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The Most Colorful War In Nepal

War was approaching.

Not just any war, but the most colorful of wars. A war that I single-handedly started…

The special day was near. A day where it was perfectly acceptable to throw handfuls of colorful powder at people. Perfectly okay, to spray people with water and throw water balloons at anyone and everyone. That day is called Holi, an annual Hindu holiday celebrated almost primarily in India and Nepal during the spring season. Also known as one of my favorite new holidays.

The students explained it to me and the more they spoke of it, the more my inner child grew giddy.

“So on Holi day, everyone is throwing colors at each other and throwing water balloons at random strangers?” I would ask them.

“Yes!” they would tell me. “But not older people or people with yellow tikka on their heads.”

A Nepalese with yellow tikka on their forehead meant that they were mourning the anniversary of a death in the family. This is also means they are completely immune from any nonsense.

The days leading up to Holi, students would bring the most feeble balloons I’ve ever seen to school, fill them up with water and throw them at each other. Even the teachers played along sometimes. The students dared not to throw a water balloon at me because if they did, they knew it meant snow spray to the face! Yes, I would blend education and entertainment (edutainment) to the students with English learning games. A wrong answer or lack of response meant certain death…or usually just dowsing them with snow spray, which is actually just soap suds made to resemble snow. It terrified and made them happy all at the same time. Most importantly, it never failed to hold their attention.


Containing my excitement and enthusiasm for Holi was nearly impossible. I made it aware to the students and families that I was going hardcore nuts with the Holi festivities. I stocked up on supplies: three water bazookas, 100 balloons, 30 bottles of combination of snow spray and string spray and lots and lots of packets of colorful powder. The students told me there were two types of powder I could get: Indian and Nepali.
“What’s the difference?” I asked them.

“Nepali colors are easier to wash off,” they would say.

With that, I chose the Indian colors. 😈

The snow and string sprays aren’t something that’s typically used during Holi but I thought it was fit for the occasion. The students agreed.

The day before Holi, I decided to put my weapons and ammunitions to the test. I recruited one of the neighbors to help me surprise attack the kids at the school once it dismissed. That neighbor’s name is Yubraj but most know him as UK. He’s an 18-year-old student attending university in Pokhara. UK, along with his brother Dhiraj, play a major role in my stay in Padeli. I’ll explain why on a later post.

Right before school dismissed, UK and I attacked, I would say half of the students at Bal Prativa, as they were walking home. UK’s house is conveniently located next door to the school, so we were able to attack all passing students. If they wanted to go home, they had no choice but to brave an onslaught of water guns, snow/string spray, and buckets of water that we chugged at groups of students. The powder I would save for Holi. Every kid was beaming with smiles, except for two of the baby kids who were absolutely terrified. We didn’t attack them, nor the female teachers that strolled through. Everyone else was fair game. The older students at the government school, another school about a hundred yards away, looked on in amusement.

This was a warning to the village of Padeli for what I had planned for the next day.

I spent the remainder of the night filling balloons with a combination mixture of purple powder and water. Out of the 100 balloons I bought, only about 50 of them didn’t have holes in them already. Amish and a couple of the class ten students gave me a hand.

The Morning of the “Holi” War

Aatma gave the class ten students one hour of break from study to celebrate Holi and to hurl colors at each other. Even on a holiday, these kids had to keep their heads in the books. It was no matter to me because they were not my main target–the rest of the village was. So for now, I will play with class ten.

I filled the tanks of my guns with water mixed with red powder. The mixture resembled blood and would look like a bloody massacre when I blasted the kids. One tank was strapped to my back and the other two on my left and right sides. I filled a dry bag with a few canisters of snow spray and a variety of different color string sprays. I filled my pockets with dozens of packets of colored powder. I put on my festive white shirt and was ready to go! The water bombs I would save for after.

Half of the students began to engage in hurling colors at each other, just a few minutes walk into a barren crop. I followed the other half there into the middle of the battlefield. Immediately, I began attacking them, with little counter. These kids had a skimpy amount of colors at their disposal (which they mainly used on me once I entered the fray) and were nowhere near as equipped as I was. I had the free reign to terrorize, much to their fright and enjoyment.

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holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

The kids ran out of colors quick, while I still had an absurd amount in my possession. I may or may have not emptied out all of the small village shops of their supply. They were ridiculously cheap. I ended up sharing my packets with them but saving most of it for the main event later on.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

Opening each individual packet of powder was meticulous and not conventional for fast paced war. I should have opened all the packets back at home into a giant pouch first. But I had to make do with what I had.

Even little Aakash was in the spirit!

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

This battle was over and everyone looked like a rainbow had detonated in the village, splattering everyone in the vicinity. Also, the kids had a blast, which was the highest of priorities.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

Unfortunately, they couldn’t join in the village war and had to clean up and get back to their never-ending studies.

2 vs. The Entire Village!

While back at Aatma’s, restocking on ammo and water bombs, one of the class ten students came to my room and told me that “some students are here to see me”. A gang of boys, a mixed medley of students from the private school rose up to the entrance of the house, armed with a couple of water guns and colors, wanting me to come out into the center of the village. I responded with a steady stream of water, spraying them.

“I’ll be out there soon!” I said to them.

But there was no way I was actually going to follow them, as they assumed I would do. Instead, I took the back way behind Aatma’s house up to the center of Padeli. Something like a sneak attack. There were about ten of those boys. I needed at least one more person to help me. I went to UK’s house and recruited his assistance, much to his delight, and gave him a bag of water bombs, some colors, and one of my bazookas. And thus, we chased the boys around the school and attacked them with ease.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors warholi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

They were lacking on weaponry and ammunition as well, but had water bombs which they were able to throw with almost perfect accuracy every single time. Eventually they retreated…at least for the time being.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

Soon after, a group of five girls from the school came down from Sarangkot, ready to wage war against UK and I. These girls were afraid of everything and we easily overpowered them. Although, some of the girls landed some great shots and were able to douse me with buckets of water as I took the time to refill up in the nearby water reserve. The water reserve is a spot where villagers would come to wash their clothes and sometimes even bathe. It was also the perfect spot to refill the water bazookas. The girls ran off into the background, yielding and surrendering against any future attacks against us .

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

Just as they did, the ten boys from earlier returned, except this time with a staggering amount of other boys from across the village. I counted close to fifty of them. They all looked down at UK and I, equipped with water balloons galore along with an unknown amount of colors in their possesion. I thought I wiped the stores clean of colors, to prevent the kids from getting any?  😈

I guess not.

This is about to get interesting and also very, very difficult for UK and me.

When we went in to attack, the boys dispersed in random directions and we found ourselves flanked from all sides. One of the chunkier kids had the best aim with his water balloons and never failed to hit me right in the head. Kids would come from behind and rub colors in my face as I was being hit with their dinky water guns. UK was getting attacked from all ends as well. I was empty on water. We had no choice but to retreat. But to where? I ran to a random neighbors home, inside their goat shed with their goats thinking I would be safe, but no. The goats were as startled as I was as some of the boys ran right into the shed and attacked me good. Real good. It looked like a bloody mess.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

The small group of boys backed away and went into the open lot of the nearby government school, where all of the boys and the girls were playing with colors. We refilled our water tanks and decided to enter their base (the government school) and go all out on everyone, no matter if we were outnumbered.

The girls that attacked us earlier were getting annihilated from all of the village boys, so I swooped in to help the girls out, creating new allies in the process.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

This is the part where my GoPro battery died, but it went something like this…

I got absolutely WRECKED out there!

All the boys thought it would be great to gang up on the teacher (me), the foreigner (me), the one with all the ammo and weapons (also me). And I would have done the same if I were in their position. The chunky kid returned with his deceptively on-point accuracy. Kids would sneak up behind me and smother powder all over my face. And I got soaked with a few buckets of water. UK was pretty much dead as well. Instead of trying to attack all of the boys, instead I conspired with the girls to get the three boys who appeared to be the leaders of the group and also this one really annoying brat toddler who tried to hurl a rock at my face. I got him real good with a blast of green powder to the face.

Eventually, I put my hands up. I was completely out of ammo and I had little energy left to continue fighting. This colorful war; this Holi festival, was one of my most favorite days in Nepal. Can we bring this over to America and make it a permanent fixture? It’s more fun than any holiday I’ve ever had the fortune of being a part of–granted people don’t usually go through these lengths, but still.

I also learned a couple of lessons for a potential “next time”:

  • I’ll need to recruit a small, capable army. I can’t do this alone, especially if the whole village decides to attack me again.
  • Open my color packets ahead of time and combine them all in one bag. I wasted too much time opening packet after packet after packet…
  • Two words: Smoke. Bombs. But with colors!

UK and I went to wash up and he and I went down to Lakeside to celebrate the rest of Holi with a live concert in the middle of the street, along with hundreds of other people; locals and travelers. We got colors all over us again but it was okay.

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

holi festival pokhara nepal india colors war

I know what some of you are thinking. “But Dan! It’s a religious holiday. You completely missed the whole point of Holi!”

My response: “No, not at all.”

Holi Festival is a celebration of colors, the arrival of spring, a day to play, laugh, have a good time and frolic in the streets splashing water and colors on anyone and everyone. I just took the holiday and cranked it up a few notches, much to the enjoyment of all the kids and even to the amusement of the adults. I haven’t played this hard in years.

This was the most fun, this colorful of wars, and has solidified Holi as one of my new favorite Holidays, just before my ultimate favorite holiday, Christmas. I may have won a few of the battles, but the village has definitely won the war. I’ll admit that. However, I won’t forget. One day, I shall get my revenge!

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Annapurna Base Camp Trek Part III: Our Biggest Blunder

annapurna base camp poon hill nepal trekking himalayas

A snow storm raged outside our lodge.

It was by far the coldest night on our whole trek. Shoot, it was the coldest night on this Quest to the Seven Continents, yet! We slept in all of our layers and cocooned ourselves in our sleeping bags and topped off with the blankets our lodge provided. I was anxious to get to the summit, but also ready to get this trek over with. Yes, I was enjoying it, but I’m not gonna lie; the thought of getting back to the warmth of a Lakeside hotel bed in Pokhara and a rewarding gigantic Oreo milkshake from Perky Bean’s dominated my thought process.

So far, our trek up towards Annapurna Base Camp has been smooth and easy. No signs of altitude sickness. No mishaps. No lagging paces. No nothing.

But.

Summit day, day seven, was when we made our biggest blunder during the whole trek.

Day 7: 9:30am Annapurna Base Camp Summit…

We woke up at 8am. Getting out of the coziness of our beds was difficult. Stepping outside, I found that the snowstorm from the night had passed and there wasn’t as much snow on the ground as I had initially thought. It was a beautiful morning!

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill himalayas mounting hike

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill himalayas mounting hike

The initial plan was to reach the summit and spend the night there, meaning we would have all day and night to bask in Annapurna’s mountainous glory. But, Hamish wasn’t having any of it.

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill himalayas mounting hike

You see, he hails from the sunny temperatures of seaside Sydney, Australia and this is the most cold he’s ever had to deal with in his life. He suggested that he wouldn’t know how he would fare spending another night in the cold. We had to compromise. So we decided to go up to the summit, stay up there for maybe an hour or two, and then head back as far down as we could go. On the bright side, that meant we could leave most of our belongings in our lodge at MBC and pick them up on our way back down.

The final ascent was relatively easy compared to the previous few days. We followed a rather linear path up a slope that never presented itself as terribly steep.

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill himalayas mounting hike

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

The temperature never played a factor either. In fact, trekking made us quite warm. The only issue I had was the light reflecting off the sea of pure white snow, directly into my eyes. I couldn’t keep my eyes open! I had everything I needed for my trek except for a pair of sunglasses because I was too stubborn to make an effort to bring a pair. I should have brought some, because I had to hike up the majority of the last leg like this.

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill himalayas mounting hike

I applied the same technique I adopted in New Zealand and wore my buff over my face. Thankfully, I could see through it.

*Snow blindness is a real thing. Bring your sunglasses!

We continued our slow, but steady pace up. Soon we could see the lodging of ABC in the distance. We were surrounded by snow and mountain peaks.

We made it!

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill himalayas mounting hike

We clocked in at 11:20am; almost two hours later at 4,130m.

The feeling of knowing that the hard part of the ABC trek was over (or so we thought) was endearing. The cold didn’t bother us anymore.

We stayed at the base camp for about an hour, enjoying hot tea and bread and chatting with a group of trekker’s who we’ve come across the past few days, before we made our way back down to MBC.

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

I realized at this point that I have a personal habit of eagerly wanting to get the heck off a mountain once I reach the summit. I felt this way on Kilimanjaro and also on Acatenango. The same applied here in Annapurna. I wanted off! Not because I hated it, in fact this is probably up there for some of the most enjoyable treks I’ve ever done. I wanted off because I was eager to get back to the comforts of Pokhara and to get back to my people and students in the villages.

My speedier pace going back down to MBC was what I would describe as “careful trotting”. The ice and snow was slick and some of the tracks were muddy from the melt. Hamish eventually caught up and revealed that he was getting a slight headache up there. I told him he should feel fine the more we descend.

We arrived back to MBC at 1pm to retrieve our big bags. We left at 1:20pm and continued back down to Duerali and arrived there at 2:12pm. We rested for about ten minutes and trekked to Himalaya and arrived at 3:20pm. Once there, we took a rest to eat our lunch. It began to sprinkle outside, nothing major, just a light drizzle. It didn’t deter us and we both decided to keep going.

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

As we walked back through jungle, the drizzle turned into typical rain. Not a downpour, but still rainy. I had on my water resistant jacket. As for my pants, I was certain they were also water resistant. My bag? I was positive it was water resistant as well. And so we made it back to Dovan at 4:25. Once we got there, it really started to pour but it was such a refreshing feeling. We encountered a group of trekkers who all decided to stay the night at Dovan, to let the rain pass. Hamish and I…stupid us, decided that we had ample energy to make it to Bamboo, which wasn’t too much further ahead. The rain never bothered us, so off we went!

After getting soaked from head to toe, we arrived in Bamboo at 5:00pm on the dot. We got our room and started to peel off our wet layers. I opened up my bag to get some dry clothes and found that everything inside was dripping wet. All of my clothes, my sleeping bag, my toiletries. My camera?! My most expensive possession for this trip was also wet but thankfully I had put protective covering on it, so it survived.

We hung everything in our rooms and outside. It was still raining and a bit chilly outside. We really needed the morning/afternoon sun to dry our things. Hopefully it comes out.

Day 8: 12:15 Bamboo to Jhinu

Good news? The sun came out in the morning and I learned that my pants and my bag were not water resistant like I thought. Bad news? Our trekking was delayed a few hours but since we got a head start yesterday by not spending the night at ABC, it was okay.

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

After everything was mostly dry, we repacked our bags and continued on the rest of the trek. Now out of all of the days, this was the day I dreaded the most. Remember all of those steps we had to climb up and down during Day 5? Well, we had to do it all over again soon.

We trekked to Sinuwa and arrived at 1:45pm and continued on the never-ending steps down and up to Chhomrong. For some odd reason, going the opposite way leading to Chhomrong was a lot more work than coming to Sinuwa from Chhomrong.

Once we finally slogged our way up to Chhomrong at 3:10pm, we continued onto a different route back to the foot of the mountain. We heard that in a village called Jhinu, there ere natural hot springs trekkers could dwell in. How rewarding! Hamish and I decided to go there and relax in the springs. However the jaunt down to Jhinu did work on my legs. The steps were extremely steep leading downwards and it never ended! But eventually we arrived in Jhinu at 4:00pm.

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

We were too tired from the trek today that we best decided we would do the hot springs, first thing in the morning–during our final day of the trek!

Today was the day of few thousand steps!

Day 9: 8:30 Jhinu to Nayapul; Back to Pokhara

It’s the final day of trekking. What better way to begin the day than with natural hot springs?

Hamish and I woke up, had breakfast and barely mentioned the hot springs. Going to the hot springs required going down for roughly twenty minutes to the springs and then hiking back up to get our things and then continuing on our planned route. We were game for it the prior night but on this morning, neither of us could be bothered with it. We both just wanted to get off the mountain and so, we skipped the hot springs.

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

The trek back to Nayapul was straight forward. We cut through some villages, followed a river, crosses a couple bridges, and even walked along herds of goats.

annapurna base camp poon hill himalaya trekking nepal

Once we reached New Bridge, we both decided to take a cheap 200 rupee bus back to Nayapul and eventually a taxi ride back to Pokhara.

We haven’t showered in nine days. My hair was matted to my head and my beard felt like a brillo pad. I was the ugliest I’ve ever been and I was glad to be finished! The trek was very enjoyable, but it’s just me with any hike–once I make it to the summit, I’m ready to get back to the bottom immediately afterwards.

Some things I learned from the Annapurna Base Camp Trek

  • I was weary of using water purification tablets at first because I’ve never used them before in my life. Looking back, I wish I used them from the start of the trek. Would have saved me a few hundred rupees.
  • I already knew this but sleeping with my electronics in my sleeping bag really does help to preserve battery.
  • Speaking of sleeping bags. It’s possible not be okay with not bringing a sleeping bag during this trek because every lodge that we stayed in provided one. Some lodges had a limited number of blankets however. Since we were in the low season, we never had an issue.
  • We hiked in the middle of February and despite what people say that it might be too cold or what not, the weather during our trek was mostly perfect.
  • At the lodges, if you’re hungry then always go with the dal bhat. You are always offered second helpings for no extra charge.
  • Staying hydrated is what kept us going.
  • Slow and steady really does wonders for your stamina during a trek.
  • Bring a waterproof cover for my bag next time!
  • Be bold. Start cold! Otherwise all of your layers are just going to get wet from sweat

Annapurna you were great! My most enjoyable hike yet! But it’s time to get back to the village in Pokhara that I call home.

I made a promise to the students at my school from two years ago that I must fulfill.

Annapurna Base Camp Trek Part II: The Calm Before The Storm

I was forewarned that the higher I climbed, the more expensive everything would get. The menu prices would increase ever so subtly the higher we climbed, even though the menu’s were all practically identical. Water refills crept up from Rs 70 to Rs 90 and eventually to Rs 100. It’s not much but it adds up, especially since I was drinking as much water as I could. With that, I decided to try the water purification tablets that Hamish brought. Just drop a tablet in a liter of water, give it a good shake, and then wait about 30 minutes. I tried it. No bad after taste or anything funky.

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I should have done this from the beginning. Especially with the cold, clear and untouched water flowing down from the mountain tops. It was perfectly safe to drink.

Day 4: 9:10am Tadapani to Chhomrong

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The majority of the path has been plotted with a gazillion sign posts leading us in the correct direction towards each daily destination. However, the path from Tadapani to Chuile forked numerous times without any clear indication as where to go. Look down, up, and around. Usually, there is an arrow painted on a rock, ledge, or tree. If not? Ask someone.

annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill chhomrong

We didn’t want to make the mistake of wasting time and backtracking if we went the wrong way. There was always a local nearby or another group led by a guide we would ask. Sometimes a villager would just yell and point in the direction we needed to go.

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annapurna base camp trek nepal poon hill chhomrong

The trek from Tadapani to Chuile was the only time where we needed to stop and ask for directions. There was always a lone village nearby that we could go to for help when we needed it.

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We reached Chuile at 10:20am and continued straight on to Gurjung after a steep set of rocks we had to climb at 11:15am. After a ten minute rest, we headed for Chhomrong, our destination for the day.

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We arrived in Chhomrong (2,140m) at 1:50pm, our earliest arriving time thus far.

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Chhomrong was a larger village based off the steep slopes of the hills base. We were presented with a neat view of a couple of the points we would be trekking to tomorrow.

Day 5: 8am Chhomrong to Himalaya

The halfway point!

We departed early today because we saw the ridiculous amount of steps we would have to descend and then ascend to get to Sinuwa. We also needed to check in for our entry permits. That process took about five minutes for the both of us.

The trek from Chhomrong is essentially a whole lot of steps going down, then crossing a suspended bridge, and then a whole lot of steps going up.

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This particular leg was annoying. Once we climbed hundreds of steps, thinking we were close to Sinuwa, another batch of steps would reveal itself. And another. And another. We went at a snail’s pace to let our bodies acclimate properly. Probably a little too slow, but we were never huffing for breath at any point. When going up steps, I always tend to look down at my feet rather than my surroundings. I made sure to look up and appreciate where I was, once every few steps.

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My thoughts going up were, “We are going to have to go back this way when we leave the mountain.” Ugh. I’ll deal with it when it comes. One look behind us and we could see Chhomrong just on the opposite hill.

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We eventually made it to Sinuwa at 9:10am. That was faster than I anticipated? It was there when we decided to eat breakfast. We left at 10am towards an area called Bamboo.

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About an hour later, we spotted another village. That can’t be Bamboo, that was too fast. No, it wasn’t Bamboo. It was the ACTUAL real Sinuwa! That made more sense. The guide posts we’ve been reading said it would take us about two hours to reach here from Chhomrong. There were even signs reading “The Real Sinuwa” once we got there. I asked for tap water, put in the purification tablets, and we pressed forward.

The path to Bamboo was in the thick of a bamboo jungle; with muddy tracks and tiny waterfalls to boot.

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The number of trekkers on the trail since Chhomrong, or even Tadapani for that matter were noticeably thinner than the previous days. Most of the trekkers we encountered previously only went to Poon Hill and back down. It was a much more solitary jaunt than before, which made the trek a bit more pleasurable.

We made it to Bamboo (2145m) at 12:20.

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After a ten minute rest, we continued through more rhododendron forests to Dovan and arrived there at 1:30pm and eventually to our destination of the day, Himalaya (2,950m) at 3:30pm. The trek up to Himalaya from Dovan was ridiculously easier than most of the legs we’ve completed so far.

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Day 6: 10am Himalaya to Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC)

Day 6 was one of the more environmentally intriguing days we’ve had.

We were now in the high mountain rises, present with snow, stunning scenery and nippy weather. No longer just the nights; this is when the days started to get cold. The jungle forests were no more and instead we ventured though a rocky side-scape complimented by a fierce flowing river fed by dozens of waterfalls in the gorge just below.

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We arrived in Deurali at 11:35am and after a quick lunch, we continued to MBC. The scenery became so much more impressive than what it already was.

We also entered the ‘Avalanche Risk Area’. Now things were starting to get interesting!

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The climb was relatively steep, but the encompassing views were like nothing I have ever seen before! I’ve never been THIS close to so many massive peaks all huddled together in place. It was an intimidating feeling. Their sharp ridges and dagger-like points traced with snow, ice, and wild clouds that vented all around created an effect that I’ve never seen throughout any of my travels. It was amazing!

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But just like that, the weather went from Mother Nature’s grace to the Grim Reaper approaching.

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The winds shifted suddenly, bringing on a frigid chill. It began to snow.

The plot thickens!

I immediately suggested to Hamish that we put on some layers and our water-resistant jackets. One look behind, we could see that a blizzard was seeping through the valley, coming in our direction ever so slowly. We still had ways to go before we reached MBC and there was no one else in sight.

We must get a move on!

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The snow picked up in tempo but not enough for any alarm. Our gear kept us warm and the snow wasn’t torrential yet. Still, we didn’t know what the weather would bring and so we kept on moving. This is the only part of our ascent so far that we went faster than normal, to avoid being caught in the blizzard.

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And then there she was, MBC was in sight!

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We were close enough to camp that there was no longer any cause for concern. So we played in the snow for a bit beforehand.

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Once we got to the MBC lodging, the blizzard loomed over us and then blasted us during the evening. We made it just in time.

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Summit day is next!

Living in Nepal…With 18 Teenage Students That I Thought I Hated

nepal pokhara padeli shree bal prativa

Getting to my old village in Nepal was a pain in the beeehind!

First, we had to endure a six-hour bus journey through twisty mountains from Kathmandu to Pokhara. The trip actually took ten hours because of ridiculous road conditions. I also vomited while on the bus from a combination of motion sickness and probable food poisoning. Those chicken momos I had the day before did not settle well.

Once we finally arrived in Pokhara, we stayed the night at Simrik Hotel and hired a taxi in the afternoon to take us up another giant hill to a village called Padeli. The roads on this particular mountain will instantly turn from reasonable to downright ridiculous. So much that cab drivers refuse to drive on them, and thus we have to get out of the taxi and hike the rest of the way.

nepal pokhara padeli shree bal prativa

After a twenty minute jaunt, I spotted my old school, Shree Bal Prativa Boarding School, with the intention on surprising everyone there, former students and teachers alike. A handful of them knew I was arriving today.

nepal pokhara padeli shree bal prativa

We walked through the school grounds with teachers popping their heads out of classes, welcoming me with warm returns and students who remembered me from two years ago, shouting my name. It was a humbling feeling, because I couldn’t remember most of their names, although their faces struck me with familiarity.

I was finally welcomed by Aatma, the principal of the school and the head of the home-stay I would be living in. Also by his wife Mina, the vice principal of the school. They haven’t aged one bit.

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On the way to my old home-stay, I reunited with Aatma and Mina’s three children: Amisha, Amish, and little Aakash who was still a runt even though it’s been two years since I last saw him. Seeing them all again was like seeing distant relatives I haven’t seen in some time. Except, these were the kind of relatives that you wanted to see.

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Upon arrival to my old digs, I expected to settle back into my old room that Tim, Emre, and I used to occupy. But not this time. Instead, Hamish and I were put into another newly-built room on the opposite side of the home, equipped with our own toilet. Aatma has made some additions to his once simpler abode and added two new toilets, a “shower” room, and three new rooms including a full sized classroom.

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“Why is there a classroom here now?” I asked Amish.

“Because class ten is staying here now”, he replied.

I was taken back.

“What do you mean they are staying here now?”

“Class ten is studying here for four months and it’s required for them to stay here at the hostel.”

So they are calling this a hostel now? And all of class ten lives here now?!

Back in the day, class ten, who I knew quite well as class eight…well, they weren’t exactly my favorite class.

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It was no secret to anyone. I always avoided them and spent my time mostly with class seven and nine. Class eight was a group of 18 students who looked at me with blank stares whenever I spoke to them and some would even snap back and curse at me in Nepalese. When I say some, I mean primarily a boy named Milan. He was the absolute worst and one of the sole reasons I wasn’t fond of the class. He was loud, obnoxious, a bit of a bully to his classmates, and for some reason, he was the outspoken leader of his peers. The rest of those students were silent and barely spoke to me, unlike the students in class seven and nine who always responded to me respectfully.

When I found out that I would be living 24/7 with class ten, formerly class eight…my excitement for being here went from a raging high to an “aw sh*t” low.

What are they even doing here anyways? Aatma’s school only goes up to class nine! Aatma building another classroom to his school to extend to a class ten was another change that I was unaware of until I arrived.

As I settled in, little by little, students from class 10 began to arrive. Although I wasn’t the fondest of them, I was still a bit eager to see them again. They’ve grown taller, their voices deeper, their English a little better, and their demeanor a tad calmer. Even Milan matured from a rotten brat to a seemingly well-mannered young adult. All of them remembered me and were happy that I was back. I remembered all of their faces as well, but not their names so I took it upon myself to relearn.

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I asked them what the deal was with this whole living-in-a-hostel-thing and they said that it’s mandatory for them to stay here to study for their board exams at the end of March. Everyday they will take exams given to them by the school in preparation.

“Everyday?” I asked.

“Yes,” they replied. “More than 150 exams until the board exams.”

My jaw about hit the floor.

“150 exams?!” I said in somewhat disbelief.

“Yes!” they said in laughter in response to my reaction.

Holy sh***t! I think I may have cursed in front of them but it was appropriate for emphasis.

“Well, I’m here to help whenever you need it,” I said to them. “Especially with English since I am the most fluent English speaker on this mountain now and you live with me. Don’t bother me with your math though. I stink at that.”

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I began to realize how different these students were in comparison to two years ago. They have definitely matured and their demeanor is a lot more relaxed. I can actually hold a conversation with them now, mostly with the boys. The girls were still somewhat shy around me but made more of an effort this time around to speak to me in English.

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Out of the five boys in class ten, Samir had the most trouble with his English. Though he was the most curious about me upon my return and spoke to me asking me loads of questions, broken English and all. Two years ago, he barely said a word to me.

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Over the course of the next few days, I tried to find the time to implement educational activities to the students but finding the time was difficult. Aatma made them study constantly. They would wake up at 4:30am to study, go to school at 10am, return back to the hostel at 4pm, study more, have a class around 8pm, and then study until 10:30pm. Jeez! I don’t know anyone who studied like that! Other than the extra classroom sessions that Aatma would ask me to teach, like Environment and Accounting (I haven’t taken an accounting course in years!), I would take the students out to the field for team building exercises that implemented snippets from lessons they were learning at the time. Group projects don’t exist at the boarding school, and as much as I disliked them growing up, I felt that it was important to acknowledge the teamwork aspect.

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As far as English is concerned, the best thing I can do for the students is to speak to them as much as I can, in the most natural conversational tone. Except I would speak just a bit slower, pronounce my letters a bit more, and use less complex words. Hand gesturing is also key. I would correct their English when they spoke or wrote something, as well as the teachers. Their English wasn’t exactly the best. It’s good, but not great. Especially, Aatma’s. You would think being the principal of a school and having loads of western travelers stay at your home would develop your English. But for his case, it’s still as wonky as it was two years ago. And out of all the staff, I have the most trouble understanding him. As for Mina, she gets a pass because I missed her delicious dal bhat.

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Samir enjoying his daily double dose of dal bhat. A signature dish here in Nepal.

Everyday we get served dal bhat for breakfast and dinner and Mina’s dal bhat is certainly the best in the village. It’s basically a load of white rice with steamed vegetable curry and a broth made with lentils. Mina remembers exactly how I liked it; no added eggs, no added buffalo milk, but with lots of veggies grown right from their garden. The only difference this time around was that I ate with all of class ten. Many of them ate with their hands, which is normal here. I was battling a stomach bug so I wasn’t ready to be utensil-less quite yet.

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I was starting to grow fond of class 10, who I couldn’t care less about two years ago. They have certainly grown up and now actually respond to me a lot more than the used to.

One thing for sure was that they studied WAY too much. I was on their side and expressed my opinion on the matter to them. Yes, it’s great that they are in an immersive learning environment but still their brains needs to rest and let live from time to time. I hammered the teachers about giving them just an hour or two out of the days to do anything but not study but I was hard pressed with hardly any notion of “leisure” time. Aatma was here to prove to Pokhara that his school is the best of the best and can produce high ranking students, even if it means they must study 18 hours out of the day. I couldn’t really argue against it.

It was a frustrating situation for me. These students I once disregarded, I now found myself defending. But I could only hope Aatma gets the result he is looking for and that it is worth the price for cramming these kids heads in books for four months straight.

We shall see.

Returning to Kathmandu: Before and After The Earthquakes

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Back in November 2014, I had the privilege of visiting Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, before the earthquakes struck in April 2015 killing more than 9,000 civilians and injuring more than double that amount. Century-old buildings across Kathmandu were destroyed, many among them being UNESCO World Heritage sites. Those earthquakes are written as one of Nepal’s worst natural disasters in recent decades. Now, just over two years later, I find myself back in the ancient city, bearing witness to the aftermath and progression of the affected community since that fateful day on the 25th of April, 2015.

Arriving in Nepal after coming from chaotic India felt like coming home and a breath of fresh air, despite all the smog. I fluidly navigated through the familiar customs and immigration and nabbed a cheap taxi ride with a Californian couple to Thamel, the bustling tourist hotspot within Kathmandu. Getting out of the airport proved to be much smoother this time around as opposed to my last visit. You learn from your errors.

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I was beaming with smiles as everything glowed with familiarity and the fact that Thamel seemed to remain in mostly intact and unaffected by the earthquakes, at least from what I could remember. I planned on spending at least a couple of months in Nepal, so I went and bought a sim* for my phone and bargained for some winter wear to keep warm in the mountains later.

*If you plan on getting a sim for your phone in Nepal, know that sims are much cheaper in Pokhara than they are in Kathmandu, specifically Thamel. This should come in handy especially with anyone who plans to trek Annapurna and wants to stay connected.

In contrast to my prior visit in 2014, when Kathmandu was spilling with tourists, it was now comparatively desolate. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was the low season (January and February are considered not to be an ideal time for trekking in Nepal because of the unfavorably nippy weather), if the earthquakes frightened tourists from visiting or if it was a combination of both. It was made even more apparent when I attempted to bargain shop, which is the norm in Thamel, and many sellers pleaded to me that times were tough and that I was one of their only potential customers for hours at a time.

I settled into a neat hotel smack-dab in the middle of Thamel and had dinner with the Californian couple. They were here to tour Kathmandu. I was here to relax for a couple of days before I head off to Pokhara to reunite with my Nepali host family in Padeli. But first, I went to pick up a friend who would be joining me from the airport.

Hamish opted to join me in Nepal after I told him about it in Fiji a few months ago. He was inclined to tag along and I was happy to have him, but I forewarned him that Nepal is more of a culture shock than tropical Fiji and that the village we would be living in is pretty darn rustic, but an authentic Nepalese experience. He was down. (We’ve been in Nepal for over a month now and I’ve come to find that Nepal may have been more of a culture shift than he was initially ready for. More on that in a later post.)

Now that he was here, I was ready to reacquaint myself with Kathmandu, two years after the earthquakes. We walked from Thamel to Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the devastation from the quakes were more apparent. Many of the temples and courtyards I’d seen here before were gone or collapsed to rubble.

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There used to be rows of smalltime sellers here with tourists whipping up a bargaining storm.

Many buildings were lined with support beams to help with framework and balance after their structural integrity had been compromised from quakes and numerous aftershocks. Piles and piles of crumbled bricks and debris laid in plots where spectacular works of architecture once stood.

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We walked twenty minutes west of Durbar Square to the Swayambhunath Stupa, a historic religious monument on top of a hill in Kathmandu Valley. Because of the complexity of its name, many people commonly refer to it as the Monkey Temple, in reference to the population of ‘holy’ monkeys that live there and dominate the hillside.

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After further investigation, I found that most of the temple was still intact from what I could remember, but there were obvious signs of destruction and even less monkeys frolicking around. The outer bounds of Swayambhunath were lined with half-toppled structures, no doubt a result from the earthquakes.

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To say that Nepal has made progress since the April earthquakes would be the absolute truth. I saw some of the physical destruction, but I did not hear one local basking in the tragedy or even mention the earthquakes once. Progression is being made to recuperate, rebuild, and restructure the tourism industry, which Nepal so heavily relies on. Finding a way to get the visitors back in Nepal seems to be a priority.

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As a firsthand witness, I can attest to the fact that Nepal is just as neat as it ever was (minus the loss of unique ancient sites). Prices are a bit cheaper to reel back tourists and locals in the tourism industry are hankering now more than ever to give foreign visitors a quality experience to show that Nepal hasn’t lost its stride in spite of recent tragedy, and is ready to get the country back on its running legs.

Progress.