Join me on a trek in Nepal, and let’s show how hik­ing and help­ing go hand in hand.

Backpacker - - Contents -

ON A STEEP HILL­SIDE above Manang, one of the high­est vil­lages on the An­na­purna Cir­cuit in Nepal, a lone monk lived in a one-room dwelling made of stone. Lo­cals said he’d taken a vow of si­lence more than two decades ear­lier and hadn’t spo­ken a word since. I climbed up to see the monk when I trekked the route—ap­par­ently he had a sweet tooth and ap­pre­ci­ated visi­tors who brought him cook­ies. I found him sit­ting in his hut, and he grinned brightly when I de­posited the treat on his small wooden ta­ble. He raised his hands to bless me, we smiled some more. Not much hap­pened, re­ally, but I re­mem­ber the mo­ment clearly 30 years later.

Travel con­nects you with peo­ple in ways you can’t know un­til you set off across the world. A com­mon lan­guage—or a lack thereof—doesn’t seem to mat­ter when other things unite us. Like moun­tains. And trails. And cook­ies.

I’d learned about the An­na­purna Cir­cuit from an ar­ti­cle in this mag­a­zine. The story ex­tolled the un­equalled beauty of the Hi­malaya and the peo­ple who lived there. It con­tained a photo of 26,545-foot An­na­purna. I was sold.

I wasn’t the only one. Since 1973, BACK­PACKER has run more than a dozen ar­ti­cles on Nepal, al­ways say­ing: Go. Go have the ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time. Go meet peo­ple you’ll never for­get. It worked for me and it worked for gen­er­a­tions of trekkers be­fore and af­ter.

So when an earth­quake dev­as­tated Nepal in April 2015, it felt like a friend was in cri­sis. We at this mag­a­zine had a spe­cial obli­ga­tion to help a coun­try that had long helped us. We cham­pi­oned ways to give back, ev­ery­thing from do­nat­ing to re­lief funds to trav­el­ing there to help re­store the tourism in­dus­try. But one fact quickly be­came ap­par­ent: The dam­age was so ex­ten­sive that the re­cov­ery would take years, and re­quire con­tin­ued ef­forts long af­ter the dis­as­ter faded from the news cy­cle.

En­ter All Hands and Hearts - Smart Re­sponse. This non­profit fo­cuses on longterm, sus­tain­able re­cov­ery ef­forts and im­me­di­ate emer­gency as­sis­tance. Its crews were on the ground within 72 hours of the earth­quake, and they con­tinue to op­er­ate in Nepal to­day, re­build­ing schools with dis­as­ter-re­silient con­struc­tion. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is en­ter­ing its fourth year of op­er­a­tions in Nepal, and has built 13 schools. Start­ing this fall, work will be­gin on two more.

This time, we’re not ask­ing for do­na­tions; we’re ask­ing for vol­un­teers. Next spring, I’m go­ing to Nepal to help fin­ish one of the new schools, and I hope you’ll join me. We’ll be do­ing man­ual la­bor—no skills re­quired, train­ing is pro­vided—on a project that will cre­ate class­rooms for about 200 stu­dents. It’s time to put some sweat eq­uity into a place that needs safe schools as well as a trekking econ­omy.

Of course, trekking is also on the agenda. We’ll spend the first week work­ing at the school site, in a ru­ral area about half a day from Kath­mandu. The sec­ond week, we’ll go on a trek in the moun­tains. Think of it as clos­ing the cir­cle be­tween life­sav­ing aid and life-list ad­ven­ture. I’ll bet that monk would ap­prove, even if he couldn’t say so.

The trip is sched­uled for next spring, de­part­ing about March 15, 2019. Want to join me? There are only 10 spots, so sign up soon. Find de­tails on cost, sched­ule, and itin­er­ary at back­packer.com/nepal19.

Clock­wise from left: An­na­purna base­camp; All Hands and Hearts vol­un­teers; the non­profit’s Fe­male Ma­son Pro­gram cre­ates skilled lo­cals.

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