Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Author: Meg Noble Peterson

RETURNING TO UPPER MELAMCHI

The morning climb to Upper Melamchi was steep and difficult. Huge landslides had severely damaged the road, which was no longer accessible to vehicles, and had also taken out the foot trail. The people of Melamchi depended on the trails to get basic supplies and any food that they couldn’t grow themselves. This prompted a radical rebuilding of the trail by the U.N. organization for which the two Sherpas we met at dinner in Gangyul worked. Food for labor. And what an excellent job they had done! Sadly, the ancient chortens that marked the trail had become piles of stones. And the guest house where we stopped for tea was now a tin shack. You can see the photos from our 2015 trek to Upper Melamchi before the earthquake HERE .

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What a terrible sight greeted us when we arrived in Upper Melamchi! The destruction was even worse than we had imagined. The guest houses and chortens at the top of the trail and the beginning of the village were completely in ruins.

Everywhere people were rebuilding, many using salvaged wood from destroyed houses to make new homes, since money from the government and new supplies were almost non-existent. The hammering went on day in and day out.

We had hoped to stay at the Himalayan Lama Lodge, where we had stayed last year. The once two-story lodge was now a one-room tin and wood shack, and the damaged and unsafe dorms were replaced by a tin structure. Alas, when we arrived we couldn’t find the owners to inquire about staying there, so needed to look elsewhere.

The lodge was next to the once magnificent temple that shattered to the ground in minutes during the earthquake.  Now it was a stunning backdrop to the local soccer games in the field behind.

Fortunately, we found Yangrima Lodge farther up the trail and settled into our room. This guest house was now just a simple structure of salvaged wood and tin, with a common room with a wood stove for warmth.

After our usual garlic soup for lunch, we sought out Kami Lama and his wife Jamayang, the owners of the destroyed Himalayan Lama Lodge and were delighted to see them again. It turned out that Kami is the brother of the Melamchi School’s principal and was happy to introduce us to the administrators and give us a tour.

We arrived just as a relay race was being completed, and preparations were in progress for the final ceremony before dismissal.

 

With Kami as our guide, we spent time visiting the classrooms and talking with the teachers and students. The school had been totally destroyed.

Two hundred children from several districts were being taught in temporary buildings. Each wooden/tin structure housed a grade and you could hear them reciting their lessons as you walked by. Here is a video that Cary took of our walk around the classrooms.

Shree Melamchi Ghyang Secondary School is a government school of very high standards and, with the dormitories destroyed, boarding students who lived far away now had to be housed in tents.

Meals served in the dining tent were cooked in a simple kitchen. Winter was coming and comforts were few. Sometimes it was so cold that the children were allowed to study in their tents wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags.

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img_1181-copy-caritasCaritas is rebuilding the school and the director proudly showed us the plans posted on the wall of the administrative building. We met with several teachers and, again, shared Lynn Rubright’s gifts as well as money offerings from the South Whidbey Academy middle school children that we hoped would go to providing mats for the children. It was a very emotional moment, symbolized for me by the stark remains of a once-proud stupa.

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Adam Frost, an American from Boise, Idaho, was teaching English in one of the classrooms. We had met him earlier when he and a Nepali friend were on their way to school. He has collected money to help in the rebuilding and also plans to form a trekking company when he returns home. His goal is to get young and old people more active in the outdoors.

We walked back through town surveying the damage and stopping to talk with residents who were working their small farms and building temporary homes for the winter. A plethora of gardens were growing among the ruins.

The devastation was everywhere but we were glad to see that some of the beautiful old stone walls were intact, or perhaps they had been rebuilt.

Our days in Upper Melamchi were packed with visits to various caves in the area. On the way to one of the Guru Rinpoche sites, we passed by a crack in the earth.

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We spent four days in Melamchi and had time to get to know the gracious family who ran the guest house. My special friend was a twelve-year old boy, Chhewang Tamang, who helped with household duties and the care of his siblings when he wasn’t studying. As with most of the young people I talked with, he studied a wide variety of subjects and spoke several languages, including English.

Dinners took place in a warm dining room and were lively occasions. Buddhi, our guide, did his usual dancing, singing, and clowning, and the conversation was lively among various visitors and staff. Our main meal was, of course, dal bhat and garlic soup, sometimes supplemented with Tibetan mo-mos, a real treat. A bit of rakshi added to the hilarity!

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During one meal we discussed the needs of the schools in the Langtang area where Brebin and Dawa, our porters, lived. You may remember that we visited this area four years ago. There are 500 people in the village and the school has been destroyed. These people are in the Tamang caste. The word “caste” is used in Nepal to denote one’s ethnic group, as we discussed at length over dinner. Many of you have probably heard of these groups: the Rai, Gurung, Bhotia, Thakali, Sherpa, Magar, Lama, Shresta, Tamang, Limbu, and Brahman (most of the government officials are in this caste). Often members of the groups can be identified by using these delineations as surnames.

Saying goodbye has always been hard for me, and this time it was especially poignant. Just before we left Upper Melamchi we spent more time with Kami Lama and his wife, Jamayang. This first photo below is our goodbye last year, in front of their lovely guesthouse. The next photo is our farewell in front of what they have managed to rebuild from its destruction.

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img_1567img_1571They honored me with the usual white kata, which I wore most of the way down on what became one of the most hazardous trails I’ve ever experienced.

We now headed back to Thimbu, on our return to Kathmandu.

FROM MOUNTAINTOP TO VALLEY…OUR FINAL DAYS IN THE YOLMO

You thought I’d never get there, didn’t you? Oh, ye, of little faith! Now you can follow the final days of our Nepal trip of last December, just in time for us to leave for our next trip this coming November. I left you as we came down from Ami Yangri on December 3, 2015 and headed down the mountain to Tarkyegang on our way to the Melamchi River. You may remember that we spent the night halfway down the mountain on a lovely plateau with views of the summit and surrounding peaks.

Morning always started with milk tea or coffee at 6 AM. On this day we scrambled out of our tents in a hurry and left as fog swirled around us, obliterating our view.

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By noon we were in Tarkyegang, once again. It’s so much easier going down than up! (Click on any photo to enlarge or start a slide show.)

As we approached town, people were hard at work repairing their homes, but sights like these are disheartening, nonetheless. I never got used to it.

We met up briefly with the staff of our former guesthouse before heading down the hill to the Melamchi River.

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I continually wrestled with my own thoughts as I observed the attitude of the Nepalis in the face of their great losses. I doubt that I would be smiling, even a year later.

THIS OLD COTTAGE….

img_0230Yes, that’s what it is. Snuggled among the pine and hemlock on a piece of land slanting down to the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, stands this simple cottage, built by my parents in 1951 before the onslaught of fourteen grandchildren, and it has been expanded to become a family gathering place ever since. Just one hour away from the White Mountains, it is also our New England base camp for wilderness exploration and hiking.

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On my last day before returning to Whidbey Island I looked at the lake, longingly, and with a touch of sadness. Early each morning I would swim way out until I could see the sun streaming through the tallest pine. I’d float in the water letting it bathe me in its warmth.

On this day I had just finished my swim when a huge storm loomed over the distant hills and made its way down the wide stretch of lake we call “The Broads,” bending branches and knocking down power lines in its wake. Boy, did I run up that hill fast!

It is only now, nine hours later, that the electricity has returned. But in the meantime the storm left a turbulent lake with ocean-like waves, which I played in, as I have each summer for the past sixty-five years.

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I’m sitting on the dock, shielded by a breakwater that protects me from the ferocity of the waves, and looking out at Barndoor and Rattlesnake Islands one hour before sunset. What a kaleidoscopic day—from calm silver gray to bright blue to heavy clouds dusted with pockets of charcoal.

It’s wonderful to come in from a brisk swim to my favorite rock and be tantalized by a sun that is playing peek-a-boo with those heavy clouds. First you see me—then you don’t! But where does the pink glow on the water come from? How can a white glaring sun, fighting an onslaught of wispy gray clouds, produce pink sparkles in a triangular swath of water? And how can this be reflected onto an island that seems totally unconnected to the process?

Maybe if I were a scientist and knew the answers it wouldn’t be so amazing. Instead, I am in thrall and watch until that white ball turns the pink water to deep blue crystals and the pink finds a new home under another cloud bank.

As a child I was fascinated by cloud formations, which I anthropomorphized. But now they are not people or dogs or dragons. They are paintings and ships and tumbling patterns. And, as is happening tonight, they seem to open magically at the last moment before the white sun turns to a red ball and disappears behind the hills, leaving yet another unfolding pattern, this time of radiant color.

No last day is complete without a farewell fire.

Sunsets are like fires. We never tire of looking at them, analyzing them, and seeing a world of symbolism in their infinite formations.

No last day is complete without a farewell fire.

 

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For me, this is the end of summer. After eight hours of flying cross-country from Manchester to Baltimore to Seattle I was greeted by Mt. Rainier, glorious in the sunset, and seeming to follow the plane right onto the runway. I now know which side of the plane to pick for a perfect view. It’s the left behind the pilot going west and the right going east. Pretty good for a lady who is directionally challenged!

FLASH! NEPAL UPDATE….

Jwalant Gurung May 2015 earthquake aidMany of you have heard me speak with great admiration about Jwalant Gurung who has planned our treks to the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet in recent years. I mentioned him in my previous blog post, but since then have received some very heart-warming news about his ongoing, untiring efforts to help his fellow Nepalis after the devastating earthquake and aftershocks.

His big interest is in the children in the rural areas — schools, orphanages, and health. This can be seen from how he came to the aid of a young Nepali girl who had lost part of her leg. Click HERE for the article from online CNN about this.

Pam Perry, Director of Operations in the United States for his trekking company, Grand Asian Journeys, is raising funds to further assist Jwalant’s humanitarian aid work, especially the rebuilding of schools. You can donate HERE.

As I write this, Jwalant is starting another arduous trip into the mountains to reach villages that have not yet received aid because of their inaccessibility…carrying tarps, food, and medicines on his back. Here is more information from the Facebook page of Crystal Mountain Treks, Jwalant’s Nepali trekking company.

I urge you all to help as much as you can in rebuilding the lives and homes of those who have lost everything.

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© 2021 Meg Noble Peterson