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Ghyangphedi: A Difficult & Startling Beauty

July 24, 2013

My trip to Ghyangphedi, in the Nuwakot district of Nepal with SASANE (the organization with which I volunteer) acts as easily the most meaningful, epiphanic and beautiful piece of my trip. It was also one of the most physically challenging and taxing aspects of my travel (hence the below titled section.)

Trip to Ghyangphedi Part 1: In Which I’ve Never Trekked / Sweat So Much in My Entire Life

Let me elaborate: for myriad reasons, that first day of the trip was the worst day of my life. Okay, I’m overstating the truth, but I think I have good reason to exaggerate. Let’s start at the very beginning: 5:45 am, I woke up to find I was sick and developed a sore, raw throat (I have a sneaking suspicion that it was due to screaming from this.) Another volunteer and I stumble exhausted toward a group of taxis to take us to the bus station, where we’re supposed to meet members of SASANE. At 6:30 we arrive at a chaotic bus stop called Balaju Machhapokhari, and the others were nowhere to be found. I should tell you that I was an extremely cranky puppy that morning, and I had zero patience for the screaming fruit vendors, the general confusion and stress of being alone in a crowded bus station 5 minutes before our bus was supposed to leave.

Eventually we found the others in our group and piled onto an uncomfortable bus with hilariously insufficient seat space and even less breathable air. And then the bus driver turned on the music, which was loud and unrelenting. I was not mentally nor emotionally ready for that music at 7 o’clock in the morning.So there we were, embarking on a bumpy, tumultuous, Nepali and Indian music-blaring 6-hour ride onward to the Nuwakot district of Nepal, from where we’d continue the rest of the journey on foot. I was, to say the least, discouraged. What did I get myself into? The other volunteer with me asked me, “Are you sure you want to come on this trip? You don’t have to come if you don’t feel well.” I don’t like to think about what I would have lost by deciding to just give up and go back home.

A visual indication of the crazy 6-hour bus ride to Gyangphedie.

A visual indication of the crazy 6-hour bus ride to Gyangphedie.

So yes, the bus ride was decidedly hellish. Early on in the ride the other volunteer and I really had to use the bathroom, but the bus was not expected to stop for the next two hours. We really  had to go! Full bladder alert! Fortunately our organization leader was nice enough to ask the driver to stop for us, and we shot out of the bus into the foresty hillsides. We felt really rushed, and full disclosure, I haven’t been required to pee outdoors since I was like, 13 years old? So it was a challenge. How are girls supposed to pee? Like, laying down on your elbows and knees and hope the trajectory doesn’t hit you in the thigh? I don’t know. I just squatty freestyled. I thought I had done really well for myself, until I got up and was horrified to find a big, warm, wet patch on my left knee. It was a real big patch, like the diameter of a grapefruit. It wasn’t even 12 o’clock yet and I’d already peed on myself. I distinctly remember scrambling up the hill back to the bus in my urine-soaked pants, thinking, “This is definitely the low point of my trip”. Looking back now it was pretty funny.

We stopped at the halfway mark (around noon) in a small town for lunch, and I had some samosas, and decided that perhaps it was not a good idea to opt for the desserts smothered in bees and hornets. It felt so good to walk around, and leave the bus, or as I like to call it, the torture sweat chamber. When everyone had to pile back in to the bus, the other volunteer and I switched seats, so that for the last leg of the trip I had the window seat, which was just infinitely better (i.e. air, breeze, oxygen, etc.) More importantly however, I was able to fully see the soaring hills, the sprawling rice paddies, and Nepali children playing in front of their houses.

Because we literally ran out of road, at around 2 pm the bus ride is over and we must continue the rest of the trip on foot, which would be continuously uphill. Let me start by first saying I cannot fully articulate how sweaty I became on this 6-hour trek, and I found out only later why my body was in overdrive. One of the group members recorded via Nike Plus GPS device our journey, and the data was startling. Day 1: 6 hours, a 2,000 ft+ altitude climb, and an approximate 13 km distance. When I saw that data I was like, “Wait, what? My body did that?”.

The group, still new and shiny after getting off the bus to set out on foot.

So, the combination of walking at a constant incline and not having enough time to fully acclimatize to the change in air pressure meant that we were all increasingly exhausted the further we went. Honestly though, all of that was well worth the trip for the Ghyangphedi region’s startling beauty. To be situated in the middle of that kind of calm, the tall resolute trees, the raging white river, the people of rural Nepal, was dazlious.

Portrait of a woman working in the rice paddies of the Nuwakot region.

Portrait of a woman working in the rice paddies of the Nuwakot region.

Above view of one of the many bridges we crossed on our way to Gyangphedie

Above view of one of the many bridges we crossed on our way to Gyangphedie.

Two Nuwakot-region villagers laying out beside the river.

Two Nuwakot-region villagers laying out beside the Gyangphedi Khola river.

It is hard to recall the journey in its entirety, but I do remember how it seemed like a constant succession of small trials and challenges: jumping across rocks over deep streams, walking across rickety and suspiciously engineered bridges, passing under rocky cliffs prone to landslides, and periodically monitoring your ankles for leeches. It was a lot of work, but also a total privilege to be there, on the old trails, to be welcomed into people’s homes for something to eat, to smile at passing children and have them smile back. I try to hold on to the quiet, my moving breath as we climbed forward, I try to keep the sound of the strong river in my mind. Sometimes I had to remind myself to realize how fleeting those moments were, that I must do my best to hold and cherish the simultaneous grandeur and simplicity of such a place. I want to remember how I felt humbled at the foot of looming peaks, before innumerable waterfalls, and by its inhabitants.

A couple of people in the group lagged behind, and told us to just continue on without them. My group trudged onwards, and it became increasingly dark the closer we came to the village – sunset in Nepal is around 7-7:30 pm – and we were anxious to get there while there was still light. Sadly, we didn’t get there before that time, so the last thirty minutes were spent cautiously walking in the dark, with flashlights and the light emanating from cellphones. The final leg of the journey required us to cross an incredibly unstable-looking bridge, in pitch black darkness. Finally we arrived at the village, wet, hungry, and tired. We were shown where we could rest, and soon after the last members of our group arrived at the village, in worse shape than us. After recovering physically and emotionally, we were served the traditional Nepali dish of daal baht (translated simply as “lentils and rice”.) I’m still not sure if it was because I had walked for six hours, but that meal of rice, lentils, spinach, potatoes, and curry pickle was the most delicious meal I have eaten in Nepal, and I wish I’d had the words to convey that to the woman who had made it.

Afterward we were shown to the room where we’d be sleeping, and we all immediately crashed, barely having time to process that day, having to rest for the next days to come. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, in which I describe my trips to the villages for SASANE’s trafficking awareness and outreach discussions to the women of Ghyangphedi, Ghyangdanda, Sisipu, and Ghewar.

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