12:30 PM, March 21th, 2013 – Himalaya Public School, Chaukori
We departed from the Himalaya Public School around 7:30 AM on the 18th, all piling into a small bus for the 4-hour drive to our homestays in Munsiari. As we ventured onto the windy roads, we saw a tipped over car down a steep embankment and countless broken guard rails along the way, which gave the ride a different kind of feel. However, after a strenuous ride we arrived in Munsiari, where we found our homestay families waiting. We stayed in pairs with five families total, the groups being Ben and Nate, Molly and Ms. Yun, Woo Jun and Max, Peter and Mr. Nemitz, and Lizzy and me (Sydney). We found right away that the families were extremely hospitable and offered what little they had to us with no hesitation. Many of the families did not speak English, and a game of charades was often the best way of communication. The first night, we walked up to a woman named Malika’s house, who runs a women’s co-op (MAATI) with an emphasis on environmental responsibility, handicrafts, and a homestay program. We sat in a large group of about 30 people with 3 language barriers. As we gave introductions, Malika translated our words into Bahari and Hindi. After introductions, the afternoon and evening were spent watching an ancient Indian martial art presentation, teaching the young kids a tag game (“Fishy Fishy, Cross My Ocean”), and learning an old, famous Hindi game called Capati. After a long day of travelling and learning new culture, we went to bed early for we knew we had a long day ahead of us.
The next day was full of ups and downs, but mostly ups. We set out on our trek at 9 a.m. with our lead tour guide Ram, and five porters, including a cook and four carriers. Our trek took about 6 hours, which included lunch, snack, and tea. It was easy for some, but hard for most. We encountered wild monkeys, deadly flowers, and snowy ridges, which made for difficult trekking. It was hard, and some people’s gear was redistributed among the group, because they themselves could not carry it. There were stomach issues, breathing issues, and aches and pains all over. After a long, hard, and frustrating day, we finally made it to our camp site, which was a blank slate of snow, situated at nearly 10,000 ft. above sea level. We set up camp, which consisted of 3 tents for us, a tent for the porters, and a bathroom tent. As the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly and we all cuddled together and had dinner, hot chocolate, and played a lot of spades. Soon after, we all went to bed early to escape the freezing.
The night was rough, and the next morning, many complained of not sleeping at all. A small group, consisting of Ms. Yun, Mr. Nemitz, Max, and Nate awoke at 5:45 AM and went to the very top of the mountain (over 12,000 ft. elevation!), while Ben, Molly, Lizzy, Woo Jun, Peter, and I stayed and relaxed, playing many hours of card games. The journey down was the real adventure. As we left and packed up, a large dark cloud began to rise over the top of us. We started to walk, and about ten minutes in it started to hail, with some hailstones as large as small grapes. From there, the difficulty rose. The trails got slippery and the snow was very hard to walk down. Thunder and lightning began to strike and worries began to arise. However, we hiked down fast, and the increasing storm only made it go faster. As we got down lower, the storm lessened and by the time we reached halfway, the hail turned to rain and our spirits rose. Finally, we made it to Malika’s house, damp, tired, and in a huge need of a shower. In good spirits, we made our way to the women’s co-op where we bought hand made goods from the local women of Munsiari. Finally, everyone got a shower (or bucket bath to be more precise), dinner and lots of sleep. The homestays showed us the beauty of simplicity and gave us appreciation for the little things that we take for granted.
And now, after a four hour ride back to the school, we sit writing this, surrounded by kids in uniform, constantly editing our writing.
By Sydney De Tomaso and Ben Phillips.