Monday, 18 June 2018

Rising from the rubble: Two weeks on an affecting trek in Nepal

Did it make me cry? That's a question I often ask myself when I come back from a trip, when I'm deciding if it was a good one and when I'm searching for the moments that touched me, the highlights I want to share with others when I tell friends or write about the trip.

Trekking over the Langtang landslide
To me, that's the point of travel: to be affected, changed, even in a small way, to have our world shift on its axis, or turned upside down, by the places we visit.

All sorts of things have made me cry when I travel. I cried the first time I saw Everest, from a plane the first time I flew to Kathmandu, after reading so much about it. When sitting next to my dad in a jeep in South Africa watching a pride of lions devour a buffalo. Shaking hands with an old man in Cambodia who had survived the Khmer Rouge regime. Leaving Japan after living there for 18 months, knowing that was a moment in time and place that will never be repeated.

Girl on the trail,
near Tatopani
By this measure, my recent trip to Nepal was a good one. Three years after the devastating earthquake, it's a country still in recovery. Every day, in Kathmandu and on the two-week Intrepid trek I did to one of the regions hardest hit by the 'quake, I saw or heard something that touched my heart, sometimes without warning. Here's an excerpt and the link to my story about the trip, published last weekend in Fairfax Traveller:

High hopes in the Himalayas

"Namaste!" It's so faintly chirped I almost don't hear it, until I stop walking and look around. Then I see her, a child no older than five standing in a nearby potato field in tattered clothes, her hands pressed together in front of her chest. She smiles. I smile back. "Namaste," I say, and walk on. 
Tamang woman in
front of her home
Big mountains might lure us to Nepal, but it's small moments like these, encounters with the people who live in the landscapes we've come to see, that keep us coming back.
This is my third visit to Nepal, my first since 2015 when the country was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake and its aftershocks. More than 9000 people died and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. An estimated eight million people were affected, according to the UN. 
When I first arrive in Kathmandu the city seems much as I remember it, but with more dust, from roadworks and reconstruction. Scratching the surface, however, it's clear that three years isn't long in a place like this. Some of Kathmandu's World Heritage-listed landmarks remain caged in scaffolding, off-limits to visitors. And the earthquake is still very much in people's minds.
Pre-dawn view from Kyangjin Ri
Everyone has a story about where they were at 11.56am on April 25, 2015, and what, and who, they lost. It's in my mind too, because I'm here to do a new trek run by Intrepid Travel in one of the regions hardest hit by the earthquake, the Langtang Valley just north of Kathmandu. Read full story.
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With thanks to Intrepid Travel for an affecting trek and for all they do to give back and remind us that travel can be a force for good. I did the new Tamang Heritage & Langtang Valley trek, which runs March-May and October-December. 

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