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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 stone dwelling. 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 BACKPACKER. 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 long-term, sustainable recovery efforts and immediate emergency assistance. Its crews were on the ground within 72 hours of the earthquake, and they continued to operate in Nepal through 2019, when we joined the project, rebuilding schools with disaster-resilient construction.
In 2020, the nonprofit halted operations in Nepal due to COVID-19, but will be back at work in 2022. New construction efforts will be focused on building rural health clinics, an urgent need in response to the current pandemic.
So we’re not asking for donations; we’re asking for volunteers. Next spring, we’re going to Nepal to help finish a new health clinic, and I hope you’ll join us. We’ll be doing manual labor—no skills required, training is provided—on a much-needed project in rural eastern Nepal. It’s time to put some sweat equity into a place that needs good health infrastructure as well as a trekking economy.
Of course, trekking is also on the agenda. We’ll spend the first week working at the clinic site, in a rural area about half a day from Kathmandu. The second week, we’ll go on the Nar Phu trek near Annapurna, with our partner Wildland Trekking. Think of it as closing the circle between lifesaving aid and life-list adventure. I’ll bet that monk would approve, even if he wouldn’t say so out loud.
Ready to join us? We have two trips scheduled in spring 2022: April 8-27 and April 15 to May 4. Find registration info here.