The Taplejung district, where The Himalayan Trust UK now supports 30 schools, is in a remote and mountainous area of Nepal, east of the Solu Khumbu valley, overshadowed by the magnificent Kanchenjunga mountain range
The journey from Kathmandu is both long and arduous. After a 45-minute flight from Kathmandu to the tiny landing strip at Bhadrapur, it takes ten hours by bus, truck or jeep just to get to the start of the trail. The road winds up and down across steep mountain hillsides, past tea plantations and occasional clusters of houses, negotiating endless hairpin bends, crossing fast flowing rivers, with the occasional glimpse of the spectacular mountains appearing above the clouds.
Once there, the trail to the schools begins. Whilst the main track to Kanchenjunga Base camp is now heavily used by trekkers, the schools we support are all perched way up high on the precipitous slopes of the mountain ranges on either side. Access is both difficult and physically demanding. The narrow paths and tracks leading to the schools climb steeply upwards through bamboo forests, up and down endless rocks and boulders, over primitive slippery bamboo bridges (some with little protection from falling to the torrential rivers far below), across and up myriad terraces of rice, millet, corn, sweet potatoes and beans, and past small holdings with pigs, goats and cattle in pens. Not surprisingly, the area is rarely visited by people from outside.
The school children walk these paths to school each day, many having to travel up to two hours or more in each direction, some as young as 6 or 7 carrying baby brothers and sisters on their backs. They run up and down the tracks in their immaculately clean and tidy blue school uniforms and in plastic flip-flops or slip-on shoes, carrying small bags with their exercise books. They seem unfazed by either the distance or the obstacles in getting to school!
The REED teacher trainers, Rajendra and Suresh Ali, travel these paths to visit the schools between 4 and 6 times a year (and sometimes even more frequently). To visit the schools in the Yamphudin district involves climbing over 5000ft (1,700 metres) up and over an 11,000ft pass (3,400 metres). This takes them at least a 10-hour day’s walk (it took us two long days). To get to the furthest schools they visit in the Kanchenjunga valley also takes at least a 10-hour trek from Taplejung.
This is economically a very poor area – subsistence farming at its basic level. All building materials, household goods or materials for schools, have to be brought from Taplejung town, or from Kathmandu, and carried to the villages on people’s backs. Further up the valley there is neither electricity nor phone signals. However, a government initiative is providing solar panels to all the houses in the district. This, together with the fast growing business of cardamom farming, may begin to bring greater prosperity to the area.
Sue Leyden, Trustee