Namaste! It’s been a while since our last blog post. After Laos, we went back to Bangkok for a couple of days and then caught a plane to Kathmandu, Nepal. Due to zero wifi where we have been the past two weeks is also why we haven’t been able to post. Hopefully now we’ll be able to keep updating the blog.
We flew into Kathmandu and after a long 1.5hr of going through customs we finally got outside of the airport where we met two Israeli girls and shared the smallest taxi to Thamel, which is the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Our taxi ride was interesting… This is where we discovered that Nepal has the craziest driving we’ve encountered on our trip so far. Everyone points out how crazy the driving in Vietnam is, well, that has nothing on Nepal. People make their own lanes, drive on the sidewalk, all within millimetres of touching each other’s vehicles. It’s hectic.
We didn’t mess around much in Kathmandu, we only spent one night there and then we caught a bus to the far eastern side of Nepal to a place called Phikkal. Phikkal is close to the Nepal/India border (45 km from Darjeeling, India). Prior to arriving in Nepal, we had organised a volunteer homestay with a family on a tea farm in a small village for two weeks with the cost of $5 each per day, to cover the cost for accommodation and food.
The bus ride was the craziest we’ve had so far. It was a slow painful 16 hour ride, due to so many pot holes and unsurfaced roads. It was originally meant to be an 18hr bus ride but our driver must have thought that he was Lewis Hamilton qualifying for a good spot on the grid. Seriously though, it’s like it’s a race for these bus drivers. They have no disregard for life as they would overtake on U bend’s and hit gaps that only an experienced motorbike rider would attempt. It didn’t help that the lanes were small and high up in the mountains with no guard rails, especially when we’d pass overturned trucks and busses. At times Eb and I would look at each other as if oh well, that’s it, least we’re going out in style haha.
We arrived in Phikkal at 6:30am and were feeling out of it due to being sleep deprived thanks to Nepal’s pot holes. The instructions we were given from the family were to ask the locals of Phikkal to point us in the direction of Deepak Kulungs house of Arrobote village, and that it should take us 45 minutes to walk from the bus stop. Well, we did just that and we were directed 45 minutes in the opposite direction to a tea factory. After we were given the right directions we finally found our home for the next two weeks.
Situated amongst the mountains was a small white and green two story home where we were greeted by the lovely Kulung family being Deepak, his wife Kosila, their 11yr old son Samyog and their grandfather Baba. We were greeted with Namaste’s and hot green tea. Deepak has hosted volunteers for 4 years and when we arrived we met six other volunteers but some were leaving the same day. In our time at the tea farm, we met volunteers from Denmark, China, Slovakia, France, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. This house is very basic for western standards but for Nepali it is considered good. 60% of the time they would not have power, and if it rained or stormed there was a good chance there would be a power cut. We were lucky enough to have our own room. The beds are small and the mattresses are harder than we’re used to. They have an outdoor toilet/shower that everyone shared together. The toilet was a squat toilet where you had to get a bucket of water to pour down the hole after using the toilet. The Nepali way of cleaning yourself was with your hands. Luckily, we carry toilet paper with us at all times. In saying that, you’re also not supposed to flush paper down the hole, which meant we’d carry a plastic bag with us that we’d dispose of later… (sorry if that’s too much detail haha). The shower was cold water only. Sometimes it would be two or more days where we wouldn’t shower because it was too cold. We aren’t bothered by these types of things at all and consider it to be a part of the experience! We were very happy with our new home and were excited for the two weeks ahead of us!
Our days consisted of waking up before 7:30am for tea (black or green), do an hour of rolling tea leaves, weeding, or any little chores that Deepak would have us do. Then at 10am we would have dahl baht (rice, potatoes, and lentils). Kosila is one of the best cooks ever! Next to my mum and Ebs mum of course. Nepali food is the best food we’ve had since the start of our trip, no doubt! It was interesting the first time we ate with them, because they didn’t use cutlery, just their bare hands. Then from 11am to 2pm we’d pluck tea leaves. Plucking the tea leaves was a love hate relationship haha. Around 3-4pm we would have lunch and if we wanted to go back out to pluck for another hour, we could (which all of us would). Dinner would be around 7-8pm, the rest of the time in between was ours. Some volunteers would do the 45min trek back up the mountain to Phikkal to use wifi, or like me, to get chocolate!
Deepak and his family work very hard on the farm and make their money from tea leaves and cardamom plants. Deepak told us that he makes average around 45c per kilo for tea leaves and $25 per kilo for cardamom. This season was tea-plucking season and when we found out that’s how much they make, I personally was saddened by this and when it came to plucking, I wanted to pluck as many leaves as I could. We would pick somewhere between 12-15kgs of tea leaves per day. That’s from around 4 volunteers, Deepak and Kosila combined. So Deepak is looking at earning no more than $10 a day in tea leaf plucking season. Which made us think his main income would be from the volunteers if they pay $5 per day. Every time I would get bored or sick of plucking tea leaves I would think of the family and push through.
Apart from my nephews, Samyog is one of the brightest kids I have ever met. He has been fortunate to see so many volunteers come through his house and has learnt most of his English through them. One day Samyog took me for a walk around the village and he revealed to me that he does all the emailing with volunteers prior to them arriving. I was so shocked, because in these emails he was posing as Deepak! His typing was very formal and polite which he is in person also. He always calls me Sir, even when I say no, call me Kel, he still calls me Sir or even Sire. I asked him what he wants to be when he’s older wondering if he would like to take over the tea farm. He said he wanted to be a computer engineer. What 11yr old says that! He’s like a sponge, anything you tell him, he’ll remember. He also asks a lot of questions, which has taught me to ask questions when I feel prompted to. I was always that kid in class that said I understand to the teacher because I was too shy to say I didn’t understand in front of the other kids. Samyog asked me what I would do with 100 million dollars. I said I would buy my parents a house and any car they wanted. I would give money to those who were in need, buy the cars I’ve always wanted, and buy a home in every country of the world. I then asked him what he would do. He said he would buy a building for his family and invite all the volunteers that have helped his family through the years to come and stay with his family for one month and that he would pay for their plane tickets. I wonder what other 11yr olds would say. He hopes to go and visit all of Europe one day.
Baba is a funny old man. He can’t speak a word of English, yet he still talks to us in Nepali. He feeds the goats, makes baskets (doko) from bamboo, and does running up and down the stairs every morning. He’s 77! He’s also a model. Whenever a volunteer would take photos, he would go and put on his traditional clothing and ask to be photographed. He even made one volunteer follow him to the tea plants where he would pretend to pluck the leaves haha, all for the photo.
While Nepali men work hard, no one works harder than Nepali women. I noticed Kosila didn’t have any down time whilst we stayed with them. She gets up early, puts hot water on, makes tea for everyone, cooks dahl baht, lunch, dinner, plucks tea leaves, and cleans up everything. When volunteers would offer to help her prep food or clean the dishes, she would almost always say no. Although, whenever we would have momos (dumplings) or roti, Kosila would let Eb help to make the dough and roll it into shape.
Particularly when it was time for dishes she would say no, and that she would do it. Even if we would take the dishes to the washing area she would snatch the dishes out of our hands! Although Deepak and Samyog would sometimes help her. She worked 24hrs day. Her food was AMAHHHZING. They are a vegetarian family, so all the food we had was vegetarian. To me, I thought this would be a challenge, as I’m a meaty kind of guy. Although now, I could go out and be an advocate for vegetarian’s haha. I don’t even know what half of the dishes were but they were so good, and she would always feed us until our bellies were about to pop. Eb explained to her how Masterchef worked and I told her if she came to Australia she would win Masterchef, she laughed and said no she wouldn’t.
Deepak was a good husband and father. He would always call Kosila darling in front of us and would sing and joke with Samyog and as he’d say ‘laughter is the best medicine’. He was very kind to the volunteers and everyone around him and would always ask us if we were ok, if his house was good enough for us, and wouldn’t over work us at all. In fact I think we didn’t work enough. He would offer us tea all the time and would talk to us unless he was working on the farm. He would always joke with us, asking if we wanted to work, of course we’d say yes, he’d then say, are you sure? Because your face says otherwise. One time Eb asked him if we could do anything to help and he replied with ‘are you asking with your mouth or with your heart’. His main priorities are family, farm, and the volunteers. He always tried to make our stay as comfortable as possible. He walks with his head held high when we walk through the village with him on Market Day. I think everyone in the Arrobote village and Phikkal are slightly jealous of him that he always has westerners at his house.
Although they do not have much compared to the westerners they are very happy people. They are very curious about the rest of the world and ask the volunteers what it’s like outside of Nepal in their home country.
Coming to the Kulung house hold, living, working, and eating the way they did truly gave us a glimpse into the Nepali way of living. Eb and I feel grateful and humbled to have spent these past two weeks with them.
*Photos were taken by both of us