WHERE : Bhojpur District, Nepal WHEN : March 2014 OBJECTIVE : Bringing Worlds Together DISTANCE : 3 Days' Walk CLASSIFICATION : Walks, Wheels (Jeep)
When I stumbled huffing out of the forest and into Kot Village one year ago, I was the first outsider to do so. It was my Dr. Livingstone moment, however brief. Bhojpur Bazaar—the administrative center of the district and a four- to six-hour walk away—had seen a few: NGO reps, post-Civil War UN officials, I even heard tale of an anthropology grad student from a decade earlier. But Kot? No. My friend Pramod had sent me here not merely to show me the authentic Nepal, but also because he wanted an honest assessment of whether Westerners would appreciate his village as a trekking destination.
To his mind, a trek without constant Himalayan views might be “disappointing” to outsiders, but he hoped otherwise. He wanted to make an small economic impact on his village by bringing carefully selected groups into this pristine area.
If you’ve been anywhere in Nepal, you know what an impact it makes. If you’ve been in a village off the trekking routes, with a local as guide or host, you’ve had a fundamentally more powerful encounter. If you’ve been dropped in the middle of the jungle alone, your mind has been blown wide open, along with everything you thought you knew about the world and your place in it. Mountain views or no mountain views, Kot Village is a place of wonder.
Which is what I told Pramod, as I began to make a careful list of potential visitors. After several iterations and lots of scheduling SNAFUs I had a group of five outlanders: two Germans—Hartmut and Guntram, brothers, and friends from my time at University in Cologne; Mike—a scary fellow from the American Midwest who plays trumpet and likes goat statues (about which, no further details will follow); Zach—my skydiving friend and former roommate, whose generosity helped get me to Nepal in the first place; and me—citizen of my over-active imagination, with No Fixed Address. Rounding out the team would be Pramod (visiting his family for the first time in several years) and Deepak, our driver.
Things started with a few days in Pokhara (always surreal when world’s collide), and then we flew to Kathmandu for the annual mega-event Mahashivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva. More than a million people descend on the Nepali capital for this event, many of them stoned Hindu holy men—sadhus—whose ganja use is legally permitted during the festival (and tolerated always).
For me, the rest of the trip (long, soul-crushing jeep ride notwithstanding) was a dream come true: a chance to share Kot with a special group of friends. You’ll have to ask them what they took away from it—what impact it had. From my perspective, I brought four first-timers not just to Nepal (already a big step), but to the deepest, truest heart of Nepal. I introduced them to wonderfully sophisticated, bright and engaging people whose lives are simply not what is presented to us in school, or on television, or by the technocrats who want to “develop” this way of life into oblivion, “for their own good.”
But that sounds too heavy. And though it is all true, in the moment it wasn’t like that (it never is). It was the uncomplicated, simple pleasure of human connection.
March 15, 2014
INFORMATION ON PHOTOGRAPHS
[– Images in this post from Zach Lewis. © Zach Lewis. All Rights Reserved.
One of the highlights of this visit was a side-trip to the highest of Nepal’s Middle Hills, Temke. At 3010 meters (9,875 feet) it would count as a mountain in most of the world. But this is Nepal. Here it’s a hill. Well, it’s quite a large hill nonetheless, and for those of us without Nepali legs the hike is strenuous. Our hosts believed we would be the first non-Nepalis to sit atop this famous hill–a belief I later learned was incorrect. We did, however, join a very select group of outsiders to visit here and witness the spectacular views. In the large featured image above, I am the tiny foreground detail with the entire Sagarmatha (Everest) Massif behind me. Everest is visible, many many miles away.
From Temke Hill, you can see China to the northeast, India to the east and south, and limitless vistas of Nepal in every direction. It was a stunning highpoint to our trip–literally and figuratively.
The traditional Nepali home in the teaser image is where my friends and I spent the night on our 10-hour hike up the hill. My friends had the freshest chicken of their lives (as in, selected live, butchered, then cooked for our dinner), and we had wonderful conversations around a wood fire until the wee hours.