SketchTravel in Nepal
To Kathmandu and the medieval city of Baktapur
After arriving in Kathmandu, I visited the ancient city of Baktapur, a world heritage site that is a few miles out of town. It felt like someone assembled all the old architectural styles in their history and crammed them together in an ornate palace complex. It is truly awesome to behold. Note: I experimented with sketching on this trip with pen and ink, pencil, watercolors, and line with washes. So they vary some in style and detail. Just mixing it up for fun!
The purpose of this trip for me was to video document a nonprofit project in the country town of Jogitar. I was doing this for the Seattle-based travel nonprofit group Crooked Trails. They call it travel with a purpose. Not only are you exposed to different cultures and places, you stay with the families and engage in community life. It is a true cultural immersion experience. I recommend Crooked Trails to anyone wanting a deeply rewarding travel experience.
Jogitar, a village of subsistence farmers
I stayed with a family in the main part of the village. The room was upstairs in their barn, which was where they also slept. We had our meals with them, sitting on the floor in their hand-made house. We ate lentil soup and rice known as dal bhat, sometimes with chicken (for the guests).
The project we were there to do was to dig a trench across a hillside, lay the pipe and bring water to a middle school. The school itself was also built by volunteers on earlier trips. It was very exhausting work in the heat and on the steep slopes, but it was also teamwork and fun. The villagers did much of the work alongside the volunteers. I made such good friends with the villagers. The scenery was stunning, lush green rolling hills with big rivers and terraced rice paddies. I think of Nepal as a cold, mountainous place, but the valleys are subtropical. When it was time to leave, we were told that even their cows were sad.
Unfortunately many if not all of these buildings I sketched were destroyed in the earthquake a couple years ago. We have lent support and sent money to families who are slowly rebuilding.
The most dangerous airport in the world
After leaving the village we regrouped in Kathmandu and flew to Tenzing Hillary Airport at Lukla. It has a very short runway, so that on one end it is a severe drop off, while on the other end it is a sheer mountain wall. A documentary by the history channel rated it as the most dangerous airport in the world.
We were taking a 6-day trek up toward Mt. Everest, and Lukla is the gateway. This is an unbelievable trek, shared with so many yaks, porters and Sherpas. Along with fantastic views and sobering suspension bridges, we passed countless little stops where a small hotel or café has popped up in recent years/decades for the hikers. Every turn offered new vistas and sketching opportunities, although I was with a group and not really free to wander off to sketch at will. Many villages had prayer wheels that you turn as you walk by. I loved coming upon stupas as well, those spiritual places that are said to have some remnant of the Buddha in them to keep the spirit alive.
I felt that this was like three trips in one. Exploring Kathmandu and Baktapur is amazing and worth the trip. Staying in the village with the community was priceless. And doing the trek in the mountains was entirely different as well. Highly recommended, though you need to be in shape!