Dragonflies Play Outside: A Weekend of Volunteering at the Himalayan Outdoor Festival
Early Saturday morning, while the sun still slept beneath the dust and haze, the intrepid travelers left their homestays, closing the front doors quietly, and walked through the dark streets to meet each other at the pickup point. As the sun rose above the smog, we did our best to hold our breakfasts down as the bus carrying volunteers from the Kathmandu valley bounced up the dirt roads to the forested hills near Pharping, where the 8th Annual Himalayan Outdoor Festival was taking place. When the road became too steep and narrow for bus to manage, we got out and hiked the rest of the way up to the festival grounds, the air becoming clearer and sweeter as we ascended. We checked in at the volunteer tent, drank coffee (the early morning activities had been tackled uncaffeinated), and went to go set up our camp. As we walked through the festival grounds, we passed slacklines, artificial climbing walls, countless mountain bikes, and smiling faces.
After setting up camp, we headed back to the volunteer tent for our assignments. We spent the morning checking in runners and mountain bikers for their respective races, recording finishing times and passing out medals, and moving folding tables to the other side of the festival only to be promptly instructed to move them back. I’m a big fan of the festival culture and I find that volunteering is a great way to engage with it. More than just big parties, festivals are logistical feats of organization and planning. Picking up trash or directing traffic gives me a deeper appreciation of the work that goes into putting a festival on. It’s also a good way to get free admission and heaping plates of daalbhat and tarkaari.
After our work was done, we kicked off our shoes and started enjoying the festival as guests. We watched mountain bikers fly down the hillsides, kicking up dust as they wove through the pine scrub. We kicked the hackysack around and soaked in the views of the Himalaya towering above the Kathmandu valley. We watched climbers hurl themselves from plastic hold to plastic hold in the dyno competition. As the sun set and the lights came on, we danced with new friends to the live band, alternating between Bob Marley and their own flavor of Nepali reggae. And when our feet were too tired to keep dancing, we retired to our tents and let the late night DJs lull us to sleep (or keep us awake all night, depending on who you ask).
In the morning we packed up our camp, ate breakfast, and helped out to clean up the festival before hiking back down into the valley and catching our ride back to Patan. Physically tired but mentally rejuvenated from our weekend in the hills, we returned to our homes in the dust and bustle of Patan and prepared for another week.
(Photos by Annika Kendall and Blake McClain)