My job at Work the World is to talk to students about the opportunities available to them for their electives or work experience placements. Having travelled to Africa to visit our partner hospitals there, I was desperate to see Asia and so planned a condensed trip to Sri Lanka and Nepal to witness our programmes in action.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Sri Lanka was the ease at which I passed through the airport! After my travels to Africa, I was expecting a lot of hassle, taxi drivers grabbing my bags and vying for my custom. Colombo was really very civilised in comparison! It was a breeze, with taxi companies allowing me to approach them for quotes into the city. Sri Lanka is 5.5hrs ahead of the UK and most flights arrive into Sri Lanka at 8.30 in the morning. This means that the first day is normally spent trying to get your head round the time difference and trying not to fall asleep as your body thinks it is in fact 3am!
I joined Kavinda, the Programme Manager in Sri Lanka for a student pick-up the next day. We met Linzie at the airport and then headed to the beach to chill out after the night flight she’d had to endure. Negombo is a quiet, beach town with a backpacker vibe that consists of a main shopping street selling local craft work (leather goods and wood carvings), numerous restaurants and a beach. The locals are all really friendly, it’s a great introduction to Sri Lanka as it’s much quieter than Colombo and hints at the fantastic beach opportunities that are available on the island. Negombo has a real community feel to it with a good fish market on the beach and loads of locals playing cricket.
We had an early start the next day as we took the 7am train to Kandy. The journey was amazingly beautiful, taking us up through the hills and through various villages and tea plantations. Kavinda had managed to organise some tickets in the Observation Carriage which, as Sri Lankan trains go, offered a pretty comfortable ride! From the station we had our first ride on a tuk-tuk up to the WTW house. It was a crazy journey, steep and windy, stony roads up into the hills that overlook Kandy. Kavinda has formed good relationships with a number of tuk-tuk drivers and our one, Saman, had a good idea about why we were there; pointing out the hospital and places of interest as we passed. The Work the World house in Sri Lanka is a big, newly built, modern building with fantastic views over the city and surrounding country. The bedrooms are all spacious with shiny, ensuite bathrooms (one with a Jacuzzi bath!)
After we had settled and unpacked, Kavinda took us into Kandy for the orientation. Kandy is extremely easy to navigate your way around with the clock tower and KFC as popular, well known land-marks. From the clock tower there are three main streets where you will find the banks, internet cafes and pubs... Despite its city status it feels pretty small and from the centre you can walk to many of the main attractions including the Temple of the Tooth and various Ayurvedic spas. Kandy was also a lot more modern than I was expecting, with the main bank in a mall that also housed tea rooms and juice bars. Saying that, the streets are buzzing with tuk-tuks and street vendors plus the occasional one-eyed accordion player and snake charmer! The lake is the centre point of the city. It was smaller than I imagined and you could walk round it in about half an hour. Surrounding the lake are various temples and hotels offering Ayurvedic treatments and the use of their swimming pools.
The hospital orientation was done the next day. Linzie was lucky enough to get stuck in immediately, scrubbing up and assisting in some Obs and Gynae surgery. Linzie’s supervisor, Dr.K.Gunawardana has a fierce reputation within the hospital for working his students hard and really encouraging them to ask questions and make decisions. Linzie got on really well with him and she said that by the end of her shift they were joking together and excitedly making plans for the next day!
The hospital itself is huge, spread out with many different buildings and departments. It was clean and organised and the staff there were obviously very proud of the place but like most hospitals in developing countries, it was a bit gloomy and overcrowded with bedding and food being brought in by the family.
I then met up with Kavinda and Linzie in the evening to see some traditional Sri Lankan dancing at the YMBA. The dancers here put on a show every night, showcasing local folk dancing, drumming, acrobatics, stories and fire walking. All of the students go and see this show and it’s a really fun way of getting a fix of Sri Lankan culture. Kavinda then took us to Kandy’s only pub for dinner where we were met by the other students who had been off to the beach for the weekend and had some travelling stories to tell and tans to show off!
We took an early bus to Habarana the next day which took us through village after village where we really got to see Sri Lankan life in full swing. It’s an incredibly cheap way to travel and really quite comfortable (unless an old lady happens to fall asleep on your shoulder)
Habarana is full of Ayurvedic retreats and eco lodges and there is quite a lot of fun stuff to do. There are a number of companies organising elephant safaris and trips out to Minneriya and Kaudulla national parks plus boat rides out to more rural locations. From Habarana we took a tuktuk to Horiwila to visit the Ayurvedic Hospital.
The hospital is in a stunning location, off the beaten track and set amongst some lush forest. The doctor himself is fantastic, super friendly and wanting to pass on his knowledge and teachings. It is quite small with only 20 beds which were all full. Although the doctor has help from a few nurses and assistants, he gets heavily involved with each patient and he talked me through what was wrong with them all; from a head ache to a bad back to a broken leg. The doctor is highly respected, so much so that patients took off their shoes before meeting him. Ayurvedic medicine has been in the doctor’s family for 30 generations and he is very proud of this. He doesn’t charge for treatments but he does ask for a donation which means that patients are able to just pay what they can afford; which is why he is so busy.
After our visit to the hospital, Kavinda and I went on the tuktuk to the Other Lodge which is about a 20min drive away. We will be hiring some bicycles for those of you who do the Ayurvedic Medicine Experience to use to get to work; the roads are safe and quiet with just the odd tuktuk buzzing along. The Other Lodge is gorgeous! It’s again set amongst the trees in a little clearing near the lake. It’s so peaceful and they have their own elephant!
We finished up here at around 4pm so zoomed up to Sigiriya to do the famous climb. I would really recommend doing this to anyone; it’s often been described as the eighth wonder of the world due to the architectural feat of building a palace on top! It was quite a climb but well worth it due to the jaw dropping views from the top. We finished the day with a 2.5hr drive back to Kandy in a suped up tuktuk with disco lights in the back, blasting out Sinhalese pop. There were no buses or taxi’s. It was pouring down with rain and mega scary.
I spent my last day in Colombo . The city has a fantastic colonial feel to it, with the old fort and rusty trains. There are also some fab markets to be explored, a great museum and some gorgeous temples to visit.
The next day took me to Nepal.
I finally made it to the Kathmandu Guesthouse at about 5pm after the long queues in immigration and baggage collection. I immediately got the impression that Kathmandu was crazy, amazing and exhausting. The main centre of the city is a labyrinth of winding alley’s and shops with a similar vibe to the Khao San Rd in Bangkok; though there were millions of motorcycles bombing it through the streets rather than the tuktuks of Thailand.
The flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara takes you on an awesome, scenic flight through the Himalayas in the best light of the day. Sunil, our Programme Manager in Nepal met me at the airport and whisked me off in a taxi to the house where the cook, Krishna made me some chai and an omelette and then we were off to work!
First stop was Manipal, a large private hospital which is either a 15 minute tuktuk ride or 30 minute walk from the house. My first impression of Manipal was how imposing it was. It’s a huge, grand building on the outskirts of the city. The hospital was slightly better facilitated than the other hospitals; they get quite a bit of funding from India so the equipment is slightly more modern and resources more available. Still, you can see the conditions are still quite basic, though on the surface, cleaner and shinier than the other hospitals.
Western Regional was next on the list, a 20 minute walk from the house. The wards were very basic here and you could really see the poverty that affects the country. The wards were all open, sometimes with a curtain across the front. The hospital itself felt very big but easy to navigate and it was a hive of activity with patients, doctors, nurses and cleaners all with their heads down doing the best they could with the limited resources.
Green Pastures is a 40 minute walk from the house. It is a bit out of the city in peaceful grounds with a really pretty garden. Although small, the wards were busy and all of the patients were really accommodating and chatty! Green Pastures is perfect for a split placement, offering a smaller, close knit team and working environment.
In the evening I finally got to experience the famous Busy Bees Bar with its own resident rock band and potent cocktails. Bryan Adams was playing a gig the night after in Kathmandu so everyone was very excited and the band treated us to a few Bryan covers.
The next day was Saturday so much of Pokhara shut down. Still, we awoke at 5am in time for the sunrise trek to Sarangkot. It was simply stunning watching the city wake up and the sunshine spread across the Himalayas. Pokhara doesn’t feel like a city and everywhere is within walking distance. The main tourist hub is Lakeside, on the shores of Phewa Tal. Lakeside is a colourful shopping and restaurant area with an almost village feel as it is separated from the rest of Pokhara. It almost has the same vibe as Kathmandu, with lots if travellers looking for bargains and a bite to eat... the shops sell all kinds of things from prayer flags and hippy pants to wooden masks and Nepalese paintings. There are other touristy things to do around here like yoga classes, Japanese hot baths (watching the sunset!) and various Ayruvedic spas. The actual lake side is quite sedate and peaceful where you can take rowing boats and pedalos out for the day. Sunil and I hired one for a few hours and pedalled it over to the other side to trek up and see the Peace Pagoda.
The Work the World house is very central and the main shopping area for locals is located just at the end of the road, as is the bus station and main tuktuk stop for getting to the hospital and Lakeside. I loved central Pokhara with all the fruit and vegetable stalls and fabric shops. The Nepalese people are so friendly and also very nosy, asking; what’s your name, where are you from, where are you going, are you married, how many children do you have etc... Everywhere in Pokhara felt extremely safe, even though you do get the usual tuktuk drivers and taxi drivers trying to overcharge you for every journey... All of this under the spectacular Mt Machhapuchhare!
As well as the lake and the treks you can do, there are also a number of temples to visit and Tibetan refugee camps where you will find fantastic shrines and chanting.
Sunil also took me to Bandipur where the Dental Outreach was located last summer. We caught a local bus from town which took 3 hours and dropped us in Dumre where we caught a jeep up the mountain. The journey felt very long and windy, particularly when they piled 20+ people into and on top of the jeep and a lovely Nepali woman vomited on my shoe!
Bandipur is a fantastic little town that feels like it has got stuck in time. The locals are behind the drive of tourism there as they strive to keep hold of their Newari culture. It is very quiet with just a few guesthouses and restaurants and I can see how an outreach project can work well here as it is such a close knit community and there are two schools and no easy access to healthcare.
On our return from Bandipur I hung out with Krishna and Padma, the housekeeper who are absolutely lovely! They don’t speak a huge amount of English but knew a few words and I have a feeling they’ll both pick up a lot when everyone starts arriving this summer.
I absolutely loved Asia, it’s such a beautiful part of the world and I was in constant awe of the beauty of the place and the people who live there. I can’t wait to get back out there!