Quest for the home in hills of the Village and Hospitals and Schools of the City

Anup Joshi
Quest for the home in hills of the Village and Hospitals and Schools of the City

 ‘This is my home!’ The phrase echoes in my heart like a hymn. But a sparkle of skepticism hits my mind and hints me otherwise. If this is my home why was I in exile since the onset of my teenage? Why cannot I settle here forever and have arrived now like a guest? Why have I been living in the congested city room, thirsty for a beam of sunlight so long when my ancestral home is left alone with two souls who are too old and sick to care for themselves? Why am I in hurry to tow my family to the city with me where human beings exceed the molecule of oxygen in number? Why am I running from hills my ancestors worshiped and forests my forefathers found life in? I am bewildered and everything looks fuzzy.
Dashain drags many people like me who are living in city for job and education back to the village once a year. Our neighbors from the village who have triumphantly purchased land and house in the city never return, not even during festivals. But we, who cannot afford a house or family life in the city, leave our family in the village and remain in the city for the job we hold. Most of the youths, after acquiring passports, travel to work in gulf countries with the promise to send remittance for their poor families.
I left for Biratnagar after finishing my primary education, stayed there with my sister for seven years until I finished my intermediate education and since then I am studying for my master’s degree in Kathmandu. Many of my friends left the village that year. Sushil migrated with his family to Chitwan, and now is in Australia. Kumar and his siblings are studying in Kathmandu like me and their parents are still living in the village. The same village which used to be full of people and merriment, looks like a graveyard even during festive times. There is not even a single new house build up in last decade and houses which once sheltered joint families with children playing on the lawn and adults working in the field are now empty, withering. The whole landscape is now covered with shrubs growing wildly and the fields which used to produce muris of rice are now barren.
It was the seventh Fulpati day of Dashain when flowers and plants are welcomed, escorted with tingling bells and blowing of conch shell inside home from the holy Mashto, a mini-temple of Lord Vishnu constructed for the plantation of tulsi in a part of everyone’s lawn. I usually had been spending my days, staying at home, watching films and TV series on my laptop. I had just finished reading A Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami and the quest of the narrator to the mysterious Dolphin hotel followed by the voyage to the surreal mountains with his ‘girlfriend’, to search for the strange sheep with star-shaped birthmark for the sake of his lost friend ‘Rat’, was reverberating on my mind. Having lived out of home from a very early age, I have no connection with the villagers and their ways. Almost all of my former friends have left village for good and I have no acquaintances to talk to. It was already a week of my arrival and I had not ventured beyond the premises of home even for an hour. So, after lunch, I decided to go to Tilahar Bazaar, which is an hour walk from my home Ramchowk and is the capital of our Chiti VDC. Unlike Ramchowk, Tilahar is a small bazaar mostly crowded with vendors and buyers. There is a police station, a higher secondary school and a health post.
Suddenly I had an encounter with two of my former friends, Paras and Kedar who had arrived a day before from Kathmandu for celebrating Dashain. We were so happy at the reunion after two years. Kedar told how rapidly the number of students was dropping in the government school there. Paras, who was working in a microfinance company in Beshisahar suggested for a hiking to Hile Taksar. The distant beautiful hill where I had always aspired to tread, was mounted with the communication tower erected by Telecom which was visible from Tilahar. And the shame is that I have not been to any other parts of my district, not even to the popular Ghale Gau and Lamjung Durbar, of which friends in the city always inquire in the beginning of the conversation to me when I tell them where I am from. And I am always ashamed to admit my indifference to Lamjung. Though I had always wanted to go see Hile Taksar, a neighboring VDC, it was hard for me to accept Paras’ proposition as it would take two to three hours on foot to reach there, the way was highly uphill and of course we would have to return home by evening. Moreover, my bulky stomach and stout figure is always a hindrance when it comes to walking. But I could not refuse Kedar’s strong approval.
            We started our journey through the pine forest. It was a sunny day and the tender wind was blowing swiftly. The needle-like withered leaves of pine were lying everywhere on the ground. The pine trees with green leaves made the scenario quite dreamy. I remembered how we used to play chipleti by gathering bouquets of pine leaves and rode on them by crawling from the sloppy ground. We would strike with stem of the pine tree and again start crawling from above lodging on a cloud of pine leaves. It used to be the funniest thing during those days when I was studying sixth grade in the school of Tilahar. As we crossed the pine forest, we had to travel through narrow stairs of the hill, which was paved with stones. But the path seemed rustic and there was no mark of maintenance. When I had climbed few stairs, my breathing would rush up and my head would spin with dizziness, heart beating in the speed of fastest music. Paras, being a microfinance employee, had a lot of walking experience and faced less difficulty on walking but Kedar, who was an engineering student in Pokhara, was similar to me though he was comparatively thinner. We were talking about all things, getting nostalgic about the childhood memories and were taking rest under a tree once in a while. We have a saying that when you have interesting friends to accompany you, you can walk a hundred miles and forget you are walking. Kedar told how wonderful it would be to live in the village amid beautiful nature and healthy air, had there been employment, education opportunities and better road access. I told him that infrastructure of development was the only thing that propels us to the city.
My parents, both above sixty, are sick. Mother has glaucoma, high blood pressure and diabetics. Father has severe back pain and uric acid. Left alone in village, what can we do when they fall seriously sick at once? There is no family and hospital nearby. Though my parents prefer village life over lousy hectic urban life, it is a nightmare to leave them alone in a village. What will happen if there is any emergency? And yet, we have no other way.
After walking about an hour, all soaked up in sweat, I felt as if it would be better to return in spite of the beautiful vegetation we were observing. But I kept the thought to myself. There was a kuwa on the way, from where we drank water. After drinking the cold and tasty fresh water sprouting from the mud there, I felt all my tiredness fade away to oblivion just in a second, and I was ready to walk again.
            Now we were high above from Tilahar. We could see the bazaar and houses as a tiny entity that would fit on our palm. On the other side, we could see Middle-Marshyangdi dam which produces around seventy Megawatt electricity. It was a beautiful spectacle, river Marshyangdi flowing between two giant steepy hills. Everything that existed lay below us, except for a hill that we were climbing. Far at the ether, we could also see many other hills one piled up with other. Up to now we did not see any village or human settlements on the way. But we encountered a primary school now. There was no one around the school as it was Dashain vacation. The school was a one storeyed, rectangular, cement-plastered building with six rooms. There was a tap in the school premises and we drank from it. We washed our faces and felt anew.
            Kedar wondered why our ancestors preferred to live on the top of the hill. Had they settled and bought land in plains of Bhotewodar or Besishahar, we would have been richer now. Paras argued they chose to reside on top of the hill because the swiftest air flowed on hills. Being amid such natural phenomenon, our ancestors could feel themselves more alive.  Also, they might have chosen hills for defense mechanism. They could roll stones from top of village and utilize force of gravity to defy those who come to attack.
            It was around eleven am when we started to hike uphill and now it was more than one pm. We could see Telecom tower approaching nearer and nearer. The major trees we could see were called Saal, Sishau, Chilaune, Bakaino in colloquial language. Most of the uncultivable places were filled with grass called khar from which villagers could construct roof coverings. There were many Chautaro on the way, a sanctuary of Banyan and Peepal tree where travelers could rest and the fresh breeze of the mountains would sweep away their weariness. We walked across fields covered with finger millet. Slowly, the village started to appear. There were shepherds rearing cattle on the grassland. There were children swaying on a ping cheering with ecstasy. Ping is the most prominent cultural sport to be played during Dashain.
            Finally, we reached Hile Taksar village around two pm. We saw a holding board which stated the altitude of the place to be 1700 meters above sea level. There were many homes, located near to each other. The village was mostly habituated by Gurung community. I was very amazed to see organization of the village. I had thought that being at the higher altitude untouched by motorway, the place must be very rural. But opposite to my expectation, the village was much developed and organized than my village Ramchowk, located way below from here. The paths were clean and there were dustbins in every fifty meters or so. Drinking water supply system seemed excellent as we witnessed many community taps on the way. We also have community taps in my village but water comes only during mornings and there is no nozzle on tap to turn off water when not in use as nozzles are vandalized once mounted. But Hile Taksar had 24 hours water supply. My village is mostly habituated by Brahimns and Chhetris and there is no unity at all. Arrogance and humility rule residents. Roads are filled with plastics, drainage and our field are barren. But Gurung people who live communal life seem to have better unity here for the development of their village. No land was seen uncultivated. Millet filled the fields this time of year. We also witnessed most of the houses producing local alcohol called jaad  from millet as it is the customary drink of Gurungs. They produce jaad via distillation process and large amount of wood is consumed for this.
            We met an older man named Balbahadur Gurung. He was around seventy years old, yet strong. He was ploughing the field audaciously for the plantation of seasonal green vegetables: cabbage and cauliflower. He showed gratitude for visiting his village. The highest point of the hill which was our destination was twenty minutes above as per his suggestion. He said that his youngest son has recently joined British army. Other children are also away, some abroad and some living in cities. He lives with his wife and an unmarried daughter who was helping him in plantation. His youngest daughter-in-law lives at Bhotewodar for the schooling of his grandson who studies at class two. My village also has similar situations. Most of the sons are away and daughter in-laws are living in nearby city area for educating their children as there is no English school near village and the education system of government schools are considered unproductive. We thanked the old man for his courtesy and leaped forward to our journey.
            We found a small shop on the way and ate noodles and chatpate there. We realized how hungry have we grown from the long walk. It was quarter to three when we reached top of the hill. There was a small temple there. We paid our visit. Then weary from the walk, we relaxed by lying on the lawn for minutes. The sky was clear except for some clouds and the sun was not very strong. We could observe 360-degree view of hills, villages, Marshyangdi and Dordi valleys around as well as superb views of glittering Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II, Himjuli, Boudha Himal, Manaslu Himal and many other mountainous ranges. The clouds around the mountain were so dynamic that we could see cloud enveloping mountain in a second and on the next second, the same mountain would glitter clearly with a silvery smile. I felt the sky so close to me. It was like heaven. It was pure miracle. I had never imagined there could be such a wonderful place just above my village. Paras had a digital camera and we took several photos. High above everything that lay below, the place was serene and we could hear the song of our heart. We were overjoyed with feeling of salvation and redemption. Kedar opined that if transportation and lodging facilities were extended, Hile Taksar could be a hub for the tourism in future. But Paras resented the idea. He wanted the place to be left in wilderness. If buses and tourist overcrowd this place, it will be identical to villages around Kathmandu like Nagarkot and Dhulikhel, which are losing their beauty due to increasing pollution. Garbage will mount this place and further settlement will wipe forests clean. I could not disagree with him. Our model of development in Nepal have been proved very dangerous to nature and vegetation.
            We left Hile Taksar at quarter to four pm. It was five thirty when we reached Tilahar. The way was downhill and was not as difficult as earlier. We had to rest at very few chautara than before. The sun also traveled towards the edge of the hill along with us. At Tilahar, the sun nearly bid us farewell. I saw above in the direction of Hile Taksar, there was the Telecom Tower a thousand miles away. We triumphed for have trodden on the apex of the hill where we always fixed our envious eyes down from here. Paras and Kedar had their home at nearby village of Tilahar, but I still have to walk around half an hour downhill to reach my village. We bid farewell to each other and planned to visit other parts of our district together on this homestay. On the way to home, there was no pain on the foot, there was no trace of weariness even though I had walked for the whole day. Everything was peaceful, calm. I had started to climb uphill to Taksar with half heart and now I was returning with a complete heart.
             Paras returned to his job soon after Dashain. But it was one month vacation up to Chhaith for Kedar and me. We visited Lamjung Durbar after Dashain. We went to the shores of Dordi and swam where the water was shallow. Ate oranges which were beginning to ripe at Syaut. We saw the harvesting of rice in Besi. River flowed through my nerves. Sway of leaves and chirping of birds filled my ears. My home felt so real to me this time. I felt unlucky for having lived so many years away from my place, like in exile. Yet by Chhath, the exile was destined to continue. I traveled Kathmandu like a mother leaving her little baby aside.

Three months have passed since I returned from Lamjung now. I am overwhelmed by the number of likes and comments I am receiving on my profile picture in Facebook, which was taken at the lap of Hile Taksar with glittering mountain behind my blissful face. Last month, mother visited Kathmandu for her regular checkup. Doctor observed her intraocular pressure is increasing, gradually leading to glaucoma. He has prescribed a bag of eyedrops and insulin-injections for high diabetics. In phone conversation, father tells of his increasing backpain and joint pain. In his voice, I sense deliberation to stay around his children, though he tries his best to conceal it. Now I need to find a good job to afford my family’s life here in the city as soon as possible.
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About Anup Joshi

Anup Joshi is an emerging young writer searching for space in Nepali literature. He writes poems, stories and lyrics for songs. As a student of English literature he loves reading books. He is also a passionate photographer and enjoys travelling.
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