In December, 2002, as I was walking past a bus shelter in Dublin, an advertisement for the Concern Nepal Challenge caught my eye. I decided there and then to do it and before I had a chance to change my mind I signed up during that week.
The Challenge, I learned, entailed a trip over to the Annapurna region of the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal with a trek lasting about seven days and a couple of days travelling at either end. The Challenge for me, or at least part one, would take place before the plane even taxied off the runway – that was raising the minimum target of €4,000 which was the prerequisite to participation.
With the trip scheduled for April, I set to it in the New Year. Having been slightly daunted by the prospect, I was amazed once I started at how quickly the money began to accumulate. I held two Table Quizzes, one in Dublin and one in the Castle Gate Hotel in Athenry. Both were, thankfully, well attended and I raised approximately €3,500. The remainder of the target and the surplus raised comprised donations from family and friends. I was really taken aback by other people’s enthusiasm when they heard about the trek and the fundraising and for all those who helped out and to everyone who donated money so freely and so generously, a big thank you.
With the money raised and the hiking boots finally bought I geared myself up for the Challenge (part two) and so found myself at Dublin Airport on Easter Monday, 2003 in the company of 32 strangers all on our way to Nepal. Accompanying us on the trip were two representatives from the Concern Challenge Team and the team from Across Divide Limited, the company who ran the trek. Three flights later we landed in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, a noisy bustling place which seemed to swarm with people and animals. Next morning, still acclimatising, saw us on the bus at 6am for the 8-hour trip up to Pokhara, a lakeside town in the foothills of the Annapurna range and the gateway to some of the most popular trails and, for us, the start of our trek.
A large group of porters were hired to carry bags and all the food and camping paraphernalia needed for the next seven days.
A day’s trekking got off to an early start with a wake-up call around 6am when we were greeted by the porters with mugs of tea in our tents — room service Nepali style! The porter’s permanent smiles and good natures, even at 6am, we soon learned, were typical of the Nepali people, who are extraordinarily sweet and gentle and we really warmed to them. By 8am we were on the move.
Depending on the distance we had to cover that day we might walk up to 8 hours stopping for lunch and lots of breaks for endless photo opportunities, all endured with unerring patience by the Sherpas, the guides at the head of the walking groups.
Climbing all the while, we walked through jungle in foggy conditions for the first three days. The fog cleared for the first time on Day 4 of the trek when we got our first view, at sunrise, of a Himalayan sized peak – Machhapuchhare or Fishtail, which stands at 6,993 metres.
Leaving the jungle behind, we reached 4000 metres on the afternoon of Day 5 (our Everest!) and camped on a rocky perch surrounded by fantastic snow-capped mountains on all sides.
From there we descended for two days and left behind the snowy views for green valleys, plains and rivers and a few hair-raising bridge river crossings!
Having made the 8-hour bus trip back to Kathmandu again, we were still able to muster the energy for a night out and a whirlwind sightseeing tour before heading for home.
Durbar Square, Basantapur Durbar Kshetra, Kathmandu, Nepal (Wikipedia.com)
The Challenges are run by Concern in an effort to raise money for its work overseas. Concern works with and for those who are living in extreme poverty in the developing world to achieve major improvements in their lifestyles, which they seek to ensure will be sustainable without support from Concern.
Their aims are achieved through engaging in long term development work, providing a response to emergency situations and education and advocacy.
Further information on the Challenges can be found on www.concernchallenge.org and for more information on Concern in general, check out wvwv.concern.net.
I would encourage anyone who is even thinking about taking part to go for it! For my part, I found that from start to finish, from trying to inexpertly organise the fundraising, to breaking in my boots (many blisters), to seeing and experiencing a new country, to making new friends and just surviving the trek, it was a brilliant and amazingly positive experience.
Written by Meave Seery
Published here 19 Nov 2023 and originally published Spring 2004
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