“And they ate cake for breakfast”…and then rode elephants

Apologies for the length between this post and the last, we have been running on a very crazy & tight schedule here, up at 6am most mornings, (and even 4am once!) and in bed as soon as we’ve eaten dinner and shared in devotions. Our exhaustion however, is a testimony to the amazing amount of things we’ve experienced in the last few days, things we’ve somehow managed to fit in to our last whirlwind days in this country.

Tuesday morning began with a surprise birthday breakfast for Judy, as we ate cake for breakfast and sung her Happy Birthday in what we thought was Nepali, but ended up being Hindi, sneaky restaurant waiters! After enjoying the sweet Nepali delicacy of sponge cake (it even had Happy Birthday Judy written on it!), we yet again packed our bus, heading on the road back to Nepalgunj, leaving the yellow mustard fields and peaceful valley of Surkhet behind.

After 3 hrs in the road, we met with INF staff just before Nepalgunj to visit some of their community development projects in Kohalpur. Though some of us missed the first project (instead having a rest in a small eatery, feeling a bit of sickness catching up to us!) others enjoyed hearing about an extraordinary group of Nepali women who had raised 19,000 rupees through small scale business enterprises. Back on the bus, to drive to another project 10 minutes away, we were greeted by women dressed in pink and black sarees, ready to greet us with the Nepali national anthem, as we then continued to sit in on their community development training session, today learning about HIV and its causes.

The group, of about 20 women, meet together to talk about health issues (facilitated by INF staff), but also manage their own farm with green produce and animals, and visit other nearby communities to talk to them about the health issues they learn about. They wear their ‘uniforms’ of pink sarees so the community is aware of the group and its successes when they contribute to the development of surrounding villages. The women proudly showed us their farm, as well as their toilet which the group had worked together to fund. It has been so wonderful to see the way that INF is empowering women to engage and participate in their own development.

After bidding them farewell and praying for their work, we headed on to Nepalgunj, bound for a quick lunch (A delicious, yet spicy vegetable salsa with coriander served in pappadums) before a trip to the Indian border to see the work of INF amongst migrants who cross the border for a (what they believe) to be a better life in India. INF employs volunteers to stand at the border every day, looking out for migrants and providing them with an information pamphlet about the risks of sickness and the poor likelihood of jobs in India. The volunteers also look out for young girls who cross the border with older men, often victims of trafficking, as they attempt to discourage them from continuing on, or warn theme of disease such as HIV/AIDS from the work they are going to engage in. We were so impressed by these volunteers, their tirelessness in caring for their fellow Nepalis, and their wisdom in dealing with what is a very dangerous area to work amongst.

We headed back to the office to get a quick overview of INF’s work in the extremely rural areas of Mugu and Jumla, Nepal’s poorest areas. At the office we met INF Australia CEO, Phil, who had just come back from visiting the area and had some very interesting insights and photos of INF’s work there. Currently, roads are under construction, reaching these areas from Surkhet, which is going to make huge difference in the development of the communities.

As we said goodbye to the staff of INF Nepalgunj, we headed back to our base for the evening, for an early dinner with Peggy and some friends of Andy and Judy from Baptist Mission Society, before heading to bed, ready for a 4am wake up call as we embarked on the road to Chitwan National Park (an arduous 8 hour journey!)

Whilst our time spent in the van isn’t that interesting to mention, (though hours of Charlie’s problem solving kept us entertained: “there’s a man dead in a field, how did he get there?”), a lot can be said for the Nepal road experience – from the large potholes, cliff side bends, congested traffic, and animals using the roads as commonly as vehicles, we spent a lot of our time in the van, closing our eyes or enjoying the rollercoaster ride of the back seat. Much praise to our skilled driver Gopi and his helper, Amrit, dodging oncoming traffic, animals and unexpected road blockages to get us to our destination!!

We finally arrived in Chitwan at 2pm, with time to quickly unpack, refresh and get dressed into camouflaged clothing, ready for our jungle walk. As we walked through the village and jungle, we saw many birds, spotted by our tour guide Vishnu, and anticipated other animals we would see after a visit to the museum showing us the animals that lived in the Chitwan jungle. Following dinner back at our ‘Safari resort’, we headed to bed, early again (!), up at 6am for canoeing with crocodiles, another jungle walk and bathing with elephants.

A quick start of toast and omelettes had us raring to go for our morning with the animals, as we walked through the early morning mist down to the river where the canoes and CROCODILES awaited us!! Quite a terrifying experience for most the group, we stepped into the low-floating, dug out canoes as we psyched ourselves up for our hour long sail down the river. Within the first few minutes we saw a crocodile about 10m from the boat, with its head just enough above water to make our nerves rise, and to keep our bodies perfectly still, each of us scolding one another when someone made the canoe tilt ever so slightly. Luckily that was the only crocodile we saw for the remainder of the ride (though we did see some later on our walk), though we were assured they were lurking beneath the water and our canoe. The mistiness of the morning added to the eeriness and mystery of our journey that morning, and made us very happy to be on dry land, as we headed off on our walk. We were stopped by some elephants, walking through the river, and then just past us, returning from their morning walks to collect food! Wow! After our 90 minute walk, seeing more birds and some spotted deer, we made our way to the elephant breeding centre where we spent some time marveling at these mighty animals, and playing with the adorable 5 month old baby elephant (though weighing 300kg!) The time spent watching them made us even more eager for our opportunity to bathe with them, and we excitedly hopped onto our jeep (with some of us just casually sitting in the roof!), ready to drive to the river where our new friends waited to get us wet!

Bathing with these beautiful, majestic animals was truly breathtaking, sitting ontop of them as they soaked us with a shower from their trunks, or being dunked into the cool water below, only to hop on again for another turn. It is something I’m sure all of us that took part will never forget!

After lunch back at the resort, we headed out on 2 jeeps, ready for a safari ride through the jungle, praying we’d see a tiger and that he wouldn’t be preying us! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Though not successful on our tiger expedition, we managed to see A LOT of deer, birds, pigs and even some rhinos and headed back to our resort, satisfied with the wild animals we encountered, and ready to tuck in to a delicious Nepali dinner of curries and vegetables. Following dinner, we were treated to our Tharu cultural show of music and dancing, (seeing everyone get up and dance!) before yet again heading to bed for another 6am start – this time for an elephant ride!

Waking up to a misty jungle again, we embarked to the elephant centre, where our friends from the day before met us, ready to treat us to a 90 minute ride through the jungle as we yet again searched for a tiger! Sitting 4 to an elephant, we experienced tip-toeing through the tree-tops as we skirted over trees, shrubs and vines from our great vantage point. No tiger again, but we got so close to some very brave deer, and some pigs too! After disembarking our elephants and getting a photo or two, we headed back to base for breakfast, before piling into our bus (for the last time!!!) headed to Kathmandu.

The ride, like others before, was nerve-wracking and heart-stopped as we whizzed down the road, overlooking the rushing rapids, deep in the valley below. Upon arriving we yet again praised Gopi and Amrit for their ability to deliver us safely (and thanked God!!), before we prepared ourselves for our farewell dinner, sadly parting ways on Saturday.

We enjoyed dinner together, reminiscing about the last 2 weeks and readying ourselves for the next week ahead – whether that be trekking the Helambu trail, taking part in the INF conference or heading back to our home countries for work (like yours truly :(). As I don’t want this to be the end just yet, I’ll save my wrap up blog for when I’m back in Sydney. We look forward to sharing that final reflection with you soon!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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