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Service Trek June 2007

(photo by J Vavruska)
Service Trek
06 June to 17 June 2007
 
Dispatches: Please click one of the links below to go directly to that dispatch or just scroll down.

Kanad Chakrabarty's trip report-14 August, 2007
 
Kanad Chakrabarty. June 2007 Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development Service Trek.

Our trek has been a wonderful and exciting experience. We have had the opportunity to participate in the lives of people who don't often see tourists. It is certainly a worthwhile venture to see the beautiful and wild areas of this country, but to be able to experience the people's hospitality and hopefully give them something back in the process is something special indeed. We leave with the hope that our presence has planted the seed in the minds of the people of Patale that their way of life is something valued by people of other nations and that they need not be hasty in abandoning the traditions thay have lived with for generations in favor of the lure of fashion magazines or the squalor of Kathmandu. May all subsequent Service Treks meet with the success that ours has enjoyed!

Our mission is to provide support to the Health Post set up for villagers by The Mount Everest Foundation in the remote village of Patale in the Okuladunga province of rural Nepal. It will be slow going through this sparsely populated area in the shadow of the great peaks of the Himalayas.
 
Our team includes Lisa McClellan, a doctor from Arizona and Celia Rogers, an R.N. from the U.K. Our three sherpas are all from Patale, and for them this trek is a sort of homecoming as they rarely get an opportunity to spend time with their families, for whom they provide a comfortable living through their work. Once we reach Patale, Lisa and Celia will treat patients and train the health care workers (a pair of local villagers) who are posted there. We are also bringing a supply of medications that have been donated by friends.

The first leg of our trek is aboard a somewhat rickety Yeti Airlines twin engine to the airport at Phaplu. This is about an hour's flight from Kathmandu and the weather on the morning of our flight is somewhat cloudy.
This makes the flight somewhat bumpy and the Nepali woman seated next to our trek leader Dan Mazur, is forming an intimate relationship with her flight sickness bag. To the credit of our pilot (incidentally one of the rising contingency of female captains on Yeti's crew), we make a perfect landing on the gravel strip at Phaplu's airport. This is a rather populated area for this region. Phaplu and the nearby village of Salleri have a population estimated to be as high as 10,000 and electricity is not uncommon. This is certainly not the case for the rest of our journey.
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We have lunch at the Everest Guest House, right beyond the gates of the airport. The fare is traditional Nepali cuisine: Dahl Bhat. Very simple but satisfying. Dahl is a staple of Nepal. It is a spiced lentil soup that is mixed with polished white rice. We are also served a curried vegetable and fresh chicken curry. And by fresh, I mean that the chicken is virtually flapping his wings on the plate! The food is delicious and provides the energy we will need to walk the sometimes difficult trails on our journey south to Patale.

The scenery we encounter once we leave Salleri is breathtaking. Or at least it would be if it weren't for the dense clouds and mist that shroud the landscape. We will see unbelievable views over the next 8 days, but not today. Today our vista is restricted the ground right in front of our feet as we descend almost a thousand meters to our first river crossing in a steady rain. This is, after all Monsoon season and we have come prepared with umbrellas. The footing is sometimes dicey & slogging about in the muddy conditons takes a little getting used to.

Leeches are our constant companion in this environment. They are always looking for an opportunity to attach themselves to warm flesh and feed. Our sherpas have introduced us to an herbal oil which repels the leeches and when applied directly to a leech, will kill it in minutes. Tenji ,one of our intrepid sherpas, seems to have a preternatural skill in locating the leeches along the trail and on more than one occasion he gleefuly applies the deadly oil to a captured leech and watches it squirm in agony.

Maoist activity in Nepal has simmered down considerably since they signed a treaty with the government last year. Regardless, we are trekking under the guise of being Canadians in case there are any anti-American feelings being harbored by Maoists in this remote location. In fact, we pass through a village that is quite clearly Maoist controlled. There is no trouble, however. The local school teacher exchanges some pleasantries with us and we are soon on our way.

The coutryside we pass through is absolutely gorgeous. The clouds finally give way and we are treated to some extraordinary views. The last leg of the trek going into Patale, we hike through some Rhododendron & Hemlock forests. They are some of the most beautiful and primeval forests I have ever seen.
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Just as we think we have safely reached our destination, we encounter a problem. Celia Rogers, our nurse from the U.K., slips on a section of muddy trail & sprains her shoulder about an hour from the Health Post. She toughs it out and manages to walk the remainder of the way but it is quite clear that it will be impossible for her to manage the three day walk back to the airport in Phaplu. Our trek leaders get on the satellite phone and arrange for a helicopter evacuation for Celia. It will be difficult because it is doubtful if a helicopter has landed here in the past 5 years, if ever. The next morning, the villagers go above and beyond the call of duty (something that we discover they often do) to set up a helicopter landing site, complete with burning hay as a signal for the copter. It is a very foggy morning and we are pessimistic about the copter's chances of making it in. But the pilots in Nepal are a stout breed and they somehow manage to negotiate the clouds and get Celia out and back to Kathmandu before lunchtime. We will miss Celia. And Dr. Lisa has her work cut out for her this morning, as several dozen villagers (some from as far as 5 hours away) have walked here for the chance to be examined by a doctor.

Lisa sees over 70 patients over the course of the next day and a half. Some have common complaints such as heartburn but one young girl is diagnosed with mumps and at least a couple of patients are referred to the T.B. testing center. There is also a relatively high occurrence of alcoholism which leads to a variety of other medical problems. The drink of choice among the rural people of this region is "chang", a kind of home-brewed spirit. Alcohol abuse is seen more commonly among the older generations as happily, more and more young people are beginning to see the dangers.

Lisa also provides some training to the two healthcare workers stationed at the health post. They are a local married couple who have recently had their first child. Despite their young age, they are commited to their job & are very eager to learn from the doctor.

Though we have stayed only two days in Patale, it has started to feel like home. The people are incredibly hospitable, opening up their homes to us and honoring us with Katas (ceremonial scarves given to guests) at every chance. The village itself is set on a misty hillside with expansive views of mountains and forests on all sides. There are no roads or power lines and the only sound at night is that of insects.
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On our last night, the villagers have arranged a song and dance program for us. We are treated to and finally coaxed to participate in traditional Sherpa dances. The finally of the show is a Bollywood style number that has everyone in the room up and dancing around like a troupe of wild dervishes! This is true Sherpa hospitality and we are truly honored to be treated to it.

As we trek back to Phaplu, the weather is clear and the views are truly magnificent. Numerous high Himalyan peaks are visible and the air is fresh. At times it feels as we are walking on air; even the leeches have gone into hiding from the sunshine. As we get closer to Phaplu, signs of the modern world, which we haven't seen in days start to appear. At this point, electricity & porcelain toilets are a startling sight. Back in Salleri, we spurlge on DVD's and watch a couple of Hollywood blockbusters on Dan's laptop.

In the spirit of sustainable tourism, our Service Trek seeks to bridge the gap between environment & tourist. Our modern economic prosperity makes virtually every locale on the planet accessible, no matter how remote. But for some it begs the question: what are we bringing to the people in these areas besides a glimpse of the modern world which will inevitably erode the fabric of their traditions? To this end, we set out on our Service Trek with what some would call "idealistic" intentions.

Kanad Chakrabarty. June 2007 Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development Service Trek.
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12 June, 2007
 
Greetings from Patale, Nepal! this email is being sent by dan mazur, member of the june 2007 hospital service trek.

As a matter of introduction, my name is Kanad Chakrabarty and I am writing this email to you as a member of the Service Trek. I'm from New Jersey (very close to New York City) & this is my first visit to Nepal. I am on my way to Thailand to teach English and am taking advantage of this opportunity to experience this seldom visited remote and beautiful location.

Second introduction: I am Lisa McClellan. I am a Family Practice doctor in Phoenix, Arizona. (Near Mexico) (of note we are all Canadian this week. Americans may not be popular with some of the local political opposition,...but we have not had any problems and are met with open arms and without questions.)

After a two day trek from the mountain outpost of Phaplu our Service Trek, sponsored by www.mounteverestfoundation.org and www.summitclimb.com , arrived at our destination, the health post at the remote village of Patale on Sunday, the 10th of June. Our team includes a doctor who has already administered to over 40 patients, some of whom have walked many hours for the rare opportunity to be examined by a doctor. This health post serves as the only source of health care in this region & has a full time staff of two health care workers who are from this village. Although there are many health issues faced by the local population, we are very pleased to see that the local people are healthy and robust for the most part. Dr. Lisa has been getting the word out to the villagers about some basic health issues and has also been helping to train the local health care workers.
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We are absolutely overwhelmed by the hospitality of our hosts who have made us feel incredibly welcome. Last night we were treated to a Sherpa song and dance presentation and this morning we were visited by children from the village school, to whom we presented backpacks donated by our friends Maya & Arnold. Our stay has gone by very fast and we will be starting on trek back to Phaplu today to catch our flight to Kathmandu on Friday. We have some extra baggage due to the generous offerings of dozens of kata (scarves which are a cultural symbol of hospitality.) Our backpacks are decorated with fresh flower garlands made by local sherpa children and given to us by their mums as a going away present.

We will really miss Celia Rogers, a member of our service trek who had a slip on a muddy trail and damaged her shoulder. Her injury did not seem extremely bad, but it looked painful to walk, so she jumped on a helicopter yesterday and flew home to England today.

The weather has been pretty rainy, but today the sun came out, in a beautiful way that has lit the gorgeous green wildflower studded hills beneath blue skies. It is quite warm and pleasant and we can hear the hustle and bustle of cattle, sheep, goats, chckens, and families cutting wheat with hand sickles and carrying newly harvested potatoes in baskets and other noises of traditional agriculture in this hilly terraced village, which has no roads, no phones, no running water, no electricity and no technology of any sort. Today is marvelous, but during the last three days, the weather has been changing by the hour, ranging from sunny to thick fog, mist and rain. the clouds often descend below the hilltops, giving a very mysterious feel to this pristine locale.
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Yesterday we visited a gompa (Buddhist temple) and were treated to a puja prayer ceremony performed by four monks. It was a really special and peacful moment as they lit incense in an ancient painted room with high ceilings and dusty old statues and silk covered prayer books. The four clerics blew trumpets, banged drums and symbols, and chanted away in bass tones, in what they told us was a 400 year old temple. It certainly was ancient looking and musty, with some really antique looking paintings on the walls. the audience consisted of a few local gentlemen in baseball caps who looked like they had just returned from an expedition to everest, about 12 little kids who were transfixed by the monks blowing on their horns, and one older woman who said she was 57, but we guessed 80.

We have been eating a lot of local food, dal bhat, served with cups of tea and some of us have sampled some of the local homemade beverage known as chang. Our cook, Lakpa, has been creative and made french toast, french fries, and may come out any moment now from the guest house kitchen with a flaming creme brulee.

Alcoholism is a problem in the village, but many of the people are unaware of the health risks. We thought a future public health education programme in the village could include information about the effects of alcohol, tuberculosis, hand washing and sanitation,and basic female health. The local health care workers are aware of these needs. In general,these people are very healthy, they just have not had the opportunity of learning habits of public helth that we in our developed regions take for granted.
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Travelling is a challenge in this area, which is very remote and the trails are not really that great, but the stunning beauty of region and the incredibly kind and friendly people have made it more than worthwhile. we sometimes wish it was not a twenty five hour walk to the nearest crude airstrip, especially in case of the necessity of emergency evacuation, but then we are constantly reminded of the beauty and simplicity of the remoteness of the village, and know that if the airstrip was closer, this village would be quite a bit more developed. Its always that conundrum that faces us in these service treks, the beauty of nature and the balanced existince of local villagers in their natural surroundings, and contrasting tradeoff with the lack of comforts, poor health, minimal education, and the overall inconvenience and lack of civilization that rural life includes? how does one resolve this dilemma between modern economic development and pristine old methods of subsistance farming?

We are at 1900 meters (6000 ft) and the terrain here is rather hilly. there is no snow or ice here. This is a low elevation trek in these gorgeous foothills near everest, where snow rarely falls, perhaps one day in a year.

We passed through some dense Rhododenron & Hemlock forests (among other kinds of widely varying vegetation) on our walk in. These are extensive forests and many of the trees are quite large and ancient. some would say this is "old growth", a present surprise in asia, which is supposedly being destroyed by development. not here. We encourage the villagers to preserve their forest resources and not cut trees unless absolutely necessary. For example, when cutting firewood, they take the dead and downed fuel woods first, rather than cutting large live trees for firewood, firewood being the lowest form of wood use.
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Last but not least, we were shown the local school on Sunday. It consists of 3 classrooms & serves over 70 students from grades 1 through 5. There are 3 teachers on staff and students travel here daily from as far away as an hour walk to attend classes daily. The local school board is seriously considering the possibility of extending an invitation to volunteers to teach English here for several weeks to several months. Teaching volunteers would trek in with a guide & have their own bedroom in the home of a villager. If you would like to become involved in our new school programme, would like to volunteer or know someone who does, please send us an email or check back on our website for more details in the near future!

Well, congratulations for making it to the bottom of this email, sorry to ramble on so, and thanks for following our service trek! yours sincerely, from Dan Mazur and all of us at summitclimb.com
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06 June, 2007
 
 
Trancription:
Hi this Dan calling for SummitClimb.com. Today is the 11th of June and the time is 2:50 p.m. local time. Our service trek has arrived in Patale village. We actually reached here late yesterday afternoon. Today we have been busy seeing patients with our visiting doctor who’s name is Lisa McMillan. We went to a local Buddhist temple and had a prayer ceremony early in the morning before the patient visiting started.

We have some bad news to report. Celia Rogers slipped on a muddy path yesterday. She injured her shoulder, perhaps her collar bone, her clavicle and she was helicopter evacuated today this morning at around 9:30 or 10:00. She’s back in Kathmandu now and she’s doing fine.

The rest of us plan to see patients again tomorrow. There’s going to be a village meeting this afternoon and they are going to try to reach a decision about where to build the new health clinic and about training some more local people to be teachers and health care workers. Then we plan to leave here on the 12th tomorrow afternoon and begin walking back to the village of Phaphlu where we will hopefully be able to fly out on the 15th of June.

We’re hoping for better weather. The weather has been pretty cloudy and rainy so far. Although today it did clear up a bit fortunately for Celia so she could be helicopter evacuated.

OK. Thank you very much for following our expedition. Bye for now. back to top

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