India and Nepal 2006

Some Riches cannot be Counted

As the sun sets on this vast expanse of land, one can’t help but marvel such gems – India and Nepal. Such lands of contrast, that time and time again continue to draw me – their mountains, streets, daily activity, religion but most of all their people – the old, young, the children - all radiating a light like no other.

 This year’s group – a total of 14 – started off our trip with a week of sheer adventure. Our week’s holiday in Nepal saw us venture from a four day trek in the Himalayas to the rush of white water rapids on a day’s rafting trip, to a two day safari in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Many of us being unfit, we pushed ourselves beyond our limits. Though exhausted, leech bitten and aching all over we reached a height of 3200m. There a wonderful reward awaited us – spectacular breathtaking views of the Himalayan Annapurna Mountain Range. Nestled in a log cabin with tea and garlic soup to ward off altitude sickness we enjoyed a well deserved rest, till it was up early at sunrise to a catch marvelous, panoramic views of the Himalayas. The sheer beauty of these snow-capped peaks left us in awe and further made me understand the treasures that lie in the heart of Asia. But, the greatest treasure was yet to come, as half the group headed down to Calcutta and the rest of us continued work with the Missionaries of Charity in Kathmandu (Nepal).

What was to come next is what I call the ‘Indian Train Experience’. With the incessant drone of the tea vendors shouting ‘Chai chai chai’ and the cabins crammed with families carrying with what seemed like their life in their two paper bags, one is very often devoid of all sanity after a 20 hour ride. Having said this, it is also one of the very best ways to see India and appreciate this incredible land. As the train makes its way through the villages, near mountains and over rivers, one can’t help but marvel at the stark contrasts that this country has to offer – its dilapidated slums and extreme poverty contrasting with its sheer beauty. The Indian train experience is also a good breaking-in to the Indian culture and way of life.

As half of the group went down to Calcutta, we headed back to Kathmandu where we had been working for three weeks previously. Kathmandu was initially new for us as we had only been to Calcutta in previous years. However, we were soon made to feel very much at home.

Work here was very different to work in Calcutta primarily as there were far less volunteers – the 4 of us and some other Nepalese volunteers. Furthermore, as Nepal is a haven of culture and religion, the daily walk with the sisters down to work was far from an ordinary walk. This took place amidst a backdrop of Buddhist Stupas (temples/shrines) and queues of Hindu women dressed in their red wedding saris and adorned with all their best jewellry waiting to get in to the Hindu temple at Pashupatinath to pray for long life to be bestowed on their husbands. We would then set out to work in an adjacent quarter of the temple that had been given to Mother Teresa to open as a home for the elderly and the sick.

Some days would see us washing clothes, others washing floors or washing the patients and still other days perhaps all 3 – this would be on days where we would take advantage of the water, as on other days there would invariably be a water shortage. After cleaning the beds and laying them we would then spend time with the patients talking and laughing with them. We also set out on the mission of helping a woman out of her wheelchair by daily massage and loads of determination. It was lovely to see the smile on her face as she got out of her wheelchair to walk a few steps everyday. She would wait in anticipation for those few minutes everyday and it was wonderful for us to see her amidst all the dirt and flies enjoying every minute of this time reserved especially for her.

This and many other instances would never cease to leave us with a smile on our face after a day’s work. Another instance was when we got nail polish and decided to paint the patient’s nails. We had one person at first and then another and then another – all extending their right arm and happily choosing the colour they wanted. Soon the contagion spread to the patients soaking up the sun outside and we were beckoned outside to continue painting nails until everyone seemed content. It was lovely to see men and women proudly displaying their bright pink nails, all adding to their colourful spirits! Indeed, ‘the most important good wear modest clothes’. As we have found the happiness we have seen in these people and the lessons they have taught us have been very hard to match.

Walking back after a morning shift we would further soak in the vibrance of the city with people walking in throngs to pray, vendors selling colourful and vibrant dyes and pungent smells from the vast array of spices. At the same time one had to be careful not to bump into a cow or some other sacred animal making its way to the temple! This scene would definitely not be complete without the feeling of the dry heat against your skin or the wet, tepid, torrential monsoon rain that would leave you soaked to the skin by the time you arrived!

As we got to work in the afternoon we would be greeted with shouts of ‘Namaste Auntie, Namaste!’ and kids running to greet us, dragging us in to play with them. We would organize games, crafts and songs, which would invariably be chaotic, as we would have kids pulling for more pictures to colour or eating their crayons. We would then turn to find some little monkeys climbing on the bars of the room till they got their turn to do the craft!! We had some days with the kids wearing the masks they made trying to scare each other and others making necklaces of painted pasta- we obviously forgot that they may try and eat the pasta – and we ended up that day with kids with blue mouths, red hands and green cheeks – our very special Nepalese clowns!!! The kids always enjoyed the songs as they got the chance to copy us singing along and dancing to the actions, but the thing they seemed to love most was just using us as slides to climb on and jump over! This is in fact what earned one of us the name ‘Luna-park Chris’!! He was fantastic with the kids, managing to keep ten little ones on him at the same time, till “the boat” was rocking too fast and capsized – this would invariably have the kids on the floor laughing their heads off but getting straight up to mount the boat again – leaving Chris exhausted!!

These are but a few memories of the wonderful weeks in Nepal – though there were moments where tiredness would get the better of us and the dirt, rain and fights with taxi drivers would drive us up the wall, Nepal retained its marvel and kept our fascination and spirits up till the very last day. The colour and vibrance we found seemed to come alive in the country’s culture, religions, mountains and lakes, but could never be matched by the colourful spirits of the wonderful people we met – the elderly, the sick, the children – all the faces of Nepal that gave us so much – much more than we could ever have imagined, teaching us time and time again that in essence, we determine the colour of the world ourselves!