So here it is, the final post in this tale of cycling adventure.
Trying to write about the emotions I felt over those last few days while sitting here in my living room will not do it justice, so I will instead copy out what I wrote in my journal on my flight home from Delhi.
Thank you to all who have read and followed the blog – it has been a truly rewarding experience to write it, and I hope its been enjoyable to read.
This is the end, my only friend, the end
1st Septmber 2011, Delhi
So, here it is, my final entry. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I knew it would be on the plane (which it is) but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. I’m actually a little drunk, so that’s probably having an effect. Not to the counter though – I’m so excited about what’s to come. I’ve lost all bad feeling about what I’m leaving behind. Not that I’m sad about leaving – I’m excited by the prospect that ‘life goes on’.
I look out of the window – we’re above Uzbekistan now – and I look at the scale of the earth and I try to tell myself ‘you cycled all this’ and I feel nothing. Not pride, not awe, not a thing. I don’t know why really. Am I numb to it? Sometimes I think I must be missing some kind of emotion inside – devoid of some kind of deep seated emotion that makes me feel like this is a once in a lifetime experience. Why do I feel nothing for what I’ve done? Maybe its the nature of doing – it becomes you. So to step out and think ‘holy fuck’ is not like you would think. The world is still the world. Tesco’s never left. People still die. Nothing you did has changed anything. Maybe nothing ever changes. Maybe I never change.
I can begin to relate to that feeling they say you get when nothing excites you anymore. You’ve seen a lot, so less and less is inspiring – like Christmas when you grow up. Maybe this journey has exposed me to so much that the ‘old life’ I had before this journey now has it’s place. You grow and grow through your experiences, and are able to look back on them all with a sense of clarity and a sense of how you’ve grown. The more you are exposed to the more you understand, and lose nothing.
Maybe I’m wrong – maybe I’ll walk off the plane and it will all hit me and I’ll be knocked sideways with shock. (part of me hopes for this – I know it won’t happen). All I do know now is, I did this, this is my life. I have seen some of the world, as my day to day life. I have lived like this and it has felt as normal as going to work in the morning. I feel more comfortable in the world as a result. Delhi was quite shit, as a place and as an end to the adventure, but I didn’t expect anything less, and in that sense its nature of just being as it always is and will be is the perfect way for me to end my adventure – the dream of a creshendo or some idyllic high is not the real life of the road that has made it the adventure that it was.
For all the darker characteristics of Indian culture that Delhi exhibited – deceit, discourtesy, distrust – I did enjoy it. Lots of beer and curry, and some souvenirs ( a table drum to be precise! ) kept me pre-occupied. That and packing up my bike and organising my stuff and thinking about how my beard will be received back at home. Before I knew it I was at the airport, receiving my exit stamp and sitting in an air conditioned departure lounge in a dirty tshirt and flip flops, wondering where my bike is and what just happened.
(written after a little snooze and a little sobering up)
I guess its not that I’m dead inside at all. What it is, really, is the nature of slow travel. It becomes so normal, the day to day life of moving on the road, that there’s no shock to the system anymore. Nothing to make you sit up in that instant and go ‘wow, what a ride!!’ That’s the beauty and the curse. The beauty is the normality of it all and truly living as if you are a man in the world. The curse is you never can take a step out to look at it all. It’s so big, but you only see a tiny part of it at a time. you adjust, and you carry on. I’m about to enter into a new normality – that’s when the real shock will strike. I will have to readjust to not moving and focus on a few things for a prolonged perioid, as opposed to seeing many things fly by every day. That’s the real test. Staying put in the real world is harder than cycling around it.
So, in summary:
This journey has been an eye opening experience beyond anything I could have anticipated before I set off. The hard times (and there were many of them) were the most valuable of all the experiences. I overcame challenges concerning fitness, emotions, motivation, developing my strengths and facing my weaknesses, while understanding a little more of the complex makeup of the world.
The most valuable aspect of this trip has been to do with my relationship with Julian. The hard times that we endured together, and understanding what it takes to live in such proximity to someone for such a prolonged period, has been my greatest realisation. When you share everything you see with only one person every single day, you cant help but create acute abrasion. The hard days together were some of the toughest days of the road, and being in a position where you have to deal with them then and there leads you to understand a little more the emotional balance of friendship. Sharing this with him, and learning what it is made from, is something that I truly thank him for.
I also thank the difficulty of each climb, for making me more determined to overcome it. I thank the warmth of all the people we met, to show me how to be unconditionally supportive and welcoming to any person. I thank the unconditional support of my family and friends, without whom I would have flown home from Germany.
I love my bike. I cherish the freedom it brings and the opportunity it provides to be a disarmed ambler of the world. I will be back on it one day for sure.
As my new friend sitting next to me on the plane says, the most important thing is to live on based on what you’ve learned from your experiences in life, not to forget them and keep them with you, living a life of richness and of balance. This is what Mathias always said, and this is what I will strive to do. Work hard, stay healthy, and most of all anything is possible if you really want it.
Thank you bike, thank you world.
Leaving Rishikesh I was really excited about the last stint on the saddle. I had just over a week until I was set to pack up my bike into a box and get a taxi to Delhi airport. With 450km to go, I have the opportunity to take a detour and really soak up the hills before I get onto the plains and into the Delhi throng.
My road will take me up into the hills, heading east out of Rishikish and aiming for Srinagar (not Srinagar in Kashmir, unfortunately). The road was quiet and warm and had a nice steady climb as I followed the Ganges closer and closer to its source.
A little out of Rishikesh my path was crossed by another cycle tourist – but this one was a travelling Yogi, making his pilgrimage from Kashmir to Mumbai via Armritsar. His bike was a raggedy affair – more of an antique show piece adorned with trinkets than a bicycle worthy of the distance he was planning. All he carried was a blanket and a bottle of water – cleary lucking in on temple hospitality and turning yoga tricks for a bit of change on his way. He stopped me and asked if I fancied a smoke – I found it very hard to refuse. We sat at the roadside while he loaded his large pipe with hash and we sat and had a smoke while he explained me his route and then proceeded to demonstrate to me some of his yoga moves – which were blindingly impressive. Half way through our encounter I had the feeling this may turn into a money request but I had barely enough to buy my last dinners to Delhi, seeing as there was no ATM in Rishikesh. he seemed satisfied with the offer of a pack of biscuits and we wished eachother well before we pedalled off in opposite directions.
The day was drawing to a close but the heat wasn’t letting up. I took the opportunity where I could to refresh in the natural showers that cascaded over the road as it meandered up the valley, keeping an eye out as I went for a flat bit of land that I could camp on for the night – but pickings were slim.
The last bend of the day was the biggest washpoint of the road, with truck loads of people washing themselves and their vehicles. There was a hive of activity around the water source, which was a little inconvenient as I spotted a flat patch on the roof of a concrete out building just down from the road among the jungle. I tried in vain to slip down there unawares, and while I was setting up a growing group of kids were peering from above and throwing stones to get my attention. They did indeed get my attention, but they got the picture when I started throwing stones back and told them to bugger off in my best Hindi.
That night was one of the most memorable in India. The overgrowth was enough that I couldnt hear let alone see the road, and it was cleared infront of my tent to afford me a view across the Ganges valley as if it was my own. It was hot but there was a breeze, and I could sleep with my tent door open as long as the incense I had bought from Rishikesh was kept burning through the night. I felt like a jungle warrior.
That morning I arose to a huge traffic jam on the road above – a landslide had fallen in the night some 400m from where I was sleeping. I brished off the thoughts of if it had come down 400m nearer and proceeded to weave my way through the traffic. I got to the front of the queue to see pedestrians and bikers chancing it across the perilous section of road as rocks and dust continued to fall. Two police, apparantly in control, waved traffic through when they thought it was safe – of course it was never safe. I took my chances with the pedesetrians and peddled in excitement as stones and pebbles fell around me.
The next section of road flew down back to the river and I crossed into another valley by lunch, taking time to enjoy another the first lunch curry stop. The road continued up into Srinagar, which I took the pleasure of lunch number 2, before the long meandering climb to Pauri. This climb was the memory that I hold dear to me one year on, for the beauty, adventure and prime of life fitness that I had on that day. The road was fantastic in every aspect – it meandered endlessly up the wide valley towards Pauri, which you could see on the other side of the valley high up in the clouds. you could just make out the road as it headed towards the town. I put on the tunes and slowly climbed, feeling the buzz of pushing and pushing as I climbed up through the jungle, feeling totally alive and for the first time really relishing the climb.
I rolled in Pauri victorious just before sunset, and set about buying bananas and onions and getting ready to head out of town and try and find another flat spot of land to camp. I timed my exit from town just as the school run was at its peak, which lead to me being stopped by a young girl and her mum on a scooter, who offered for me to stay in their place for the night. Being late in the day, and with the offer of my first experience of hospitality in India, I invariably jumped at the offer. ‘great!’ she said. ‘my house is just up there’ and pointed out of sight pretty much to the top of the mountain.
After a long and hard push up the hill (after climbing all day, now I was exhausted) we finally reached her house, which was in the grounds of the Pauri University. Her father was a university lecturer, but was blind, hence the local residency to his workplace.
Shiaddha and her family welcomed me in with open arms, offering me a shower ( I was in dire need) and some great food. We chatted into the night about India and Pauri and her fathers job until I could barely keep my eyes open. Bed was very welcome.
The next morning Shiaddha convinved me to stay the morning and gave me a tour of the university and the town. We visited a temple with not to welcoming moneys, who packed up and chased me out of the compound. God damn monkeys.
By 1 oclock I was keen to get moving, the clouds were coming in so I hit the road. The climb continued for a little until I reached the pass, at which point the clouds cleared and all the climbing over the last two days opened up as the road dissappeared under my wheels. I couldnt help but shreek with glee as I steamed down the jungle mountain.
The day continued much the same, save for when I stopped in a town for curry lunch to see that the sleeving of my rear gear cable had split beyond repair. I tried in vain to fix it, with splints and tape, to no avail. All the male population of the village descended on me thinking themselves as bike mechanics, but on to his credit managed to patch it up just enough to give me half my gears back, which was a relief seeing as I would be climbing up and over the valley to get onto the plains.
Night was drawing in, and I had the usual conundrum of no flat land to camp. I tried to hide in a cave but was spotted by four guys on scooters – not that its an issue, I just didnt want word to spread I was around. I continued on, the sun having set half an hour ago and it getting too dark to see unaided. I got desperate and took shelter in a bus stop, thinking that it would be pretty inactive over night. I waited there for a while for the last few bus runs to run by, and then set up camp in the shelter, using my groundsheet to block the entrance so passing headlights wouldnt peer in and wake me. Worked a charm, and despite the occasional rumble of trucks hurtling 5 feet from my head throughout the night, I slept undisturbed.
The next day I knew would be my last in the hills, so I took my time to enjoy the view and take it in, climbing the last 20km over the whole morning. I hit the final descent and got into Kotdwara for lunch time, and the heat increased to 40 degrees, along with the traffic.
The next two days were really grim, and not the way to end the trip as I had intended. At the same time I had anticipated this, as the road into Delhi was always going to be tortuous. It certainly didnt disappoint. Endlessly straight and congested, I consumed the fumes of trucks and buses for two long sweaty days. I made camp in a half cut field of barley, sweating the night through and feeling a little anticlimactic as to the last night in my tent. My spirits were lifted by a friendly farmer in the morning who took pity on me with tea after he saw I had slept in his field, which got me early and on the road for my last day on the bike, into Delhi and cycling along endless highway into India’s choking heart, for the end of the road.
Rishikesh has been earmarked on my map with a big DOWNTIME arrow since I inadvertently cashed in on not going to Kathmandu. I had almost a week to spare, and with my birthday coming up, it came at a good time to have a bit of a stretch off the saddle (although the last break I had was two days ago, I hadn’t really felt exerted enough to deserve it, but never mind).
Rishikesh is the home of Yoga, and the heaving number of thai-dye donned tourists confirmed it.I was in the land of the Yogi’s, of spine wrenching yoga, chillum smoking, orange togas, free-range cattle and alcoholic abstinence. Fresh juice and potato curry flowed through the streets like the cow pats after a monsoon downpour. I felt ready to embrace it though, as contrived and cliched as it might have felt at the time. But after one year of time on the saddle, you cant help but indulge in a bit of soul searching, and the inner hippy in me was yearning to relight the incense with its rightful backdrop.
I spent a bit of time on the first day searching for a good ashram, partly out of hesitation, partly because I had no idea what I was looking for. I ended up going for Anand Praksh Ashram, a little up the hill and out of town, away from the ‘omm’ ing throng of the riverside and a little more peaceful. Peaceful it was, but it had its fair share of omm’s. By the first day though, I had fully embraced the atmosphere that it had created around me.
I arrived at perfect time – just before lunch – and was greeted by bows and blessings as the ayuverdic food was served out by other guests. a prayer and a song was recited before tucking in to the rather fantastic food, and i got to know the other guests – most of whom were yoga practitioners of sorts on holiday to enrich their yoga lives. I envied the way they were able to translate this mode of living back to their daily lives – something that I knew at the time I could never achieve – and sitting here writing this now at my desk one year later – something I can confirm I didn’t.
Either way, I had a great time being introduced to the power of yoga by them and by the Ashram. Two yoga sessions a day (the first at 5 am and the second just before dinner) gave me more of a workout that I typically felt in a day on the saddle. By the end of the first session I felt like my legs had grown three inches and I had lost about 5 litres in sweat. I can see how it can become addictive, although i cant quite imagine doing it at home, as the setting for me felt such an intrinsic part of the experience. The yogi was soothing and in control, and pushed you without burning you out. It was relaxing at the same time as demanding. I would highly recommend it, and if I had time in my life now I would have kept it up. I bought several yoga books which I regret stay fairly unopened now on my shelf, but was quite absorbed by when I was there – something I put down to the absorbance of atmosphere as an intrinsic quality to really embracing new experience.
It was my birthday while I was there, and that fell in line conveniently with Vishnu. Chrissy, Corin (who bizarrely enough I remember from Nottingham) and the other guests in the ashram made me a surprise cake which was brilliant, and we all headed down to check out the Vishnu party in a temple by the river. It was a fitting end to a great and relaxing experience, one that I shall cherish as a valuable memory that I had away from the road.
When it came the time to leave, my burdened bicycle drew quite a bit of attention from the staff. I cant imagine they get many guests arriving on bikes, and before long they had told me the local press was on their way to give me an interview. I felt honoured to be interviewed, and it was quite a bizarre experience, seeing as the interviewer didn’t really speak much English and recorded pretty much everything I said to him incorrectly, including where I was from and where I had been. They took my picture and gave me a cheery farewell, before I pushed off with my newly balanced set of leg muscles, pendants and panniers full of incense into the Himalayan foothills.
I fly out of Chandigarh, excited by the prospect that i’m going to Kathmandu and fulfilling the trip to its full potential. It’s boiling hot of course, so I use this opportunity to cycle in a vest. I almost instantly regret this decision. I find the road heading out of the city and I stop for a quick lunch in a roadside curry café, and I instantly feel the heat. I wipe myself down and half my back comes off in my towel. The other diners in the café look on at me with great concern, and point out that my back is completely blistered. I didn’t feel a thing, and it still felt ok after I changed my clothes, but the lack of pain didn’t last. I put back on my baggy tshirt and douse it in water, feeling a little dampened now about my quick getaway.
Further adding to my bad start, I leave Punjab Haryana and am welcomed into Himichal Pradesh by hills and unpaved roads. Not what I want for 120km/day to Kathmandu. I curse and start to climb towards Nahan, stopping occasionally on the roadside to have a soak in the natural car washes along with several bus full’s of sweating Indian’s.
I reach Nahan around 4pm, having only done 60km. Thankfully from then on the rest of the day is down hill and I quickly make up 100km. Another 20km in this heat doesn’t feel that tempting, again putting a damper on the day, as I would have to make it up tomorrow. The heat really is a factor that I didn’t anticipate. Luckily around the 110 mark I stop at a temple, and gingerly ask if they have somewhere I can camp. They instantly offer me a bed, food, shower and a change of clothes. Result! A couple of the guys speak tiny English and we talk all night about English girls, whiskey and monkeys (their job working at the temple mostly entails keeping monkeys out of the shrine)
Over dinner conversation turns to my passport (just out of curiosity on their side – a nice change after the nosiness and demanding nature of people in Central Asia) I go to my bag to retrieve it and to my embarrassment and utter foolishness – its not there. They at first don’t believe me. I don’t believe it myself, but it’s actually not in my possession. I quickly think back to Chandigarh and I realise in my haste to leave the Air India office that I left it on the desk. Luckily – oh so luckily – I have the mobile number of the guy I dealt with in the office. I borrow one of the holy men’s phones and give him a call. ‘Oh my god, I have been trying to reach you all day! You left your passport in my office!’ thank god for that. I am relieved and devastated.
The holy men tell me there is a bus at 6am tomorrow that will take me direct into Chandigarh. They allow me to store my bike and all my belongings in the temple for the day so I can retrieve it. If it weren’t for them and their hospitality, I would have been cycling back, for sure putting an end to my eager plans to cycle to Kathmandu, although this episode had pretty much put them to bed anyway.
I rise early the next morning and jump on the bus back to Chandigarh, hot foot it to the office and retrieve my passport. I’m back with my bike by 4pm, totally relieved and able to carry on cycling, although on the bus I decided Kathmandu was not going to happen anymore. I was disappointed, but the relief eclipsed that feeling very quickly out of my mind.
I got on the road again and put in a ginger 40km to Paonta Sahib, settled down for a nice curry dinner, then headed out the other side of town and ducked down a small footpath for a camp spot, which turned out to be the hottest, sweatiest and most unpleasant of the trip. I did have fireflies to keep my company though. And prickly heat powder, which I owe a hell of a lot to!
The morning was wet and much cooler, allowing me to get off with ease despite only 45 minutes sleep. I made the decision not to go all the way to Kathmandu the day before, which meant I had reverted back to me previous plan of rnr in Rishiskesh, which was now only 85km away.
The road to Rishikesh was relatively quiet and flat, with thick jungle and a host of angry monkeys. I got chased a fair few times, and one even lunged at me. I’m not sure what they were thinking when they saw me coming – a man on a big bicycle, but I didn’t hang around to find out. I narrowly out pedalled a pack of monkeys before my childish fascination with them turned into a distinct distrust and dislike for the little buggers.
Arriving in Rishikesh there were more monkeys than people, but they were a large degree tamer than before and more keen to pick pocket your fruit. I found a small ashram near the centre that wasn’t quite what I expected – just a small room in a largely empty complex, but it did for the night while I avoided the rain and ate more curry.
So, finally after 9 months and three days since I returned from my cycle to Delhi, I finally have time to finish off the last three weeks of the blog and lay it to rest.
The last entry I made was for the 14th August, where I had just cycled into Chandigarh, after two days of being on my own in India having parted ways with Julian. The weather was searing and I was sunburned and drenched from the sporadic downpours that so well typified this monsoon season that we had the inevitability of ending up in, timing our trip as we did.
Chandigarh was near top of my list of places to visit on this trip, as it holds a huge significance to me in the form of its creator, Le Corbusier. Revolutionary at the time, The newly independent Indian power wanted to create a new city that was suggestive of a modern and contemporary growth for India. They searched far and wide for a European architect who could envision a new Indian urbanism manifest in the form of a garden city that were taking shape in Europe and the USA. Corbusier had a vision for a city of layers, divided up into precincts, that would reduce traffic congestion and improve living standards. His vision for a machine city for living was prototyped here, and it has equal significance in its success or failure to implement this type of urbanism into a chaotic system of India.
The first thing that struck me, and in hindsight it of course makes perfect sense, was the general level of affluence and middle class-ness about the place. All the houses in the precincts were neatly lined in pre determined rows. This western model inevitably meant they were expensive and catered for the bracket of India that considered themselves of a higher class than the rest.
I found the huge highway avenues that divided the precincts daunting and dull. Being straight lines this was inevitable, but they were peculiarly hard to navigate – fences lining the centre of the streets meant turning was impossible, and signposts in the city were only showing the directions of other districts – all of which were numbered. According to the map, precinct 23 was the centre, but it wasn’t next to 22 or 24 in the way I was headed. By the time I found it via many directions from locals, there was nothing there but expensive restaurants and equally expensive hotels. I was told I wouldn’t be able to find anything below 500 rupees for a night.
The price of accommodation didn’t help, and neither did the relentless rain on my first day (not that it mattered, as everything was shut for Indian Independence Day anyway) So I spent the entire first day pretty much riding rickshaws in the rain, sitting in underground internet cafes and eating KFC (which I justified as a social experiment – I was intrigued to see how far the wealthier classes of India would go to have a slice of Western Culture), drinking beer in my room and not actually doing anything.
I did have some time though to make some (rather naive) judgements on what I had seen of the city so far. Suffice to say, I wasn’t impressed. A machine for living, at the scale of a city, in an environment such as India, surely was doomed to failure before ground was broken. This totalitarian idea of Utopia cannot be applied here. The sectors are islands, the highways that criss cross the city are un passable monstrosities. I didn’t feel comfortable or able to move around without a car. I felt as if I would be marooned to my sector if I lived there.
Of course the next day, after my visit to the museum, I realised the intention of the highways – to reduce traffic and noise in the sectors themselves, thus giving a more pleasant living environment. The sectors were well planned, with lots of green space that cut through the overall master plan, framing the mountains to the north.
But still the city was dominated by these highways. The sidewalks, where there are any, are in muddy decline. Often you have to walk in the road, and there are few places to turn off or around, forcing poor rickshaw drivers a long way in the wrong direction before they can correct themselves into the appropriate cycle lane (of which there are plenty, pretty much unheard of anywhere else in India!)
The city seems to be at the mercy of the fence, depicting where you cant go. Such rules and control at urban scale has simply little effect than annoyance in India. People don’t follow the plan, but when the plan is unavoidable, it just makes for frustration and isolation. India simply isn’t ready for a city like this. I don’t think anyone is. The sporadic and spontaneous nature and beauty of sprawl and growth has been limited to highways and sectors that are equally unlivable.
I ventured up to the Capital Hill complex to see Corb’s specialities of Chandigarh – the Municipality and City Hall buildings. These were fantastic – a bustling concentration of administrative life that was contained in a typically Corbusian monolith, with a backdrop of overgrown jungle and monkeys. I managed to blag my way on to the roof, where lazy guards sat around drinking whiskey and watching out over the complex with sniper rifles. They offered for me to look down the barrel and made mock shooting noises. Didn’t feel me with confidence when I got off the roof.
Being an architectural tourist is exhausting. There was so much red tape to navigate in order to get into the municipality building, and just for a few photos. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like sitting around in Chandigarh much at all. I felt like I was waiting for something. Is this how it will be for the next three weeks? Cycle one day, wait two days, cycle two days, wait three days? Maybe in this time I can get to Kathmandu…. UHOH.
I planted the seed in my head, and before I knew it I was in the Air India office in Chandigarh changing my flights so I could cycle to Kathmandu.
Before I knew it it was done. I had changed my flights, giving me 15 days to cycle 1,500km to Kathmandu. 100km a day, no rest, or 120km a day and getting to Kathmandu a day early. It would be a tough ride, but I knew I could do it, and I was buzzing. So much so that as soon as the flight was confirmed, I was out the door and hitting the road hard east.
Tim said goodbye and left to do the Annapurna Trekking route on his touring bike leaving most of his gear behind at the hotel, as the route offers plenty of accommodation and eating stops. I occupied myself by taking Nepali lessons with a man called Chet in a bid to improve my communication before the charity placement began. I managed to get up to a decent conversational level, albeit with only 6 lessons, but with most people speaking infinitely better English it was difficult to improve on the basics I had.
I visited a few of the projects operated by ICT’s Nepalese partner charity, Children’s Welfare Scheme and got a detailed schedule of what I would be doing in Beni where the ICT project was taking place.
I arrived in Beni a small town wedged in between mountains and the confluence of 2 rivers. The market was a lot busier than I had imagined it would be and there was internet! The small village I would stay in was a 20 minute walk alongside the river. I would walk to and from Beni always tripping on the exposed rocks on the track, despite 2 months of practice I could never make the route without embarrassing myself, unlike the Nepali’s who would do it perfectly and in bare feet.
I was introduced to the team at the Rural Empowerment and Environment Centre (REEC), one of ICT’s benefactors. Instantly I felt at home, Prakash, Raju, Krishna, Sabitri, Gauree, Dil Maya, Mahavir all made their absolute most to make me feel part of their family. I spent Diwali with Krishnas family and received mala and tika (Necklace of flowers and red paste mark between the eyes) as an honourary member of the family. We would watch the dancing exhibitions in the evening, keen children could be seen practicing in the weeks running up to the festival, it was a fantastic community atmosphere and I got involved and raised a few laughs with my dancing.
My main duties at the charity were to teach the employees basic English, play with the kids in the drop-in-centre and assist Krishna with overseeing the construction of a new drop-in centre just out of town. Essentially the drop in centre functions as a fun/informal learning space with a small selection of toys and books run by a dedicated supervisor for young children who are forced into work by their parents. I met a lot of the parents and their not evil, they live in very poor conditions and need all the income to sustain the low level they currently have. Contrary to what I thought, many parents are happy to have the children take a few hours off work a day to come and muck around, shout and dance and generally act like kids.
I had so many great experiences in the drop in centre, all the kids come in various assortments of ill fitting filthy clothes their bodies full of marks and dirt yet they always have a smile plastered right across their faces. In one session I taught them how to make paper boys and girls, I will never forget it, all of them fighting to use the limited scissors and pencils, I was in a state of panic for the duration hoping no one would lose an eye. But the results were amazing and they proudly stuck them on the wall.
I’d also dance and sing with them, they were particularly fond of my dancing, mostly for laughing at but I enjoyed putting a smile on their faces. One day many of the children didn’t show up and on subsequent days they weren’t there, I began to be concerned but later that day I found them in suitably ill-fitting school uniforms, they had been admitted to the local government school, a huge success.
Teaching English was also an adventure, talking English is one thing trying to teach it is another matter entirely. Its natural to know where words go, irregular and regular verbs and little rules but trying to relay that to an audience that could not speak any English was a challenge for sure. I developed simple ways of explaining things, always trying to ground what I was saying with Nepalese examples to try to help the understanding. I mostly made up what I was going to teach, sometimes this worked really well other time it failed miserably, but it was all a learning curve for all parties involved. I’ll never forget the feeling of satisfaction when it was obvious from peoples faces that they understood the concept. I loved watching the students confidence and ability grow gradually.
The construction of the new drop-in -centre was of huge importance, the current building REEC occupied was crumbling and dark. The new building designed for the purpose, bright and spacious and its where a lot of the donations you have given will go towards. By the time I had left the first floor had been set, it will be a fair few months before the building is completed, I intend to go back to see everyone and see the new building in all its glory.
My great experiences didn’t end at REEC. Throughout my time I camped in the grounds of a small hotel run by two brothers, most nights we’d sit and chat with each other, the eldest brother had attended cooking school and taught me how to cook some stonking dishes.
Towards the end of my time in Beni I embarked on the Annapurna circuit, renting a mountain bike from Pokhara and completing the entire circuit in 10days, a gruelling effort but breathtaking to see the mighty Annapurna range up close.
So it was of great sadness to me to leave all the great friends I had made there, it had been a truly awesome experience, more than I could have hoped for. But it was time for my rest to come to and end and mount the bike for the final furlong up to Kathmandu.
During my time in Beni I had made 3 separate trips to Kathmandu on a bus to get my rear wheel sorted out. It was an international endeavour to get it to come together, I had to mail order a new rim from America, my parents had to buy spokes from a UK bike shop and courier them over and it all came together in a small bike workshop in Kathmandu. So the ride there was a little monotonous and completely not as I had imagined it would be but I felt very happy to have achieved what I had set out to do 2 or so years ago.
So this is the end of this blog, man what a journey, we’re really glad you could join us on some of the adventures here. I hope you have enjoyed it, we certainly enjoyed seeing it updated, possibly not the writing so much but it certainly worth it.
So go get that bike and go have yourself an adventure!