Welcome to the Far West

After a busy, fun and refreshing five days in Kathmandu, I packed up my stuff once again. This time, to head to my permanent site in the Far Western Region of Nepal.

The morning of the 21st April, we loaded up the buses, each one heading to a different district. I, along with Race, Tara and Keval, loaded our bags, mattress and other belongings on to the bus heading to Doti. Although our stuff took up a lot of space, there were only six of us traveling on the Doti bus (four PCVs and two staff), so we had plenty of room to spread out on the bus and get comfy. Which was good, considering we had a long three days ahead of us.

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Our three-day road trip itinerary, starting in Kathmandu and ending in Dipayal Silgadhi, the district capital of Doti.

Travel Day One

Kathmandu – Butwal

We left Kathmandu around 7:30am to start our road trip to Butwal. Butwal is only about 166 miles (267 km) southwest of Kathmandu, but with standstill Kathmandu traffic, the curvy mountain roads and a few short breaks, it took us about 8 hours to get there.

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Enjoying a swim at the surprisingly nice hotel in Butwal

I didn’t have any expectations for Butwal – I assumed we would be staying in simple accommodations and eating daal bhaat for dinner (I said goodbye to western food in Kathmandu). However, when we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised! Butwal is actually a pretty cool town, located on the edge of the hills and the Terai (the low-lying flat region of Nepal). We pulled up to a really nice hotel that not only had hot water, but also a swimming pool! We all went for a quick swim, soaking in these glorious moments knowing we wouldn’t be anywhere near a swimming pool for a very, very long time.

After a quick swim, we headed to dinner. And much to my surprise, we feasted on not daal bhaat, but pizza! Yes, pizza! Three-cheese with mozzarella, Parmesan and yak cheese, to be exact. Paired with an icy cold beer, it was the best pizza I’ve had in Nepal, which was surprising because, really, who’s even heard of Butwal?

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Butwal – on the edge of the hills and the Terai.

Travel Day Two

Butwal – Dhangadhi

After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the buses and set off for travel day two. Today was the day we all started going separate ways – off to the districts where we will be serving. From Butwal, the Arghakhanchi and Pyuthan buses set off for their district capitals just a few hours away while the Doti, Dadeldhura, Surkhet and Jajarkot buses continued the drive out west. After lunch, the Surkhet and Jajarkot buses split off to head north to their district capitals while the last two buses, Doti and Dadeldhura, continued to Dhangadhi, a large city in the Far Western Region right on the border with India where we would stay the night.

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We passed a lot of these signs warning of tigers in the Terai.

Although long, the drive was enjoyable because, for a vast majority of the day, we were in the Terai, where the roads are much flatter and straighter and nowhere near as terrifying as the roads in the hills clinging to cliffs (although, there are a lot of tiger warning signs, which was a bit alarming). I knew the Terai was flat, but to see it in person was another story. It amazes me how geographically diverse this beautiful country is – from the flat Terai at 230 feet (70 m) above sea level to the rolling mid-hills to Mt. Everest at 29,029 feet (8,848 m). All within the span of about 90-150 miles (150-250 km). Or about the width of my home state, Tennessee.

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Driving through the Terai on the major highway that runs through Nepal.

Although Dhangadhi is only 245 miles (395 km) from Butwal, the drive still took us nearly 12 hours. By the time we arrived we were exhausted, but happy to have finally made it to the Far Western Region. The hotel was nowhere near as nice as the night before but we managed to have a quick dinner at the small hotel restaurant (that had a creepy diner feel) before heading to bed.

Travel Day Three

Dhangadhi – Silgadhi

The third and final travel day started with a simple breakfast in the creepy hotel restaurant. We boarded the buses around 8:30 and were on our way. Before long, we were back in the hills, which was nice and refreshing after spending a majority of the last day and a half in the Terai, where temperatures were pushing 100 F. The only downside: we were back on twisty, curvy roads that hung to the edge of cliffs. I will say, travel in Nepal is not for the faint hearted. I often have to close my eyes to avoid watching rocks tumble thousands of feet off a cliff as we zoom by.

We stopped for a quick lunch on the way and then continued about another two hours until we reached a chok (intersection) in the road. At this point we waved goodbye to the Dadeldhura bus and continued the last two hours to the Doti district capital, Dipayal Silgadhi. The Doti district capital is actually two cities. Dipayal is located in a valley and is a bit bigger than Silgadhi, with one major street lined with shops and restaurants. Silgadhi is located just 7 miles (12 km) from Dipayal on the top of a hill, so it’s much cooler! Because of its better weather, Silgadhi is actually where most district offices are located.

When we arrived, we moved all of our stuff into the hotel where we would be spending the next three nights before moving to site. We were exhausted but happy to finally be in Doti after a long three days of traveling. We had a simple daal bhaat dinner on the hotel patio overlooking the hills. Not too far in the distance I could see my village on another hill. It was surreal looking out at it wondering what was in store for me the next two years.

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My village perched on the side of the hill in the distance

Silgadhi, Doti

The next morning I woke up with food poisoning. I was so miserable that I wasn’t even able to attend our stakeholder meetings in town. As I ran back and forth to the bathroom, I could only hope this wasn’t a sign of things to come here in Doti.

Fortunately, by that afternoon, I was feeling better and was able to join the last two stakeholder meetings. These stakeholder meetings were designed to be an introduction to some of the district government offices and organizations working in Doti. While some offices seemed a little hesitant to have a bunch of western volunteers show up to town (I don’t blame them considering how common voluntourism is in Nepal), other offices, such as Suaahara (a USAID funded program focused on nutrition and sanitation), were absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to work with them over the next two years.

The following day we had our counterpart conference, which gave us an opportunity to meet some of the counterparts from our villages. While it was nice to have a chance to meet them, the whole day was very overwhelming. The entire conference was conducted in Nepali and with my limited language skills, it was frustrating trying to have conversations about work with my counterparts. By the end of the day I was feeling pretty nervous about leaving for village the next morning. My counterparts made it clear that they have high expectations for me, yet with my limited language abilities, I worried about being able to fulfill their expectations.

However, after chilling on the rooftop that evening, overlooking my village with a nice, cold beer in hand, I was feeling a bit better about heading to site the next morning. I was prepared for it to be a long, difficult and emotionally draining day (and really next three months). But after 11 weeks of training and a three day road trip, I was ready to finally get to my village and get my service started.

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