Mission Nepal 2018 – an unforgettable business trip
The date was 6th of April, a typical northern hemisphere spring day with mixed weather conditions, having an overall pleasant feel to it and some overcast. This was the day when 3 members of Team SanaBio had embarked on a journey to a country most have heard about because of its immense peaks found in the Himalayan mountain range, among which is Mount Everest sitting at 8848m, the top of the world. Contrary to why most might be visiting Nepal, our journey actually took us to this beautiful and unique country in order to establish and to further expand business relations with local companies. And so after finishing preparations and having built up the anticipation of seeing and experiencing a totally new continent, country and culture, the day, that day had finally arrived. The three of us had gotten on our planes and flew over the vastness of both land and water to reach our destination, which was the Tribuhvan International airport in the capital city, Kathmandu. For some of us, this great adventure has brought a lot of firsts in our lives, making it a truly exciting and often breathtaking experience overall. Some had flown for the very first time, while others had set their foot in premiere on the Asian continent, but for all three of us, undoubtedly it was the first time that we had done a journey such as this. The journey, which began in Bucharest and Berlin, had us fly first to Istanbul, where we had to transfer onto the flight which would take us to Kathmandu. Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, was also the place where we had met with Mrs. Birgitt Boor, an external consultant for IPD (Import Promotion Desk) Germany, who accompanied us to and in Nepal during the whole trip. The flight was indeed long and at times quite unpleasant, as is the case with all overnight flights I’m sure. During those several hours in the air, some might have actually missed the comfort of their bed more than usual. In the end though, to listen to the constant but gentle humming of the jet engines was definitely worth it, as our destination was revealed to us as an absolutely exotic and unique place to be at.
The very first day began as soon as we’ve landed in Kathmandu, after circling several times above the capital city’s sky because of a busy day at the airport. Later we found out that this was actually quite normal for both international and national flights, because the airport itself has difficulty handling both of them at the same time, due to its size, which is considered small for a country this popular among tourists looking for a hike in the mountains. After leaving the airport, the plan was to check into our hotel, have ourselves a lunch and after a short break go and visit our first company which had its headquarters located in Kathmandu, not far from our accommodation. The first thing that had utterly stunned us about Nepal was the traffic. It was chaotic and we’ve been told that it can be even worse than what we first saw, as our arrival was on Saturday which is a free day for most. I was thinking to myself that this has to be the most dangerous place one can drive, but during our stay in Nepal, going from one place to the next I had the chance of analyzing the system which was in place a bit closer. To my amazement by the time we left the country I had come to the conclusion that it is actually not that bad and that there was a kind of harmony in all that chaos around you. People watch out for each other even when the unwritten rules on the road are followed more than those that are actually written.
When leaving the hotel to meet the first company, we were introduced to our local Nepali guide, who had also accompanied us to every location we have visited. After a brief introduction, we hopped into our transport vehicles and did not stop until our destination was in sight. As soon as we entered the building of the supplier, we were greeted with warm Namaste’s and were kindly asked to take our shoes off. The meeting started and I couldn’t stop but feel a sort of awkwardness in the air. Perhaps it was because of our long flight and lack of sleep or simply because it was the ice breaker for all of us. What I know for sure is that it took us a while until we got properly going. The fact that Nepali people are absolutely welcoming and friendly definitely helped us in this process. The director of this company seemed like a friendly man, a fact that was later confirmed to us. He is also a person of adventure and vision, who seems to try out new things in the process of achieving all that he has set out to do. After a short presentation of the company and discussing matters related to business, the director invited us for dinner in the city. By the time we got on the dangerously looking but not so dangerous roads of Kathmandu, night had already fallen in the region, which made the drive to the place our host had in mind to dine in even more exciting. Once at the location we found a decent, nothing too fancy Thai restaurant, where we had a proper dinner and also something to wet our whistles. After having a great time with our new acquaintances, we said goodbye to the director and went on to have a well-earned good night’s sleep at our hotel. This was our first meeting of two with this company as later during the week, we would travel to one of their production units in the south of Nepal.
First dinner. Great people.
After having recharged our batteries for the upcoming day, we had a rich breakfast - after all it is the most important meal of the day - and had a sightseeing around the hotel which had exotic trees, plants, a tennis court and even a small shrine hidden in one of the corners of the property on which the 5 floor hotel was sitting. There were also some guards in the backyard doing their job of keeping the property safe. At around noon we were supposed to check out the hotel as we were heading to Nepalgunj, which is located in the Southern, Terai region of the country, but before we could leave the hotel we had an ad-hoc meeting with another potential supplier who was nice enough to come and meet us at the hotel. Having our questions answered and having answered their questions too we parted ways and got into our cars to once again set foot at the international airport in Kathmandu, where we took our first internal flights. Traffic to the airport was definitely heavier this time around but we had an experienced driver who knew all the rules on the road and so we arrived in good time there. After patiently waiting in the airport we got on the small plane which flew us in less than 1 hour to Nepalgunj.
On our way to Nepalgunj.
To our amazement, due to good weather conditions some of the Himalayan peaks were visible from the plane, unfortunately for us though, we were seated on the left side of the plane and our flight was mainly westward after which it took a slight turn to the south at the end of the flight. In short, we couldn’t enjoy the view thoroughly, and only got a little glimpse through the window view of the other passengers seated on the right side. We knew though that it was a matter of time before we would get lucky enough to have a full view of the mountains. Once we landed the pilot handed us the most shocking news I’ve heard since our arrival in Nepal. When we had left Kathmandu the air temperature was around a very manageable 25 degrees Celsius, but in the south things got a little serious. Once we got off the plane and took a few steps, we realized what it really felt like to get slapped in the face by 38 degrees Celsius and have a lot of humidity from the air suddenly deciding that it was time to stubbornly sit down on everyone’s shoulders. Thankfully we were prepared, as we’ve been warned before that temperatures in the south during April and May can get extremely hot. Wearing short pants and t-shirts we went on to grab our luggage and set way to our hotel.
In Kathmandu we couldn’t really see it at first, but arriving to Nepalgunj was I think for the first time when we really saw what it means to have so little and to fully depend on two of the world’s largest economies. I still remember the silence that had dominated the car on the road to the hotel. There wasn’t much to say really. However to our amazement, even in these conditions, throughout Nepal we saw that people are more than willing to work, some have their own small business in front of their houses selling snacks, food, vegetables, fruits, drinks and other similar products. This was indeed amazing. After having arrived at the hotel, we had several minutes to drop our things, rest a little bit before heading out for dinner into an already dusky Nepalgunj. We ended the day by heading back to the hotel when it was already completely dark outside and once in our rooms by getting ready to sleep.
Day 3 started off with us having been fully rested up and having had breakfast at the hotel. After this we grabbed our things from the room and hopped into the cars which would drive us to the company located approximately 2 hours away from Nepalgunj, in the southern-western hills of Nepal. We were eagerly looking forward to meet the owner of this company, as he had previously met with our General Manager, whom said great things about him and holds in great regards the Nepali entrepreneur. The road leading there was astonishing and we got to see just how diverse this relatively small country actually is. As we were heading slowly out of the city and leaving behind the low altitude plains, up ahead we could see as if looking on a great painting, the hills which were getting bigger and bigger by each passing minute. Before entering the hills, we had to go through a checkpoint and continue down the road, which went straight into a dense forest with large trees all around. Our Nepali guide has informed us that this was the way into a national reservation, hence the tight security and to my surprise, the secured area actually stretched all the way up into the hills. Going into the hills the road had gradually lost its dominant straights and slowly but steadily had transformed into a road specific to mountainous regions, with lots of curves in every direction.
Not the valley, but almost there.
By the time we had reached our destination the sun was already at its highest point bringing along temperatures which were in the low thirties and very pleasant all around. The compound is located in a beautiful valley, into which we had descended from the main road and in which we saw that there was also a cozy looking small village. After we entered the gates which are guarding the entrance into the facility, we were immediately received with warm greetings by the man we were supposed to meet and were about to spend the greater part of the day with. Before we knew it, the short introductions were over and the presentation of the company had already started. The very first thing we saw was a slicing unit for ginger and turmeric, which was placed outside as part of the presentation, and was being operated by two women fully clothed in protective equipment.
After such a great start we moved to the office areas where the owner had presented us his team. We then moved on to the storage area, where the neatly placed plastic bags full of raw material were laying around waiting to be transported to a far-away country. When done with the presentation of the storage area, we proceeded to the place which was labeled as the hand picking unit, where several women - again fully clothed in protective gear - were working on selecting the sliced and dried ginger.
Hand picking unit.
This was the moment when the owner had informed us that we should proceed outside to the back of his facility’s field where he had prepared for us a table full of refreshments. On the way to that table the owner had confessed in an absolutely humorous way that one of the “investors” presented to us earlier, was actually his wife. At the table he also told us that the workers usually go home for one hour to have their lunch break. We were amazed to find out that they actually prefer having it this way, because they can also take care of their animals left at home during that one hour. We also noticed that the workers, before leaving for their lunch break casually started wrapping the ginger left in the sun for the drying process. This was, the owner told us, because at the time they had figured that there might have been some rain on the way. At this point there were indeed some clouds roaming above the distant hills, but the situation didn’t look all that dangerous. After wrapping things up at the surprise table prepared for us, we moved on to his house which lay just next to the factory in order to have lunch, which to our delight was yet again specific, spicy and also non-spicy homemade Nepali food.
Ginger drying in the sun.
During lunch the owner has told us that he has also planned for a visit in the adjacent small village and so after having filled up our stomachs we went on to do just that. There was just one tiny problem laying in our way. Those few clouds we had seen before? Well, they had decided to move on and in their place came dark and menacing clouds. It was quite clear that rain was on its way, the question was when? By the time we got moving towards the village we could see that above the surrounding hills a curtain of water was being poured out of a thick, dark cloud and we were headed straight into it. We could even hear a few thunders, indicating that things were going to get real bad, real soon. The inevitable has happened in an instance and soon we found ourselves desperately running in the fields trying to reach for shelter as fast as possible. The amount of water that came down reminded me of the thunderstorms we usually have in Europe during summer after extremely hot days. They usually carry insane amounts of water and decide to drop it down on you in just a matter of minutes. I remember thinking to myself that this too will probably come and go in a jiff, but unfortunately it wasn’t the case. The rain persisted until we said goodbye to the owner and his family and hit the road back to Nepalgunj. This time around, things were a little more serious as due to the heavy rain, the road was at places affected by small rockslides, but thank God we made it back safely to the hotel and got ready for another day of adventure in the Terai.
Into the storm.
The plan for the 4th day was to meet two companies in Nepalgunj before heading out to the airport and flying back to Kathmandu. The first company was one which among other essential oils also deals with the production of Jatamansi oil. We were welcomed by the manager into his office and started talking business with him. After having covered much of what we had to go through, he was nice enough to show us around the facility which meant that we could see their distillation unit while it was fully operational, producing essential oil. After the distillation unit we got to see the storage area and headed back into his office. We then said goodbye and headed back to our hotel for lunch and eventually to check out.
Just another day at the office.
The company was just down a bumpy road in the middle of a beautiful and quite field, away from the rush of the main road. We have visited it before heading to the airport and it is important to note that they also deal with essential oils and natural extracts from different raw materials. There, the first thing we got to see was the hand picking unit, where employees were working on sorting sechuan pepper and storing them in bags.
We then proceeded to the area where the second phase of the sorting was being handled. Here the sechuan pepper can be sorted more than twice, until the desired purity is reached. It was after this that we were kindly invited to sit down on several seats at the shady entrance area into the sorting facility. This was the moment when we had discussed business matters with the owner, after which he offered to show us the extraction unit as well.
Purification of the pepper continues.
Business as usual.
We had gone outside and entered a huge gate to the left, which then revealed the large building in which we concluded was the extraction unit.
The beauty of Terai.
Once inside, we were greeted by a gentleman who was managing the extraction unit and who had also given us a short presentation of the place. During our tour, we couldn’t help but notice how professional things looked there and were quite happy to have had the opportunity of taking a look at such a unit. After this we proceeded to our cars, had made several photos with the owner and the manager of the extraction unit and said goodbye to leave for the airport.
The flight back to Kathmandu was pleasant and the way leading back to the hotel was quick, night time traffic being quite easy on everyone being on their way to anywhere at that hour.
Boarding the plane to Kathmandu.
This day began with yet another great breakfast at the hotel after which we laid down our daily plan, which involved visiting another two companies that had their headquarters in Kathmandu. Once done with visiting we had had the afternoon free for a short sightseeing trip. The time we left the hotel must have been somewhere around 10 AM as the traffic was absolutely packed. Because this time around we were not heading to the airport, our path went on to the northern part of the city. In about 30 minutes spent in traffic we had reached our destination which was a small factory, hidden between narrow unpaved streets on what must been the base on one of the hills upon which Kathmandu’s northernmost areas sit upon. It actually seemed as if we were in a labyrinth, except there weren’t merely walls around meant to keep us inside a maze forever, but were also buildings everywhere you looked. So much that at one point even our local, very experienced driver seemed to have gotten lost, but thankfully, after a brief consulting with our guide, we quickly turned around and found our destination in no time. This company had a small number of employees working at that hour on their sun dried organic soapnuts, which were masterfully cracked and sorted manually by two women, both of them being probably in their 40s. After a small presentation of the facility done by the owner, we went into his office to talk matters related to business. After spending quite some minutes there our team proceeded to the cars, ready to take us to our next destination.
Cracking of soapnuts.
This trip was somewhat an easier one, but traffic was still quite heavy, even on the belt road of a city as big as Kathmandu. Nonetheless, our drivers had plenty of experience and they drove swiftly through the great number of cars and even greater number of motorbikes to finally reach the company we were supposed to be meeting with.
This specific company was situated in a building which seemed to have been a large house being inhabited by a big family. The house had at least two stories and reminded me a little of some buildings found on European soil. We were soon greeted by a man of short stature and for the quietness that was surrounding him, he sure had a lot of confidence radiating around him. This person invited us in what was probably a guest room, which had a small sofa sitting behind a small table, being flanked by a chair on both sides, sitting face to face. This was the place where we were invited to take seats and handle the business part of the meeting, all while sipping a delicious homemade tea. Leaving this place I had a feeling similar to that which I had when visiting the company in the Nepalgunj hills. The simple confidence coming from the owner, and based on the discussions we have had, made me come to the initial conclusion that this was another one of those carefully managed companies, which expects and offers a lot of seriousness and professionalism in its dealings with both local and foreign companies.
After this we headed back to the hotel to have lunch and on the way back we could admire a little bit of Kathmandu that we haven’t seen until then. The forecast for that day, especially for the afternoon was not promising, so on our way back we could already see some clouds forming around the city. We were however, confident about having an unspoiled sightseeing experience, wherever it was that we would go. And so it was, that after making a pit stop at the hotel, we were led by Birgitt to Phatan Durba Square on foot. This was a unique experience all in all as we got to see some really old architecture, some of which was still under rehabilitation due to damages suffered from the 2015 earthquakes. At the square we saw people that were either chilling out, smiling or just filming a music video. We even saw some monkeys that were trying to sabotage the construction zone in the rehabilitation area, but they quickly gave up just because they were monkeys and they could do that. We had a great time there and the forecast weather had eventually arrived, although a bit late and not as intense as we had initially anticipated, which was great as we were fearing that we might get back to the hotel soaked, had a heavy rain fallen that day.
The day started off with us getting a very early breakfast and going to the airport for our flight to the south of the country, to Bhairawa. From there we were to get a drive of about two hours to the place where we were supposed to meet with a single company, with which we had met on the very first day we have arrived to Nepal. This time around though, we would get to see one of their production units and visit one of the poor communities that they support by offering them jobs at the company. The flight was slightly delayed, but it wasn’t a significant one, and the trip to our destination was pleasant with a rather light traffic.
As soon as we arrived, we realized that we were going to have an amazing day. First things first, the person overseeing operations was a young gentlemen in his early 20s. After our arrival he has invited us to a short presentation to be held in a ventilated and poorly lit room. Despite his small, but noticeable stammer, he did an absolutely wonderful job in telling us a little bit about what the company’s activities are in the area.
Presenting the company.
He has also informed us that after a short peek at the distillation unit which was just next to the building we were in, we would be visiting their community forest, where they grow their plants used in the creation of essential oils.
Outdoor distillation unit.
The forest which was very close by, completely met and surpassed my every expectation. It was not an extremely dense forest, but it was full of green vegetation. And the trees. The trees were gigantic. Enormous. Breathtaking. Every single step you would take, you’d hear the crunchy sound of the fallen leaves, telling you that the rainy season is just around the corner. Every now and then, you’d hear the exotic sounds of different animals especially of birds and one particular noise which was periodically coming up at one point had gotten our attention. It was later confirmed by our great hosts that it was indeed a monkey calling out from the branches of the huge trees. And the temperatures. It was unbearably humid and hot, but this just added to the experience and was ultimately worth it all. We even got to see Lemongrass and Citronella plants for the first time. As you take it into your hand and crush the leaves it immediately starts sending out the pleasant and refreshing essential oil onto your hands and ultimately into the air.
In the community forest.
Dominant green foliage everywhere.
Essential oil in its natural form.
After our short hike into the woods, we went to have lunch at a local restaurant, from where we headed out to one of the poorest communities in the region. It is said that from this specific group of people comes only one single person whom has education, while the rest remain uneducated and even that one person has left at one point in the hope of pursuing a better life.
The view which was waiting for us, was nothing short of the sad reality that is present and can be found in some places of all developing countries. Homes made out of mud and straw roofs, unpaved roads and the lack of hygiene all formed a picture which can be better expressed in pictures.
In the community.
To my amazement though, these people didn’t find it hard to smile and the fact that this company is helping the people by offering them an income by hiring them, giving them bicycles to get to work and even cellphones, is truly something that fills you with hope.
We couldn’t spend too much time at the community because on the same day we had our flight back to Kathmandu and two hours of pavement lay between us and the airport so we had to bid farewell to the representatives of this company and hit the road in time. On the way to the airport we couldn’t stop contemplating about what we have seen that day and how we could impact these people’s lives in a positive manner. Once we reached our destination, we have received the news that our flight was yet again delayed and so we had to spend another extra hour in the airport until we could board the plane. In the end though, all the wait was definitely worth it.
And so it was that our last day in the beautiful country of Nepal had begun. More exactly it was the last day when we were to visit a company. The plan was to leave in the morning to the airport, get on the plane which would take us to Bhadrapur, from where we were to get by car to the company’s facility. In the Kathmandu airport, because he was also on the same flight as us, we have met with the company’s representative, who was a young adult in his early 20s, dressed casually and had a firm posture in his stance. We were looking forward to meeting him and seeing his production facility as we had been in serious talks with this company for a few months up until that point. What looked like another great day for business meetings soon turned into a game of anticipation, given birth by the excruciatingly long wait we had to endure in the airport. By this time we had gotten used to the fact that it is yet another unwritten rule, that departures and arrivals are both generally late. During our week in Nepal we had several situations where our flights were delayed to some extent. This is not necessarily a complaint, as these kinds of situations really stretch the imaginative muscles of one’s patience, but this last one was really something else. Even though we still had one last internal flight back to Kathmandu the next day, it really felt like a goodbye gift from Thribuhvan International Airport to all of us. Apparently the day before there was one flight which got cancelled and because of this all the passengers that were affected got onto the first flight the next morning, which had caused a slight delay of roughly 3 hours. And so we waited, and waited and then waited some more. By the time we got on the plane and took off, we were already thinking that there is probably not going to be enough time to visit everything.
Finally taking off after a long delay.
The flight was quite rough, as we had some turbulence going through some thick clouds. That is why after landing it felt just so good to finally feel the stability of our magnificent Earth beneath our feet. Right after landing we hurried for our cars hopped in and started our journey of about an hour and a half to the facility which was located just a few hundred meters from the eastern Indian border. It was a unique feeling knowing that we had passed by the Indian border and seeing all the people coming and going between both countries was definitely something special to experience. It was a rather busy place, the border, and we couldn’t stop as time was short and we still had plenty to do.
After leaving the main road it was another 5-10 minute drive until we had reached our destination. A distillation and extraction unit with administrative offices nearby, surrounded by secure walls showing clearly that it guards something very important and valuable at the same time. The sheer size of the facility was impressive and we even got to see how ginger essential oil was being produced. The short tour of the company was done as quickly as possible as we also had matters related to business that had to cover in around 30 minutes.
Entrance to the extraction units.
Monik in front of the “small” fireplace.
Sadly the whole visit was rushed due to the long delay in our flight and because we had a two to three hour drive between us and our hotel. Roads can be dangerous in Nepal at night we were told, and once the sun had set, which happens much faster than in Europe, we could experience just that at first hand. Some might categorize a trip such as this extremely dangerous, deadly, impossible to make, however because we had already developed trust towards our drivers as well as for those on the roads, the trip was more than ok for us. We had experienced a gorgeous sunset during dusk after which everyone started to turn on their vehicles’ headlights. Reaching our hotel in Biratnagar felt good, and since we were already feeling exhausted, we had gone to sleep after getting some food.
The next morning was a special one as we have woken up to the first day of 2075, the night before being celebrated as New Year’s Eve according to the Nepali calendar. Dawn came early, as it always does in Nepal and because we had our flight back to Kathmandu before noon we had gotten up to have breakfast, after which we had our transfer to the airport. As we already had gotten used to, this time around was no different and our last internal flight had a small delay too, however for all the late planes and for all the waiting we have had, they were all absolutely worth it because of this flight. Our route this time around would take us along the Himalayan range and for the very first time we had a clear and unobstructed view of the mountains with their beautiful, enormous, snow-capped peaks standing out firmly at the edge of the horizon. The fact that there wasn’t even a single cloud on the sky made it possible for us to see among the highest peaks in the world, one from which winds were blowing the snow into the atmosphere. It was indeed breathtaking.
The top of the world.
After about an hour we had reached Kathmandu and had made a safe landing. This was the day we had some time to go into the heart of the city and do some shopping while sightseeing popular locations both for tourists as well as for the locals. At the airport we had said our farewells to our local guide who had assisted us at every location and provided useful information into the culture of the Nepali people, after which we had gotten into a taxi, went to the hotel and from there start the tour of the city. At the end of the day, we were exhausted but had to get ready for our flights back to Europe.
The day came when our adventure in Nepal officially ended and we were getting ready to fly back home. It had been an absolutely amazing, awesome, sometimes breathtaking 7 days for all of us. We have seen things we haven’t before, laid our hands on both vegetation and machine which transforms the first into essential oils/extracts. We have met exceptional people and experienced literally lots of ups and downs when our planes, albeit usually late, were taking off and landing. We were received with kindness and patience and saw the extraordinary in the seemingly chaotic lifestyle of Nepali people especially on their roads. We have seen the struggles of a country surrounded by two giants, when it depends on either one of those for natural resources. But we also saw the hope especially when visiting some of the companies that are actually trying to do something to the community they are active in. There is so much diversity and color to this country that it surely will remain a memorable time to whomever wishes to visit it.
Before ending this journal, I just want to say a big thank you on behalf of Team SanaBio to the people of Nepal for the warm welcome and the care with which you have granted us a peek into your interesting lives, culture and organizations. Thank you for your patience and know that we had fully enjoyed every bit of our stay during this journey. Never give up on smiling, no matter the circumstances. A huge thank you to Birgitt Boor who had assisted us greatly on this trip. Your knowledge of both Nepal and of the industry we work in was absolutely invaluable and know that we feel honored to have had the opportunity of learning from you. Also a big big thank you to Suresh Baral for patiently offering us guidance about Nepal and the companies we visited. Thank you for taking care of the transport vehicles and for offering great tips about Nepali food. Hopefully we’ll get to see you sooner than later. Until then, best regards to your friends and family and we wish you all the best in your ongoing projects. We would also like to thank every single person involved in making this journey happen, to all the companies who have welcomed us and the workers there, it has been an honor meeting you all.
Last but not least, we would like to thank Mr. Wolfgang Schiller for offering us this unique opportunity of professional growth. Seeing this small and diverse country, having actually met the people we talk and work with and seeing their facilities is an experience which we will treasure a long time from now on.