A few years ago I spent some time doing voluntary work (building a school) in rural Nepal.
It was far and away the best experience of my life. The warmth and the friendliness of the people despite everything they have to put up with is something I will never forget.
When I got home I wrote a 6000 word A-Z of Nepal for the volunteers the next year so they would have a bit more of an idea when they arrived.
This was all 4 years ago so some of the information is out of date. Nevertheless, I am going to serialise it here.
Here is the third part, H to L.
The A-Z of Nepal -part 3, H to L
H is for Himalayas – Unless you go and see for yourself you will find it impossible to envisage just how big they are. When you do see them you will find it impossible to believe how big they are – you just won’t think that it could be legal for land to go up that much.
Impossibly big and impossibly beautiful.
I is for Indifference – specifically, indifference to danger and traffic regulations, the only rule on Nepali roads being – don’t die.
J is for Juttho (joot-ho) – Juttho literally means “unclean”. In India and much of the world as well as Nepal the right hand is reserved for eating whilst the left is reserved for cleaning yourself in the toilet (chaarpi in Nepali) but there is more to the concept of Juttho than that. Cultural things such as Juttho and various other superstitions all over the world almost always have some basis in practicality. For example, almost all societies bury or burn the dead quickly, partly because it allows the healing process for the bereaved to begin and also because corpses cause disease. Superstitions like don’t walk under a ladder exist because you might have something dropped on you. The worst bowel disorders in Nepal are caused by the faecal to oral route (e.g. worms, Guardia or amoebas), whereby impurities are picked up in one hand (wiping) and passed back to the mouth. As there are not really any disinfectants this causes a lot of illness.
Juttho is a way of dealing with this. Apart from the left/right hand system there are other facets to it. Never share someone else’s food, never put anything down on a communal plate (faecal to oral again), never touch your mouth then touch someone else (ditto). Juttho, like many other similar cultural manifestations is simply a response to existing conditions which has become assimilated into the culture and codified by habit and/or religion.
K is for Kathmandu – a very strange hybrid place. There is incredible wealth in Kathmandu but also hideous poverty. There are five star hotels of a standard you could get in Europe or North America but no proper sanitation or sewage. It’s a city of contradictions. The royal palace was correctly described in the Rough Guide to Nepal as “a 1960s architectural travesty” and yet there are beautiful buildings too. The traffic is bad and if you know how to ride one then hire a motorbike as it’s the easiest way to get about. Population is officially around the half million mark though the Kathmandu valley has many many more people. You will probably use Kathmandu as a base to work from in your time in Nepal (see also T for Thamel) and its best that way. Too many days here will get you down eventually – especially when there is so much else to see.
K is also Kakrow – Kakrow = cucumber and they are large and tasty, usually served on a metal dish with two indentations, one for salt, one for chilli. Excellent for cooling down.
L is for Landslides – a massive problem in Nepal, landslides are responsible for many deaths every year. The clay soil in combination with heavy rain makes a lethal combination. Add deforestation to the mix and you have an incredibly serious problem (see also W for World Bank).
L is for Leeches – to be found in most places outside the cities. Some are the size of matches, others are the size of your hand (I’m not kidding) and can be seen hanging from trees waiting to fall on you as you walk along (they feel the vibrations and drop off at the right moment for them and the wrong moment for you). Some hints…..firstly, to avoid as many of them as possible stay out of puddles. This will not stop you being bitten but it will stop you being bitten by some of the bigger ones. Secondly, to kill them use salt, tobacco or a lighter, all of these will remove the leech from you as well although you can just rip them off. Some people say that if you do this they will leave their jaws in you but this is not true (it is true of some other things but as I said, not leeches). What they do do is release an anti-coagulant into the wound they make which means that whatever way you kill or remove them you will not stop bleeding for a couple of hours. Don’t panic – it doesn’t mean you are sick and it will stop eventually. They are worst in early morning before 11am and afternoon to evening. They sleep at night so you are ok late on and in the main heat of the day.
L is for Lunghi – if you are in the villages and you happen to be female you will have to learn how to wash yourself whilst wearing a lunghi. A lunghi will cover all your body from below the armpits right down – its essential for open air cold-tapwashing and as open air cold-tapwashing is all that’s available, then you’d better get good at it fairly quickly.