Wed 7/27, day 42
There are a lot of established trekking routes in Nepal, and all along the way there are guest houses and places to stop for dal bhat or tea or coffee or a slice of apple pie. It’s like a traditional hospitality version of tourism that benefits everyone that lives, works, and hikes along the routes. The homestay program that Five14 has set up with the residents of the Gyangphedi villages over the last 5 years is quite new, and they’re working together to continue building up ways for the villages to benefit from tourists like us. On our second day, we slept in and started the day off with a breakfast of roti (tortillas), fried eggs, and french press coffee. The coffee was a recent addition from Five14 for homestay guests. They set up a family with the french press to earn some extra money from visitors who wanted coffee instead of (or in addition to) tea.
Since it was monsoon season, there weren’t many active building projects going on in the villages, at least not the type of project that we could easily jump in on. But typically with their homestay program there’s an expectation that you’ll be contributing. I was looking forward to that aspect, but because of the time of year our stay ended up being really relaxed. This was a lot of down time for other people in the village too, especially Valoo’s teenage son, Nar, who wouldn’t get out of bed. Every 15 minutes or so his mom would shout through the open window. I didn’t understand what she was saying but I could hazard a guess that she was attempting various angles to motivate him. It was all good natured, and after breakfast he joined us and Yogya on a day trip up to another one of the GP villages.
We walked up the hills, down the hills, through corn fields, along narrow foot paths and rocky passages and a pedestrian bridge across the river. The landscape is majestic, though it disappears into the clouds this time of year. How many more layers of hills are there behind what we can see?
At some point we stopped to say hi to a man who was grinding his corn. Corn is one of the main crops in these villages. The corn is 12-14 feet high, the tallest and most robust corn I’ve ever seen in my life, and inter-planted with millet in terraces up and down the hills. Yogya says the earth has power up here. They keep it fertilized with manure from their various animals (goats, buff, oxen, chickens), and the monsoon season and runoff from the higher mountains and irrigation systems from the rivers and streams keep it moist. The water also powers the millstone, which is housed in a little hut near the river. They can divert water from a stream to the hut to rotate a wheel which rotates the grindstone. The dried corn kernels are put into a funnel which drops them down at just the right pace onto the grindstone and grinds them into flour. When they’re done they close a gate where the water is diverted so the whole system stops rotating. While your corn is grinding you just chill out and watch the river, or chat with visitors like us.
We walked some more through tall grass all the way up to another village homestay, where we visited with an older man and his grandson. When we sat down to have some tea, I noticed that Amy’s foot was bleeding. Amy: Hmm, nothing hurts. Yogia: Oh that’s probably a leech, that’s good luck, they’ll suck out your bad blood. Amy: Ugh, okay, is the leech still there? Men: no, it seems to have fallen off. Amy: Great, let’s never mention this again though, I don’t want to even think about it. Yogya put some sterile cotton between her toes.
We sat and looked out over the beautiful hills, corn fields and river while Yogya and the older man continued to talk. They squatted comfortably on the ground, as many people in Asia do. I tried to join them but my body just doesn’t seem to work that way. I end up having to hold myself forward with my shin muscles to avoid falling over backwards. Speaking of squatting, today was a tough day for Amy. Let’s just say that the squatty potty was her friend and that she really missed modern plumbing. And wished she’d been doing roller derby, where squatting is a regular part of life.
Someone prepared more grilled corn as a snack for us. As we sat and chatted we found out that Nar had recently been on a trip into the jungle. He went out into the jungle with some other guys for 2 months. They took nothing with them but gorkha knives and some tents, surviving off the land. A gorkha knife is very sharp, shorter than a machete; it has a notch cut out of the blade to make sure the blood doesn’t drip on your hand. My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Bear Grylls… these are the stories we read and watch and are inspired by, and here he was, living and breathing, and it was no big deal for him. There’s so much knowledge of plants and animals and survival and farming that we’ve lost in industrialized nations.
Lunch followed shortly after the snack – dal bhat accompanied by beans, more buff, and sauteed pumpkin greens. After lunch, back down to the village we were staying in, for more time hanging out at the main gathering place by the phone and the general store. Some men, women and teens hauled various loads up and down between the village and the river, back and forth, in hand-woven baskets carried on their backs with a supporting strap that wrapped up around their forehead. They were getting paid for this, 60 kg bags of rice, concrete, rocks. Everything that exists in the village has been hauled up by hand. The re bar and tin roofs and 4×8 sheets of plywood. Coils of steel wire to make a bridge across the raging river. Hauled up by hand. Astounding strength and endurance. 40 forty rounds a day for some of them, including a 72-year-old man with a leather bomber jacket. The thing is, he was having a great time, laughing and joking. He and some of the other men took a break and had a drink. It was hard work, clearly, but there was joy in it too.
For us, one meal blended into another and soon we were eating dinner with Yogya and one of our homestay families. A snack of dried buff and spicy soy beans sauteed with garlic and shallots and extra raw garlic. Lots of tea. More dal bhat; this time, the dal had black eyed peas in it. An alcoholic drink called raksi made from distilled millet, served warm with butter. People came in and out, some staying to eat, some just saying hi then leaving after awhile. Later in the meal a young man named Prem, which means love, joined us. He’s the only person in these villages who has gone to university, studying zoology, and his English was very good. It was a real joy to be able to talk with him without needing a translator. He is extremely passionate about seeing good things happen in the villages, and desires to bring educational opportunities up to his people. There was a spark and light in his eyes as he shared his passion and love.
Yogya asked us if we wanted to stay one more full day in GP and then do the hike back down plus the car ride back to Kathmandu all in one day, or split it up. We chose the latter, since it would get us into Kathmandu earlier and give us more time to process the trek and get our things together before our next long travel day to London via Doha. So tomorrow we would have a special breakfast and then head down the mountain (hill). This had already been an amazing trek. Short, hard, sweet; we want to come back and visit with these folks again. Not during monsoon season though.