Nepal – Day 1
Shalom to everyone!
Well, it feels like we have already been going for about 3 days, but the first day of our Nepal Cultural Exchange has finally come to an end! Yesterday we began at 6pm (Israel time), with a pretty easy check-in at Ben Gurion airport. The students had so much time to spare that they even managed to get their last Aroma meals or shawarmas before we took to the skies and headed to Delhi. After a layover of a couple of hours and a short delay on our connecting flight, we boarded the plane to Kathmandu.
As we approached Kathmandu airport, the pilot alerted all passengers that Mt Everest was directly below the left side of the plane. It was amazing to see one of the most beautiful and recognized sites in the world. As we descended to the airport, we got a great view of how Kathmandu, a large and sprawling residential center, really is based in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains all around.
We were picked up by the Tevel B’Tzedek crew and taken to our first home in Nepal – the Tevel house. Tevel B’tzedek runs programs for volunteers from Israel, Nepal, and students from across the world, in a range of different communities and villages throughout Nepal. When we got to the big house, we had a session reviewing the schedule for the next few days and the house rules.
We then had a nice traditional Nepalese dinner made by our “Didi”, a Nepali woman in charge of the cooking field in the house.
After dinner and the session, the students went to their rooms to organize themselves and get some rest before diving deep into the next day, which is full of sessions, tours and surprises.
Below are some photos for you all that summarise our first day. Tomorrow is going to be another great day of learning and touring in a few different areas around Kathmandu.
Nepal – Day 2
Well, today has been a long, but amazing day in Nepal for the students. Our first full day in the country was action packed with learning, touring, and meeting some very inspirational locals.
We started our day with our first lesson of Nepalese language. It’s amazing to see how much the students have managed to absorb in just 2 hours of learning. It has definitely given us all a pretty good base and some added confidence when we head out to the rural villages next week and have the chance to interact with Nepalese people who know very little or no English.
After class, we had a welcoming ceremony in the yard of the big house. we met all of the staff members of Tevel Bezedek. We were greeted with an amazing traditional tikka ceremony, where students also received Nepalese sweets and scarves.
We then had a fascinating session with a man name Raam. He is a Nepalese educator who works for Tevel B’tzedek and a really inspiring figure. Raam spoke with us about the geography and history of Nepal, as well as going through some of the contemporary issues that face the country. He also explained the incredible ethnic and cultural diversity that exists in Nepal. It was a very interesting insight into the country and helped to put a lot of things into context for the students.
The following session was some time for students to understand the essence and timetable of our trip to the rural areas in Nepal that we will be traveling to next week. Gautam, who is our Tevel B’tzedek guide and coordinator for this trip and will be accompanying us to the village visit, started with a bunch of fun games and activities, which really helped get the students energized. He spoke with us about the exciting projects and activities that we will be involved in once we get to the village next week.
We had lunch in the house we are staying, another tasty Daal Baat – a traditional Nepalese meal consisting of rice, Daal, and combinations of other vegetables. In Nepalese culture, the people eat with their hands, so who are we to argue with that??? Students tucked in and it was a truly delicious meal.
following that we had another session with Yasmin, our Israeli coordinator for the trip. this session was mainly about processing our experience by now and get a better understanding of our expectations from this trip.
After the session, we headed out on our first tour in Kathmandu. We started in Kalimati, which is one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city, with many migrant workers making up the community there – mainly coming from the rural villages of Nepal to try to make a better life. Our first stop was the market, which is HUGE! It’s one of the largest fruit and vegetable markets in Asia!
We then headed to Durbar Square, one of the central squares in Kathmandu. The area houses the old Nepalese Royal Family Palace, as well as the home of the “Kumari.” The Kumari is a young girl who is seen by the Nepalese people as the protector of the people. Very rarely does she show her face, but the students were able to see her as she came to the window. It was a strange sight, as she is only 5 years old, but is revered as a holy figure among the Nepalese people. The area was also full of amazing old temples, as well as many hawkers trying to win the students’ over with their many bargains!
For dinner, we used our time in the square, where students could choose what they wanted to eat and were able to peruse the hundreds of different shops and stalls. Many students chose to sample the delicious Nepalese “MoMo,” which is a dumpling served with spicy sauce.
Tomorrow we’re heading out early for a tour of some different parts of the city with a deep examination of the socio-economic communities in Kathmandu. We then head back to our home, for some much-needed rest and relaxation and to bring in the Shabbat together!
Nepal – Day 3
We started today bright and early, as we had to be ready to leave our house by 7am. We quickly ate breakfast and went on our way on our bus through the city of Kathmandu.
We had a fascinating tour with Dr. Bishnu Chapagain. He is the Nepalese Director of Tevel B’tzedek and a truly inspiring figure. He also knew plenty of Hebrew, as he had lived and studied in Israel for 11 years!
When we arrived at the end of one side of the city, we started a short trek into the National Park just outside of Kathmandu, which is the source of water for the Bagmati River – the largest river in Nepal and the main source of water for Kathmandu. It is also considered as a holy river in Hindu culture. The water was amazingly fresh and clean, and the park was beautiful. The students were also captivated by the many goats in the area, especially the goat kids!
We hiked our way down and headed off to one of the closer neighborhoods on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The neighborhood stood where nothing had been just 20 years earlier, and the impact of the urban sprawl was already evidently clear on the Bagmati River. Pollution, rubbish, and even sewage had negatively affected the Bagmati in a very big way, even in one of the peripheral neighborhoods.
We continued on to the central Hindu temple, which sits closer to the city center on the Bagmati. This temple is the holiest site for Hindus in Nepal and thousands of pilgrims come from India every year. Its oldest parts are estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. We were told that bodies are cremated along the river, and could see fires from afar as we walked past. It was indeed a culture shock!
For lunch, we stopped along the way at one of the local restaurants. There we had a chance to taste a different kind of “Daal Baat” and another traditional dish called Roti, which is a special bread with curry source and beans.
We finished our River tour on the opposite side of Kathmandu, at the final gorge of the Bagmati River as it winds its way towards India. The water was completely black and polluted, and rubbish littered the shores. It was sad to see the impact of the sprawl and growing population of Kathmandu, especially given how beautiful the waterfalls and river was when we saw it earlier in the morning.
After the tour, we went back to the big house for some well-needed rest and preparation for Shabbat. Some students decided to take a short walk around our neighborhood in order to absorb some more of the culture and the local snacks and treats.
Tia Geri decided to bake a “Chala” for Shabbat and we all met together for a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat which included Shabbat songs with the guitar, lighting Shabbat candles and blessing the wine and a delicious meal.
I wish you all a Shabbat shalom, and will be in touch again tomorrow!
Nepal – Day 4
Shabbat was definitely nice and relaxing and gave the students time to catch up on a bit of sleep and prepare for the exciting week to come.
After a well-deserved lie in, we began the day with our second Nepalese lesson. We learned many useful expressions that will surely come in handy over our next 4.5 days at the village where we are going to volunteer and live with host families.
After the lesson, we had a learning session about Judaism and Tikkun Olam. We also spoke about Globalization and the positive and negative impacts it has made on the world and us today. The session ended with the students reflecting on how their first few days have been in Kathmandu, and what they are excited about in the week to come.
Later that day, after lunch, we trekked out from our house to the nearby Swayambhunath, or as it is known to most tourists – the Monkey Temple. The temple is actually made up of a number of different temples and shrines, and is comprised of a huge array of both Hindu and Buddhist holy sites. One of the incredible things we have learned in the past few days is that over 40% of Nepalese families identify as both Buddhist and Hindu, so many of the holy sites reflect this co-existence.
And of course, there were hundreds of monkeys around us! It was a real sight for the students to behold, surrounded by so many monkeys and seeing them interact with each other.
We walked back home to another delicious meal. This time the students cooked pasta. After dinner, we all took cabs to “Themal” – a more touristy area in order to buy some souvenirs and useful stuff for our time in the village.
Tomorrow we’ll be getting up bright and early, ready for our 8:30 departure to the village where we will be volunteering for the next 4 days. The drive will be around 4 hours long in total! Although we will be having stops for meals and taking in the amazing sights as we wind our way up the mountains and towards the Himalayas. It is going to be a breath-taking journey!
Nepal – Day 5
We had a bright and early start today as we prepared to leave the “big house” in Kathmandu and our home for the past 4 nights. We set off around 8:30 to Dunkarkah – a region of villages where we will be volunteering over the coming days.
The journey was a great experience, we travelled in four jeeps and the majority of the ride was on dirt roads. We stopped for a meal along the way, as well as a toilet break, and a shopping expedition for some snacks while we’re away from the “big city”,
The journey was full of wonderful views of the amazing mountain and valley region where we will be staying over the coming days, and no matter which way we turned, we were graced with breath-taking sites of the Himalayas and the mountain communities that reside in them.
When we arrived at the village, we were treated to a wonderful introduction ceremony. We did the Tika ceremony, traditional dancing, and every student received a Nepalese name. After the ceremony, the students met their host families and we divided into two clusters.
Each cluster had “kaiju” together, which is the nickname of the snack break in Nepalese, at one of the homestay families and then both groups had a tour within the cluster they’re staying in, to give them an understanding of layout of the village so that they know where their friends are and how to get from place to place. The Dunkarkah village is located on a beautiful mountain and we could see a breath-taking view in every direction that we looked. The location also means that we needed to walk a lot!… uphill and downhill in order to get from place to place. However, we chose to look at the bright side as all this walking in this village will be great preparation for the mountain trek in two days.
Tomorrow morning the students will wake up at sunrise to help their homestay families with their chores, like cooking, fetching wood, milking buffalo and more.
Nepal – Day 6
Today was our first full day in Dunkarkah village in the hill region and it was full of wonderful first sights, experiences, and meetings. Even wake-up was an experience for the students, as they stepped out of their rooms and directly into a gorgeous view of the Himalayan Mountains, and the terraced fields of the villages that lay before them. It’s definitely hard to wake up grumpy in this place!
The students woke up with first light and helped their host families with various different tasks. Some student went to milk buffalo and cows, some carried woods from the jungle with baskets, some chopped bamboo for the animals and others carried animal food grains or picked mustered flowers and helped cook the Daal Baat that we all eat for breakfast at our homestay.
Later that day, each cluster went for a tour in the other cluster’s side in order to see the different projects that we will be working on tomorrow. We also had a chance to see all kinds of machinery and technologies the villagers use to produce their resources. We saw how they produce honey in beehives in the wall of their homes, how they prepare cheese, grind cornflower, make carpets and much more.
After the tour, we finally merged when both clusters met on their tour for a great activity with the village youth. After a few games to break the ice, we had a wonderful activity with the Nepalese youth about cultural differences. Each group needed to demonstrate, without speaking, different kinds of cultural norms and the other group had to guess what it was. To conclude the activity, both sides could ask different questions about the other’s culture. It was a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the cultural norm here, and also to share some of our own western and Jewish culture with the villagers.
After spending most of the day with the youth of the village we went to the staff house, which is in the middle of the two clusters, and had a bonfire evening together. At first, we sat around the fire, shared and processed some of the experiences we’d had over the day. After that, we played guitar and cooked chicken on the grill above the bonfire. It was a great way to end a very busy day, full of walking, working and interacting with the villagers, and a whole lot of fun.
Tomorrow we will volunteer in different projects in the village such as building the community center, school picture painting, and an agriculture project.
Nepal – Day 7
Today was an amazing day here in Dhunkharka village. We had many projects running all day and the students had the chance to spend an entire day dedicated to fulfilling their goals and contributing to the community.
We began the day bright and early, as is usual in village life. Some students went with their host families to work, while others started walking to the gathering area very early due to the long distance from their home stay.
We met at the milking center and were separated into three different projects. One was construction of the new community center in the village, the second was an agriculture project and the third was school painting.
I will try to tell you more about all of them but unfortunately, due to the long distances between them, I could only be at one.
The community center volunteers started the day by painting the inside of the community center. After they had been working hard and with high levels of motivation for an hour, the Tevel Bezedek staff decided to let them paint the outside as well, even though it wasn’t part of the original plan. In addition to the painting, the students also built a garbage disposal pit from bricks and mud. They drilled, carried and made mud for building, and the result was incredible.
The agriculture project met with one of the best agriculture professionals in the village. He taught the students how to make new lines for the mushrooms and how to make the pit that is used for growing them. In addition, the students planted numerous seeds, which will hopefully soon grow and become a valuable resource for the community.
The school painting project met at the local school at the lower side of the village. When we came in, the school director welcomed us with a traditional ceremony and scarf offering and when we arrived at the classroom we were supposed to paint, a group of schoolchildren greeted us and joined us for the task. We painted four large wooden surfaces as educational posters for the teachers. We painted all day long with the children and on our break we played guitar, danced and even played soccer with the school students.
The educational posters included numbers in English, the English alphabet, timetables charts and even a Nepalese alphabet chart. Needless to say, it was very challenging but we enjoyed every minute of the day.
Now I am back at the staff house, all the Nepalese staff are talking about how much work the students did today and how much motivation they had. I’m proud to say that it was an amazing day in which we succeeded in contributing as best as we can alongside the community.
Tomorrow is our next challenge. We are going to hike the Mavarath Mountain. The trek is going to be challenging, but we will take many breaks and keep going until we will reach the amazing view at the top.
I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Nepal – Day 8
Today was the day we had all been waiting for.
We woke up before sunrise to get an early start for our trek on Mountain Mavarath close to the village. The mountain is around 2900 feet high and it was a long journey up and back.
Lucky with the support of the community, we managed to get a ride with a truck to the middle of the mountain. That way the trek was possible, otherwise we may have ended up turning back before reaching the top due to the length of the mountain trail.
After we got off the truck we spent roughly an hour and a half walking up hill. The road was a bit complicated for walking on, but the community members and the Nepalese Tevel Bezedek staff assisted us on the way.
When we came closer to the top, we could feel the excitement in the air. Even though we were tired from the walking, the moment when we reached the top, we all found new energy that we absorbed from the absolutely amazing view of the Himalayas, that we could see so clearly from the top of the mountain.
Then it was time for some photos. We all picked some great spots and took amazing pictures together. I’m sure that as soon as the students have Wi-Fi again most of their profiles pictures will be changed.
After a long break, which included snacks, we started on our way back down the mountain. This time we needed to walk for around 4 hours in order to get back to the village. The downhill part was no less a challenge then the uphill, but luckily once again the community assisted us with cutting sticks, which helped us walk on the hard terrain.
A few hours later, we all arrived back to the village, exhausted but hugely satisfied from the journey we had. It was great walking together with the community and we all had a wonderful experience.
After the hike, the students went to their home stay families to have some rest, quality time and of course the evening “Daal Baat”.
Tomorrow will be our last day at the Dhunkarka village. We will have a conclusion session and a farewell ceremony with the community.
Nepal – Day 9
Today was our last day in the village. The students woke up in the morning for another day of volunteering with their home stay families.
After four days in the village, we have become used to the morning working routine. Cutting bamboo, feeding the animals, cooking morning daal baat, and more jobs that form the daily routine.
After working with the families, the students spent some quality time in their homestays until it was time to pack our bags and prepare for leaving Dhunkarka. We had a farewell ceremony with the community before leaving. We all dressed up in Nepalese traditional clothing and began the ceremony with the traditional Tikka service.
In addition, we chose one student from each cluster to give a speech on behalf of the Aardvark program. We all thanked the community for their kind hospitality and spoke about how significant the experience was for us. It was very touching to see the students saying goodbye to their host families and giving them gifts they had prepared using only things they could gather in the village.
We had a truly eye-opening experience in the village and I’m proud to say that the students really maximized their time here and truly connected with the community.
After the ceremony, we walked to the bazaar for some “kaju” (snacks) while waiting for the jeeps to come and pick us up to take us back to Kathmandu. After a couple of hours travel, we arrived back to the big house for a well-needed shower and rest.
Tomorrow we will go to another village called Chitlang. There we will have a more touristic experience and a nice and relaxing Shabbat.
Nepal – Day 10
Today was a nice touristy day for us here in Nepal. We woke up early and headed from Kathmandu to an agriculture farm at a village called Chitlang. On our way there, we stopped for some boating on a beautiful manmade lake. It was so relaxing to boat on the clear water and we all had a lot of fun.
Two hours later, we arrived at the village where we are going to spend Shabbat together. The accommodation is similar to a camping site. We got some cool tents to stay in and after some quick kaju time, we went for a tour of the village. On the tour we saw a local goat cheese factory, the community school and the water fountains from where the village pumps its water. The students really like the place and it has been fun to change to a lower gear as we approach the weekend.
Later that day, after we prepared for Shabbat, we had a bonfire and when Shabbat entered, we had a nice Shabbat service complete with singing with the guitar and some touching speeches from the students about the experiences we have had so far.
It’s really nice to see how much the students bonded in this trip. It was also fascinating to hear the students’ conclusions from the village experience and all the things they are taking with them from this journey.
After a tasty dinner, we joined some of the local community for a party at the site’s main room. The students danced to both Nepalese songs and western songs. I guess it was another cultural exchange that just happened without being planned.
Tomorrow we will start our day early with two options, either a hike up the nearest mountain or a nearby cultural tour.
P.S I’ll send more pictures when back in Israel.
Nepal – Day 11+12
The last two days have been pretty relaxed as we approached the end of our Nepal trip. We dedicated the final two days to some rest, bonding time and time to process the intense experience we have had over the last two weeks.
Yesterday we woke up for another day at the chitlang resort. In the morning, we were divided into two groups. One group had an amazing hike up a nearby mountain and the other group had a cultural tour at the nearby village. On the tour, we saw more farms, local businesses, and temples. At one of the Hindu temples we even saw a ceremony in which a local priest sacrificed a chicken to the gods.
Of course, not all of us had the stomach to watch and yet some of us did. It was pretty intense and even after almost two weeks here we went through another cultural shock.
After the hike and the tour, we all had some time to rest. In the evening we gathered by a bonfire for the havdala service, guitar singing, and meaningful conversations.
Today we woke up and departed back to Kathmandu. We were pretty excited to be back at the big house which already feels like our second home.
After lunch, we had a closing session in which we all had the opportunity to share and process our experience. It was amazing to hear how meaningful it was for all and how many things we are taking from this journey. You should certainly ask your child to tell you all about his/her experience because it was definitely eye opening.
After the session, we headed to the Thamel for some shopping time. The students spent a long time at the different stores, bargaining like real pros.
After shopping, we met for a final dinner with the staff of Tevel Bezedek. We chose an Israeli restaurant that was very good and also gave us the opportunity to eat something other than Daal Baat. 😀
After dinner, we went back to the Big House for a good night’s sleep before our flight.
Tomorrow morning we will be leaving early to the airport.
I will send another email when arrive safely back in Israel.