After a year’s delay as a consequence of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, July 18th saw 7 students and Mr Cherry travelling down to Heathrow to meet up with the expedition leader, Claire Sephton, and 3 students from other schools to take part in Project Nepal. Two flights and a bus journey through chaotic traffic saw us arrive at our accommodation in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
The first full day in Kathmandu gave the group a brief chance to acclimatise and adjust for the jet lag as well as being taken on the 365 step climb to Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple, by our guide, Nar. This was our first real chance to get panoramic views of the city in addition to appreciating the damage caused by the earthquake to the older buildings which was extensive and under repair in many places.
We then took a two hour bus journey to the project site which allowed us to see fantastic scenery that required a photo stop as well as negotiating the remains of a landslide – a common event during the monsoon season. The project comprised construction work at the Shee Janabhawana Primary School in Panchkhal. The school had suffered damage to some of the buildings and the main classroom that was in use by students during our visit was a temporary structure that had been built from bamboo.
Having been greeted by the students we based ourselves in the two other complete classrooms (leaking corrugated metal roofs aren’t great during overnight monsoon rains) and began work on digging a trench for a water pipe, plastering a classroom and a shower/toilet block, rendering, re-concreting floors as well as doing some teaching with the primary school students, painting and helping with the cooking. Washing up after meals saw a rota being drawn up quite quickly and the two bowl production line for clothes washing organised.
Time was also found for a day trek to the Palanchok Bhagawati temple, a chance to try rice planting and visits to the male and female head teachers’ houses. There were also two fiercely fought football matches against the project staff (which we lost) on a football pitch with sharp drops on two sides. Downtime saw many games of cards being played, a chess set was found, as were badminton rackets and a shuttle (but no net). Bed time came early as a result of both tiredness and lighting that was both limited and subject to Nepal’s slightly erratic electricity supply.
The twelfth day saw our goodbyes and the start of the three day trek back towards Kathmandu staying in Bagude Besi and Dovan which included a trip to a local monastery. The ascents on local tracks were challenging at times as were the temperatures and humidity even though only day packs were being carried. The views were stunning.
Once back in Kathmandu there was the chance for a bit of rest, recuperation and shopping and a further trip was taken to visit the Bodnath Stupa – the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet, and the Bagmati River – considered holy by both Hindus and Buddhists. The guide gave the group a real insight into the culture and traditions of the different ethnic groups that make up the Nepalese population and how the country was changing. Once again there was evidence of extensive damage from the 2015 earthquake in both locations. The visit to the stupa included a visit to a local artists workshop to see how traditional images associated with Buddhism were created and how the artists were trained over a number of years.