Monday, October 26, 2009

Baktaphor, Changu Narayan and Nagrakot (now say that three times fast)

This weekend, as is beginning to become tradition, we travelled an hour and a half away from home to visit Baktapor, Changu Narayan and the mountain resort on the top of Nagrakot. We managed to visit all three places all in one day (saturday) and enjoyed the mountainous views that Nagrakot had to offer.
Baktapor is a small historical town, outside Kathmandu, famous for its Pots. They are simply terra cotta clay pots which are hand made and painted. I say simply, because they look fairly simple, but the work and effort which goes into making each pot is laborious and long. After walking through Durbar Square we stumbled upon the "Pottery Square" which is where they hide all the pots. At first I saw many rows of small packable pots which had two colours on each pot, black and terra cotta red. I had my eye set on one when a man came up to me and explained that these pots were sitting out to dry and I was not able to purchase one. I was a little disappointed because those pots were so beautiful, but then he took me into his shop and showed me an array of finished pots (all one colour), so I settled for one of those. After we were all done walking, taking pictures and browsing we all walked back to the bus to begin to make our way further up to the mountain toward Changu Narayan.
Changu Narayan is a small temple which is a common pilgrimage site for many devote Hidus. This site is also a World Heritage Site, and one of the temples is said to be built in 464 AD. Words cannot describe how incredible and serene the temple is, I loved how silent it was compared to the rest of Nepal, or compared to Kathmandu at least.
Our final stop of the day was winding up to the top of Nagrakot, which is 7200 ft. high. From this spot we were able to see (when the sun was out) all of the Himalayas range of Mountains, and on a very clear morning you can even see the tip of Everest. Our whole group woke up at 5 am to climb to the top of the hotel to look out and take pictures of the mountains. Unfortunately we did not have good visibility that morning so we couldn't see too many of the mountains, but later that day we were able to see the mountains from a higher lookout point.
All in all I felt very small looking at the mountains which tower over me, it is somewhat humbling to see them and their beauty far away in the distance. This is all in preparation for our much anticipated Mount Everest plane ride, which we will take at 6am on Friday morning. Cross your fingers for no clouds and perfect visibility! I will post more pics when I have them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chitwan National Park and Elephant Riding!

I just got back from Chitwan, a National Park about 7 hours south of Kathmandu, and let me just say that I finally got to ride elephants!! We journeyed down there by private bus early on Saturday morning and arrived at around 1230pm just before lunch. We stayed at a resort called Chitwan Jungle Adventures which was right next to the river and across from the National park. Once we had settled in to our respective cabin's (ours was nothing more than servants quarters with a concrete bathroom and a cockroach friend :) we then headed on our first look at the resort and surrounding area. We were taken by our fantastic and enthusiastic guide to see where the elephants are kept and bred. Since it was later in the afternoon, at this point, we were able to view a baby (5 years old and huge) elephant eating, her name was Sweetie and I think I took about 20 pictures out of pure excitement. At this resort, like many others in the Chitwan area, they breed elephants because it is too dangerous to take wild elephants and use them for riding etc. We went over to the place where they keep most of the male elephants and there were about 15 full grown male Asian elephants chained to their respective shelters resting from a days work.
The next morning we woke up early and prepared to depart on our Jungle adventure. I was wearing my 'jungle outfit' with long sleeved cotton white shirt and army green capris when our guide told me to change because I might be charged by a Rhino. I had no idea that Rhino's didn't like the color white and I didn't bring another long sleeved shirt so I had to borrow Bri's purple one. Who knew Rhino's were colour orientated. Once that was all settled we got into boats and were taken across the river in the Jungle part of the National Park. When we first entered we saw some monkeys, the same ones that are at a Monkey Temple in Kathmandu. We walked for about 1 hour before we stopped at a small watering hole, typically visited by Rhino's. I realized then that I was being attacked by leeches in my shoes, which wasn't really all that pleasant, but I tore the ones I saw off me and continued walking. We hadn't seen a Rhino yet (as promised), so we carried on through the jungle. It was incredibly peaceful and green in the parts of Chitwan we adventured to. For most of the walk we were all silent attempting not to scare away the animals, however with 15 people tromping through the bush the animals could probably hear us coming and run away.
After the hike had finished we prepared for our next adventure, which was bathing elephants. We were late for our turn so our guide told us (myself and three other volunteers) to jump in the water and climb on a kneeling elephant. I don't think I had time to process what was about to happen but I climbed on the elephant's back and hoped for the best. It was such an amazing feeling to be on top of this huge 8 foot high creature. There were four of us on at one time and the elephant was told by his guide to shake from side to side in attempts to throw us off him. I was unaware of what was going on so I held on for dear life and screamed as I was finally thrown into the water. After I had regained my balance I was told to climb back on, as if I hadn't had enough the first time, and do it again. The elephant was so well trained and he did exactly what he was told, but if he got out of order, like some do, his trainer would yell and hit him with a large metal pole. That was an aspect of riding elephants that I didn't enjoy watching. It is really the only way that the trainers can gain full control over the elephant, even if it made the elephant bleed in some cases.
After everyone was nice and wet from the bathing we all dried off and got ready for our next elephant encounter, which was a Jungle ride on an elephant. We were grouped off into four and walked up a staircase to mount the elephant. Off we went into the Jungle along with about 15 other elephants carrying tourists. We were very lucky to come across three grazing Rhino's when we entered the park. It was amazing to see wild Rhino's, which honestly looked fake, just hanging out eating grass as about 20 elephants surrounded them while tourists took pictures. Our journey lasted about 2 hours and by the end I was sore from holding on so tightly.
The elephants were so peaceful and almost never acted out from what they are told to do. It was truly amazing to be on top of an elephant riding through the Jungle, and we were so lucky to have the opportunity to do so.
As a side note, I just realized that some people have been commenting on my posts and that I needed to 'publish' the comments to see them. I'm sorry if I didn't see them before, I know how to do it now and I will start responding. Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Yesterday was my first day visiting my placement. My journey there and back totals about 2 and a half hours, by bus, tuk tuk and on foot. I was a little weary about traveling that far everyday to teach English at a government primary school in the middle of no where, but now I understand why I am here.
When Bibek (my orientation manager) and I arrived at the school we were greeted by three little girls out on the road which led to the school. The three of them were wearing their uniforms, or a dirtier version of them, with big smiles and little marigolds in their hands. I greeted them with 'Namaste' and they giggled and ran toward the school. Once I entered the school I was overwhelmed with children who were poking their heads from out of their classrooms to look at the new English teacher.
The school is a small building with 6 rooms, one classroom for each of the 5 grades and a small library. Each classroom, to give you a sense of what it is like, contains no more than 6 tables and chairs, some children do not have chairs to sit on during class. In every room there is a piece of chalk and a black board, which will be my only teaching tool. It seemed as though when I arrived at 2pm I wasn't interrupting class time, because the children were running wild all over the school. At one point we had a mini staff meeting in the library with all of the teachers. I took a glance out the hallway and could hear someone screaming while loud talking and playing was going on in each of the rooms. I could not even imagine an Ontario school allowing children to run wild with no supervision, but here it happens every day.
Afterwards one of the teachers led me into each class and asked the children to stand and greet me with their name in English. Each child from grade 1 to grade 5 had a flower or two to give me when I entered their class; I was speechless. The school is no more than 120 students and 5 teachers. All of the children are from the local farming families and are too poor to attend Private school, which most children in Kathmandu attend. This means that the children I will be teaching are amongst the poorest in Kathmandu, without being street children. I thought that what I would be doing would be difficult, and at times thought I might regret signing up to work so far away from the other volunteers and our home. After having visited this school, if it can even be considered that, and seeing the faces of happy and grateful children I know that I am in the exact place I want to be and doing the exact thing I love most, which is helping children. I know that teaching English is not an easy task and I was worried that the kids wouldn't want to learn, but I know that after seeing the way they greeted me and chased me from class to class, they will learn what I have to teach and hopefully, in some way, it will help them in the future.
More funny teaching stories to come I am sure!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A very Sari night out.

The last couple of days have been so packed full of events and adventures that I haven't had time to record them all. It is Thanksgiving Sunday here in Nepal and I am very thankful to be here. Although our 'Turkey' dinner will not be the same, mostly because we are having chicken, we are trying to make the best of our Thanksgiving. One of the volunteers has even decided to make a no-bake pumpkin pie from scratch. I applaud her efforts even though it might not taste the same as my Aunt Susan's.
Anyways I will back up a bit to my Friday, Amazing Race day and Sari night out. All Volunteers at the end of Orientation week in their respective countries is paired up and given an afternoon of racing around their city in search of items, pictures, and people to complete an Amazing Race. I am a huge fan of the show and so as you can imagine I got quite excited at the prospect of running my own Amazing Race. Our tasks involved going to places on our own that we had been earlier in the week. We were given an allowance which we used for paying for Rickshaw rides and bargaining with local Sauji (shopkeepers) for items on a list. The entire race we were required to use our Nepali language, and if we failed to do so we would be docked two points. It was so much fun running through the streets like crazy people asking for certain market items and getting pictures of certain landmarks. My roommate, Emily and I came in third place, which was disappointing, but not as disappointing as it would have been if we had lost 1 Million dollars.
Later that evening we all dressed up in our traditional Sari's. Since it was our last night of Orientation we were taken on a private bus, all dressed up, to a local traditional Nepali restaurant. We ate Dhal Bhaat and Tibetan MoMo's on the floor in our Sari's and drank rice wine, kind of like Sake. It was very fun to be dressed up and out, but I think my favorite part was when we danced to traditional music in the middle of the restaurant to about three large tables of Chinese tourists clapping. We even posed for a couple pictures.
Yesterday morning we went on a day trip to an outdoor adventure place called The Last Resort. My group (of 6) decided to Canyon down waterfalls, the highest of which was 42 meters high. It was definitely thrilling to be that high up on the side of a cliff knowing that you will soon scale down with a waterfall right next to you. We were all very sore afterwards but excited that we did the whole 4 hour route.
Tomorrow I am going to my placement for the first time with my Orientation leader. I will hopefully have some funny teaching stories soon!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wild Ride

We are now on the fourth day of Orientation and I am feeling much more familiar with my surroundings and the things we are doing. Every morning this week we have language classes with a Nepali man named Sharma G. He looks a little bit like Santa Claus except that he is Nepali and wears a daka topi (a traditional Nepali hat). I am attempting to pick up the language before I begin my placement on Monday, which will be in a school about an hour away from Basecamp (Kathmandu). After our classes we sit down to a lunch made by our wonderful cook named Badri. Today we had traditional Nepali food which was spicy yet delicious. We had all finished lunch and set out on a wet but very educational journey to Pashu Pati, a place where local Nepali people have their dead people cremated within a public temple next to a river. This place was very spiritual because after the cremation it is traditional to push the ashes into the river to give the soul of the person back to the earth (in simplistic terms).

One of the coolest parts of the day was when we visited the largest Buddhist Stupa in the world in Bodha. Although that part was amazing the ride home was the real adventure. The local Nepali transit system is not well run or widespread, so as you can imagine there are a lot of people in a few large vans (not buses like we have). My group, including two leaders, has ten people total so we needed to split up into two vans, or as the locals call it 'microbus', in order to get home successfully. The first ride was fairly predictable, four people to a two person seat, a small Nepali man next to me was really surprised when I practically squished him as I sat down. There were probably about 20 people in a 10 person van and that was not even the worst of it. We got out of the first microbus to transfer to the next when we realized that all of the transfer microbuses were full. Our leader, who at this point didn't know exactly how to get home, told us to get into a rickshaw, a small three wheeled bike with a two person seat on the back. There were three of us attempting to fit on a two person seat so I, being the smallest, sat on the other two girls. I was practically launched on to our driver a couple times due to huge pot holes in the road, plus it was raining so every time we went over a hole I was splashed with brown water. Anyways to my enjoyment I tried to stop thinking I was going to die and start enjoying the ride, like a roller coaster. It was truly an adventure but I know that my group was very glad to finally get home. More adventures to come I am sure!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This is my Group (well the new people at least). We are in Kumari's (the living goddess of Kathmandu) courtyard on our walking tour of Durbar square this afternoon. Kumari is a young girl who is chosen based on 70 qualifications to be the living goddess of Kathmandu, which means she blesses the people of Kat during religious holidays. Kumari is a 4 year old girl and when she reaches puberty she will be replaced with another Kumari.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I made it! I am sitting right now at Basecamp in Nepal. So I arrived yesterday in the afternoon, Nepal time. After my pick up from the Airport, my organizer and I got in a local cab and flew through the city of Kathmandu at an incredible speed. The best way to describe the ride was hectic. If you know how hectic driving downtown Toronto at 8am on a Monday can be, imagine that in addition to having your ride disturbed by cows, honking scooters with death wishes, and an absence of street rules and signage. It is crazy to say the least. At one point diving through Thamel (the small tourist city where our Basecamp is located) a man with a large machine to pave the road walked out in the middle of traffic to begin construction. Cars were honking, people were walking everywhere, children were playing in the middle of the road, and I am sitting in the back seat in utter shock anticipating the journey I have now just begun. After arriving at Basecamp and meeting my fellow volunteers (9 girls and 2 boys) I felt exhausted and lay down for a nap. Every evening all of the volunteers sit around a couple coffee tables on mats for dinner made by Baudri, our resident cook. Last night to my astonishment we had a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce. Some of the girls who have been at Basecamp for about a month suggested that we travel into Thamel to get sizzling brownie for dessert. We took the walk through completely dark streets because the power had been turned off, which is one of the local treats we enjoy randomly because the city needs to conserve energy. We went to a very nice small restaurant which was very tourist and enjoyed the hot brownie and ice cream. I really did not image on my first day in Nepal to eat spaghetti and brownie, so much for dieting while I'm here! Afterwards three of us 'newbies' went back home while the rest continued the night partying at a Western type bar called Tom and Jerry's. Today is Orientation and we will be taking a tour of Thamel to see the sights. I will update more when I have more stories and will post pictures when the rain subsides.