All Thai’d Up

The dream team in Thai paradise

In keeping with the laid back spirit of southern Thailand – where we are right now – Hayley and I (the two Youth International team leaders who have had the privilege of traveling with this incredible group of young adults through Asia for the past three months) have decided to give our travelers a break from having to write a final blog post, and I (Nathan) will offer my reflections instead, to accompany the many photos Hayley has taken and archived below.

Hayley taking in the spectacular sunset on our private beach

“WHERE EVEN ARE WE?” “PARADISE, OBVIOUSLY!”

Life is really tough here 😅

First of all, you parents and family members of these young adult travelers have every reason to be immensely proud of your sons and daughters! They have grown tremendously over the past few months – every single one of them! They came to us in Colorado three months ago a little skittish, a little nervous, a little apprehensive about what this adventure would bring, and you ought to see them now! Grown, confident, young men and women who are confident and savvy travelers and who have seen parts of the world and experienced things few their age have!! They have been a pleasure to travel with (for the most part…! 😉) and I am sad that our time together is ending.
Charlie’s new guard friend was just as excited to meet him
The detail at the Grand Palace is incredible
View of The Grand Palace from our evening river cruise in Bangkok
“Same same but different” tank selection at the market in Bangkok

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Giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok
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Charlie gives Eve a hair cut by head lamp light.
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Wat Arun at night, on our Bangkok River cruise.
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Tile work on Wat Arun, in Bangkok.
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Guard at the Grand Palace in Bangkok
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Giant standing Buddha in Bangkok
Here in southern Thailand we have had a chance to experience a small piece of paradise in the cultural context of modern Muslim Thailand.  We have swum on incredible beaches in emerald blue waters below towering limestone cliffs. We have ridden “long tail” boats across the Andaman Sea to camp out and watch the sunset from isolated island beaches, only to be further treated to a display of nocturnal bioluminescence as the waves washed the sparkling light fragments ashore giving us a reflection of the starry night sky for a brief moment at our feet. We have kayaked through dense mangrove forests on inland waterways to sounds of chattering monkeys just out of reach of our paddles. We have snorkeled in coral reefs, hovering above incredible colorful underwater worlds and looking down into them as voyeurs wishing that we too could chase the rainbow fish, the tiger fish, the parrot fish through the coral with playful abandon! And we have eaten foods too incredibly delicious to describe in the homes of gracious Muslim hosts, attempting to show our immense gratitude and appreciation for opening their homes and lives to us by helping (rather meagerly) to prepare the evening meal, even as they themselves were fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan!
Alex mastering the technique

Charlie working on the shrimp

So much goes into each dish!
Dinner is served (and Tom can’t handle it)

What a spread!

I can honestly say that we have had the good fortune (or good karma from past lives?) to experience a corner of the most beautiful place on the planet. But this is a planet that needs our help; a planet that that is choking from greed and waste and over consumption. We have seen this too, in the empty plastic bottles that line the roads here, in the trash floating aimlessly in the ocean, in the coral reefs damaged from overuse and rising ocean temperatures. My sincere hope is that as a result of these experiences we will all be more responsible travelers, more responsible stewards of this one beautiful planet we live on, more conscious of our impact on the people and cultures we encounter as we travel the world, and more aware of the privilege we have as travelers, a privilege which the next generation may not have.
Sun protection in style
Eve 😎

Girl Gang 🤟🏼
Sophie and Tom

Oh hey Conor!
Charlie, Mid-flop

And after 😅

Thailand has made me acutely aware of all of these issues, but in reality the entire trip has through Nepal, India and Thailand. And I hope that in some small way both, Hayley and I, have modeled some of these values and helped our team – your sons and daughters – to be more conscious and responsible travelers themselves. As our trip comes to an end, we now entrust them not to you, but to themselves and to each other. For this is who they will need to rely on from tomorrow evening when we all say goodbye to each other as we get on the airplane from Bangkok back to our respective homes and our lives after this incredible trip!

Trevor, Eve, Sophie, Conor

Alex, sponsored by Red Bull

Team float

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Sunset from Koh Nok
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Boats docked at Koh Phi Phi
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Kayaking fun!
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Kayaking at Koh Hong

Honeymoon vibes

Sophie hitched a ride via Conor

En route to our first beach day, in the back of a local bus

Big jellies washed up on the beach

That moment when the food boat arrives on the beach 🙌🏼

Conor giving it his all 😂
Trevor steering his kayak

Conor attempting to pirate Tom and Sophie’s mighty vessel

Clearly, zero fun was had 😂

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Railay Beach from above
May the blessings of this trip continue to ripple out in all of our lives.

MAY 18: Becoming Bodhisattvas

Tushita

By Conor

Our Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat was incredible. Every day included hours of teaching, guided meditation, tea drinking, book reading, and reflection on life. One of the best parts was the discussion groups, which was the only hour we were allowed to talk during the day. Inside these groups were people from all over the globe, and sitting down and discussing life philosophy with them was a pleasure. The teachings were mind-blowing and the guided meditation stilled the mind beyond what I thought was possible. The retreat was the highlight of the trip so far for me.

The Tushita family

Trekking

By Trevor

Our hike to Khareri lake was one for the books, to say the least. This hike was by far the most ruthless day the team had experienced in India.  Khareri lake is located in the mountains above Dharamsala in the deep thick forests of northern India. This lake is a 1,100 meter climb to its position and it’s quite a mission to accomplish, for the weather changes up and down the mountain.  It’s truly a beautiful experience, but tasking, and the unestablished nature of some of the walk ways lead you to staying aware of each step you take.  This day was a challenge, but rewarding, and the team tackled the day and made for a solid achievement to conclude our stay in Dharamsala.  It was an incredible hike in all its glory, and the nature was the best part, and that is why Khareri lake is one for the books.

Khareri lake
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Enjoying the trek.
Beautiful pictures while hiking

Home Stays

By Tom

I wasn’t really sure how I would feel going into the Mcleod Ganj (Dharamsala) home stay. It would be the only home stay where I would be staying by myself, and I was a little nervous that I could only rely on myself to communicate and have an enjoyable time with the family. As it turns out, I should not have bothered to be worried about my home stay experience and the family. The family, consisting of my home stay mother, or Amala, her daughter named Kunsang, and Kunsang’s cousin, proved to be extremely kind and hospitable. They truly welcomed me into their family, and we spent much of the days together. We would wake up, eat breakfast, and walk into town together at the beginning of each day, and walk back home, eat dinner, and fall asleep together at the end of the day. I would also make random and unannounced visits to their roadside jewelry shop throughout the day, just to see how they were doing. Kunsang, who spoke excellent English, proved to be a joy to spend time with, due to her bubbly and playful personality, and we quickly bonded and became fast friends. My Amala was an extremely kind person and an incredible cook, whipping up fantastic meals for both breakfast and dinner. She also noticed that I had a cold early on into the home stay and quickly provided me with seeds (endorsed by the Dalai Lama himself) to help me get rid of the cold. Overall, my home stay experience was incredible, and perhaps my favorite home stay experience so far. It showed me why home stay experiences are so important, and proved that totally different people can form an incredibly strong bond in such a short period of time.

Tom playing with the Yong Ling kindergarten children.
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Eve teaches English to Tibetan monks.

By Eve

The last week has been the highlight of my time in India all because of my Tibetan home stay in Mcleod Ganj. I stayed with a sweet woman named Chimi and her wild yet lovely little girl, Tseyoung. The two are currently living with Chimi’s younger sister and her husband. The family all grew up in Bhutan, but Tibetans do not have nearly as many opportunities there as they do in India, so Chimi decided it was best to send Tseyoung to live with her sister in Mcleod Ganj, to receive the best education possible. Chimi later joined her daughter here after a few years, hoping to find better employment and to be with Tseyoung. The grandmother also staying in Mcleod Ganj with us because Chimi’s younger sister was pregnant and she came to help during delivery time.

Each day I would spend most of my time with little Tseyoung, whether it be dancing and singing, her styling my hair, watching cartoons, brushing our teeth together, or making up silly games. She was a big ball of energy tucked inside a tiny little body, never failing to make me smile.

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Eve with her host mother and sister.

At dinner time around 8:30, the whole family sat together on the floor to enjoy the delicious home-cooked meals. We had traditional Tibetan food, Bhutanese food, and of course some Indian food—all of which were something new to rave about each night. I always enjoyed sitting down with everyone after a long day and having time to learn all about the family and their lives in exile. The grandmother was born along the way to India as her parents fled from Tibet. The younger sister works in a Tibetan school and dedicates much time to helping her people. Her husband is in the Tibetan army. My host mom is raising her daughter in the customary Tibetan manner, keeping the traditions alive. I have learned so much about Tibetan culture and how they make due in exile. It has been such an enlightening experience and has left me with a better understanding of Tibet and its people, sparking a light in many of us to join the fight for the freedom of their homeland. This home stay will remain in my heart and mind forever.

Bonus: On my final day, the younger sister went into labor and I have just found out she had a baby boy—just the icing on top of the perfect week!

Eve’s host sister
Eve with her host sister.

By Sophie

My home stay experience in McLeod Ganj left a huge impression on me. It was one thing to hear the stories of the Tibetan people, but to live in a home where you can see the day to day impact of their situation was something else. They completely welcomed me with open arms and made me apart of their family for the week. I helped with breakfast and got to walk my home stay sister to school each morning. But more importantly I got to hear all their stories. My home stay mother had just returned from a 14 day peace march the day before I arrived and spoke very passionately about her hope to see the 11th Panchen Lama one day.  Every family member was very involved for the fight for a free Tibet. I feel very honored to have heard their stories and am now leaving India with the responsibility to spread their message.

Sophie and her home stay family

 

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Charlie playing with a child at local Tibetan school.
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Conor teaching English to Tibetan Monks.
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Taking a plunge at a local swimming hole.
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Enjoying a swim.
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Trevor plays with children at local Tibetan school.
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A group selfie with our Tibetan leader, Yeshi.

 

 

 

Goats & Boats

Udaipur

By Tom

Like most large Indian cities, one of the most outstanding landmarks of Udaipur was the Royal Palace, which houses the royal family of Udaipur and is a popular tourist attraction in the city. It is a truly majestic building, located right on the banks of Lake Pichola, and overlooks the lake and the canal running right through the city. It contains numerous rooms, adorned with lavish paintings and other antique items. The history of the palace and its royal inhabitants is well documented in its descriptions throughout the rooms, and there is even an exhibit dedicated entirely to silver antique items found in the palace. The palace had definitely retained its beauty through the years, and a wedding reception being set up in the courtyards while we were there perfectly displayed how the palace continues to be an attractive place. After the tour of the palace, we were free to explore the bustling streets around the palace, and Nathan and I went to the Jagdish Temple, a nearby Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva that was built in the 17th century, and is well known for its intricate carvings on the outside of the temple. After that, we walked down to the banks of Pichola, where we had a great view of the Jag Mandir, a palace of the royal family located in the middle of the lake, and the Lake Palace, the former summer palace, and now a 5 star hotel which costs over $1,000 dollars for a one night stay. By visiting the city palace as well as the nearby attractions, I was able to truly get a great sense of the city, and I grew to admire Udaipur for its history, fantastic attractions, and it’s cleanliness. I had a great time exploring Udaipur, and I now regard it as one of my favorite cities I’ve seen in India.

Eve and Sophie at the palace
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Greeting the Indian hosts at a wedding reception the team got to attend in Udaipur.

Teaching in Jadhol

By Conor

Our experience teaching the girls at Jadhol was, if nothing else, an interesting experience. For one, we never actually taught them anything. We really just played a bunch of games with them over the course of 4 days and topped it off with a dance party on the final night. With the girls limited English, the games we tried to play had a wide range of success. On the lower end of the success spectrum we tried to teach the girls the Macarana. The speaker wasn’t nearly loud enough, which resulted in us needing Rishi-ji to stand in the middle of the girls awkwardly holding the speaker above his head so the music would reach everyone. We ended up giving up on the Macarana in favor of just trying to initiate an impromptu dance party on day one. Nobody danced. We moved on to Capture the Flag. Capture the Flag was probably our most successful game. The girls were engaged for a full hour to the point where we followed up 3 days of “lessons” with an hour of Capture the Flag. Other successful games included Four Corners, 7-Up, Simon Says, some kind of pattern game, Sharks and Minnows, and various other ice breakers. Overall, it was an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Sophie and Trevor with new friends
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Alex leads the children in a game.
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Hayley and Eve have henna put on them by the school girls.
Eve and Alex posing
Everyone with the school girls
Conor and Sophie enjoying capture the flag
Eve and Charlie cheesin

Group playing simon says

Group teaching

My Sisters (“Teaching” addendum)

By Conor

The relationship between my thoughts and my speech is a rocky one. In short, it’s a lot of second guessing, and it’s very uncomfortable. However, none of this was an issue with Anita and Reeya, because they only spoke around 6 or 7 words of English. Ironically, our almost complete inability to communicate deactivated my second guessing nature, finally allowing me to connect in an abstract way I’ve never really experienced before. It was all very simple. They were visibly excited to see me during the team’s “teaching” sessions, and I was excited to see them. They freed me from jail in Capture the Flag. I tagged them in 7-Up. They discretely helped me out in their game, Goat and Lion. We camped in the same corner in Four Corners, before immediately getting eliminated and spending the rest of the time taking selfies in the incandescent light provided by the sunset. At the dance on the final night, they each grabbed one of my arms and marched me into a room to get Henna, signed off with both of their names. They both hugged me when they left, and I think one of their Dad’s saw that and got annoyed. Can’t be sure, though. Like I said, I didn’t understand a word they said. I did, however, understand when they pointed at me and said “brother” and pointed at themselves and said “sister”. Like I said, it was all very simple. I miss them both, and wish them the best of luck in the future.

Conor and his sisters

Village Life

By Alex

My experience with Jhadol and the village life took me by surprise.  While planning for that home stay we were told it was difficult in regards to living conditions and amenities. But being an experienced traveler and already 2 months through the current trip I wasn’t expecting to have any struggles.  Although my struggles were minor, my results were major. Living the most simplistic lifestyle with these people would make someone like me who lives the complete opposite life in some cases feel bad, but instead I look past the comparison and look more at how they are, rather than what they have. And waking up everyday to see the locals consistently smiling, and when you say hi to your neighbors or people you’ve built a connection with while you’ve been there burst into a smile the only thing it can do is reflect the happiness.

Seeing the local girls happy and smiling and really enjoying our presence made us leaving our comfort zone a little more manageable, especially when you’re trying to communicate and teach with 100 eyes staring at you.

All in all captivating an experience like this is not possible for me to do with words, my summary is they don’t have much but what they do have is a bright community, talented students, and pure hearts. This experience taught me a lot and has lead to many more doors being opened because of it.

Photos of Just Village Things

Construction

By Charlie

The construction we had to do was wall plastering. This included mixing sand and cement mix together then carrying it over to the wall where the cement slappers proceeded to throw the cement against the wall and spread. This was a simple job but not an easy one. Some of our home stay family members volunteered to help with it and they showed us true Indian work ethic and skill. They always showed up earlier than expected and never took breaks to stop in the 100 degree heat. This was a very fulfilling job and happy we could help out the school.

Eve plastering the wall
Conor getting water from the well
Everyone in front of the final product

Dance Party

By Trevor

Wow! What a party, so cool that it was all for youth international! The last night of our village home stay in Jhadol we were treated with a full on dance party that all the locals were invited to.  To be in that moment was something else.  All the girls showing us foreigners how to really bust a move in the Indian style was the coolest part. All around it was an amazing way to conclude our experience in Jhadol, and for me personally it was truly something I’ll never forget. The Indian dance music was so interesting and really fun to dance to.  The students already had prepared group dances to some of the songs. Those were really fun to follow and mess around with, so happy to have had such an awesome moment created for our team and I’m really going to miss our friends in Jhadol.

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Dance party the last night with the school children and community.

Home stay Experiences

Eve and Sophie

We had the loveliest time in our Jadhol home stay. There were 5 children in our family, so something was always happenin! We had two younger brothers–one of whom was crazy!!–and three kind sisters. On top of the five in our family, handfuls of random neighborhood kids were running around the yard at all times. We spent a good majority of the time playing or napping under their majestic tree (biggest in the village!) We helped make chapati and ate dinner together each night. Afterwards, we would all sleep out under the stars. In the morning, we helped with chores—our favorite had to be sweeping the goat poop off of the tree. This home stay was an amazing experience that we will cherish forever.

Sophie and eve with the fam

Sophie gathering rocks with brother

Bother Lalit with the ladies
Eve and Sophie and sisters

Tom and Conor

Conor and I had an amazing home stay experience. We were in the home of a middle aged couple, who’s children had moved out. Our home stay father was the village leader, and our home stay Mom was an extremely hard worker and amazing chef. Although communication with them was admittedly difficult, we were able to get by with a few phrases.

But we mostly communicated through the universal language of hand motions. Every day, in the mornings, one could find us hard at work with the family, sweeping, feeding their four buffalo, and perhaps our favorite job, moving gravel from the fields to a pile by the house (we never found out what the gravel was being used for). At nights, Conor and I ate as many chapattis as we could handle, probably depleting the family of their flour stores. Overall, our experience proved to be very humbling and enlightening, and the couple was full of kindness and humor. This home stay experience really proved to me that language does not need to be present for a fantastic relationship to form.

Tom and Conor carrying gravel with host mom

Fam photo

Doing the dishes

Charlie

I was in a family of 5, including a mother Nekki bai, father Devi la, two daughters Lela, and Puja, and one rascal son Shiva. Devi la was actually away working in China so I never got to meet him but it did not take away from my experience at all. All of the children were under 10 years old so there was always a lot of chaos. My mornings started with Shiva running around our porch/sleeping area pantless after taking his ritual morning shit. Then chores started, and this included sweeping the goat poop off the porch, giving water to the cow, and picking local berries called maouwa. Sometimes Shiva would help me with the sweeping, usually without his pants still. The berry picking was most pleasant.  Lela, Puja, and Shiva would all pitch in and as we walked and picked the berries that had fallen from the trees we would trade off on singing songs. The nights were filled with games and singing before dinner. After diner we would all climb or crawl into our beds. I usually played with the goats a little before bed as I was sleeping right next to them. Then we all slowly dosed off watching the star filled sky and listening as life in the village came to rest.

Charlie with the fam

Charlie carrying water with host brother

Charlie and children

Alex and Trevor

The entire stay in Jhadol was by far the most impactful on me. My family was so nice to me and made my time there incredible.  It was eye opening to experience such simple living conditions and have the internal results that I felt. This home stay was extremely humbling and allowed me to reflect heavily on the life I live back in the United States. I will never forget this time in my life and will always use it to push me through the adversities that I face in my life. Thank you so much Jhadol for showing me so much fun, love and reality.  I will be forever grateful for the moments I have shared with you.

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Alex greeted by host mother.
Trevor dancing with host brother
Alex and Trevor with the fam
Trevor doing henna on brother

Batik

By Eve

Our final day in Udaipur began with a trip to the renowned batik factory. Thanks to Rishi-ji and Kiran-ji who had the connection, we were able to meet with the famous artists behind the batik art. Batik is a 2500 year old Indian art technique that uses wax and dye. The wax conserves the color of the cloth beneath it and the dye colors in the rest, displaying the intricate designs.

After learning the history of the art, we were given the opportunity to try our hand at it. We all sat around together on the floor and sketched out a simple design on construction paper and then copied it onto cloth squares. Next, we shifted to the wax trays and began to trace over our designs with the hot wax. Once it hardened we took it over to the dying station and dipped it in to reveal our final products. Everyone’s turned out beautifully! We all had a splendid time learning about and creating our own batiks. We got to keep our artworks and will be bringing a piece of Udaipur’s culture back home with us.

Group with their batiks
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Team creating batik art.
Charlie & Sophie before getting on the boat

Sunset over lake
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Boat ride on the lake in Udaipur.
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Eve and Hayley with Kiran.
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Nathan and Charlie enjoying the boat ride.
Our fearless leader Hayley is stunning

Boat ride

By Sophie

Our last day in Udaipur our guide, Rishi-ji, treated our group to a boat ride. We rode out on the Pichola lake and watched the sunset over both the royal palaces. The boat took us deeper into the city and past the summer palace that sits on the water. After we docked the boat were led to an outdoor courtyard. Outside the gates we said our final goodbyes to Rishi-ji and Kiran-ji. After lots of hugs and promises to see each other again we entered the courtyard where we spent the night watching traditional Rajasthani puppetry, dance, and music. This included a Bahavi dance, where a dancer balanced 12 bowls on her head while balancing on different objects and moving around. The costumes were stunning and the dancers never missed a beat.

No picture were allowed at the performance. But here is an online picture of Bahavi

BONUS

All the bonus content you didn’t know you needed but will live for.
Charlie out the car window
Tom tripping and cutting open his foot….again
Hayley falling in love with a village puppy
Trevor living it up
Conor eating an entire chocolate cake
Sophie and Eve stuntin
Trevor giving a speech to a group of stray dogs
An unexpected cameo from Nathan
Charlie’s 19th Birthday
The girl with the pearl earring or just Hayley..?
First home stay madness

 

Trevor is too photogenic for his own good
Nathan going next level
Your favorite blog curators at the Taj

Alex thinking about his future rap career

Tom is thriving…?
Conor has big love for this ancient sculpture
We all just want to know why the fan is on display, why the fan is turned on, and why they put glass in the front so it’s useless. India please let us know.

APRIL 18

Eve trying out block printing

Locals craft in Jaipur

By Eve

We spent our first day in Jaipur exploring the local crafts of the city. First, we stopped at a block printing shop. We saw the workers in progress as they dip the blocks that have the desired design carved into the bottom into the paint and stamp it onto the cloth. They moved with such speed yet never messed up. We saw traditional designs with flowers and elephants and also the “nursery designs” with ice cream cones and baby giraffes. We got to try our hand at block printing and it wasn’t as easy as it looked! Next, we went to a pottery shop. We got the rundown of the long pottery process and had the chance to watch the workers freehand beautifully on the products. The majority of the pottery is exported abroad. Lastly, we stopped at a paper making factory. We saw how the cotton was pressed and dried into paper and how designs were implemented. The factory was completely waste free. We ended with the gift shop and we are certain we’ve seen some of the products back home in our local craft stores!

Local block printing

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Trevor helps with block printing process.

Our rooftop concert

Music rooftop

By Trevor

I wanted to share my experience when we attended this roof top concert. Totally got sucked into the vibe that was created by these incredible sounds. The instruments that I got to hear were the sitar and tabla (small drums). The musicians claimed that it was their first ever live performance, but It sounded like they’ve played in front of thousands. I was absolutely tranced out when the sitarist started playing.  I sat there and closed my eyes and was able to sink into the sounds. It was like watching a movie full of my visions with the greatest soundtrack ever, not joking! I really enjoyed this opportunity to listen to traditional Indian music such as this. The musicians were both from families with heavy musical reputations, and it was an honor getting to experience them in this way. Very happy this was wrapped into our stay in Jaipur.  This city is so vibrant and really brings the best out of what India has to offer.

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The team at the rooftop concert.

Sunset over the Tiger Fort

Tiger fort and it’s beautiful sunset

By Tom

Sunsets are always spectacular, so they are even more special to view when you are in a foreign country. The bright, vibrant colors mixed in with the expansive and exotic locations make watching the sunset an unforgettable moment that you will always treasure. We had the privilege of being able to watch an amazing sunset from the top of the Tiger fort, an old fortress which overlooks the sprawling landscape of Jaipur. It was a very simple evening: all that we ended up doing was watch the sunset as a group, but that is all we needed. Doing anything other than watch the majestic sun disappear behind the clouds while enjoying each other’s company would’ve seemed unnecessary. As I watched it, I thought of how it is the simple moments that you sometimes remember the most. A simple conversation, enjoying a meal, or in this case, watching a sunset, can prove to have just as much impact as a busy day sightseeing or a day trekking. At least for myself, it proved to be the perfect ending to a busy day. The busy and sometimes hectic schedule of Youth International can sometimes make you forget to relax and take in your surroundings, and watching the sunset over a beautiful city like Jaipur can remind you that you are in a truly unique, unforgettable and amazing place.

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Trevor and Conor learn a local dance while visiting an artists colony on the outskirts of Jaipur.
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Eve gives Indian puppetry a try at the artists colony.
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Learning about Jantar Mantar astronomical instruments built by a Rajput king in the 1700’s.

Art Center Concert

By Charlie

There was a concert at the the art center that a few of us decided to attend. The concert was a presentation by the world renowned Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, his son Salil Bhatt, and Traditional Indian drummer.  He is creator of the instrument Satvik Veena, which is basically a Hawaiian guitar with loads of extra strings attached to give sounds similar to a Sitar. The concert started slow filled with sounds we had never heard before. It didn’t sound great in the beginning to be honest when it was just Vishwa warming up. Then his son had his solo and it was a sudden burst of musical flare. He played with such fast finger plucking and dramatic hair flips you could not help to be hypnotized. Then the drummer played and his hair flips combined with Salils, were just absolutely electric.

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Visiting an art museum in Jaipur.
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Trying a hand a local crafts.
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Nathan with a leader of the artists colony.

Sophie and Conor’s home stay

By Conor

Our home stay was six kilometers removed from the area where the rest of our group resided. It was a three story house complete with air conditioning, WiFi, and most importantly 3 dogs. Our host brother, Rashi, and his father had built some kind of asphalt supplying empire, which allowed for our living conditions in the home stay. Our host sister, Amanda, was originally from London so she spoke perfect English. Amanda was a great companion to Sophie and I as she took us for fruit smoothies one day, special coffees another day, and burgers on our last. She also took us shopping to Jaipur’s main shopping district, where Sophie and I both got new outfits. Overall, it was a very boujee home stay, and Sophie and I feel very lucky to have been there for a week.

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One of the three infamous house dogs

By Sophie

I had a unique opportunity in my home stay to connect with my host sister, Amanda. She’s a British fashion designer who married into our host family and had been living in Jaipur for the past three years. It gave me a chance to speak with someone coming from the western world who had an understanding of what my life was like and a deep understanding of India. She took me on trips into Jaipur to see the more modern side of India and to see how younger people were living. We went on a memorable shopping trip where I had never seen someone barter so well in my life, it was pure art. Amanda was well respected by the shop owners and knew what colors and styles were best and in fashion. It felt somewhat out of a Bollywood movie montage with shopkeepers unfurling scarfs and skirts left and right. I left with bags of clothes and in the most millennial fashion we postmated Indian fast food back to the house instead of actually cooking. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to meet Amanda and for her to have welcomed me to Jaipur and into her home.

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The Team, exploring Jaipur.
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Catching a parade rolling through the streets of Jaipur.
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A tour of the Palace.
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Exploring the famous Water Works in Jaipur.
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Triple decker bunk beds on overnight train from Jaipur to Jaisalmer.
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View from rooftop of our hostel as the sun is about to rise over the fort in Jaisalmer.
Alex atop his camel

Camel Safari

By Alex

The camel safari started in the early morning hours.  Everyone was silently exploding with excitement and curiosity, and nobody really knew what to expect.

As we arrive and step off the open top jeeps slowly we start to see these huge beasts, toweringly tall,  and the realization that we will be riding these animals came true.

As we sit cross-legged on the silky smooth sand waiting patiently for the camels to be situated, we observe the beasts and think which ones will we be riding, what should we name them, and which of the camels is calling our name.

After the assignments of the camels the journey all of a sudden starts, some tied in, some take the reins, but all in a perfectly practiced convoy.

As the movement starts and the marching begins we quickly realize we’re in a ball of gas and the sun is the lighter, luckily the first stop was shortly followed.

The camels sit in slow motion and we quickly hop off.  I looked into my camels eyes now it had sat and was at my height level, and they didn’t seem like beasts at all, instead beautiful servants of the desert, doing their part to survive and nothing more nothing less.

We sit under this conveniently placed tree in the middle of the desert and just watch in awe of these creatures freely roaming the terrain indulging in whatever tasty looking tree they could find.

Meanwhile time slowly passes, some turn to music, others turn to books, I turn to exploring and took aim at this big rock peak several minutes walk away, finally getting to the top of the rock and seeing the desert from a 10-15 meter elevation opened my eyes way more to where we were and our surroundings.

That night finished with laying on the sand, watching the stars, deep conversations, and an eerie amount of persistent investigative beetles.

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Tom & guides in the distance

Day 2 brings a whole new adventure in itself with a stampede of a sand storm. Shards of sand showering on us for every step we took. Eventually getting to our lunch point we were waiting patiently, backs to the storm, for what we were told would be a performance by locals. Shortly after a colorful family shows up on motorcycles, takes a seat under this protective tree, and expresses their talent willingly and without compromise even with the storm blasting their faces.

As we set off to our camp for the night, near the end of our transit, we finally hit the sand dunes, massive dips in the ground several meters down and huge sand mounds several meters up. It looked like a still sand roller coaster with the random waves of sand high and low.

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Eve killin’ it

On day 3 the time went very quickly. Realizing our adventure was coming to a stop, it was a sad moment to watch my friendly beast walk off in the distance as we climbed into the jeeps and set off back to our hotel.

This adventure birthed my love for craftsmanship of training and taming animals  It was spectacular to see such mammals coinciding with humans to the point where “Billy”, my camel, would let me hug and kiss him in my final goodbye.

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Alex and Charlie on their trustee steeds.

New beginnings In India

By Charlie

The Indian Metro Experience

We used the metro system in Delhi to get around throughout the city. The metro is rated as one of the best in the world. It made getting around very easy and safe. The metro had a women’s only cart to ensure safety and comfort for all women riding the metro. They also had designated seating for women on all of the carts. A lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Eve and Sophie on the metro

By Conor

Jama Masjid

Our first full day in New Delhi was jam packed, and it ended with our trip to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. When we arrived we were required to take off our shoes before entering. Tom and I were told we couldn’t enter with shorts and were given a blanket to wrap around our legs, resulting in a kind of mosque-kilt. Walking inside we were greeted by the towering spires and walls of the mosque with a water feature in the center of the courtyard. After making Nathan pay the fee, we got to climb to the very top of one of the spires and see spectacular views of New Delhi and the mosque. We stayed up there to watch the sunset and the call to prayer, but only caught the sunset before we were told to descend. Overall, Jama Masjid was stunningly beautiful and well worth the metro ride to the old city.

Photo of the Jama Masjid

A view of Delhi from the top of the Jama Masjid

By Alex

The Taj Mahal

This is my attempt at captivating 1 of 7 modern world wonders with words only the naked eye can truly comprehend.

It’s a building of silence but it screams so loud. The anticipation after reading and hearing about this magnificent building our whole lives was towering high.

Our 5am wake up to capture this once in a lifetime moment was all too real, it still hasn’t processed in my mind what we truly just saw.

A shadow we only could see in the distance from our hotel rooftop was now an all too real frozen in time giant hovering over us but all though frozen, it still controlled our every move and thought.

Like a hypnotist we were Mesmerized, like a photographer we were capturing, like a group of young travelers we were in shock by what we’re witnessing.

As the group did their poses and photos to capture this spectacular moment, the only thing rushing through my head was the thought of what I had just achieved, the mental rush of completing something I had only ever fantasized about, the feeling is addictive, and within that moment I made myself a life long promise I will continue to visit the other 6 monuments on this list.

As we explore the site every turn and corner shows us a new beauty of either architecture or landscape, the sheer size of the Taj Mahal to accommodate something so small but so meaningful showed me the content of the inside always portrays the out, in any term of the sense.

As a lover of architecture this is very simplistic but so appealing at the same time, the craftsmanship really comes to play with the compounds symmetry. Each side a mirror of the other to the exact centimeter.

To finalize this experience, India is a culture shock, hostile but friendly, boiling but cool, it’s all about how you develop through the bad and really experience through the good. Beautiful memories and growth is to those who dare to seek discomfort.

When all signs point to no and you say yes, that’s when you break the cycle and really start to live.

The Taj Mahal at sunrise

Youth International family photo at the Taj Mahal

Alex being Alex at the Taj Mahal

By Tom

The Gandhi Experience

On Thursday the 4th, our second full day in Delhi, we set off to the Raj ghat area of Delhi, in the eastern part of the city, to visit the Gandhi museum. Gandhi, the leader of the India independence movement as well a a major advocate of non-violent protest, is perhaps one of the most famous figures in Indian history, and we found it fitting to learn more about this great man while we were in the capital city. The museum was a modest-looking building on the outside, yet the inside contained a video hall, hundreds of pictures of Gandhi throughout his life, and artifacts that Gandhi used throughout his life, including his walking stick and sandals. The museum proved to be an in-depth look at the life of this amazing man, especially during his years leading the independence movement, and I couldn’t help marveling at the many photos and descriptions of Gandhi which exhibited his tremendous leadership and moral character. After a quick stop at the library book store, where a couple of us bought books on the quotes of Gandhi, we headed over to the Gandhi memorial Raj ghat, a park and memorial dedicated to Gandhi, located on the spot he was cremated. The park proved to be a very peaceful and respectful area to hold the memorial and eternal fire for Gandhi, yet it was also very simple, evoking the modest yet powerfully effective nature of Gandhi. After visiting the memorial, the team spent a good deal of time walking around and lounging in the surrounding park, as it’s peacefulness proved to be a welcome retreat from the sometimes overwhelming hustle and bustle of Delhi. Overall, our experience in the museum and memorial proved to be a very enlightening experience, and gave us valuable insight into the massively important life and legacy of one of the most important people in Indian history.

By Sophie

Arriving in Delhi

Our arrival into New Delhi was smooth right up until we walked out of the gates of the airport and were greeted with the chaos that is India. It’s a complete overload on your senses. People everywhere, a million auto rickshaws speeding past you, cows roaming the street, and all the unique smells that come with a new city. It’s disorienting at first and all you can do is hope for the best and push through it. This mixed with the heat makes for a wild time. But by the second day you start to get a hang of things. Dodging the motorbikes better, avoiding the salesmen, and running onto the metro at the right time. New Delhi does really give you the full India experience at once. I definitely gained an appreciation for the chaos and how it works in its own way. Although I am not upset about leaving for a calmer environment.

The Agra fort

By Trevor

The Swaminarayan Akshardham

The Swaminarayan Akshardham was Youth international’s first tourist location visited when they arrived in New Delhi. The Swaminarayan Akshardham is a complex that captures India’s beautiful culture, this site is 100 acres in size. It was built in only 5 years and is a beacon of peace, joy, divinity and beauty. It was built as a tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1718-1830 ce) and was inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who was 5th guru after Bhagwan. This site was extremely interesting with it being rather amusement part like, yet was entirely culture based, absolutely brilliant and beautiful in all ways. From the grass lawns being perfect and the arch ways of all the corridors beings completely symmetrical. As the the center piece of the site being the Akshardham Mandir was jaw dropping to say the least with the insane detail that was put into the marble interior and the pint stone exterior. The Mandir stood the tallest of the entire park at 141ft high, and this building is awesome in every sense of the word. The Swaminarayan Akshardham is an amazing location to visit in New Delhi and the Youth International team enjoyed experiencing one of the many impressive sites India has to offer.

Trevor posing in front of the Swaminarayan Akshardham

By Eve

The Dilli Haat Market

We spent our last evening in Delhi at the Dilli Haat market, an outdoor center with small shops carrying all sorts of things from traditional dress and carpets, to art and jewelry. The market is closed off from the city, which provided a nice break from the bustling streets of Delhi. We all gathered after our free day of exploring around 6 pm and went on into Dilli Haat together. We spent a few hours walking around and shopping—most of us ended up purchasing new clothes, shoes, or souvenirs for back home. A few of us ate dinner in the market, where we met Vikram, a young Indian guy who grew up and lives in New Zealand and happened to be in Delhi for work and to visit family. He talked to us about life in both India and New Zealand as we ate dinner together, giving us some advice for our stay here. All in all, it was a relaxing end to our busy day and a nice send-off from Delhi.

The Red Fort at night in Delhi

Goodbye Nepal!

By Alex

What a Stay in “Thamel” is like

After a short break from Kathmandu, back we arrived but this time instead of a cultural slap in the face it was all too familiar, the same algorithm used for the way to process the chaos “Thamel” has to offer, and at this point we were too comfortable.

Thamel is the tourist hot spot of Kathmandu, rich in diversity, a population of a curious tourists, same people different faces.

My time in Thamel consisted of as much solo seeking as possible, I gave myself a 2 hour window to explore as much as possible and really strive to find myself in a position where I have a story to tell forever. After running into a few familiar faces from previous events in Nepal I set out on a 30 minute walk in each direction. Checking store prices for the best deal, striking up a conversation with anyone that seemed interesting, and really just strolling through the crowded streets like I’ve walked them for years.

by Sophie

Before we left for our home stay in Kakani village we went and visited the Royal Palace in Kathmandu. It was the home of the royal family until they were forced to vacate in 2006. It’s since been turned into a museum for the public. The interior for the most part has remained the same in order for visitors to see how the royals lived. The palace itself was constructed in 1969 and the interior furniture has a fancy 1970’s feel to it all. As well as all the retro electronics scattered around the royals private quarters. The grandeur of the palace is not to be overlooked though. As soon as you walk through the front doors you’re greeted by a huge polar bear rug and two upright stuffed Bengal tigers. This continues on with elephant feet side tables and rhino heads decorating the hallways. There are floor to ceiling portraits of all the past kings and heirlooms of the Nepali kingdom. The throne room has a 60 foot ceiling and a bejeweled throne for two. The tour eventually leads out to the royal gardens and to the scene of the royal massacre where in 2001 ten royal family members were gunned down by Prince Dipendra. His reasons remain unknown to this day, but the bullet holes from the shooting can still be seen in the walls of the palace today. It casts an eerie feeling onto the grounds. Beautiful but haunting to this day.

By Trevor

Community Service in Kakani

Community service in Kakani was easy going and productive at the same time. The work ethic in Nepal is interesting, because the mindset you acquire working here is don’t work that hard, there’s no need. You’re often asked to take 5-10 minutes breaks when you’ve worked for 15-30 minutes. This metric isn’t common in western work environments where it’s more like work 2-4 hours and you can have a 15 minute break or lunch is your only break in a days work. Here in Kakani which is a small village located on a mountain overlooking Kathmandu, Youth International has been given the task of building a retaining wall to help prevent the local school from future natural disasters such as land slides. As well as help paint in the interior of 2 of the schools classrooms. This project has been very educational in regards to learning the simple techniques the locals use to construct large walls only made of concrete and cement. The process is very repetitive, with the beginning being caving out the location for the wall and then digging a trench for the wall’s base. After laying the foundation for the wall the process of shuttling different sized rocks to the wall for solidarity. Once the rocks are placed strategically the stirring of sand and concrete is started this is referred to as “Mussula”. Once the concrete is created, carrying bags of the wet mixture to the wall is the next step and eventually layer by layer a wall begins to rise.

The team working together in a rock line

The wall we built

By Tom

Trevor and Tom’s home stay experience

After a wonderful home stay experience in Kopan, Trevor and I didn’t really know how Kakani would stack up. Once we were paired together in a home stay, we were eager to find out about our location in the village, the accommodations, and the type of family we were staying with. We both agreed, though, that both of our experiences in Kopan would be tough to top. Yet our experience in Kakani proved to be just as enjoyable. The living arrangements in our home stay proved to be very comfortable, and we were very fortunate to have our own bathroom connected to our bedroom, which was even outfitted with a western toilet. We were also centrally located within the village, and had easy walks to the school and the other home stays our teammates were staying at. The best part of our home stay proved to be the family that we stayed with and the kindness they treated us with. Shiva, our home stay father, and the best English speaker in the family, checked on us frequently to ensure we were comfortable and were enjoying our time. He was a joy to be around, as he had a great sense of humor and always seemed to be smiling and laughing. Trevor and I especially enjoyed our daily morning walks with him, where he would show us the rest of the village and the surrounding farmland, including his own strawberry farm. The food we were served at the home stay was also impeccable, and Trevor and I enjoyed every meal we had. Simply, the family was all too kind to us, and made our home stay experience very special. Trevor is already making plans to return to Kakani when he comes back to Nepal, and I’m sure I will do the same when I’m in the area.

Tom with his host father Shiva

Trevor with his host father Shiva

By Eve

Eve, Sophie, Hayley Home stay: We spent our time in Kakani with a lovely family. We were welcomed with big smiles and open arms. Much to our delight, our host family owned a popular restaurant—we had the best food on the block! As well as the friendliest dog, Kushi.

Our house was the meeting spot for all lunches and the group became quite a fan of the French fries and daily fresh fruit.

Although no one in our host family spoke a ton of English, their actions spoke louder than words. When Sophie was sick as a dog, they sent for a relative who was a doctor to check on her. This family and Kakani will always hold a special place in our hearts!

Shanti’s Story:

Our final day in Kakani was spent in the presence of the social entrepreneur Shanti Shakya Dolma. She started her own natural dying business and employs only women to give them the opportunity to support themselves.

The women of Kakani Himalayan Natural Dyes create colors from material they find in the local forest, like pomegranate skin, walnut shells, and onion skin, and then dye the fabrics and threads. The natural dying process has countless advantages to both the environment and to oneself. They are biodegradable, less toxic than chemical dyes, and have pharmaceutical effects that can benefit one’s health. Kakani Himalayan Natural Dyes is contributing positively to the environment surrounding them. The products are finally shipped to nearby places like Kathmandu, and as far as Japan, to be sold.

Shanti hasn’t been doing this work all her life. Some years back, Shanti and her husband moved to Kakani and tried their hands in many different businesses, like organic farming and goat farming, all with no success. After all of her savings had run dry, she turned to a support group of women, where she came up with the idea of the natural dying business. Kakani Himalayan Natural Dyes has only grown since. More and more women are employed each year, making so many differences in so many lives. Shanti even won Nepal’s Social Entrepreneurship Award in 2012.

Shanti herself has struggled with many challenges along the way, from her husband becoming an alcoholic to her personal health declining and the need for numerous surgeries in India. But she spoke of none of these hardships without a smile on her face and an upbeat attitude. Shanti is only looking up!

We ended our excursion with a stop in the local store where lots of us purchased some shawls dyed by the one and only Shanti! This woman and her inspiring story was the perfect send-off from Kakani. Shanti giving her talk

Shanti talking about her herbs

The group with Shanti

By Conor

For our almost kinda last night in Nepal, we gathered around a campfire to watch the sunset and reflect upon our time in the country. Many of us had moments in our first month here that were uncomfortable, both physically and psychologically. We had an opportunity to air these moments with the group as we went around the circle and discussed what we learned about Nepal, our group mates, and ourselves. It lead to some touching and funny moments as we each shared our favorite memories and our favorite aspects of each other we’d uncovered so far. We ended off the meeting with Sophie, Eve, and myself sharing information about Nepal’s history, Nepal’s economic situation, and Nepal’s social issues. Which is something we should have been taking turns to do over the course of the whole month, but we didn’t.

Oops.

The team at the bonfire

By Charlie

Staying in Kakani for Charlie and Nathan

Kakani is is a small rural town located atop a ridge overlooking the Kathmandu valley. Me and Nathan were paired together for this home stay. As we were approaching our temporary home we were immediately blown away of the view we had. Looking down into a farming valley carved by a tributary to the Trusulii khola, as our gaze moved upward our eyes met the vast Himalayas running from horizon to horizon. Our host father Bishnu was a soft spoken man with vast knowledge of the nature surrounding us. One day we went on a long walk down to the bottom of the hill to buy trout for diner. Along the way hiking through the jungle Bishnu was always pointing out trees, shrubs, and bushes telling us their many uses and if we could eat it or not. One would think you would not be so full after a two hour hike but Bishnu made sure to fill our belly’s with nature’s bounty along the way. As we descended down we met his nephew who was a strawberry and trout farmer. (although he did not have any full grown fish when we met him) He treated us to a cup of tea and we talked with him about his diverse farm. We continued to descend until we found a trout farm with adult trout. We found an elderly couple who were happy to supply us with 7 trout along with rosemary and mint for seasoning. We sat there and talked for a bit while sharing a plate of Japanese cucumber they treated us to. We realized that we would be late for lunch if we hiked back up so we quickly jumped on a jam packed bus back up to the top of Kakani. That night we enjoyed a feast with our loving host and Gokul.

Gokul memories and goodbye:

Throughout the home stays and trek in Nepal, Gokul was a true friend as well as an incredible guide. He was as quick with a joke as he was dropping a piece of information about Nepal, and he was a true joy to be around. One of my favorite moments with him was when me and Hayley were separated from the rest of the group while going up a grueling uphill portion on the way to Tadapani during trek. I was tired and demoralized, and was on the verge of losing my composure until I heard a loud “hello brother”! Gokul had reached Tadapani at the top of the hill, and had climbed back down the hill to encourage me to keep going and reach our destination. It was moments like this, as well as many more, that not only made Gokul a hilarious companion, but a selfless and trustworthy guide. I loved every moment with him and hope to see him again soon.

Tom

We met Gokul our second day in Nepal, almost a month ago now. The time has flown by with this beautiful person. I cannot say enough good things about this man. Never did I see him become angry or annoyed with us, always he strove to make us smile. With his jokes, his knowledge, or smile, he always brought happiness to frustrating situations. He brought us happiness, but he brought even more love. He opened up his heart and life to us sharing his views and his values. He spoke so passionately about his “religion”. In a country filled with religious diversity we found a man with his own faith. The faith within yourself and to have your own temple, church, mosque within yourselves. I say thank you again Gokul your time with us was a true blessing. Thank you brother, love you, and see you again some day!

Charlie

Gokul brought life into the group from the moment we met him on the rooftop of Monumental Paradise. His ever positive attitude made him a joy to be around. But my favorite thing about Gokul had to be his laugh. It was so loud and happy it could never fail to make me smile. He’d laugh at just about anything, but mostly his own jokes. On my toughest moments on the trek I could expect Gokul to cheer me on and then laugh about carrying me himself. It made walking 10 km a day feel like a breeze. I’m so glad to have met Gokul and his laugh.

Sophie

Now to close, a few words about our guide, but not just a guide, a mentor, friend and inspiration, Gokul. Written and spoken words are the hardest to portray when it comes to Gokul.  He’s a person built on the foundation of putting others first and really building relationships, and within 30 days with Gokul I can confidently say the bond we built can never be broken. My eyes perceive this man as a true inspiration to the ideology of happiness, love & respect.  I could spend an eternity writing about the impacts this man made on me but words can’t do it justice.

Alex

It’s with heavy hearts that we have to say goodbye to the beloved Gokul. I’ve made countless memories with the sweet man. He always put everyone in the group before himself and valued our happiness above anything else. A good example was when we were well into the trek and stopped at one tea house for lunch. The kitchen was a bit overwhelmed with the crowd, for there were other groups gathered, so Gokul went into the kitchen and cooked almost all of our meals himself. He is the most selfless human with the biggest heart and best jokes! I’ll miss our dear Gokul dearly.

Eve

Gokul was a star, and not just because he loaned me rupees for coffee when I ran out. He kept the group’s spirits high, told the funniest jokes when we were tired and worn down (my favorite one being about 3 frogs climbing a cliff), and was an endless stream of life advice. I hope to see him again in a couple years when I hit him up to see Everest Base Camp. His job is to trek to Himalayan mountain base camps. That’s so cool. And he loaned me money for coffee. He’s my hero.

Conor

Gokul is simply a reason why my trip to Nepal was so amazing, I couldn’t have encountered a greater guide. His soul carried the Youth international team through the thick and thin, no matter what the situation was his laugh was there to bring all smiles out of everyone. I am honored to consider Gokul as my brother and cannot wait to see what the future holds for me and him in my life. My goal is to share Gokul with my loved ones so they can experience total positivity in life.

Trevor

photo of Buddha

photo of Jesus

photo of Charlie cuddling with the prophet Muhammad

Photo of the Dalai Lama

Trekking: Marching Madness 3.23.19

In Pokhara

By Eve

We ventured to Pokhara on March 12th for a couple of relaxing days before our trek. We had free time to explore the renowned lake, shop for goodies, and prep for the upcoming days. Our guides, Gokul and Raj, walked us down to one of the many trekker shops to rent our warm sleeping bags and winter coats that would soon save us from freezing in the Himalayas.

Since Pokhara is a major trekking hub, there are many western food stops, including KFC, Baskin Robins, and multiple pizza places. However, the group favorite seemed to be the Belgium waffle stand that served warm waffle-ice cream sandwiches.

The day before the trek we went on a hike up to the Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist stupa that overlooks the city, to prepare our bodies for the upcoming week of nonstop walking. We all piled into a few canoe-like boats to cross the lake and begin the hike. As we were paddled on over, we had an excellent view of the mountains. And once we reached the Peace Pagoda, we caught the best view yet of the Himalayas.

After we found our way down, we took a trip to the mountaineering museum. We saw numerous exhibits ranging from the tallest peaks in the world to how climate change is affecting the mountains. We learned about Sherpas, first summiteers, and about the mountains’ histories. We left the museum with a good bit more knowledge about the Himalayan mountain range, and a whole lot more excitement for the next 9 days ahead of us.

The view of the Annapurna mountain range from the peace stupa
The Peace Stupa in Pokhara
The Annapurna Mountain range from Phewa Lake in Pokhara

Trekking

The Beginning

By Sophie

The day we started the trek we drove up from Pokhara into the mountains by jeep. It was quite the bumpy ride. Our drivers did not hold back, whipping around mountain corners with reckless abandon. We were dropped off in Nayapul. After a quick lunch of noodles and rice and much readjusting of our packs we set off. Our first setback was Tom running into stinging nettle 20 minutes into our trek. Our guides took care of him and we were off again. We passed many a stray water buffalo on the path. But eventually made it to our first tea house in a couple hours. Some of us were tired and sick but all of us made it to the end of our first successful day of trekking.

The team ready for some hard trekking

 

Trevor being Trevor on a bridge

 

The Guides

By Tom

Thankfully, the youth international group was not on its own during the trek. We had the help of two amazing Nepalese guides to ensure that nothing happened to us inexperienced climbers. Gokul and Raj were our two faithful guides, who led us, supported us, encouraged us, and most importantly, kept us safe throughout the trek. Personally, I can think of many times where Gokul helped me through times where I wasn’t feeling especially good and had many negative thoughts running through my head. Also with me being a slow trekker, especially on the downhills, Raj was very helpful by staying back with me and ensuring I took my time so I didn’t fall or suffer a gruesome injury. I’m positive that the other members of the team had positive experiences with both guides, as did I. Even with the setback of us having to turn around before reaching ABC, Gokul and Raj were able to find an amazing destination in Poon Hill that provided us with the feeling of accomplishment that we all craved. At the end of the day, the Youth International team consisted of a bunch of determined, but inexperienced trekkers who needed a helping hand in many ways. Gokul and Raj were just the people we needed to extend us that helping hand so we could accomplish our final goal.

Raj and Gokul, our faithful and amazing guides

Avalanches proved to be difficult to cross and ended up being the reason for our turn back

by Alex

The difficulties of trekking

Proelium, Latin for battle, and that’s what this story is, the battle all of us took head on with every single step in every literal sense.

The journey starts the same way it ends, what really matters is what you took from the experience, how much did you learn about yourself, What new knowledge took your mind by surprise?

The 9 day trek didn’t have to be a battle at all, yes physically it was tough, for some more than others, But what it all comes down to is how you mentally perceive your journey.

And that’s where my “battle” was, my mind and it’s miss interpretation on what I’m enduring, something that should be perceived as a beautiful experience, was instantly painted as an enemy wrapped in the achievement of reaching the end. And that’s what made my 9 days seem as a life time of focusing on the finish line and not my present surroundings, like the spectacular Nepalese mountain ranges described by Trevor as “Titans”.

9 days of unraveling the package which allows you to say you completed something is the complete opposite of what I wanted to take away from this experience, and at the start that’s the direction I was heading in. Until Trevor and Charlie spotted me in a dark place, physically and mentally, and that’s where MY journey did a 180, the simple action of taking my pack off my slouched back, allowed me to really stop only focusing on each step and the days end destination, but instead look at where I am, and really take it in, it was a slow burner but by day 6 that’s when my experience took a light, and for the first time I realized where I was and what I was doing, all because a helping hand took the weight from my shoulders that kept my head down freeing the vision of someone who was blinded by what was envisioned as a battle and instead opened my eyes to the sheer breathless view that let my imagination run wild with the knowledge of where I am and what I’m doing right now at that exact second.

Moral of the story, your experience is what YOU make it.

The numerous grueling uphill sections of the trek proved very difficult

Eve and Sophie battle the cold, which proved difficult to deal with once the sun went down

Turning Around

By Conor

It was with light hearts and ambitious souls that we arrived in Deurali, just a few short hours from our penultimate goal of Machapuchare Base Camp. And it was with twinkling eyes and a smile that Nathan crushed our hopes and dreams the following morning, announcing we were turning back and switching destinations. At around six o’clock that morning we were awoken by an avalanche just a few hundred feet from our beds, indicative of the treacherous conditions that had manifested overnight. The excess and unseasonal snowfall had made the path towards our initial goal untenable. The group’s reaction ranged from disappointed to furious, but we picked ourselves up and made the best of the remaining time on the trek, and Poon Hill, regardless.

The Puppy

By Charlie

It was early in the day when we saw her. The eyes of an angel, she quickly shot arrows through all our hearts with her adorable tiny paws. It all started with a belly rub and ascended into a companionship. We found Sasha in Tadapani outside our lodge. This puppy was only looking for love and she found it within our group. We satisfied her need for good old fashioned Puppylove, filling her life with playful cuddles and her stomach with glucose crackers. We protected Sasha from charging horses, carried her over rapids and up mountains. She rewarded our stewardship with her loyalty. As we trudged up the snowy trail to Ghorepani she dashed ahead of us but always stopping at the top of a ridge watching and waiting for us to arrive. This pattern continued throughout the day mixed in with plenty of playful rest breaks. As we made a stop for lunch we approached the snowy town of Deurali. This town was patrolled by one alpha dog, a fully grown snow beast bear dog. Sasha quickly got on it’s bad side with her high pitched barks to it. They proceeded in a battle of cat and mouse. We constantly lost sight of Sasha throughout lunch as she tried to escape the jaws of this Nepalese monster. We could only blindly search for her through the slushy dirt roads as we heard her cries for help. She finally reappeared, limping and covered with mud. We could do little to protect her in this dog eat dog world. We eventually lost sight of her again never to see her again. No one is to say the beast did not take our Sasha away from us. Our hope is that she made her way down the path to safer for familiar lands. Let this story serve as a warning to all who think trekking is only physically difficult. For the rest of the day, our legs were tired, but our hearts and minds were restless.

Charlie protecting Sasha
The adorable face of Sasha

 

Poon Hill

By Trevor

Hiking is given a whole new meaning when trekking the Annapurna mountain range. The Youth International team has had some previous hardships on the pilgrimage to A.B.C (Annapurna Base Camp) described in this weeks blog elsewhere. After the turn around in Durali though the team was redirected to a new location called Poon Hill and this wasn’t a base camp, but a view point for the of Annapurna mountain range at a height of 3200m (10,500 feet). This location is known for its 360 degree view of over 10 spectacular peaks. The lookout point is no cake walk to get to, there is a central tea house town on the A.B.C trek called Chomrong. This point is the rough starting point for the new trek to Poon Hill and from this location to Poon Hill it is all up hill, and the team just happened to get lucky enough to get rained on the majority of the migration. Once the team reached a town called Gorapani, which is below the lookout point, it was a solid feat for the Youth International team. That next morning the team was assigned a 4:45  wake up time to make the last leg of the trek to the look out point before sunrise to see the true capability of Poon Hill. To say the least this view was tear jerking in all ways possible, absolutely an honor to see mother nature’s beautiful creation called the Annapurna Mountains.

The amazing sunrise at Poon Hill
The views of Annapurna, Annapurna South, and Hiunchuli from Poon Hill

The team at Poon Hill

 

The Beginning 3.5.19

Hello all and welcome to the Youth International Asia Spring 2019 Blog! Here, you can follow us on our adventures as we explore and immerse in Nepal, India, and Thailand. Everyone from our team will be contributing to the posts that will be updated roughly every week or so. We hope you enjoy!

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The Team at Denver Airport, just before taking off to Nepal.  L to R: Nathan, Hayley, Conor, Trevor, Alex, Eve, Sophie, Charlie, Tom.

Orientation

By Eve

Upon arrival in the Denver airport, we greeted the people who we’d soon come to know as our family for the next 3 months. After quick handshakes, hugs, and introductions, we were off to the Rockies National Park for orientation. We settled into the YMCA for the next 3 days and immediately got down to business. We met for group meetings throughout the day and covered topics such as cultural sensitivity, health and safety, and what we want to get out of our experiences in Asia. We planned workshops to help teach classes for local schoolchildren during our home stays and played team building games to begin to know each other a little better.

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A Team orientation meeting in Colorado.
Alex helping Charlie with his blindfold.
Team carrying Alex over the web.
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The women hanging out reading and journaling in our dorm at Estes Park.
Trevor jumping through the web.

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The team enjoying dinner at the cafeteria in Estes Park.

For the afternoon of our second day in Denver, we got to hike in the renowned Rockies. Fresh snow began to fall on the way up as we crossed over frozen lakes and were surrounded by a gray haze. The hike was a bit slippery, yet overwhelmingly beautiful and surely a pleasant break from the indoors. Not to mention a nice small taste of what lies ahead for our trek in the Himalayas!

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On our trek to frozen Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Tom, Trevor and Alex at Frozen Emerald Lake

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Watching Elk graze at the lower elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The team smiling at the top of our hike.
Conor freezing a bit.

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Charlie posing with the view.

The girls: Eve, Hayley, and Sophie (L to R)
The boys: Brad, Nathan, Tom, Trevor, Charlie, Alex, Conor (L to R)
Driving into the Park.

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Walking across frozen Dream Lake.

 

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Charlie performed a spiritual ceremony, blessing everyone with sage, just before we headed down the mountain for our flight to Nepal.

The snow continued to fall throughout our stay in Colorado. By the time we were heading out, it seemed 2 feet had fallen. Our flight was delayed an hour or so due to the storm, but took no significant toll on our upcoming travels.

Once we packed our bags a final time and ran a few last errands, we piled into the cars and made our way back to the Denver airport—ready for departure. We left Denver around 1 am and were in New York by early morning. Next we were off for a 12 hour flight to Doha, Qatar. However daunting the air time seemed, our nerves were calmed when the flight attendants informed us that we could move from our assigned seats to any open area. Each one of us had our own row to lie across—we were very lucky to say the least. Our last leg from Doha to Kathmandu was short of 5 hours and soon enough we had landed in the place we’ve been anticipating for weeks—even months—on end. It was a long journey, but we are all arriving with open minds and hearts and are beyond ready for the adventure that lies ahead!

Crazy Arrival in Kathmandu

By Sophie

Our first look into the city of Kathmandu was from the back of taxis, weaving through pedestrians and motorcycles. They took us into the depths of the city and dropped us off where we thought our hostel was, but it turns out there are two squares by the exact same name and we had been taken to the wrong one. After much negotiating by Hayley and Nathan, we were able to find 3 taxis willing to take us to the right place. Our taxis were tiny white Suzukis that felt as though they would fall apart at any moment and with our luck, one did. Half way to our actual location, one taxi sputtered to a stop in the middle of the road with 2 big packs precariously tied to the top. Without stopping a beat, the taxi drivers all ran to help, pushing the car back into motion and up the hill. Slowly but surely, we found our way to our hostel. A perfect start to this wild ride through Asia!

Our view through the taxi.

Mahashivrati

By Charlie

March 4th was the first day we arrived in the bustling streets of Kathmandu. It also happened to be the holiday of Mahashivrati, which is a celebration of the god Shiva, the creator and destroyer of the world. It‘s the largest festival of the year and to soak in our first night in Nepal, we went out to experience it. We visited a local Shiva temple and participated in a Puja, a blessing ceremony where the priest of the temple marked our third eye with sandalwood paste. As we circled the temple, we rang bells and yelled jai Shimbu (praise Shiva). The temple was decorated from top to bottom with lights and flowers as well as ornate sculptures and paintings. Outside the temple was a massive fire fed by tree stumps and limbs. After the festival, we returned to our hostel to receive some much needed sleep and get ready for our next day of adventures. Yay Nepal!

Swayambhunath

By Trevor

On March 5th, the Youth International crew went on our first journey to Swayambhunath, a Buddhist temple whose name means “self created.” This site is also known informally as the Monkey Temple for its overload of monkeys running every which way. The tale of Swayambhunath is that it all started as a lotus flower in the middle of the lake that was here in the valley. The gods split the mountains to release all the water and leave all the land empty, but the lotus flower stayed and that is how the temple was created and gave life to what is now the holy city of Kathmandu.

Swayambhunath is quite stunning—the view is literally breathtaking because of the 365 steps it takes to get to the top, but it‘s all worth it once you see the valley of Kathmandu behind you. Looking at the civilization that this city holds is amazing. The buildings are so stacked on top of one another and the first word that comes to mind is beautiful.

The team posing at the temple.

Eve and Sophie cheesing.

Sophie, Conor, Eve, Tom, and Nathan.

Conor, Sophie, Eve, Alex, and Trevor taking in the view.

Trevor making new friends.

One of the MANY monkeys.

We’re off to a great start in Nepal! Stay tuned!

MARCH 13

Pashupati Nath

By Eve

During our stay in Kathmandu, we visited the Hindu temple known as Pashupati Nath. As we entered the gates, a woman blessed us all with tika (the red dot placed on foreheads) and sent us on in. We were not allowed inside the temple itself because it‘s only for Hindus; however, the surrounding area had plenty for us to explore. The place is filled with numerous mandirs, or smaller temples for worship, as you make your way up the stairs. These mandirs are created and worshiped by couples who are wishing to conceive.

While we visited the many mandirs, we came across a sectioned off part of the temple, where hundreds of sadus (ascetics), or people who renounce society for religious purposes, were crowded together. We were lucky to see this tiny glimpse into their lives—something rather rare because they are typically stowed away and were only gathered here because of the Masharvati holy day.

Down below, a stream flows through the temple and all along the edges are small platforms where funerals take place. However, the Hindu funeral is unlike any we’ve seen before. All bodies are cremated in a step by step ritual. To paraphrase, the ritual begins with the dead covered in linens and bathed by the men in the family with sacred water. Incense is then lit above the head as flowers and marigold leaves are sprinkled over the body. The eldest son of the dead has his head shaved to signify sacrifice and a time of mourning. He is then the one to light the match and set fire to the body. Once the cremation is complete, the ashes are dumped into the water. The significance of the cremations is said to return the body back to the earth.

As these funerals proceed at Pashupati Nath, hundreds of people sit and watch on the other side of the river. Death is not hidden under a blanket here, but rather something natural to be shared together. We were able to see bits and pieces of a few separate cremations and get a small preview into the culture surrounding death in Nepal.

Trevor and Alex looking out onto Pashupati Nath
Funeral taking place at Pashupati Nath
Holy man at Pashupati Nath
Holy man with Trevor

Stupa Boudhanath

By Alex

Boudhanath, at first a regular Nepali sight, congested roads, tall buildings, repeating store fronts, but after trailing the buildings with your eyes you see one missing, a gap in the wall, as you get closer the sound of chimes, footsteps and the voices of many gets louder and louder. Continuing up the path where the missing building is you instantly spot the attraction, hundreds of people walking clock wise around something of such out of the blue to the west even I can’t describe it.  As the movement follows so do the spins of the hundreds of prayer wheels all following the same direction. Stores upon stores surrounding the center in a big circle shape it felt like it’s own little hidden community, that only curiosity could’ve led you to. Our time there consisted of a criss cross seating lunch with a small view onto the liveliness of this camouflaged stupa, followed by a short exploration of this Pure hearted hideaway.

Stupa Boudhanath
Interior of Monastery at stupa Boudhanath
Sophie, Eve, Charlie, and Tom in front of the stupa
Stupa in the mid afternoon light

Homestays

Eve, Hayley, and Sophie

We had the best time with our Kopan host family this past week. The couple that housed us three women had two children: a seven year old daughter named Sonya, and a 10 month old baby named Besus. He was the happiest little baby and the light of our lives. Living right next door was our host father’s extended family, so there was a never ending stream of people coming in and out. Our family in particular was very active. They held a rice feeding ceremony as well as several dance parties. On our last night, our host father and sister took us into the city to see the Buddhist stupa Boudhanath and out to eat their favorite meal—which to our pleasant surprise—happened to be pizza and French fries.

Hayley, Sophie, and Eve with Sonya during their visit to Stupa Boudhanath
Stupa Boudhanath at night

 

Trevor and Conor

In my first home stay in Kopan it was absolutely amazing! My family was the coolest family on the block, and they treated us like total ambassadors. They fed us like kings, and they even had hot water that was an absolute privilege. My teammate Conor that stayed in the same house as me would most definitely agree. He had come down with the common cold and the family took the best care of him. The Mom of our home was the local school’s accountant and she was one of the best English speakers in the district. Our dad owned his own company.  His company provided all the materials needed to make the foundations of the buildings in the district. Both of our parents were very smart and really hard workers, and they treated us with the utmost respect and me and Connor followed that. Our mom took us to the nearby market one afternoon and had us try pani puri which was a very spicy street food. It was a super fun experience and the food was delicious. All in all I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our home stay, it was incredible!

Alex and Charlie

The upcoming minutes to the arrival at the home stay brought upon such a cluster of mixed emotions, be it fear, nerves, excitement, and curiosity, my brain racing with the ideas and scenarios I’ll find myself in over the next several days sharing a vision with strangers of 2 completely different perceptions of each other. But at the end of the emotion and thought overload what follows is what started this trip in the first place, just a bunch of kids wanting to experience 1 of the many ways of living. And in this case, 1 hole in the floor of a toilet to a whole apartment building, birds nest in the corner ceiling of the house, 5am wake up, and enough rice to feed a village for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And that being said I’d have it no other way.

Something we flew to the opposite side of the world to experience is just another day for our Nepalese brothers and sisters. For our family in particular a normal day consists of feeding the hundreds of chickens they own, shepherding the goats, making “chai” and a big bowl of rice to finish the day.

As simple as it sounds that’s all life is here in Nepal, live life for each day and put your time with the people you love first before anything, something the west doesn’t prioritize and that’s a real eye opener.

Tom and Nathan

Despite this not being my first time in a home stay, I was still nervous when I first arrived. I wasn’t sure what the living situation was, and I was worried that communication with the family would be tough. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried about any of those things. My home stay family, which consisted of a mother who had two daughters, Roshni (19), and Eliza (17), and a son, could not have been any nicer. The cooking was also amazing, and they catered to all of my needs. Their neighbor, who was in the house a good amount, also spoke Hindi, which made communication easier as my home stay partner, Nathan, is a fluent Hindi speaker. A cousin of the girls, Sagar (along with his brother and sister), arrived midway through our home stay, and spoke excellent English, which made communication even easier. Their house was very comfortable, and could have the entire team over for lunch, which frequently happened. The highlight of the home stay experience had to be when Nathan and I hiked with the family through a local pine forest to collect beautiful rhododendron flowers, and we eventually ended up at a point that overlooked the whole city of Kathmandu. This was a fantastic experience for both me and Nathan, and it‘s one we will never forget.

The rhododendron flower, the national flower of Nepal
The view of Kathmandu from the lookout point

Rice Feeding Ceremony

By Sophie

Halfway through our stay in Kopan we were lucky enough to be invited to a rice feeding ceremony by one of the host families. This is a celebration of a child turning six months old. The baby was decked out in red and gold and had a ceremony at a Buddhist monastery surrounded by family. This was followed by a day’s long party that only seemed to get more and more wild as time went on. Family from the surrounding area drove in to bless the baby and hand him money before staying to dance and eat. Our team arrived to dance around five and did not stop until well into the night. The locals taught us their dance moves and dressed the women of the group up in saris. We all went home with sore feet and full smiles.

The baby of honor with his parents
Sophie with the baby of honor
Sophie, Hayley, Eve, and Sonya wearing saris before the rice Feeding Ceremony

Teaching

By Conor

Under the expectant gaze of 30-40 smiling Nepali children, our group was overcome with anxiety of varying severity concerning how we were going to survive the coming 45 minutes. If our translator/lord and savior Gokul wasn’t present, we might not have, either. While the other group with Charlie, Eve, and Tom set off on a highly successful geography lesson, our group with Sophie, Trevor, Alex, and myself plowed ahead with a cultural exchange exercise. We had the kids fold colored paper twice to create 4 squares on either side. We then asked them to draw pictures in the squares contrasting cultural aspects of Nepal and the United States. For example, we had them draw pictures of Nepali food verses United States food, Nepali holidays verses holidays in the United States, etc. It was a fun exercise, particularly in seeing how the Nepali kids perceived the United States. Overall it was a fun time for all involved and both teams succeeded in holding the attention of Nepali classrooms for 45 minutes with our lessons.

Tom, Charlie, and Eve teaching the students about making maps
Eve hard at work
Charlie interacting with the students
Trevor, Sophie, Alex, and Conor teaching
Alex and Trevor with the students

Construction

By Trevor

In Kopan our stay came with some very rewarding construction work. As a group we were assigned a few tasks at the local school. First off the team had to sand down the guard railing on the upper portion of the school. The goal was to put an anti rust adhesive and allow for a nice clean surface for the sky blue paint. The YI team made it look very good and it really complimented the school, and the principal was extremely satisfied. Second task for the YI team was to rip a lot of existing brick and concrete out of the school to create a play area for the kids. This project took the most work, with the YI team having to start by digging a trench for a small brick wall and then having to sort what seemed like countless amount of bricks, from full bricks to half bricks. After all of that was done the leveling process began on the last day of our stay.  The play area started to come together nicely as the team came to an end of their work. This construction project was the first of the trip and with a small group of 9 people the job completed effectively.  At the end of our work the school held a celebration ceremony for the YI team and it ended in a super fun dance party.

Conor, Alex, and Trevor under the watchful eyes of Gokul, our Nepalese leader.
Trevor hard at work
Conor mixing cement with the locals
Sophie working with Ashmita, a student at the school

Buddhist Monasteries

By Charlie

On Saturday we were guided up to two local monastery’s by our host families. To get to our destination we needed to hike up a hill overlooking the town of Kopan. It was about an hour hike passing through mountain towns and landscapes. By the time we reached the first monastery we were a little sweaty and parched but the views quickly quenched that thirst. The monastery was filled with elaborate paintings and pictures of lamas. Admittedly the zen vibe was a bit obscured with all the people taking cheesy selfies next to murals. Afterword we proceeded to the Kopan monastery, a very famous monastery in Nepal. After scrambling through hillside paths we reached the guarded entrance to the monastery. We had to convince the guard that we were there to mediate and not to sight see. The entrance to the gompa is marked with the writings of multiple Dali lamas. After spending some time inside the gompa we circled round to a famous stupa dedicated to the 1000 mini stupas inside the one big stupa. We then had to race down to the school to continue our work, with a zen state of mind.

Exterior of Kopan Monastery
The 5 images of Buddha in the interior of the Kopan Monastery
The elaborate Buddhas inside the Monastery
The team outside the Monastery

Making Momos

By Tom

Sunday afternoon, after a short morning of work, the group eagerly rushed over to myself and Nathan’s home stay. The occasion: making (and then eating) momos. Momos, a dumpling-like dish usually filled with vegetables, buffalo, or chicken, are very popular in Nepal. Once the group arrived, they soon found out the task would be tougher than expected. The process of making the momo involves creating a flat circle out of dough roughly the size of your palm, filling it with vegetables or meat (for this occasion it was vegetables), and then pinching the sides of the dough together while raising it up to cover the filling in order to create a dumpling shape. The momos are then steamed until cooked through. The process proved to be difficult, and only the Nepalese and Trevor were able to construct good looking momos. However, everyone proved to be proficient at eating the momos, with most devouring a plate of ten or more. We all left the house with full stomachs and a greater appreciation for the crafting of these delightful delicacies.

Sophie being taught how to make momos by her home stay father

White Water Rafting

By Conor

As a means of breaking up the long and bumpy bus ride to Pokhara, we spent three hours floating down the Trishuli River. Along the way we encountered intermittent rapids (the more severe bouts of which reached class four), both Sophie and Nathan capsizing Kayaks and having to bail on them, borderline frostbite on the slimmest among us, cliff-diving, an absolutely delicious, freshly made lunch, stunning scenery throughout, excellent Go-Pro footage, a couple of very cute dogs, and good times for crafting good memories. All in all, white-water rafting made for a highlight afternoon on the trip so far. Furthermore, its physically demanding nature combined with its omnipresent eye-candy made for an excellent prelude to our upcoming Himalayan trek.

Trevor is stoked
The whole team going for a swim
rafting
Hitting the rapids.
Cliff jumping
The crew of boat 1
Trevor being Trevor
Eve and Alex
Sophie and Charlie
Tom trying to balance
Conor oarsman of boat
Nathan trying not to fall
Sophie posing
Sophie and Conor helping Charlie up
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The whole team after rafting