45 years after we fell in love in Nepal, we returned with our son, his wife and our granddaughters to bring our global family together. Also on YouTube.
Tag Archives: Samalbung
Family Reunion in Nepal
We heard the drums as our car pulled up to Champa’s family house in eastern Nepal. Then we saw the dancers. Champa’s brother appeared with an armful of flower garlands. His wife held colorful scarves.
We’d arrived in Ilam, where Champa grew up and the two of us met when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Now it was 45 years later and we were traveling with our older son, Paul, his wife Stephanie and their four daughters. It was 9:30 p.m. Our drivers had been navigating the rutted, dusty roads since 4:30 a.m.
Our exhaustion gave way to astonishment, then elation as we stumbled out of our two jeeps and entered the courtyard. With flowers and scarves around our necks and drums beating beside us, we joined the traditional Limbu folk dance.
Three days later we encountered an even bigger welcome, this time in the small village of Champa’s late older sister, where several of our nieces and nephews still live. This time we heard the drums as we walked on a mountain path approaching their house. Our extended family was waiting there with flower garlands. Two girls performed a dance. Folded hands and namastes gave way to hugs.
These were just two of many unforgettable moments during our trip to Nepal, from where we returned a few days ago. We’ll remember our granddaughters seeing Kathmandu’s glorious temples and the monkeys at Swayambhou. There was Maya singing at Ilam’s outdoor Christmas show. Paula playing soccer with local men. The twins laughing with their cousins. School visits. Tea with old friends. Steaming plates of momos. Roosters waking us at sunrise.
Paul and Stephanie had wanted to make the trip for years. Now, finally, our global family was brought together. Our worries about the trip never materialized. Everyone stayed healthy. Our family and friends welcomed us at every stop with boundless generosity. The girls fell in love with Nepal, as we’d hoped they would.
We’re still processing the trip. I’ll post more about it soon and also about Qatar, where Champa and I stopped on our way home. For now, I hope you’ll enjoy the photo slide show below.
Nepal, we miss you already.
Nepal Trip Video
In the fall of 2015, as chronicled earlier in this blog, Champa and I took an extended trip to Nepal. We visited her home town of Ilam and a small village, Samalbung, and spent time in the Kathmandu Valley. During the second half of the trip we welcomed eight members of our American family for an unforgettable tour, highlighted by the two families coming together. This video has the highlights.
Nepal’s Death-Defying Taxi
Americans who complain about potholes in their roads should take a ride on one of the taxis that serve Samulbung, a village in eastern Nepal.
These four-wheelers climb and swerve along unpaved roads made of potholes. They bounce over cobblestones along the better stretches, then struggle across longer stretches where the pockmarked dirt often becomes mud.
During the monsoon season, the mud resembles a swamp. Even when rain is intermittent, as it was when we visited a few days ago, water collects into pools. Drivers have to place one tire on either side of a pool and avoid slipping into the middle, or else charge through and try to reach the other side before losing traction.
Sometimes the driver doesn’t make it. That’s what happened when our driver, Arpan, was a split-second late in down-shifting over a depression in the road. Since his four-wheel-drive was temporarily broken, he swerved into a ditch, as shown in the photo, then nearly burned off his left rear tire trying to regain contact. We all had to get out as he and his assistant gathered stones and gravel to provide traction. Eventually we got back on the road.
Tires puncture regularly, which also happened to us. Once again, we disembarked as Arpan and his assistant made a quick roadside repair, as you can see here.
Such repairs provide a break from a journey that routinely steers to the edge of precarious roads lacking side barriers. If the vehicle went over the edge, it might fall hundreds of feet before crashing amid the world’s biggest mountains. Keep in mind there is no Life Flight helicopter service here. For that matter, there are hardly any doctors.
Just to make the experience more interesting, the vehicles are piled high with luggage, grain and goods, all of which raise the center of gravity and reduce stability. Fortunately, the vehicles are usually crammed with passengers, who provide a counterweight
Many of the drivers are young men, who remain cheerful despite working long hours and earning little money. They stop regularly to pick up passengers and goods, and also to run errands — such as delivering a cell phone or money — for people along the route.
Champa and I took two trips and found them simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. As happens so often in Nepal, we soon got used to the situation and begin joking with the other passengers at each new unexpected turn. We embraced the “No Tension” sticker on the driver’s door.
Our fare for four passengers to travel three hours to Fikkal, the local town, was $11, luggage included. If you find that price unbelievable, well, you’re right: It’s not what you’d expect. We paid nearly double the usual fare to ensure we had only one person in the front passenger seat (me) and only three in the second row. Champa and Bindu, shown here, shared the second row with Bindu’s husband, our nephew Shankar. Business class rocks.
Prayers at the Stream
These faces of devotion are gathered along a stream to wash away curses, evil spirits and bad luck, to be replaced by prosperity, health and good luck.
Their maanghope ceremony, all but unknown in the West, took place Saturday morning along a stream in Samalbung, a small village in eastern Nepal. Families gathered to pray, light candles, beat drums and toss flower petals and grain into the water.
Jai Kumar, with the large white hat, led the ceremony. He is the local sikhsamba, or religious leader, for a growing number of Kirati people in this part of Nepal who have begun turning away from Hinduism and returning to animist traditions. They also have rejected animal sacrifices. Instead, they follow the teachings of Falgunanda, whose temple in Kathmandu I described in a previous post.
Jai Kumar, a second cousin of ours, expects no payment for leading the ceremony, which calls on everyone to pray not only for themselves and their families, but for the entire community. He lives next door to the home of Champa’s older sister, Sumitra, who died earlier this year. A day earlier, he led another ceremony at the house to coincide with our arrival.
Champa and I came here from Ilam along a breathtakingly bumpy road to pay our respects at the graves of Sumitra and her husband, Naina, and to visit with our nieces, nephews and extended family.
They and their neighbors are the people you see in the photos, gathering as they do every year during the harvest season for the maanghope ceremony. Another annual ceremony, ubhawli, occurs during planting season.
Few Westerners have ever observed the ceremony, which lasted about an hour. I felt honored, as a member of the family, to be invited to participate. The sights were even more colorful and dramatic than you see here. The drums, cymbals and chanting voices blended with the flowing water and chirping birds to compose a symphony of serenity that still lingers.