By Luke Tyburski
Deep in valleys perched at the end of outstretched ridges, and high up on cliff tops of the mountain ranges throughout Nepal live some of the happiest, humble, and most generous people I’ve ever met. Recently I spent time with a Nepalese family in their home. A simple dwelling made from mud and stone, with a straw roof, totally untouched by western ways. I was to be the first ever westerner to step foot into their house. I was truly thankful, and a little nervous.
After travelling on four different raggedy old dusty buses, for a few minutes shy of six hours from Kathmandu, I still had a 500m climb up to Aite Tamang’s family home, I was already close to 2000m above sea level, and I could feel the air becoming thinner with each step. The surrounding hills towered above, blocking out any of sun’s rays like guardians of the light.
Trekking up this twisting and turning labyrinth of paths between huts, over streams, and up clay steps that clearly had been hacked out by some sort of hand tool many years ago, I was not only exhausted, and sweaty, but also extremely happy to see Aite point and say “my home” after nearly two hours of climbing.
Walking into this small, box like, split level home, was truly taking a giant leap back in time. I was engulfed with smoke as soon as I stepped foot inside the house, which was just one large open room. I could barely make out Aite’s dad, wife, daughter, or mum (who had just started the fire to begin cooking dinner) who all lived here together. With no electricity, cooking methods are quite basic; a simple hole carved into the sealed clay floor for the fire was the kitchen.
Everyone sat around the fire that would constantly be stoked to cook dinner, which is always Nepal’s traditional dish, dal baht. Boiled rice with lentil soup, accompanied with things like bok choy, tomato relish, potato curry, or even some meat. As a guest I was given a mound of everything.
The dal baht was served on a large steel tray and without any utensils. I learnt very quickly the art of eating this very tasty meal with only my hand. You would mix some dal (lentil soup) with baht (cooked rice), squish it together with your fingers and once you’d made a firm, moist bolus, place it at the end of your fingers, and in one scooping motion using your thumb, push the food into your mouth. Who knew there was such a technique to eating with your hands?
After dinner, we all just sat around for a few hours as the buffalo, goats, and chickens (who sleep in the same main room where we just ate) settled in for the evening.
I took myself up a small ladder which led to a small landing where there were 3 rooms — all with their own timber beds and woven cane mattress. They really could only be described as “hard and wooden”.
At 4am the rooster crowed. At 4:30am I was choking on thick smoke — the day had begun with the fire being lit downstairs. After coming to terms with the fact the house was not on fire, and it was just breakfast being cooked, I made my way back down the small flimsy ladder. I was greeted with a cup of Ilam tea, and a smile from Aite’s entire family.
Waiting for the fresh buffalo milk to be heated and curried chickpeas to be cooked for breakfast, I sat on the dusty floor marveling at how these people simply live each day to survive in such primitive conditions. No running water, toilet, or electricity, but they harvest enough food to eat, and sell for other supplies. The most amazing thing of all, they truly are happy.
Maybe true happiness is living on the side of a Nepalese mountain, at over 2000m above sea level, eating with your hands, and sharing your lounge/dining room with your animals’ bedroom. I’m not sure it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but looking through one of the “open air” windows at the sun slowly creeping over the adjacent mountains, with the valley below about to be filled with radiant sunshine, the view from this simple but functional Nepalese family home was truly breathtaking. It is one experience I will never forget!
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