William McCartney (V) reflects on the trip of a lifetime to Nepal and the breathtaking landscape of this region.
With our group of thirty-four boys and staff flying directly into Kathmandu from Sydney, our trip commenced immediately, first visiting Boudhanath, home to the world’s largest Tibetan stupa (a commemorative monument). The myriad of multicoloured prayer flags, the flash of orange and red as the local monks wove their way through the markets and the mani wheels which crowded the square immersed us at once in Nepalese Buddhist culture. At Pashupatinath, we witnessed the practice of Hindu cremation, the plumes of smoke drifting along the banks of the Bagmati River adding to the beauty of the aged masonry, and made way for meandering monkeys and Sadhus, who were indifferent to local tourists. Later we navigated crowded streets, where telephone wires were draped above like unruly birds’ nests, rickshaws trundled past and local vendors laid out their ornate trinkets, adding to the cacophony as they competed for our attention. A collective religious harmony seemed to unite Nepal’s chaotic beauty.
At Pokhara the hike began, and from the outset we were stunned by the panoramic scenery: the verdant greens of terraced rice paddies, rivers which rolled lazily along valley floors and the long grasses beaded with wildflowers. Ascending the mountains of the Annapurna region, we were provided a direct insight into the traditional lifestyle in Nepalese villages as we walked alongside their oxen, water buffalo and goats whose bells echoed in the mountain air. Steep ascents could be difficult, yet at each turn we were rewarded with the view of snowcapped mountains, their glaciers feeding the idyllic waterfalls we glimpsed on our way.
For several days we camped at Ghandruk, to help renovate the Sanjiwani Health Clinic and provide essential medicines to the local Nepalese. We were inspired by a people who were happy despite their ramshackle residences, lack of clean water and perennial blackouts. Forming close relationships with our porters, we deeply admired those who carried as much as 110-kilogram loads up the mountain each day, especially as we learnt more about the large families they had to support. Toddlers who used large knives to assist their parents at home eagerly joined in to play sport with us. Our memorable exchange of song and dance with members of the Clinic late into the night, after a day of labour, commemorated the close bond we had formed there. We were in awe of the distinctive community spirit which persisted amid the harsh conditions of Nepal.
Continuing the trek, we reached regions as high as 3,210 metres. At Poon Hill, we found ourselves on the edge of the world with our views ahead obscured by a veil of mountain mist, which parted to reveal the rippling emerald fields below, sparking a spontaneous rendition of the ‘Everywhere we go’ Grammar chant. Wandering through the seas of green in Kerungga, Nepal’s own Garden of Eden, was a fitting way to finish our hike. The last few days of the tour were spent at Chitwan National Park, where we followed local deer on safari as sunset drew near.
In a developing nation, hiking in Nepal presented its own challenges as the boys were confronted by leeches, 5am wakeup calls and an environment where toilet paper was a precious commodity. Yet these ‘challenges’ were nothing compared to those faced by the Nepalese on a daily basis, a people whose resilient and tenacious mentality was a profound model for how we should live our lives.