Cultural visit to Nepal

The Cultural trip to Nepal for the Fifth and Sixth Form had been several years in the planning. It came about as a result of a vision I had to travel to the Namo Buddha Primary school, having been involved with The Charitable Foundation for the Education of Nepalese Children (CFENC).  The CFENC was established in December 2009 by Lisa Whitehouse-Foskett. Lisa decided to set up the charity following her experiences during her earlier visits to Nepal and seeing firsthand the extent to which the children and their families would go to in order to learn. Every day some children walked two to four hours each way to their school after completing chores and tasks at home. On reaching their schools, the facilities are often very poor but the parents realised that an education for their children is the ticket to a better life away from poverty.

CFENC aims to provide not only new and improved school buildings, teaching aids, stationery, books, sports equipment and uniforms; it also aims to be able to provide grants and sponsorship to enable students to study at schools in Kathmandu and continue their education at a university.

The charity's current project is the Namo Buddha Primary School, located in a remote mountain village called Bittakhaka, which is in the Solukhumbu district, East Nepal, where between 45 and 55 pupils aged between 5 and 12 years are being taught by Headmistress, Furba Sherpa and her two teachers, Simon and Ngimiloo. The charity has supported the build of a new school.

On the evening of 2nd April we assembled at London’s Heathrow Airport where we checked in for our Virgin Atlantic flight destined for Delhi. Some of us managed to get a few hours sleep on the flight and there were some good videos to watch too!

From Delhi we connected to a Jet Airways flight and arrived on time at Tribhuvan International Airport Kathmandu at 15.35 local time, 13 hours after setting off. We were met by Lisa and jumped in a jeep which took us to the International Guest House in the Thamel area of Kathmandu.

After an hour to unpack we all sat down to our evening meal at the hotel and then went off to bed. We rose early the following day as a full day’s sightseeing had been planned. After breakfast we met our Guide for the trekking Mingmar, who presented us with bright orange scarves which was part of the Nepalese tradition.

Our first stop was the iconic whitewashed stupa of Swayambhunath, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of Nepal’s most sacred shrines. Beneath the all-seeing eyes of the stupa we watched the eclectic mishmash of prayer flags billowing in the wind, the monkeys scrambling around and enjoyed a panoramic view of Kathmandu from the top of the steps. We had a demonstration on the art of Thanka which is a painting on cotton, or silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala of some sort. Thangka paintings began in 11th century A.D. in Nepal when Buddhists and Hindus began to make illustrations of the deities and natural scenes.

En route to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square which formed the historic centre of old Kathmandu we stopped off to visit a monastery where we were able to meditate with the Monks who were in prayer. Durbar Square is an open air architectural museum of magnificent medieval temples, pagodas, pavilions and shrines. It was once occupied by Nepal’s cloistered royal family and is now home to the Kumari, Kathmandu’s very own living goddess. We stopped for lunch here and had a tour around the Square by Bishne, our well informed guide.

During the afternoon we visited Changu Narayon, Patan and the Golden Temple in Lalitpur and watched a demonstration of how the singing bowls are used for spiritual traditions, meditation, relaxation and healing.  We arrived back at our hotel later that evening and ordered take away pizza for the girls to eat back in the hotel’s spacious gardens. An early night was needed as we planned a 6.30am departure on Saturday for our long journey in jeeps across to the Solukhumbu district, where we were going to visit the Namo Buddha Primary school which Ed Rich (one of St Mary’s school Companies) had been fundraising for. We had seen pictures of the children and the school and it was going to be really interesting to see for ourselves the school and meet the children, teachers and parents who we were supporting.

The journey was very interesting; we stopped several times, once to change a burst tire, and, 16 hours later, we arrived in the pitch black at our destination, Garma. There was no electricity, and having drunk a cup of hot tea brewed on an open wood fire, and killed off two giant size spiders we got into bed, tired and weary.

We rose at dawn to see the sun rising over the hills and by 8.30am we had all enjoyed a good breakfast made by our host Shiva. At 9.30am we headed off for our three hour trek up the mountain to the school at Bhittakhara. We were greeted by the teachers, children and their parents and were showered in scarfs and rhododendron garlands and treated to a display of dancing and entertainment. We had gifts for the children including some St Mary’s school jumpers, all of which were gratefully received by the children and their parents. The girls thoroughly enjoyed dancing, playing football and volleyball with the school children in the dirt playground and at 5pm we returned back to Shiva’s house for an evening meal.

It was another early start on Monday and we set off at 7.30am for three days trekking across the middle hills of Nepal to our destination Jiri. The trekking proved very challenging and 12 hours later as darkness fell on the mountain, the skies erupted and we found ourselves in pitch black with thunder and lightning on a mountain path that had become treacherously slippery. We took shelter in a house, drank hot tea, dried out and completed the final 20 minute walk to the tea house near Taktor where our sherpas were waiting for us with the rucksacks. The girls had the six available slatted beds and the staff kipped down on the wooden floor in a room below. The rain stopped and by morning blue skies had returned to the mountain. Day two trekking saw us ascend through fir and rhododendron forests and on to the Lamjura Pass up to 3,700 metres at Kande and then on to Kinja where we spent our second night.

Again there was no electricity but a cold shower ensured that we were all clean and smelling sweet again. After our evening meal, consumed whilst sitting under the stars, we set off for bed as another early start would be necessary the following day.

Day three of the trekking proved to be very eventful and it became necessary to check out the Mayday assistance we had all paid for before departing from the UK. The process went very smoothly and a further incident on the mountain was dealt with proficiently, ensuring that the whole party was safe, albeit split!

By Thursday evening we were re-united in Chitwan and ready for the exciting activities which had been planned for the following two days. Chitwan National Park consists of over 932 square metres of forest, marshland and rippling grassland and is home to a sizeable population of wildlife. It was created in 1973 and the area has been protected since at least the 19th century as a hunting reserve. A walk and talk in the Jungle where we were surrounded by the hoots and roars of the forest, a session in the river bathing with the elephants, an elephant safari where we saw firsthand the one-horned rhino, deer, monkeys and some of the 450 different species of birds that live there and a trip in a canoe up the river, alongside a few sleeping Gharial crocodiles followed. Later that evening we walked to the Sauraha Tharu Culture House and enjoyed a cultural evening and display of tradition dancing and acting. It was enjoyed by all and, of course, the pupils showed the Nepalese that they could dance too by joining in with the festivities.

Having enjoyed Chitwan immensely we returned back to our hotel in Thamel on Saturday afternoon. We consumed a good meal at the Northfield Café, an international restaurant, where a local band serenaded us and returned to the hotel to get some sleep ready for our final day in Kathmandu. Sunday was another early start, up at 4.45am for a 5.15am departure to take a bus to Tribhuvan Airport. Nepal is the fifth poorest country in the world but the richest country as far as mountains are concerned. Within its boundaries lie eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, including of course the world’s most iconic mountain, Everest. We boarded our small jet-propelled 15 seat plane at 6.45am and had an amazing 360 ° aerial view of these mountains as we flew for 30 minutes towards Everest. During the flight we were able to join the pilot in the cockpit gaining a panoramic view of the mountain range before us.

Breakfast back at our hotel was followed by another full day’s sightseeing which included a visit to the Pashupatineth Temple, The Boudhanath Stupa and the Changu Marayan area of Kathmandu. We also had time to call in to a school where Lisa had sponsored a 10 year old girl through CFENC to enable her to have a good education and hopefully go on to university. Our final stop was at our guide Mingmar’s home in Kathmandu where we were treated to tea and cake and had an opportunity to meet his wife, daughter and parents.

Our last meal in Nepal was back at the Northfield Café where we had a presentation evening before returning to our hotel to sleep before flying back to Heathrow the following day.

The trip was an amazing experience for everyone involved:

"I had an absolutely amazing experience in Nepal that  never forget. I would really love to go back in the future".

"I had such an amazing experience and the trip was like nothing I have ever experienced. I was especially touched by the hospitality of the people that hosted us in their homes, for example, when we were freezing cold in the lightening storm! I even enjoyed the bus and jeep journeys because we were able to see the true side of Nepal and all the people going about their daily work. Thank you so much for organising the trip!"

Mrs Sue Foreman
Head of Personal Development