Roads winding, unwinding, winding upwards, unveiling stories and legends. Each bend brings a new chapter, a new challenge and unspoken realities.
Few Napalese come to these hills. The far West lies on the edge of imagination and the myths of a primitive world which they do not wish to return to. Distances are furthered by the cross-stiching of roads carved into the hillside; landslides a regular feature with unrelenting rain.
Tribes live here as they always have, living off the land, sustaining themselves as long as nature blesses their crops. There has been hunger here. There has been deprivation beyond words. Hence, how the struggle began and Maoists found their voice – a voice through hunger. Today fragile electricity wires hang limply throughout valleys and hills. Progress? Yes. But also frustration as electricity is rationed and darkness reigns once again.
As an observer, I fail to understand how this country’s richness has not been grasped nor exploited. There are rivers and streams everywhere. Despite the drying out of some rivers, water is a constant element on our travels throughout the far west. However, very little has been achieved in terms of hydro-development. A missed opportunity, for Nepal could turn into a possible provider of electricity to a power-hungry India.
There are other unmentioned riches here as well. Honey is deftly gathered in logs hanging from windows or under a roof. Each season brings a new taste to the honey, yet this honey is only for a family’s consumption. There has been little attempt to develop an industry from the hills’ honey. Through the rain one notices how everything grows – banana trees, rice, barley. This earth provides whatever is planted. Marijuana is no exception. Honey is often used for medicinal purposes; marijuana is a medication for the sheep and goats when they suffer from constipation. There is no lack of inventiveness here. Rivers bring fresh fish to villagers who stand in the waters with a hand-net. For those who can afford the expense, colour is added to their homes, dotting the roads with blues and greens, the occasional red.
And as always, it is the people of these hills who are the true wealth of the land. Women come and go, their baskets hanging from their foreheads, their colourful skirts and head-dresses displaying their tribes. Magars live here. Magars, the looked down tribe who wishes no participation in the 21st Century. Or so I am led to believe by other tribes who enjoy a higher social ranking.
Lives appear untouched, unchanged from ancient times. From the bending roads, one sees women, in their repeated motions and daily routines.
Is it their self-reliance, their resilience and remembrance of who they are, where they came from, and why they are here, that intimidates other upper castes and ethnic groups?
The skies suddenly clear and brilliant summer light leaves my eyes counting bright blue houses in the folds of the western hills.
I will learn more about the Magars of the Western Hill;, these people of beautiful faces and strong determination.
For now there are other roads which unfold.