Editor’s note: This is another in a series of columns about Palmer Lake resident Jay Heinlein’s work and adventures in Nepal. Heinlein is in Nepal with Five14nepal, which combines trekking adventures with humanitarian projects in the earthquake-stricken country. The Tribune of the Tri-Lakes Region, Pikes Peak Newspapers, Inc.
By Jay Heinlein
LUMBINI, Nepal – Not long into my first month in Nepal, my new Nepali friend, Deepak, invited me to visit him in the Rupandehi and Chitwan areas. Deepak is from Lumbinī, the traditional birthplace of Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha.
I met Deepak via a Facebook introduction by my friend Mary, a Kiwanis leader in the Rocky Mountain Region of Colorado and nationally. Kiwanis International “serves the children of the world.”
When one thinks of Nepal, generally what first comes to mind is Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, and adventure climbing and trekking in the Himalayas. But Nepal is a land of diverse geographies including lush, green jungles.
That describes Deepak’s region of Chitwan, which literally means “heart of the jungle” and is the homeland of the Tharu people.
As with much of my visit to Nepal, I combined some fun with cultural explorations and humanitarian efforts. In this case, to deliver Kiwanis-sponsored school supplies, including backpacks, shoes and clothing to a remote village, high above Lumbinī.
I also got to be “Chief” for a day.
First the fun. During my visit, I explored Chitwan National Park where I rode on the back of an Indian elephant through dense jungle and made a thrilling trip down the Rapti River in a dug-out canoe.
Along the way, we met a one-horned rhinoceros on his green home turf – a true other-worldy experience I will forever remember.
We followed him closely as he ambled through the trees munching leaves. Occasionally he look up at us with cautious, but welcoming, eyes. He was regal and magnificent.
We also encountered crocodiles sunning on the river banks, spotted deer, peacocks, rhesus monkeys and many other wildlife and flora.
After our jungle safari, we hiked for 3½ hours up steep, narrow paths to a village in the Lumbini Zone. We were greeted at the top by about 50 uniformed schoolchildren from surrounding villages who had assembled for the special occasion.
I changed into a bright, yellow Kiwanis shirt and topped it with a traditional Dhaka topi hat, given to me by Deepak for the event. I looked like a big yellow, lumpy banana, with a cherry on top, but I was game for the ceremony.
We each received beautiful ceremonial Nepali flower necklaces called dosalla, from the brightly dressed school staff. I sat in the middle of our group in front, as Deepak got the children revved up.
Then we distributed a load of school supplies, shoes and clothing as the children cheered. The staff selected the most needy children in the group to receive specific items. One little boy had lost both parents in the earthquake last April that killed 8,000, injured 21,000, triggered avalanches on Mount Everest, destroyed entire villages and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
The reward for our exhausting hike was the jubilant laughter and triumphant cheers of the children.
My heart was once again stretched beyond capacity. And my love for Nepal, its beautiful land and remarkable resilient people continues to grow.
Jay Heinlein is a lifelong writer, a publishing professional for over 25 years and principal of Heinlein Publishing Services. Reach him at email@example.com