World Challenge Expedition to Nepal
It is a little disconcerting when you are just about to embark on a journey half way across the world responsible for 21 students and one of them asks ‘Are we visiting a beach while we are in Nepal? Mr Adlington who also accompanied us on this year’s World Challenge expedition explained that Nepal is a land locked country, the response being looks of confusion. Can I advise those of you travelling to Sri Lanka in 2019 and those looking forward to finding out more about the launch of Swaziland 2020 to take a look at a map before you climb on board a plane as it’s quite useful to know where you’re actually going.
So after a day of checks and a few more comical questions we headed to Birmingham airport for our late night flight to Kathmandu, I thought the students where excited to experience the sights, smells and sounds of our final destination however they were really excited about the fact they could ring each other on the plane and that when we went to sleep there were stars inside the plane ceiling, simple things. On arrival in Kathmandu many hours after we departed the UK we were immediately overwhelmed by the traffic, pots holes and busy streets of Kathmandu. Due to having such a large team, this year World Challenge divided us into two, one team heading into the hills for the first week whilst the second team completed their community phase in a school just outside Kathmandu.
The trekked completed by both teams during the two weeks took place in the Annapurna conservation area North west of a small Nepalese city call Pokhara, to get to Pokhara both teams had to firstly negotiate a maze of narrow streets in Kathmandu before boarding a public bus eight hours across country. Leaving the busy streets, with the bus driver trying to miss the very large potholes created by the continuous Monsoon rains at this time of the year alongside cows wondering down the middle of the road took time but soon opened up to different challenges for the driver, extremely winding mountain roads full of Tata trucks all individually decorated with amazing paintings. There was only one night in Pokhara to prepare for the trek and to meet the mountains guides who would keep us safe in the Himalayas, before our five day trek to and from the summit of Poon Hill would start. The ascent to the summit took just over two days and the route was accurately named ‘The Stone Steeps trail’, we crossed large wire footbridges, walked through small mountain villages and rice plantations with Nepalese pray flags blowing in the wind. The monsoon brought rain every day and this in turn many leeches, these wriggly black creatures creeping up on everyone. The guides’ looks after us exceptionally, bringing tea to our tent doors or rooms when staying in Teahouses every morning, the Sherpa’s carried two of our heavy bags each strapped to their heads and the cooks even baked us a cake on a camp stove. Both teams successfully summited Poon Hill with team one having a clear view over the Annapurna Mountains including some of the highest in the world, unfortunately team two were hampered by poor weather but still took on the challenge of trekking to the summit. The decent was not all downhill, after all being in the world’s highest mountain range brings ups and downs every day. Both teams where sad to say goodbye to their guides, porters and chiefs, I can personally say they are some of the kindest I have worked with on a World Challenge expedition.
The community phase saw both teams painting classrooms, staircases, outbuildings, teaching the students, learning to cook local food and playing with the children. This very rewarding element to World Challenge expeditions enables the students to live alongside the locals in small communities seeing their everyday lives, family dynamics and homes. Both teams were full of stories on our return about the games they played, the children they had met and how humble it has made them feel. Both teams were greeted with traditional Hindu ceremonies receiving flowers, scarves and a red dot on their forehead and where entertained with traditional dances and singing from the students at the schools. After only three days, we all felt like part of the community and where sad to leave, the students from the schools helping with our bags and all waving as if we were part of their families. On our departure, we yet again had a Hindu ceremony and all received certificates of thanks for our hard work and interaction.
Both teams had chance to take part in some R and R activates including White water rafting, taking on a huge Himalayan river for over three hours bouncing around on the giant bolder sized waves, jumping in and spinning around in the rapids. There was also time to visit some of the temples and famous buildings of Kathmandu, both teams visited what is known as the monkey temple, high on a hill in Kathmandu the steps that lead to the temple draped in pray flags are patrolled by many monkeys all keen to take a look in your bag for a banana. Parts of the temple are still under construction and repair after the earthquake in 2015, watching the workers still using some very primitive building methods was very humbling. The teams also had time to sample the local food of Dal bhat and momo’s alongside shopping for local crafts and of course colourful baggy pants and Tibetan style shirts.
Leaving Kathmandu was hard for all of us as we had all had the time of our lives but dressed in our flip flops and baggy pants we boarded the plane via Dubai, unexpectedly we missed our connecting flight and ended up having to spend a night in a 5* hotel in Dubai airport, great you may say but going for dinner in a posh restaurant in your flip flops and baggy pants was not in the plan, thankfully we all looked as daft as each other.
Personally, I loved Nepal and the people so much due to their genuine kindness I have already booked to go back this time to trek to Everest base camp. I will therefore apologise already to the students I teach who will have to endure listening to me on the countdown to my next mountain adventure.