Duke of Edinburgh Expedition
Education is important. We all know this, but, as hard as we might try, not everything can be taught in a class room. Sometimes you need to step out in to the great outdoors and immerse yourself in to the places you have only read about or seen in pictures.
Our trip to Nepal in February of 2020 had one of the most uneasy starts to travelling I have ever experienced. With the beginning of the Corona pandemic starting to fill the news, suddenly everyone was starting to take this global situation a lot more seriously, and it was starting to disrupt travelling to some countries. Another school trip to Japan had already fallen victim to worries from parents about flying internationally, and this started to affect our sign up as we really didn’t know how this was going to play out at the time. In the end, enough students were still signed on for the trip for us to go forward and depart. The trip was happening and we needed to pack.
An early morning departure saw all of the families and staff meet at the airport, including our guide Malcolm who had flown in from the UK to assess the students along their journey. Malcolm, a genuine gentle giant with stacks of experience was one of those characters who just had a calming effect on those around him. Being able to meet him at the start of the trip clearly helped parents feel more confident about sending their children off to Nepal to complete their mission.
The flight was uneventful, the usual combination of faces glued to phone screens and earphones wedged in to ears and before we knew it we were soon straight through customs and walking towards our minibus to take us to the hotel. The arrivals door of Kathmandu airport has a huge window that you walk towards as you exit the airport and there were hundreds of faces pressed up to the glass looking for friends or loved ones. At the time, I joked that it looked like a scene from a zombie film, which in hindsight was probably not the best joke to make in the beginning of a pandemic, but I am a student of film and the similarity was uncanny. It was brilliant to see the students looking around taking in all of the bustle and chaos of the scene. Even the journey in to the centre of Kathmandu was an eye opening experience for them as the driver threaded the minibus though gaps in the traffic that were barely big enough for a bicycle. This is Kathmandu.
The first day started with a walk around the maze of streets that make up the centre of Kathmandu. Taking in all of the shops crammed in to the network of alleyways and narrow roads and the many street vendors trying to sell anything from wooly hats to guitars. Despite the bustle of every day life, Kathmandu was strangely quiet compared to my previous visit. Both Mrs Raynor and I noticed the lack of tourists around the city and it was clear that people were not travelling as much as usual. After getting our bearings, we returned to the garden of the hotel where the trip organizers had brought all of the equipment the students would need for the trip. Here they practiced putting up the tents and setting up the cooking equipment, looking at the maps and marking out the journey as the guides helped them plot their course and the water stops available along the way.
Once all of the equipment was squared away and we were settled with the route it was time for a challenge. Who can get the best deal! Take a group of students who are used to strutting around some of the biggest and most posh shopping malls in the world and send them in to the depths of the Kathmandu shopping jungle where bartering is the only language you need. This was going to be fun!
When we all sat down back at the hotel some the stories were hilarious. Some clearly had a great ability to haggle and get great deals, some though, clearly had a lot to learn about shopping.
A quick briefing from Malcolm about what to expect the next day and it was bed time. The trip was to start in the morning and a good nights sleep was essential.
An early bus journey through Kathmandu and out to the countryside gave us glimpses of rural life and what Nepal had in store for us. Hills and mountains started to appear through the haze on the horizon and the landscape started to open up to an impressive vista of green. After a few hours we were out and and putting our packs on ready for the first leg of the hike. To say that it was beautiful and peaceful would be an understatement. The fresh air and greenery, partnered with the altitude gave us a perfect location to hike. The weather was playing nice too.
The first day took just over 5hrs, we covered 10.6km and it gave the students a glimpse of what this trip was all about. There were some map reading errors, some blisters, dehydration and some headaches, but everyone made it. The reward was a camp at the top of a mountain which gave us a spectacular view over the landscape around us. It also gave us a pretty cold night with the temperature dropping to just above freezing and putting a nice layer of frost over the tents by the morning. The crisp air and crystal clear view were perfect conditions for sun rise and wow! Stunning is putting it mildly!
The hike for day two was going to be tougher. More elevation drops and gains and more hours. The bags felt heavier on achy shoulders and the shoes felt less forgiving on tired feet. But there were no complaints as the group set off following the map. On a trek like this you can sometimes forget how hard a climb was when you see the view from the top, making everything worth it for that sense of achievement and appreciation for what is laid out in front of you. On this hike there were so many climbs and views it all started to blur in to one. That is, apart from the final climb. After just over 8 hours of walking up and down mountains, there was one final climb to complete. One thousand steps leading up from the village of Dhulikhel to the camp site at the top of the hills. A final knockout blow from the landscape to the students. Everyone slept well that night.
The last day gave some relief as the students said goodbye to carrying their tents and cooking equipment, lightening the load for the last leg of the journey and letting them get on with getting to the end point. The weather and early morning views perhaps gave them a slightly false sense of security as the path descended in to the valleys. Tracks showed signs of washouts and some of the paths were literally along the top of ridges that snaked towards the river below. Some sketchy moments and carefully placed steps got us through to the final town where the sight of the minibus snaking through the locals was met with a sense of relief from the students. The journey was complete and they all knew they could finally relax. And have a shower.
Trips like this don’t come around often when you’re at school. Sometimes not even as an adult. As a student I was never lucky enough to go on one and it’s something that I think could have really changed my outlook on the world from an early age. Today we are spoilt with being able to see any corner of the planet, whether it be on Google maps or Youtube, effectively taking some of the surprise out of going to far away places like Nepal. However, technology has also given us the opportunity to travel further and plan trips that are safer and more accessible than the generations before us could. I have no doubt that this trip changed our students. The people they met along the way, the stark difference between the lives they got a glimpse of compared to their own and the stunning landscapes that they got to see with their own eyes. I took hundreds of photos on this trip and I also filmed a lot to make a video. You could watch that to get an idea of what it was like, but it won’t give you the full picture. You won’t have that sense of wonder you get from standing in front of snow capped mountains that are over six thousand meters tall, or the wonder you get from seeing children in the street playing with simple toys that cost nothing, yet they are smiling from ear to ear. Perspective is everything. Seeing a video can change your mind. Seeing a different part of the world with your own eyes can change who you are.
The Academy students travel to Nepal
Watch the amazing experiences our students had in Nepal