Saturday, August 2, 2014

Volunteering is coming to an end

With less than a week to go I am now certainly looking forward to the next stage of my travel but at the same time I am not looking forward to saying Goodbye to the lovely ladies I have been working with the last 4 ½ months.

I have seen huge improvements in their self-confidence and their vocabulary has increased amazingly and their writing skills also.  The Nepali lady who funds the project visited Basandara last week and asked them a large number of questions covering dates, time and she asked them to speak to her in English, 

I found myself beaming like a proud mother.  She has now agreed to refunding the program and wants to change the name to Advanced English class.

There are no volunteers coming in the near future so hope the Nepali teachers can continue but I don’t hold too much hope.  I am sure a volunteer will come.

Friday morning came and I dressed in y new kuttah which was a white top and floral pants, topped by a red scarf and went down the stairs to the classroom.  

Unfortunately, Sue who is the co-ordinator couldn’t come for my last day to say goodbye but after pretending to teach my last lesson, the ladies bought out food, drinks and presents and proceeded to paint me up and put on heaps of bangles and take photos.  It was really touching and we were all crying and they kept telling me that I have to come back.  

It was really hard to go and they all came out to see me walk away to catch the micro to Balaju.  They all loved the flowers I made for them and they put them in their hair.

Balaju ladies were ready to party when I got there and I donated a bottle of Australian red to the party and Bobby brought Nepalese wine and whiskey and of course there were many presents and flowers and red tikka and it was a lovely farewell party with many tears.  

It was amazing how close we had become over the 5 months and we had shared many stories and all with very limited language between us.

It was a lovely day and once again I was the one to find so much to thank them for and I just loved the openness of the ladies and their unconditional love.

The upside of the day was that it would be the last time I would have to take the mirco bus.

Saturday was passed quietly and then Sunday came and I was to be picked up by taxi at 11 am as I decided that I would go out to the school in the valley on Monday and there was a farewell dinner on Sunday evening in Thamel.

The ladies of the house cooked a special dahal baart for me which was chicken curry and rice pudding and it was a nice last meal. 

The Grandmother who I really liked although we couldn’t talk to her came out to give me the traditional farewell.  

I know that Gaynu will miss having me there as she gets quite lonely without her husband being there and she doesn’t speak to the other members of the family except her husband’s mother and father.

It has been a difficult time over the last 3 ½ months because Gaynu had become pregnant when her husband came home and she was sick at least 10 times a day and couldn’t cook, shop or do anything except sleep and then the week before I left she had an abortion at 13 weeks because the baby was a girl and she only wanted a boy.  It was probably not the best time to be there.

It was interesting doing home stay and I certainly had the opportunity of living with their everyday happenings but sometimes it was just a little bit close especially when  there were at least 5 in my bedroom and 4 of them on my bed with me. 

Anyway it was time to say goodbye and get into the taxi to go to the Heritage Hotel.
Ladies preparing my last meal

My bedroom 

Last hug from Gaynu

Ceremony finished and time to leave
I flew out of Kathmandu 0900 on the 8th July on Jet Airways India and I must admit that I was a bit worried that I would be over the 30kgs and was pleasantly surprised when it came in under 25 and I was able to also include my hand luggage. 

We flew to New Deli in less than 2 hours.  We had just left the airport and reached over 30,000 feet when I noticed the young lad next to me was taking pictures and I thought he was a first time flyer and taking pictures of the cloud until I looked out and this is what I saw …….

We arrived in New Deli and I had time to walk around a bit and then it was time to line up to start the next leg which was 9 hours flying time. 

Security is very tight in New Deli and we were searched at least 6 times and the last time was when we were going up the stairs to the airplane and of course it is done in 2 rows one for the women and one for the men and it took me a little while to work out I was the only one on the men’s line which was quicker until someone told me that I should be on the one with the women soldier frisking the women.

The flight was OK, I had a small baby next to me but fortunately the mother was great and she took her for walks.

We arrived a little early in Heathrow airport and I had to find my way out to catch the train to Paddington Station.  
I knew that was in England when a man in a Turban passed me on the escalator and spoke to me in a beautiful English accent.


I will leave you with some pictures of Nepal.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Farewells and the Birth place of Buddha

One of the lovely things about travelling is the lovely people you meet.  

Some are truly inspirational in their way they have severed all their connection (except family) and have dedicated their lives to improving the future of the people they have adopted.  In the most cases, these have been women who have raised a family and now ‘making a difference‘ in a lesser country, I admire them greatly.

Others have run away from problems at home and have moved to another country but find that the problems have come along with them and they are not nice people.

Why am I writing this, well the other thing about travelling is that you have to say ‘good-bye’ and knowing that you may never see them again.

Unfortunately, Mayte and Jessica could only stay here for 3 months as they had to get back to work so they both left Mayte in April and Jessica early May.  It is always a sad time when one of the volunteers leave as the ladies take everyone to their hearts and they always try to get the volunteer to promise to come back.

I have promised that I will catch up with them again, Mayte when I travel to Spain next year and Jessica who lives in Nelson which is near where I would like to live if I settled in New Zealand when the airfares are cheap to NZ.

It was in Lumbini around the year 563 BC that one of history’s greatest and most revered figures, Siddhartha Gautama – better known as Buddha – was born. It’s not great surprise to learn the World Heritage – listed Lumbini as huge religious significance and attracts Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world.
Lumbini is about 285 km from Kathmandu but as is usual travelling in 3rd world countries it takes ages and this trip was no different, I left home at 0630 and arrived at the hotel in Lumbini at 1630, hot, tired and hungry.

It is possible to travel in an airconditioned bus but it is expensive $40 one way but a local bus is only $18 return. 

The trip took us through a lot of mountainous country and some very flat land as well, the only thing that was consistent was the heat.

I made a mistake when I was booking my hotel, I was as usual looking for the cheapest one in the $10 range and so booked a room for the 2 days.  

It was only on the night before I left that I looked at it again and found that the hotel was in fact on the Indian/Nepal border and 26 km away from where I wanted to be.  Bugger and no refund.

Lumbini Heritage Centre is a huge complex containing about 20 temples and various other wonderful sights.  I entered the complex by the main gate and walked about 10 minutes until I reached the first temple and then wandered through the complex for about 5 hours although I must admit that I sat and read and sat and just enjoyed the amazing feeling the whole place had.

Maya Devi Temple sits on the site of the birth of Buddha and is a large complex with a brick plinth laid by Emperor  Ashoka in the 3rd Century BC.   

The area is plastic and cigarette free zone and your bags are searched when you go through the gates.  The whole area is sacred and you have to leave your shoes at the gate and walk around in bare feet which is OK as the area is either lawn or paving but of course I was there at mid-day and the ground was burning and I am sure that I got 3rd degree burns on the soles of my feet.  It is funny thinking about it later; everyone was doing the 30 second dash over the paving onto the grass, not quite so serene at the time.

The sacred pond beside the temple is believed to be where Maya Devi bathed before giving birth to the Buddha; I washed my hands and arms in the water but did not feel any tingling or anything and the spots on my hands haven’t disappeared.

They have incorporated a sanctuary in the ground for the sarus crane and of course there are other wild life there as well including a bird which looks a lot like a Jacana.  

It was lovely and a cool breeze blew across the water and you could sit and look at the birds and enjoy a bit of relief from the sun. 

I am not sure if you remember that I went on a 10 day Vipassana Meitation retreat when I was in Cambodia and greatly enjoyed it.  There is a centre here, fancy spending time here where Buddha was born.

Another nice thing was the scattering of Buddha’s teaching throughout the area and suddenly seeing one and then thinking about the words.

There are just so many temples, monasteries and statues that it would take ages to write and you would get bored reading. I will show you a few pictures. 

I was at the bus stop 0530 the next day for the trip back home and arrived home at 1600 and had a cold wash and was certainly glad to be home.
Life then settled back into the routine of teaching, catching a micro bus and teaching and then back home about 1730 and if there is power using the computer and if not then reading my Kindle.

We have had two volunteers since Jessica and Mayte left, both from USA, one left after two weeks and the current one who is here for 4 weeks has managed to have more time of in 2 weeks than I have had in 4 months.  Oh well.

I have decided that 5 months is perhaps a bit too long as my feet start itching after about 3 months no matter where I am.

I think the hot weather has been a bit of a shock, I am soaked and my hair is dripping wet when I finish 2 hours of teaching.  

They are going to install a fan in the classroom in Basandara, the students have all put in money to get it, I offered to help out but was told that I am already giving enough by just volunteering.

View from my bedroom window 
Since the first rains have started the whole Kathmandu Valley has been transformed, the ladies have been out in their gardens and now the corn is as high as they are and the pumpkin and bean runners are climbing the walls and escaping into the walkways.

Gaynor is picking all types of beans, cooking pumpkin runners and also picking tomatoes.  The fruit trees are now full of plums, lychees, peaches and mangoes.  

It is certainly nothing like I imagined

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life goes one and my visit outside of Kathmandu valley

I have mentioned before that we had met up with members of New Town Rotary Club and we had been asked to provide a Leadership Training session for them and we arrived at 0700 Saturday 27th to start the morning and yes believe it or not there were at least 10 people waiting to start and another 20 come along not long after.

I decided that we would fill in time while everyone came by naming the 20 leader’s faces that I spread around the room.

The rest of the morning was taken up with various activities, eating and having fun.  The whole morning was in English in fact everything involved with the club is in English including the formal function that I attended later.

Everyone really enjoyed the morning in fact a couple of them had planned only to stay a short while stayed until after 1400.

I think it was the first time some of these lovely gentlemen had been required to hop around on one leg whilst holding a full glass of water.  I have been asked to run an event for their younger members.

Mayte and I certainly enjoyed ourselves and I enjoyed working with her.

Early next morning saw me meeting the girls at our arch way at 0545 to catch the bus to Pokhara which was leaving from the other side of the city at 0700.

Pokhara is 206 km from Kathmandu and in the custom of most third world countries it takes hours of travel to cover this short distance. 

We opted to take the Tourist Bus which was a bit more expensive than the local bus and certainly a lot less crowded and was $12 US but not to go the total tourist bus which is airconditioned and has a toilet but was $25.

The roads are dirt, pot holed and very, very narrow.  The drop down the edge is daunting and it is often wiser just to go to sleep than to watch the oncoming traffic.

We stopped for breakfast around 0900 and then for lunch at 1230 and finally reached our destination 1530 and of course then had to handle the crush of taxi drivers who have the ‘best and cheapest’ hotel and taxis at horrific cost.  

It is funny the trip from the bus depot to the hotel took 45 minutes to get there and 10 minutes on the return trip.  It doesn’t matter if you are in Hanoi, Sydney, Pokhara it seems that taxi drivers are all the same.

Pokhara is a breath of fresh air such a difference from Kathmandu Valley.  The town is on a huge green lake, nestling among forested hill with a picture postcard backdrop of gleaming Himalayan peaks. 

I had chosen our hotel and when the taxi driver dropped us off I thought that I had made a terrible choice as the lake was nowhere to be seen although the hotel appeared to be nice and the staff made us feel very welcome indeed.  

The room rate was $11 cut from $36 and the rooms were big and quite cool.

It turned out that the lake was about 5 minutes away and we were away from the tourist area.

The temperature is perhaps even hotter that in Kathmandu Valley but the lake and the open area makes it feel cooler.

We wandered down to the lake on the first evening and sat around just looking at the lake and the boats and the fantastic mountains surrounding it.  There was a slight breeze and a few drops of rain and we sat there enjoying the atmosphere.  

Pokhara is a stepping off point for some of the treks so there are heaps of tourist there this time of the year.

Over 40 years ago a large number of Tibetan refugees settled on the outskirts of Pokhara and they still live in the camp although now most of them were born in Nepal.  The camp is right inside the city now and the Tibetans make their own traditional jewellery and walk around selling them. 

I love their work and bought a ring for $5 although the starting price was $70.

We eventually decided to find somewhere to eat and then we stopped off at travel agents to book activities for the next two days. 

Horse riding.  Yes, I try very hard to ride if possible where ever I am and it is very reasonable here.  $20 for a whole day, Mayte didn’t want to ride and Jessica was OK with it, compromise time.  I will go paragliding with you (gulp) if you come on a horse with me.  Done.

The next morning found us outside the travel agents waiting for the horses to come, eventually 3 horses and 2 young men came pounding down the main road.  Horses, well I would have said ponies going by the size but they were typical Asian horses, short, sturdy and fortunately strong.

We set of meandering down the main road, horns tooting, people staring and Mayte looking as if she just didn’t want to be there.

We were accompanied by a young boy who normally rides with the clients but all the horses were out so he  had to walk which most of the time was easy as the horses never went faster that a slow walk with an occasional bust of energy every so often.

We were out for the day so we wandered around the lake and then made our way up to the World Peace Pagoda which is high up on a narrow ridge and takes about 2 hours to walk up the steep and winding road. 

It is a beautiful brilliant white building constructed by Buddhist monks from Japan.

We rode the horses to about 50 metres from the base of the ridge and walked the rest of the way.  Boy, much easier that walking or at least for the humans.

We slowly meandered our way back down the mountain and stopped off at the Tibetan refugee camp and had a cold drink and then we went into an underground cave which has a huge stalagmite worshiped as a Shiva lingam and  after much crawling (just loved it, not) we ended up under a huge waterfall still under ground.

I was glad to leave as you all know I just love dark, cold confined spaces.

Unfortunately for me at least all good things must end and we had to hand back our ponies and go to the local shop to buy an ice cream and listen to why Mayte would never go on a horse again. 

It was good fun although the saddle did leave a lot to desire in the way of comfort.

We wandered back to the hotel for a late lunch and to wait until the temperature dropped again and this time we hired a boat and a man to row the boat and spent the last hour of daylight floating around the lake. 

Very nice and the young lad with us was well educated and a lot of fun.  The young boy try to convince us to buy more time and go for a swim but maybe tomorrow.  

Well the girls not me, none of the water is getting near my body!!

Paragliding was on the agenda for the next day and once again we were found sitting outside of the travel agents waiting to be picked up and taken to the paragliding office to wait for all the customers and then to be taken up to the top of the mountain range to commence our glide back down to the lake.

Was I scared, not really?  

We didn’t get any safety talk, we were just told to run for the edge of the cliff when we were told.  

We were just strapped into a harness and then hooked onto the guy at the back and I had just enough time to ask the guy at my back how long had he been jumping tandem and was told that it was his second day.

When it was my turn we stood about 3 metres from the edge of the cliff and we had to wait until the wind caught the parachute and we were off running towards the edge and suddenly we were airborne and after a couple of seconds I was brave enough to look around.  

Fantastic.  It is nothing like jumping out of an aeroplane, it was gentle and smooth except for the occasional jolt as the guy adjusted the ropes.

We could carry out a conversation and my tandem guy was very experience and had paraglided all over the world except Australia.

We moved around the mountain with the various thermals and slowly descended to ground level and made a good landing on the edge of the water.

Did I enjoy it, yes I did?  Would I do it again, of course?  I think that the 30 minutes was enough time as you were looking at the same sight all the time.

Jessica and enjoyed it immensely but poor Mayte came down and was green in colour and immediately went to the bathroom and vomited.

Mayte went back to the hotel and Jessica and spent some time wandering the lake area and in the evening we went back to the lake and Jessica and Mayte went for a swim amongst the weeds and rubbish, there was no way I was going to go it. Urk.

The next morning I caught the bus back to Kathmandu and Jessica and Mayte met up with Kamhal who we had met and become quite friendly with in Basandara and he was going to be their guide to take them to Poon Hill on a 5 day hike.  

I had thought about going but decided then remembered how much I hated hiking.  I am glad I didn’t as the trek was mainly made up of millions of stairs.

I am so glad that we went and managed to see more of Nepal other than the capital.


I had been invited to join the New Town Rotary club for an evening out to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of their charter and it was great night with heaps of members and their partners and lots of ceremonies and a review of what they had done over the 10 years.

The whole evening is spoken in English as is all of their meetings, it is strange as I was the only one who was not Nepalese.  It is good for me and I think as most of the members are business people it is their second language.

I was made to feel very welcome and after the speeches, the food and alcohol was freely available and the President has a band and they started playing a mixture of Nepal and 70’s music and before I knew it, it was after 11pm and I had a great night.  

No photos,sorry.  

I had decided to stay in town for the night so only had to wander through a few streets to get back to the hotel, it is funny I have walked through streets at night in a number of countries and Palmerston is the only place I don’t feel safe.

Mother’s Day in Australia is next Sunday, I told my students and when I arrived to teach on Sunday I was greeted with gifts of chocolate, fruit drink and a number of small gifts. 

Everyone had brought in food, rice, bread, plates of curry, just so much food and drink.  Amazing, they told me that for today I had 30 Nepalese daughters and that they wanted to make sure I didn't miss my sons.

They are lovely open hearted ladies and it has been a pleasure spending time with them.