“A Year in Nepal” is a book I have been writing since the beginning of this year, 2019. I’d got to my 6th chapter and somehow ran out of steam, lots of ideas, content, adventures, but just couldn’t continue or explain it! I let it sit there for two months, and despite encouragement from friends in Kathmandu, nothing! So, I’ve decided to try something completely different. Every week, Wednesday’s, I’ll post one of my chapters for comment, feedback good or bad, it will all be absorbed. If there’s silence, that tells me something too. Let me ask everyone stopping by here for help, do please comment, reblog, Facebook it, etc etc., all will be accepted, acknowledged, replied to. Here’s the Preface or Introduction:
“Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.” (Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones”)
Gunshots rang out from the Narayanhity Royal Palace, Kathmandu in the late evening of June 1st 2001. This was the beginning of the end for the monarchy system which had ruled Nepal since its creation as a country in 1768. For almost 250 years Nepal had been ruled by a succession of kings since Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Gorkha King unified a number of smaller kingdoms by military conquest into the country we know today. But the killing of King Birendra and 9 other members of the royal family by Prince Dipendra in 2001 set in motion a complete transformation of the country from a Hindu monarchy into a federal republic by 2008. The path was far from smooth for the Nepali people however, with the monarch being a puppet king under the Rana Dynasty, part of the Chettri warrior caste, for 100 years from 1846. Then a bloody civil war raged between government and Maoist rebels from 1996 for 10 years in which 12,000 people were killed. Naturally the people celebrated the ending of this war with the hope and expectations of peace and much needed development in the areas of healthcare, education, employment, civil rights, human rights, the economy, agriculture, and infrastructure including roads, housing, power supply and telecommunications. Between 1990 and 2017, Nepal’s Human Development Index value grew from 0.378 to 0.574, an increase of 51.9 percent. Looks good? Not unless you count an average income of $2400 per annum as “good” along with being ranked 149th out of 189 countries assessed!
But this is not a book about Nepal’s history nor its aid fuelled economy and mind numbing poverty. Quite the opposite, this book is about the everyday lives and enduring traditions and culture of the Nepali people, their supreme optimism and faith that things WILL improve, and their friendly welcome given to all visitors to their country. I have been lucky and privileged to receive such a welcome by all Nepalis generally and from my “inherited” family by marriage specifically.
I married Champa Hera Tuladhar in late 1971, we were postgraduate students at University of Strathclyde working in the same laboratory completing our PhDs in chemistry. Champa is a Newar from the district of Ason in the oldest part of Kathmandu, and ….. she is the first woman from Nepal to gain a doctorate, in ANY subject. Our upbringings, culture and families couldn’t have been more different. I am an only child born into a working class Methodist family in the Cumbrian Lake District just after WW2, both parents having been in the military. My father was a Coldstream Guards infantryman who survived Dunkirk, my mother was a corporal at Catterick Camp, the army training centre in North Yorkshire. Champa was raised as a Buddhist around the same period of time with three brothers and three sisters. Her father was a civil servant in the Forestry Department who encouraged all of his children to complete school and obtain as high a qualification as possible, a rarity in Nepal for girls who for a time were not even allowed to attend school. Champa’s primary education began on the living room floor of a neighbour’s house which makes the gaining of a doctorate some 20 years later even more remarkable.
Since meeting as two young students we have spent most of our lives in England growing our careers, raising a family and coasting into retirement. But we have naturally spent a great deal of time in Nepal; we have been part of family traditions and events, attended lengthy weddings including that of our own daughter, lived in lodges, tea houses and tents as we trekked and climbed a number of peaks in the Himalaya, visited numerous monasteries and temples either as routine or during religious festivals, eaten the food and consumed the liquor. We created and ran an education NGO for 10 years and have even been aunt and uncle to the Prime Minister for 2 years!
So this book is not a textbook and neither is it a guidebook. The catalyst for it were the words of Nicos Hadjicostis;
“Travel is a departure from one’s little pond. A bold renouncement of the petty comforts that hold us prisoner. It is a movement away from the known towards the unknown and unimaginable. Travel is expansion, widening, opening-up…” (Nicos Hadjicostis.)
These words are from his book Destination Earth-A new philosophy of travel ….. words which have inspired, nay impelled me to write this book of my own. Nicos travelled around the globe for 5 years, much of it was relatively unplanned, non-linear even, and his book is not divided into countries and nor does it have a timeline. The whole concept of the book is based on immersing oneself in the culture of ones environment, throwing the guidebook away, engaging with the general populace and taking their advice about what to see and do in their country, district, city, village. And especially NOT moving on until one is satiated and ready to go. Alright for some I hear you say, but only if you have no personal obligations “at home” and unlimited funds. Nicos’ advice is to have a “wiseline” instead of a timeline, a line which is certainly not a straight line but which encompasses culture and traditions, food, history, music, art more than geographical and archaeological sites or buildings.
“The more I read this book the more I started to view my aggregated time in Nepal differently, not just tourism, climbing a few Himalayan peaks or visiting a few monasteries, but as actually living and experiencing Nepal mindfully.”
And so here we go, A Year In Nepal, guided by my dear Nepali wife and her family, mountain Sherpas, our NGO staff and the many friends I made along the way, including Buddha himself, or Sid as we call him! Each chapter describes our experiences with a specific element of Nepali culture, often interwoven with personal anecdotes or incidents. Read about the diversity of foods and their significance in honouring guests or Hindu gods and Buddha himself, about mountain treks and summiting major peaks, and sadly about the downside of corruption in Nepal which is institutionally embedded but also virtually endemic throughout society. You will read also about religious tolerance and the mingling between Buddhist and Hindu faiths and the background to the unification of Nepal with its three main cities in the Kathmandu Valley. It’s not a guidebook but I hope you find some guidance about gaining a mindful and fulfilling experience in my adopted country as well as the desire to gain a similar experience in any country, no matter how short your visit. You may be a tourist, but the only stranger in the country is YOU!
• All photos are my own unless specifically downloaded under a Creative Commons Licence and are duly credited with text linked to the original creator.
• My knowledge of Nepali culture and history came mostly from my dear wife.
• My knowledge of corruption comes from personal experience in Nepal!
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