Mahesh accompanies Lisa to the rice fields for a couple of days. The engineer side of him really likes the process of finding & filling the crab holes, and he takes it one step further by changing the water flow into one of the fields (basically by opening up a “hidden” source). However this new flow completely diverts the stream so it’s not ideal, especially if there is only time for a short visit to the fields. Normally we would just leave the outlets from the streams to the top fields open on those occasions – the other rice farmers would be sure to come & close them for us – but now that won’t be a viable option and also our final set of fields will not get any water! There’s a bit more investigation needed to stem the flow to this new watercourse.
One morning, Lisa and May (the dog) head to the rice fields alone, and when they are passing through the village Lisa receives an invitation to breakfast from the man who runs the tiny shop. He presents her with a banana, then finds her a chair (Nepali people generally sit on a bamboo mat on the front porch or on the ground, but they seem to think that foreign guests need chairs!). Finally he gives her a cup of masala tea (sweet and milky, yum). Another man stops by and is asking about Lisa – she manages to make out something about her being a volunteer teacher at the school – and then he sits down to enjoy a cup of tea and continue talking about her They are soon joined by one of our regular visitors, “chicken grandma” (grandma is the term used for all elderly ladies, and this one is verychatty hence the added adjective!).
On Friday, Manu & Mahesh accept an invitation to dinner at a house “up the hill”. We are going to Pokhara for the weekend and want an early start on Saturday, so we offer to stay behind and keep an eye on the school & farm. It’s kind of eerie being there on our own, and we’re not used to sleeping in the main building (although it ought to feel more secure than a bamboo hut in the woods!!) so we are aware of every little noise – and there are a lot! – not exactly a restful night. It is fun chasing up all the hens & chicks to put them to bed though, and we’re impressed that the other chickens & ducks know when & where to go to sleep!
So, five o’clock the next morning sees the intrepid pair setting out down the hill to town. It’s pleasantly cool and misty, which is lucky as it’s a two hour walk to Damauli. We totter through Beltari and pick up the section of road that is slowly being tarmacked. We eventually get to town and get a seat at the back of the bus to Pokhara (typical!). We don’t have a schedule as such but it is still a surprise when, not far outside of town, the bus stops and most of the men get out to change a tyre.
Apart from that, it’s a smooth (by Nepali standards) ride to Pokhara. We arrive in the early afternoon at the locals bus park, which means it is a fair trot from the centre of town. This is where Chris learns the danger of Nepali pavements as he manages to twist an ankle within the first few minutes of hitting town!
|Huge Newari dinner|
We enquire at a guest house only to be told that they have no room but her husband runs a place in Lakeside. He, and a friend, duly arrive on their motor bikes to pick us up and take us to the Celesty Inn. After week in a bamboo hut this room seems palatial. It has something that’s pretty close to a mattress and it has warm water. Woo hoo! We make a conscious decision to have a ‘short nap’ and then re-surface in the early evening to check out the goodies available in town. We happen upon a lovely little organic cafe that we duck into just as it starts to rain, and rain, then hail, frickin’ big hail, for about half an hour. Good call! Lisa orders an americano, the availability of which changes several times as we have a series of mini power cuts. We both have items from their bakery. It’s like food porn after so long on a daal bhaat diet. After a constitutional wander we round off the evening in the ‘Newari Kitchen’, which serves traditional Newari (Kathmandu valley) fayre. They even have a sparrows’ nest in the restaurant. Still not missing tv!
The next day we go to the Pumpernickel Bakery (one of the many ‘German’ bakeries’ in Nepal) for breakfast. We continue our food odyssey by ordering yoghurt and muesli, with two yak cheese sandwiches to take away for lunch. The bakery is right on the lakeside and has a wonderful view of the surrounding hills, with mountains in the distance, sometimes hard to distinguish from the pale clouds.
After a very leisurely breakfast we make our way to the dock and get one of the boatmen to row us across to the opposite shore of the lake, where the Peace Pagoda tops the hill. It’s a hot day and a steep climb. We bump into several groups of children on the way up and on our way down who seem overly used to tourists. The first group wants us to take their picture but then asks for money or, failing that, chocolate. There was a belligerent little fellow who demanded our sandwich and a little girl who wants us to give her a ‘writing pen’. We felt bad that these children weren’t learning a bit more pride in themselves – they probably get quite a lot of food, chocolate etc by begging and it doesn’t encourage them to work or learn in order to make their own opportunities for the future. Lisa even encountered a chocolate-begging child near Beltari one day – how he had the chance to learn that white people = handouts was anyone’s guess!
The Peace Pagoda itself is a grand affair. The original pagoda was torn down by the city government in 1973 and only rebuilt in 1992, with assistance of the Japanese and Nepali Prime Minister & Defence Minister. The Japanese have pledged to build 100 peace pagodas around the world; the other in Nepal is at Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace.
We take the more gradual route down from the pagoda and pass by the dam that gives ‘Damside’ its name. There’s much fishing and many boys swimming in the lake. It looks cool but I would hesitate to take a dip. Lisa was annoyed that girls are excluded from a lot of things in Nepal – the closest they got to swimming in the lake was standing in the shallows doing the laundry!
As there is a bandh going on, the roads are quiet and there are groups of what we later found out to be ‘strike enforcers’ hanging around. However, our real reason for being in Pokhara, the immigration office, i still open. We arrived, are asked searching questions and are told that it will cost the same to extend our visa for 3 days or 15. It’s quite a painless process though and we leave with the immigration official’s wish that we come again, maybe next year! American immigration, you could learn a few things.
That night we learn that there will be another bandh on Monday but we need to get back to school! Luckily our hotelier tells us there will be a ‘tourist bus’ leaving at 7.30am. We duly buy a ticket for that and settle in for another night in the town of brownies and milkshakes. We figure we’ll just have to make the best of it. This time we indulge in a pizza and a quasi-Greek salad. We are also treated to an alfresco film about ecology and then an unplugged session on a stage under a tree in the middle of the main street (remember, bandh equals no cars). We even see a dog sleeping in the middle of the road and a helpful stranger tells us the dogiss probably on strike too!
Early Monday morning we are following other pale people towards the tourist bus park. When we get there we see that it will be a convoy of tourist buses accompanied by police. The tourist busiss a bit of a luxury. It is spacious and has air con! Once we finally get going we are stopped several times exiting Pokhara and at each village along the way. There would be a barrier of some sort across the road (rocks, tyres, something burning) and a large group of young men. One of these gets on each bus and checks if there are any Nepalis on it (Nepalis cannot travel during the bandh and may be subject to rough treatment if found). A German fellow on our bus keeps shouting at the roadblock groups to stop “slowing us down” (personally, we think he ought to stay quiet!) but actually meets with the approval of one bandh enforcer when he shouted that our bus had been stopped and checked only two minutes before – the guy looked rather smug that the enforcement was so thorough. On one occasion a group of young children had set up their own road block too. Cute! The checkpoint in our ‘home town’ of Damauli resembled something more like a music concert – they seemed to be having fun in a good natured way. Unfortunately, the bandh also meant no bus or jeep up the hill – at least we manage to convince the “tourist bus” driver to let us off at the end of our road, but it’s still a long hot walk up the hill to the village!
That night, Mahesh and Manu are proud to show us their new invention – pupati. It’s their answer to our missing bread products, and is a pan-fried bread which is somewhere between a puri and a chapati (hence the name). They take over the kitchen and make a fantastic (although washing-up-intensive) dinner – the pupati and it’s brother, an aloo (potato) version are delicious!
Time is running short so we are trying to arrange to see everyone and do everything we wanted to do around the village. Lisa goes for a craft lesson with the grandmother of one of the students (Krishna B) on Thursday after school. It’s a really neat and quite simple craft made from “laani” (something like a thick, dried long grass – apparently it grows in the jungle) and strips of old plastic bags. Grandma shows her some finished products: a small bag, a bowl and a pot stand (maybe not for hot pots, seeing as it’s made mostly of plastic ).
Chris’ final history class is a big test for the students about what they’ve learned. He and Mahesh painstakingly wrote out 10 copies of the test, the night before (ah, for a printer or a photocopier!). The prize for the top mark is a knotted string bracelet made by none other than “Lisa Miss”, which explains why all the students in A class were admiring her wrist while she was teaching on Thursday.
The teachers also like the knotted bracelets, so we have a little “how to” class on Friday at lunchtime. It stretches out a bit longer than an hour, and the kids are restless because it’s Friday, so in the end we have a 2-hour lunch break and just 2 classes in the afternoon. Lisa manages to teach A class the rest of “Blowing in the Wind” and is really impressed with how well they remember the first verse from our lesson on Thursday! B & C classes have learned “You are My Sunshine” but are not so good at following a tune
During the last class, Lisa goes to the spring to get water and manages to carry 3 buckets at once for the first time =) This is great since it hasn’t rained for 4 days and we have no rainwater left for the pigs. In fact, all the animals are dry – some water she gave to the dog & some of the chickens earlier was very gratefully received, and one of the ducks was swimming frantically in the little pool of water which the pigs receive every lunchtime. So that evening, we decide to treat the ducks – we have always wondered why they stay on our waterless farm – and pour them a dish of water to share. You have never seen such happy ducks!!
|Lisa and her rice “weapon”, the codalo|
We have a nice chat with Mahesh over dinner and we all retire early – it will be a busy weekend for all of us, in different ways (we are travelling, and Mahesh will be alone with all the farm chores). On Saturday morning, we wake up early for our last trip to the rice fields – Chris hasn’t seen them in a while & it’s also a nice chance to say goodbye to the villagers. It’s a lovely morning for a walk and we stop for tea & biscuits at the shop house, then get a load of free cucumbers from our favourite farmer (the last of the season, apparently). Chris is impressed with the progress of the rice, and Lisa works harder than she planned to plugging up the crab holes – it’s almost 9 by the time we head back home. Consequently we miss the bus, and after packing & enjoying the breakfast that Mahesh kindly made for us, we walk down the hill to Beltari. In retrospect, walking downhill on a hot day with heavy backpacks is NOT a good idea – several days later, Lisa’s knees and Chris’ ankles are still complaining!
|In our spare time, we organised the “library”|
|His house = village shop|
It didn’t help that the next jeep from Beltari was at 5pm, so in the end we walked all the way to the highway, much to the amusement of the local folks who are far too smart to walk in the heat of the day. But at least we don’t have long to wait until a mini-bus passes by on the way to Kathmandu; and we are even more in luck that it’s a fairly comfortable mini-van with some decent tunes (mostly dance/club music, but a good change from loud Nepali or Indian music) AND the front seat is free so we are not jolted around too much =) We even stop at the tasty place that we stopped at on our way to Damauli the first time (when Chris was feeling too dodgy to eat – this time, we have some bhaji & pickle – have we mentioned how delicious Nepali pickle is??); and we stop for a toilet break at the “cable car” that goes up and over the hills – we had seen the signs and wondered what it was, and now we have a chance to have a good look. Basically it seems like an opportunity for non-hikers or those in a hurry to have a chance to enjoy some views!
Soon enough we are back in Kathmandu, and having the usual discussions/negotiations with taxi drivers about the price to our hotel. We get the price from 600 rupees down to 400 so off we clatter down the road to Thamel….
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|Our Friday pm stroll
up the hill
|These berries can be used to make ink|
|Delicious orange berries|
The main component of dinner is a chicken which is purchased from the first shop in the village (there are two, side-by-side, and diplomatically we buy some items from each). This is different from our free-range chickens at the school, as it’s a “broiler” – raised in a room with many other chickens and not much stimulation. The Nepalis in our group say that these chickens are bred especially for their meat and do not put up any fight when you kill them…but Lisa wonders how much of their docility can be attributed to their upbringing, rather than their DNA. Our chicken seems terrified to be in the open air and makes no attempt to escape even when we leave it alone, sitting on a table outside the house. It is certainly plumper & meatier than the village chickens (which are said to be “bones with a bit of meat”), but actually the flavour is not as nice and it seems easier to enjoy meat that had a happy life…
Some reflections on school life (Chris). I hadn’t expected to be doing so much teaching here. I rather thought I’d be doing various admin or manual tasks. However, being short of teachers meant we all had to get stuck in. Most of the children are really outgoing and helpful, which I have found to be true of Nepalis in general. But, like young kids everywhere they are also inquisitive and adept at distraction to get out of doing ‘boring work’. Every day is different and sometimes it is hard to keep them all engaged, especially if we are all struggling through a particularly hot an humid afternoon! But it is rewarding when you see the moment a child seems to understand a new concept or term. And, I’ve got to say that at their age (8-12) my French was nowhere near as good as their English.
In other news from around our farm: when we arrived there were 2 hens sitting on several eggs, safely nesting in the upstairs bedroom. The first hen now has her chicks – two black and two yellow. Unfortunately one of the yellow ones vanishes after a couple of days, probably the victim of a bird or a small animal. A few days later, the 2ndhen hatches 3 chicks, a matching set of fuzzy black cuties. It’s really sweet to see them all trailing around the yard with their constant clucking (mom) and peeping (chicks). It’s also quite amazing to see how quickly our older chicks have grown up – in the space of a few days they have gone from fuzzy to feathered, and they can fly now which makes them much less prone to danger & hazards.
|Nepali “local bus”|
|Main building – home for volunteers, as well as a storage for books, toys & food, and the kindergarten classroom|
|Our new house in the woods!|
|Teachers & volunteers|