around their heads extraordinary, since I could hardly lift my own bag, let alone two!
The trek began with what seemed like an endless path of stairs in 40-degree heat. Within two hours, I had consumed two litres of water and was looking for the next rest stop. It took everyone by surprise. The second part of the challenge was to get fit and we now knew why. The Sherpas and our guide, Surbash, were angels. They looked after those in the group who were finding the heat and pace difficult by carrying their bags or pointing out flora or fauna or anything to distract from the task at hand.
The trek was just amazing it was full of pleasant surprises and tested us both physically and mentally. The first three days were all uphill as we climbed and traversed to reach our summit of Tingsa La, which stood at 3300 metres. In those days, we covered terraced landscapes where every inch of the hills was utilised to grow maize, barley, rice or wheat as well as lush green jungle vegetation. The trek led us through villagers' front porches and front yards, where we were able to truly get a sense of village life. Wherever we went, children would come from everywhere to greet us with what became a common call, "Hello, pen?"
Surbash, our guide, instructed us not to give the village children pens, as it would be more beneficial to give pens to the number of schools we would pass on the way.
One particular member of our group, Freddie, had a mesmerising effect on the children we knew we were nearing a village when we would hear cries of "Namaste" (hello in Nepalese) and "Hello pen?" as Freddie, the Pied Piper of Nepal sang back to the children. I've never seen such inquisitive looks as came from the children when Freddie turned his video camera screen around, allowing the village children to see themselves being filmed most probably the first time they had ever seen themselves! It was such a sight to behold; watching them jostle for position, and the looks of bewilderment on their angelic faces.
All of the hard work that we put into reaching the summit of Tingsa La that third day blended into obscurity when there, in front of us, was the most breathtaking view the Himalayas. I stood there for a moment's silence in awe, tears streaming down my face. They were everything I had come to expect from all the documentaries I had seen; yet they were so much more. Camp that next morning was a picture postcard, as we sat there eating breakfast to the backdrop of Himalayan peaks stretching high above the cloud line.
Each day held different highlights and special memories. However, one in particular was when we arrived at our campsite, placed directly outside a boarding school. School was still in when we arrived and after asking permission, we were allowed to visit the three classes. The first class we visited was the nursery and oh, how cute! There were gushes of "oohs" and "aahhs" from us at just how adorable the children were. We took photos of each class and the students shuffled in to try and get into the photo.
School was dismissed and a playground of another kind was then open ... all these tents with people in them! I think the image above tells a thousand words Jodie and I were in our tent organising things before nightfall when we looked up to find a sea of faces looking into our tent: priceless.
The trek culminated with a party as we camped beside a river. It began with donations of unwanted clothes, which were sorted and then placed into a lottery for the porters. One by one, the porters would draw a number and then collect their "lottery". It was such a fulfilling moment to see the joy when they received a T-shirt or fleece! Music and dancing were then the order of the night while the hardworking porters were allowed to relax with a cup of millet wine.
The final day was all uphill, and we thought the first day was hard! The sherpas were incredible motivators, though, telling us "just another five more minutes", until three hours had past since they had originally said five more minutes and then we knew that that was the Nepali way to trek uphill "another five more minutes!"
The most amazing sense of achievement and fulfilment, both mentally and physically, was felt when I reached the town of Charikot, marking the end of the trek. I was left with so many wonderful memories and friendships, yet a feeling of sadness was there, too, as my time in Nepal was nearing the end.
The Fred Hollows Foundation calls these adventure challenges "Holidays with Heart" and that is certainly an accurate description of my time trekking the foothills of the Himalayas. I have the memories and experiences of Nepal, the many faces of Nepal that I was so lucky to have met, together with the peace of the Himalayas, forever etched in my heart.
Thank you for taking the time to share my memories and experiences of Nepal.
By Simone Clucas.
If you would like further information about the "See the World" challenges, please contact the Fred Hollows Foundation by calling (02) 8338 2111 or clicking here and mentioning ninemsn's Getaway. By helping out, you too can make Fred's last wish a reality.