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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

A journey

This is a collectively written piece. Thank you to our friends and families who have contributed to our ability to experience what is described in the following post. We are incredibly grateful and these words are only a small attempt to express that and to pay it forward.

Walking out into the quiet Nepali night accompanied only by artificial light, a few stray dogs, and each other, we gathered for our first group photo (showing off our colorful new scarves) before quickly boarding a bus to Dhulikhel. We arrived at 3 am and circled up on the green to receive our first bottle of Piyush (a water purifier). Momos made the perfect midnight/early morning snack, and with full stomachs we just barely made it to bed before the sunrise. Some of us didn’t make it to bed at all thanks to unexpected roommates – namely a spider the size of our face.

Our first few days were spent in the relative quiet and comfort of the guest house in Dhulikhel. It was there that Deepa Ji taught us our first words of Nepali. In the afternoons, the clouds would clear away for a few sacred minutes to reveal the vast Himalayan peaks that painted the horizon. We admired the mountains from afar, dreaming of the day when we would get to know them better. On Jackson’s birthday, we learned how to replace physical gifts with words of appreciation.

One morning we met early and walked to a nearby temple set deep in a grotto fed by a small mountain stream. We were lucky to receive our first Tikka and our first blessing at this sacred ground which has seen 700 years of history before us. Upon return to the guest house, Sharon met us with a beautiful spread of spices and incense that seemed otherworldly at the time, but now greet our senses like old friends. That night we met on the roof of the guest house and offered our fears and concerns to the fire before placing our hopes and dreams into a bowl of water, which was followed by a silent walk up the Thousands Steps the next day, making for the perfect ending to our chapter in Dhulikhel.

Next, we headed for Hasera farm where we learned to question our mattresses and honor the earth. We learned that problems are those which have a solution and that everything else is simply nature. Sophie’s grand birthday celebration consisted of Sam and Geoff eating all of her cake and her serenading us on the bamboo recorder.

We learned to live with the rats because they were learning to live with us. We learned how, if you think it through, you can live better with less and that Momos can be made in many different shapes but the original is probably the best. We learned about sustainable living in all areas of life, and how change in small, tight knit communities can be sparked only from within.

Pokhara bound, we spent our first full day slowly moving, taking in our first glances at the Nepali landscape through a bus window, that we’d later turn into poetry. We wound our way down from the Kathmandu Valley, following the Trishuli river as it drains the Himalayas in the Gangetic plains of north India. We arrived in the city by evening and spent the night near a Tibetan refugee camp on the outskirts of town. The next day we shopped for rain jackets and hats before spending some time in the camp where the people who are starting their lives over in Nepal were gracious enough to share their history, delicious momos, traditions, and creations with us.

After three hours of winding through the hills that surround Pokhara, we arrived in the small town of Walling. We traded the comfort of the bus for a walk through the quiet streets, across a suspension bridge, and up into the hills to the village of Ale Gaun. It was the first time we had worn our backpacks and even that short 20-minute walk seemed almost impossible as straps cut into shoulders and packs felt as if they were filled with stones. A new addition was made to the group on our way up to Ale Ghaun; Robot the dog. Though he did not have his vaccinations, we found it hard to hug him only with our eyes. He soon became our mascot.

That night we gathered at the program house where our homestay mothers lined up to bring us home. Harrison and Geoff’s mom walked them hand in hand down the path and up the hill to meet their new family.

In Ale Gaun, time seemed to slow down. Most of us rose long before the clouds and waited patiently for them to slowly climb out of their valley beds and disappear over the mountains.  A PSA – Roosters actually do wake you up in the morning, unless you’re up before them — as was the case with Jackson, who was put to work milking cows and cutting grass from sunrise to sundown. Lauren led more relaxing mornings, teaching yoga to the village children upon a cement roof (see dragons insta for photo). New definitions of luxury were made for the rest of us when we discovered Laura and Grace’s bucket shower set up, a stark contrast from the woodsy spigots we’d been showering in nights before.

Seeret and Libby’s orange porch, with baby chicks running back and forth, was the “town square” of our homestay. Unfortunately, this made Seeret and Libby victim to the group’s addiction to Hearts, a card game played outside their window every hour of the day. As the days moved along, the connotations of boredom began to change. It became less of a fight, a grueling task, and more of a skill to master.

In our journey to make friends with boredom, we discovered beautiful places that seemed to make time stand stiller yet. We found the loneliest tree that made for the best company. We took long walks and long sits and started reading each other’s books. We learned about each other – Travis’ homestay mom’s chicken became the surrogate for his love of the Philadelphia Eagles and if anyone disagreed he would like to fight them. Water buffalos don’t like Sam. Children like to kiss Tanner on their way to school.

We were welcomed into a whole different universe that exists in a tiny corner of a country we didn’t know how to find on a map a few years ago. In this universe, snakes fall from trees and bamboo protects against all. In this universe, we learned to express love without words and read the lines between smiles and that laughter can fill a room far better than furniture and art.

To give back in the slightest to this universe, we cut grass and pulled weeds and pounded stakes with the wrong tools.

After ten days we walked back down the hill from Ale Gaun as a different group that had walked up. We boarded a bus that wound us back toward Pokhara and then on to our first camp beside a quiet river and at a very low elevation. We walked out from camp with sore shoulders and doubts on whether we really could carry our weight into the mountains and whether or not we would make it to the end of the trail that waited fourteen days ahead.

To be continued . . .