Nuwakot Nepal….The day started early in Pohkara and the next three hour car trip was the same as days before. I had yet to see what I would call a transportation network in Nepal. Roads generally follow old, winding cart paths, that have existed for centuries, and which have been treated to a quasi, two-lane highway. Terrible dangerous roads that twist and turn constantly through once scenic marvel after another. Lorries are everywhere and seem to pass each other with reckless abandon. Nepali roads are not for the faint-hearted. The Nepali driver Ari, scared then thrilled me with his bravado.
My mountain climbing days are over. Extreme sports over the years have taken their toll. As a result, my focus in Nepal had changed. I was interested in understanding the country, the people and I had a real hankering to experience the real Nepal.
The destination was Nuwakot, a small village that Lonely Planet refers to as “ one of Nepal’s undiscovered gems”. Nuwakot means “ Nine Forts” and it has earned a reputation as a small Shangri-la. This is a place that was frozen between the 17th and 21st century. At least this was true before the 2015 earthquake. Bhandari the writer stated “ Nuwakot, an authentic taste of rural Nepal, without the tourist herds”! Malika Hill, which is reached by switchback after switchback, ends in Nuwakot, a small village of some 2,000 inhabitants.
The village surrounds a sacred palace complex and temples, all of which sustained heavy damage in the 2015 earthquake. International visitors to this area are few and far between in comparison with the mountain hikes, Kathmandu and of course Everest. Although The Palace Complex of Nuwakot was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list in 2008 in the cultural category it already had the air of abandonment and renunciation, before the earthquake.
At the plateau of the hill one can watch the sun set and see the colors play, change and deepen in the shades of orange, red and purple. The snow covered Himalayas are visible and form a stunning and fitting backdrop to a place that once reeked of importance. The palace was a residence of the king who unified Nepal 1744-68. The village which surrounds the palace remains is in sleepy clusters known as “tole”. Brahma Tole is mostly old homes, mud and cement dwellings and roofs from terracotta tiles to tin pieces.
In my mind there were two distinct parts to Nuwakot, there was the people themselves who lived surrounding the palace complex and the palace complex itself. As I sat on a bench and pondered the sight before my eyes I was once again reminded of the difference between the homes and lifestyle of the wealthy and the realities of the people who formed their kingdom.
Raj, the tour guide comes from Nuwakot and he walked among the people with an obvious sense of having returned , one more to the place of his beginning. He was like a local celebrity….shaking hands, warm greetings, beautiful smiles! Before we had drove up the serpentine, switch-backs to the top of Malika Hill, we had stopped at the base and he purchased a soccer ball, to give to the children at the top of the hill. The soccer ball was unwrapped right away and in a split second, it was rolling down the hill being chased by shrieking kids.
The top of the hill was milling with children and a few adults and I watched people greet Raj with obvious warmth, he was one of them. The smiles on the faces of children were infectious. They all wanted their photo taken and after the shot wanted to see the results. If the photo did not pass their inspection, then demanded another and the process went on and on. They were hard to please I’m telling you!
A number of children were standing by the well with large containers to bring water back to their homes. It is a sad reality of Nepal that electricity does not seem to be a right. Rather it is a blessing that is bestowed on the population. The power goes on and off constantly, like rotating strikes. I was never able to determine who decided when or if anyone knew when there would be service. People seemed to accept the lack of electricity stoically and this suggested that the interruptions were endemic. Water, supplied by and electric pump did not seem to be a basic right. However, the unpolluted air was a blessing to me and the cool evening breeze followed by the short torrential rain gave comfort all through the night.
Yet, what I observed was a purity and a dignity in the eyes, words and actions of people. In the actions of young people I saw how they interacted and played with each other. It was obvious that these were people who were real friends who talked to each other. Cell phones gave people the ability to do things. Cell phones were not carried in hand after hand. People walk, talked and went about their lives without a cell phone in their hand or on their ear. The lack of cell phones was a refreshing sight. Yes! I found my nirvana.
The young men played with the soccer ball, kicking it back and forth across the plateau. The seemed to delight in kicking it as high and far as possible so that it would fly over the side of the hill and go bouncing down the slope. The young men would fly over the hill edge in hot pursuit, to the laughter of all. I saw people playing to ether, in an informal setting.
One young girl was proudly wearing lipstick ( my photo diva ) and worked the camera for me, a real photo hog. However, as I took the photographs, I was taken by the fact that the closeness of the children was very evident. They held hands, posed tight together. They were a family of children and their smiles made my day.
In all my travels I had never experienced a photo session quite like this. The children were giving of themselves and responded to every comment and request with a smile and laughter. I was the honored guest and they wanted to share their life with me. No one asked for money, for anything but the chance to interact.
When I looked around at their homes I was ashamed at my communication skills.. We have so much , yet we are so isolated from humanity. We have forgotten how to play with each other. We have forgotten how to interact. We have forgotten the meaning of being human. Instead we count and rate our worth by the number of likes we get on Facebook selfies. We rate our self esteem by the number of “:friends” we have on Facebook. We walk around with cell phones in our hands sending text messages to “ friends”. We are experts in social media and have forgotten social intercourse. Sometimes travel opens the eyes much wider and the “likes” or “smileys” doesn’t matter at all.
Then, it was time for me to visit the palace and temples.