Since the last few months, I have been in contact with Manu, a student (MA) of Conflict Studies and Human Rights from Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Thanks to Carola, a friend with whom I had worked few months earlier, he contacted me after he read her thesis.
At first, he sent me his research proposal and requested help to find interpreter/translator. After an exchange of few emails, I expressed my interest to work with him for primary reason that it would be inter-disciplinary experience for me and for secondary reason that I could have a job after I finished MA courses in my university. I thought it could give me an opportunity to learn about his discipline and at the same time, I also could utilize my knowledge of psychology for his research. And of course, travelling and meeting new people was there!!
After some negotiations, we decided to team up and conduct the research project on ‘Limbuwan Movement’ exploring how they justify their violent means to meet the political ends (demand for regional autonomy). As we negotiated, I almost said to him, “Man, you are like Nepali bargaining a lot and asking for discount.” He did convince me and cut down on the amount that I had asked as a salary but I did not want to let go of a chance of inter-disciplinary work experience. He had said that he was just a student and did not have a lot of money. I appreciated his sincerity and the way he was frank about it. We mostly think that all Europeans are rich but the fact is that wherever in this world, it is not easy to make money. At last, I decided to say YES as I thought it would be good to help him.
On 3rd April, we left Kathmandu late afternoon. Before that, earlier in the morning, I met with Mary Crawford, professor emirate of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Connecticut. As planned, we had a brief ‘psych’ talk for about an hour and I thanked her for meeting me. She has been to Nepal for many years (since 1977) and conducting research (in 2005 as Fulbright scholar), esp. on sex trafficking in Nepal (see her book: SEX TRAFFICKING IN SOUTH ASIA: TELLING MAYA’S STORY for more). I always feel great to meet researchers who have conducted study in Nepal. I sincerely admire their dedication and commitment to knowledge production on Nepali issues.
The bus left late as expected (NO SURPRISE) but we were there on time. It was raining hard. It was cool. We would be on the road for the next 16 hours, from Kathmandu to Birtamodh. I tried to sleep but it was in vain. The motion of bus and the music (speaker just opposite to my seat) was good enough to let fall asleep. Anyway, I was loving it, the travel to Eastern Nepal. I have been to Ilam back in 2006 while I was working in CAAFAG research at TPO Nepal. This time we were going even further, higher than Ilam.
The next day, we reached to Birtamodh. It was raining even there and the temperature was pretty high. We were in tarai part of Eastern Nepal. We had to change bus from there to Phungling (district headquarter of Taplejung). We quickly bought the tickets and waited to recontinue our journey to reach our destination. But again we had to wait for few hours. This bus left even late than an earlier bus in Kathmandu. It was interesting that people were much relaxed and seemed to be waiting as if they had all the time in the world.
I tried to read a book I had taken, ‘Out Here in Kathmandu’ by Mark Liechty. I took it as I was travelling out of Kathmandu, away from it. But after reading just few pages, I put it back in my bag thinking it is worth the better time. It was getting hot, the rain had stopped. We were still waiting for bus driver and conductor. They were the VIPs. Finally, the bus left. We had been informed that we would have to sleep a night at Fidim and re-continue bus travel next day early morning. The clever conductor recommended us a hotel which was not good. He seemed to have a contact there. I was so tired that I did not care what it was like, I laid back on the bed as I entered the room. He went out and came back after a while happily saying, “I found better room for us, also cheaper”. We immediately left for it. Indeed, it was way better and I was happy that I would be able to get some good sleep. After dinner, I tried to turn on my mobile but I realized that the battery had died and now, I would not be able to have contact. In a way, I had a sense of relief. I sometimes crave to be all alone by myself and this was my chance (at least away from regular contacts).
05 April: We reached Phungling in the afternoon. Just as we were standing at bus park after arrival, one guy came and started talking with us. He got interested because he saw a kuire with me. Later, he told me he is interested in a tourist line. It was funny that many people thought I was Manu’s guide. I could not help laughing at times when people asked me, “Are you a guide? How much buck do you make? ” I was cool, I preferred to say that we were just friends.
Manu was a chain-smoker and interesting person. I liked talking with him about different topics that just came up. However, he was very nervous and tensed about his research project as he himself was inexperienced (he switched his major from History to Conflict Studies) and he was receiving very little help from his supervisor. I was surprised at that, I thought it mostly happened in Nepal only. He had 2 months to do research and 2 months to write thesis. But he was very worried from the very beginning. I tried to calm him down saying, “Man, we have not yet started. Everything will be alright. Take it easy, the Nepali way!” But I was wrong, the things did not turn up to be right though it was Nepali way. We did few interviews. We tried to transcribe it but the power-cuts interrupted. We could not meet the key informants in the next few days. The leaders were busy in political activities in the villages. He was worrying even more. A final blow at a meeting with Elderly Limbu man (claimed to have participated in World War II) and that was it. He decided to cancel the field work and return back to Kathmandu. I felt sorry for him. Shit happens! However, I supported him in his decision and encouraged him to start fresh back in Kathmandu.
In the evenings, I loved having tongba (local warm beer) in the hotel we were staying in. Since the day we arrived, it had been raining mostly so, it was pretty cold. They had nice tongba, good to warm up and go to sleep after dinner. In the mean time, we were meeting with other people who were visiting Phungling on their way to Pathibhara devi temple. It was the season of pilgrimage to the temple which was located above 3500 m. I was getting curious to see it myself. One day, one of the guys, a Newar from Dharan, who had just been there showed me the pictures. I thought this is wonderful, it is worth going. I asked Manu if he was interested but he politely declined. I understood he was concerned about his thesis more than anything else at that time.
I told him that I was interested to go that place. After all, we had travelled 2 days to reach this place so, I thought why don’t I walk just one more day to reach there. He returned Kathmandu immediately and I headed to Pathibhara. I was alone but it was a very good feeling. It was liberating as I had been struggling since the past few months to let go the past that imprisoned my present and blocked my view of the future. Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief.
09 April: Early morning, I carried light backpack and started the hiking. I was excited and thrilled to go there all alone by myself. I missed my friends who would have loved to join me. Anyway, I thought, sometimes such experience is also good, travelling alone.
Walked through the forests for over five hours. Met very few people on the way. After talking with some people who lived there, I realized I had missed the way that people usually take. They told me that I was taking a shortcut if I did not get lost! Finally, I saw a path leading out of the forests. I had reached the place called Deurali, till where the vehicles could come in a gravel road. After this place, people had to go on feet. I had missed a jeep (local transportation) by just 5 minutes in the morning. Many people come in reserved vehicles.
Just as I reached there, I noticed a lot of people walking towards Pathibhara and some returning. After sometime, I met a girl from Ilam which whom I walked all the way to the thulo phedi; it was very nice company, she was frank and had a great sense of humor. Many people thought we were the couple. She had walked ahead of her parents and brothers. She was so talkative that I did not realize that we had walked together for about 4 hours and reached the place that we would be staying for a night before we headed up to the temple the next morning.
Stayed overnight at a lodge in thulo phedi in a big common room which contained several beds where depending upon the bed size, many people slept together. Luckily, I got the single bed. However, I could not sleep well as there were a lot of people and the noise. And at night, there were lighting and thunders which scared the hell out of me and woke me up for three times. I had a severe headache because of the altitude. It was raining all night. She and her family also happened to stay there. Around 3 am, I woke up and stayed in bed pretending to be asleep, listening to others’ conversations. She was also talking.
10 April: At 6 pm, I became fresh and started to go up. It was about to rain. I was worried. If it rained I would have to use my broken umbrella. After walking up for about 2 hours, it started pouring down. I somehow managed to save myself from rain using my poor umbrella.
After sometime, to my surprise, it started snowing. Wow! It was wonderful. After the next 3 hours, we reached the highest point of that place where the temple was located. It was still snowing, it was very cold. My hand felt like a hard stone, I could barely move my fingers but I kept taking pictures like a hungry person enjoying the food.
After visiting the temple, I came towards the entrance. The snowing stopped. Just then, I met her again. I had been up there for about an hour. She had probably just made it there. We started taking pictures again. It was all foggy and the visibility was low. I was missing the Kangchenjunga. I wished I could see it. Fortunately, after the snow stopped, the view became clear. The clouds and fog disappeared. There, I saw it- the Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world with an elevation of 8,586 m (28,169 ft).
It was for just few minutes and again it was all white. It was the euphoric moment, hard to translate into words. At that moment, I felt like I was in a paradise. It felt like a miracle to be alive.
After about hour and half or so, I headed back down. It became foggy again. It was getting very cold and I got scared of dying frozen there. I came down with the group of boys and the dog was following us. I was surprised to see birds and dog up there. Wondered about the magic of nature, they were simply protected by nature herself.
Reached back to the lodge, had breakfast, sat near fire for sometime. I decided to walk back without wasting any time as I had to reach to Phungling on time and had to catch a bus back to Birtamodh, and then Kathmandu, early next day.
On the way back, I met and talked with a lot of people. Wonderful thing about travelling in rural Nepal is that people are really nice and they are very helpful. They are willing to stop by to have brief conversations to tell about the place and their lives.
After walking for over 6 hours, I reached to Phungling and I went back to the same hotel we had stayed before. I had left my stuffs there. Got the same room, it was a cozy night after walking for 2 days continuously. Before dinner, had one more tongba and sukuti. It was great. Taplejung is popular for them.
Early next day, I caught the bus to Birtamodh. Amusingly, it was set to leave on time. Had I been few minutes late, I could have missed it. Nepali way- always full of surprises. I happened to return in the same bus that we had taken to come there. The conductor of the bus was an interesting man. He always managed to take the full fare from the passengers who bargained and asked for the discounts upon the rate. The good thing about that bus was that they did not stop often to put in a lot of people. It just went on and on. I had a side seat which was not comfortable but I was grateful that at least I had it to come all the way there to see the mountains.
The woman and her small son sitting next to me were puking all over the journey. I forgot the count of times she puked. That made me feel sick as well at first but then I got used to it. So many people in the bus were puking that the conductor was tired of distributing them plastics to throw up. He remarked, “aaja ta mero kam plastic badne rahechha, paisa uthane kata kata.” He was very humorous. Once, it got so funny with what he said when we went to pee on road side, “Saathi ho aa aafno gun sojyaun hai! (Friends, let’s hold our guns out!)” At bus stops, where passengers have breakfast (khanna), I noticed they (bus staffs) are treated very special. They get the nice set of food and even drinks at night, all for free.
Upon reaching at Birtamodh after about 10 hours, I caught the last bus to ktm and I travelled all night back home.
12 April: I reached Kathmandu the next morning. I was very tired. Mom was surprised to see me back but happy. I was supposed to be away for 2 months but I was back within less than 2 weeks. The next day was the new year 2069, I celebrated it with my friends. It felt so good to be back after that hiking.
Random recollections of the Journey!!