A local guide to tour some Nepal villages…so worth it
March 27, 2017
We hired a taxi and a guide (Ranjan Mishra) for a day and headed south out of the city. The village didn’t look much different at first, but it didn’t take long to realize that we were in a separate community. It was noticeably quieter with few vehicles. More people were just sitting outside but there were many people hard at work. We started in Khokana, walked through the fields to Bungamati, then drove to the monastery in Pharphing, and finished in Kuripur.
Mustard Seed Oil
Ranjan led us into a small dark building that had 2 people working inside. The owner joined us soon after. They were making mustard seed oil from local crops. The seeds had to be dried then roasted. They were put into a long narrow mesh bag then squeezed through rollers several times. A tin bowl on the floor collected the oil.
Since Nepal only had 6 hours of electrical power per day up until recently, this operation works with an electrical motor for the rolling, but can also be operated with a large wheel that turns a series of gears to tighten the rollers and make them turn. It took one of the workers, using his whole body weight to make this possible.
Another worker crushed, stacked and bagged the remaining material which becomes compost for the fields. Our guide suggested we give them a little money for showing us how this operation worked and taking their pictures. He said they could use it.
The mustard seed oil is used to massage moms and babies in the sun after birth, cooking special Nepalese dishes, and rubbed into the hair to make it shine. We had a little bit and it tasted like some of the local dishes we’d eaten.
We stepped into another building and found a rug factory. There were groups of 2 women sitting on benches together working on wool rugs. Some rugs were single colors while others had elaborate designs. The women were so fast, although the man in charge would come by and mark their expected progress along the side of the threads.
There were many other women in the village supporting this. They spun wool using a hand powered wheel. Others combined the spun wool into 3 ply using some special wheel that wool people would know the name of. The wool was rolled into balls as part of this process. These jobs were all completed while sitting on the ground on a mat. The women sat in small groups while they worked.
The usual weaving room was closed but Ranjan knew of another. There were 4 looms in the room and on one they were creating some fine white material from bamboo fibres. It had a white on white pattern that was controlled with cards punched with holes. The young women sat on a fabric wrapped 2 X 4 and ran the loom with a foot pedal and shuttle.
The woman who seemed in charge was very knowledgeable and did her best to explain how the process worked. When her English was too limited, she had a catalogue containing pictures that she shared with us. She was very proud of what she was accomplishing in their little room. Another lady was working on a more rustic cotton fabric in shades of blue and brown. She was repairing a broken thread while we were there.
According to our guide, women are working more outside the home now to help support their family income. It didn’t sound like their incomes were very much, but they were doing beautiful work in this “factory”.
The villages to the south and west of Kathmandu were most heavily hit by the earthquake in April of 2014. Not only was there one large tremor of 7.6, but the aftershocks over the next few days were nearly as strong. Most of the houses are built of brick, but they are often 3-4 stories high. Those built in the villages were older and the building techniques less stable. Many of them lost the upper stories of the house.
As you walk through these villages today, they are in various states of tearing down and building up. There are piles of bricks and gravel on every street. The brick factories in the valley are working full-time. This provides many jobs but also fills the valley with more smoke. There is no place to remove the rubble so it piles up in a corner, or behind the new home.
This construction is also providing lots of work for the locals. It surprised me to see how many women were hauling bricks and gravel in baskets on their backs. The building plans have engineer approval for earthquake resistance, but the workers did not all appear to be skilled for the job. We didn’t see any machines like bobcats or even many wheelbarrows for moving materials. Most of the work was done by hand.
We did see a couple of men using chisels to cut mortise and tenons into window frames. We saw another man putting them together. There were also several men we saw carving designs into wooden lintels that were spectacular.
There are many families still living in temporary shelters beside the fields as they wait for the homes to be rebuilt. I’ve put a few pictures here and the rest in another page in the travel section.
The flat land in the bottom of the valley and the terraced hillsides are used for growing a variety of crops. We walked down to the bottom of the village Khokana and back up the other side to Bungamati. What a workout! The farmers were using terraced land to grow wheat, potatoes and mustard for now. Rice will be planted in this area in May.
We saw workers in the fields when we were there. They were weeding the crops by hand or with a deep, narrow metal hoe. We saw cows being used to pull a plow that was managed by a man in flip-flops. At the end of the day they all walk back up the big hill to the village. It is a very difficult life.
We bought some pop from a woman who had a little store in the front of her house. She wanted about $1.05 for 3 bottles. Peter insisted that was not enough and gave her double that.
As we sat on a bench outside, we watched her doing the family laundry. She hauled the water in buckets from the inside. At least she didn’t have to go to the nearby water pipe. She had several pails and basins that she used to wash and rinse the clothing. As the rinse water deteriorated, she would replace the dirtiest and continue rinsing from most soapy to least. We saw many women in Nepal washing clothes in buckets on the ground near an available water source.
We visited a man who creates designs on metal statues sold in the market and to people who want Hindu deities in their homes. Women were weaving rice straw into floor mats and corn stalks into table mats. A couple were shelling what they called chick peas, that looked and tasted very much like regular peas. They also had harvested a mat full of turmeric roots.
We saw many schoolchildren in their uniforms off to school as usual.
We crossed the valley over terrible road but our taxi got us safely to the Pharping Yanglesho Monastery. We saw several differences from the ones in Thailand. There seems to be a closer link to Hindu here. Since both religions come from India it is not so surprising. It also has lots of influence from Tibet.
The Tibetan prayer flags that epitomize the hike to Everest are in 5 colours. They represent earth, air, fire, water and Buddha himself. Read up on Pharping if you want to know more. We climbed lots of stairs and had some good views. A blessing was ending as we arrived at the top and some novices shared some oranges with us to share their blessing.
We finished our day with a drive to Kuripur, just south of Kathmandu. We walked through a quiet, old community to get to the Pagoda. Children were playing. Women were sitting under an enormous tree. Men were sitting on the stoops of their homes. The buildings were mostly old, but there were also several more modern homes. A large water containment area was built into the square. It was the size of a swimming pool with steps down to accommodate varying water levels.
The pagoda is from the 16th century and is a tribute to the Hindu god Bhagh Bhairab who is the destructive form of Shiva. It has a row of knives and swords hanging from the upper level. If the sky were clear, there would be wonderful views of the city.
We saw a woman with a crowd gathered around her in Bungamati. I realized she was white. I then realized that we had been the only white people in the village up until that point. Our guide told us that she was a donor working with an NGO. Until then I hadn’t noticed that we were the only non-asian people. That is quite unfamiliar to us, although I didn’t feel like anyone acted like they noticed. How lucky we are to be oblivious to the colour of our skins most of the time.
I am feeling more positive about Nepal after a few more days in this country. It doesn’t work the way I think it should and I can see how difficult it is for the citizens to survive each day here. They do have a strong sense of community, however, and that seems to just make things work for here. Stay tuned for more comments as we continue our journey.
Having a guide for the day was priceless. We paid him 5000 rp or about $50 and he led the way for the whole day and 15000 steps. He said his usual rate was 4000 rp but we could pay him whatever we thought he was worth. Without him we would not have found all the hidden treasures within the villages. He also provided us with a local perspective on education, family, religion and how the government handles things in Nepal. He was so knowledgeable on Hinduism, Buddhism and life in the village. We are so glad he found us in Durbar Square and gave us the opportunity to write a reference in his little black notebook.