I woke up early to have breakfast but dilly dallied too much in my packing and preparation that I checked out only at 8.15am. We were supposed to meet Beth and the other volunteers at the Chuchchepati bus station (Araniko Yatayat bus park) at 8.30 a.m. Since it is a public bus, it would depart at 8.50 a.m sharp and would not wait for you.
Passang, my Airbnb host of Ananda Tree House, had recommended that I download the Pathao or InDrive app to book a taxi to the bus station. I was frantically trying to get a taxi on the app and was almost panicking. A lady was at the reception of Ananda Tree House and I asked for her help. She tried the app a few times and explained that the cabs do not want to drive in to our location. She then walked out to the main street to grab a cab for me. I am really grateful and thankful to her for that. Great service!
I got in the cab and was on my way. By this time, I had shared my live location with Beth so that she knows where I am and could try to hold the bus a little longer. The route on google maps had shown that it is 1.5km and only 5 mins drive away. However the actual drive took way longer because of traffic, which I had not expected and should have taken into consideration for travel time. The roads were unmarked and there were a lot of cars along the way even though it was a straight road to the bus station. The driver was honking and weaving in and out of traffic. My heart was pumping like mad all the while, afraid that I would miss the bus. It was like a scene out of a movie when the taxi arrived in the nick of time at the bus station. The bus was leaving the station just as my taxi pulled up right in front of the bus, blocking its way. Then two guys came and grabbed my luggages in the taxi. One guy was shouting some Nepali words at the taxi driver and me. I quickly paid the cab driver. I think it was around 300 rp, which is more than the usual but I didn’t have the liberty to haggle for price at this point in time. I was happy enough to be able to catch the bus. Failing which, it would have been quite a challenge for me to find my way to the village on my own. I have certainly learnt not to take the roads and traffic conditions for granted, especially if I’m in a foreign country. And I most certainly cannot rely on Google maps for the estimated travel time. A 5 mins drive turned out to be almost 30 mins!
Beth was in the bus talking to the bus driver when I hopped on the bus. We only managed a quick greeting before the bus drove off.
The bus ride was in itself another exciting journey. I found a seat next to another volunteer whose name is Sacchi. He’s an Indian national from Haryana. Across the aisle next to me was Bibek, a Nepalese. His hometown is in Sindhupalchok. I wasn’t aware initially that one of my luggage was taking up space on a seat behind because it couldn’t fit into the overhead compartment. As more people boarded the bus, my luggage had to be placed on the aisle and tied next to my seat. If I had known how small and cramped the public bus would be, I would have packed a bag pack or a duffle bag instead of bringing a luggage (it’s cabin sized).
The aisle in the bus is very narrow – there’s only space for one person to stand. You’d have to squeeze past that person to pass through. They would load people into the bus to the maximum capacity such that people would remain standing on the narrow aisle. This included goods and grocery items that the people brought with them. I was surprised to see them carrying loads of empty containers and these were squeezed into whatever space there is in the bus. Bibek told us that the containers were meant for homemade wine. What I found interesting was that they loaded goods on top of the bus for transportation from Kathmandu town to the village. Huge bulky items like ladders, tyres, pipes, boxes, etc. All sorts of items were lugged up to the top of the bus and stored there. It was amazing how the bus drivers skilfully manoeuvred the mountain roads with such a heavy load. The mountain roads was wide enough for only one car. At each bend in the mountain, they would honk to signal to any oncoming car and one of them would have to wait for the other to cross first.
There were 2 bus conductors. The slimmer guy is in charge of collecting money and issuing tickets while the other helps people get onboard with their goods. Both of them would hang out from the door and occasionally shout out to people on the streets, informing them of the bus’s destination. The conductor would tap on the roof of the bus to signal to the driver that it’s time to leave. When passengers need to alight, they would just shout their destinations to the driver (no need for bells!). At their stop, the conductor would swing open the metal door and use a metal clip to keep it open. There is only one door on the bus. There are stop bells in the bus but nobody uses them.
We left Kathmandu at 9am and stopped enroute at Melamchi for lunch around 1pm. Bibek brought us to a local restaurant which was about 5 mins walk from the bus. I would not have known about the place if I was on my own.
I had vegetable thukpa soup noodles which was like Maggie mee (instant noodle) with soup. Our luggages were left in the bus and it was unguarded, so it’s best to keep your valuables with you. Over lunch, I met the other volunteers for Conscious Impact. They are Aaishma, Aayusha and Pratik. Aayusha managed to catch up with us at Melamchi after having missed the bus at the Chuchchepati bus station.
After travelling for another hour, we arrived at Conscious Impact camp at around 2pm. The whole journey from Kathmandu to Takure village was about 5 hours. Google maps indicated 2 hours driving time but you need to factor in the time taken on mountainous route (see map above).
Orion greeted us at the bus stop and brought us to the camp. After we settled in, we were given a tour of the camp grounds. There is a common kitchen area where we would take turns to cook and serve meals (see photo below). The upper floor is an office and library or hangout area.
In front of the kitchen, is a tipi. That is where we gather for meals, lessons and games. To conserve resources, fires are lit only occasionally when it gets very cold at night.
Playing card games at night.
Eco-friendly features in the camp
What I really liked about the Conscious Impact camp is the fact that they truly are conscious about their impact, not just on the local cultures & people but also on the environment. There are 2 blocks of toilets in the camp grounds (see photo below). These toilets are compost pit latrines. You do your business into the hole and cover it with saw dust. Your waste becomes compost, which can be recycled into the Earth.
The Nest is a block of rooms for volunteers to stay. I had one of the rooms in the middle. The previous volunteers built it out of earth bags. It is nicely designed with glass bottles on the walls for natural lighting. It’s a good example of passive solar heating / cooling system because in the day time, the earth absorbs sunlight and heats up the rooms. At night when it is cold outside, the room is still nice and warm without any heater. There were some large (daddy long legs looking) insects in my room which are harmless. They’re slightly different from the daddy long legs we have in Southeast Asia.
This white flower motif was hand painted by Maddy, a resident camp staff from the UK.
Another notable eco feature in the camp is their dish washing area. Water is a precious resource and in order to conserve water, the dish washing area is set up such that you don’t waste tonnes of water running dishes under a tap like what we usually do at home. As you can see from the pictures below, they use a pail system. There are 4 blue pails and 1 red pail. Each of the blue pails are filled with lukewarm water. The last pail has iodine solution added to it to disinfect the dishes. You start off by scraping any food wastes into the food waste bucket for composting. Then you soap the dishes and start rinsing them in the first pail, moving on to the second pail for a second rinse and then a third rinse in the third pail and finally a fourth rinse in the last pail which also serves to disinfect the dishes. The red pail is to collect all the clean dishes to be put away in the kitchen. Every night after dinner, the team who is rostered to wash the dishes would be in charge of washing the dishes for everyone. In this way, everyone take turns to be of service to each other in this communal living style. It develops a kind of team bonding, responsibility and gratitude.
Oh yes, and all the soaps, shampoos, etc used in the camp has to be biodegradable to avoid contaminating the Earth because there is no filtration system and water just runs into the ground.
For drinking water, there is a water point outside the kitchen and also at the Nest for refilling water, which is filtered with the Sawyer filtration system.
Then we went for a walk to watch the sunset. Watching sunset in Nepal is one of my favourite things to do. Especially up here in the mountainous region. The sunset is beautiful here and I love the peace and quiet. I feel the most at ease and at home in Nature.
Afterwards, Orion brought us to visit a local farm. Conscious Impact taught some of the local farmers agriculture and they were now able to grow their own food like tomatoes and mushrooms. I learnt that tomatoes in Nepali is called “golbheda” (sounds like gold beh dah).
After dinner, we were debriefed on the itinerary and split into 3 teams. Each team would be in charge of different chores in the camp like preparing breakfast, washing of dishes and cooking dinner. Breakfast starts at 7.30am, work from 8am, then lunch at 11.30am, work again from 12.30pm, snack time at 3pm, work again from 3.30pm to 4.30pm and then dinner at 6.30pm.
Conscious impact has 3 teams. The agriculture team is led by Kumary who is in charge of the vegetable gardens growing in the camp. The education team is led by Susmita and they help with the rebuilding of schools for youths. Last of all, the building team works on all the building plans on the camp as well as in the village.
After that, we played some card games and went to bed early.