A few months ago, Angela and I did some volunteering at a hostel in Tanah Rata, Malaysia. It was an amazing experience that allowed us to help a local businessman with his newest project, see some off-the-beaten-path places we wouldn't have discovered by ourselves, and immerse ourselves in Islamic culture through Ramadan meals and Bangladeshi dress-up sessions.
Now in Nepal, we decided to try our hands at volunteering again, this time on an eco-farm in Chitwan National Park, in the extreme south of the country. We emailed the owner, Bishnu, via helpx.net, and arranged to stay for about a week. Taking a bus from Kathmandu to the dusty town of Bharatpur, then a taxi to the farm, we arrived in the early afternoon and were greeted by several other travellers volunteering at the farm. It was a chilled out place decorated in Hindu-Buddhist mantras and motivational quotes, located in the heart of nowhere. Chitwan is a completely different world to Kathmandu, a stiflingly muggy, marshy land of Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinos, where local kids kick broken footballs over rice paddies, and farmfolk wander past looking like giant walking vegetables, so big are their backpacks of ghee, corn, and chamomile.
To be honest, we didn't live the most exhilarating existence for the week we were there. We'd do some farm work in the early morning, then mostly chill out or do simple chores for the rest of the day. Wi-fi was spotty at the best of times, and there wasn't a whole lot to do, so we generally sat around bored out of our skulls, sweating profusely. The heat and humidity became unbearable at times, perhaps the worst we've experienced since that cruel April in Thailand. Angela also became sick with some kind of cold-flu-type thing, which didn't add much fun to proceedings. We were never expecting a very comfortable experience here - this is a farm in a third world country after all - but it really didn't help that sickness, bad weather and boredom were added to our miseries.
On the plus side, we had a great bunch of people around us, allowing for some fun conversation, evening card games, and occasional excursions outside the farm. Bishnu's wife, Sita, also cooked us delicious meals, and we got to spend some time with local villagers, allowing us a brief window into the culture and traditional life in the region. Overall, it was a worthwhile experience, but not one either of us would want to do again anytime soon. I don't think either of us are really made for the country life!
|Our bus route from Kathmandu to Bharatpur, followed by a taxi ride to the farm. The whole journey took about five hours (I don't even want to entertain the thought of crossing the whole width of this country by land - it must take forever).|
|Leaving the dusty suburbs of Kathmandu.|
|For some reason I'd always pictured Nepal as a very dusty, moon-like place with only prayer flags and alpine shrubs enhancing the greyness of it all. Turns out it's one of the greenest places I've ever been to.|
|The roads were pretty busy, and we passed hundreds of these rainbow-coloured trucks with blaring horns that sounded like psychotic ice cream vans.|
|We noticed that many people in the countryside have to use a shared outdoors tap, whether brushing their teeth, cleaning utensils or washing themselves. We would soon have to get used to such simple facilities ourselves.|
|The road followed this river for almost the entire journey.|
|Making a rest stop by a roadside market.|
|After three or four hours we came out of the mountains and into the lower plains, close to the border with India. Kathmandu had a relatively mild climate, but down here it's sauna-weather all year round.|
|Bharatpur, not among the prettier towns we've passed through.|
|Our taxi ride took us along a bumpy road through endless marshland.|
|When we arrived at the farm, Bishnu (right) greeted us and took us to our new home.|
|We lived in this tiny stone shack.|
|Some other volunteers slept in this roundhouse with a library of books left by previous occupants.|
|There were lots of murals, posters and other decorations dotted around the farm.|
|On our first afternoon we sat down and chatted with the other volunteers. Actually, that's pretty much what we did every afternoon.|
|There was no tap in the kitchen or toilet room. Instead, we used this outdoors tap. The water was drinkable so long as we boiled it first.|
|Kit plays football with some local Nepali boys.|
|I went for a walk with Kit and Sahtee (Bishnu's dog) to the nearby village to buy some eggs and other replenishments.|
|We got used to saying "Namaste" to just about everyone we passed.|
|The nearby village of Parsadhap is a quiet, simple place, though we were surprised that even somewhere as remote as this, a lot of the shopkeepers spoke functional English.|
|This shop became our local supermarket, with the cheapest deals we've ever found. You could buy a small bottle of gin for less than a dollar. Pity we weren't in the drinking mood.|
|On the walk back to the farm, we studied some local fauna. Cannabis grows copiously in this area, and while it's not technically legal, we sometimes encountered people smoking it without inhibition.|
|Back on the farm, a storm was brewing.|
|Putting up covers around the communal area to shield us from the incoming torrent.|
|We were here during the tail-end of monsoon season, and there was an afternoon shower like this one almost every day.|
|The rain dissipated in time for dusk, which made for some lovely orange skies.|
|Dinner usually consisted of homemade dal bhat, a common staple food in this part of the world, consisting of rice mixed with lentil soup.|
|On our first evening, we went for a walk to Parsadhap, passing still-grazing cattle in the dark.|
|Eating some kulfi, a delicious ice-cream-like dessert popular in south Asia.|
|We went to a nearby temple to watch some villagers gather for some musicianship and chanting.|
|At first we sat down with the villagers, clapping along to the music and feeling very spiritual and zen.|
|Then, as the music became livelier, we got up and danced.|
|We befriended these cute girls who were clearly a little bored by the music and more in the mood for playing.|
|Angela is a magnet for cute kids; sometimes it's a blessing, sometimes a curse.|
|Heading back to the farm in the pitch-black.|
Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2!