I still remember that one moment of my trip as a voluntourist in the enchanting Himalayas in 2013, when during a day class on how to make momos from a local Tibetan in exile, I bumped into my learning partners, Hagai and Ofir, a lovely couple from Israel. Five minutes after our introduction, what happened next were almost three hours of long conversations, of life, culture, travel and people. As we left, we knew what we had made was an unsaid life long connection as friends and well wishers from two different corners of the world. Today, sharing our deep passion of travel and compassion for the people we meet in our journeys, has made our connection deeper, resulting which this post has taken a beautiful shape.
It was when I saw their facebook page for teaching in Ling Ling Village, I realized how absolutely mesmerizing the place looked and all I wanted was the world to know about it, much like my wonderful couple themselves! So, from the memories of Hagai, and the heart of Ofir, comes this knowledge of a lesser known place in Nepal, which is today a dream destination for myself, in their very own words…
“I want to volunteer somewhere” … was her opening line to our upcoming backpacking tour of Nepal. My wife Ofir, an experienced film and television producer and an incurable romantic, would search the whole Himalayas if she had to find the perfect place to volunteer in. She found it on her first try.
The beautiful and quiet village of Ling Ling lies on the slopes above the Trishuli River on the western edge of the Lang Tang National Park in the Rasuwa District of North-Central Nepal, very near to the Tibetan Border. Forget about finding it on Google Maps, it virtually doesn’t exist. The closest Googleable town is Syapru Besi, a one-street trekkers town seven hours by a local bus from Kathmandu. Syapru is also the starting point of the magnificent Lang Tang Trek going into one of the majestic Himalayan ridges crowning Nepal’s northern border with Tibet. Ling Ling itself is actually a part of a smaller trek lesser known to tourists called the Tamang Heritage Trail, which can be completed in around three to four days.
How did we find this diamond in the rough?
Ofir’s father had lived in the country for a couple of years as a child, when his father relocated for work to Kathmandu back in the early 60’s. My wife, the first of three girls was taken to Nepal on a post-army service (mandatory in Israel from the age of 18) father-daughter trip. The younger two sisters were to follow, each completing a different trek. When Yael, the youngest was trekking the Lang Tang in Oct. 2011, she and the girls’ father reached one of the villages surrounding the National Park. They saw the local primary school and out of pure curiosity, entered to watch the kids and met one of the teachers – Hari Sharan Lamichhane. Yael fell in love with the school kids and the fairytale-like surroundings of the villages and had kept in touch with Hari via Facebook.
Fast forward to summer of 2013, my wife and I plan our Nepali portion of our gap-year in Asia. Yael keeps reminding us of Hari, his wife and newly-born baby girl. “You have to visit them and help Hari with the school kids!”, she urges.
Ofir is an easy recruit and apparently, so am I. Lang Tang Trek it is and so is visiting Hari now living in Ling Ling with his daughter and wife, also a teacher in the local primary school.
When reaching Nepal we get in touch with Hari and plan to meet up. Eager to see us, Hari reaches Kathmandu the following day and we are persuaded to start our tour of the country with Ling Ling and the Lang Tang Trek. A five hour jeep ride (seven hours by cheaper, local bus) to Syapru Besi and a half hour longer northward on the newly Chinese-built road towards the Tibetan border brings us to the foothills of the Tamang villages on either sides of the Trishuli River. Climbing to the village is not an easy task with our full bags but certainly is worth the view of the whole valley.
We meet the family of the Ling Ling Homestay who welcome us as their own in the ten days to follow…
Life in Ling Ling…
Around forty families live in Ling Ling in small stone-brick houses scattered on the mountainside. The local primary school sees twenty children – grades 1 through 5 on its best day, half of them from the nearby village of Mendo, almost a two hour walk from Ling Ling. For grades 6 to 12, the families who can afford it, have their kids live and study in Syapru Besi. The families who cannot do this, either send their children to a Buddhist monastery or have them go to Ling Ling and listen in on classes. On the days when the family needs them to help in the fields or at home, the school houses around 10 students.
Curriculum is based on five core subjects of Math, Science, Nepali, English and Art. The three teachers at the school manage a 10am to 4pm schedule of morning exercise, two classes before a noodle soup lunch, recess and two more classes before the kids are sent home. Being the first English-teaching volunteers in Ling Ling, Hari gave us creative freedom and we were all the English the kids absorbed the week we were there. Being able to speak good English has a major role in allowing people to go into higher-education and ultimately giving them more opportunities in life.
Our time teaching…
Knowing we have just a short amount of time to spend with the kids, a good grasp of vocabulary would be the best goal to try to achieve. Growing up in the US as a primary school student, I underwent an ESL Program (English as a Second Language Class). Remembering the hands-on method of learning a new language through tangible objects, Ofir and I built a learning curve of basic vocabulary by sitting down with the kids in a circle and playing around with an eraser, pencil, chair, table, arms, legs and many more.
We then continued to colors and feelings. Happy, being the easiest to remember with the kids yelling “Happy!” every once in a while without any apparent reason.
Verbs were to follow with games having the kids stand up, run, jump, sit down and so forth. All of these were written and illustrated on large cards which we put up on the classroom walls for the kids to see every morning so our work would continue to resonate with the kids after we left.
Explaining in words how the bright, eager and curious kids filled our hearts with sheer joy every day would be like describing the taste of chocolate. I personally went into this experience a very cynic and skeptical human being and came out the other side more like my incurable romantic of a wife. We were overwhelmed by the love and gratitude that was bestowed upon us by the students, teachers and the families of Ling Ling.
We would like to share this gift of meeting the warm people of Ling-Ling and the area with other backpackers in search of a meaningful and true experience of giving and understanding the daily life in rural Nepal – first hand. To achieve this, we opened a Facebook page where you can see other volunteers’ experiences in Ling Ling and understand what the place and the kids are all about.
Please visit the page at: https://www.facebook.com/volunteerlingling. Like it, and when planning your next trip to Nepal, don’t hesitate to contact us…