From a very young age I felt drawn to Nepal. I remember learning about the majestic Mt. Everest in grade school and hearing it referred to as “the roof of the world.” In my early twenties I was captivated by the rich descriptions laid out in John Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air”, where he describes the powerful and tragic events that occurred during a mountaineering expedition to Mt Everest in the Spring of 1996. More recently I felt a spiritual calling to the birthplace of the Gautama Buddha, and the holy traditions that surround the nation. Regardless of what drives you, this country has something for everyone. The pristine Himalayan range, outdoor adventure opportunities, tasty food, rich cultural heritage, and religious diversity have made it one of the most impressive places on our planet.
As time went on I found myself prioritizing trips to other parts of the world and talking vaguely about a potential trip to Nepal with no dates in sight. That all changed in April of 2015 when Nepal was devastated by a 7.8 earthquake. Districts near the epicenter of the earthquake were demolished –over 9,000 people were killed and more than 23,000 injured.
In the aftermath hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless with entire villages flattened. From this point on Nepal was back on my radar in a big way. For the next few months I followed the news and started investigating how I could use this opportunity to see a place I had always dreamt about, while also lending some assistance towards earthquake relief efforts. I discovered a volunteer organization called Conscious Impact from a friend and immediately felt a connection with them. I made my commitment, bought my tickets and began fundraising. I was thrilled that I would have an opportunity to trek through the prayer flag laden Himalayas, and to lend a hand in any way I could towards getting this country back on its feet after such a horrific event.
With eight of the top ten highest summits in the world and some of the most beautiful landscapes which are only reachable on foot, trekking in Nepal is one of the most unique experiences in the world. Trekking is the most popular activity in Nepal, and travellers are be bombarded on the streets of Kathmandu and the trekking hub, Pokhara, with guides, organised tours and gear for sale or rent. The huge variety of options allows for people of many ages and capabilities to attempt a trek in the country. While you could spend a year planning an expedition to wild and lofty places that few would dare attempt, you could also arrive in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail in a matter of days.
Despite what many may perceive, trekking in Nepal is not necessarily wandering alone through an uncharted wilderness. If you walk along the well-marked trekking paths, you will often discover quite the opposite; many locals passing through each day as they haul food, water and other odd necessities, along with dozens of fellow trekkers. The villages and teahouses you pass along the way allow trekkers good opportunities to rest and recover, either for a few minutes or the night.
Our trekking choice was the Manaslu Circuit, a stunning 14 day excursion that offered an “off-the-beaten-path” experience. This route circumnavigates the 8th highest peak in the world (8,156 m) and includes both Hindu and Buddhist culture, protected wildlife, raging rivers, precarious bridges and jaw dropping mountain scenery.
As we climbed over the first few days from low valley, to cloud forest, into the high Himalayan range it was clear that this would be one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life. We stayed in locally run, friendly tea houses along the journey where we were provided accommodation and meals for a fair price of about $20USD/day on average.
Conscious Impact’s philosophy is based around using sustainable, grassroots efforts to assist and empower local society members to rebuild their community. They are based in the small rural village of Takure, deep in the Sindhupalchowk district of the Himalayan foothills. Currently they are making compressed earth bricks that will be used to rebuild two local elementary schools in the region as well as fostering a diverse agricultural program.
Volunteers from across the globe gather and camp on the side of a beautiful rice terrace where temporary bamboo living quarters have been established. During the day they make earth bricks, water gardens, and volunteer at the local elementary school teaching children. At night they cook meals over wood fires, play games, make music, tell stories and laugh a lot. The organization has brought together some of the most beautiful, selfless people on the planet to work together. The most rewarding part for myself was making friends with some of the local community members, hearing the stories of growing up in Nepal and the events surrounding the earthquake. To say their stories were humbling would be a drastic understatement.
The Nepali people are in high spirits given the circumstances, but the country still has a long way to go. Tourism was down in 2015 by 85%, and as a landlocked country Nepal is heavily dependent on the capital tourism brings in. Should you find yourself with the ability to take some time off, consider travelling deeper and dividing your time between exploring and volunteering. You will find yourself feeling more enriched than you ever have from previous travels.
Photo Credit: Michael Libis