See you again, Nepal

I wanted to write my last post about Nepal and summarise my experience there, but I couldn’t. All the beautiful memories are circulating in my head and none of them seem to be less worth mentioning. I think with my all my previous posts I managed to paint a decent picture of the country, people and culture so this post will be about saying goodbye.

Before I left Nepal, I went back to Kavresthali to see my family there for the final time. I got one last ride in the crazy mini bus heading to the village. I will never forget these absolutely packed buses, where I always felt like a giant human. I remember one time the mini bus was so full that the poor lady spent half of the ride with her head in my boobs… The drivers always played loud but cool music, which made the ride a bit more pleasant.

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It was mid July and the monsoon season was full on. The road to the house was in even worse condition than when I left it two weeks ago. You were lucky to be able to use it for walking and getting your boots all muddy was inevitable.

I turned out that I missed a wedding in the village just by couple of days. The weddings are definitely not being planned for several months in advance, probably a week at the most. You don’t really need to know the person you’re marrying either, it’s something your parents will arrange for you (most of the time). Quite convenient and avoids all the tinder frustration etc. when you think about it!

When I arrived, the house was full of random people and the ladies were wearing their best clothes. I quickly remembered it was a year since one of the aunts died, so it was a big celebration. I mentioned in one of the previous posts that the death of the relative was being remembered every month for a year, with loads of ceremonies, offerings to gods etc. This last one was the big one and lasted for couple of days. Seems that everyone from the village was in the house, chatting, eating and laughing.

It was hard to say goodbye, but I know I am going to see them all again. I will come back to Kavresthali one day and sit on the roof where I spent so much time. I will be counting fireflies and minutes until the light wizzard would switch on the electricity for our village and then wait until a plate of dhal bhat would be served. Hope I won’t forget how to eat with my hand by then.

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Chitwan National Park

Nepal never really associated to me with elephants, rhinos, crocodiles but I got to see them all there! The south of the country is very different from the north and that was completely unexpected to me (you can even get malaria there!).

A bus ride to Chitwan National park from Kathmandu was one of the most unpleasant I got to experience in Nepal. The park is about 170km away from Kathmandu, however it will take you at least 5 hours to get there, depending on the traffic and luck. I think it took us about 7, but I know someone who was stuck in the bus for about 11 hours. The closer you get to Chitwan the hotter it gets and even the open windows don’t do anything when the traffic is moving slow. Actually, it’s even worse to have the windows open – the roads are in such a poor condition that there is always a cloud of dust in the air.

So after several hours in the bus I arrived in Chitwan all covered in layers of dust, unable to handle the scorching heat and having to deal with the super annoying taxi drivers who jumped on us with their offers as soon as we got out of the bus. We found a place to stay and ordered some food (pizzas) there, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Every weekend, after spending all week eating vegan curries, we were craving for something meaty or cheesy or both. Even in Kathmandu it’s easy to get a food poisoning, but we didn’t realise Chitwan was the hell for it. I have mentioned in my previous posts that the power is only supplied for several hours a day, so loads of places have their own generators. Ours didn’t, but I realised that too late.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the village and arranged a two hour canoe trip followed by three hour jungle walk for the next day. The village was peaceful and we even got to see a rhino and couple of elephants that evening.

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The bacteria from a cheesy pizza showed all the power at very early hours of the morning. The morning felt like an eternity and I really didn’t feel like going anywhere. Imagine my fear of getting into a canoe while being unsure whether my body can contain its own fluids…

I decided to be brave and got to the riverside. Four of us and two guides got into the wee wooden really unstable canoe and starting going down the river full of crocodiles. However, I didn’t have time to think about the dangers of doing it, since I had my stomach to worry about.

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Otherwise, the canoe ride was extremely peaceful – we started just before the sunrise, so there weren’t anyone around, it was so quiet and beautiful. There were loads of birds around and I enjoyed spotting loads of Kingfishers .

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I survived the canoe trip and then the jungle walk started. It was the rainy season so the grass was about 5m high. We were expecting some wild animals to jump out any moment, but nothing like it happened. It was starting to get hot and we had three hours of walking left… I started feeling better from my food poisoning, so that lifted up my mood a bit.

It was a cool walk. The thrill was always there and you could never know what might appear from around the corner. We spotted some rhinos, deer and wild elephants.

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I found a photo that really made me laugh… completely forgot that I went on a jungle walk in this fancy footwear 😀

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At the and of the walk we were exhausted. The heat was terrible and I never knew I could sweat so much! After the walk we got back and downed litres of water. No amount seemed to be enough.

Later on that day we got offered to go on an elephant ride and agreed to it. That was a mistake and I will never ever ride an elephant again. I didn’t do my research beforehand and never realised the problems related to this activity. The elephants were poorly treated and they were hit every time they didn’t want to do something. It really seemed like a cruel way to make money, but loads of people didn’t seem to have problem with it. I am just going to leave this photo here as a reminder than not everything that sounds exotic and cool is fair and the animals shouldn’t be mistreated for the sake of tourism and making money.

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We left the next morning to get back to Kavresthali. I didn’t enjoy Chitwan too much but I guess it was mostly due to the food poisoning and I didn’t really have too much time to explore the park. Maybe that’s why I kept delaying writing about this place…

Bhaktapur

I would had liked to see Bhaktapur before the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015. It’s an ancient city, full of beautiful historical buildings, temples, art and colours. However, my previously mentioned earthquake had a tremendous impact on this magical place and when visited it in summer 2016 the damage could still be clearly seen.

I spent a day there wandering around, for me it was all about the atmosphere, colours ad people.  I would recommend visiting to anyone (although please don’t try to sneak in without paying, the place really needs all the support it can get). It was really hard to take some photos that would give the real sense of this place, but I’m sharing my best attempts.

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I love the photo bellow. Can’t believe this goat climbed up the steep steps to admire the view. Who’s the boss?SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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Completely destroyed house…

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The people are lovely and kids are keen to pose for the photos. It’s very likely they will ask for money afterwards, but I wouldn’t recommend giving anything to them. Might sound harsh, but when I was trekking my guide said that foreigners turned Nepali children into beggars… knowing that they can get money from foreigners often keep the kids on the streets. Something to think about. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Pottery making is huge in Bhaktapur and you can visit the pottery square to learn more about it.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

It’s been a while since I visited Bhaktapur, so I hope this ancient capital is recovering and rebuilding itself and the life is slowly getting back to normal there.

The Last Resort

No this post is not about the Eagles song. It’s about the 10th highest bungee jump in the world. Can you guess where this place is?

OK, I will tell you, it’s in Nepal!

It is located near the Tibetan border, around three hour drive from Kathmandu. I hope I won’t spoil everything by saying that the drive there is probably much more dangerous than any of the things you can do in the Last Resort.

I decided to to a bungee jump in Nepal as soon as I heard about it. I am scared of heights – something I am working on, but ohhh dear, it’s a slow progress.

With some other volunteers we booked a weekend trip – one day for getting there and a bungee and a day for canyoning and the trip back. You can do other stuff there as well – canyon swing and white water rafting if I remember that correctly. Ohh and they’ve got really cool tents (with beds) where you can stay overnight.

So we left really early on Saturday morning (after a night out, probably not the best idea) and got to the Last Resort late morning. I said earlier that the roads were scary – below is an example for you with an oncoming vehicle…

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Once you get to the Last Resort, you have to walk over the bridge from which you will be jumping later… OMG even walking there frightened me to death, I didn’t even know how I would jump! My hands were shaking so much that I wasn’t even brave enough to take out my phone for a photo.

All the technical stuff was explained to us and I spent the rest of the morning being mega nervous, waiting for my turn to jump. That was probably the worst bit. The jump was easy and went really quick. So quick that I was even a bit disappointed. You get something silly like 1.5s of free fall. I have done skydiving in the past so bungee jump was nothing like it. But still, it was money well spent, I proved myself I could overcome my fear and do it.

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The photo above doesn’t even give you an idea how far below you fall. We got to see the scale the next day when doing some canyoning. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me as canyoning was supposed to be a “wet” experience but it really wasn’t. Nae water. But I had another chance to challenge my fear of heights and to be honest I found this activity to be much scarier than bungee jumping. But it was fun!

I didn’t take many photos that weekend, even though these were awesome couple of days away and I would recommend going there to anyone. Just going to finish with a photo of the cool tent I mentioned earlier in the post 🙂

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Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a hot mess. A beautiful chaotic place full of unexpected things. I loved it some days and other days I just wanted to be out of there. I spent quite a bit of time exploring the city while I was doing some volunteering in Kavresthali near Kathmandu. Everytime I would go back to Kavresthali I would feel like I came back to a wee paradise and I would always come back a little bit different.

I have never seen capitals like this before. It felt like it was a labyrinth, with loads going on around every corner. The streets were crowded and every time I had to go somewhere it felt like a mission. It was never easy to get from A to B, having constantly to watch out for scooters, people, cows and trying not to get lost. It was almost like a game and I would be extremely proud of myself if I managed to do something what would normally take 10min in 20min.

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The chaos scared me at first but with time I grew more and more confident and started exploring the city a wee bit more. One day I left Thamel (the main tourist area) and walked to Swayambhunath which is also called a monkey temple.

It’s one of my favourite places in Kathmandu, with a huge stupa at the top, loads of colours and amazing views of the city. I am not a big fan of monkeys and they do scare me a bit, but I kept away from them and survived.

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The other place I really enjoyed was the Pashupatinath Temple. It’s dedicated to Shiva and is one of the most sacred places in Nepal. If I was Nepali and I died, I would want my body to be burnt there.

I think I wrote about death in Nepali culture in one of my previous post, so I won’t say much about it here. I loved the atmosphere in Pashupatinath, it felt like it was a mix of traditions, respect, sadness and celebration of life and death. I got a guide there who told me even more about the traditions than I knew before and that also added to the whole experience.

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Traditions are everywhere in Nepal. I really liked being exposed to this rich culture just by wondering around the streets. Once, I ended up in Durbar Square with loads of beautiful (although very much affected by the earthquake) temples. I couldn’t believe, but there were so many interesting people around – Sadhus (the holy men), a lady who was painting her body green, loads of various people who came to pay their respect to the gods. I loved the colours, the smells, the atmosphere…

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I know I will be back to Nepal one day. I think I appreciate my trip now when I am writing about it even more than when I was there. Being back to a “normal” country has its advantages – no more chaos, no more constantly upset stomach, no monkeys, no more of getting lost or being annoyed at the traffic, the air and the streets are clean…but at the same time, I’m missing the colours, the element of never knowing of what to expect and oh well, I do actually miss getting lost 🙂

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Pokhara, Happy Village and Sarangkot

After spending a few weeks in Kathmandu, arriving to Pokhara was almost a dream. A few people warned me that once I go there, I will never want to come back. They were right.

Getting from Kathmandu to Pokhara is one of those nightmare (ish) bus journeys in Nepal, taking several hours, the duration is what is often determined by how unlucky you are. But once you get Pokhara, it is hard to believe that this peaceful place exists in such a hectic country.

Pokhara’s life is centered around its lake. It’s a beautiful lake with loads of colourful outdoor cafes where you can relax and enjoy life. Nothing else is needed. At least for a few minutes…

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There is plenty to do in Pokhara – yoga or meditation classes, paragliding, cycling, renting a boat and spending a few hours on the lake and loads of other things.

I love cycling so  I decided to rent a bike and go for a ride around the lake. Little did I know what a challenge it would be!

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I decided to do the circle around the lake going anticlockwise. At first, the road was OK and I really enjoyed being on the bike, exploring little villages on the way. I even found a Happy Village!

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The weather was beautiful and I did regret not going paragliding as I was passing the landing place and it seemed like people had a lot of fun.

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Soon the decent road ended and there was only a sandy path left, parts of it heavily flooded. Suddenly a massive snake crossed my path (2 metres or so long) and it scared me to bits.  It was the first proper snake I have ever seen! I was mildly freaking out and started considering whether I should turn around and go back to civilization. I decided to be brave and carry on.

I found a way to get to the other side of the lake and the sandy path started climbing up. It was getting hard, I was sweating like mad and I wasn’t properly prepared for that challenge. It took me ages to get up the hills and I was exhausted. The only thing that saved me was a wee local shop where I could get some cold drinks. OMG why did I do this to myself, I was thinking…

Eventually the hard work paid off, as I got higher, the beautiful scenery appeared:

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And then the views of the World Peace Stupa and Pokhara just blew my mind.

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The road from the World Peace Stupa was extremely steep but I was going down, so the hard bit was over. I managed to go back to the bike rental shop and relaxed that evening. Note to myself: take loads to drink and more food if I ever do this again…

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After this exhausting day, I spent a few days trekking in Himalayas (there is a separate post on that).

I came back from my trek and woke up early the next day. It was my final day in Pokhara and I still wanted to do a bit more. I looked through the windeo and realised that the clouds disappeared and I could see several peaks clearly! I couldn’t believe it. I jumped into taxi and went straight to Sarangkot, a place which is known for its spectacular mountain views. I was in Pokhara during the rainy season so seeing the mountains was a really rare thing and I got lucky. The only thing was that until I arrived in Sarangkot the clouds appeared, so I couldn’t see everything so clearly anymore, but the views were breathtaking anyway.

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I did some yoga that day and then, being really relaxed and happy, I returned to the mental place called Kathmandu…

Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek in Himalayas

It’s been so long since I came back from Nepal that the whole journey now almost feels surreal, but a little scar on my wrist will always remind me that the trip really happened.

Trekking was not on my to do list before I left for Nepal. I didn’t have too much time and the monsoon season helped me to make up my mind. However, I was sitting in a cafe, listening to one of the volunteers talking about their trekking experience and I realised I can’t miss it while I’m in Nepal.

My boyfriend at a time, had a professor who was always going to Nepal for trekking holidays so he was able to recommend a guide. I wouldn’t worry about arranging the guide before coming to Nepal – there are always plenty who are eager to get out to the mountains and it’s cheaper to arrange something from Pokhara (if you’re doing a trek in Annapurna Himalaya range). The trek I did was called Ghorepani Poon Hill trek and it normally takes 5 days to complete. You can easily do it without a guide and it will save you a bit of money, but being alone and not having a chance to do a proper research,  I decided to go with a guide.

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I met my guide Palu in Pokhara a day before the hike for some tea. Palu was over 40 and didn’t look like a super fit guy from the first sight, but he seemed like a nice person so I thought let’s do this. It did later turn out that I was much fitter than him (something to consider if you’re impatient like me), but he had a big heart and kept repeating that he was the luckiest man in the world to be able to do the job he loves.

We started from the village called Nayapul early next day. The path was passing through beautiful forests and some tiny colourful villages. There were plenty of tea houses to stop at, rest and have some food. The whole trek that day lasted about 5 hours after which we stopped in one of the villages along the road.

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The second day was pretty much the same, but the path got steeper. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t find it too challenging. We settled in Ghorephani for the night, hoping to get to the Poon Hill in the morning. Unfortunately, the clouds were rolling low and when I woke up the next morning it was raining. There was no point in going to the Poon hill viewpoint. We continued towards Gandruk, even though the weather wasn’t great. Oh well, it was a gamble to go trekking in a rainy season.

We didn’t reach Gandruk that day (just weren’t rushing anywhere and the weather wasn’t great) and decided to stay in a place with the total of three houses. There were only two people in the village, a couple who got married when the guy was 13 and a lady who was then 20. We were chatting about life in the mountains and emigration, since the man spent a few years working abroad (very common story for loads of Nepalese families). The also showed and explained to me how they make their local alcohol Raksi, which I even got to try.

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When trekking you get used to getting up early and sometimes it really pays off. Happened to me on the 4th day of the trek when I got to see bits of the snowy peaks hanging between the clouds. I could only see small patches but got really excited since it was the first day I could actually see something. Other days were just all about walking through the beautiful forests and villages. That’s when I slipped, fell and got injured my wrist badly enough for it to scar. No regrets, life felt pretty amazing that morning.

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We got to Gandruk and spent a bit of time exploring this beautiful village. There were some really steep sections down and up that day and got caught in a strong rain, but I was quite happy to be out in the mountains and got to eat probably the nicest dhal bhat in Nepal, so the challenges didn’t matter too much. We stopped in a random village along the way for the night. There were loads of tiny clouds hanging around the mountains and I was excited to be going to bed after seeing that view.

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I woke up early again (4.30am or so) the next morning and realised that the clouds lifted! They were moving away and finally the first time in five days I could see one of the peaks! It was magical. I was extremely happy and struggled to walk away from that view. Later in the morning the clouds took away the beauty again.

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So five days later, the trek was over and I said bye to Palu. I think I got lucky, because during the rainy season it’s really hard to see anything, so I expected nothing at all, but got rewarded with some stunning views. It was amazing to be out walking for five days, walk past these beautiful villages, eat really tasty dhal bhat and try out my poor Nepalese with the locals. It was good to go with a guide, because he arranged all the accommodation and permits etc. and I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. It wasn’t a popular time of the year to go trekking so the mountains were quiet and I absolutely loved the time I could spend with my thoughts or listening to Palu’s stories. The only major downside were the leeches – they were bad, hanging on the grass, jumping on you as soon as you stopped and sucking the blood like there was no tomorrow. Not going into details on that, but having a guide who is slower than you plus the leeches who can’t wait to get on you, is a bad combo.

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I just want to finish with something positive – if you get a chance to go trekking in Himalayas, then go! No matter what time of the year it is, you will find beauty, freedom and loads of smiles along the way and it will be an experience of a lifetime 🙂

Fireflies, Rice Planting and Nepali Dances

When I am thinking about my time at Kavresthali (beautiful village just outside Kathmandu), the one thing that I always remember is the roof of the house where I stayed. You are probably thinking why it is so important, it is only the regular roof right? During my time there it became the place for the most exciting conversations, dancing lessons and it was a perfect spot for exploring Kathmandu valley as well.

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My family had a cow, which they would milk in the evening and every day the neighbour’s daughters would come to our house to get some milk. The girls would always come in early before the cow was even milked and we would spend a good half an hour singing with them and learning Nepali dances. The language wasn’t the barrier – all you needed was an open mind and a smile. After they would leave we would continue sitting on the roof, enjoying the lights of Kathmandu valley and the ones of the fireflies, waiting for electricity to reach our house and creating various stories. My favourite story was about the lizard who was the wizard of light. We would imagine him making decisions on who gets electricity, pressing the right buttons an then suddenly the light would reach our house and we would be called in for a plate of dhal bhat, leaving little green lights to circle around our village.

The roof was our evening place, but it is just one of many memories from Kavrestali. Days in the village were always full of colours and surprises. There would be always people in the house that we did not know and they would always be brothers and sisters. You never knew who was actually related who was not, but it didn’t matter – every person would bring a new different colour into our lives.

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I remember one evening we were making plates and bowls from some random plant leaves. The next morning we found out why. One brother’s mother died 11 months ago and every month he would come to our house to perform a ceremony for gods. These bowls would be used for the ritual and would be filled with loads of various things such as food, money etc.That day there was a Guru in the house, a lot of food and random people and I was allowed to watch the ceremony. To be honest I never understood what every little thing used for the ceremony meant, but it was a captivating experience.

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Death was all around all the time, completely natural, never hidden nor forgotten. The man died in our village one day and we could observe the entire body preparation from our roof. The body then was burned, however women were not allowed to go to the river to watch. During my entire time in Nepal I was surprised how many different rules there were related to death, but maybe I will tell you more about that in another blog post.

Let’s talk about happier things. What I really loved about living in Kavresthali was a strong sense of community – it felt that everyone was helping each other, they were working and having fun together. They always included me, some stranger who came from a random country and could barely speak any Nepali. Couple of times I was invited to plant rice – such a hard but fun experience. Planting rice was tough, but the mud fights, smiles, singing and dancing will never be forgotten.

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I had a really beautiful time in Kavresthali and it will always stay in my heart.

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Volunteering in Nepal

I know you haven’t heard from me for a while, but I really don’t like writing when I am traveling. I feel like if I’m spending time writing, I’m missing out on something else. I like writing when the trip is already over; the excitement has settled down and I can enjoy reflecting on my experiences. I am also finishing my internship now and looking for a new job, so job applications take all my time and energy now, but I’m gonna try my best to spend some time writing, have so much to tell you 🙂

So what did I do this summer? I spent over six weeks in Nepal doing volunteering and travelling. I had an absolutely beautiful time there, met some amazing people and hopefully made some positive impact through my voluntary work.

A bit of background. I applied to do a voluntary water research project in Nepal back in November 2014. It was a long wait, but in June 2016 I finally made it to Nepal. I joined Volunteers Initiative Nepal, which seemed to be a quite reliable and transparent NGO.

After couple of days of training I was placed in Kavresthali – just several miles outside Kathmandu. So suddenly I had a new family: two brothers – Pradip and Dipesh, sister Jyoti and Amma – grandmother. I did not get to meet my new mother and father until much later when they came back from India (father has a job there). There were also two other international volunteers living with me – Morgan from US and Karin from the Netherlands.

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New family

I was one of the first volunteers to work in the area, so my main role was to collect data. Jyoti and Morgan were both working with me on water research as well. First couple of days we spent going up and down the hills through the forests full of snakes, locating and mapping water sources, which often looked like tiny puddles and only some of them were at least a bit protected from possible contamination.

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Water Source

Then we started a WASH (water sanitation and hygiene) survey and interviewed over 200 households in five villages. It turned out that 15% of people did not have toilets (instead they were using fields), over half of them drank direct water and a large number of people were frequently getting sick due to the water quality and poor hygiene. A majority of them said that they were washing their hands with soap, however we could rarely see any of the soap bars next to their taps. There were also several areas that suffered from water shortages.

The last bit of work that I did was water testing for chemical and biological contamination. A number of people mentioned that they usually get sick during monsoon season, so it was a perfect time to test water samples. Almost every sample contained bacteria, however I cannot give you the exact results for that, as I left just after we started water testing and I left Morgan to continue working on it.

The data I have collected will now be analysed by the organisation I worked for and they will prioritise the families for toilet construction and will decide what else needs to be done in the area. That could include hygiene campaigns, workshops on how to make a water filter, they might find the ways to improve water source protection or try to eliminate water shortages.

The survey was definitely my favourite part of the work there. We had to visit so many houses and were welcomed in every single one of them. A lot of houses were destroyed by the earthquake in 2015, so a large number of people were living in “temporary” houses made mostly of bamboo, mud, bricks and metal sheets. Some of them were sharing the same space with their goats and cows and some families really did not have much, but they almost always greeted us with milk tea, cucumbers or roti (local bread).

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Life in the village

People there work really hard, especially women – my host sister would wake up at 4am to go to the college, then she’d work with us on a survey for a few hours, spend the rest of the day working in the fields, milk the cow, cook dinner in the evening and only then go to bed.

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Local lady

I am going to stop here now and next time I will tell you a bit more about my life in Kavresthali, people and local traditions 🙂

 

Last Days of Spring

aaa

I’m leaving in 4 days. It sounds absolutely unreal and the trip that I have been waiting for so long is finally happening.  Yes, I’m finally going to Nepal!

In November 2014, I applied to do some volunteering there. I was supposed to start in summer 2015, however a lot happened between November and June and I couldn’t go anymore. I had to move my start day to the 1st October 2015. As you can probably guess I didn’t make it then either – I was quite skint so instead of starting volunteering, I stayed in Scotland and started an internship. Even if I had doubts, it was definitely the right move. Initially my internship was supposed to be only three months, but it quickly got extended to up to a year. I love what I’m doing now and I have a great manager. She always knew that I wanted to go to Nepal, so she gave me seven weeks off to do what I wanted to do.

So what’s my plan for Nepal? Well, I’ll be doing a water research project there with a local organisation and I’m super excited about that! I’ve been interested in water issues for quite a while now and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn. I’m aware that my time there will not save the world, but I’m going there for myself, to learn about Nepalese culture, water issues there and… about myself!  It’s crazy how much you can actually learn about yourself while travelling. I love the feeling of confidence when I come back home from a challenging trip.

It’s going to be weird to leave Edinburgh and I’m enjoying the final days of spring here. I’ve had a really nice time these past couple of months – spring is definitely my favourite time of the year and Edinburgh looks extremely pretty when covered in blossoms. I also managed to go back home to Lithuania for a bit, so my parents won’t be upset about me disappearing from Europe for a bit. The feeling of adventure is already here and I can’t wait for it to start!