Contains some strong language
The names of other people appearing in this diary have been altered
To a degree this is a story about not very much. Mainly about being young and slightly stupid in places and cultures we didn’t know or understand. Everything told here did take place and it is more or less an exact transcript of my actual diary. And so, on that note, I do not advise anyone to do anything we did. However, we learnt a lot from it and, I think, came back from our exploration as wiser people. I hope you may also.
It had been massively important to walk as a pair. Everything was made safer by it: two brains for ratification, two senses of direction, two fonts of knowledge, and two voices to fill the void. We each took it in unofficial turns to keep the energy and morale up. The moment one of us felt down the other would take the lead and keep us moving. Though at times we both found ourselves snapping at each other, this constant companionship was essential. Neither of us would have been able to do our week long trek without the other. Though we were both worn beyond belief, sore of foot and body and swearing that we would never attempt such a feat again or tell anyone of our ridiculous adventure, we also knew that somehow it had been great fun. We had challenged ourselves, we had done it and now we were safe.
We woke early, as had been our habit, and got up to a breakfast of Tibetan bread and jam and ‘musili milk’ (literally just muesli and milk but served hot). The morning was slow and achy with us both spending most of it sitting and looking out of the hotel window at the thundering river below in a stupefied state.
I went for a walk and discovered little except the village hydroelectric plant, a few street side shops and the fact that I had damaged something in my left knee while coming off the mountain. I couldn’t bend or put pressure on it without causing pain.
Other than reading, writing, playing cards and eating, we did little for the rest of the day. At some point we managed to find a lady who we could pay to wash our clothes. Handing over all our dirty washing to her made us feel incredibly bad but we just did not want to go near it.
We found out that we could hire a jeep down to Besisahar for 2000 rupees the next day, though it would leave at 6.30am. This was fine by us, as long as we didn’t have to walk any of the three hour car journey. Besisahar was the location of the Earthly Paradise English Boarding School which we were due to visit next. It was also the location of the closest ATM, which was great by us as we now had very little money left. In fact there was only just enough to cover our food and accommodation for that night. The jeep driver would have to drop us at an ATM if he was going to get paid.
After a meal and a conversation with a Danish bloke who, on Uni funds, was walking some of the Annapurna Circuit, we headed for bed.
The menu is set and regulated by the Annapurna Conservation Committee. This includes room prices. It’s 350 Rs for a double room for the night. A beer is 500 Rs.
Up at 5.15am, the irony being that this was earlier than we had ever managed to get up while trekking. The bill had been settled the night before and the breakfast of Tibetan bread and chapattis was lovely.
The jeep ride can only be likened to being on a bucking bull. Everyone drove these four door Mahindra 4x4s with a flatbed on the back. There was a vague hope that we might be able to get back to sleep, but instead our heads were literally bouncing off the ceiling as we went down the gravel tracks. This wasn’t helped by the fact that there was four of us squashed into the back and these cars really didn’t seem to be designed for tall people. The windows were low, as were the rooves.
At about 8.30, after wheedling our way over tight bridges and along tiny tracks whose edges dropped into the river, we arrived. We paid the driver, bought some samosas and went to find Earthly Paradise.
The college Leon and I had just finished at had a friendship connection with the school. When we could we would fundraise money to send out to sponsor students or for building work. We had been invited ourselves as we had given a small sum for the sponsorship of some students.
Having decided to go hiking we were now five days later than we had originally hoped to be. We had contacted them, but without reply and so we had no idea if and when they were expecting us.
The school was a small tower block outlined in fading blue paint and with a tarmac yard below. It was a Saturday – there was no students. The principle was a friendly smiling man who instantly got us sat down in the canteen where the cook made us all tea. He called the ‘chairperson’ of the school directors to come over. It turned out they had been expecting us the Monday before. My email had somehow been missed.
We were accommodated in a room in the school’s admin building and left to settle in with a list of meal times (breakfast was at 7, as some kids started lessons at 6am, and lunch was at 9.45am).
Most of the afternoon was spent relaxing and waiting for an official introductory meeting we were supposed to have. After a few hours of, we decided to stretch our legs and have a look around. Besisahar had numerous houses with unfinished sides but brightly painted fronts lighting up the streets with their colour. There were many shops selling the exact same things (strangely the only biscuits we seem to be able to find are either butter biscuits or rich tea. There appears to be nothing else). There were a few samosa stalls, a cake shop, a load of clothes shops and a few mechanics amongst other things. It was all rather monotonous but very pretty. Every now and then the streets and houses were interrupted by small rice paddies. Just looking around we were able to see two or three other schools in the area, all competing for the same students.
It was a very hot day and we quickly overheated. We went home where we were greeted by two of the schools boarding students who introduced themselves as Dipes and Sudip. They showed us around the school dorm block. There was a table tennis table and we challenged them to a game. We played until supper, dal bhat after which we headed for an early night.
Up and showered (unfortunately cold) for our instructed time of 7 am for breakfast which turned out to be tea and biscuits. We spent the morning milling around then went to the 9.45 am lunch. This was dal bhat once again, served as curry with an incredible amount of rice, a bowl of liquidly dal and a cup of boiled water. We ate reluctantly with our bodies not ready to have such a large meal in the morning. All the boarding students and care takers were there, all of us sat at long wooden tables.
The head teacher took us into his lesson (in which he was teaching about The Scouts and using it as a metaphor for good behaviour and also patriotism) and then got us teaching our own. We had partly expected this, but had definitely not been ready for it.
We taught two sessions together which both seemed to be reasonably manageable and then, apparently in demand, we were split up to teach one each. Both of us had a class of young kids, who were lovely, but could really make noise. They would all shout thousands of indecipherable questions at you and would keep on shouting louder and louder if you didn’t understand. Keeping control became a challenge. Geography (naming continents and countries) seemed to work well to keep them engaged. Similarly national symbols (birds and flowers etc). Getting the younger kids doing clapping rhythms was also a hit.
I came out to find Leon looking frazzled, his hands and face covered in black from the marker pens. We sat down in the staff room to unwind and eat some chocolate we had been given. In almost every class there had been a student whose birthday it was and it seemed to be the norm for them to hand out chocolates from a bag.
I was then whisked off to teach another lesson leaving Leon to chat to the teachers, all of whom were very friendly and spoke pretty good English. One guy particularly came up and said hello. He had an ironic and cynical sense of humour that we somehow instantly related with.
I was given an older class this time and I stood at the front and told them of our travels and Britain and where we had come from and to my amazement they listened intently. So I decided to try something else and started teaching them the past, present and future of some irregular verbs. They had already done it. Slightly taken aback I tried applying them in sentences. They had already done that too. Coming from Britain where we had not really been taught any of this simply because we all grew up with it and so, in practice, already knew it. Finally I settled on teaching what I knew I could definitely do to help them; pronunciation and intonations. This seemed to go down reasonably well.
Leon and I decided that by this point we had done our bit for the day and excused ourselves to go and get some tea from the canteen and recover. I have a new found respect for teachers. Teaching is intense.
The classes had been very interesting. They seemed to be separated into a male and female side. When we asked a young class about this the boys said ‘we don’t like the girls’ and the girls said ‘the boys are too noisy’. I almost laughed. They all seemed very eager to learn. Lessons were taught (from the very limited amount that we saw) with the teacher standing up front generally working out of a text book and talking in long descriptive, slightly misused English. But I do them an injustice saying that. For many of them, they are teaching in English as a 4th or 5th language to students who are learning in English as a 3rd or 4th language. However they manage to do it is incredible to me.
Please click to see The India and Nepal Diaries Part 9
Traveling explorer and general person with a background in Geology, Creative Arts and Communication Skills.