Not a month goes by that I don’t think about the amazing time and lovely friends I met in the majestic Nepal. It’s hard to believe now that I would wake up every morning and stare out the window at the beautiful Annapurna mountain range...
My journey to Nepal started with a brief stay in the bustling capital, Kathmandu. It’s a chaotic and heaving place much like any city, although it has great places to shop and see the sights. However I believe the true beauty of Nepal is revealed when you leave Kathmandu and head in to the countryside on a rather bumpy and at times, scary bus ride. We saw the morning routine of rural life as children walked to school in the sunshine, women relaxed by the roadside and men looked on or rested after a hard mornings work in the fields. The winding ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara takes around 4-5 hours and cost only a few pounds. It’s a brilliant way to capture the spirit of the country in such a short time, although those of a nervous disposition should sit near the back. That way you can’t see the hairpin bends and motorcycles laden with man, child, chickens and mother in law.
Pokhara is the second largest city after Kathmandu but it doesn’t feel that way, it has a definite small-town feel about it. As we arrived we were met by Sunil (the Programme Manager in Nepal), who is the loveliest man, always willing to help you out and great fun.
A short drive from the bus station is the house, perfectly located in the “old town” area of Pokhara; equidistance from the hospital and the touristy lakeside. Built like the other nearby houses, the Work the World house is homely and spacious. The amazing cook Krishna never let us go hungry and with Wednesday being BBQ night on the roof top, we left a couple of dress sizes bigger than when we came!
My friend and I spent three weeks on the maternity ward at the regional hospital. The hospital is government run and although having joked that should we fall off a mountain we did not want to be taken there, the hospital is full of friendly staff and ultimately does a great job at providing healthcare to those most in need.
The full weight of how lucky we are to have the NHS in the UK hit home after seeing the gloves washed and reused for the umpteenth time. Catheters were reused as tourniquets, because the Nepalese people do not waste what is available to them. Being adult nurses, we struggled to understand much of what was going in the maternity ward so we stuck largely to observing in the labour room where all the exciting stuff happened! We saw many deliveries during our time in the here and even some twins and breech births. Women had very little pain relief and although the situation wasn’t ideal, all were grateful to deliver in hospital accessing subsidised care as part of the Safe Motherhood Scheme that has been running for a few years in Nepal. The scheme has been hugely successful in bringing down the previously high maternal and infant mortality rates. We had the chance to watch some caesarean sections that take place on certain days and tagged along on a few of the ward rounds in maternity and gynaecology. We saw things like a prolapsed uterus and other rare conditions that would not be as common in the UK.
My biggest piece of advice is to learn Nepali and practice it anywhere you can. I didn’t know any before I left but through the free language lessons run by the charming Prem (and sometimes his gorgeous little daughter) and just trying it out anywhere and everywhere, it is easy to pick it up. The people of Nepal are quiet and stoical people, but also full of compassion and lovely to be around. Show them you are willing to speak to them in their language (or try unsuccessfully) and it’s amazing how quickly they will warm to you. I was surprised how far the words ‘hot’, ‘cold’ and ‘you have a beautiful baby’ got us!
We rented push bikes for a week or so and cycled to work and around Lakeside in the afternoons. It was a great way to see the whole of Pokhara and explore the unknown parts that tourists don’t visit. You’re also more likely to meet the locals – the man who rented us the bikes invited us to his house for dinner one day – although during Holi festival where paint and water is thrown in celebration, you may become a moving target for kids with water balloons!
For our last week, we travelled up to Nalma as part of the Village Healthcare Experience. Working in Pokhara you can slip into touristy ways by eating at the western eateries and hanging out at the house. But if it’s culture and adventure you are after then spending a week with the locals high in the mountains couldn’t be more fun. Rabindra was our guide, interpreter and friend.
The health post serves the rural community and is run by a local man and his wife with a couple of others who provide medical, midwifery and nursing services. Being only just into our second year of nursing, there wasn’t a huge amount to help out with at the clinic and our time there was largely observational... although the fifth year medics who went the week before relished the opportunity of diagnosing the locals using their expert knowledge. For us it was more about being submerged in the local culture and community and getting a taste of the real Nepal.
Nepal is a relatively poor country with more than half the population living below the poverty line and so we took along baby/children’s clothes which went a long way to helping out some of the villagers. We spent a lovely week with our new host mum, dad and ‘didi’(older sister), playing football and singing with some of the local children (one boys rendition of Justin Beiber was hilarious). Without doubt, the week in Nalma was the highlight of the whole trip.
If you want stunning mountains, beautiful people, crazy roads, exciting healthcare, spectacular hiking, daring paragliding, the Chitwan jungle as well as much, much more, then Nepal is the place to go (but take me with you!)