A friend recently introduced me to Humans of New York, a photoblog with an enormous following on social media. Ranging from the mundane to the profound, these portraits and snippets offer brief but intimate glimpses into the worlds of others. They feed our collective craving for stories, personal tales, to hear and to share them. Not long after I came across an offshoot project called Stories of Nepal. As visitors to Ekostories might know, I’ve written a few pieces on my trip there in 2012, and even though I was in the country for all too brief a time, the people of that land have remained dear to me. Reading through some of their stories, one in particular resonated with me during this tail-end of the holiday season and calendar year. With the permission of photographer and translator Jay Poudyal, I would like to share it with you a passage by a farmer named Dulal Baje: “There was no animosity during our times. We were farmers. We were strong communities. We were families. No politics. Do you understand? …
We felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety after learning the finalized details of our volunteer placement: We were to work with and learn from the Tharu people, an indigenous group who inhabited the Terai region of Nepal. Arriving after an eleven-hour bus ride to the small town of Lamahi in Dang District, we were once again reminded of the country’s spectacular geographic diversity. This land of red dust and flat farmlands, far removed from any tourist attractions, was to be home for the following three weeks. It could not be more different than the mountain vistas of the Himalayas or the congested and bustling streets of Kathmandu.Knowing next to nothing about the land and its people, we tried to be receptive and perceptive to our surroundings and our hosts. In turn, we were rewarded with a wealth of information regarding Tharu history, culture, and worldviews and how their intimate bond with place and land has profoundly shaped their past and present relationships with nature, culture, and self.
As visitors to a foreign land and culture, we were swept away by what Nepal had to offer: Sweeping vistas, delicious fresh food, welcoming people, fascinating traditions. But once in a while, we encountered events that compel us to examine the experience presented to us not merely as temporary tourists, but as global citizens. They allowed us the opportunity to set aside our romantic notions of travel and contemplate our personal impacts on the local land and people. These moments occasionally left us feeling conflicted, but we ultimately welcomed them, for exploring the beautiful and the terrible provided a richer and more rounded representation of our time in Nepal. Our journey reminded us about the importance of being open and appreciative towards a different way and pace of life, but it also taught us that we must also exercise critical thinking and honest self-reflection while examining these experiences.
Update: With the recent earthquake in Nepal, I’m very sad to realize many of the wonderful people and places I encountered are lost forever. In memoriam. We came across many beautiful landscapes in Nepal, some shaped by natural processes, others conceived and constructed by human minds and hands. We sought to describe their beauty and the impressions they left on us.
Despite its relatively small size and landlocked location, Nepal is a staggeringly diverse country in terms of geography, ecology, and culture. Six weeks are insufficient to experience everything the nation has to offer. Nevertheless we tried our best. We sampled daily life in modern Kathmandu, trekked through the intensely beautiful Annapurna Conservation area, become immersed in the culture of an indigenous people in the mid-west plains of the Terai, and explored a myriad of unique habitats within Royal Bardia National Park. Here is the first of our stories. The writing style is inspired by one of my favourite pieces of travel literature (and a future Ekostory), The Log From the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. Like The Log, this upcoming series of essays represent a collaborative effort between my partner and I, borne out of the collective ideas, conversations, anecdotes and impressions that sprang forth from the trip. I hope they prove to be interesting and insightful.