Remote and Relaxing

Trip Start Feb 24, 2009
1
16
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Trip End Aug 19, 2009


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So I finally got out of Nepalgunj and arrived in Juphal, the capital of the Lower Dolpa region a week ago.  Juphal is a large village of flat roofed brick and mud buildings, perched about half way up the mountain side above a big river valley.  If you follow the valley far enough you end up in Tibet, and the culture and landscape here are very much in the Tibetan stylee.  Until the unification of Nepal in the 19th centuray Dolpa was an independant mountain kingdom, much like Bhutan is still today, and the Nepali government are still keen to preserve some of it's culture, what this means in practical terms is that you have to have a permit to come here, more money!  At least I am only in Lower Dolpa, where the permit is $10 a week.  To go into Upper Dolpa it is something like $500.

I am staying in one of the hotels in Juphal, run by Tarak and his wife Ganga, who are friendly and welcoming and speak good English, it makes such a difference to be able to really talk and get to know the people you stay with, my Nepali is getting better but still haven't got past the point of just being able to ask for the things I need, conversaion is a long way off.

I have now finished my first week of teaching at The Dolpa English Educational School, a new school in town for 5-10 year olds, who previously either had no education, or had to mix into the classes at the senior school, where they were learning nothing.  The school opened in March, is taught entirely in English, and currently has 52 students in 4 classes, but in two weeks time 20 or so more will be starting.  The school is pretty standard for Nepal, few resources, a wide range of abilities in each class, heavy on discipline and rote learning....complete lack of any kind of imaginative teaching.  Just stand at the front of the class, read from the text book, make the children copy down the lesson from the text book.  Little interest at all in whether they understand the material, as long as they have copied it down correctly.  I have settled in a bit now, and started to try and do some different activities with the children, drawing pictures, acting out words, songs etc, but the first couple of days were a real struggle, and their level of English is such that I sometimes spend half the lesson just trying to communicate what it is I want them to do..."No I don't want you to write the scentence out 50 times, I want you to tell me what it means!"

Tristan and I have been for a couple of walks in the surrounding countryside this week, the first one up to the Alpine forest which starts on the slopes of the valley just above the village.  Beautiful clean air, the smell of pine trees, friendly locals in the fields.  We went with Birbal, one of the teachers from the school and on the way back stopped at the house where he is staying, and got given tea, bread, homemade raddish pickle, and then Rokshi...talk about hospitality.  Rokshi is local wine, in this part of Nepal made from Barley (although it is Millet around Pokhara).  This family actually make theirs at the house so we got to have a look at the still before we drank it.  Pretty basic metal pot over a fire, but the product is surprisingly good.  A bit like weak sherry, and usually served warm.

Yesterday was Tristan's last day before he heads back to Kathmandu, and as the school only has a half day on Friday, we got adventurous and walked down to the river (450m down...and back up).  The walk took us down to a much more traditional and less developed village than Juphal, again all flat roofed houses, with ladders to get onto the roof made of a single log with notches cut into it.  Most houses also have a wooden statue of a person on top, although I have yet to discover the significance of them...they are cool.  Once through the village we wandered through terraced fields growing mostly barley and wheat (and a lot of wild marijuana plants!), Tristan is a botanist so I learned a lot about the wild plants of Nepal in our 3 hour walk.  The walk back up was tough and we got a bit lost, but that meant we ended up at a collection of about 3 houses in the middle of nowhere where everyone came out to give us directions, and then when they realised we had cameras were falling over themselves to have their photos taken.  Such amazing friendly people.

We eat our breakfast (rice rice and more rice) sitting on the roof above our room, looking out over snow capped mountains, the river far below us and eagles and vultures climbing the thermals in front of us.  It really is pretty idylic, and I have't seen a vehicle other than a mule for a week.  Actually that isn't true we have seen a couple of helicopters, at least one of which was doing a food drop for the World Food Program.  Tuesday was rice distribution day and Juphal swelled with all the people from surrounding villages come to collect their precious food aid.  So nice to see international aid going to people who really need it (most people walked 10 hours round trip, the 5 hours back with a 40Kg bag of rice on their back), but also everyone had their best traditional clothes and jewellery on for the trip to the 'big town', they all looked amazing, some of the girls were breathtakingly beautiful in their bright colourful outfits.

Tristan was supposed to have left by now, but we have just had news that the flight has been cancelled....will I ever get out of here?  Would it be so bad if I didn't ?
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