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A WALK WITH FATHER

We Nepalese hiked our hills and dales long before the term "trek", originally an Afrikaans word used by Boers describing journey by ox wagon, caught on to describe a popular form of recreational activity for tourists in the Nepalese mountains. We now credit the Late Colonel Jimmy Roberts, a retired British army officer who made Nepal his home, for introducing this form of tourism in Nepal with his pioneering company aptly named Mountain Travel.

In fact for us Nepalese trekking is a way of life. Whether we are terrace farming in the steep mountain slopes, fetching water, grazing livestock, embarking on pilgrimages to the abode of the Gods, we hike, climb up and climb down as if it were as easy as taking a New York subway. Even entering or leaving the Kathmandu valley was done on foot until the turn of last century over "Char Bhanjyang" or four mountain passes: Sanga, Baad, Pati and Chandragiri passes.

Moreover until as recently as half a century back ordinary folks in Nepal walked barefoot. I remember when I was young many of the retainers at my father's estate of Kiran Bhawan trudged barefoot to work. Fr. Cap Miller S. J. documents that when he first came to the valley in 1958 half the population of Kathmandu walked barefoot. Of course, the sun kissed tarmac roads whould never allow barefoot travel today. In spite of the doom and gloom prevailing over present day politics we must recognize that significant progress has been made to bring up the lot of ordinary people in Nepal in the past 60 years, but I am digressing.

Walking was a pristine pastime then, unencumbered by the challenging art of negotiating past polluting brick kilns and putrid garbage dumps prevalent at most routes today. Even the more remote villages dotting the outskirts of Kathmandu City were clean, the bio-degradable garbage emanating from them turning into manure in a self-perpetuating cycle of waste disposal management before affluence in the shape of plastic culture started permeating the disposal sites.

I remember walking with my father many times on half a day stint, sometimes longer. Those were the days before my father suffered a compound fracture of his left ankle relegating such walks to mere memories. One particular walk we took comes to mind. We visited his old retainer Mangal Dass in Naikap, past Chobar, Panga and Kirtipur a good two and a half hour walk from home. Mangal Dass had accompanied father to the front in Burma as his man Jeeves when he led the Nepalese brigade in support of the British war effort.

I remember the walk across innumerable paddy fields the valley was amply endowed with before population pressure and avaricious speculation in real estate turned those agricultural lands into haphazardly conceived concrete jungles as seen dotting the periphery of the valley today. Presently we arrived at the farm of Mangal Dass. One of his sons was about my age and we instantly took a liking to each other and we started playing around the farm. My father settled somewhat incongruously in a Dunlop cushion in this bucolic setting among the running chickens, quacking ducks and the curious water buffaloes. His old Rolleiflex box camera swung into action as he invited all the family members of his old retainer for a group photograph. He had a great passion for taking pictures as attested to by the plethora of photographs that covered every bit of the walls of his drawing rooms at our estate at Kiran Bhawan.

Before long it was time for snacking. Father took out his sterling silver hip flask as any self-respecting gentleman brought up in the Churchillian mold of bygone days would and started early cocktails. I enjoyed some honest home cooking while the boiled eggs started coming out of the kitchen. I remember this episode clearly although I was just seven or eight as it later became a subject for story telling of epical proportion; father had snacked on twenty eight boiled chicken eggs that afternoon, the feat would not quite go into the Guinness Book of World Records, but perhaps it came close! Such joie de vivre is uncommon in our mundane world.

I still keep alive our hiking traditions as both I and my wife like walking, sometimes with friends like banker Prithivi Pandey and medical doctor Govind Pokhrel, at other times in the "line of duty" as a tour operator. It all started with walking with father all those many years ago.

My wife Lucy and I trekking in Nagarkot



Comments

  1. Pleasantly surprised to find myself mentioned in your blog along with a photo.The trip to Dakshin Kali and the ridge near Champa Devi were notable.
    I think the Sunday walks in the woods while we were in Godavari school inculcated in us the habit for walks and treks.
    As someone aptly said:"Walk,to walk away from your grave" I take that to heart.

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  2. Another piece of the good old bygone days written with just the right mix of reverence and humour.

    I'm sure our friend, Govind, will enjoy this immensely as he continues to take his long Saturday walks every week in the still pristine "suburbs" of Kathmandu. Wish I could join him. But my leg, like your father's (my uncle's) ankle, is going to make it difficult for a while.

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  3. As a matter of fact, after I arrived in Nepal early this year then only I came to know this form of tourism call "trekking" which is hugely popular in the Nepalese mountains. Before this the only "trek" that I know is "Star Trek":-)

    Undoubtedly Nepal is trekkers’ paradise. When I went to Pokhara and viewed the beautiful scenery of snow-capped mountains and splendid panoramic scenes view, I was speechless and almost shed my tears appreciating the beauty of God's creation.

    By the way, when you wrote that your father (General Kiran Shumsher J.B. Rana) "had snacked on twenty eight boiled chicken eggs that afternoon", my spontaneous reaction is "Wow! I must salute this no-nonsense General Rana!" In Malaysia, the most we eat in a day is 4 eggs only. In fact my countrymen believe that eating 2 TURTLE eggs in the morning and 2 more in the evening can increase MALE VIRILITY and sexual libido!!!
    http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2010/6/8/lifefocus/6404398&sec=lifefocus

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  4. Speaking of barefoot, Nepalese didn't just walk barefoot, they also fought barefoot! In an 1815 painting commissioned by William Fraser, Deputy Resident of Delhi,Gurkha soldiers are shown in full miliatary attire and weaponry- but barefoot. http://en.wikipedia.orgwiki/File:Ghurkas_of_1815.jpg

    And in " Chinese Maps and Prints on the Tibet-Gorkha War of 1788-92" L. Boulnois describes the depiction of Nepalese in a Chinese print "Illustration of the Storming of Mount Dongjiao":

    Their weapons are either spears or swords. They wear a half-long tunic, with a loose belt, above trousers; their head-dress is a peaked cap,which does not really look like the well known modern Nepalese cap; and - a very characteristic feature which had attractedthe attention of the Chinese invaders-they fought barefoot.

    http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/kailash/pdf/kailash_15_0102_03.pdfe

    I chuckled at this description!

    TGhale
    Los Angeles

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  5. Thank you TGhale for your invaluable input on the Nepal that was. Your links would make very interesting reading to my readers just like it was to me.

    ReplyDelete

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