The hills of Western Nepal are dotted with villages, each hosting a majority of a clan and ethnic group. Nevertheless, with migration, it is not simple to trace villages and populations, for they blend together in different towns and villages, adding to the social complexity which is Nepal.
Villages are scattered throughout the hills, rice paddies sparkling as they hug the challenging landscape.
Winding roads, linking the scattered populations, are an attempt towards modernity with heaving buses of humankind.
The roads wind along bends, rivers and paddies. Brightly decorated buses and the occasional UN jeep cross our path. Since we left Katmandu, every road westward bound was a mystery – would there be a road to travel on? We had already faced roads which had turned into unsailable rivers, having to leave visits for another time.
There are regular landslides. One day, in the far west, we left the guesthouse later than usual. Karma was definitely on our side as we later drove through two bends where there had been landslides earlier in the morning.
Fragile roads make fragile connections, yet alter the speed of life. If in the past it took three days to reach a certain village over the hills, today there was a bus which would leave one closer to one’s destination. Yes, there will still be walking and climbing but that can be counted in hours rather than days.
Nepal is not only a land in transition with daily hardships. There are smiles too along the roads, the dignity of being photographed and remembered. The roads are mostly populated by women, many of their men away, many of the men abroad, earning meager wages to send home. Modernity comes with a price.
And then there are the puzzled looks and cheeky smiles. They come in all sizes, with their different traits and ethnic features, most of them in cheap sandals, all of them wearing the required uniform – a uniform which will devour their parents’ yearly savings, a uniform which will cost more than their yearly lessons, for teachers are not always there and government books rarely arrive before the academic year is over.
I wonder why such young children must wear uniforms, why school books are not delivered on time, why lessons are such a haphazard affair. Yes, there are teachers. Yes, they do work for the government schools. Their salaries are good in relation to the cost of living. Yet, where are they?
Roads may lead to progress and development but it takes more than tar links and electric wires swinging with uncertain shedloads to establish modernity. Karma is deeply believed and respected, but it takes more than fatalism to instigate modernity.
Questions take hold of me as we travel through the unfolding of the western hills, their beauty untouched, their riddles still unanswered. Time. Perhaps Nepalese time will unfold my lingering questions.