A few days ago I have returned from a trekking trip to Nepal that was guided by Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren (“Dr. T”). Among the mostly-American group members, there were two other Israelis, Shai and Anna, who returned at the same time and will share their own experience of this trip. I will not provide all the details of the trip at this time, nor will I copy everything that I wrote in my "Dear Diary," but I would like to share with this Israeli Facebook group [titled "Dr. T in Israel"] some of my personal experiences in Nepal.
We landed in Kathmandu, in one of Nepal's most important festivals – Dashain Festival. On our way to visit some of the holy World Heritage Sites we saw monks in their traditional outfit, market streets and temples in every corner. Kathmandu is simply a pleasure to look at with its multitude of colors, from the prayer flags adorning every hill to the vibrant clothes worn by thousands of pedestrians, and from the densely-packed signage everywhere to the amazing variety of merchandise that is taken out to the streets.
In the background you can always hear car horns, the noise of motorcycle engines, and merchants yelling in Nepali and English, and even talking in broken Hebrew (always with a smile): “Shalom Madam,” “Yisrael” (‘Israel’), “Achi” (‘hey brother’), “Boker tof“ (‘goot morning’)… We climbed the stairs to the “Monkey Temple” accompanied by dozens of monkeys running around us all the way up -- and there, while admiring the beautiful landscape of the Kathmandu valley, we learned about the unique mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal.
We visited all the main Temples in the old city of Bakhtapur, and experienced an authentic school for creating Tanka (a traditional Buddhist canvas painting that is very detailed, with each Tanka telling an extraordinary traditional story). And each of us returned to the hotel with her own Tanka...
On the following day we started the trek. We drove between mountains and villages, rivers and beautiful creeks. We started the trek at 1,200 meters and reached 4,800 meters within only 2 days (and a few hours more)! Usually trekkers do this kind of ascent in at least 5 days to acclimatize and avoid altitude sickness.
Now, we were a group of ten people, each of us having a different fitness level, different size, age, and medical history; and yet - we all climbed a very sharp climb very fast, gaining altitude very rapidly, and still not even one (!) of the members of the group had experienced altitude sickness or any other symptoms! Strange, isn’t it? Well that’s the truth – no one has suffered altitude sickness - Just because of our nutrition during the trek! According to Dr. Tel-Oren’s instructions, our nutrition during the first part of the trek didn’t include concentrated nitrogen (nitrogen atoms are present in large quantities in high-protein food): We did not eat legumes, lentils, nuts, and high-protein seeds while we were ascending (needless to say - our diet was completely vegan). So what did we eat, you might ask? Well, we ate the best, absolutely the very best food I have ever eaten in my entire life - all the other group members will agree with me on that! After each climb that was especially long and difficult, one of the Nepali guides waited for us up the hill and saturated our thirst with warm tea/juice that was prepared on the spot. Each time we ended the morning portion of the trek, exhausted and at the same time excited from the thrilling view that laid before our eyes – the Nepali crew was already waiting for us with a tasty and satisfying, wholesome lunch, and the same thing happened in the evenings: At the end of every trekking day - before we even arrived at our destination – the crew had already put all the tents in place, and prepared an amazing supper. Each day the food was more amazing, and we just couldn’t believe that it was all prepared outdoors! Everything was made fresh by our mobile kitchen, with local smells and yummy Indian-Nepali spices. We ate rice with spinach, potatoes and vegetables, a home-made vegetable soup, momos (dough pockets with vegetables), and vegan pakhaura - and when it got cold at the high camps we got a fluent supply of warm herbal tea to keep us warm. When we started descending, lentils and garbanzos were added, as the nitrogen-limitation was no longer necessary.
Breakfasts were no less impressive; fresh fruit, porridge (a hot soft rice porridge) with bananas and local honey, pancakes from local millet or buckwheat or corn, cooked pumpkin with crispy naan rice-bread, and huge cucumbers that were picked on the spot.
The trekking route selected by Dr. Tel-Oren (who always creates unusual trekking routes off the beaten path) – the Mardi Himal Trek – is one of the most unvisited routes, which makes it even more special. While climbing we watched landscapes of snowy mountains, huge rivers curving inside great canyons, and beautiful villages that were embedded on mountain slopes. Along the river we passed forests - everything was green and beautiful - and I have heard for the first time the sound of "silence." No cars, smoke or noise - nothing but silence and the sound of water streaming in the river.
On the last upward-climbing part of the trek we went up to 4,800 meters.Along the course we could see some of the highest peaks in the world, such as the Dhaulalgiri and the Annapurna that are above 8,000 meters high. We saw the famous Machapuchare peak with its fish-tail shape, and the Annapurna South, closer than ever - we could almost touch them!
Up there, we all meditated together, giving thanks quietly in our heart for the opportunity to share this wonderful experience. That day, when we got to 4,800 meters - was one of the most amazing days in my life.
From there we went down toward the river Mardi Khola – a long way down, again through spectacular, breathtaking landscapes - mountains, valleys, lakes and forests. At the end of the slope we got to the river, where we freshened up and swam. We were invigorated by another royal (!) lunch and then we all lay down on the grass to absorb some vitamin D…
After the trek, we rested in our Pokhara hotel and enjoyed a traditional Nepali massage, and more food (we could now eat more nitrogen-rich food, so we ate a lot of Dal Bat – rice with lentils, tasty vegetables, and some extras - almost every day).
Early morning, we started the 6-hour drive to the village of Namki in the Gorkha District, to set the corner stone for an orphanage of the "Everest Learning Academy" (ELA), the network of schools and orphanages created by Dr. Tel-Oren to provide high-quality education and caring environment to destitute, neglected Nepali children who are at high risk of child trafficking. It was a long drive on rough dirt roads - including a tractor ride on a road that even a 4x4 could not manage - but we stopped again for a swim and for a light refreshment. When we got to Namki it was already dark. And from now on I divide the trip into two: “before Namki” and “after Namki.”
We stepped down from the tractor in the darkness of the late evening and were astonished to discover that the whole village has come to meet us. Everybody greeted us excitedly - kids, grown-ups and the old people of the village. Each one of us got a scarf, interwoven with fresh flowers that were picked especially for us. Thakur (our main Nepali guide) spoke in Nepali, talking with the villagers about the opening of the orphanage home. They didn’t stop clapping, "Thank you Dr. T, thanks you, thank you Doctor." It was so touching.
We were then divided into pairs and adopted by Nepali families for 2 nights.Each couple ate a Nepali dinner with the adopting family. The houses were modest and small. Outside of the house there is a small toilet room with a hole in it. There is never any hot water, and all the girls sleep on a wooden deck in a half open room.The whole house is decorated with newspapers that are glued to the walls. When you wake up in the morning the first thing you do is collect food for the Buffalo. All the laundry is done by hand – outside the house if there is a water source, or in the village’s main tap or pool. The women rub the clothes against a stone or with a rubbing brush, rinse it well and spread for drying.
Giant rice fields surround the village and give it a unique atmosphere. Animals like dogs, hens and their chicks, cats, sheep and pigs - all ran around with great happiness (by contrast, in the higher altitudes - where no villages exist - big yaks roam freely; but in more typical villages like Namki, large water buffaloes reside under each home). As I looked at all these animals and the amazing kids with their giant smiles I remembered suddenly a lecture I once heard by Barry Schwartz - about the paradox of choice. He spoke about people who are miserable because they have too many possibilities or choices. The Nepali live in such simplicity and yet they are so grateful for the little they have. We played with the children, learned about the daily life in the village, visited the local school (we saw how 40 pupils crowd inside a 20 square meters room), we visited the village hospital (a room and a half with no hygiene), we swung with the children on primitive home-made bamboo swings, hugged them, and played with them. In the evening, all the people of the village organized a party for us with dancing and music, they danced Nepali dances, we danced Israeli dances, and in the end we all danced together. You know how we can usually recognize the beautiful moments in life only after they’re gone? So, for me, when we were there, as we all danced, hugging each other in a big circle, with all those amazing people, it was one of these moments when I wished in my heart that time will stop, so I could pay attention to each and every small detail, so that I will be able to experience the same feeling again later... In the next morning we got onto the tractor’s cart and a group of children ran after us shouting "Namaste"!! From there we started a long drive to Parvatipur, towards the headquarters of Dr. T’s school for orphans and the poorest low-caste Nepali children - the Everest Learning Academy (ELA).
Every day in Nepal I had the feeling of – now, this is the most amazing moment of the trip, it won't get any better than this. But each day that followed truly surprised us!
On our way to Parvatipur, Dr. Tel-Oren spoke with us about the concept of “ecological footprint” - the footprint each person leaves behind and the influence it has on our community and our planet’s environment – and how we can't avoid thinking about our impact on the eco-system, as a Western society and as Western individuals. The higher the “standard of living” is – the greater the ecological footprint.
I once read somewhere that if all people “enjoyed” a western standard of living, we would need five Earth to accommodate them. I wandered with these thoughts throughout the rest of the drive - thought about the distribution of resources among the inhabitants of planet Earth and how unequal it is, about how what ever we do eventually affects others near and far, and how in the end it turns out that people like us are exploiting the resources of countries like Nepal...
I looked out the window and started to think about all the things that thrilled me this year: a work promotion, a new computer, another iPod, another business d eal closed. And then I thought of the family that hosted us, and became ashamed. I think that there, on that bus ride, I have quietly decided within myself that from now on things with me will be slightly different, priorities will change a bit, and awareness won't be just another word without meaning. I felt that the whole trip to Nepal was worthwhile just for this insight....But the really incredible part was still ahead of us. We got to the Everest Learning Academy’s main school. In the entrance there stood a school bus with the logo of Ecopolitan and on it was written: "Thank you Dr. T and Ecopolitan." We entered the first class, and all the little 5 or 6-year-old children rose up and said: "Good morning Dr. T!" You could see the excitement in their eyes. One girl stood up and started to read in English something about the school, and about what a great opportunity it was to be able to learn. All the children drew for us pictures of the logo of Ecopolitan with the Earth underneath it, and of the Ecopolitan bus, and almost everybody wrote "thank you" on the drawings.
Each class we entered was more incredible. All the children were dressed in uniform, the female teachers wore a beautiful pink sari and the male teachers wore turquoise buttoned shirts with ties.
In the kindergarten class there was a girl aged 3-4 that approached a wall on which the whole English Alpha-Bet was written; she read aloud each letter and after each letter she said a word in English that starts with the same letter. All the class repeated after her. After her, another girl rose up and read aloud the multiplication table.
We were with Kate during the entire treks, and then again in school. Kate is a young woman who came to Nepal with another trekking group led by Dr. Tel-Oren 6 months ago, and simply stayed there with the children, volunteering in the school. We saw the love that the children showered upon her and she on them. Ananda (Kate’s new “Nepali brother” and the son of Thakur who escorted us during the trek) gave us a tour and took us to the computer room. There were 4 computers for the whole school. Kate said the children were so excited every time they had a computer lesson, that they were almost afraid to touch it! I was asking myself what is there in this enchanted, simple, and "developing" place, that manufactures children of this kind - who love learning with so much pride. My teachers have always begged me to learn, trying every possible method and every trick to gain attention from my class; and yet, these children - whose routine starts at dawn with hard work in the fields and ends late at night only after completing the different house chores - are like a sponge, lovingly absorbing and learning everything that their teachers throw in their direction.
We continued to the bus, and again I saw the "Thank you Dr. T" bus and tears chocked my throat. Suddenly everything struck me, the life in Namaki, the ecological footprint, these incredible kids. Suddenly I really got the immense dimensions of what the Doctor gives to these children. Suddenly I grasped how huge is his heart.For this is ungraspable, it’s not even in our daily lexicon – to help like that. How sad it is that it’s not. And how fulfilling it is when it is.
From there we proceeded to the house of Thakur (Kate's and Anandah's “Baba” - father), to participate in the ceremony of placing the cornerstone for the next ELA’s Community Outreach school that Dr. T is about to build (there are 300 poor Nepali children of the lowest castes and orphans in the main ELA school we visited, plus a few hundreds more in several additional ELA Community Outreach schools in remote areas). We were again greeted and treated as kings. First we were served a wonderful Nepali meal that Thakur's wife and his mother cooked, and afterwards many children and grown ups came for the cornerstone ceremony, during which they danced and were happy and excited! I felt that I had many things to digest, I had many thoughts circling in my head and I only wanted to take my diary and start writing it all, so that I won't forget a single moment. The Golaghat Safari Resort was perfect for this.
We arrived at the famous national park at the Chitwan District, where we were taken by the Doctor T's elephant - Shrijana kali - on a jungle safari. Afterwards we took Shrijana to the river and bathed her in the warm water. Later in the day we floated on a wooden boat down the river and watched the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Dr. Tel-Oren played beautiful melodies on the recorder, and we just gazed at the sunset, smiling, feeling satisfied and so grateful.
I never had the typical "after-the-army trip" that most Israelis take. I waited 7 years to get a different kind of experience, and I succeeded in winning it!
To those of you with doubts about joining a Dr. T Trek– please don’t think twice. It is an experience that will contribute a lot to you, and much more than that – to those amazing children who benefit from your participation.
This is a trip that will inspire you to surrender the Western person in you. Instead of getting to Nepal and turning it into the USA or Israel or Europe, you do the opposite –you arrive at a place open to study it and to learn from it.
I wish to thank the entire wonderful group - John, Mary, Shai, Yelena, Anna, Julia, Jacob, and Kate, as well as to thank our guides Krishna and Thakur, and all the porters and mobile kitchen staff.And, of course, a huge "thank you" to Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren.
In the name of all the team, and in the name of all the children in Nepal - thank you very much for an exceptional experience.
See you in Nepal in March☺