I think I’ve now experienced what it must be like for royalty when they visit a place – the locals gathering to honour your visit. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I committed to visiting Bhadaure village in the hills above Pokhara. Even up until the morning, the arrangements were shaky, and I was told I’d be picked up at my hotel.
Sure enough, after breakfast, my transport arrived and I was met by Ram, who is the Principal of Bhadaure School. Our journey back though was somewhat of an adventure, with several villagers joining the jeep, and a supply run was undertaken at a store in Pokhara. By the time we set off on the rocky hill road, I was experiencing how the locals travel – in very over-crowded cars. I think there was easily four adults and three children on the back-seat, and three adults and one child crushed into the front. A partial load of my luggage was in the back with a week’s worth of groceries.
On arrival in the village, the first greeting party was there as I stepped out of the jeep. I was covered in flowers, scarves and my forehead was painted red as each villager ‘blessed’ me. Then it was on to a drink on the tea-house terrace, followed by meeting more of the villagers.
Later in the day, I interviewed three girls who had applied for scholarships, and that was the hardest thing I’d done as they were so nervous and keen to impress. I’d agreed to provide a scholarship via my own school, but I’d made the assumption that they would do the selection process (which it later turned out was the case, and so I put these poor girls through an interview for nothing). They’d each made me something as well – mostly flower wreaths.
Just before the dark set it, I went to see the school and specifically the benches that my old school had raised the funds to purchase. All of the school council sat around a room, and I had to tell them all about myself. I donated some books to their library, and also some stationery that other people on the tour had given me to hand out.
In the evening I had some eggs and chips and then had my first (and last) try of Nepalese wine. It’s not terrible, but I do pre-warn you that it’s more spirit than wine. Considering their vodka is 70% alcohol, that gives you an idea what wine alcohol percentage might be. The tea-house in Bhadaure was really comfortable and it’s quite off the normal trekking loop for Annapurna, but well worth it if you are spending time in Pokhara.
I was anxious that they weren’t going to keep to time the next morning, as I was meeting my break-off trekking group. It was clear returning to Pokhara wasn’t an option, particularly as the point that we’d start our trek was across from the mountain road that goes to Bhadhure. So as I got ready to depart, the whole village turned out once again to decorate my forehead (and whole face) and swathe me in more flowers. Wet fresh flowers are heavy – very heavy! Then we bundled into an even more crowded jeep, and set off for a 40-minute drive down the hill – at one point where there had been a rock slide, I really thought we were going over the cliff-side.
Finally though I said goodbye to the villagers and took up a spare bench outside a roadside tea room to wait. With no mobile signal, I had no idea when they might arrive. I was also getting strange glances. After about 45 minutes, my four fellow trekkers turned up and broke into hysterical laughter. Having now seen the pictures I know why. I also ended up with pink hair for the next two weeks as the dye on my forehead played havoc with my very blonde hair. As we were about to trek up a steep hill, I followed a local’s advice and ‘donated’ all my very heavy flowers to a buddha statue nearby as an offering.
I’m hoping to give an update on how the girl that I sponsored to stay on at school is doing, but am just waiting final details. Bhadaure School hopes to build a boarding house to take on more girls at secondary level, particularly those without parents or who otherwise couldn’t afford to continue their studies. After talking to a waitress at my hotel, she said that supporting projects like this is so helpful, as so many girls either end up working in terrible jobs abroad, or are in difficult marriages where they are beaten and made to work hard. Education offers them a different life.
* Wilderness School in Adelaide works with the school, but spells it ‘Bhadhure’.