Phu Village in Manang District
Karma Ringchhe studies in grade two in Phu school when she is not working in Koru field. In this photo, she is seen carrying Koru haystack
Trail leading up to Phu: This trail is constructed by the Phu villagers which is destroyed by the heavy snow every year.
Phu: Make your lips round and blow the wind away, slowly. That’s the meaning of Phu in Nepali. But the blow of the wind in Phu is different than the definition. So how strong is the blow? Come here in Phu, at the altitude of 3900, surrounded by mountains like Himlung and others. “It’s totally understandable why the wind here makes people really mad,” says Wanda safe inside the tent. “Totally mad.” Oh… yea. It’s trying to blow away the dining tent set up within the camping area that was constructed two years ago on the back on Phu river.
I checked my temperature as I arrived in Phu. It’s increased. But I am not feeling the same uneasiness like yesterday. Still, as per the suggestions of Wanda, I took two tabs of paracetamol. I wanted to take nap but folks were planning to go to Gompa at 2 PM. “Its once-in-a-life-time opportunity,” Wanda encourages me to go to monastery. I followed them until we reached village and stopped myself there.
I went up to the village crossing over a newly built bridge (no wooden bridge is used anymore) some five years ago and started mingling with the villagers who were busy with harvesting Koru, the only grain produced in the village, on the rooftops of their or neighbor’s house. They spoke ‘perfect’ Nepali which was a pleasant surprise for me. I asked a few questions just like a reporter desperate for making stories from a trip. For me the trip was over, work has begun. The former chairman of the village development committee was too busy helping his neighbor to thrash koru. The bridge that I crossed to come to this town, I came to know from the former chairman, was constructed at the cost of Rs. 500,000.
Trail Leading Up To Phu Village via the bank of Phu Khola
Children in Phu playing with water tap
Then I went to the other side of the village to discover a vibrant community, all busy doing something: thrashing koru, sifting and carrying other stuffs to home from field. It’s a big village, I thought. From the camping site, you don’t see all this and feel that the village is small. A girl was carrying Koru haystack. She was too shy to identify her house but she told her name after I repeated the question. Karma studies in grade 2 in a nearby school where the only teacher rarely attends the classes. He was in Dashain, Nepal’s biggest festival, vacation. Some of the children wanted to see the photos that I took.
As I was talking to the kids, a man came riding horse and I asked the same question that I had asked at least three persons before: Where is the post office? “Oh… it’s there at the corner,” said the man after taking the horse inside a stable. “I am the Hakim (boss) of the office.” Yet another surprise in this remote part of the country! I was curious how a Post Office would function in a place like this where it takes a day to reach anther village and two days to reach Chame. Later in the evening, as I was returning to tent after making a few calls from the phone at the top of the hill, I met a halkara (postman) who told me how it works. He said that he goes up to Meta (or Junum) and swaps the postal bag with his counterpart from Nar. Then one of them or the third person takes the bag to Chame. There is a cave, just below Meta, on way to Chame called Hulaki Odar (Postmen Odar) that is, I was told, reserved specially to Hulakis. No other, for example porters, can sleep there!
The question “Where is the phone man?” was a conversation starter and, at last, I found him (Nyima Chhesang) busy with Koru. A big V-Sat phone at the top of the hill that hosts the village was another surprise of the day. I called my home (because, at that moment, that was the only number I could remember) and talked to Email. Told him I was in one of the remotest parts of the country wearing all of the clothes that I had! The clothing news wasn’t quite true but I am the person putting heavier clothes because I feel cold the most. And the wind is really terrible here. “I am fine with the temperature,” said Jenn while returning from the village. “But the wind is bothering me.” Bothering? It’s killing me, I told myself. Seeing me cold, she rubbed my hands and made them warm with her mild “phu” as Matt and Caroll watched.
Solar panels are installed in Phu houses
Phu Phone Man: Nyima Chhesang, 35, is the phone man of Phu, says that the installation of telephone in the village two years ago has made life easier. “Before we had to go to Chame (more than a day’s walk) to deliver a small message to people in Kathmandu,” he said. “Now Kathmandu is just a call away.” The yearly bill of the phone? Rs. 20, 000.
So I was talking on phone. I made another call to Deepak Adhikari (last of the two numbers that I remembered) and ended up talking with Shailendra Kharel and Prakash Mathema, both photographers at Kantipur Publications where Deepak works with me. Wanted to talk to another person but I couldn’t remember the number. Deepak, a reporter with Nepal Magazine, quickly briefed me on the recent political developments: Talks between the government and the Maoist this week were going well. Okay, I don’t want to know much about that. I have been out of contact with the news world for almost seven days. I don’t know what the hell is going on around the world. Wars might have been waged; Epidemic might have been spread, or whatever! I talked about this with Wanda and she laughs at me: Oh… you are such a news freak. Yes, I am but I am enjoying this disconnection with the rest of the world these days. I made these calls today (Rs. 15 per minute) just to give a try, to feel the aura of talking to someone from such a location. Oh… what a location it is. Huge rocks and mountains all over. Annapurnas are on the South, such a place it is!
I was also curious to know how the phone, installed two years ago with the Village Development Committee money, had changed the life in Phu if it had changed at all. “Kathmandu has become closer,” said Nyima Chhesang, the phone man. “It’s been really easy for people in the village and those living abroad or in Kathmandu to convey message.” International calls (Rs. 100 per minute for locals and Rs. 300 for foreigners) are more Incoming than Outgoing. Mountaineers and a few trekkers call back to their homes. The Phone Man who said that he keeps the rest of the money (some 20 percent) after paying phone bill to Nepal Telecom. [I would learn in the morning that he also looks after the camping site.]
Niyma Yangjee, 25, lives with her husband, two daughters and in-laws. She said that she will leave Phu for Kyang in two months.
So there was no Lama in the Phu monastery and other friends returned without seeing him. I didn’t go up to Gumba. Instead, I roamed around the village. Lama was busy in a Pooja ceremony in the village. Nobody went back to Gumba at 5 PM as all were tired to climb the uphill.
Sangma Tshiring, 42. She lives in Phu with her husband and a son. Another son and a daughter study Lama in two separate monasteries in Kathmandu, she said.
One of the ladies who were busy harvesting Koru told me that the life in Phu was beautiful. But I felt her tone was a bit sarcastic. Sangee Dorjee, 35, lives six months a year in Kathmandu where her husband and children live permanently and spends rest of the time in Phu. She grew 40 muris of Koru this year and plans to sell it before leaving for Kathmandu by the end of this month.
“Now is the time to swap the places,” Sangee said declining to be photographed. “We will live in Kathmandu and Kathmanduits should come and stay here to feel how we live in such a place.”