Nepal's Banksy was here!

Nepal's Banksy was here!
Strong message, Simple words

Monday, 5 October 2015

Red is the Colour of Teej. An invitation - this is what memories are made of.

Hospitality and friendliness are wonderful Nepali qualities. Suchana asked Ann and I 
to her families' home for the festivities of Teej. The festival of women is celebrated all over Nepal and is a real celebration. The day is marked by fasting (until the sun goes down), the wearing of red wedding saris, dancing, pujas, the the washing of your husbands feet and drinking the water. For once I am thankful that Simon's feet are in Kathmandu!

There really was no room in the bus. Luckily we had squeezed in early.

 As the crow flies Suchana's village of Dadagau is less than 5 miles away from Besishahar. So why does it take 5 hours 30 minutes to get there by bus? A question I asked myself along the extremely bumpy and hazardous climb from the end of the tarmaced road at river level, up the rough track, around hairpin corners and perilously close to sheer drops. As we got higher the numbers on the bus gradually reduced with lengthy stops to unload bundles and bags. Eventually we arrived with a sigh of relief. Stiff legs stretched we walk a few hundred yards until we reached her home where we got an excited welcome. We are assured that they have been looking forward to our visit and the smiles are very warming.

Malas, tika and flowers are part of the formal greeting.

We are just in time to watch the sun go down before being given a snack of new rice. This is cooked a little like a rice pudding but sweet and sticky. Delicious and very filling. So it was with some surprise that only an hour or two later there was a full dal bhaat awaiting us.

I love the feeling and views from being on a ridge.

Sticky, tasty first rice, tarkari (vegetables) and achar (pickle). A rib sticking snack!
A welcome early morning chiyaa started the day. The other pots are cooked delights for the goats and buffalo.

The sharpening of the sykle is an art.

Everyone thought it hilarious that I wanted to have a go at grass cutting. This is a daily chore for them but I was fascinated to learn the the technique. I can share with you that it is a pulling, sawing action rather than the swing and swipe of the attempts, in my younger days, with a long handled version of the same tool.

Santosh found it funny. I was never very good at crouching!

 Standing on an ants nest was not very helpful but otherwise it went quite well for a beginner.

Making a rope out of long grass looked easy.

It can't be too hard!!!
Embarrassingly small but a secure bundle of grass none the less!!

Meanwhile the buffalo was milked.
We then all washed, yes, I braved the outside tap and managed to preserve my modesty. Quite an art in itself. It was then time for more sweet rice and tarkari before dressing up for the festivities. Having never worn a sari I was fascinated with the procedure. 5 meters of material takes a lot of folding and tucking. I was very surprised at how safe it felt but perhaps that is because it is all tucked into a long petticoat. However walking was harder than I had expected, perhaps I need to adapt my fairly long strides!

A bit like trying to tie someone else's bow tie, it takes concentration.

Muffin top cleverly hidden!

 The gathering was further up the hill, at a local market place. Gradually spectators and performers arrived. A hot, sunny day and various head protection in evidence.

Gurung ladies keep there head wear on with good posture.

Ladies wearing the traditional marriage red with adornments.

A sea of red as the crowds build in the little available shade.

Some have seen it all before. Time for a smoke.

Street vending Nepali-style. 

Waiting is another quality that is learnt here. I am not very good at it but luckily there is plenty of material for photography. Suchana loves the sharing of her local home and culture with us. She is a joy to be with and has a big heart for one so young.


 Two or three hours later the dancing began. A serious looking competition for best entertainment, one dancer with a singing group accompanied by usually a lone drummer. The winners had a few special effects.

Candles, strewn petals,,,,,,,,

......... and rice flour.

Now this sport was worth watching. I was half ready to practice first aid as the on-lookers looked perilously close to the action. A cross between the javelin and shot-put, the competitors sprinted down the 20 metre run, up a little mud ramp and hurled the 11 kg stone from the shoulder. Spectacular results and no injuries. This was good entertainment which I think our sons would have entered. How would Netherbury's strongest man (circa 2008?) have fared? (Sorry, a Dorset reference!)

Luckily no injuries.

Glad rags off and as night settles in the fasting is nearly over. First the ladies of the house join together in a puja, making offerings to the gods in a corner of their kitchen. After this was the ritual of washing her husbands feet and sipping of the resulting water before the fast is over and supper can be enjoyed by all. 

The girls enjoy joining together to carry out traditions that must be centuries old.

More tika for Ann and I.

A little bit of crazy dancing before we all joined in. Sushil and Santosh enjoy the moment!

There is just enough time the next morning to have a closer look at Suchana's grandmothers traditional round house. Her father was one of 5 sons who all lived here. There is a goat shed built into the back keeping the valuable livestock safe from theft and large cats.

Still in good condition and no signs of earthquake damage.

In a dark corner are these wooden steps that take you up to what is now a grain store but previously may have been the space for 5 young boys, or men, to sleep.

Young Santosh showing of the Nepali method of drinking water without contaminating the jug!

However even he can't do it when some old Bideshi makes him laugh!! Sorry Santosh!!
 We had enjoyed having the opportunity to spend time with these kind, humourous and delightful people. Thank you so much to all of the Khaniya family who made this an unforgettable experience.

A teacher by profession but a true farmer. I get an invitation to come back again with Simon. I hope that we can.

Thank you.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Nepal's, earthquake resistant, Magar culture.

Manaslu (8156m), the worlds eighth highest mountain, floats above the clouds in Nepal.

Manaslu shrouded in gossamer clouds.

High above the Marshyangdi river valley, in Nepal's Tanahau district, I can look north to the Lamjung Himal and further to the eighth highest mountain in the world, Manaslu (8156m). In the shadow of this great peak lie the two districts of Dhading and Gorkha. It was here on 25th April, 2015, that the earthquake started its destructive journey east across the Kathmandu valley and beyond. We are just a few miles west of that epicenter on our way to visit the Magar village of Ramkot, a two hour walk from our home-stay in Bandipur. The pathway climbs across the forested slopes, where the deep fertile red soil and monsoon rains have combined to provide plenty of growth for the local livestock to graze. The altitude and lack of irrigation make this a maize and millet farming district. Rice is a staple, but it will be bought with cash earned from livestock farming.

The lower rice growing area.

A small Magar settlement perched of the steep hill side, where maize stubble has been planted with the next grain crop, millet.

Jude chats to local Magar farmers

The Magar ethnic group have Tibetan origins.
Most families have a small number of goats that are grazed in the woodland along with oxen (ghoru) that are essential for ploughing the inaccessible narrow terraces. Maize has been harvested. The following crop of millet has been transplanted and is well established. This slow growing crop will be harvested in the spring 2016. The small round grain being used for porridge, rotis and the local drink rhaksi.

A local farmer drives her oxen to higher grazing.

Goats freely graze the plentiful herbage.

This herders tee shirt says it all!

Goats not only graze, under the watchful eye of the herder but their diet is also supplemented with cut grass and leaves gathered each day.

A farmer cuts branches for her goats below.

And that's another tree coppiced!

An older man tends to his grazing cattle.
The little herds are housed in wooden corrals, where we are surprised to find another domestic animal making use of the goat left-overs ........the black pig. Nothing is wasted in these isolated settlements where everything has to be back packed in and out. The small corrals are designed so that bedding, after being processed by the pig, builds up under the animals to be used as vital organic soil food to grow the hungry maize crop.

The multi purpose goat enclosure.

Complete with bakhra (goats).

And sungur (pigs).

The traditional dwellings of Ramkot.

Its been a good maize harvest.

This woman is milling rice for chapati flour, and eventually all the maize will get the same treatment.

We pass girls returning home from gathering wood, which like elsewhere in Nepal, is the main source of fuel. Their backs are cushioned against the load with soft grass and leaves that will no doubt be thrown into the goat pen. Unsurprisingly, the faggots of timber are bound together with ropes made from grass which is confirmed as we pass a man busy collecting the long leaves, to be twisted into bindings.

Like delicate little goats these surefooted girls return home with fuel.

Other groups come from higher gathering grounds

Sheltering from the harsh sun this man gathers grass destined for rope making.

Whilst keeping a watchful eye over his herd.

Evidence of wood as an important fuel. Smoke rises out of this dwelling.
Gurungs, Newars and Tamangs are just some of the other ethnic groups in the area and like these the Magar people are very welcoming. Despite being so close to potentially destructive tectonic forces these settlements seem to have escaped the worst. The solidly build houses with stone and thatch roofs have stood up well, together with their ancient culture.

As the main earthquake forces moved east they spared these beautifully constructed dwellings.

Traditional soil based stains are used for decoration.

The rice straw thatched roofs remind us of our own Somerset cross passage house.

But all is not as it seems. These families are an important recruiting source for the armed forces. Many of the young men eventually finding their way to the British Army and UK shores. No doubt the remittances they send back home are supporting this way of life, but once again we can see for ourselves that the hard graft of farming, and surviving, on the mountain slopes is done by women, children and older men.

A livestock farmer returning home with forage for goats. She is wearing the traditional chanbandi cholo (blouse), potuka around her waist to strengthen the back, and a lungi (skirt).

The traditional hook used for gathering forage and hacking branches.

The hands tell the whole story of a life of toil.

This is how the hook is carried in a small wooden holster.

 We stop and speak to a young girl carrying a huge bundle of wood. She has the look of someone who knows what hard work is all about. When we inquire about her schooling I am expecting the worst, but instead am pleasantly surprised. She is working today because she was doing exams yesterday. Her favourite subjects turn out to be commerce and English!!!