Seventeen years ago I spent a week at the village of Dhola, Dhading. It is situated high up the Himalayas in the Annapurna and Manaslu Mountain range in the mid-western Nepal at an altitude of 1210 m above the sea level.
This is where my guide from 2006, Puru, came from. That visit was an amazing insight into Nepalese village and family life. I stayed in a small mud house with no electricity: the water was collected from a communal tap 10 minutes walk from the house, which was also the bathing and clothes washing place. The toilet was a hole in the ground just outside the house. I slept up a ladder, above a buffalo, and a small herd of goats.
The family had 4 daughters as well as Puru, the only prized son. Puru had gained a government scholarship that enabled him to have a tertiary education in Kathmandu. He had used it well, was very ambitious and was just starting his own guiding company.
The family lived a subsidence life, growing all their food and having very little material possessions, making it a humbling experience for me. The girls worked hard from dusk to dawn, collecting water, firewood and food for the animals, washing clothes, weeding the crops, and feeding the family. The men seemed to sit around drinking tea and talking. Puru did explain that the men did the plowing, milked the buffalo, and cut down the biggest trees.
Last time, I was only the second tourist to come to visit so everyone stared at me, many were quite frightened and very shy. They didn’t know what I was doing with my camera and were very surprised to see images of themselves on the screen. At first, they recognised their friends but not themselves as no one even had a mirror. Then they were all keen to be in a photo.
I remembered the local school was very basic. I donated some money to build a library and fill it with books.
A huge fuss was made of this with a day of ceremony attended by the whole community, and a goat was sacrificed in my honor. ( I had a very bad bowel experiences after eating the entrails, but that is shitty old story!)
I have always been keen to go back and see how things had changed and find the people who I had taken photographs of last time. So I printed about 60 of them and had them in an album. Unfortunately the printer man cut the old photos from my phone, so I can’t add many here for comparison at this stage.
Roll forward 17 years.
I contacted Puru, who now runs a very successful guiding company. He provided the guide, Basu and Porter, Ram, for our Annapurna Circuit trek.
Basu was from the same village as Puru and is married to one of Puru’s sisters named Bimala. Therefore, he was the perfect person to take me back to Dharding. Ram was also from the same area. In my little photo album, I had a photo of a younger Basu and photos of his wife Bimala with her family.
Basu and I took another 6 hour bus trip from Kathmandu to the village. It wasn’t so bad as I think I am getting quite used to the bus service and roads.
This time, the bus stopped right at his door when last time we walked a couple of hours to reach the area. I was very excited to be returning to a place that had good memories for me.
On arrival, I had the traditional Nepalese welcome from Basu’s wife Bimala. A tika (red dot) was placed on my forehead, and a garland of flowers draped around my neck.
Then Bimala asked me if I could do a TikTok with them. So I could see that life here now is a real mixture of the old and new. Over the next couple of days many TikToks were made with me on them. I was dressed in a saree and have become a TikTok star. I am sure all the views are people laughing at me and my funny dancing.
The family included 14 year old girl, Binisha, and 8 year old boy, Aayan. Their eldest daughter, 18 year old Ahupa arrived back from her private boarding school on my second day there. She is studying engineering and like her sister, has really good English. The third daughter is studying science in Kathmandu.
Being a trekking Guide provides a good source of income for a few months of the year but leaves the rest of the family at home to keep the farm going.
Basu’s house is a 2 story concrete building with 3 bedrooms, a toilet and shower room downstairs and a kitchen and living area upstairs. There is also a large balcony with a covered outdoor fireplace for cooking. Close by is the original mud home that they started married life in and where all their children were born. It now houses the goats and chicken and is used to store corn, etc. They have electricity and running water. We’ll some of the time! When it rains on the early evening, the power goes out, and the internal plumping doesn’t always work. The females were up at 5 am carting water upstairs in the .old pots
Over the last 17 years the government has had a rural electrification program which now sees most of Nepal having electricity powered by small Micro Hydropower Plants (MHPs) throughout the country. This has been no mean feat knowing how mountainous and populated this country is. Many villages are high up in the hills, houses are spread out, perched on steep slopes inaccessible by even the toughest 4WD jeeps. Much of the materials and equipment needed had to be carried in by hand or rough roads built first. The supply is not completely reliable especially during rain but is better than nothing.
Basu’s family used the power for lighting, pumping water, and charging the cell phones. They had a gas bottle in the inside kitchen for cooking. I was very well fed, probably too well fed. They would all stand and watch me eat, making sure I liked everything before going out to another room to sit on the floor and eat their food, Nepalese style, with their hands.
I spent 3 days around the village with Basu finding people from my old photos. It was fun to see the looks on their faces as they recognised friend and family from years ago, in a time when they had no access to photographs themselves. They would all crowd around, pointing out people and finding themselves.
Sadly, many of the people had died including Bimala and Puru’s mother. A mother of two toddlers found herself as a 6 year old and remembered looking at my camera in awe back then.
We visited Puru’s father who now lives alone in the same mud house that I stayed in. It definitely was missing a woman’s touch!
This time around the kids were much more at ease with me and we gathered a tribe of them as Basu and I walked around the area. Some of the kids had really good English as it is taught in all the schools now.
The school that I visited last time was damaged in the 2015 earthquake so lovely new high school is nearly completed. One of the men working there was in my photos too.
The local primary school, Baljyoti Basic School, has 50 pupils, so I bought 4 exercise / copy books and 2 pencils for each child, at the local Bizzar town on the way here. There was a visiting health nurse and doctor visiting the school, so we took this opportunity to take these to the school the second day I was there.
The very heavy bag of books was carried to the school by Bimala. I suggested that Basu should carry them, being the man, but he replied that their was women’s work. Another thing that hasn’t changed!
All the mothers were also coming to have a health lesson, which I sat through, understanding very little of what was being said, but getting the main idea.
Washing hands and feeding the family well were the main lessons. Roads and electricity have brought junk food to the villages and, as with the western world, diets have been negatively affected. People are becoming over weight and the resulting diseases are on the rise. Seventeen years ago all the food was grown locally and the people had a good plain organic diet.
I had some fun with the kids teaching them the “Heads, shoulder Knees and toes” game and then I gave out the books and pencils with a lot of ceremony, more tika and flowers from each child. They were all very appreciative of the gift.
On Saturday we walked up to the top of a hill to a temple and the place where family and friends gathered to farewell a person who had died. A new covered area had been built to provide shade and shelter for the mourners. We then wandered through the “cemetery”. Most bodies are burnt in open pits but people with some diseases such as TB are buried.