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.
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.
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
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
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!
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
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.
The team at the bonfire
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
photo of Buddha
photo of Jesus
photo of Charlie cuddling with the prophet Muhammad
Photo of the Dalai Lama