I am not sure what’s happening in Nepal these past couple of weeks. It seems like the Vogons decided to build an intergalactic highway and ordered to demolish that rock we are all living on, starting with its magnificent rooftop, Mt Everest, and everything that lies beneath it. Or perhaps a Balrog is trying to crawl out from under the ground and is banging on the Earth crust from inside. Or perhaps it’s the Nazis awoken from deep slumber inside the hollow earth, 70 years after their defeat.
I was in Nepal 5 years ago, after the most memorable trip of my life, Tibet. It was memorable not just because I almost passed out into a coma of altitude sickness and was revived by some really gross butter salt tea, but because I honestly believe that Tibet is the ultimate rooftop of the world and has the most beautiful people on the planet.
Nepal was my first solo trip to Asia, my first volunteering experience, my first teaching job in a rural school, my first time living in a clay and straw house, my first memorable encounter with flying cockroaches, my first walk in the jungle with the kids from the school when we found a gigantic snake and took pictures under massive boulders on the landslide. Landslides are normal here. I was not sure what to expect from this journey when the car from Tibetan border was nearing Kathmandu. The Chinese border guards had searched my backpack as if I was smuggling a pack of grenades with cocaine, when in fact they were looking for portraits of Dalai Lama, Tibetan flags and any forbidden literature. All they found was a suspicious book in Russian (Nikolai Roerich’s account of Tibetan journey) and a couple of rocks from the Everest Base Camp.
In Kathmandu, I met Hari, the person who would be responsible for the time of my life spent among goats, blood-sucking leeches, colourful forests of northern Nepal, and some of the most resilient and optimistic people I ever met.
Hari’s village, in Rasuwa district, lies around 4 hours away from Kathmandu on the way to Tibetan border. Back in the day, I was not the seasoned traveller that I am now, and a 4-hour journey on a sweaty bus through the serpentine roads of Nepal made my stomach go ballistic. Especially considering the fact that we actually rode ON the bus, that is, sitting on top of its spacious roof, with around 10 other people, clinging to the rails for dear life. Somewhere half-way to our final destination, I looked down the steep mountain slope that unfolded into the abyss from the very road we were driving on, and saw another bus, just like our, hanging on the trees about 5 meters below. Whatever. It’s probably been there for years.
From the bus station, we had to walk to the village across the landslide. It was probably just a few meters wide, but my mind at that point was prone to exaggeration, and I remember the landslide crossing as something close to Bilbo’s venture into the Misty Mountains. I did not have my handkerchief on me, and my backpack weighed something between 20 kg and Thor’s hammer.
Hari patiently guided me across the rivers and narrow paths of Rasuwa district to his village, where I were to spend 3 weeks full of character building, teaching and learning. I learned more than I taught. I am a rubbish teacher, and the classroom was immediately turned into a circus with songs, improvisations, and art classes. I left all the drawings with the kids, but kept copies of them in my archives to remember that wherever in the world you give the kids a pack of pens they would essentially draw the same colourful images of the world around them, with no limits to their imagination, no rules to the size of cows in relation to houses, and mind-boggling reverse perspective.
Hari’s children, Manila, Monika and Manish, were my everyday entertainment, and Manila took her first typing lessons on my computer. They must’ve grown very big by now, but I will never forget the first day they accompanied me to the school that stood about 2km down the mountain from their house. Jumping and sliding down the slope among tiny currents of rainwater and bouncing off the slippery rocks, these amazing children had to walk this steep mountain path every morning to get to the school, and then climb back in the evening after class. This route, that left me breathless and in panic during my first week, was like your morning metro commute for them – just part of the routine.
Other girls from the school invited me over to their house, introduced me to their parents, fed me rice and yoghurt, and shared their village life with me. Their ceaseless curiosity about my country and the life outside of Nepal really blew my mind, and, like many times afterwards, I regretted not having enough photos of my family, friends, and European cities, to share with the kids.
And then, there was Gyanu. Gyanu is Hari’s sister and one of the most inspiring ladies I ever met in my life. Just a year younger than me, Gyanu was working as a doctor in her village, and shortly after my arrival moved to a bigger town up North. She dreamed of getting a degree in medical studies, working in Kathmandu, being independent. Contrary to her parents’ attempts to marry her off, Gyanu eventually made it to Kathmandu with her brother’s help and her admirable determination to outgrow herself, to reach new milestones in her life with every step she takes. It is rare to see such determination in many of the selfie-taking and food-instagramming ladies of the Western world. Gyanu knew where she was going, and her mountain upbringing taught her that no pinnacle is too high if you have a pair of legs and hands, a working brain and know the way up.
And Hari – Hari told me his story weeks later, when he took me to walk along the Langtang trek. As usual, I managed to visit the county in the most unsuitable for trekking monsoon season at the end of August. The monsoons finished – let me think – yes, around the time I flew out of Kathmandu airport to Moscow. Hari told me how he had got married at a very young age, as it was normal in his community, and how stubborn he was when it came to education: leaving his newly wedded wife with his parents, he travelled to another remote village where had the chance to continue education, and eventually started working as a porter for trekking agencies. In case you do not know, porters are (usually) underpaid villagers from the mountain regions who are hired by tour agencies to carry 20-30kg bags on long-term treks across the mountains, in the Langtang jungle, the snows of Annapurna circuit, and up to Everest Base Camp. According to the agencies, they can wear slippers and walk tirelessly through the snow, but anyone with half a brain can imagine that life of a porter is life of incredible physical endurance. Hari knows the ins and outs of trekking business in Nepal, its downsides and upscale profits, he knows the hidden roads and every tree in Langtang forest, and who knows how many kilometers he could walk in a day without sleep, if it was not for a nagging whiny foreign traveller me who’s never been on a mountain trek before.
Now that I am remembering all this, years later, I think it is time to pay back the kindness that Hari and his family bestowed upon me that rainy summer of 2010. The monsoon season is approaching rapidly, and – I am sure most of you never faced this problem in your life – most of the families in Rasuwa district have no roof over their head. Now, let me explain what it means: they cannot go and sleep over at the neighbour’s because the neighbours’ houses were swept away by the earthquake on 25 April 2015, and the more recent one, 11 May 2015, did not do any good to the village either. That very monsoon season I got caught in 5 years ago is going to start in July, and it means ceaseless tropical rains and floods, with no shelter to hide in. The village has also lost most of its cattle, and needs food supplies along with building material for new houses and temporary shelters.
I am telling you about Hari because I know from my personal experience how reluctant one can be with money donations – and for a good reason. While many international relief organisations are now working in the area, distributing humanitarian aid and conducting search and rescue operations, it is hard for us, in the more fortunate part of the world, to see the real face of disaster, to put a name on the victims and assess their hardships in right proportions. However powerful social networks might seem to us, Nepal will not be a mile closer to you if you’ve never travelled there and never got mugged by monkeys on the stairs of the monkey temple in Kathmandu. Never lost a few pints of blood to slimy leeches int he breathtaking mountains of Langtang. Never dove down from the suspension bridge on a bungee jump. Never stood in front of Mt Everest, staring at it in awe and catching the clouds that float – as it seems – just a few meters above your head.
I wanted to tell you about Hari, and Gyanu, and the children from the village, to assure you that whatever you decide to donate will not go to waste, will not end in the pockets of scammers and will not get stuck in the perpetual loop of covering the administration costs of international organisations. Hari is a person who deliberately left the confinements of his small village many years ago to become a bigger fish in a bigger pond – only to return to his village with High Himalayan Community Projects Nepal (http://www.projectsnepal.com), his trekking company and charity aimed to support the remote mountain regions of the country where no other aid would come otherwise. Here is a quote from Hari’s newsletter:
More than 8000 families are homeless and struggling to survive in Rasuwa District Langtang region, Nepal where I was born and am supporting continuously through my charity (High Himalayan community project Nepal). I would like to support and looking for the fund for 2000 bundles of Zink plates (The corrugated iron has been requested by communities as an essential item to build temporary structures for the upcoming monsoon. After the monsoon the same iron will be used to build their new homes. This material is far better than plastic) for 2000 families 1 bundle each families. At $62 USD a bundle, we’re allocating 1 bundle (8 sheets) per household that is still not sufficient but the best support for them practically. I have 2423 friends in mailing list, most of them have already donated, and thanks for them again once more and please spread the words around more and more than everything possible.
This is very frustrating time here, Nepalese government and our major political leaders of Nepal have not any concrete plan and convincing idea to make rescue work efficiently, effectively and rebuilding the affected areas in as much as short time. Our government is poor not only in resources but also in thinking. Foreign governments and organizations have noticed that clearly now. Therefore, at this national crisis time, I would like humbly request to our political leaders and bureaucrats of Nepal to think broadly and soothe the pain of the affected people as soon as possible. No reason to be jealous and political biasing, it is time to work wisely by coordinating the rescue and rebuilding effort and by accepting all kinds of support with appreciation from every individuals, organizations, and businesses sectors from all over the world. Even a single Rupee of support given by a person would be very worthy and plentiful and we have to learn/teach ourselves how to help the people who are in real crisis in future too.
We need a lot of support to repair our village and to bring back those beautiful smiles in every faces. We need support to rebuild the houses, give shelter, food and every basic need for us. We are in far remote area so no one can reach their easily to support. I’m well, strong and have some energy so I should help to the villagers, rescuing and helping the elderly and child.
These are several ways to donate directly to Hari and his organisation:
Prime commercial bank limited
Bank address: Balaju branch, Kathmandu, Nepal
SWIFT CODE: PCBLNPKA
Beneficiary account name: High Himalayan Community Development Center, Nepal
A/C no. 00700412CA
President: Harikrishna Devkota (mobile number 977-9851031394)
Name: Harikrishna Devkota
Address: Dhaibung 9 Rasuwa
License number 2717/068
Normally, WU takes crazy commission for money transfers, but I used them just a few days ago and they do not take commission for transfers to Nepal. Thank you, Western Union!
Donation via Australian Charity
Reach Out Nepal Inc.
Account: 1027 1996
(Reach out Nepal Inc Is the Funding/fundraising partner charity of High Himalayan Community Project Nepal so you can donate to Reach out Nepal Inc too)
Online donation through Europe/ France
This online donation page is created by Dr. Claudia Fritz. She stayed with Hari’s family more than a month doing a volunteering work for High Himalayan Community Project Nepal and she is in Paris now. If this online donation is easier for you, please you can donate here.
I do not really believe that any efforts on behalf of world governments matter as much as a helping hand from one individual to another. However, if you feel that donating to one particular and obscure village is not fair, and wish to support the aid work in Nepal on a broader level, these are some of organisations worth donating to:
Earthquake is something we can possibly predict but can hardly avoid. It is a force of omnipotent nature, and there is nothing we can possibly put against it but prayers to some ancient gods. But it is in our power to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy, and the consequences of a natural disaster will echo though the country for many years to come. Remember the Tibetan earthquake in 2008? China was too busy hosting the Olympics that year, and many towns and villages lie in ruins until this day. I have seen the streets of Iranian city of Bam in 2012, 9 years after the earthquake that brought down the entire ancient fortress and left thousands of people to live in the street and beg for money and food, and some areas of the city are still just rubble and dust.
This is what Hari’s village that hosted me in 2010 looks like nowadays. (via Hari’s newsletter and his comments)