Friday, May 11, 2012

Yoga Retreat

The 'Yoga Retreat' commenced on April 16, 2012 with visit to important religious and cultural sites in the Kathmandu Valley.


Tanka Duwadi, renowned culture guide, escorted some 11 yogis and yoginis to Pashupatinath, the venerable shrine for Hindus, where we observed many temples, divine statues, meditative caves and Hindu funeral practice that Tanka described the detail of religious and cultural significances.

The burning corpse upon the funeral pyre reminds us the ultimate truth of life. I ponder how people find hatred when life is too short for love. We walked up on stone steps to get to open space surrounded by trees and temples, the perfect ambience to begin spiritual journey doing yoga in guidance of yoga guru John Allen. Next site was Patan Darbar Square, one of the three Squares in the Valley; others being Kathmandu and Bhaktapur Darbar Square. Ancient temples, classical palaces, dazzling display of art and culture of medieval Nepal are simply splendid. At dusk, we arrived at our last destination Baudhanath and did yoga prostration in the serene environment.

Next morning, we left for Jalbire for the first leg of the trek in Chitwan hills but we were halted on the way by the road block following accident that occurred some 20 km ahead. However, Ann helped us to initiate the meditation at the restaurant. It was already 5 pm when we started uphill walk from Jalbire, and I was really concerned about the long and difficult walk in the night. With help of flashlights, we crossed many hills walking along the ridges and dense jungle with plenty of owls making strange call seeing unexpected visitors. It was indeed a long walk and my estimation of time often failed, '10 minutes' happened to be much longer. Even my Buddha story did not work out. (When Buddha was on his way to new village with his disciples, they were told by local people that their destination was not far but in fact it was. When disciples inquired about their lie to Buddha, he said, "They were clever. They did not tell the truth deliberately because they thought we might lose our motivation if they did."). Lorraine sighed, 'So dizapointing Rupen'. But it was great relief when we all arrived safely in Chandibhanjyang at around 11 pm. Local people warmly welcomed us putting flower garland around our neck. They served us warm tea and delicious dal bhat, and entertained us with traditional Gurung Chudka Dance. As there is no hotel, guests were accommodated at separate houses.


Next morning, guests were astounded to find themselves in completely new place surrounded by giant hills and typical hill villages. Dr. Mary checked an obese child in the village and helped her with medical advice. After having millet roti and local honey as breakfast, we went to Chandibhanjyang School.  


All the guests in turn distributed the school supplies (copy, pen, pencil) to students. Vishwonath Gurung, head sir, thanked guests for their support and he also informed about ongoing activities of school. School had been upgraded to secondary level with assistance from Global Action Coalition and this year first batch of 40 students appeared in School Leaving Certificate exam. Jane offered some financial support for this school and also for the food program in additional schools.

On the way to Gadi, we stopped at Karna Gurung's house and ate dhido (local food made of corn flower). We took enough rest before we walked down from the top of the hill and crossed the suspension bridge passing Rigdi River and again started uphill walk through mix forest to arrive Saltana village. It was dark when we arrived in Gadi, the first district headquarters of Chitwan. We stayed overnight at Gadi Hill Cottage.


Our trek began with distribution of school supplies to students of Gadi School and Kolar School, which is about half an hour downhill walk from Gadi. After the school supply distribution, satu (food) was given to all the students in Kolar School. We came all the way down to Shakthikor where we had lunch and then departed for Sauraha in two jeeps. On the way, we saw a rhino in Baghmara Community Forest. We settled in Green Mansion Hotel and had plenty of rest after days of difficult trek. Some did yoga on spacious garden. Evening was splendid as we enjoyed Tharu Stick Dance Program and participated in the dance synchronizing the move with that of local dancers.


There had been different recipes on the following day. In the morning, guests had elephant back safari in Baghmara Community Forest to observe wildlife especially rhino (Rhinocerous unicornis). They also enjoyed taking bathe with an elephant in the Rapti River. They observed baby elephants in Elephant Breeding Center in Khorsor in the evening.


Second leg of trek began with early departure from Sauraha to Pokhara and to Nayapul, where our field guide Shiva Adhikari and porters were waiting for us. We walked further up to Birethati and had lunch there before we embarked on real trek in Annapurna region. Despite late beginning of trek and health problem of some of the guests, we all arrived in time at Chandra Lodge in Tikhedhunga. Shiva helped taking order for dinner from guests and serving dinner to them. I did not know that guide has also to play the role of waiter. He also told me that you have to be attentive or your food will be served to other guests. Then, we had dal bhat at the kitchen among all the guides and porters. It was such a fun to talk with them and learn their field experience.


Pre-ordered breakfast was already ready when guests arrived in their table. We walked up along long and steep Ulleri hills. We were accompanied by many visitors, guides and porters, and also many colorful birds on the way. After lunch at Banthati, the path is much easier though forest along the edge of the stream and I found myself walking on meditative mood. We were showered by rain and hailstorm, and we took refuge underneath of big tree. The traditional fireplace at the dining hall kept us warm. After the sudden downpour, there was snowing at the mountain and foot hills which was clearly visible from dining hall.


Before dawn next morning, we made our way to Punhill. Rhododendron forest in its full bloom of brilliant red at the backdrop of spectacular mountain range on first ray of sunrise was really alluring. There we burned incense while JA recited mantra with rhododendron flower offering. We returned back to hotel, had breakfast and left for Tadapani. After lunch in Banthati, we continued to walk all the way down to stream and then uphill to Tadapani. Sky was roaring to threaten with rain but fortunately there was no rain.


Leisurely walk from Tadapani led us to beautiful forest with plenty of birds: warblers, babblers, flycatchers, sunbirds and bulbuls. Seeing a tiny leech on the backpack, both Lorraine and Olga screamed and scared of having another one underneath of their cloth. I told them not to worry until they got itching on the affected part of skin. "Oh, my whole body is itching" Olga retorted.


We arrived early at Gurung Cottage in Ghandruk, the beautiful Gurung village. We were the only guests in this nice cottage with pleasant environment. Our arrival is followed by strong rain that made the atmosphere bit cooler. After rain we went down to see the Gurung Cultural Museum. In the evening, we did yoga, the first time in Annapurna region. Because of time constraint, we had not been able to do yoga in other places. It was last night in Annapurna and all the guests had dinner together with porters and guides. On behalf of whole group, I thanked them for their tremendous support during entire tour. And we enjoyed the evening dancing together which was amply supported by millet rakshi.

On the last day of trek, we walked all the way from Ghandruk to Birethati. Lorraine and JA got jeep from half way. After lunch in Birethati, we walked up to Nayapul, our van was already there. We bade farewell to Shiva and porters who would go directly to Kathmandu on the same day. Then, we left for Base Camp Resort in Pokhara, where we stayed two days relaxing, shopping, doing yoga, pedicure, or simply walking along lakeside.


Next morning, we visited World Peace Stupa at the top of the hills across the beautiful Phewa Lake. We did meditation and yoga up there. Upon returning, we visited Devi's Fall (Patale Chhango) and Gupteshwor Mahadev Temple. We also met Mitra, JA's friend, and had lunch together. Me and Olga visited coffee garden in Dip and purchased half kg of coffee seed for coffee nursery in Gadi, Chitwan.


We had nice journey back to Kathmandu and we also visited Syambhu on our way back. We had farewell dinner in the evening at the restaurant in Thamel.  I thanked all the individuals who provided immense support during the tour. Ramesh Chaudhary and Tanka Duwadi presented khata (traditional ceremonial scarf) to all the guests offering Tashi Delek (good luck) for their next journey. That formally concluded Yoga Retreat 2012.

Background

I do feel that great ideas born in your mind when you walk. During early spring in 2010, we were on our way from Gadi to Chandibhanjyang to attend the inauguration ceremony of upgradation of school from lower secondary to secondary level.


Inspired by the beauty of nature, Hemu Adhikari brewed the idea of incorporating tourism in educational initiatives. "We should include Chandibhanjyang in our itinerary" he declared. We developed the tentative program schedule accordingly and also trekked Annapurna to see the place ourselves to deliver best service for our clients.(http://www.ranichari.blogspot.com/2010/09/annapurna-trek-diary.html#more) After the Annapurna trek, he also did Everest trek. Accordingly, he established tour company 'Nepal on Foot' in US and engaged marketing. After two years of relentless effort, he could manage assembling yoga group with support from JA and Ann. I had huge responsibility to conduct this first ever tour, that I took as a challenge and opportunity. As we need the registered tour company in Nepal, I approached to my friend Ramesh Chaudhary and his company 'Mountain Ecology Treks'. We had agreement to conduct this tour and also to allocate some 10 percent of net income of this tour for various school support programs of Books for Nepal.

We had fair bit of discussion about the itinerary, as I was concerned about really tough walk on very first day of trek from Jalbire to Chandibhanjyang and I had proposed other way round from Gadi to Chandibhanjyang and to Jalbire. But, Hemu was sure that participants would make it. And of course they made it ! Wow !! After Chitwan trek, there was two days of rest in Sauraha and after Annapurna trek, two days in Pokhara, that balance worked out well, I thought.

We selected two trekking destinations: Chiwan and Annapurna such that our guests would see the difference. Annapurna is highly developed and highly crowded with tourists. Chandibhanjyang witnessed its first ever tourists (yoga group). Nepal's rural areas have their own charm and beauty that equally possess tourism potential. Economic incentive through tourism development is not only crucial for social development but also for nature and wildlife conservation. When people realize that visitors come to see birds, butterflies and nature, they are self-motivated to protect these resources.

Sustainability

Books for Nepal (http://www.ranichari.blogspot.com/2011/12/progress-of-books-for-nepal.html#more), recently agreed to work with Mountain Ecology Treks such that it would recommend or link travelling group to MET and it would allocate some 10 percent of net income generated from these groups to educational activities of Books for Nepal. Mountain Ecology Treks donated NPR 9,700 (an allocated fund from Yoga Retreat) to Books for Nepal, that will be used on its ongoing food program.

Reinvention

Personally, I reckon my debut has been descent. I learned, rekindled and moreover I enjoyed to be a part of this journey. This tour has been special as we were able to extend our helping hand to deserving schools and communities.

Different colors on the way were invigorating, ethereal beauty of nature in the form of sound, silence and luminescence was breathtaking, and spiritual vibes emitting from body and soul were simply rejoicing. I had wished my guests to get closer to the surrounding, be a part of nature and feel those energy and vibration. At the end of day, I am happy to see that energy reflected in their faces. 

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