As we made our way back from Upper Melamchi, on the trail to Thimbu, we never knew when we’d come around the corner and be faced with a cliff caused by a recent landslide. Several of the old bridges were patched, but still passable, and we even saw a very old stupa that had survived.
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On the way down to the river we stopped again at the little farm with the straw-roofed gazebo, a lovely place for a cup of tea looking out over the Melamchi valley. It was hard to believe that all seven members of the family had lived in that small gazebo until they could put up a tin shack. All around was terracing for growing sugar cane and barley. We enjoyed the tea, which had sweet buffalo milk in it and, once again, saw the brightly-feathered rooster we had seen on the way up.
Later we had lunch at another rebuilt part-tin and part-wooden house that sat alone in a field. You could see by the doors and windows that the original house had been salvaged. The distinctive thing about this house was that it was located feet away from a huge landslide. Seemed like a miracle that it had not been swept away. We all marveled at the location!
Several people joined us for noodles, spinach soup, and great buffalo milk yogurt served by a lovely young woman. As we were leaving, she proudly showed us her pet baby buffalo, hugged it, and urged it—like a proud mama—to get to its feet.
Our porters had arrived at the lunch spot earlier and washed all the pots and pans they’d used for cooking at the camping spot below Ama Yangri’s summit. The secret to keeping them from burning was to cake them with mud before each use. There they were, laid out on the shingled roof of the buffalo pen, sparkling like new!
Farther down the mountain, as we were wandering around the destroyed Milarepa’s cave and nun’s hostel, and wondering where we’d stay overnight, a local villager arrived. She was wearing a headscarf, lots of prayer beads around her neck, bloomery pants, and a filmy blouse. To feed her animals, she was cutting leaves which she carried on her back, held on with a strap across her head.
She graciously led us to a small community, where we found a room. Just getting there was a mad scramble over rocks and debris, and when we arrived we remembered that this was a once prosperous community we had passed through last year. We had lunched at a guest house here, next to a magnificent stupa… both now rubble.
There were no guest houses in the village anymore, but fortunately a family let us weary trekkers use two beds in the back of a tiny store front overlooking the valley.
This was the most barebones of any place we’d been, but the people were a treasure. I noted that all men and women dye their hair black, and when I noticed a man with gray hair, I got so excited that I tried to photograph him…but he demurred. Drat!
A three-year-old girl took to us immediately and introduced us to her two sisters, who were lying on their stomachs on a large pad right in the middle of the path that ran through town, studying their lessons. All the rebuilt houses (mostly corrugated tin) were in a line on this ridge.
Close by was the town spigot and washing station—a communal area where all the action was taking place. I was fascinated! It was like an open-air bathhouse with people washing feet, clothes, hair, potatoes, and pots and pans…all in cold, cold water. How I shivered when I saw naked children being bathed, but they just squealed and took it in their stride. I was loathe to photograph the bathing, due to respect for the mothers and children.
I loved taking part in the hustle and bustle and relating to the girls as they read to me from their English books.
As usual, everyone wants to get into the act. We had a lot of fun comparing feet and hands. I’m sure you can spot mine!
I especially enjoyed the leisurely and elaborate dinner, which was cooked on a wood stove by both the mother and father. The meal included buffalo meat and various spices, which were pounded and ground. Fourteen members of the community sat around in the semi-darkness, socializing and drinking mild rakshi seasoned with buffalo butter, while Grandpa and Grandma sat in one corner repeating Tibetan mantras with beads in their hands.
During the evening, children were put to bed or wrapped in blankets to rest near the parents, and older children studied or played games on various electronic gadgets. This seemed so incongruous to me. Again, we were told that Caritas had promised to rebuild the old school, which housed forty-five students from the small community. It was a lovely evening. I felt so privileged to have been part of the gathering.
At nine the next morning we ate eggs while Dawa and Brebin feasted on tsampa. We needed all the energy we could muster, for the day turned out to be strenuous. Shortly after we left we came upon several groups of children headed for school.
Then we started down the hill, expecting an easy three hours to Thimbu, but, unfortunately, had to take a new trail. The usual one on the other side of the river had been badly damaged by avalanches and there was a great deal of exposure. Believe me, there was a great deal on this side, too.
Check out the terrain we faced before finally reaching the Riverside Guest House where we had stayed last year.
About three hours into the descent we came upon an area where the Chinese had started to build a tunnel to bring water from water-rich Melamchi to water-deprived Kathmandu. All we saw was a lot of abandoned equipment, plus a bridge where one section had been hastily repaired with large logs (a dicey way to get across, to say the least). High on a cliff was an interesting colony of bees. Look for the honeycomb bags dangling off the rock. Don’t ask me how anyone gets the honey!
An Italian company had taken over when the Chinese were fired from the project, but the earthquake put an end to their plans. Damage to houses and equipment was everywhere.
At last we arrived at the Riverside Guest House, where we had stayed last year. Miraculously, the main building was standing, because it was made of cement. All the stone houses were in rubble…the large dining area, kitchen, and beautiful outbuildings. For several months the owners lived elsewhere, fearing that the steep cliff just across the road might collapse. Fortunately, it did not.
The hostess was glad to see us and shared with us tales of the catastrophe. The day of the quake they were serving a party for sixty-five people. When it started, the guests ran everywhere…into the river and away from the buildings. Great fissures appeared in the ground and a large one opened up in the courtyard, right under the feet of the old grandmother. She fell into it and was pulled out just before it closed. How about that for a close call? Pretty horrific.
I honestly don’t know how people live with such disruption…their home in shambles, their business gone, wood from the destruction piled haphazardly, the detritus of possessions everywhere, shoes on the windowsill, blankets and clothes inside a thatched-roofed gazebo, bricks and stone piled where buildings had once been. And, yet, they soldier on.
So I guess I shouldn’t complain about mounting that awful metal stairway to the third floor, once again, for the bougainvillia was still blooming, the room had been freshly painted pink, and a rug and new tarps were on the floor. Yes, and the view of the turbulent Melamchi River still delighted me. We never had felt more welcome anywhere! She gave us a pile of blankets from another room where they were being stored. Said the mice were getting to them. We didn’t see any mice, but enjoyed the high ceilings, ample space, good beds, and small sink for washing and brushing teeth. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the toilet paper. Talk about luxury! I have say, however, that we missed the huge spider that had kept us company last year….
That evening we gathered in the small makeshift kitchen and were treated to home-made mo-mos, a Tibetan delicacy. It was dark, but I managed to get a few shots of the small stuffed noodles as they were being prepared.
The next morning, after saying our goodbyes to our gracious hosts, we took off over the rugged roads back to Kathmandu.
I’m going to end my story here. I’ve tried to take you with me to several small villages in the Helambu/Yolmo and tell the story in pictures of the average Nepali during the horrendous days after the earthquake. But all of us can only absorb so much and I fear that I have pushed the limit while at the same time only scratching the surface. That is the conundrum and the drawback of blogs. No matter how hard we try, brevity goes out the window. Sobeit.
Cary and I spent another week in Nepal and revisited a number of famous landmarks such as Patan and Bhaktapur to see first hand what had happened after the earthquake. And we spent time with several old friends I’ve introduced to you over the years. I filled up another forty pages of my journal with observations about the conditions in the country after the earthquake, but this is what happens when you feel passionate about a place and its people. There’s so much to say and so much you want to share. And so little time. Nepal and its people are in my heart and in my soul.
Cary and I leave, once again, for India and Nepal on Nov. 25th. I look forward to sharing it with you in 2017. Happy New Year!