Family Trekking in Nepal

Basic Stats:
* Duration: 6 days, 5 nights (March 20th to 25th)
* Trekkers: 13 total — 4 women, 2 men, 7 children age five to eleven (4 families)
* Staff: 8 total — lead guide, assistant guide and 6 porters
* Distance walked: 38 kilometers (23.6 miles)
* Elevation gained: 2,600 meters (8,530 feet)
* Highest elevation reached: 3,580 meters (11,745 feet)
* Approx temperature range: 0 – 26 degrees Celsius (32 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit)
* Route: Kande – Pothana – Forest Camp – Badal Daada – High Camp – Sidhing – Lumre

Trekking is THE most popular activity in Nepal for tourists. The simplicity, grandeur and peacefulness draw people in. Majestic views, clean air, limitless greenery and calm quietude are a welcome change to our urban realities. Foreigners of all types trek – young or old, super fit or moderately in shape, conquering- or free-spirited and financially wealthy or penniless – usually coming solo, with a partner or small group. Trekking as a family or with several families, however, is a whole different affair… I’d pass up Disneyland any day for it!

Countless people have asked us why we trek as a family, how the kids handle it, how we get our kids to walk for hours and hours, and why we repeat the episode the following trekking season. Here are some answers…

What are the tea houses like? In general, tea houses are family-friendly and very safe. The tea houses on the Mardi Himal route are very basic, but do the job. The 7 to 10 rooms have two wooden beds with thin foam mattresses, thin plywood walls between rooms, dirt or cement floors, a small openable window, and a door with a lock. They have one common dining area which was fairly spacious and warm (from a wood stove). There were 1 or 2 eastern-style toilets for all guests to share (3 of the 5 lodges did not have bathing facilities). And there was plenty of outdoor space for the kids to explore and play. The hospitality, simplicity and freshly prepared food made it restful and enjoyable. The kids usually do just fine with the rustic lodges and often have much simpler expectations than we do.

What do you do during the non-walking times? In a given day, we would walk 4 to 8 hours leaving a fair amount of downtime. When the walking ends, the adults want to sit for a while, freshen up and unpack. Kids, however, are like another species… they reach the lodge and immediately start playing – catch, tag, exploring or making ladybug homes out of sticks and grass (constant movement!). Before and after dinner, we played card games and sang or listened – half the group could sing and we heard almost everyone’s whole repertoire over the six days. Taking TVs, phones, computers and tablets out of the equation was blissful – we had time and mental capacity to focus on nature, simple entertainment and one other…


We enjoyed countless plates of french fries and games of cards!

Do you worry about altitude sickness? No… Reputed health organizations recommend keeping children lower than 3000 – 4000 meters, and we’ve kept the upper limit in mind while selecting which path to trek. Also, our guides are trained to recognize signs of altitude sickness. Thankfully, we have never experienced altitude difficulties while trekking with our family.


Seven sweet smiles… and a memory that most of them will keep for a lifetime…

What is the weather like? Peak trekking season is spring and fall and weather is usually phenomenal. Days are warm and sunny and nights are cool and calm. As we ascended, the temperatures dropped, especially at nights, but with the right gear (down jacket, hat, plenty of layers and a good sleeping bag), we were just fine. We even experienced snow on the trail! As we approached our lodge on Day #3, it started snowing and didn’t stop for several hours. Thankfully, the clouds cleared overnight and blanketed everything with a crisp whiteness – it was truly spectacular. Reaching our highest point surrounded by snow was unforgettable (a bit dangerous with melting snow making the trail a muddy mess, but simply beautiful).


The most beautiful day of hiking…

How do the kids handle it and how do you get your kids to keep walking? Our secret weapon in trekking with children is very simple … bring other children! We’ve done countless weekend hikes with only our three kids and the complaints can be endless. Tossing in another little person or two does magic to the group dynamics, mood and purpose. We trek because we enjoy nature and simplicity. Kids also enjoy seeing snow-capped mountains, listening to birds chirp and leaves rustle underfoot, tasting daal bhaat after several hours of walking and playing with leaves and dirt. But this sometimes isn’t enough for our urban kiddos. Traveling with other kids adds an element of fun, community and fellowship that most kids thrive on. When they are with other little people, they can walk and talk for hours…word games, jokes, riddles, stories, trivia, and plenty of silliness. (Note: the other little people don’t have to be close friends with yours – they will become friends after spending several solid days together.)


Non-stop silliness!

Treats help too :-). Candy is not something we keep at home, but while on the trail, we bend that rule. Those inexpensive and artificially-flavored orange, grape, cherry, butterscotch and mint suckers taste amazing after you’ve been on your feet for hours! They go a long way for the children and the adults too… On the third night, Prakash bribed the children with full-sized candy bars, requesting some company to leave early in the morning aiming to hike higher than planned. Group dynamics and sugar are powerful tools – at the end of the conversation, all 13 of us committed to leaving earlier and Prakash emptied his wallet to purchase 13 candy bars at that elevation!

How much does family trekking cost? Family trekking with everything included (knowledgeable guides, insured porters, reserved rooms and all-you-can-eat meals) is approximately $100 USD per person per day. Trekking in Nepal can be significantly cheaper or expensive depending on your style and requirements. As we’ve always trekked in larger groups with kids, we prioritize having reliable staff and rooms reserved. After walking for hours, knowing we don’t have to sleep out in a tent or go to the next village looking for an available room is essential.


Ceaseless uphill climbs… but in the end, it was well worth it.

How does this trek compare to the other two you completed? The Mardi Himal trek was the BEST of the three, hands down. Poon Hill and Helambu both have beautiful views, but the scenery on the Mardi Himal trek is unparalleled. The snow covered mountains were so close, we felt we could just reach our hands out and touch them. It is an off-the-beaten-path trek with less developed tea houses, but the spectacular mountain panoramas make it more appealing.


All 13 of us at High Camp – we made it! Back row – Vidhya, Samir Nikhil, Sawmya, Shairose, Nita, Sumanth, Sajjan, Prakash. Front row – Nishant, Jayda, Ariana, Janani.

Who came on the trek and how did you get the group together? We were a group of four families with 1, 3, 4 and 5 members each. The Kaup family includes Saumya. She is a successful architect and mindfulness counselor from Maryland who volunteered in Kathmandu for four months. The Mawji family includes Shairose, Jayda and Ariana (twins, age 10). Shairose has a rich family history – Gujarati born in Tanzania and raised in Canada. She is a Kathmandu expat working with UNICEF and adopted Jayda and Ariana here in Nepal over 8 years ago. The Sodha family includes Samir, Vidhya, Nikhil and Nishant (ages 8 and 5) – they are originally from California, settled in Atlanta and currently expats in Delhi, India with the US Embassy. We rounded out the group with our family of 5.

Trekking naturally encourages successful group dynamics. You can chat with whomever you’d like, subtly maintain distance from another, or simply walk alone – without any awkwardness. You can be best of friends or new acquaintances and still share laughs and stories. So, we invited several families from all aspects of our lives creating a hodge-podge group. My pleading, coaxing and basic travel-agent skills helped, and we all went in hoping for the best. The positive energy and camaraderie was extraordinary – getting our whole group up and down the mountain was hard work and there were challenges, but anger and irritation never surfaced for eight whole days. Simply priceless…

What really do the guides and porters do? Due credit must be offered to our skillful guides, Asha Lama Tamang and Fursang Lama Tamang. They, along with our six porters, took care of everything – ensured we were on the correct path (trail markers appear periodically but trails are not nearly as well marked as in the USA), made reservations for accommodations (nearly every other trekker we encountered on the trail jokingly said, ‘oh you are the large group who reserved the whole lodge last night…we couldn’t stay there because of you!’), made sure we were well fed (acting as waiters and cooks to help the minimally staffed tea houses), helped the children whenever they needed an extra hand and entertained them a bit too! By the end of Day #1, it was apparent that our youngest member, Nishant age 5, needed some extra help. Fursang swiftly managed his duties as lead-guide alongside constantly holding Nishant’s hand, lifting him at large steps, and sweetly cajoling him down the trail.

Three of the six porters were in their early twenties and three were in their late forties. Even while carrying our 15 kilogram (~30 pounds) bags suspended from their foreheads, they walked significantly faster than us. On Day #2, in the late afternoon, our estimated 6-hour walk lingered well into an 8+ hour walk. As there were no tea houses between our origin and destination to stop for lunch, Ashta Lama encouraged us to eat a heavy breakfast and carry plenty of snacks. Around 3:30pm, with empty bellies and very tired legs, we spotted four of our porters ahead on the trail with thermoses of tea! They reached the destination, had their lunch, wondered why we hadn’t reached yet and graciously backtracked, refreshments in tow! They took care of us in so many ways, physically, mentally and emotionally. All we had to do was walk up and down the mountain…


All 21 of us near the end of the whole trek, a special moment! Ashta Lama, head guide, in back row middle (red jacket). Fursang Lama, assistant guide, in front row left (orange jacket).

So, in a nutshell, if your family enjoys nature, new experiences and unique challenges, trekking in Nepal’s Himalayan foothills with another family or two could be the perfect adventure… 🙂

FOBISIA Math Competition, Guangzhou China, by Janani

I was so surprised when TBS selected me for this competition (It was a math competition with four primary students representing each British International School in Asia). Sometimes it felt like a distant dream. But I am glad I participated, because it was a great experience.

We left for China on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016. That day, me and my teammates couldn’t think about anything else. We had a late night flight so we came home from school and went to the airport at 8:15pm. At dinnertime, I started to feel kind of tired, but when we arrived at the airport, excitement pushed away my exhaustion. At last the time came to leave and we said goodbye to our parents. We were on our way to China!

I went with three of my friends, Meghana, Shivanshi and Nabodita, and two teachers, Ms Swift and Ms Manandhar. When we came to the airport, we seemed to speed through the lines. Our teacher told us to bring carry-on bags only. In no time at all, we boarded the plane to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! After the four-hour flight, we arrived at the airport. We were all very tired (it was still night time) and we soon made our way to our next gate. Finally we boarded our plane and flew to Guangzhou, China!

When we arrived in China, we started seeing other teams of four. Before going, I was completely confident, but seeing the other teams made me a little bit nervous. The FOBISIA staff picked up all the teams that had arrived around the same time and we drove to the hotel in a big bus. We couldn’t wait for the first day of the competition!

We had arrived on Thursday afternoon and the competition started on Friday so we had until dinnertime to do whatever we wanted. We showered and changed, then we played in one of our two rooms. We didn’t have many things to do, but we had fun just hanging out. We didn’t have as much free time as we thought we would.

Hanging out without our parents supervision is so fun!

Hanging out without our parents supervision is so fun!

An hour or two later, Ms Swift called us down to dinner. The hotel was very fancy and it served extravagant buffet dinners. I am a vegetarian and unfortunately, in China, they eat a lot of meat. Everything I could see was non vegetarian! Soon, I found a few things to eat. But then, I walked around the entire dining area and I found so many more things like bread, fruits, salad and even ice cream. Soon, we went to our rooms and fell asleep as fast as we could (we knew we had to wake up early the next morning).

On Friday morning, we woke up, excited for the first day of the competition. After a good breakfast, five big buses took all the participants and their teachers to the hosting school. I couldn’t believe that we had enough people to fill five buses! The school that hosted the competition was The British School of Guangzhou. We were in a huge room with one table per team. There were a few announcements at the beginning, but before we knew it the competition had started.

The first activities were noncompetitive, logic puzzles where we worked with other teams. I think it was meant for us to make friends with other students but some weren’t that friendly. The first competitive part of the competition was the team assessment. My team had practiced very hard for this so we were quite confident. There were much fewer questions than we anticipated. We went through the questions and solved most of them. We thought we did quite well.

"Is my hat black or white", a logic puzzle we solved.

“Is my hat black or white”, a logic puzzle we solved.

After a short break, we moved on to mental math. We had a challenge to square a double-digit number in our heads in less than two minutes! We were given a method at the beginning and we had 30 minutes to practice with our team. Then, a teacher came to our table and asked each of us two questions which we had two minutes to solve. We didn’t think we did very well, but we did learn a new technique to square numbers! In some of the activities that we didn’t do so well in, I was the only one with a positive attitude afterwards. I didn’t think that being negative was the right thing to do.

So much to do, so little time!

So much to do, so little time!

Soon, we had a tessellation investigation where we could just relax and enjoy doing art. We created our own geometrical patterns and shapes. I thought that was a very good activity at the end of the long day.

It felt nice to take a break of math and do art.

It felt nice to take a break of math and do art.

Later, all the teams went to a barbecue dinner. It was okay but the weather in Guangzhou was completely cloudy and freezing (we didn’t see the sun the whole time). Then we went on a nighttime cruise around the city of Guangzhou. The cruise was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe how many buildings were fully lit up. The Canton Tower, a skyscraper, was lit up the best. It kept changing colors – red, green, blue and even rainbow. On the cruise, we ate snacks, explored the levels of the boat, and went up to the terrace. We even had a photo taken of us and put on a key chain! When we went back downstairs, the face changing show started. A dancer wore a mask and every time she swiped her face or turned around, her mask changed! It was kind of like a magic show. There were a few more performances and soon, we had to leave. We bused back to our hotel and went to sleep, very tired.

The next morning, we woke up still a bit sleepy. We got ready, had breakfast and went to the school. Our first activity was an orienteering challenge. We were given a quick lesson on protractors, rulers and compasses and we had to orient ourselves around the school. It was a competition of which team can complete the circuit first. We were sitting at the back during the lesson, so we didn’t fully understand how to score points. Soon we found ourselves running around the school completely confused! Afterwards, I somehow found it kind of fun, unlike my teammates.

Next, we did the individual assessment. This would not add any points to our team score so we were against everyone in the room! I had practiced a lot for this test so I was very confident. I practiced with last year’s 30 minute test, which had 15 questions worth one point each. This test lasted an hour and had 30 questions, each worth 1, 3 or 5 points. In the end I thought I did very well. When it finished, everyone was completely exhausted. Luckily we had a long lunch break and we were treated with pizza! It was so delicious and I don’t think they could have chosen a better time for it.

Later on, we did the most challenging mathematical activity I had ever done. We had a map of a race track and we answered geometrical questions about it. It seemed simple, but the arithmetic was very complicated. We had to multiply 5-digit numbers by 6-digit numbers, divide numbers with several decimals and things like that. At the end of the entire competition we found out that this challenge was meant for GCSE students. The surprising thing is that those students were allowed to use a calculator!

The race track activity had so many tasks! Our blue desk had turned white with dozens of papers!

The race track activity had so many tasks! Our blue desk had turned white with dozens of papers!

Fortunately, we had a break. The next part was the engineering challenge! I thought this activity was the most enjoyable. We built a marble track taking up the space of only one A4 size paper. There was no height restriction. We had five pieces of paper, scotch tape and a pair of scissors. Our design involved a spiral paper track around a rolled paper pole. We had a time limit of 1 hour and unfortunately we didn’t complete our track. When the time was up, a teacher came and timed the number of seconds that the marble ran on the track. Our time was 3.2 seconds and the winning team’s time was 11 seconds! At the end, we walked around and looked at all the teams’ designs. It was interesting how many different techniques there are to build a track. Finally, the competition finished and the award ceremony was coming up. Everyone was excited to find out which team won!

The hardest part was making the marble run down the track without stopping.

The hardest part was making the marble run down the track without stopping.

The award ceremony was held in a big hall in the hotel. When the competition director made the announcements, everyone was silent. There was so much suspense! Our team didn’t get any awards, but we weren’t disappointed (three out of thirty teams received awards). I didn’t expect an award in the first place. Then, dancers performed the traditional Chinese lion dance. Each lion had two people and they danced all around the stage. Towards the end, they did some really cool acrobatics which was fun to watch. But the whole time, I was enjoying my vanilla ice cream (my favorite!).

At the end, my teammates and I talked with the organizer and he asked us which activity was the most challenging. I felt the engineering activity was the most challenging and doable. The race track activity’s arithmetic was the hardest but not doable within the time limit. When things are too challenging and not really doable, you don’t feel like doing the challenge anymore.

Everyone received a participation award. Mine looked like real gold!

Everyone received a participation award. Mine looked like real gold!

The competition was very fun and I’m glad I participated. I was so excited to go back home. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it. The airplane journey was smooth and I bought a few souvenirs at the airport. When I think about it, I still can’t believe what I accomplished, but it felt really good to be back home.

It looks like a pot, but it's really a magnet!

It looks like a pot, but it’s really a magnet!

Post Earthquake… How are we REALLY doing?

I understand that it is so difficult for those abroad to fathom what we are going through here and how life really is. There is such a broad range in how dramatically the Maha Bhukamp impacted peoples’ lives. We are all getting used to a “new normal” – for some that is far different from the original, for others there aren’t too many changes…

Some have fewer family members, some have additional house guests, some are living under a different roof, some have no work, some haven’t stopped working since the quake hit. The “new normal” might look very different or very similar, but for all of us, nothing feels the same… I attempt to paint a picture of how our lives currently look:

Are you, Prakash or the kids scared?
Scared of death, dying, or injury – not really… Prakash and I are not scared of potential future earthquakes or aftershocks. We’ve lived through, unscathed, 1 massive earthquake and over 240 aftershocks these past 3 weeks. While each aftershock comes, if I feel it, my blood pressure does rise, and momentary fear arises and subsequently dissipates within minutes. Other potential threats such as mass illness outbreaks, excessive flooding / liquefaction, unavailability of food and water – these have all been discussed in local media recently, but we feel the chances are tremendously low.

Noises – these do scare me… Thunder, helicopters and airplanes over head, door slams – all of these have been mistaken for potential aftershocks by everyone, hundreds of times! The earthquake was loud, some aftershocks have been loud, and each quietly approaching sound makes each of us jolt to attention. This is slowly subsiding as the actual aftershocks themselves are subsiding.

Our kids, thankfully, have felt safe, calming vibes from Prakash, me and the school, so they are not scared. Sleeping, eating, playing and misbehaving just like normal! The kids, all of us for that matter, say things like, “did you just feel that?” Our inner ears are playing tricks on us, trying to adjust back to normal – when we really aren’t moving, sometimes we feel like we are. But overall, they are happy and healthy!

Do you have power, food and water?
Electricity was restored shockingly quickly – only 48 hours after the first quake. Power cut off for only 5 hours after the largest aftershock (Tuesday, May 12). In addition, the numerous hours of load shedding Nepal residents are so used to (daily power cuts of 10-18 hours) have relaxed. We’ve had uninterrupted power. Many say this is because demand is substantially lower as many business and factories are not operating, many homes have demolished so not consuming power, and many families are living outdoors so using less power indoors.

Food supplies haven’t been very impacted. Shops we regularly visit have received their usual deliveries since the earthquake. Our dairy is closed, but milk is available at another dairy down the road. The bakeries we purchase bread from are up and running (The Secret Bakery had exceptional service even during the days immediately following the earthquake – yes, we were guiltily eating fresh bread, chocolate croissants and mushroom calzones days after the quake!). Most fruits and vegetables are readily available in the roadside markets (and in our thriving garden). We even bought freshly roasted peanut butter last week – that shop was closed for 2 weeks since the quake. Needless to say, we are eating as well after the quake as we were before.

Water, however, has been an issue for most people. In Nepal, residences and businesses can get water 1 of 3 ways: underground well on their property, tanker truck home deliveries and city-provided supply. Those who have wells, naturally have access to fairly plentiful supply. Tanker trucks were operating within 1 day after the Maha Bhukamp. We received a delivery 5 days after and again just this morning (The first week, there was some price gauging. Our expat friends were asked to pay 10,000 npr for a delivery of water that normally costs 1,600 npr. Blessed with a house helper who commands much respect and an appearance which can pass for locals, our driver only asked for 2,000 npr for that first delivery after the quake.) The city-provided water supply resumed just days ago, leaving many without water for over 3 weeks. Likely, some of the underground water pipes cracked or broke during the quake and aftershocks, therefore the water resumed significantly late. In the interim, some neighborhood families pitch in a bit of money each and order water truck deliveries. Also, some aid relief efforts delivered bottle water and tanker truck water to nearby villages.

Are the kids in school?
Yes… The British School and its AMAZING response to the Maha Bhukamp is perhaps the only reason the kids and I are still in Nepal. They closed for only 2 days, yes ONLY 2 days. School opened, Wednesday April 29th, in the most welcoming, peaceful, reassuring way. It felt like Disney Land for our strained, saddened, stress minds and hearts… Parents were welcomed to stay, chit chat with other parents, and drink tea and coffee. Kids had dozens of activities to do and play – legos, blocks, water play, painting, drama, crafts, board games, football, yoga – all outdoors as so many people were scared to go indoors. The aim was for the kids and parents to feel safe and relaxed, as compared to the trauma of the previous few days. It has been more than 2 weeks since school reopened after the earthquake and it has been a beautiful blend of playing and learning, with a heightened focus on safety.

Kathmandu schools, colleges and daycares, with the exception of the American and British International Schools, have not resumed – thus thousands of kids have been aimlessly playing, roaming around, waiting and waiting… The government initially closed schools and colleges for 2 weeks, then extended this for 2 more weeks after the May 12th aftershock. Some will reopen after these 4 weeks, however, hundreds of schools have been badly damaged so they cannot resume classes. Reconstruction of schools will hopefully increase in priority soon… People need homes first, then schools, health clinics, shops and offices can be rebuilt – all a tall order for a weak government.

What types of questions, concerns to the kids have?
The first week after the quake, I feel the kids were trying to wrap their heads around why so many of their friends left Nepal, yet we are still here and many of their other friends are still here. I tried explaining that there are no “right” decisions – we all are just doing what is best for our own families. They also questioned when the aftershocks would stop and why do we have to spend all day and night outside and why are we skipping baths again and why did some houses and walls fall down and not others… I did my best to explain. Thankfully, given the ages they are at, the intense fear only lasted a few minutes during the initial quake. Since then, they’ve been taking the aftershocks totally in stride – they’re part of daily life now…

Where are you sleeping?
We slept on the floor in our downstairs living room for about 7 days or so and moved up to our bedrooms after that (day #2 after the quake, we slept in a tent in the garden ; overnight rain and reduced aftershocks encouraged us to move back indoors). After the May 12th aftershock, the kids and I were keen on moving back down to the living room. Prakash adamantly refused to move back downstairs! Sleeping in the same room was more important to me, so we all slept in the kids’ room upstairs that night.

Many families in Kathmandu are living out under a tarp or within tents because their homes crumbled or have significant cracks. There are thousands of other people sleeping outdoors because they are just so scared of future aftershocks even though their homes have no damage. People are enjoying the sense of community with their neighbors during this time of grief. As the mosquitos population increases and the monsoon rains begin, hopefully the tent camps will fade.

Many others are sleeping in temporary shelters made of tin, steel, bamboo, and scraps from the rubble of demolished homes. There is a broad definition of “temporary”. Some are thinking these shelters will house them through the rainy season. Yet others are viewing them as a 2-3 year home… Many people are not emotionally ready to think about rebuilding.

Is the airport running at capacity?
Yes, the airport is running at greater than normal rates. Hundreds of aid planes and helicopters arrived into the country via its only international airport, KTM. Commercial airlines were still operating as many expats and tourists wanted to leave the country and aid workers were pouring into the country. Airport operations have stabilized a bit, but are still higher than normal.

Do you feel like leaving Nepal? Why haven’t you left yet?
Since Day 1 of the earthquake, Prakash and I haven’t had the urge to leave Nepal. Family and friends asked and asked us to leave for a bit, take a break, just get out of there! After surviving the Maha Bhukamp unscathed, we didn’t feel “unsafe” – if we made it through that, we’ll be fine through the aftershocks too.

Although we are a family of 5, I feel like we are more like 7. Leaving Tika Dai and Sonu (our devoted, family-like, house helpers) behind just wasn’t a swallowable proposition. In addition, we felt like doing a small part to help others – delivering tarps, food, water and more recently building temporary shelters.

Also, as all moms and dads can attest, kids are happiest when they are in their routine. The kids didn’t want to leave; they wanted to keep going to school. In fact, I gave them the option to join Prakash on his trip to Switzerland this week and none of the three wanted to go! They weren’t in the mood to sightsee, didn’t feel like “taking a break from Nepal or the aftershocks”, didn’t want to miss school, and anyways, “we’d still get to have yummy chocolates, because Baba would bring them back for us!” Glad to know their priorities are still in line :-).

Are you still planning on your US trip?
Yes! We are looking forward to our summer vacation in Virginia, California and North Carolina this summer.

So, in summary, we are really doing just fine! Our emotions have their ups and downs. Ups – GRATEFUL to have our lives, no injuries, our house, our friends, an open and amazing school, unharmed workplace for Prakash ; HAPPY to give to others even though it seems so minuscule in comparison to their needs ; BLESSED that the earthquake happened on a Saturday at lunchtime instead of a weekday or in the night time. Downs – GUILTY that our lives still look exactly the same as before the quake ; SAD that so many people so close to us are suffering so much ; FRUSTRATED that our efforts to provide some relief to those in need are insignificant or maybe even causing more damage than good. We really really really miss our old, carefree, blissful life, but are slowly getting used to the “new normal”.

20 days since the Maha Bhukamp, by Prakash Bhave

With almost 20 days having passed since the Maha Bhukamp (Nepali for “Great Earthquake”), I realized a message to family and friends was long overdue.  While writing down my thoughts Tuesday morning, I downloaded some data from Nepal’s National Seismological Centre to convince myself that we’re really in the clear.  Other distractions arose and soon it was lunch time.  The ICIMOD cafeteria runs out of food by 12:45, so that interrupted my writing one last time.  I was taking the first bite from my plate of momos when the “second” Maha Bhukamp hit.  Uggh.  Duck, cover, hold, …  Wait for the shaking to stop, go outside, watch colleagues frantically call their families and try in vain to contact mine, run up to my office to collect my laptop and unfinished work, go home.

The past 2 weeks have been a drawn-out lesson in disaster recovery on both a personal and institutional level.  In brief, I experienced the following sequence of emotions after the earthquake:

  1. Feeling lucky that our family was not hurt, that our home was not damaged.
  1. Informing relatives and friends that we’re okay.  Facebook was perfect for this, as ICIMOD’s backup power generator (along with email server) went down during the quake.
  1. Feeling numerous aftershocks – some real and others imagined.  Debating whether to sleep inside or outside of our house; upstairs in our bedrooms or downstairs near an exit?
  1. Wondering how long it would be until water and power would be restored; whether we’d run out of food before the stores were restocked with supplies from outside Kathmandu.
  1. Quit waiting for the next aftershock and try to make ourselves useful to city residents who had lost their homes.
  1. Returning to ICIMOD 3 days after the earthquake to lead our office’s task force for immediate relief over the next 8 days.  (see for a summary of our efforts)
  1. Balancing the needs of our daily-wage support staff (e.g., custodial, security, cafeteria workers, drivers) who lost some belongings against their next-door neighbors who had lost everything
  1. Deciding whether to provide relief to a devastated village where our staff have close relatives or to one where ICIMOD has ongoing pilot projects and local partners in desperate need
  1. Pondering how one draws the line between earthquake relief and poverty relief.  Due to daily rainstorms, some form of shelter (i.e., tarp, rope, blankets) was urgent for those who lost their homes;  water purification and disinfectants seemed necessary for those in tarp-covered camps.  But once the local stores reopened, were donations of food appropriate?
  1. Deciding to end ICIMOD’s immediate relief efforts and try to shift our focus back to ICIMOD’s regular work of improving the mountain environments and the livelihoods of mountain people (i.e., sustainable poverty alleviation)
  1. Oscillating between feelings of guilt for not providing more relief and righteousness for not having left the country with many other ExPats
  1. Feeling utterly incapable of focusing on any medium- or long-term tasks back at the office.  The psychologists who came to counsel us kept using the term “Hyperalert” to describe our state of mind – i.e., poised to react to any stimulus, but not in a condition to think critically.
  1. Recognizing that we are physically okay, but emotionally fractured; and that, soon, our mental functions would return to normal.
  1. Plotting a time-series of the aftershock magnitudes, concluding that the worst is behind us and, then, experiencing another massive quake 2 days ago.
  1. Again, informing relatives and Facebook that we’re okay.  Again, debating where to sleep.  Again, experiencing large aftershocks through the night.

Thanks for all of your messages of concern and your prayers.  Nita and I are moved by the outpouring of condolences and offers of help, and I regret that I did not write sooner.  I know that the physical damage looks much worse from afar than it has been for us personally, because the TV and Internet show the worst hit places which are horrendous.  In contrast, our neighborhood had very little damage and our friends are physically unharmed.  All 250+ ICIMOD staff and their immediate families survived the Maha Bhukamp (only a few minor injuries were reported).  Likewise, all children, staff, and families at our kids’ school and in our neighborhood are okay.

But while evacuating the office on Tuesday, one of my Nepali colleagues asked “Prakash, do you think we are cursed?”  I’m sure this thought is going through the minds of many Nepalis right now.  I don’t think the country or its people are cursed, but this natural disaster is certainly wearing everyone down.  And here, I’m just talking about the millions (like me) who are uninjured and whose homes are intact!

Hopefully this gives everyone an idea of what we’re going through since the earthquake.  Feel free to share this with your friends and family to offer another perspective, one that isn’t available through mass media.  I look forward to meeting many of you in the USA during our visit in July!

Time-series plot of earthquake and aftershock data.

Time-series plot of earthquake and aftershock data.

My Adventures in Hattiban! By Sumanth Bhave

Sumanth’s description of his first school overnight trip – outing to Hattiban then back to school for a night in tents!


First we went to school with my big bag. Tika Dai came also because the bag was really really heavy so when we got to British School, we lined up and went inside. Then we met up at Year 1E. Then we went in a line, a big long line, and there are three busses because we are a big big group. Our bus was very very very cool because we are popcorn and our passenger, the guy who is next to the driver, since there are so many uphills he had to get out of the bus and had to put a big stone behind one of the wheels. And then finally we got there and we got into a circle.

There were lots of groups. My group had 4 people – Ariya, Tirel, Akshata, and me. There were 3 boys and 1 girl. Then each group, went to the toilet and sometimes the boys had to go in the girls toilets and sometimes the girls had to go in the boys toilets! And then finally everybody got to go in the toilet. And then, Ms Wiggers read a story to us, it was called “We are Going on a Bear Hunt”. The story was really nice. Then we were going on a bear hunt together! We found a lot of clues and we even found a lot of bear poo! And the bear poo wasn’t even real! It was like a bunch of leaves crumpled up. When the bear hunt was finished, we came back to the hotel and went to the bathroom again. And then we ate lunch. In the middle of lunch we saw some walking bushes! Do you know the walking bushes were actually people carrying leaves to feed their cattle?!?

Then we did some activities after lunch. We started at 5 then went to 6 then to 1 then to 2 then 3 then 4 then we were finished. I think each activity was 5 minutes. All activities took 1 hour. Activity #5 was sketching things you could see around Hattiban. I sketched trees, tree trunks, and sticks and I think that was it. Then, in #6 first we had to clear a big muddy space, then we had to make a picture in the mud using natural things. My natural things were sticks and bark and I used one piece of glass that wasn’t that sharp. The sticks were bridges, the holes were ponds and the piece of purple glass was treasure. You had to find the treasure and make sure you don’t fall into any of the ponds! The sticks were like balance beams and you had to walk over them to get over the ponds.

In the bus ride back, I was feeling a bit sick because the roads were really bumpy. Finally we got back to the British School. There, we went to Year 1E’s classroom. We read a book or played. I played legos. My lego thing was a big ship that had lots of cool things on it. Guess what Ariya put on my thing?!? He put a big lego missile on my ship! A missile is like a bullet. Then it was time for dinner. I went to the table. I had pasta. The pasta was very very good. I didn’t not like the pizza that much. I drank water, but I didn’t actually drink it, I left it on the table.

Then I played some games in the playground. I really liked the games. The people were Ariya, Yuvan, Akshata, Prapti, and Siddham, Tirel, Shauriya. Then it was time to brush our teeth. I brushed my teeth. Then it was time for bed. I went to bed with Ariya in a tent. I had to set up my bed. There were only 4 teachers so they had to walk around. In the middle of the night, Ariya had to go to the toilet. Then it was morning. Me and Ariya woke up. Then we changed our clothes. Then we packed our bags with some help from some teachers. Then we put our bags where they were when we came to the hard court. Then we asked Ms Elphic if we could go brush our teeth. Then it was time for breakfast. I had cereal. First I had chocolate loops. Then I had fruit loops! Then I had choco banana cereal. But they were fatter than bananas! Then it was time for the next school day. We lined up and then we went inside. I got to leave early.

I did not miss my mom and my dad. I also did not miss my brother and my sister.

I got scared one time because of the bear. Ms Hutchins was the bear! She dressed up as a bear. I got so scared because her ROARS were so scary!

My favorite part of the whole adventure was eating candy when the bear was finished. The bear was a very kind bear. He left us lollipops and oranges and even he left us treasure on the way back. My treasure was candies. The candies were really yummy.

Wiped out, but happy as can be, after the best FIRST school overnight experience!

Wiped out, but happy as can be, after the best FIRST school overnight experience!

Our Jungle Adventures!!

Our Family Chitwan Trip!  By Janani…

I woke up early in the morning on February 14th, 2015. That was the day we went to Chitwan National Park. Chitwan is near the bottom of Nepal in the Terai region or the flatlands. We were visiting Tika Dai’s family so he came with us. We hopped in the car and drove away. The drive was very bumpy because we were going through the mountains. Even in Chitwan, the roads weren’t very good. When we got there, we saw that Tika Dai’s family all lived in one lane. First was Tika Dai’s house, then his brother’s house, then some neighbors and last, his parent’s house. When I grow up, I want to live like that.

At lunchtime, we had rice and daal (lentils) that Tika Dai’s wife, Ganga Didi, made. It was very yummy. After we ate lunch, we explored around the house. We found a swing, a ladder that goes up to a place full of hay and a ladder that goes up to a big attic. It was very fun playing there and I liked that there were ladders instead of stairs.

We found all kinds of interesting things up here!

We found all kinds of interesting things up here!

Then we went to Tika Dai’s parent’s house. The day before, baby goats were born, so we got to see 1-day-old baby goats. One was a girl that was brown with white spots and one was a boy that was just brown. I liked the boy because the girl just sat and pooped. The boy was more active and he was trying to find where to get his mom’s milk.

They are just a day old!

They are just a day old!

The next day we saw another goat give birth to 5 babies. There was a big orange sack coming out of her body and all the baby goats looked slimy and wet. It was so interesting. By the next day, they looked so different and soft. They were very cute.

On Sunday, our Dad went home. On Monday, my Mom, my brothers and I went to a very fancy resort called Kasara. We met two other families. They had four kids all together. Nitesh is 7, Maanav is 7, Sharanaa is 4, and Zoya is 2. There was nobody my age, but it was still fun.

We soon found out that we had our own private SWIMMING POOL! We couldn’t believe it! Unfortunately, the water was cold because it is February so it was hard to get in. Later, we went on a canoe ride. We saw so many pretty birds but in the end we saw about ten man-eating crocodiles. We were so scared! The next day, after breakfast, we went on an elephant ride. It was just like the last time I went to Chitwan with my class. It was so bumpy. We saw 7 or 8 rhinos and one was a baby.

Sometimes, when all the kids were playing, instead of playing with them, I would crochet with the moms. The other two moms taught me how to make hexagons and circles and they even taught me how to turn two hexagons into a sweater for a little doll! The last few weeks, crochet has been one of my favorite activities to do.

Crochet, crochet and more crochet!

Crochet, crochet and more crochet!

We also went on an ox cart ride. There were 2 oxen that pulled a cart and we sat on planks of wood in the cart. We rode to a museum about Tharu Culture. Tharu is a type of people. In the museum, we saw Tharu toys, fishnets, and a drum with peacock feathers on it.

We rode on Shivratri - children in the villages held strings across the road so we couldn't cross.  They asked for money and then released the strings - similar to our Trick or Treating in the USA!

We rode on Shivratri – children in the villages held strings across the road so we couldn’t cross. They asked for money and then released the strings – similar to our Trick or Treating in the USA!

That night, we saw a Tharu Culture dance. There were about 12 ladies dancing in a circle to the music of a 2-sided drum called, dholak. They were dancing with sticks and they could hit them with the sticks of the person behind them without looking back. It was amazing.

The next day, we went to the river. In the river, there were 4 elephants. I climbed on one and the skin of the elephant felt very rough. The man on it said some commands and suddenly the elephant sprayed me with its trunk! The water was much warmer than I thought it would be. I think that’s because it was warmed by the inside of the elephant’s trunk. I was splashed like 10 times! I didn’t want to be splashed anymore. But when I got off, I almost felt like getting back on.

Soaking wet but happy as can be!

Soaking wet but happy as can be!

Kasara and Tika Dai’s house are so different. Kasara is much bigger and it has a proper bathroom. But Tika Dai’s house is very small and they only have a squat toilet, no sink and no shower room. At Kasara we can eat as much as we want, but at Tika Dai’s house, we can only have firsts. If we ask for seconds, someone won’t get their firsts. But in the village, there are many things to play with. There is a swing made out of rope and wood. I found it very cool that the two grooves that were cut on the sides of the wood made it so that the wood could stay on the rope without falling off! There was also a ladder that went up to a pile of hay. We could climb up and look around. In Kasara there weren’t very many things to play with though. Village life is very different from normal life.

Chitwan… By Sajjan…

The Departure
“Wake up!” my mom said, “it is time to go to Chitwan!” I got up sleepily and walked to the car. We drove for six hours on bumpy roads and alongside rivers. Finally, we got to Meghauli, Tika Dai’s village.

We immediately started exploring the fascinating village house. Sumi found an amazing swing. The swing was so resourceful because it was made from string and wood and was hanging from the attic. We played on the swing for so long.

Hidden village treasures...

Hidden village treasures…

Suddenly, Tika Dai’s mom phoned and said a goat was giving birth to babies. We all rushed over there in time to see a black goat give birth to five babies. They all looked slimy and goopy. The next day they looked so soft and different.

There were a lot of Dais (big brothers). We played football (American soccer) and volleyball for at least one hour every day. Higher from Tika Dai’s house, there was a huge, dirt, open land. Sometimes we played up there and sometimes we played down on the narrow road that led to Tika Dai’s house and sometimes we played in his front yard. The ball wasn’t very hard because they don’t have the materials to make them in the village.

We met the whole village by the end of our trip!

We met the whole village by the end of our trip!

In the kitchen, they used milk from a buffalo. It was very sweet and fresh. Unlike other village farmers, they had a refrigerator in their house because Tika Dai is working so hard in Kathmandu and earning a lot of money.

It was a very long drive from Meghauli to Kasara. We had to ask at least five people which way to go. Finally, we got to Kasara. We sprinted to our villa and found out that we had our own private swimming pool! Unfortunately, the swimming pool was extra cold because we are still in winter.

Our own mini pool right next to our villa... the COOLEST thing.

Our own mini pool right next to our villa… the COOLEST thing.

When it was lunch time, we discovered that the food was very good. There even was a buffet. The popcorn before dinner time was also very good. Breakfast was my favorite meal because they had cereal every time and I really like cereal.

We loved the pasta, cereal and desserts!

We loved the pasta, cereal and desserts!

We went on an amazing canoe ride. We saw the long-nosed gharial crocodile and the deadly mugger crocodile. We were especially scared when we saw 3 deadly crocodiles slip into the water near our boat.  When we went to all of the activities, we rode on a jeep, but it wasn’t a normal jeep, it had 10 seats on the top with no roof so the wind blew in our faces!

The moms kept thinking we were going to fly off, but we didn't!

The moms kept thinking we were going to fly off, but we didn’t!

The next day, we went on an ox cart ride. Oxen are white or brown. We went on a tour around the whole village pulled by two oxen!  We even went on an elephant safari. We saw a samba deer, a hug deer – the one with spots – and a crocodile. We got on an elephant like this – there were steps up to a platform but there was no slide, there was an elephant to climb on!

The elephant "driver" rubs his feet behind the elephants ears to steer - no kidding!

The elephant “driver” rubs his feet behind the elephants ears to steer – no kidding!

We saw the Tharu people do a dance with 4 parts. The first part was with a stick that produced loud noises to scare away the animals from eating up the crops. The second part was with this scarecrow drum. The third part was with two sticks. The fourth part was my favorite. It was played with an instrument that made the noise like a tambourine.

Trishuli River
On the way back home, we stopped at the Trishuli River. I wrote people’s names using black stones and another sharp stone. You use the sharp stone as a pencil and the black stone as a paper. When we got back home, it was so different from Kasara and Meghauli.

My Chitwan Blog… By Sumanth…

Chapter 1 – Meghauli
We woke up early because we needed to go to Chitwan. The drive was long. I had breakfast in the car. Finally we were at Chitwan. We saw Hari Dai’s dog, his name is Hero.

Hero is such a cool dog!  Playful, protective and affectionate...

Hero is such a cool dog! Playful, protective and affectionate…

There were seven Dais – Tika Dai, Hari Dai, Milan Dai, Ram Dai, Lakshman Dai, Tika Dai’s younger brother and Hari Dai’s friend. I had so much fun on the swing. We saw a black goat give birth to five babies. After the two days at Tika Dai’s house, we went to Kasara.

Chapter 2 – Kasara
We had a private swimming pool! After 4 hours, our friends came. We played army! Finally we were at our rooms. We watched Motu Patlu in Maanav’s room. On the last day of Kasara, it rained. We ran to our villa. That next morning, we went to the café to eat breakfast. After breakfast, we went to our bus. The bus ride was so bumpy. Finally, we were at our first break. We ate vegetable cutlets – they were yummy! I had five of them. Finally, we were at our second break at Trishuli River. I found so much beautiful stones. I put my stones in a bag. After I found all of the beautiful stones that I liked, we went to the bus stop. Pema Aunty called the bus. Now the bus ride was not bumpy and not long. Finally, we were at our normal house.

Skipping rocks and collecting a few to take home.

Skipping rocks and collecting a few to take home.

The End…

My Shivapuri Trip

by Sajjan Bhave

I'm all set!

I’m all set!

Day 1:
On the first day I woke up and I was very excited to go to Shivapuri. I did my morning routine fast and then I went down and ate breakfast fast so I could go to Shivapuri. Then I went to school.

My brother learned how the porters in the Himalayas carry heavy bags!

My brother learned how the porters in the Himalayas carry heavy bags!

At school, we waited in the main area until the bus came to pick us up.

Getting ready to get on the bus.  They tossed all the bags on the top.

Getting ready to get on the bus. They tossed all the bags on the top.

We then got in the bus and I started on my friend’s Rubik’s cube. I finished one face of the Rubik’s cube and then everybody was so excited and surprised that I finished one face. After that, we played “I Spy”. I didn’t want to participate much, but I got lots of the answers right. After that, we stopped in Budhanilkantha for snack. Then we did the following activities in this order: Sign Spotting (restaurant signs, Gods, computer signs, jewelry signs), Traffic Survey (we counted how many vehicles there were like car, truck, van, motorcycle, bicycle, tuk-tuk and others ; motorcycles won by far!), Shop Survey (there was mostly grocery shops or clothing shops and there were only two chemists in the whole Budhanilkantha!). My favorite was Sign Spotting because you needed your eyes a lot and the Traffic Survey because it has lots of action. After that, we had lunch.

Traffic survey at Budhanilkantha - there were SO many motorcycles!

Traffic survey at Budhanilkantha – there were SO many motorcycles!

Then we walked from Budhanilkantha to Shivapuri. We always had to be in a single file because it was a road and that’s what lots of people had trouble with. When we reached Shivapuri Heights Cottage we got in our rooms and we started unpacking. Mr. Swift said that whichever room was the most tidy after unpacking would get a treat! There would be one girl room and one boy room that would get the treat. Luckily, our room got the treat! Then we got into two groups. One group did sketching of the valley first.

We're sketching the Kathmandu Valley.

We’re sketching the Kathmandu Valley.

The other group did tree planting first. I was in the first group. And then after 40 minutes on our activities, we swapped and got the same amount of time on the other activity. My favorite was tree planting because in the future, we could come back and see our tree.

Nishchal, Yulo and me watering the tree we planted!

Nishchal, Yulo and me watering the tree we planted!

After these activities, we ate dinner at the cottage. The food was yummy, especially the dessert! After that, we watched a Tin Tin movie. It was called, Tin Tin in America. We noticed that we had more time so we watched Tin Tin and the Cigars of the Pharaoh. Everyone liked the second movie because one character had got a poisoned dart inside him so he acted very funny! After that, we got ready for bed and went to bed. This was our first night of sleeping without our parents.

Day 2:
On Day 2, I woke up fast! I had to stay in bed until 6am because I didn’t know I had accidentally woke up at 5:30am! When it was 6am, Mr. Swift came into our rooms and told us that we have 30 minutes until breakfast. We got ready but we were a bit late for breakfast. The girls cottage was a bit further to the breakfast area than ours so we got there first. The girls came after a very long time and then we started having breakfast together. We started with hot chocolate and then I ate plain cornflakes and toast with honey.

After breakfast, we made sandwiches for ourselves and walked to a Tibetan Temple. A monk showed us around the temple. The temple had 3 huge Gods. The one in the middle was Buddha – on Buddha’s lap was a special scarf with all of the important Tibetan symbols. The scarf was called a Katha. The Katha was very important to the Tibetans too. The God on one side was Norbu – Norbu is very important to the Tibetans and Bhutanese people. And I forgot the name of the one on the other side. There were 751 little God idols on the left side of the temple. Approximately 584 Gods were Buddhist and the rest were Tara. In front of them were lots of symbols that were useful to the Tibetans. Then we ate lunch on the grass. My sandwich had cheese and tomatoes. We had Oreos, bananas, oranges and chocolates too. After everybody had finished, we had 2 minutes of silence to respect the monks. Then we walked back to the Cottage.

Our lodge - Shivapuri Heights Cottage.

Our lodge – Shivapuri Heights Cottage.

In the Cottage, we had a little bit of quiet time where we had to do something like yoga, coloring, or a word search. Then we walked to a Hare Krishna Temple. First, we learned about the religion. Second, we did some dancing. Then we walked downstairs and the temple guide told us some stories. One of the stories went like this: Once upon a time, there was a saint praying in the forest and a little rat came up to him, “lots of cats are chasing me, can you turn me into a cat, please?” So the saint turned him into a cat! Then the same cat came back and said, “lots of dogs are chasing me, can you please turn me into a dog?” So the saint turned him into a dog! Then the same dog came back and said, “lots of tigers are chasing me, can you please turn me into a tiger?” So the saint turned him into a tiger. One day the same tiger was looking for food. He found the same saint and tried to eat him! But right before the tiger’s jaws touched the Saint, the Saint turned him back to a rat! The moral – be grateful.

Then we walked backed to the cottage. When we got back, we went to a briquette factory. A briquette is made out of little strips of paper, water and saw dust. It is something that you can use instead of firewood. We made our own briquettes. I put mine in the fire so I did not get to bring it home.

We learned how they make briquettes.

We learned how they make briquettes.

Then we ate dinner. We had pasta and beans and salad. Everyone at our table took seconds! Then we had a campfire! The campfire was ready after dinner. Some people put their briquettes in like me. And then while the fire was blazing, we watched Tin Tin and the Ottokar Sceptre. Everybody thought that was the best movie. We each had one marshmallow in the middle of the movie. Then we settled down to our second night without our parents.

Day 3:
On Day 3, I woke up and we had to pack. We got one hour to pack so we had to wake up at 6am. We all got ready and were late for breakfast again! We ate together and then we took our bags down to be brought to the bus. Then we split up into four groups and each group took turns doing a treasure hunt while the others had time to finish their Shivapuri Activity Sheets (word searches, Tin Tin coloring, Tibetan coloring). My favorite part of the whole trip was the treasure hunt!

We were the last group to start the treasure hunt. There were 13 clues and the last one lead you to the treasure. Then we found one group that was on the same clue as us – Clue #3. We worked together until we found it. The clues had words on them and it showed you which clue it was. There were no pictures. Then we all were stuck on Clue #6 together. Clue #7 was so hard! We knew where it was, but it was so hard to get out. It was under the dog’s collar! Finally, we got it, read it and moved on to Clue #8. We kept going until we found the treasure. The treasure was chocolate! After we ate the treasure, we ate lunch at the cottage then walked to the Hare Krishna Temple to get picked up by the bus. We started playing “I Spy”. Then we played a character game. Then we reached The British School. We had to wait until everyone’s bags got down from the top of the bus and then we found our parents. I never missed home on my trip, but I was so glad to be back!


Our class picture at the lodge.

Our class picture at the lodge.

Sonu Didi made me a cake to welcome me home!

Sonu Didi made me a cake to welcome me home!

My Chitwan Trip!!

By: Janani Bhave

One day, I got a letter from my school, The British School. I was going to go on a 5-day trip to Chitwan! I was so excited because it would be my first overnight field trip. The weekend before the trip, I started packing. I was glad that the school provided a packing list because I didn’t think I would come up with everything I would need. By the way, I have never packed my things by myself before. This would be my first time, so I got the packing list and I started packing. I got distracted many times. The hardest thing to pack was my washing kit because I was always feeling that I forgot something. Luckily I didn’t.

I was getting more and more excited so I did some research about Chitwan. This is what I learned and wrote before my trip: Chitwan is a National Park in Nepal. It protects forests, marshlands, and grasslands. The word Chitwan means “heart of the jungle”. Chitwan is one of the best wild life viewing national parks in Asia. You will have many chances to spot one-horned rhinos, deer, monkeys and 450 species of birds. If you are extremely lucky, you will see leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears or even a Bengal tiger! 7/10ths of the national park is covered in Sal forest. “Sal” is a large leaf, hard wood tree. Chitwan has more than 50 species of mammals including rhinos, tigers, deer, monkeys, elephants, leopards, sloth bears, wild boar and hyenas. Butterfly spotters have identified at least 67 species, some as large as your hand! Birds seen in Chitwan include bulbuls, mynahs, egrets, parakeets, jungle fowl, peacocks, kingfishers, oriels and various species of drongos. There are also rare species such as ruby checked sun birds, emerald doves, jungle owlets and crested horn bills. That is what I learned about Chitwan.

Excited and a little bit sad...

That’s Mr. Cross, my class teacher.

Monday, November 3, 2014, was the day I started getting sad because I was going to leave. I thought that I would miss my parents so much. I said good-bye to my mom and walked to school with my dad. Seeing my friends cheered me up a bit. Their parents were taking pictures of them. Then, we boarded the bus. I sat next to Meghna at the front of the bus.

Meghna and I waved goodbye to our parents from the bus.

Meghna and I waved goodbye to our parents from the bus.

We played hand games, but we soon got bored of them. We both knew that the ride would seem quicker if we fell asleep. After trying for a long time, I fell asleep. When I woke up, we were almost there. Soon, we came to a big crowd of people. They were crowded around a man selling what looked like sugarcane. The crowd of people looked so colorful. Finally, after 7 hours of driving, we reached our lodge, Sapna Village Lodge!

We went to the dining room and had a bowl of soup. I wished we got something cold because it was so hot! Then we had some time to go to our rooms, unpack, tidy up, and make a poster to put on the front of our door. I was in a room with Meghna, Shivanshi and Ujesha. So we unpacked, tidied up and made a poster. We named our dorm, The Girls Dorm. Then, Mr. Swift came to give us dorm points. Dorm points are points that people in our dorm earn. He gave us 3 points for cleaning our room and 2 points because he liked the way Meghna helped Ujesha carry her bag up the stairs to our room. Soon it was dinner time.

After dinner, we made candy for elephants and we fed it to them! What we had to do was tie some straw into a knot. Then we had to fill it with rice and feed it to the elephant. The elephant didn’t eat the bundle that I made, but it was fun trying to feed her. After that, we had a circle time when everyone had a chance to tell what they were looking forward to. Most people were looking forward to the jeep safari, the jungle walk or the canoe ride, like me. Mr. Swift was looking forward to breakfast!! And Ms. Kulung was looking forward to Friday, when we would leave!! Then, it was bedtime so we went up to our dorms, changed our clothes, brushed our teeth, combed our hair and went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning, it was really cold. Soon, I noticed that Shivanshi was awake and she just finished changing. Ujesha was also awake but she was still in bed. When we found out that Meghna was awake, we all got up and started getting ready. Our plan was to get ready and tidy up our room so when Mrs. Swift comes to wake us up, she would give us extra dorm points! Unfortunately, we didn’t get ready in time but we did get ready in time for breakfast.

After breakfast, I went with my class, 5C, on a jeep safari! We sat on seats at the top of the jeep. I loved the wind which was blowing so much on my face. Sometimes it got cold, but I still liked it. We saw some deer, some monkeys, a lizard sticking his head out of a hole, a cute little owlet, and even a leopard! We saw a lot of tall plants called elephant grass. I learned that elephant grass is called elephant grass because elephants eat it.

Some of the elephant grass was almost three times as tall as I am!

Some of the elephant grass was almost three times as tall as I am!

After the jeep safari, we went to our lodge and ate lunch. Then we went on a canoe ride. On the ride, we saw a lot of alligators. Some were really long. I enjoyed looking at them but it was really hot, so I wanted to get off. When the ride was over, we did a jungle walk. We saw a lot of huge spiders in the middle of their webs. We even saw a rhino bathing in a river! Many times, we had to jump over creeks and small streams. After the walk, we rode the canoe across the river and we walked back to our lodge.

We had to be really quiet when we spotted any wild animals like this rhino.

We had to be really quiet when we spotted any wild animals like this rhino.

The next day, we went on an elephant safari! It was so much fun bumping along the trail on the back of an elephant. There were four people on each elephant. I was with Meghna, Zaki and Mrs. Swift. We were sitting in a box on the elephant. We were all turned outwards, each on one corner, holding on the railings of the wooden box. Our driver was sitting on the elephant’s neck. The seating was very interesting. We started in the grassy spaces. There we saw many peacocks. We soon reached the river. When the elephants started walking through the river, it sounded like a thunder storm! When they started going uphill and downhill, it was very bumpy. We also saw deer, monkeys, pheasants and even a wild boar.

People boarding an elephant - it looks hard, but its quite easy.

People boarding an elephant – it looks hard, but its quite easy.

When the elephant safari was over, we went back to our lodge for lunch. After that, we went elephant washing! We went to a river where an elephant was, and once it was flipped over on its side, Mrs. Swift picked three people. She picked me, Rewa and Abayaa. We waded into the river and we rubbed water all over the elephant. Then we climbed onto the elephant and it sprayed us with its trunk!  I was both scared and excited right before it happened. I was scared because I felt like it might be too strong of a spray and excited because it probably would be refreshing. After everyone had a turn washing the elephant, we went back to the lodge for a shower. Then it was dinner time and then it was bedtime.

It was SO fun!

It was SO fun!

On Thursday we went bird watching. I was excited but we didn’t see very many birds. At the beginning we walked to the river banks. There, we saw a flock of birds who were taking a bath. When my friend, Alexia, let me borrow her binoculars I saw that the birds were all brown and white, but they had brown and white on different parts of their bodies. Then we started walking down the river. We only saw one more bird which had a very long tail. At one point, we saw hundreds of millipedes or centipedes. They looked exactly the same and they were crawling all over the grass. We kept walking until we came to our lodge. We ate lunch then we went to a Tharu Village.

Resting in the shade during a long hike.  Everyone's wearing long sleeves and long pants because of the mosquitoes.

Resting in the shade during a long hike. Everyone’s wearing long sleeves and long pants because of the mosquitoes.

Tharu people are a type of Nepali people. We were going to learn how to decorate their houses. First we rubbed mud and cow poo all over the outside of a house so that no cracks would be showing. Then we put paint on another house by making flowers and paisley shapes with our hands. After we finished, we went fishing!

I had never gone fishing before. We each had an oval shaped ring of wood with a net hanging from it. We also had a basket tied to the side of our waist. We were supposed to wade in the water, dip in our net, and put the fish we caught in our baskets. I didn’t catch any fish, though. Then, we went back to our lodge.

The rivers in Chitwan are pretty and blue unlike the rivers in Kathmandu.

The rivers in Chitwan are pretty and blue unlike the rivers in Kathmandu.

The next day, we were going back home! I was excited to see my parents and brothers but I was also sad to leave Chitwan. After a long, boring bus ride, we finally reached The British School. Then I found my mom! I was happy to see her, but it felt like it had just been one day since I’d seen her. When I left home, I felt like I was going to miss my parents a lot, but I never actually did miss them much. I thought about them many times though… That was the end of my Chitwan trip!

My Didi made me a cake when I came home from the trip!  She doesn't know English well so she sounded out "WELCOME".

My Didi made me a cake when I came home from the trip! She doesn’t know English well so she sounded out “WELCOME”.

Halloween in Nepal…

Hundreds of expats from all around the world live here in Kathmandu – we get the benefit of celebrating Nepali holidays with the locals and celebrating foreign holidays with expats! Halloween is huge in North America and is starting to make a presence in the UK, Australia, and some other European countries. Families from Scotland, USA and Canada initiated the festive celebrations here…

Home-made MnM costumes - colorful T-shirts, cardboard circles, cotton stuffing and a bit of white fabric - that's all it took!

Home-made MnM costumes – colorful T-shirts, cardboard circles, cotton stuffing and a bit of white fabric – that’s all it took!

At The British School, several kids and ALL teachers were in costume! All 6 PE teachers dressed as Incredible Hulk; several teachers had gruesome, blood-spattered, scary attire; there was a cowgirl and a few witches and several creative costumes from the teachers. The kids were equally gory, cute and creative – ghosts, witches, goblins, Harry Potter characters, and many more.

As is expected for Halloween, the fun began as the sun set… We participated in a walking, set-path, trick-or-treating event! About 15 families participated and we all had a ball. We met at House #1 and walked together to 7 other homes as a massive mob all decked out in our costumes! I think some locals thought we were crazy, some locals understood that we were celebrating a foreign holiday and some knew exactly what was going on and called out “Happy Halloween” to us!

Prakash leading the skeletons, goblins, ghosts and witches through the song, Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin.  We learned this song years ago at the West Regional Library in Cary, North Carolina and remember it fondly each Halloween.

Prakash leading the kids through the song, Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin. We learned it years ago at the West Regional Library in Cary, NC and remember it fondly each Halloween.

Since we were visiting only a few houses (as compared to the several dozen we would have visited in the USA), each family offered more than just a sweet treat for the kiddies. There were games, songs, and treats for the adults too: a neat game where apples are floating in a large bucket of water sitting on the ground and the child stands over the bucket with the back of a fork in their mouth, releasing the fork hoping to puncture an apple ; standard bobbing for apples game ; a really cool scavenger hunt over the front and back yard exploring for the sweet treats ; the “Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin” song ; and French fries, pumpkin bread and wine for the adults. All in all, a great substitute celebration – complete with costumes, sweet treats and a trick or two! The only thing missing was bright orange PUMPKINS!

Charles joined us for the evening - he is an intern at ICIMOD and is in a "gap year" after finishing his undergrad at Harvard and before starting his PhD at MIT next fall.

Charles joined us for the evening – he is an intern at ICIMOD and is in a “gap year” after finishing his undergrad at Harvard and before starting his PhD at MIT next fall.

Trekking — Nepal’s Premier Recreation

Basic Stats * Duration: 5 days, 4 nights — September 28th to October 2nd * Route: Nayapul – Tikhedunga – Ghorepani (Poon Hill) – Tadapani – Ghandruk – Nayapul * Trekkers: 22 total — 5 moms, 5 dads, 1 college-bound student and 11 children age four to ten * Staff: 11 total — lead guide, assistant guide and 9 porters * Distance walked: 47 kilometers (29 miles) * Elevation gained: 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) * Highest elevation reached: 3,210 meters (10,531 feet) * Approx temperature range: 4 – 30 degrees Celsius (40 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit)

Our ENTIRE group!  Picture courtesy of Daeng  Kamkong

Our ENTIRE group! Picture courtesy of Daeng Kamkong

Modern day “tea houses”, strong, young porters, and well developed trails have enabled access along with comfort deep into the foothills of the majestic Himalayas. Where else in the world can you hike for miles and miles without carrying your belongings and view 8,000+ meter peaks while sleeping on a bed, eating pizza and momos and sipping your drink of choice? Only in Nepal… Our journey was smooth, comfortable, and relatively effortless. The hiking / trekking / walking was tough at times, but the trip itself wasn’t. Our guides, porters and lodge staff enabled this — and we were all so grateful…

Tea houses are usually made of brick and cement - they are relatively warm and have adequate facilities.

Tea houses are usually made of brick and cement – they are relatively warm and have adequate facilities.  Compared to a tent, it felt like 5 star living!!

The Path Millions of stones have been painstakingly brought and laid to create miles of trails in the Himalayas. Our trail contained several thousand stone steps ascending and descending the hills and ravines. We also walked on narrow, uneven, dirt trails through beautiful Rhododendron rain forests (yes, rain forests!).

Beautiful bird songs, small colorful butterflies, delicate little flowers, and so much water!  Streams, waterfalls, creeks, puddles -- it was simply amazing...

Beautiful bird songs, colorful butterflies, delicate flowers, and so much water! Streams, waterfalls, creeks, puddles — it was simply amazing…

The trail for the first and last 7 kilometers of the loop was wide enough for jeeps. All trail in between, though, is only accessible by foot or mule. A friend warmly referred to the path as “the local highway” because so much activity happens on the trail – mules carrying supplies (occasionally carrying people), ladies selling fruits or drinks, local children gazing at the hoards of foreigners, and herds of goats walking descending towards the nearest town (preparation for animal sacrifice during Dashain, the biggest festival in Nepal). This “highway” connected several tiny villages — I was surprised how many small houses were scattered about the hillsides between the villages and imagined how difficult their livelihoods must be; a small trail from your house leads to the main trail which is a several hour walk to obtain any sort of supplies or services! Our group of 33 always left at the same time in the mornings but arrived at the lunch spot within a span of 1.5 hours – we had hugely varying walking speeds! Rarely did we encounter forks in the path, so often small groups of us, even the children, were walking without the guide or porters (or parents) nearby. There is a fair amount of trust and faith, for both the trekkers and the guides.

The kids walking along the path, without guide, porter or parent nearby... Trust and faith are viewed differently here -- its a whole different world (as compared to the USA)...

Our kids walking along the path, without guide, porter or parent nearby… Trust and faith are viewed differently here — its a whole different world as compared to the USA…

The People The vast majority of trekkers were foreigners, not native to Nepal. Most traveled with guides and/or porters in small groups (ours was by far the largest group!). Once in a while, we crossed paths with a lone backpacker – independent and carefree. Most all trekkers, guides and porters are friendly, offering a smile, a warm “Namaste” or even a few minutes of conversation – some who I remember include a man well into his 70s, traveling with a guide and a porter (usually the ratio is 2 trekkers per worker); a man from North Carolina; and 2 young porters from Gorkha, Nepal who I had a funny exchange with while they were stopped on the side of the trail… One was picking something out of the other’s hair and I asked, “Ke bhayo? Juka?” / “What happened? Leech?” And he responded… “Seto kapal!” / “White hair!” These young Nepalis were excavating a single white hair – ahhh I remember those days when there was just one or two!!. Unfortunately, we interacted very little with the families who live in the mountains. Usually they were quite busy preparing dinner or breakfast for our very large group. The few tidbits of dialogue we had reminded me of most other Nepalis we’ve had the pleasure of interacting with – simple, warmhearted, honest, content… priorities are on sustainability and family – really simple. The Scenery Breath taking, majestic, awe inspiring… just a few words to describe the beauty. How do I describe the scale, the air, the peacefulness? Massive, crystal clean and blissful — but experiencing it means so much more. When we’d gain elevation on the trail then glance behind to see the tips of the snowcapped mountains peeking through… WOW!

Notice the snowline, at about 5000 meters.  It looked so near, but was still ~2000 meters higher than we were!

Notice the snowline, at about 5000 meters. It looked so near, but was still ~2000 meters higher than we were!

However, kids will be kids… When we summited Poon Hill, after gazing at the mountains for a few moments then taking several pictures, the 8 kids that made it up to the top were up the their normal antics! Running around, playing tag, finding cool rocks and sticks – they could have been on Poon Hill or at a regular neighborhood playground. It was all the same to them. At that moment, I was in awe of their simplicity and lack of discrimination…

They poked a walking stick into the ground and were playing all sorts of running games -- maybe the unintentional aim was to keep warm!

They poked a walking stick into the ground and were playing all sorts of running games — maybe the unintentional aim was to keep warm!

The Food A 5-10 page menu at each tea house – no kidding! Glance over the fact that the menus are relatively identical – noodles, fried rice, spring rolls, pizza, momos (Nepali steamed dumplings), daal bhaat (Nepali plain rice with lentil soup), french fries, eggs, porridge, pancakes, muesli, toast – a variety of hot, fresh and clean (safe to eat for Western bellies) food is a feather in the cap for Nepal’s tourism industry. Coca cola, tea, coffee, alcohol and clean drinking water are also plentiful. The taste of the food was rarely stellar, but I was very happy given that I wasn’t cooking, carrying ingredients / kitchen supplies on my back, or getting ill from consumption!

Arthi having daal bhaat, Sajjan having pizza, Janani having fried rice and Maya having chicken curry!  Miles and miles away from town -- it was unbelievable!

Arthi having daal bhaat, Sajjan having pizza, Janani having fried rice and Maya having chicken curry! Miles and miles away from town — it was unbelievable!

Meal times were sometimes chaotic – relatively small kitchens producing a variety of food for our 33 person group was at times challenging. Yet whether we were in the middle of the mountains or a large city, feeding that many people at the same time can be tricky. Often our guides and porters would double as waiters and cooks to help speed things along! The Challenges By Day #3, our bodies were really sore – feet, back and everything in between. Ibuprofen and all other muscle relaxers stashed in the groups’ bags were in full demand. Most adults in our group took a few days to a week to recovery to normalcy. The kids, however, are made of elastic and rubber and had no body aches whatsoever! They were un-phased and running on all cylinders before, during and after the trek. All else was smooth. We are so blessed. After Cyclone Hudhud hit Nepal last week (just two weeks after our trip), pounding the Annapurna Region with snow and heavy winds, killing over 30 trekkers and porters and injuring dozens, our gratefulness soared… Thoughts and prayers are with those and their loved ones. Next Time… As you read in Janani’s post, our next trek must be longer! And we hope to see other peaks like Langtang and perhaps Everest one day too…