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