Saying goodbye

We left Kathmandu on a Jet Airways flight to Delhi, India.  This was immediately followed by flights from Delhi to Bangkok and Bangkok to Sydney.  During the many hours at 30,000 feet, I spent a lot of time thinking about our trip to date and especially about the time we had spent in India and Nepal.  I realized that it was these two countries that I had most looked forward to and that now they were behind us.  Also, more than half of our trip is over.  This amazing adventure will come to an end in a few short months.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, travelling in India and Nepal can be remarkably frustrating and difficult.  The colour and variety of these places, however, along with the fact that all one’s senses are continually bombarded create an experience that can’t be equalled.  Ask our kids which places they’ve enjoyed the most, they will likely mention these two countries near or at the top of their list.  Like Aaron said, “I like India because it’s a new adventure every day”.

 

I’ve been in both India and Nepal three times now.  I look back at each experience as unique and life-changing.  I hope to be back.

 

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Schooled

Throughout the course of our travels, we’ve passed by many schools.  As a teacher, I’m always intrigued by how formal education is done in other places.

When I walked past a government school during our trek, I was greeted by one of the teachers who happened to be outside.  When he found out that I am a school principal, he invited me to see his school.  First, he showed me the youngest class (ages 3 to 5), then the oldest class (ages 10 to 14), and finally the middle class (ages 6 to 9).  I talked with the principal, who is also the teacher of the oldest class.  The students, all in uniforms, sat bolt upright and said, “Namaste sir” when I was introduced to them.  They were studying English during the time I was there.  I took a picture of the lesson they were reading.  When I visited the middle class, the teacher had them sing the Nepalese national anthem for me.  I recorded this on video.  Very sweet!

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The principal and I exchanged contact information.  While World Vision supports this school, it is woefully underfunded.  The building, for example, was constructed with money collected from citizens in the area.  The government hadn’t provided any funds for its construction.  Perhaps kids in Canada can help this or similar schools around the world.

A little while later, we ran into students on a field trip to a temple complex and museum.  Again, they were in uniforms.  I could tell that these students’ school had a lot of money.  I talked with several of the students, who were very eager to have their pictures taken with Emily-Ann and Madeleine after I introduced them.

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A man who turns out to be on the board if directors of this private school was very eager to talk with me and to have me visit his school.  He pointed out that his school had placed first in nation-wide academic competitions for several years.  He asked whether I’d consider working at his school and was eager to have me meet the Nepalese Minister of Childhood and Education who is a personal friend of his.  He suggested that this “political clout”, as he called it, would be helpful for them to get me into their school.  We didn’t land up visiting this school since we left Nepal a day later.

It’s great to see that school kids are school kids anywhere we visit.  In many of the countries we’ve been in, parents place a high level of importance on the education of their children.  They recognize the fierce competition for jobs in the future and that good grades are the best ticket to better work for their children.  What’s unfortunate to see is the lack of commitment to education that some governments provide.  I’m thankful for the education children receive in Canada and also see areas in which we fall short and can improve.  Where we don’t improve, young men and women in the rest of the world will ‘school’ us and get the jobs coveted by so many.

Climbing Everest

Okay, so the title of this post is just a bit misleading.  While we didn’t climb the world’s highest mountain, we did climb up about 1000 metres during a trek near the Kathmandu valley.  We did a 2-day trek, together with Ratna, our friendly, fun, and very patient guide.  We walked and climbed up through rice paddies stacked in terraces as far as the eye could see.  The rice had mostly been harvested in the past week or so but much of it was still laying in the fields where it was laid out to dry.  We hiked through villages where we were greeted by cute kids and friendly adults.  The scenery was beautiful, the atmosphere serene and golden.

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The village of Nagarkot, set high up on a large hill, is a place famed for its views of the Himalayas including a glimpse of Mount Everest itself.  We stayed at a guest house perched on this hilltop, overlooking the stepped fields, winding trails, and sleepy villages below.  From our guest house roof we saw the sun set and rise.  We couldn’t have asked for a more magical place from which to end and begin the days.

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At the start of the second day, we took a local bus partially down the hill to where we disembarked and walked, this time mostly downhill, towards Kathmandu.  After some time, the bus became so crammed full of people, some sat on top of the bus.

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Back in Kathmandu, we met Ratna, his wife Anjita, and their very cute and intelligent son.  We sat down for chai with the three of them.  What a beautiful family!  We also enjoyed dinner with them on our last evening in Nepal.

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Enlightenment

Experiencing the world, learning from the adventure, and appreciating the remarkable diversity the world provides has been a major priority for us on this around-the-world trip, in particular as an education for our kids.  One important aspect of education and understanding the world is to have some familiarity with how people view the world from a philosophical or spiritual perspective.  We have travelled to countries in which the world’s major religions were founded and/or have significant roots: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Israel, Hinduism and Buddhism in India.  We’ve seen and will see a variety of interpretations of these religions; Buddhism in Nepal, India, and Thailand, Christianity in Europe, Israel, and Australia, Judaism in Israel, Hinduism in India and Nepal.

Religion is an expression of people’s desire to understand themselves and their environment within a spiritual or mystical context.  Each religion has adopted traditions, ceremonies, and customs to make the metaphysical tangible or at least to express a concept of the religion within a ‘manageable’ context.  We have seen many of these customs throughout our travels.

We’ve visited churches, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, temples, ashrams, and stupas as part of our journey.  In Hinduism in particular, one can find shrines and icons of the religion everywhere.  The following are pictures of several Hindu icons, each topped with evidence of worship in the form of colour powder, flowers, and food.

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While visiting a Buddhist temple In Nepal, the monks entered into their main hall and invited us to join them for their ceremony.  We took a seat on the periphery while the monks sat and chanted words from their scriptures.  At specific times, they blew horns, beat large drums, and rang bells.  Other monks prepared offerings of food as part of the ceremony.  As guests, we each received a package of food containing puffed rice and fruit.  We left before the ceremony was completed but were highly intrigued by what we had seen.

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As I read in “The Life of Pi” several weeks ago, all religions are a reflection of the very human search for meaning beyond one’s self.  They include expressions of worship and praise, of gratitude, of our significance and insignificance in the cosmos, and of our responsibility to the world, both seen and unseen, around us.

I’m so grateful to have had all these experienced together as a family.  We have had many important and stimulating conversations as a result.  Our lives, spirituality, and faith are richer for it.

Flying high

Although I’ve been offered ‘hash’, ‘weed’, ‘smoke’, ‘magic carpet’, and ‘good stuff’ countless times, especially in the backpacker streets of Kathmandu, the title of this blog post has nothing to do with that.

Mary-Anna and the kids (no pilot wanted to take the risk of taking someone as big as me) took to the skies from a high hill well above the city of Pokhara.  They went tandem paragliding, which meant that each of them was strapped to a paraglider together with a pilot.  While they took to the skies, I had a pleasant, albeit not as exciting, walk along the Pokhara lake to the landing site.  I got great video footage of each of them flying and then landing next to the lake.  It looked amazing from the ground and Mary-Anna’s pictures and video from the sky take one’s breath away.  Very cool experience!

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Himalayan sunset and sunrise

After several days in Chitwan National Park, we took a bus to the city of Pokhara.  This city is popular as a base for trekkers, especially those who trek the Annapurna circuit which goes around the Annapurna mountains.  We spent time on the beautiful lake, taking in the incredible views of the surrounding Himalayas as the sunset.

 

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Early the next morning, we got a ride to the top of a high hill overlooking Pokhara.  From here, we saw the sun rise over the Himalayas.  Gorgeous!

 

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We spent a lot of time with with Bertrand, a great guy from Bordeaux, France.  He had stayed in the same guest houses we had been in at Chitwan and then here at Pokhara.  We had a great time with him and are thankful to have gotten to know him.

Chitwan jungle safari

Chitwan National Park is considered one of Nepal’s natural gems.  This park is located in the jungle near the border with India.  We spent several days here.

 

We did several excursions into the jungle, once on foot and once by elephant.  Prior to the safari on foot, we received instructions on what to do if we’d encounter wild rhinos, tigers, or elephants.  That was a little unnerving since the chances of escaping from any of these animals would be fairly futile.  We saw a variety of wild animals and plants as pictured below.  What an amazing experience to see these up close.

 

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It’s not the Hilton

Travelling “on the cheap” throughout the world has meant staying in accommodations that are different than what we consider typical for Canadian standards of cleanliness and maintenance.  We’ve encountered various forms of ‘wildlife’ in our rooms including bed bugs, cockroaches, spiders, geckos, ants, frogs, centipedes, wasps, mosquitoes, and a host of other bugs.  We try to keep our backpacks zipped up at all times to avoid inheriting uninvited ‘stowaways’.  We’ve had to use toilets (both ‘squat pots’ and ‘European’ styles) which, well, yeah…  We’ve gotten fairly used to broken, cracked, or grimy walls.  Window coverings have at times been dirty, tattered, or non-existent.  We often use our own sleeping sheets (sewn on 3 sides like sleeping bags) because the sheets on the beds we use aren’t always clean.  In some cases, we keep our shoes on because the floor is too dirty.  We’ve encountered suspect if not dangerous electrical wiring in our bedrooms and washrooms.  In India and Nepal in particular, electricity is not available throughout the day.  Fairly often, we haven’t had hot water to shower in.  In nearly all bathrooms, the whole room gets wet when you turn on the shower since the bathroom itself is the shower stall.  We almost never use the tap water even for brushing our teeth.  When considering a place to stay, we have become accustomed to checking certain things and asking specific questions about the place which we’d never have to ask in places we typically stay at in Canada.  When travelling as we’ve chosen to do, this is all considered part of the experience.

Having said all that, we’ve also had fantastic places to stay in.  Usually, the fascinating locale and incredible sights in the area far overshadow the amenities our room has or doesn’t have to offer.  I can hardly wait to experience the near pristine cleanliness we’re used to from home.  Until then, I’m considering everything as an adventure!  Smile

Here are some pictures of the hotel we stayed in at the India-Nepal border.  It wasn’t one of the better ones.

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The following are pictures of rooms we’ve stayed in throughout India and Nepal.  Some were great while others…not so much.

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Here are some washrooms we’ve used in Nepal.  Again, some are better than others.

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