Maya Guest House, Follow-up workshop and Farewell

Since several group members had flights home a couple of days later, I invited them to join me at Maya Guest House near Boudanath in Katmandu. This was my third year staying there and feels like home. Hans and Ingrid left for Chitwan and the rest of us were dropped off at the guest house. I was happy to see Sid and his parents again. At Sid’s suggestion, there have been upgrades to the guesthouse like lights beside the bed, updated bathrooms and wifi. We were sad to say good-bye to Carol and Barbara that afternoon. After they left the rest of us walked to Boudanath to have lunch and wander around shopping. During dinner that night, Kip turned to me smiling and said, “Nepal really grows on you after awhile.”

Elizabeth and Dave were happy to roll around with me after Kip and Nikki left. We visited a temple and sat listening to chanting, cymbals and horns. We discovered a new art gallery and enjoyed talking to the artist who owns the gallery making our way to the offices for Shakti Samuha. I was relieved I remembered where it was!
Once I showed up to the office, arrangements were made for me to give a 1-day follow-up to the How to Manage Stress workshop that Bharati and I gave the previous year. We made plans to go back to Sarangi the next day for the workshop. Everything fell into place and ten staff member attended including Charimaya, the founder. I was a little nervous about pulling this off by myself but Elizabeth and Dave eagerly helped me out. Plus, I had a new video from Lauren Stempler demonstrating Synergy Yoga and the dance videos from last year. The group participants told me:

  • They were using the skills they learned last year and felt better
  • They were teaching the skills to other staff members
  • They were using them in the homes where the rescued girls live
  • They found the information presented in the follow-up workshop would enhance their programs.
  • They wrote wellness plans for themselves.
  •  They decided to put their wellness plans where they could see them daily.
  • They decided to check and encourage each other to follow their wellness plans at work
  • They will put post-it notes on a bulletin board at work to help motivate each other
  • During their weekly consultation meetings on Friday, they will check in with each other.
  • They liked the idea of having a closed facebook group to communicate with Bharati, Priya and me during the year.

Like last year, we concluded our day together with live music. Everyone danced and enjoyed themselves. Charimaya spoke with me and thanked me for our continuing relationship and emphasized how much the workshops have helped her staff. She hopes to improve communication with me and to work with Bharati, Priya, and me in the future again. As the day came to a close and I watched the joyous dancing, listened to the lively music, my heart swelled joy and appreciation for this deserving group of people.

Dave left for New Jersey at lunch time and Elizabeth and I had a driver take us back to Maya Guest House. The 40 minute trip took two hours because of the traffic in Kathmandu. Often, the driver turned the car off and we just sat there. The roads are being widened and there are just too many cars and motor cycles on it. When we were within walking distance, we just got out and walked back to the guest house.
When we finally got back, the owner invited us to go to a small restaurant nearby for Sherpa Soup. Off we went in his tiny electric car around the corner. The cook works in Germany for a successful Nepalese restaurant. We enjoyed a beer together and loved the Sherpa soup made of peas, carrots, homemade noodles, buffalo meat, and broth. We had a lively conversation about Nepalese and USA politics and learned about his adult children. Two live in NJ and New York and two are in Kathmandu. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal and our time together. Sid, joined us towards the end of the meal just to say good-bye because I was leaving the next day.

The next morning after tea in the garden, Liz and I spent time in a temple. We sat on the mats listening to chanting. My eyes were closed and I was immersed in gratitude for the abundance in my life, for having a great group of trekkers, their safety and for everything we did in Nepal, when a young monk tapped me to give me a banana reminding me of the abundance in my life. Afterwards, Liz and I went to one of my favorite cafe’s for Masala tea and yoghurt. Elizabeth made plans to return to Shiva Puri Cottages for a few days and then to meet a friend in Singapore before she returns to the states. Right on time, Buddhi and Niru, picked me up to take me to the airport. Before saying good-bye, they each expressed appreciation for all the help my groups have given them. The privilege is mine and I can’t wait to go back next year!

Posted in anti human trafficking, workshop | Leave a comment

Extension for volunteering (videos and photos after text)

After a ten hour bus ride back to Kathmandu and another night at KMG, we said good-bye to Roddy, Michele, Sandra and Karin. The rest of us were driven to go to Shiva Puri Heights Cottages and were warmly welcomed. We spent four nights in comfortable beds and beautiyul rooms and enjoyed yoga in the morning, massages after our service hours, lively conversation and delicious food.

Hans, a group member, commented that we all worked well together in Dadagaun Village because we already knew each other from the trek. I think he is right because we really got a lot accomplished. Razu, who was interviewed by Mozella in 2011 (the first person to register for a TOYL trip) spent several hours talking to Hans and Ingrid (Inter-American Development Bank professionals) about how he could support his village better. Since we met Razu in 2011, he has finished college and has a degree in Business. Lots of new ideas were generated for the village.

Barbara and Carol, who have been taking a program on how to teach English as a second language in Berkeley California, enjoyed teaching several classes since learning English is an educational priority for the school. Kip, discovered a classroom of teen aged boys and girls sitting in classrooms without a teacher so he took the opportunity to teach geography in the context of describing many of the countries where he has traveled for work. His wife Nikki, a retired preschool teacher jumped right into the preschool classes and noted, “All children are the same!”.

Hans, Ingrid and Carol also spent time in the computer lab. They showed X some new educational and training apps she can use and how to discern well researched educational material from fake news and less reliable sites. Elizabeth and Dave set up a time for the children to draw and played with them. An idea that emerged was to make cards from their drawings that could be sold to benefit the school, orphanage and women’s group. Elizabeth says her friends really want to help and she is willing to work on this project.
Neeru (my friend and facilitator and I met with the women’s group of mothers who have been meeting regularly and going to the near by temple for education. Thanks to Razu, they have a small bank account and are interested in starting a micro business. In the past they made raksi (a kind of home brewed whiskey) to sell. Now, they’d like to make other things. After three meetings with them, Neeru helped them come up with some ideas. She was encouraged by how motivated they are and agreed to take the leaders of the group to the market in town to begin selling mats they already know how to make to sell. Another idea they seemed interested in was to build small greenhouses out of bamboo and plastic to grow tomatoes and greens in winter. Neeru knows expiates the owners of bed and breakfasts who would love to buy the produce. They seem to understand that if they save some of the money they make and reinvest the rest to make more products, they will be able grow a business. Hans commented, “We all worked so well together, probably because we knew each other from trekking.” In addition to the ideas we contributed, we gave nearly 63 service hours. Fun was had by all!

Thanks to the generosity of past group members and the10% of the trip costs donated to anti-human trafficking groups, the Dadagaun Village School ( ) and friends who have bought jewelry who have given their enthusiasm and support for the last seven years, TOYL will:
Fund Himalayan High Notes, the music program for the third year, thanks to Jim Forman
Five laptops cleaned and configured for Nepal, thanks Barry and Audrey Suskind and the people who donated them
Two sewing machines (allowing survivors of human trafficking to start micro businesses)
40 LED solar powered lights (one will light an entire room) donated by the Basa Village Foundation
A follow-up 1- day workshop to Shakti Samuha Staff (group rescuing women and children)
60 blue polo shirts to be worn for school uniforms, thanks to Hope Lockridge
Cash donations to Dadagaun Village School and the anti-human trafficking groups totaled $3,200
School supplies
Seventy sanitary products Carol and her friend made in the USA to continue the sewing project we started last year be IMG_2680


Posted in The Trek of Your Life | Leave a comment

The Trek-We had perfect weather!

This gallery contains 35 photos.

    In good spirits, we left early the next day to begin an eight hour bus trip to Syabru Besi where we spent our first night in a lodge. After breakfast we started our climb to Langtang at 12,400 … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Reports from Basa Village trek pre and post trek

For those of you who are interested, the following is an update Joel sent about projects in Basa Village:
• A new WEBSITE is up and we can now take online donations! Check it out! Please note that I can invite anyone to be a guest blogger. Please contact me if you want to set that up.
• Our trip will cover many tasks (and adventures!)
◦ Evaluation of our progress in Basa
◦ Evaluate next steps with the team there as well as with Niru and Basa Foundation Nepal. I will be spending some extra days in KTM for this.
◦ We just transferred $8k+ for teachers’ salaries and school supplies.
◦ We will be evaluating a stairway/walkway rebuild project for funding (work starts in December)
◦ We will be reviewing costs and plans for setting up a small medical facility in Basa – lots to consider! We got great insight and advice from Possible Health who creates health clinics across the globe (yet none near Basa, unfortunately)
◦ We will revisit the idea of creating more composting toilets.
◦ I will be doing extensive documentation while I am there and will be shooting some film to get some video updates to the members, et al.

Jeff Rasely is the past president. This is his post on FB:
I just returned from Nepal and will post a series of photos about the experience. The Basa Village Foundation USA sponsored a give-away of shoes for needy villagers & students (shoes provided by Changing Footprints), distribution of solar-powered LED lights purchased from LuminAid, and testing of villagers of all ages for reading glasses. Gordon Mendenhall tested over 200 villagers, trained a school teacher, Asam, to continue testing villagers in the Basa area. The Foundation provided 500 pairs of reading glasses to be distributed in the Basa area. Each of these projects was requested by the village through our sister foundation based in Katmandu.
Image may contain: 1 person, standing, shoes and outdoor
Image may contain: 3 people, people sitting and child
Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting, child and outdoor
Image may contain: 2 people, child and outdoor

Posted in The Trek of Your Life | Leave a comment

Festive first night in Kathmandu


Barbara buying an item from Glenda

Elizabeth buying items to benefit Beauty for Ashes

Langtang in Nepal was the destination for the tenth TOYL trek. No wonder this remote destination was #42 on The New York Times list of 53 places to go in 2017! Twelve adventurous hikers jumped into our journey with enthusiasm, humor and flexibility. Many new friendships were made and others deepened on our journey. This was first year I had a waiting list for the group thanks to word of mouth by many of you and The New York Times!
Langtang is North of Kathmandu Valley near the Tibetan border. The area was designated Nepal’s first Himalayan National Park in 1971. It is inhabited by Tamang and Sherpa people whose religious practices, language and dress are much more similar to those of Tibet than to the traditions of their cousins in the middle hills. The region is still recovering from the earthquake and landslides in 2015. Moments after the earthquake struck, a massive expanse of ice fell thousands of feet, creating an avalanche that wiped out a community where 400 people lived. In addition to seeing monkeys frolicking in the forests, we hiked across a landslide that had killed hundreds of people.
Group members arrived safe and sound at Kathmandu Guest House (KMG), two of them were repeats. Michele was in the first group in 2011 and Karin from last year. Five of them carried lap tops in their luggage, two of us carried sewing machines on board to donate to the anti-human trafficking groups I work with, Basa Village and Dadagaun Village. Eight of the twelve members extended to continue our service work and programs in Dadagaun Village where we’ve joined others from around the world to support.
Our first day was enhanced because Joel, President Basa Village Foundation, and two other board members joined us for sight seeing and a dinner at Sangari, the restaurant next to KMG operated by musicians. Joel, on behalf of the foundation, donated 40 Limin aid LED solar powered lights to Indira, (Founder of Change Action Nepal), Glenda Hauser, (Executive Director of Beauty for Ashes (, Dhruba Thapa (New Hope Ministries, ( each rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking. Because of the generous donations of friends in the States combined with 10% of the trip’s cost, cash donations were given to these groups and the expenses were covered for the follow-up workshop I gave to Shaki Samuha staff and the Dadagaun Village music program. A little bit of money goes a long way in Nepal.
After a brief rest in our rooms at Kathmandu Guest House, we walked around the corner and up the stairs to Sangari for a festive evening including dinner we enjoyed lively music by four talented musicians. Indira, Glenda, Dhrupa, and Ajay joined us for lively conversation. These brave humanitarians talked briefly about their programs. Indira gave a heart felt talk to thank us for inspiring her continued her work on behalf of the most oppressed groups in Nepal. She said, “You have fought for women’s rights and succeeded in your country. Your success and continual striving for justice helps keep me going.” Glenda brought jewelry and bags to sell made by women in her program who were taught to sew and make jewelry. It was interesting to learn that one of the target areas for human trafficking is the Langtang region. I was heartened to learn that our trek would bring needed funds to the region and be a small step in addressing human trafficking.

Posted in anti-human trafficking groups in Kathmandu, Kathmandau, music, music program, Nepal, socially conscious travel, spirtual travel, The Trek of Your Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Story of New Hope

by New Hope Ministries Napal

All names have been changed for for the protection of those involved.

New Hope Ministries was founded by a Christian couple in 2007 by Paul and Ruth. This Ministry has two components: a hospice (New Hope Hospice), where HIV positive women stay up to three months for rehabilitation after an acute health deterioration, and a home (New Hope Girls’ Home) where girls rescued from traffickers are sheltered.

On a fateful night in 1998, Kathmandu church workers Paul and Ruth Thapa were in a district called Dhading, screening a movie about Jesus in a dimly lit village called Maidi. When the film ended after midnight, two village women approached the couple, asking curiously if Paul and Ruth had seen their two daughters in Kathmandu.

A man had arrived in Maidi village more than two years before, promising village girls work in the capital. These two teenage girls had left with him. They were supposed to send news and money back home, but there was no news from the girls for two and a half years.

Paul and Ruth told the women that they did not know the girls. Feeling troubled for the women, they returned to Kathmandu to find out what could have happened. Government officials told them the girls were probably sold to India.Through their research, Paul and Ruth found the gateway points along the India-Nepal border most favoured by traffickers for their crimes. For Nepalese and Indian citizens, no official documents are required to cross the border, making it difficult for the authorities to identify trafficked victims. was a familiar story of traffickers tricking young, uneducated village girls into travelling with them to bigger cities with the promise of better jobs, only to sell them to India’s flourishing brothels. Through their research, Paul and Ruth found that gateway points along the India-Nepal border were most favoured by traffickers for their crimes. For Nepalese and Indian citizens, no official documents are required to cross the border, making it difficult for the authorities to identify trafficked victims. To locate two specific girls out of so many victims trafficked across the border would be near to impossible.

Shocked by what they heard, many thoughts ran through Paul and Ruth’s minds. What had the girls experienced after realizing their hopes and dreams were blatant lies? How could such an abominable crime involving innocent children be conducted rampantly?

Through their research, Paul and Ruth found the gateway points along the India-Nepal border most favoured by traffickers for their crimes. For Nepalese and Indian citizens, no official documents are required to cross the border, making it difficult for the authorities to identify trafficked victims.

Every year, fifteen thousand Nepali girls are trafficked from their homes. Because these are poor, uneducated village girls, they are an easy bait for cunning traffickers who use empty promises of a better life elsewhere. Many are sold by their own families, intentionally or unknowingly. Few people are willing to fight for their rights, and their poor families can do little to find justice. These girls are often sexually exploited and eventually scarred emotionally for life, even if they return to their homes. It is estimated that 60-70% of these victims contract HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases along the way, causing discrimination and suffering.

With the Maidi women’s pleas reverberating in them, the couple decided to raise awareness about human trafficking. They researched extensively on the subject, and through their church’s outreach, educated many rural villagers using videos and speeches.

In late 1998, a few months after the Maidi incident, a group of eight women were rescued from brothels in India and brought to Paul’s church. One of them carried HIV, and tuberculosis, but also a healthy infant boy named Binod. The church provided shelter, with Paul put in charge of supplying their basic needs.

Binod’s mother died three months later. During the grief period, Paul and Ruth welcomed the boy into their home, henceforth dedicating their lives to serving victims of human trafficking. The boy grew up strong, mature and loyal to his adopted parents’ noble cause. He loves mechanics and rides a motorcycle very well. He is 17 years old now and studying to be a pathologist. Upon graduating in mid-2015, he wants to start earning for the girls’ home his foster parents had founded.
Traffickers also prefer to cross the border when there are crowds emerging from the trains. It would be much harder for the border officials to screen everyone for suspicious activities.

Paul’s team painstakingly exhorted the churches near the India-Nepal border to fight trafficking. Some church volunteers started to take shifts at three hot spot border points. Each shift is three and a half hours, with two shifts in the morning and one shift at night. The shift times tend to coincide with the train arrival times. The typical volunteer cycles two hours to the border, takes the shift, and cycles two hours back to his home.

Through this work, many young girls have been rescued from the traffickers and brought to nearby facilities for temporary shelter. Church workers attempt to trace each girl’s hometown, a difficult task since many village girls do not know where their homes are. If they find a girl’s village, they send the girl back. Sometimes, the village is deemed unsafe for the girl – the facilitators of trafficking are still around, or the girl’s family is so poor that they are likely to send their daughter off “to work” again. In these cases, the volunteers relocate the young girl to various homes for a longer shelter term.

By 2010, Paul and Ruth had also started to take into their home the rescued girls who had nowhere to go for shelter. As the numbers increased, they mortgaged their house to pay for daily needs. They used a portion of this money to purchase a small piece of land in Kathmandu’s outskirts, hoping to build a larger shelter house there to provide care for more trafficking victims and HIV-afflicted people.

HIV is a rising disease in Nepal, frequently undiagnosed until too late. Nepalese migrant workers contract the disease in brothels when they work overseas. They infect wives upon return, who then pass the virus unknowingly to their children during labour. The adults either die of fulminant infection or become too ill to work, and many children became orphans too early in life.

Associated with immorality, spiritual uncleanliness and divine punishment, people with HIV are discriminated against in Nepalese society. Few schools accept HIV-positive children, and not many employers allow the HIV-infected to work for them.

Together with their relatives Shiva and Rina, Paul and Ruth registered “New Hope Ministries” in 2010. Shiva and Rina opened their home to house women who were recuperating from HIV associated complications. The home became known as the “New Hope Hospice”, a misnomer since only one woman has died there in the last four years. These women usually come from the villages, got their treatment in Kathmandu’s Teku Hospital, and reside in the hospice as part of a step-down care, recuperating until they are strong enough to return to their homes.

One successful testimony was of a HIV-afflicted village woman named Naita, who was found by Shiva and Rina along the Pashupati river bank in Kathmandu, too weak to even ambulate. Miraculously, she walked home after seven months of loving care and relentless prayers.

The hospice has 15 beds, and each woman usually stays up to three months. There are HIV positive children who needed this service, but these have to be sadly turned away to other children’s home because New Hope Ministries do not have the funds to support more. While recuperating, the women spend their time making handicrafts, bags and bracelets, selling them to visitors for income.

In the fall of 2011, Paul and Ruth received a tip off about possible trafficking activity at a bus station in Kathmandu’s busy city centre. Rushing to the site, they joined the anti trafficking volunteers questioning a suspect who had a girl of 11 years old with him. Mala had a depressed look and empty eyes. Because the suspect was not able to prove his relationship with Mala, he was forced to leave her with Paul’s team.

Mala grew up in a village. She lost her parents a few years before and was living with her grandmother. A natural dancer, she was noticed by a villager who wanted to take her to Kathmandu for a bar dancing job in Thamel, the capital’s tourist district. After travelling for five days with her trafficker, she grew suspicious about where she was really going, and hence tried to attract attention by expressing an unhappy look.

Ever since her rescue, Mala has stayed in Paul and Ruth’s home, going to school and becoming a second mother to the younger children who were to join them. She is the “head chef” and “captain” of the girls – even though she is only 15 years old. She is certainly more matured than many of the Singaporean teenagers we know!

Teenage girls are not the only trafficking targets. Sima and Saru were 4 and 6 years old respectively when they were rescued from traffickers on the way to the Indian border. Young girls are usually sold to the Indian circuses where their flexible limbs can be trained to be stage performers. As they enter their teenage years, the circuses will sell them to pimps if these girls are rebellious.

6-year-old Arati belonged to the Badi caste, known as the “untouchable of the untouchables”. The women believed that it is their destiny to become prostitutes from as young as 10 years old. When Paul’s team visited the community, they found Arati lying beneath the bed where her mother was sleeping with men. Horrified, they started to work in the community and raised awareness about exploitation. Arati’s mother is currently undergoing rehabilitation, and she permitted Paul and Ruth to shelter Arati in their home to prevent her from entering the trade.

Niru, Pranita and Uma are from Western Nepal. Each girl is around 10 years old and they share similar stories. Their fathers were killed during Nepal’s civil war between 1996 and 2006. Their poverty-stricken mothers were not able to raise them, so the daughters were sent to rich families to work. Knowing what happens in these homes, there was a high chance that these three girls were sexually exploited, or were at imminent risk of being so. Niru ran away and sought shelter among the church volunteers in that area, while Uma and Pranita were found by the church ministry teams and subsequently rescued.

Paul and Ruth’s mortgage loan has been consumed after four years of spending on the education and food needs of the twenty children they now have in their home. They fear that the bank would take their home away, and when the girls have nowhere to go, they would be sent by government officials to government-run shelter homes, where children were known to be mistreated or even sold.

The two families have a vision – to build a new shelter home of their own in the outskirts of Kathmandu, on the land that is already theirs. They will be able to take care of more children and women, and start their own self-sustaining project: coffee planting and selling. Currently, they do not have funds to do these. They struggle day-to-day for basic needs like food and water.

Here is a summary of needs:

Short terms right away

  1. To build a house that can shelter at least 30 children and 20 adults. They already have a piece land, but lack the estimated $65000 required to build a house, connect the electricity cables and provide water supply. Paul and Ruth were told by the bank that the they and the girls have to move out of their current house. Price remains to be completed $300002.    To start a small coffee plantation as an income generating project. Coffee takes three years to grow from a seed into a plant, after which the coffee beans can be harvested, processed and exported. In the first few years before their own plantation is formed, they plan to buy coffee beans from a friend, process these beans and then sell them.The ministry’s long term vision:A centre of rehabilitation and haven for rescued trafficking victims and people living with HIV, with their own income generating projects. We want to be self-sustaining and not reliant on external donations in a few years’ time, but need the short term financial support to start this major project.

Ambulance ($40000)

Land to do vegetation for income till coffee $140000

More information can be found at

Posted in The Trek of Your Life | Leave a comment

The Trek of Your Life*

*with gratitude to Sydney Frymire for use of TTOYL as my title for this post!

Guest post by: Susie Sutherland


I returned two weeks ago from my month long trip to Nepal. The experience – deep and wide – has stayed with me but is only now being translated into this first of several blog posts. I keep thinking how much I have to write about and share, and realize that with election day tomorrow, I probably have less than 36 hours to have anyone’s attention before the election results capture our zeal.

I’m still unpacking, literally and figuratively. Just yesterday I finished washing the jumbo zip-lock bags I used to organize and pack my clothes and gear. This was the last chore in cleaning and storing my trekking gear. On November 1, I started posting 2-4 pictures a day on Instagram under the hashtag “#30DaysOfNepal.” Where do I begin to tell the stories of this trip to Nepal and our trek along the Indigenous People’s Trail?

The beginning is a good place to start. Sydney Frymire, a friend of my mother – Carol –  in the Washington, D.C. area, has for the last four years run an annual trip to Nepal, planning and participating in two treks each visit through her company “The Trek of Your Life,” (hence the title of this post!). A social worker and life coach by profession, she fell in love with Nepal on a trek a number of years ago. She plans her trips with a “volun-tourism” ethos, and one of the treks includes two or three days of volunteering in the small village of Basa in the Everest Region.  My mother, Carol, who would turn 84 the weekend we returned from the trek, was excited to join the first trek “The Sailung Trek,” named after a peak on the trek with religious importance, and I decided to join her and the group.

After a 5-hour flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to meet up with my mother, followed by a 14-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to Dubai, and finally another 4-hour flight from Dubai to Kathmandu, we arrived in the Nepali capital on the evening of October 2. Our flight from Dubai was a mix of westerners, clearly headed to enjoy the country’s “best” trekking weather of the year in October and November. Nepalis, on the other hand, were returning from work or studies abroad for the most important festival of the year: Dashain.

After collecting our luggage, we emerged from the airport doors to look for the driver from the trekking company Sydney partnered with: Adventure Geo Treks. When we came to Nepal in 1989, we were met at the luggage carousel; now all commercial contacts are required to stand on a traffic island across from the doors, many holding signs and calling names. We wheeled our luggage cart into the parking area, while Carol went back to look for “our” people. She had to argue with a Danish woman that the sign saying “Carol Susan” was intended for us not her: her name, surprisingly, was Susan Carol!

Our ride from the airport to the Kathmandu Guest House in the Thamel neighborhood of the city was nothing less than crazy. The streets were clogged with cars, so much so that the four- lane road had morphed into six lanes, four headed into the city, and two headed out. Buses were jammed with people, and the sidewalks – where they existed – were full of people walking and selling their wares. Motorcycles wove in and out of traffic, and every vehicle practiced the sport of active honking. The streets were loud, dusty and crowded: everyone was getting ready for the festival.

The Dashain festival honors the victory of the goddess Durga over the forces of evil.  She has many incarnations and is known as the mother of the universe, and is believed to be the power behind the work of creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Hindus believe that goddess Durga protects her devotees from the evils of the world and at the same time removes their miseries. Although the festival is primarily a Hindu celebration, my observation was that Dashain was an annual calling similar to the New Year in China or Christmas in the US: Nepali workers from all over the world and the country seek to make it home for part or all of the 15-day festival regardless of their religious beliefs.

When we arrived at the Kathmandu Guest House, we had a note from Sydney. She was just across the way in a restaurant call Sarangi, named for the Nepali musical instrument that most resembles a violin. The restaurant is run by musicians, with the support of an Australian woman who spends 6 months of the year in Nepal. Her vision is for the musicians to have other means of economic support beyond their art because musicians are often from some of the lowest castes (Nepal has a somewhat loose caste system that doesn’t include all Nepalis but is still influential). The food at Sarangi was fresh and excellent, and we had several meals there, once with a trio of musicians serenading us. We were happy to lend our support to their venture.

We met Sydney and two other jet-lagged trekkers from our group: Walter, 51, from Maryland and a colleague of Sydney’s, and Cory, 66, from New Jersey, who had heard about the trek through his hiking group, The Freewalkers. The last two trekkers would join us the next day: Dagmar, 45, and Lisa, 32, both also from Maryland. Dagmar knew my mother from the Wanderbirds hiking club in the DC area.

After resting and exploring the neighborhood on October 3rd, we spent October 4 as a group touring Kathmandu, going to Pashupatinath, the main Hindu temple in Kathmandu, and Budhnath stupa, the center of Tibetan Buddhist practice, both World Heritage Sites. Pashupatinath covers an enormous area, and the holy Bagmati river flows through. People bathe in its waters, and cremations take place on its banks. Macqaq monkeys wander freely and with impunity; I watched one walk up behind a young girl with her parents and swipe a pack of chips from her hands. The move was so bold and so sudden, the girl howled with fear and loss. The macqaq wandered away, chips in hand. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed to enter the main temple, but we wandered smaller temples and the yogis’ “caves,” which are actually small shines with four large openings on each side. For a small donation, pictures of the vividly painted yogis can be had. I also gave some money to an older woman who tied a red and yellow string around my right wrist while chanting, offering me protection.

Our visit to Budhnath stupa, only slightly damaged in the earthquake but still wrapped in scaffolding, was enhanced by lunch on a terrace that overlooked the stupa. The top of the stupa is gilded and has the dramatic, colorful Buddha eyes that I associate with Kathmandu and Nepal. The area is the center of Tibetan life in Nepal, and the stupa is surrounded by stores specializing in Tibetan wares. Monks in maroon and saffron wander the neighborhood. We visited a mandala school, where apprentices learn to paint the highly detailed and mesmerizing mandalas in the Tibetan tradition, and then climbed to a small Buddhist temple located on the top of a building facing the stupa. After removing our shoes, we visited the temple and the lama tied an orange cord around each of our necks, chanting. I have to admit to feeling well protected by both the Hindu string bracelet and the Buddhist cord necklace!

Back at the Kathmandu Guest House that evening, I meditated with gratitude and awareness of being in the Himalaya, the spiritual home of meditation. We retired to repack our gear into waterproof yellow duffels provided by Adventure Geo Treks, and to get our last night’s sleep in a bed for 10 days. We’d be off to begin our trek, and camping, first thing in the morning.

Stay tuned for more!


Posted in spirtual travel, The Trek of Your Life, voluntourism, voluntourism in Nepal | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Trek

Guest post by: Susie Sutherland


peaks of annapurna

The Peaks of Annapurna, early morning Oct. 6

“A trek, by its very nature, is an arduous journey.”
–Sydney Frymire, The Trek of Your Life

We left Kathmandu by mini-bus on Wednesday, October 5, picked up our Nepali trekking crew and swapped into a bigger bus, heading east to the market town of Mudhe to begin our trek. Our trek was not intended to be a typical mountain trek, although we hoped to see mountain peaks from several of our campsites. Instead, we were trekking up and down hills – known as “Nepali flat: a little up and little down” – through towns and villages in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse parts of Nepal via the Indigenous People’s Trail (IPT). The IPT is a relatively new trek, considered “soft” (easy)/moderate by Nepali standards, and typically involves home-stays instead of the camping that we would do.

For seven trekkers our Nepali team consisted of seventeen people! We had four guides (one leader and three assistant guides), one chef and five assistant cooks who also carried all the food and the kitchen (food, pots, pans and the kerosene stove) between camps, and seven porters, who carried our bags, the tents, the dining table (yes, wooden topped table!) and folding metal camp chairs, among other things. Most of these Nepali young men were from or near Basa village, in the Everest region, where the founder of Adventure Geo Treks is from, and where Sydney, the leader of The Trek of Your Life annually takes one of her two trekking groups to do volunteer work.

At first, I was embarrassed by how many people we’d need to conduct our trip. I have a strong streak of good old “do it yourself American” spirit. However, one of the most valuable insights I had in Nepal was around the positive economic impact we could bring to our activities there. It started one night pre-trek when at the Sarangi restaurant. The Australian co-owner encouraged us to take a rickshaw to the market the next day, saying that rickshaw drivers are among the poorest people in Nepal, and my dollar or two could make a big difference to that driver. Fast forward ten days when our trek leader, DB (short of Dilli Bahadur), made comments at our final dinner about appreciating our visit to Nepal, our efforts and spirit on the trek, and most especially, the jobs we created by coming to Nepal to trek. As a communal society, all the pay, including our tips, would go to supporting the crew as well as their extended families in the villages they came from.

On our 3-hour drive from Kathmandu to Mudhe, (which was an adventure in surviving bumps on the road), our leader, DB, let us know that the porters hadn’t eaten. So the bus pulled into the Nepali version of a rest stop where, for the equivalent of $2.50 one could enjoy a very generous serving of ‘dal bhat’ – the national Nepali dish of rice and lentil soup. Buses filled with Nepalis traveling home to their villages would pull up and unload, everyone would eat, and then pile back on the bus within 5-10 minutes. We did the same, pausing briefly to consider the digestive consequences. Perhaps we should have paused longer!

Two of us were already squeamish as we left Kathmandu, and two more of us, my mother Carol and I, got sick within 12 hours. That meant the first full day of trekking was excruciating for my mother who had stomach cramps and had to run into the bushes frequently even as we seemed to climb straight up the hill. Mine didn’t hit until that night but I spent the third day of our trek with cramps of my own, feeling weak and nauseous. The first few days of a trek are tough in any context as your body gets used to being in motion all day, among other things. To do so at altitude, weak and dehydrated, makes things even tougher. My mother, who is indomitable and amazingly strong (and I don’t need to qualify that by reminding you that she’s 84), kept wondering aloud why she was so tired, why the trekking was so hard. Of course, she was nauseous, and at first she wouldn’t eat, so no wonder she felt weak against our first tough hill climb!

We camped our second night in a wide open spot on a hill, just over 11,000 feet – our highest altitude on the trek- hoping to see mountains in the morning. We had a friendly pack of goats that ran through camp before dinner. The goatherds, who couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old, sat and giggled on the hillside near our camp while a couple of us tried to engage them in conversation and excite them with their pictures on our cameras. They disappeared at dark, but I heard the goats come through camp again in the wee hours, and the goatherds exchanged words with our Nepali guide. In the morning, we did wake up to mountains, partially obscured by clouds – we had fog and clouds coming up from the valleys and the peaks were cut off by a ceiling of clouds. The peaks of Annapurna were the most visible above the clouds and without a ceiling. It was thrilling to look around and see major mountain massifs, covered in snow and know that we were in the Himalaya.

The highlight of our third day on the trek was hiking up to Sailung, a holy peak with a small temple destroyed in the earthquake but still adorned with stupas and prayer flags. It is a pilgrimage for many, and Nepalis along the way confirmed with us that we were headed to Sailung. Walter held a short memorial service for his wife Cynthia, who had died suddenly earlier in the year. It was a perfect place for his tribute, and he invited everyone to join him. Afterwards, we all slowly began the long trek down to our next camp near the town of Dorumba.

The monsoons ran long this year, and we had rain almost every day; normally, October is clear and dry. Furthermore, the wetness allowed a layer of algae to grow on some of the rocks and on the mud, making some of our steps as slippery as ice. Although I was descending carefully, sure enough, I slipped and the back of my right arm, just below the elbow, jammed on to a sharp edge of rock. My first thought, after I used the f-word out loud, was that I hoped my arm wasn’t broken, because a broken arm would be a bad thing. When I lifted my arm off the rock and saw blood dripping I knew it wasn’t broken but that the wound was deep. I sat down on a step and waited for the trekkers who had been behind me to catch up. One of our fellow trekkers, Lisa, had been trained in back-country first aid, and she, along with one our assistant guides and DB, the leader, worked on cleaning my arm as best as possible with water and then iodine. We put gauze on it, and wrapped it in an ace-like bandage. Oddly, it didn’t really hurt. I was, however, worried about getting stitches (didn’t want them!), keeping it clean once we had a chance to open the bandage again, and about how the gauze wouldn’t likely come off the wound without reopening it.

Our camp in a soccer field outside the town of Dorumba, was fortunately near a medical clinic, the only one near any of our camps on the trek. The town nurse came that night and cleaned the wound in the dining tent with all trekkers and most of the crew watching along. It was a bit gross, to be sure, but also fascinating. He washed the wound with saline, taking 3 small pebbles out. He spoke some English, but the dialogue was mostly in Nepali, translated by our leader. It felt a little bit like medicine by committee. But I felt very well tended by everyone, and the concern and kindness was palpable. We got some extra supplies of gauze, iodine, antibiotic cream and ace bandage, and one of the assistant guides, Hira, who had some medical training, would replace the bandage and clean the wound every 48 hours.

Later, DB would ask me about the red and yellow string bracelet on my right arm, suggesting that it hadn’t provided me with much protection after all. I replied that my wound might have been much worse – I might have broken my arm after all – had I not had the protection of my bracelet from the old lady at the Hindu temple.

It had been a very full day, but the excitement wasn’t over. We had experienced torrential rain as we arrived at camp, which woke up the leeches. These clever little beasts – no more than about an inch long – sneak their way up the grasses and onto your legs, or shoes, and feast. Apparently, among the amazing things one learns on trek, is that leeches have both an anesthetic and an anticoagulant in their bite, so you don’t feel them, and your blood flows freely. You don’t always know they are there until they’re done, leaving a bloody mess in your socks.

On the evening of our third day of trekking, we had four people recovering from digestive disorders and trying to re-build their strength, one trekker with an arm injury (albeit not a serious “medevac” type injury but one that caused us all to pause), periodic intense rain that seemed to leave everything consistently damp, and a camp infested by leeches. We were all of reasonable good cheer, but I for one recognized we were only at the beginning of our ten-day trek. So far, it had been a bit more arduous than expected!

Stay tuned for more.


Posted in Basa Village, ethical voluntourism, music, music in Peru, Nepal 2016, Orphanage in Nepal, philanthropic tourism, Sydney Frymire, The Trek of Your Life, trek, voluntourism in Nepal | Leave a comment

Headed to the Himalaya

Processed with Snapseed.


Guest post: Susie Sutherland

A quick post this evening. I spent the day on a plane from San Francisco to D.C., and tomorrow my mother, Carol, and I will fly from DC via Dubai to Kathmandu, Nepal. We are going trekking for a few weeks on the Sailung trek (more west and lower altitude than the Annapurna circuit or the Everest area). We’ll also add three days at the end to explore the Chitwan National Park area in the more temperate lowlands.

A few things I’m delighted by:

* My mother is nearly 84 years old, and is alive and vibrant and healthy, and more than capable of handling a three week adventure like this. This is wonderful and special in so many ways.

* I get to have this amazing mother-daughter adventure. Of course, we’re bound to bump heads in the narrow quarters of our tent at some point. But how cool is this adventure we’ll have together?  That said, I will miss my David, who couldn’t clear his deck to join us.

* This is my second trip to Nepal. My mother, younger brother Andrew and I trekked the Annapurna Circuit in 1989. That was an amazing trip, oh so many years ago.

* The group we are trekking with has a ‘volun-tourism’ ethos: most of the treks include a day or two working in a village. Our trek won’t include that, but our fees and tips will go directly to the team of porters and crew from a village with whom the organizers have this invested relationship.

* As most of you know, this ‘gap’ year of mine has been, well, a bit challenging in unanticipated ways, and frankly, I’ve felt a bit disappointed. I’ve tried to reframe the narrative a bit, but mostly think parts of this year have just been crappy. But now I get to have this amazing adventure that will be an adventure no matter how it unfolds. That’s a narrative I’d like to work with.

We arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday, October 2, and our trek begins the 3rd. I won’t be posting to the blog while I’m away, nor will I be posting pictures to Instagram, as both power and cell service won’t be readily available.

I promise stories and pictures when I’m back.

With love,


Posted in Basa Village, ethical voluntourism, music in Peru, Nepal, Nepal 2016, Orphanage in Nepal, philanthropic tourism, spirtual travel, Sydney Frymire, The Trek of Your Life, trek, voluntourism, voluntourism in Nepal | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update from the Trek: Doha, Qatar

As always, I’m excited to be returning to Nepal. This year there are two groups trekking with me  and 10% of the trips’ costs will be donated to charities in Nepal. This flipagram my daughter made for me from our trip last year will give you an idea of our experience:

Unfortunately, most of the money donated for earthquake relief has yet to be distributed for rebuilding. Since I’m working directly with several projects, 100% of the donations I’ve received will directly fund several projects. The donations and the trip costs are greatly appreciated and go a long way to assist deserving Nepalese families. Here are some highlights about the our service projects.

After the earthquake last year, the Basa Village Educational Foundation donated money to buy a brick making machine to New Hope Foundation, a Nepalese program serving women who were human trafficked. After meeting with him in 2014, trek members were so impressed, they raised over $6,000 for New Hope Foundation by selling bracelets made by women and children in the program. We plan to visit New Hope.

The service projects we do each year are always a highlight benefiting group members as much as the families we serve, such as the successful music program in Dadagaun Village School created in 2014 and a sewing program we are starting this year for Dadagaun Villagers with the help of Neeru Webster. She and her sister are buying a sewing machine and supplies in Nepal. I bought universal sewing needles to use for the machines last Thursday before I left the U.S., which Christine Marschner donated in 2011. We learned in the survey we conducted that year, that many young mothers would like to learn to sew to supplement their incomes from farming.

napal sewing

Ideas for sewing projects

In between the two treks, Bharati Devokta and I will give a two-day workshop for about 25 staff members working for Shakti Samuha, a group devoted to rescuing and housing women who were human trafficked. Bharati is a therapist and Auryevdic, a doctor from Nepal, who is working at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Lauren Stempler, a dancer/movement therapist and her husband Mal, who joined The Trek of Your Life in 2014, collaborated with us and created videos to use demonstrating healing dance movements accompanied with Nepalese music.

Sadly, most of the staff have been trafficked themselves and are anxious to learn about how to manage stress. Last year, I implemented a three-hour pilot project to Sharkti Samuha’s staff and I was overcome with their enthusiasm and deep appreciation. Afterwards, they requested a two-day workshop to learn more. If it is successful, we will develop a series of workshops. As always, none of this would be possible without the moral support, ideas, generous donations of time, skill and money that many of you have given me. Thank you for your interest and the donations. Nameste! .

Posted in Basa Village, ethical voluntourism, music, music in Peru, Nepal, Nepal Earthquake, Orphanage in Nepal, philanthropic tourism, rebuild, rebuilding in Nepal, spirtual travel, The Trek of Your Life, voluntourism in Nepal | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment