My New Year's
January 5, 2000
I planned on coming to the third world. I wanted to see life move differently than what I was used to in the United States. When I was younger I used to hear stories of this area, about the giant yeti and the top of the world named Mt Everest. When I listened to people talk about Nepal images of Buddha, prayer flags and men with shaved heads walking up steep mountains surrounded by yaks popped into my mind. Even up until this past spring I believed that Nepal, Tibet and Buddhism all swam together in one big sea we call the Himalayas.
A few questions cleared most of these ideas right up. As it turns out, Nepal is the mountainous area, hills spreading up and down and across the country with lush jungles and forests; while Tibet remains fairly flat, little 28,000 ft hills sticking up from 17,000 ft plains. And for Buddhism, over 60% of the population of Nepal is Hindi (and in the capital of Kathmandu the numbers are more like 85% Hindi and10% Buddhist). With this new view of the region, still not sure about the yeti, I flew into Kathmandu.
A quick dose of reality hit me as I stepped onto the plane to Nepal in Bangkok, Thailand. The plane was filled with people from all over the world, most using English as the median for communication. The only tourists I thought traveled to Nepal were Westerners seeking adventure from the geography, seeking enlightenment in Buddha, or seeking, among other things, kitsch in the streets of Thamel.
In front of me sat a Thai woman of 24. She was seated next to a German woman with a small baby. They were both on vacation, both going to Kathmandu to relax. Holding her baby the German said, "She's half German, half Vietnamese."
"Oh, that's so good. Now everyone is that and that. Soon everyone will be everything," replied the Thai.
Cultures are melting together at a fast pace. The longer and longer I stayed in Nepal the more I saw of this. The next day in Kathmandu I chatted with a Pakistani carpet seller. Drinking tea in his store he told me about the trade in Kathmandu. All of his rugs are woven in Pakistan from either faux Pakistani silk or Chinese silk. All the jewelry is from Bangkok or Bali. And, much of the fabrics are from India. Of course, he did have some nice Nepalese scarves if that's what I was interested in. The carpet seller said if I looked in enough stores up and down the streets of Thamel I'd be able to find just about anything that's sold in the States. Although I wasn't able to find a Reese's Pieces.
Nepal is landlocked between the Subcontinent and Asia. For thousands of years it was heavily used as a trade route from one to the other. It still is. Trucks have made things faster but you still see merchants walking into Kathmandu, a large basket on their back they're carrying with a peice of cloth tied to their forehead. Some of them have walked as far as Pakistan, walking around India, into China and down into Nepal.
The group I was with decided that for our New Year celebration we'd hike out to the village of our Nepalese friend Megh. Megh's village is on the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley. We took a short bus ride to the foot of some hills (mountains), strapped on our packs and started walking. Two hours later we dropped down into a valley some 30 minutes from Megh's village Taukhel.
We were in Nepal. I couldn't see any obvious Western influence on any of the small villages we walked past. Up ahead, tucked into a hillside with a small river running through the street, was the most picturesque village I'd seen yet. We rounded a corner, I stopped walking, trying to take it all in. The Newar people of Nepal are renown for woodcarving and in most of the villages we passed through elaborate windows and screens adorned the houses that deserve some time for looking at. When I stopped I did see some carving. The houses were painted in bright greens and blues. But what made me pause a bit longer was the music pumping out of one of the windows. The "Macarena" came booming out into the street.
"No matter where you go you can't escape popular music," stated Than, one of the hikers, as he passed by me up the trail.
It seems to be pretty true; most of the world is plugged in one way or another. That night, after mountains of great Nepalese food prepared by Megh's family, we tuned in to the BBC to hear how the rest of the world was handling the new millennium. Out in the middle of Nepal, trying desperately to stay awake, we listened to reports about people dancing in grass skirts in the Chatham Islands, Boris Yeltsin throwing in the towel and Taliban terrorists releasing the passengers from the Air India flight. Megh picked out facts and translated for his family; they nodded, nothing too important to them either.
The next morning after I decided the world really was smushing together in one big jello mold, Meg pointed out the four villages surrounding his. You could see each one, all within a ten-minute walk.
Picking up his tea Megh said, "Each village speaks a different language."
-Sarah Reed Bargren