Magic in the Hills of Nepal: Simi Gaun

January, 2008

Namaste everyone!  I am back in Kathmandu after an incredible trip to Simi Gaun.  I am going to share with you some excerpts from my journal that I wrote while I was there.  For a little bit of background, Simi Gaun is the village where probably 75% of our kitchen staff comes from.  The Pitzer program has a long relationship with the village and community, and I heard much about other students and staff who have visited.  Most of the inhabitants of Simi Gaun are of Sherpa or Tamang ethnicity.  The village is located east of Kathmandu in the Dolakha District and the village itself rests in the hills that flank Mt. Gauri Shankar.  It takes two days to reach Simi Gaun – approximately 10-11 hours by bus and then 7-9 hours of walking.  Okay, so to the good stuff:

2 January, 2008 (the day after I arrive)
I awoke at almost 7 to Boti Daai calling me to give me some black tea, sweet and hot.  I looked out from my room on the porch, with a door that closes it off from the rest of the porch but windows with neither shutters nor glass.  The hill falls away beneath the window.  Below is Monbahadur’s home.  There are no himals to be seen, but the hills rise and fall steeply in all directions.

Khaajaa (light snack/meal) is potatoes and tomato chutney – full of salt and chillis.  Yesterday walking: the river is blue/green that comes not from sky reflected but from wihtin the water itself; the sky could turn black and the water would still radiate this blue/green.  It comes from glaciers frozen to the north, and the icy strength of the glacier turns the water this color. We walk near the river, never straying far, sometimes climbing above, sometimes going right down to the edge, crossing back and forth over suspension bridges that make me catch my breath, the rush of water below makes me giddy, and I grin like a small child, delighted by the sway as I walk across.  The hills is being cut away as tunnels are blasted into them for a hydropower project, rocks are removed to build a bridge big enough for cars and a level area is created for a road.

New houses seem to spring up from the ground – stone and wood rising, taking form rapidly in preparation for the arrival of a road.

We stop at 10 am for food (rs 35 – about US$0.50 for a plate of rice, veggies and lentils, plus seconds), then later for tea.  We eat oranges that one of our walking companions offers us.  Their skins glow orange, the orange we dye these fruits in the United States to make them look delicious.  The insides of these oranges match the outside in brightness, and the fruit fills my mouth with sweetness…..

9 January 2008

It is just after 9:00 am now.  The sun streams across the fields, cutting a sliver of brightness on the wood of the balcony where I sit.  Today’s blasting has begun on the road across the river.  Lakuma (my friend with whom I am staying and with whom I came from Kathmandu) and her aamaa are cooking our food inside.  We had roasted soy beans and corn kernels for breakfast along with our sweet black tea.  Lakuma was putting a fresh coat of mud on the floor inside the house, so I decided to come outside to write.  The chickens cluck downstairs, the chicks chirp in chorus, and various roosters crow back and forth.  The morning is beautiful.  I am surely one of the luckiest people.  Sometimes I find it hard to believe that my life is real and not something someone made up for a good story…..

15 January, 2008

(remembering my last day in Simi gaun: January 11th)
I wake up early to fetch wood with Daaphure Daai (one of the cooks for the program; Lakuma’s dad) and his wife.  We climb up above the village to the place where prayer flags wave gently in teh breeze.  The crack of wood being chopped echoes around us in teh trees.  You can see down to the gumpa (Buddhist temple) below.  The three of us collect wood and Daaphure Daai’s wife arranges it for me in the basket that I carry, a strap across my forehead places the weight on my head and neck.  I carry a meager load, hardly worthy of its own transportation.  We stop and have chiyaa at Nima Daai’s (another cook for Pitzer).  We return home for food – rice and a gravy/sauce made of potatoes, chillis and greens.  Lakuma and I head to a “mela” which is a gathering of people from the community to work in one family’s fields tilling and readying them for the next crop.  The family hosting the event provides everyone with tea, chiang (a very milky mild alcohol made of fermented millet), khaajaa (usually potatoes with a spicy chutney) and then a main meal that is usually made of millet flour cooked with water into a paste and served with a watery sauce.  I feel weary today, less energy than I have had other days.  Around noon I leave to make my way to my friend Pasang’s house to see the puja (worship) that is being conducted for the well-being of the family.

When I arrive at Pasang’s, I go first into the kitchen where his aamaa serves me tea.  After tea and conversation, I go to watch the puja.  It is being conducted in a room that is separate from the main house.  I enter carefully, not wanting to interrupt.  Four men of varying ages read Tibetan mantras from brown and crackled prayer books, which must have a name but I don’t know it.  The youngest of the four moves aside to make room for me next to him on the bed on which he and another man sit.  The four men stop to talk with me.  I notice none wear monk’s robes.  Later when I ask Pasang about it, he tells me that here, lamas (monks) may marry and live life as other men do.  Pasang’s aamaa passes in and out of the room topping up the cups of sugar tea and then salty Tibetan tea made with butter and salt instead of milk and sugar.  After some time, she calles me inside the house where she insists I have some roxi (locally distilled alcohol made from millet) which she sweetens with honey collected from the bees that live in the rafters of her house.  The chiang is milky and so sweet with the honey….

So a couple of little windows into my experience.  It was an incredible trip.  Possibly my best two weeks in Nepal so far.  Smile.  I continue to be good.  A little anxious about the approaching move to Kalimpong, although I have not heard anything from anyone at work for a while…..

Anyway, thinking of all of you and hoping you are well.

Love and peace,
Thandiwe

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About Thandiwe

Hopeful cynic, creative, seriously silly, lover of people and places, hypocrite, third-culture kid, queer, life-long learner, white woman, Christ follower, outdoor enthusiast: I am a seeker of justice and truth who has re-found my spiritual home in progressive Christianity. I serve as the Associate Pastor at a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation near the mountains of Colorado where I live with my beloved.
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One Response to Magic in the Hills of Nepal: Simi Gaun

  1. thandiwe says:

    Located in the middle hills of central Nepal in the Dolakha district, the village of Simi Gaun nestles on a hillside in the Rolwaling Valley, three days travel from Cho Rolpa, a glacial lake in the region. To the north rises the mighty peak of Gauri Sankar (23,406 feet). The majority of the families living in Simi Gaun speak Sherpa or Tamang, many speak both. All also speak the country’s lingua franca – Nepali. Folks make their living subsistence farming and the primary crops include potatoes (some of the most delicious in the world, by my rating), millet and corn. Chicken and goats are raised for meat, and cows primarily for the fertilizer they provide. The people largely practice Tibetan Buddhism, and a beautiful monastery has been built on the hillside alongside the school, which offers tuition through grade five. After this time, children have to attend school in Chhechet, where they board in other people’s homes during the week instead of making the two-hour each way walk every day. Many of Simi Gaun’s youth have moved to Kathmandu or Pokhara in search of education and work. The most common work is in the trekking industry, where young men and women face the difficult and at times dangerous task of portering luggage for wealthy, and often foreign, tourists. Although a road is currently being built that would reach the village located two hours (by foot) below Simi Gaun, as of my last time visiting, the road was a six hour walk downhill from Simi Gaun (and the return journey uphill took about 10 hours). Everything in Simi Gaun was either made there or carried in. I have had the privilege to visit Simi Gaun three times now. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.

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