Thursday, March 27, 2014

Singalila Ridge Trek

The region where I am living, in the very northwest corner of Darjeeling District, in the Indian state of West Bengal, is well-known for trekking. The 'Singalila Ridge Trek,' which goes along the border with Nepal, and climaxes at Sandakpur (3,636 meters or nearly 12,000 feet), literally goes right outside of my house. I'd heard that this was a good season to do the trek, so while Sarah Didi was here, we decided to go for it. Our 'brother' Sobhit served as our guide (required for the trek).

DAY ONE (Kharka, Daragaon to Chitrey)

We walked from our house two hours to the nearest market, Rimbick, which is the usual ending point of the trek. Made multiple stops for tea along the way at various relatives' of Sobhit. From there, we took a jeep three hours to the town of Maney Bhanjyang, where we then walked for an hour up to Chitrey (2,400 m), where we spent our first night.

Leaving Maney Bhanjyang to go uphill

Chitrey Tibetan Buddhist Monestery
Chitrey Tibetan Buddhist Monestery

Kind Words from the Monestery

Loving the prayer flags

Sarah Didi amidst the flags

Our hotel, with the moon

DAY TWO (Chitrey to Kalpokari)

An early start in Chitrey, views of Kachenzonga--little did we know, it would be our only snow-capped mountain view. Walked through a rather barren land to our first check post, where the Indian Army asked to take pictures of us, but refused to let us take photos of them.Continued on to the famous Tonglu (3,070 meters), and then downhill to Jaubari, a cute little village. Two hours later reached the army base at Garibas, where they were eager to take a photo with us.

We continued down a bit further before heading back up to our destination for the evening, Kalpokhari (3,185 meters). During the last hour before we made it, we walked together with the Indian army through light rain and hail. Shortly after arriving in Kalpokhari, it began to snow...

DAY THREE (Kalpokari to Sandakphu)

After a long, 22 kilometer day, we took it "easy" and walked for just six kilometeres, but gained more than five hundred meters in order to reach our destination, the pinnacle of Sandakphu! Unfortunately, the clouds weren't going anywhere...

Sandakphu, in all it's foggy glory
DAY FOUR (Sandakphu to Phalut)

The next day, things looked slightly more alive...

With the Indian Army, also trekking. Check out the facial hair on the tall guy.

We continued on to Phalut and hoped that it wouldn't rain along the way.

Arrived in Phalut and were welcomed by yaks which provided the milk for our tea (not bad).

Spent the evening gathered around the fire in the kitchen warming ourselves and chatting.

DAY FIVE (Phalut to Home!)

Woke up to lots of fresh snow...

Our accommodation

Hitting it in the snow

Me Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) - use your imagination
Sobhit Daju and Sarah Didi
I thoroughly enjoyed playing in the snow, even if I didn't have clothes appropriate for it. As we walked on towards Gorkey and home, the snow lessened...

River near Gorkey
 After Gorkey, it was just three more hours...
Civilization! Sammanden, just past Gorkey

Tea stop at Sobhit's friend's in Sammanden

I was very excited when I saw Rammam School (flags above), signalling that we were as good as home!

Daragaon Village, Part II

In the beginning of March I returned to Daragaon Village, this time together with a volunteer nurse, Sarah from the UK, and to stay with a new family. The principal of the school, Binod, is opening up a hotel so wasn't able to host us because they are quite busy. So we are staying with Sobhit Rai (who I am to call "Daju" - meaning elder brother), his wife Sumi ("Baoju" - elder brother's wife), their nine month old son, Precious, and Sobhit's 13 year old cousin, Martha ("Bohini" - younger sister), who lives with them to help with the baby.

Martha, Me, Sumi, Sobhit, Precious and Sarah

Our house is at the very top of the village, with an incredible view of Kanchenzonga, the world's third highest peak!

Right from the beginning they welcomed us warmly and after a week we were no longer "guests" and were helping and pulling our weight in the family. For the most part, this means helping out with cooking and minding the children. Together with Sumi, Sarah and I have learned how to make many delicious Nepali dishes and treats...

Fried Rice

"Rook rook"

Egg Curry

Ochhar (similar to pico de gallo)

Popped (ish) corn

It was wonderful to return to the school, especially bearing gifts from the US. Most exciting was the replies (with photos) from their American penpals.

Class 6

Class 4

Class 5
A few students had changed schools, which made for a convenient excuse to go to their houses to hand deliver the letters...

Sobhit Daju, Sonam Ongdi (class 6) and me

Showing photos of the school in the US to Phurba Dorjee (class 4) and his family

Additionally, I brought a bunch of new books (with more on the way), kindly paid for by an eighth grade girl in the Seattle who raised hundreds of dollars for literacy and decided to donate the money to my school!

All going well here, now it's off the internet and back to the village...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Seattle, USA

I have had the pleasure of being home in Seattle for the past two months. Originally, I planned to just come home for one month over Christmas and New Years. I thought that while I was home it would be a good idea to apply for a new visa for India (since I've been told it is easier in one's home country). This required mailing my passport to San Francisco, and unfortunately, it got lost (or stolen) on the way back to me. So I had to change my plane ticket and get a new passport and visa. I ended up staying in Seattle for two months.

During this time, I got to reconnect with my family, friends, and community in greater Seattle. This included the Bhutanese-Nepalese refugee family I have served as a mentor to for two years. I enjoyed speaking Nepali with them and showing them what I have learned. It was also a joy to meet some new additions to their family!

He is the future

My mom and I shared an American tradition with them...

The kids took it very seriously

I got the chance to reunite with the Teen Refugees United & Empowered (TRUE) girls' group that I helped start and led last year through the International Rescue Committee.

Inspiring group of young ladies

We saw the gingerbread houses in downtown Seattle.

Very impressive gingerbread houses

While I have been in town there were two work parties for the Beacon Food Forest, an urban food forest in the making. I've been involved in the BFF since its groundbreaking in September 2012, and always find the work parties to be incredibly rewarding and community-building.

In all, it has been wonderful to have been home and to reconnect with all that I know, as well as take time to reassess my goals for travel and volunteering. For now, it's time to go back to Daragaon Village, via Kathmandu and the Bhutanese refugee camps.