780 minutes of footage.
144 hours on the road.
A team's journey to reach a school in the mountains.
KATHMANDU - Last month, I was with BBC journalists who came all the way from London to do a story about WFP's School Meals Programme in remote villages of Nepal. The three-member BBC team (Ben, Sara and Debbie) and I flew from Kathmandu to Dhangadhi in the southern region of the country. Then we drove to Dadeldhura - for our first night's stop - up the mountains on never ending winding roads for about four hours on the same day.
Up bright and early the following morning, my colleague, Rabindra, from WFP Nepal's Sub-Office in Dadeldhura joined us. Including the driver, we were now composed of six "not-so-thin-and-not-so-fat" people, all traveling in one vehicle. BBC reporter, Ben, took the front seat as he needed more leg space (he is 6 feet 7 inches tall!). BBC camerawoman, Sara, who was not feeling well at that time, squeezed in with the rest of us in the backseat. The rear of the car was jam-packed with luggage and six cartons of bottled water, leaving hardly any room for further movement. And the journey was just beginning. In order to reach the school, we needed to travel another four hours including two hours on a bumpy road. Nonetheless, the steep hills dotted with small houses and terraced fields made a picturesque journey. It was this BBC team's first visit to Nepal and they were in awe of the beautiful landscapes.
When we reached the small town of Dipayal, Sara's condition worsened. I was worried because the temperature outside was searing at 44 degrees Celsius. Still, she managed to take few shots of the WFP warehouse and food being transported on mules.
By this time, the heat was getting intense and even I was sweating heavily. I haven't had a shower since we flew in from Kathmandu because the whole town of Dadeldhura was facing water shortage. The owner of the hotel where we stayed the night before provided me with rationed water in a small bucket -- but this was in no way enough for taking a shower!
Worried about Sara's condition, we changed our plans and decided to stay at a hotel in Dipayal which had running water. There were only two rooms with aircon in this hotel -- and the BBC team needed it more badly than us. My colleagues and I then shared a non-airconditioned room. The room was like an oven when we checked-in. There was a ceiling fan but the electricity kept going out. Even the running tap water was too hot for a refreshing shower!
Upon laying on the bed, I got shocked. The mattress was so hot! It was as if someone left a heating pad under it. I couldn't sleep the whole night.
The next morning my body was aching and I felt groggy and spaced out but it was okay. Sara felt much better too, which was good. And after having breakfast we were again ready for another adventurous ride to the school which was filled bumps and jolts on narrow roads.
The school was perched on a hill side and was another half hour's walk from where we stopped. When we reached the school, children, parents and teachers were waiting to welcome us! The students greeted us with songs and dances. It was a colorful event. Their warm hospitality was a relief and made me forget about the difficult journey. Soon, I was busy assisting the BBC team as they filmed and interviewed students and teachers. Later in the afternoon, the villagers shared some delicious Dal-Bhat - the Nepali staple food consisting of rice, lentils, curry and pickles - with us.
"Since it is too hot during the day, the school is now open only from 6 am to 12 pm", the headmaster told us.
Our Camp Out
There was no electricity in the village and neither were there were hotels. We brought two tents and five sleeping bags for this mission.
At dusk, the BBC team decided to spend the night inside one of the classrooms. They arranged the benches and made three beds, placing their sleeping bags on them and hanging mosquito nets overhead - and just like that the classroom turned into a dorm room. It was probably their first time to spend the night in a classroom like this!
Rabindra, and I chose to camp on the school grounds. Some villagers earlier warned us that wild
animals like bears and leopards roam around the grounds from the nearby jungle. I was actually scared and a bit worried if we were making a wise decision to camp out but we had no choice. Not really easy to sleep when one thinks about scary wild animals. Thankfully, though, there were three toilets in the school which meant we didn't have to venture into the jungle when nature called us.
I woke up safe and sound the next day; with a sleepyhead, I dismantled our camp at 5:30 in the morning before students arrived for their classes at six.
With the BBC team, we spent a total of two days in the school, filming various activities and interviewing teachers. We also visited a student's house in order to tell the story of her daily life -- for me, being the translator, this was the hardest part because she was really shy.
As we were about to leave and return to Kathmandu, I was surprised (and touched) when Debbie said she wanted to give a donation of 10,000 Nepalese Rupees (about USD100) to the school. The school committee promised us that the money would be used to purchase sports goods and musical equipment for the students.
As we drove back to Dhangadhi to catch our flight to Kathmandu, Sara said, "So far, in all our travels, we have never taken such a long journey just to reach one school for filming. Amazing. It’s been a great trip."
Well, guess what? At that rate, it was already one of the nearest and most accessible schools receiving WFP's School Meals. Indeed, I'll always remember this trip as my great six-day adventure with the BBC.