Asia for Animals Conference: Kathmandu 2017
Flying through the crazy Kathmandu traffic in thick dust after two days on a plane, with no idea what time zone my brain or body is on, we come to an abrupt stop. The taxi man tells us to get out. We do, and someone runs off with our bags. We head off in the same direction, trying to keep pace. Navigating a bustling market, a kaleidoscope of color, exotic smells and lights, we try to keep up with the man with our bags. He stops, and with a big smile he says, ‘Namaste’. We have reached the Kathmandu Guest House, an oasis of quiet in the middle of the market, which we quickly dub ‘The Mall.’ Its real name is Thamel, but we don’t know at that point that is pronounced ‘T-hamel’. We have so much to learn!
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo
We, AB’s Director of Operations Meredith, myself, and Carla Naden of Animal Synergy, have come to the other side of the world to learn about the animal welfare work here and share stories of our work. We hope to take back ideas and information that will help save lives. After all, we all face the same challenges. We will be attending the Asia for Animals Conference in Kathmandu for the next four days, but first we have one day to explore and meet the beautiful Nepalese people and, of course, kiss every dog, pet every cow, and eat all the vegan food we can find!
Kathmandu is like nowhere else! Dogs are not just family, they are the gatekeepers to heaven. The kindness and gentle nature of the Nepalese people literally stopped us in our tracks, and each of us have been changed by the experience. We have been humbled by the sheer beauty of the people.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
In case you don’t know, the three of us all follow a vegan lifestyle and spend the majority of our time working to save animals. We are an odd little collective, but we have the same ethics and sense of adventure. We head off with Big B, a local man who sells tea that Carla met, who has kindly offered to show us around. He takes us to the Great Boudha Stupa, a breathtaking temple and world heritage site. We meet the local mandala artist and teacher upstairs in an ancient room full of easels and artists. He takes time to explain the entire Mandala history to us, as tourists and locals bustle through the square below. Sharing the sky are hundreds of pigeons. who soar around the temple, hanging out on the rooves of orange flowers. One Monk feeds them, while another Monk plays Candy Squash on an IPhone. Hundreds of colorful prayer flags flap, the mix of the ancient and modern blending peacefully and perfectly together. There is a quiet respect and feeling of deep wisdom everywhere. We don’t talk much as we take it all in.
“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”
― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi
Next, we go to Lord Shiva’s temple and are led over a walkway bridge by two dogs and a cow. We sit by the river with a new cow friend, Carla says this is the spot, and I spread my dog Sage’s ashes, into the river. We cheer her on. We go inside the temple grounds, as far as we can go as non-Hindus, and I reach in my bag to get a fruit offering for Lord Shiva. Immediately, out of nowhere, a monkey jumps on me and takes my fruit offering from my hand and runs off with it! Big B, who is Hindu, laughs and tells me not to worry, as the monkeys work for Lord Shiva. Old dogs lay around the temple, so we spent some time kissing them all. We did not see any puppies. In fact, we had not seen any since we arrived, just older dogs. We started to wonder what was going on.
The amazing local group, ManuMitra (https://www.facebook.com/ManuMitra-917204091732595/) and the KAT Center (http://www.katcentre.org.np/) have done such a fabulous job at spaying and neutering that there are no puppies, at least in the areas that we visited. The street dogs are older, and while they may have some parasites and such, they were in quite good shape. Super friendly too! I think we managed to say hello and kiss pretty much everyone. Each zone in Kathmandu has a dog guardian and he/she looks after the dogs in that zone. It is a natural, loving program that simply works.
he AfA conference was THE best conference I have ever been to. It began and ended with beautiful local cultural performances. The signage and layout was beautifully thought out and prepared. It was as esthetically kind as it was in every other way. The staff and volunteers were so helpful and kind to us. The vegan buffet was incredible. We ate our food outside, on the grass surrounded by a beautiful garden. It was truly magical. There was even a juice table where a local culinary school tried out different recipes to offer us. The conference organizers have planted hundreds of trees to combat the carbon foot print caused by us flying in. Incredibly thoughtful and respectful to Mother Earth. This holistic thinking works!
As hoped, we learned a lot about many aspects of animal protection in Asia. The local groups presented from a positive standpoint and they used mostly positive images. In fact, the majority of the conference was positive and done in a way to inspire, rather than to make you feel sad or shock you. We made contacts, talked about all aspects of our programs, had photo shoots with our new friends and drank so much tea!
Following the conference, the AfA team sent us to Chitwan National Park to visit the elephant sanctuary. Three buses flew us up and around and around a scary ravine for 10 hours. We didn’t die! We arrived and were allocated a lovely local family to live with. We stayed with the teacher’s family and they were the best hosts ever. Even with no Nepalese or English, we managed to communicate our appreciation of the amazing curries and strong coffee. The trip costs are put back into the community, helping with infrastructure and schools.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust
Thanks to the elephants, we saw lots of Rhinos in the wild. The elephants are domestic rescued elephants, not wild. These beautiful crinkly mammoths who look into your soul with their piercing brown-green eyes, are all living out their retirements as walking leads in the jungle. They cannot be free, but they cannot be caged, so they live here together and are so incredibly loved. I have to say, the 3 of us were rather judgmental at the start, but we checked ourselves and reigned it in, then learned about the lives of the elephants and people here. We quickly understood how remarkable and ground-breaking this work is when creating a sustainable eco-tourism. http://www.tigertops.com/
My magic moment was when the elephants bathed at sunset. I was away from other humans and was watching two adults bathe about 15 feet away. They stuck their trunks in each other’s mouths and purred. Yep, they did elephant size purrs! I looked around to say to someone – did you hear that? – but no one was around. Then one let out a mini squeal. Sounded like a ‘hee hee’ kind of sound. Finally, a guide came over and I said rather shyly – um…. they seem to be purring – and she laughed and said yes, they are sounds of happiness, these two love one another deeply. WOW!
There is a thick sense of family and belonging here. Without even knowing why, when I met Carla in Kathmandu, they first words out of my mouth were, ‘we are home’. It is like being at the mecca of love and compassion and respect for all. We were profoundly touched by Nepal and its beautiful people. The trip has given us hope, inspired us to be kinder to one another, and to never, ever give up on our missions.
We are recharged, reenergized and cannot stop talking about Nepal!
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta