Ray and Margaret Harden of Perry gave a boost to the Sierra Club’s annual fundraiser Wednesday by sharing some stories, souvenirs and photos from their visit last December to the southern Asian nation of Nepal.
The focal point of the evening event was the 123-year-old environmental organization’s silent auction, and tables in the Northwest Community Center on Franklin Avenue in Des Moines were laden with guidebooks, gear and other goodies, which about 50 visitors scrutinized carefully, with many bidding on a number of the items.
“This is our one, big, annual fundraiser,” said event organizer Ginger Solberg. The dozens of tables of auction items and loads of free food implied active involvement from the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter membership.
Further brightening the collection was a table full of Nepalese artifacts supplied by the Hardens and including prayer flags, singing bowls, cooking pots, Hindu wheels of life, sturdy woolens and even a solar-powered prayer wheel.
“Many people have them on their dashboards in Kathmandu,” Margaret Harden said, “just spinning and spinning.”
The Hardens flew from the U.S. New Delhi, India, and from there to Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. The flight from Thimphu to the Nepal capital of Kathmandu passed close to Mt. Everest, the planet’s highest peak at 29,029 feet above sea level.
After a week in the Nepal capital, a further flight took the intrepid Perry travelers to the city of Pokhara, from where they made excursions by foot, boat and elephant to even remoter reaches of the Lower Himalayan Range.
One of the trip’s highlights was camping along the Modi River between Pokhara and Kusma.
“We saw more than 100 species of birds on our trip,” Ray Harden said, “including the Egyptian vulture, which is endangered. It seems they’re being poisoned by the anti-arthritis drug diclofenac that the Hindus give their cattle to keep them alive. When the cattle finally die and the vultures feed on them, they experience acute renal failure caused by the arthritis drug.”
In the question session following the Hardens’ brief presentation, they said the Nepalese food is simple and highly nutritious. Their diet includes meat, but they eat it much less often and in smaller quantities than the typical Iowan. All produce is locally grown and bought fresh in the marketplace because their remote location makes importing food expensive and impractical.
As a far-flung outpost of the former British Empire, Nepal has retained the English language in many offices of government administration and among workers in tourist services, making it a tourist-friendly place for Americans. Nepali is the official language, with some 92 other tongues spoken among the nation’s 28 million people, 55 percent of whom are illiterate.
Nepal is among the world’s least developed countries, with an average life expectancy of 59 years and a per capita annual income of $1,400, compared to Iowa’s $49,000. It is unknown what the proceeds of Wednesday’s silent auction totaled, but it might have been enough to keep an average Nepali alive for one year and was hopefully enough to keep the Sierra Club Chapter Iowa active for another year.