Researching Nepal, part: 2 – Rule #32: Enjoy the little things

Researching Nepal, part: 2 – Rule #32: Enjoy the little things
On this episode of Cooking for power, come to our kitchen and eat up highly nutritious meals with rice, protein filled veggies and beans. Once in a while we make a special episode, featuring chicken meat, goat meat or fish, however you have to come early to keep your share away from the doggies

Villager’s lifestyle
As mentioned previously, I had the chance of experiencing Nepal through many perspectives. The major one was a perspective of a villager in Bathekhola, Bajhang district, far west Nepal. And I need to say, when you deliberately go to a developing country, it is THE best way of experiencing the culture. Why?
Before actually getting to my village, I had to get from Kathmandu by a bus to a town called Chainpur, the capital of Bajhang district. It took nearly 2 whole days on 2 different buses through the mountains to get there. In these parts, everyone takes the buses, whether people leaving their families in the villages to go to a bigger town for work, people from bigger towns visiting their families for holidays, or just people going from one place to another. 

On my two day bus journey, I realized a couple of things: I am too big for the bus seat, my legs are too long for the bus seat, I don’t like long bus rides, and yes, you can go three days with no sleep. The thing was, (except for the sleeping and shorter legs), Nepalese people feel the same way. Bus rides for them is a form of transportation, not exactly a hobby though. Many people got sick in the twisty turns in the mountains, even Nepalese people have a certain level of respect for the narrow roads bending into a life-threatening cliff, and since the bus is pretty cheap to travel with, the discomfort of the journey can be countered with alcohol. During our stops on the journey, we stopped at small roadside huts offering tea, warm food and Ruslan vodka. This combination seemed to sooth the discomfort of the bus journey for most of the locals who looked seasoned in these travelling conditions, I was however too excited to soak up the views all along the road. Coming from Kathmandu towards the west, the bus crosses various mountain masses, flatlands of south Nepal and twisty roads into some of the most mesmerizing valleys I have ever seen.

The nature in Nepal is the dominant factor affecting everything, from the disconnected lifestyle, slow village tempo, infrastructure, and overall conditions. For a tourist like me, the views were breathtaking. I left the bus window opened almost all the way to breathe the freshest air aromatized only by buffalo turds and sizzling stoves of the roadside restaurants. The bus is a cultural highlight of Nepal, hands down. You experience nature, steep climbs up into the mountains, never-ending honking as the only traffic signal used here, Nepalese snacks sold right into your window by hopeful locals, the rush of near death by looking down the steep cliffs and many others. Not the most comfortable three days of my life, but definitely some I will never forget. 

Bus windows provide breathtaking sceneries for miles… Just not so much when you look straight down. And not when you are in full nausea mode after sitting on a crowded bus for almost 50 hours and all you want to do is shower

After two nights and two days on the bus, I arrived in Chainpur, the capital of Bajhang district, a city where my NGO had its headquarters. I spent 3 days here before going to Bathekhola and let me tell you one thing: I prefer the village lifestyle to small town lifestyle any day. The streets were half concrete, half dirt, mixing motorcycles, with dogs, free roaming chicken and cattle. People in decent looking clothes were stepping over piles of trash, animal poops, polluted canals, unfinished building blocks, sticking metal rods and merchandise from the street shops just laying on the road. You could get fake watches right next to a shop with chicken meat and then go have a coffee at the top of an unfinished restaurant. The number of mobile phone shops seemed way too unnecessary for a town that took 3 days to get to. On top of it all, during the warmer months of the year, there is just impossible amount of flies everywhere, flying from on pile of turd to another, then to your bedroom and straight onto your food platter. 

Needless to say, I was glad to climb higher up into the mountains and be done with this town. From an outsider’s perspective, I did not see much improvement between the lifestyle of Chainpur and Bathekhola. People dress the same, pretty much do the same except for the mobile shops, yet the town people always seemed to look down on people coming down from the villages to buy their stuff. Like seriously, come on, you do your laundry in the river, eat with your hands and shower occasionally. Those fake Gucci belts don’t allow you to look down on villagers like some of these town people do. Anyway..

Due to the location of Chainpur in a river valley, the sun gets to the streets around 9am. In the meantime you can warm up by hopping over trashy puddles, or stop and stare at the Saipal mountain in the back

Village life was amazing. A-ma-zing. It can be summarized into one Nepalese proverb: simple living, high thinking. I was truly staggered when I realized that this is the way of life that actual nepalese scholars and religious leaders have been preaching for ages. During my goodbye ceremony at the school the teaching staff wrote this proverb in nepalese language on a traditional nepalese hat I received as a gift. And what does it mean exactly?

Imagine being woken up before 6am every morning by a rush of cold on the uncovered parts of your body (just your nose is plenty enough). Get your warm clothes on and go out of your room to greet everyone. The sun rises over the mountain peaks after 7am but visibility is solid before 6. People are hopping around in their flipflops and yak sweaters before the arrival of Shurya, Nepalese sun. 

After smoking the first one of the day, people usually make a fire to prepare tea or warm buffalo milk with honey to keep the cold away. Just before 7am everybody stops and starts to stare in one direction, east. The sun as a symbol sits in the nepalese flag twice: as a whole and as half a sun setting over a valley. Waiting for the sun to get to the valley signals the beginning of a new day the same was a sunset means the end of all daily activities. Understandably though, there are no street lights in the Himalayas.

Yep, the sun just came over the peak, it no longer looks odd to be wearing flip flops this high up in the mountains. Sunrise yoga however, is never a bad idea

For the rest of the day villagers are mostly scattered around the mountain, husbands in the fields ploughing, wives on the hillsides cutting the grass to feed the kettle, kids running around in the mountain in their flipflops looking for stuff to do, and the elders are just chilling. This was actually the the single best fact about the village lifestyle. When I went to take a walk a bit further out of the school premises to smoke and enjoy the view, I could see the elders do the same thing everywhere I looked. 

Whether you are herding the kettle, or ploughing the fields, or just doing plainly nothing, there is always time to sit down, chill and enjoy the view, whether you are a visitor like me or a local. Get your ciggie, chewing tobacco or whatever you are into, drop everything you are doing and stare at a view for a while and let your thought flow- simple living, high thinking (multiple times a day). This makes people more relaxed, necessary work is still done, and there is never a shortage of relaxing features in Nepal.

That moment when you are two minutes into View and Chill and you forget that you left your daughter in charge of the cattle. No problem, she’s got it covered. I gotta finish this view

I was a temporary member of a teaching staff in a local school, which meant having pretty much all the advantages possible in the village. Another proverb in Nepal is: guest in your house is like a God in your house. Put this together with being a teacher – socially a very respected position – and the hospitality standard in Nepal will leave you speechless. Whenever I wanted to partake in meal preparation, wood chopping or anything that seemed a tiny bit demanding, someone came to do it instead of me, because I was the guest (solid reasoning, I guess).

One might think that to be completely remote from stuff like electricity, internet, even means to communicate with most of the locals, one will find complete loneliness. To the contrary- one will find complete peace.

Sun setting, monkeys yelling, J burning, high thinking, simple living. And everyone was Shanti

Nepalese language is fairly limited in the number of syllables, however it has plenty to offer on meanings. The word “peace” and “high” is the same- Shanti. Even the people that did not smoke charas, found a way to “get high”- high on the peace arising from moments like these, high on view, high on fresh air, high on hiking, high on thinking, high on life. And everyone was at peace.

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What to ask yourself before volunteering in the Far-Far-West Nepal and have your world changed

 

Why did I decide to come to volunteer here

I was in the final semester of my MA studies, working on a research for my thesis, when I started realizing that I am going to be done with a huge part of my life of going to school. After this I wanted to keep on pursuing things that I believe in which are human rights.

I wanted to expand my research into different environments throughout the world and Nepal was on my list of countries for my research so, I went.

The Himalayas themselves have always been appealing to me so it seemed like the right choice to make while my body can still handle these conditions well enough. My academic desires and personal dreams kind of joined into and idea of going to Nepal.

Once I decided to pursue it for real it was not too hard to google my way into a remote NGO working in the far-west Nepal doing developmental work for the villagers that suffer from the lack of basic needs.

I decided to help out an organization called Creative Innovative Himalayan Group which does have a certain swag to it’s name.

I talked to the director of this locally based NGO for 10 minutes, while we discussed practical questions that you need to ask before coming. It basically came down to: “Come to Chainpur for as long as you like, your research is most welcome. We will see you at the end of September.” This made the planning so much easier, because I had to do everything any tourist would have to do without any complications :).

My decision to come specifically to Bathekhola was therefore purely a throw of a dart on the map and randomly picking the most amazing piece of peace on earth.

 

What did I expect from this experience at the beginning

Having three months to prepare for a trip that should have lasted for unknown time, I expected many challenges for the lack of preparation. But to be honest I spent more time preparing mentally that there is no way around getting sick for sure at least once, and that for certain there would have to be an adjustment period, which of course there was.

I expected that some moments might get uncomfortable and challenging so I tried to make my peace with it before.

I also expected new perspective on the global problems from such a different culture that I am used to seeing in my travels and studies. The things even little kids in my country know about Nepal is that it is the roof of the world and that badass dads go to Annapurna.

However after actually landing to Kathmandu, all my expectations shattered and open up to an unbelievable experience from the very first moment to the last.

 

What has this experience enriched me and what did it take from me

I could write fifty pages about everything that happened during my time in the remote mountains, which seem like an island to everything else that is actually going on in the world. However, if you are a traveller or an actual researcher, this is THE best way how to explore a country- through the areas where governmental help is not reaching full development of some areas such as Bathekhola valley, next to Chainpur, Bajhang district.

The views are stunning from literally wherever you stand on the mountain, the higher up you go to take a hike you discover breathtaking views of enormous chunks of earth that these mountains are. You really get a new perspective about the remoteness of these villages when you look at most of these mountains.

The biggest thing you realize in Nepal is the connection of the villagers with nature, dependence of their daily schedule upon the sun, with the appearance of modern looking clothes and great sense for general good looks and self care. Influenced by the teachings of great Hindu teachers that believed in natural beauty and kindness make, Nepalese villagers are the most amazing and peaceful people I have ever met. To live among these people and be so welcomed as their guest even as a teacher in the local school was an amazing experience.

Yes, the aforementioned challenges of “third world nature” took some toll on my body during and after my stay. Was it worth it? Absolutely, any day, always. I did not find myself missing any sort of food since their cuisine is well balanced and tasty, I had just enough technology to create comfy environment and I was waking up with a fat smile on my face every day, (even through the cold mornings).

There was no need to spend money only for everyday dirty pleasures of candy of all sorts and unlimited amounts of mountain Nepalese black gold for virtually nothing. Time and money well spent as far as travelling goes.

I was an active teaching staff member for nearly 3 months however, due to some administration issues I did not end up teaching appropriate time. The staff of teachers were a group of amazingly educated people assigned by the government to teach in these remote areas. I quickly became friends with the teachers and spent countless hours talking, half nepalese half english.

However, overcoming the small obstacles was easy when I realized that I have a 2 hour workday and the best chance to catch up on my sleep that I lacked a bit during my college years. Meditation, reading and workouts naturally got some time in my daily routine as well. I went to explore the mountains als much as I wanted and could and found a lot of hidden treasures that Nepal has to offer.

The best overall experience was working with the children. It kind of really feels rewarding when you teach a little rascal how to wash hands and the concept of putting shoes at the right feet- entertaining in the best way possible for me, educational and entertaining in the best way for them. I call that WINNING.

 

What I recommend for future volunteers

Take Nepal as an experience that will change you or your perspectives in some ways. Take it as exploration of everything different. If I took Nepal for everything it fails to be, I would not enjoy it as much as when I chose to enjoy this life for everything it is.

Prepare for a journey not a destination and you will discover amazing places of all sorts on every corner in Nepal. From remote Bathekhola lifestyle, through trekking the Annapurna Base Camp trek from beautiful Pokhara, or crowded Kathmandu which looks nothing like Doctor Strange’s version; everything in Nepal is an amazing opportunity to discover, research and open up new perspectives, whether through fellow Nepalese or fellow tourists that you meet in Nepal, or the countryside itself. Himalayas are amazing, enjoy it and learn on the way. So while in Nepal, whatever your job is, explore and never stop wondering.

 

 

Sum up the experience in one sentence

“Simple living, high thinking”- old nepalese proverb. All you need to kno