I have just returned from my Trek to Nepal in aid of St. Oswald’s Hospice and as part of Cundall’s 40,000 hours at 40 campaign. The experience was so much more than I could have imagined, in many different ways. Yes, I knew the walking would be hard work and that altitude would affect me at some point, but in the end this was so much more than a physical challenge.
Having never been to Nepal (or a developing country as such) I was immediately taken aback at the stark contrasts between the way of life we know and that of Nepal. Yes, I did know that Nepal was a regular recipient of aid from India, but this was all brought into sharp focus arriving into the country.
After a brief stopover in Kathmandu, where we were first introduced to the slightly ramshackle approach to town planning, public sanitation and traffic management, as well as a more formal welcome dinner with our hosts, it was off to the main trek. If Kathmandu had been a shock to the system, then the rural way of life beyond the small town of Lukla that we flew to was even more of a wakeup call. I had known we were trekking along the main route between villages, but this largely comprised rocky paths and compacted earth. These “ways” were used by everyone: local schoolchildren walking several miles to school each day, porters carrying essential supplies and building materials, herdsmen willing yak, dzokiel, donkeys and horses along the paths and groups of trekkers like us trying to make sense of it all.
In many respects, we were witnessing a way of life that had changed very little for centuries but was still being touched by modern technology: porters carrying more than double their body-weight in supplies, but listening to their favourite music on mobile phones, and villages that had embraced solar PV and hot-water heating to make lives more comfortable. Throughout the trek, we saw various rebuilding exercises going on. For example, earthquake reconstruction is well underway, although funding has been slow to reach those that have been affected.
We also saw the ingenuity of local people making use of every last piece of land through imaginative terracing and landforming to create even narrow plateaux for growing of crops. It was also interesting to see a whole different rationale to building that we see in our daily lives. Whereas we often find things designed to a factor of safety and we all see instances of “over-engineering,” you could see that everything was pared back to the bare minimum, with materials used very efficiently and re-used / repaired as a matter of course. No doubt the fact that everything has to be carried in and out by hand really focuses the mind on making buildings and structures as efficient as possible.
Aside from my observations on building, “Nepali-style”, we had the chance (through staying in lodges within villages and the ever-present support of our team of Sherpas) to meet a number of local people along the way. Life in rural Nepal is hard, and income levels are way below the scale compared with what we expect, yet we were met with nothing but friendship and cheeriness. The cheeky smiles of children we high-fived along the way and the mischievous laughs of our Sherpas will stay with me a long time.