Exploring Nepal (Part 2): A Nepalese Village

by Ashraf

I spent 3 months exploring Nepal. This is the second leg of my trip where I moved away from the bustling city of Kathmandu and into a Nepalese village within the Gorkha district.

On route to Ashrang Villiage, Gorkha

“I am going to die rolling down the side of this mountain”. This was all I could think about sitting in a mini-bus blaring loud Nepalese music.

I am on a 5 hour minibus ride from Kathmandu to Gorkha, and on my left is a 150m drop into a river. The driver is insane. We’re on what looks like a single lane on a winding muddy road and the driver feels that he needs to save time by over taking any busses he comes across. This is terrifying and the concerned looks amongst the rest of the passengers makes me believe that they feel exactly the same way.

A few seats in front of me is a women throwing up into a plastic bag. The air smells like vomit. People are constantly phlegm gurgling and spitting around me and at this moment, I am grateful that I skipped breakfast this morning.

Waking up in wonderland

I wake up at 6am in a bed covered by a blue mosquito net. I like this net. I find its protection comforting in this new & alien environment. It’s really hot though and sleeping is tough as you need to choose between stale air or a constant stream of fresh mosquitoes.

The room is concrete and square, but the walls are skew. I know this because the square mat at my feet doesn’t fit in any of the corners. The OCD in me will despise this fact for the rest of may stay here. I Put on some clothes and head up stairs, greeted with tea by my host Samjhana Pandey my host and her son Ayush.

No matter what the weather is like here in Ashrang, everyday is beautiful. As far as your vision allows there are nothing but hills, mountains, forests and vast amounts of empty space.  And on a clear day, early in the morning towards the north you can see the mighty Manasalu, towering above the earth like the living soul that she is.

A serene scene of a traditional house in Ashrang village, Gorkha.

A serene scene of a traditional house in Ashrang village, Gorkha.

7 things that are different about living in a Nepalese Village

1) Electricity & Water

The biggest change for anyone wishing to live remotely is energy. Although electricity wasn’t non existent, it was incredibly unreliable. In fact, there was never a single full day of electricity. If it rained or the weather was too windy, the electricity would shut off. There were even times where we had almost no electricity for an entire week!

Cooking was done by gas so that was workable. Water on the other hand required energy to pump its supply to storage tanks above the houses. So many a times we would have no running water. This meant carrying water from the closest stream which was easily a 45 minute walk away and washing was done in public spaces (The women are amazing at doing this, using their sari dresses to cover themselves whilst washing simultaneously). Flush toilets? Forget about it. Water is was just too valuable.

People flock to build their houses and farms as close to these streams as possible as water is a farming villages greatest resource

People flock to build their houses and farms as close to these streams as possible as water is a farming villages greatest resource

2) Fresh meat walks

Ashrang village was filled almost exclusively with Hindus which meant almost all of our meals were vegetarian based. This is never a problem as the traditional dhal baat is incredibly delicious. Sometimes though, when it was a cause for celebration, we would eat meat.

Because of the lack of reliable electricity, people did not rely on refrigeration. So in order to keep meat fresh, they would have to be kept alive.

Slaughtering was a difficult procedure as once the animal was dealt with, there was no way of storing the meat and organs in a cold environment to increase its longevity. In order to get around this, once the animal is slaughtered it is cleaned,  shaved, chopped up and distributed immediately in its entirety to who ever purchased.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-03

3) Actually Everyone walks

The easiest way to get around in the village is to walk. Everyone walks and scooters or bicycles are rare! Kids take an hour to walk to school. Some take 2! It’s a 45minute walk to get water. It’s another 3 hour walk to visit your mother, so most of the time you just sleep over.

The school that I worked at was about 90 minutes away. So everyday, I went on a 3 hour hike. If you’re in Cape Town, this is similar to hiking up and down Lions Head, everyday. It sounds tough, but with the beautiful views, exotic birds and a full belly of dhal baat, this was sometimes the best part of my day.

4) Life is unpredictable in the hills

Nepal’s major tourist export is the Himalayas. Trekking and mountaineering is a stable career within the community of which almost every male at some point is involved in. These are dangerous activities and unfortunately sometimes people die.

Within my first week, I would learn that my host Thaakur Pandy’s (who is a guide himself) nephew has died on a trek. He got ill, and because he was on an expedition they were unable to get him to medical care quick enough. He died. Thakurs wife Samjhana, had a younger sister that died in a taxi falling down a cliff. I would also learn about other injuries. A child breaking her arms in the village would have to be carried for 2 hours down the hills to the nearest tar road . Then only she could be taken to the closest hospital by vehicle.

Ironically, the spot where I lived was called the “health post”, named after the unfinished hospital down the road.

5) Aah aah. No touching in public

Unlike the more westernised Kathmandu or Pokhara, in the villages public affection is almost non-existant. Kissing? Not a chance. Hand holding? Only amongst  the same sex. Feeling good wanting to share a Hug? Not happening. One doesn’t see grown, married adults showing affection to their significant others at all.

There is a slight change happening slowly within the youth though, as more and more kids are not agreeing with this cultural sentiment. Which is slowly leading to more…

6) Love marriages

A love marriage is, as you’ve guessed it, a union based on love. It is the opposite of an arranged marriage. Although it might seem like all marriage works this way, depending on your cultural heritage this is not entirely so.  Love marriages in the Nepali villages are rare. I met couples that have been married since they were children (14 years old) that are still together today. Some were even married from as early as the age of 10.

Whether these are happy and loving marriages I do not know, but during my stay I never met a single person that was divorced.

Nepali weddings last for 2 days. According to tradition, only married women are allowed to wear red and other bright coloured saris.

Nepali weddings last for 2 days. According to tradition, only married women are allowed to wear red and other bright coloured saris.

While the bride and groom are away praying at the temples, the festivities continue at home. This involves dancing, clapping and lots of food.

While the bride and groom are away praying at the temples, the festivities continue at home. This involves dancing, clapping and lots of food.

7) The children are different

They are not only happier, but more content as well.

I believe that children allowed to play freely, not constrained by an over protective and scared society allows kids to figure out their own potential, and this breeds confidence. On my first day I saw kids climbing trees, crossing rivers, picking wild berries and fruit and playing in the dirt with the biggest of grins on their faces.

There are a huge amount of children in the villages and to this day I don’t recall a single child throwing a tantrum.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-07

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-08

We played football on the hills. The children get scold at often as the ball constantly rolls down into the crops.


With zero cars, tightly packed apartments, high walls or locks, everything was different here. Everyone appears more vulnerable, more open. Nothing is flat. This was Ashrang village, my new home for the next 2 months.

Samjhana was my host and one of the few people in the villages who never wanted their faces photographed. She made the most delicious tea with leaves straight from her garden.

Samjhana was my host and one of the few people in the villages who never wanted their faces photographed. She made the most delicious tea with leaves straight from her garden.

This is Samjhana’s son, Ayush. His English was excellent and become my much needed translator throughout the village.

This is Samjhana’s son, Ayush. His English was excellent and become my much needed translator throughout the village.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-11

I was walking around the village with some of the teachers and a bunch of kids came running out to say hello. The naked boy bolted from his mother while bathing, but she came to wrap him a towel immediately after this.

I was walking around the village with some of the teachers and a bunch of kids came running out to say hello. The naked boy bolted from his mother while bathing, but she came to wrap him a towel immediately after this.

 

It's fascinating how kids can turn everything into a game. Trucks, trees, rubber bands and even the animals will be used for some fun and entertainment.

It’s fascinating how kids can turn everything into a game. Trucks, trees, rubber bands and even the animals will be used for some fun and entertainment.

With the recent introduction of concrete and modern building materials, these types of traditional Nepali houses are sadly not being built much anymore.

With the recent introduction of concrete and modern building materials, these types of traditional Nepali houses are sadly not being built much anymore.

I met some other travellers that stayed for a few days. It was such a relief spending some time with others who spoke English as a first language.

I met some other travellers that stayed for a few days. It was such a relief spending some time with others who spoke English as a first language.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-16

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-17

Hakeem shared lessons on vegetable farming with me. Here he is using cotton to keep the stems up straight. As a snack we would eat cucumber straight from the ground and it was the tastiest, juiciest cucumbers I have ever eaten.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-18

Thaakur at one of the trees he previously climbed to fetch honey.

Thaakur at one of the trees he previously climbed to fetch honey.

Some cattle herders

Some cattle herders

A women collecting wood in a basket called a doku.

A women collecting wood in a basket called a doku.

This school in the village is slowly falling apart, but due to sponsorship a new school is in the process of being built to replace it.

This school in the village is slowly falling apart, but due to sponsorship a new school is in the process of being built to replace it.

School begins at 10am and every morning the kids would get their routine started by singing the national anthem and doing some stretches.

School begins at 10am and every morning the kids would get their routine started by singing the national anthem and doing some stretches.

Woman working in a rice field,  which is Nepal’s main food staple.

Woman working in a rice field, which is Nepal’s main food staple.

Sam Pandey collecting leaves for his goats.

Sam Pandey collecting leaves for his goats.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-26

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-27

Children in traditional Nepalese costume and makeup preparing for a show.

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-28

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-29

A small festival was thrown in the village to celebrate the new primary school being built. The foreigners that were sponsoring the school came to Ashrang village (some for the very first time). I think this was a wonderful thing as they could now see the lives and people that they were impacting.

20130410_224

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-30

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-31

Nepal-Ashraf-Hendricks-32

After my intense introduction to travel in Kathmandu, staying in a somewhat isolated village was a welcomed change. It’s difficult to put the experience into words as I have nothing to compare it to, but it was something that was needed. To step away from technology, TV shows and my own culture I was introduced to a  wonderful sense of community and a rekindling of my curiosity.

Next up I would spend a few days in the chilled out Pokhara before taking a very long walk into the vast Himalayas.


This is a 4 part series about my 3 month trip through Nepal.

Part 1: Kathmandu
Part 2: A Nepalese Village
Part 3: Pokhara
Part 4: The Annapurna Region

INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | RSS FEED