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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.