Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nepal: My trip to the Himalayas

*Warning: this post is long as I recount my adventures in Nepal and includes more pictures than you probably wanted to see. If the narrative isn't interesting, skip it, but be sure to enjoy the pictures!

Shortly after the new year, I jumped on another plane and this time flew to the Himalayas! It was my first trip to Asia and I really didn't know what to expect. First off, the flight is LOOOOONG. I had layovers in Dubai and an overnight layover in Doha, Qatar. Sadly, I didn't get out of the airport except to my hotel to sleep and stretch my legs, but I got a very brief glimpse into the Gulf Countries with their beautiful buildings and extravagant landscape. Flying over Dubai was quite a treat!

Jet lag roared it's ugly head this time around. I'm pretty sure I was only half awake for the first three days I was there. Oh, except for between the hours of 3-6 AM, for which I was wide awake! My reasons for going to Nepal was to support the USAID mission in Nepal with some specific tasks and reports. I work on the Nepal country team here in DC and so it was my time to go out and help. I mostly worked in the Embassy 8-5, but had a few outings. Luckily, another health team from DC was also there during my first two weeks. They were working on a family planning/HIV assessment and I was able to tag along at meals and a few meetings to make my stay a bit more interesting.

January in Kathmandu isn't too cold, but it sure wasn't summer weather. I was just glad to be in 40-50 degrees rather than snow and ice storms that were occurring at home. My day to day work at the Embassy wasn't entirely thrilling and getting sick (stomach and sinus) on multiple occasions made me quite miserable for a few days. Luckily, on the sight seeing days, I was well enough to venture out. We visited Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines, walked through old palaces, shopped, and explored old cities. Nepal definitely has a rich culture and history! Did you know that pagoda style buildings that you see throughout Asia, particularly in the east, originated in Nepal? The mix of Buddhism and Hinduism is such an interesting mix. There are a few Muslims in the south and Christians scattered, but Nepal is dominated by the first two religions.

Starting on the second week, I went out to site visits in southern Nepal, along the border with India. Here we visited hospitals, family planning clinics, and offices for the flagship nutrition project. We visited with team leads, doctors, nurses, clinicians, and other staff who help run the programs. It was pretty interesting talking to the workers and learning about a few of the health issues facing Nepal. The HIV epidemic is very concentrated in select groups: migrant workers and female sex workers. Also, access to family planning is limited and we met with different women's groups to talk about their views on family planning and how the communicate with their spouses and family members about family planning. I was surprised to see the women open up and discuss with us. The three day trip was interesting and I got to see some absolutely beautiful scenery along the drive. Roads in Nepal are few and underdeveloped. It took us 7 hours to go about 150-200 miles, all along mountainous roads. These roads are not for the faint of heart. The downside to this side trip was how sick I got! Let's just say that local Indian/Nepalese spices don't jive too well with me!!! Ahhh, so miserable!

On coming back, I resumed my regular duties and kept plugging along at the tasks I was given. A highlight of the trip was my friend Jackie came to visit me!!! She had been in India for the previous few weeks working with a non profit she runs, Goals for Girls. I convinced her to come up to Nepal and pay me a visit. She had also met up with a few others from the DC crowd. She stayed one night in Kathmandu with me and then I met up with her and another friend a few days later over Martin Luther King Day weekend in Pokhara. I was supposed to fly out Saturday, but rains and fog cancelled my flight, so I had to wait until Sunday. I took a short 30 min flight (would have taken 12 hours by bus) to Pokhara, which lies at the base of the Annapurna Mountain Range. The weather and views could not be more beautiful!!!! I was in heaven soaking up the clean mountain air, enjoying 60 degree weather, and spending time with great friends!

We started off with a canoe trip across a lake, then a hike up to a Buddhist Temple. The views were incredible. Each time we stopped, we were in amazement of how pretty it was. We met some interesting people along the way, and even talked for a bit with a Buddhist monk. His perspective on life was very interesting and we could have spent hours talking to him. He radiated such calmness and peace. The next morning, Tali and I arose super early to catch a ride up the mountain where we then hiked another 30 min to see the sunrise over the Annapurnas. Stunning! My camera could not capture how beautiful it was!!!! After coming back down, we geared up for paragliding!!! Yup, you read that correctly. It was amazing, scary, and so fun! (more details below). After coming back down to earth, we grabbed some food, did some shopping, and then I had to head back to the airport to go back to Kathmandu. I would have loved to stay a few extra days to hike, wander, and go on a trek. Maybe next time...

The rest of my time was pretty uneventful. I stayed healthy my last week and was able to get my reports done. I ate a lot of room service, did lots of yoga, and enjoyed the serenity that permeates Nepal.

I'll be heading back next month (July 2014) for another 2 week stint.

 Dubai from the sky

 Coming into the Kathmandu Valley

 Boudhna Stuppa (largest Buddhist temple in the world) The Stuppa could be seen from my hotel.

 Part of the old palace, notice the intricate wood working!

 Buddhist Temples in Durbar Square (old palace)

 Hindu Temple

 Bhaktapur, an old city outside of Kathmandu

 I made a pot here!!! (sorry picture not shown)

 More from Bhaktapur

 View from the tallest Buddhist temple

Scarf shop!! We spent a lot of time here! My coworker and I are on the left and the two on the right are Nepalese girls, who were super nice to us and wanted a picture!

 On the drive out of Kathmandu. Kathmandu is in the hill region of the country. Can you imagine what the mountain region looks like?!

Pit Stop on our way to southern Nepal. Behind me is a funicular leading up to a Hindu temple/shrine that acts as a pilgrimage for many Nepali people.

Picture of a women's group we spoke to about family planning and health issues. They get together weekly to listen to a radio program and discuss health issues.

 The Terrai Region (flat lands in the South) Here we are only 20-30 km from India

 Women and their children who participated in a discussion with us about HIV and family planning

 I ate fresh tangerines every single day!!!

 Flying to Pokhara in the west

A Buddhist Monk who walks around the temple every day all day ensuring peace and order. He spoke some English and he talked to us about work and family. He also only walks clockwise around the temple.

 Annapurna Sunrise

That's me!!!! The three of us went paragliding in the Himalayas!!! I was so nervous and asked about a hundred times if anyone had ever died or broken bones here. I was assured they had a 100% safety record. Jackie and a Tali had come the day earlier and signed me up, so I was kinda stuck. Paragliding is amazing, but kinda freaky at first. You are required to go tandem unless you have a license. So with a parachute and an instructor, you run off a cliff until the wind picks up your parachute. Then you fly and glide till your heart is content!!! My instructor was one of the best acrobatic paragliders from France and he definitely took me for a ride. We made dives and swooshes and went all over the place. I was kicking tree tops and enjoying stunning views! What a trip!!!

 Lobby of my hotel

 Dubai Airport


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