Crossing over the Gosaikunda pass (4600m) in the morning was an exhilarating experience. The wind last night was so strong that it almost blew away the hotel room I was staying in. A plank on the roof had been shifted from its original position. This Gosaikunda pass is generally considered easier to cross. But we thought last night’s snow would make trek difficult. Thankfully it wasn’t that difficult. We walked over the fresh snow. Some Dutch people with few porters and guides were already ahead of us. They were ‘exploring’ & leading the trail. We were simply following their footsteps which was good as that significantly reduced the possibility of us getting lost. I scribbled my name on so many places that, in the beginning, my companion seemed annoyed by my ‘behavior’. Soon she started following me by writing her name on the snow with her cane. We saw at least four lakes on the pass. They were all completely frozen. I have heard that there are numerous lakes all over the area. It was exciting to see so many lakes at the height of 4600 meters. Later in the evening, I wondered about spending a day or two right there at the pass.
I EXPERIENCED/SAW FOUR NEW THINGS DURING LANGTANG-GOSAINKUNDA TREK:
1. White and pink Rhododendron flowers: I had not seen pink and white Rhododendron (laligurans) flowers. I chewed some flower petals. They are edibles. Both flowers were beautiful but I liked white flowers more than the pink ones. A walk into the jungle near Langtang village was exciting.
2. Being close to Himal: Seeing Himals (or Himalayas) from so close was another new experience. Standing on the barren land of Langtang valley I could almost ‘touch’ the mountains! A thrilling moment. Climb up to the Kenjing Gomba, not far from the Valley, and you’ll realize that you are surrounded by mountains from all sides. Yes, you are in the middle of the Himalayas.
3. Glacier right under my nose: We tried to climb up to the glacier from Kenjin Gumba but we were unable to do so, partly because we were hungry and mainly because we lost the trail. For about three minutes, we were walking randomly over the thorny bushes hurting ourselves. Cold and strong wind made it difficult to concentrate. We briefly walked through a stream that originated from the glacier which looked near from where we stood. I am sure it could have taken another half an hour for us to reach there. May be more. Walking on the stream was kind of risky but I loved that bit of ‘adventure’. We were well above 4,000 meters which meant it wasn’t easy to breath. The unkind wind made breathing more difficult. I managed climb a small hilltop under the shadow of giant Langtang. I played with the snow and scribbled my name there. The little ‘mountain’ instantly became Mt. DINESH!
4. The Gosainkunda Lake and the Gosainkunda Pass: Both of these places were amazing in their own ways. I walked around the Gosainkunda Lake which has religious significance for the Hindus. Most part of the lake was covered with ice giving the lake a new name: The Frozen Lake. Adventurous souls would have been tempted to skate there had the iced layer been a bit stronger. I did some yoga at the bank of the lake. I also climbed a huge rock near the bank of the Surajkunda, another lake just below the Gosainkunda. The Surajkunda looked more dangerous, deep and dark. That was probably because it wasn’t covered with the ice like the Gosainkunda was.
The journey to Gosaikunda began from Thulo Syabru in the midday. We met an Israeli couple on the way. The male was having some altitude problems. They were both resting there to be acclimatized. We saw lot of Israelis traveling in groups. Most of the Israelis who come to Nepal are young, just out of compulsory military service (conscription). Almost all hoteliers don’t like them in general because, a hotelier in Thamel, Kathmandu, and one in Gosaikunda told me that they are “very much demanding, they spend less, make noises, and create problems out of nothing.” But I found almost all Israelis on the trekking route as humorous, friendly, nice and outspoken. Some of them seemed little more ‘demanding’ too.
One Israeli group quickly started making joints on their arrival at Gosaikunda. Some of them offered me a puff. I rejected. They insisted that I take a puff or two. I avoided their offer by telling them that the cigarette they were using to wrap was not of my preferred brand. While some prepared the grass others ate ‘daal bhat’. The smokers discussed about their conflict with the Palestine with me. One of them ordered a ’spicy daal bhat’. That surprised me. I knew from a boy in the group that a girl in the group could sing “Ressam Phiriri…” -a popular Nepali folk song. She had come to Nepal only a week before. “She is a music wizard,” a guy member of the smoking group said.
After parting ways with Andrew, Anu and I took a short-cut and rarely walked route for Thulo Shaybru. The day was so long for us that we hardly managed to reach Thulo Shyabru before it was completely dark. That was the most tedious day in our 14 day-long tour. We had forgotten to carry drinking water. No water was available on the four-hour-long steep, all the way up, trail that went through a dense jungle. There was no sign of life- human life- except some that were monkeys (apes) jumping from one tree to another. My assumption was that it would not take us more than two hours to reach Thulo Syabru. I had to amend my guesses several times. I was wrong in my estimates about the distance and time most of the time during the trip. In the jungle, I ate Rhododendron flowers. My companion followed soon. Good for her. The nonstop 14-hour-long trek that day made us very tired. We slept up to 12 am the next day.
We shared our travails of the previous day with the locals. Everyone was surprised to know that we covered the trail in a day.
Langtang To Gosaikunda: A Travelogue! Here is a raw description of my trekking in Langtang area in the first and second week of Baisakh, 2060. I started my journey on Saturday, 19th April 2003.
By Dinesh WAGLE
The real journey- walking part- started from Syabru Bensi, a small town that is connected to Kathmandu by a improvised highway. This town is considered the ‘Base Camp’ for the Langtang Trek. The bus ride to Syabru from Kathmandu was bumpy, terrible, painful, and at times, risky. Limited numbers of buses operated in a day on the highway. Dozens of passengers sit on the top those buses.
Starting with a Spirit: After a small ‘hitch’ in the morning (there was some confusion regarding correct path), our team took the ’speed’ gradually. The team originally included Dutch Mathanja and her boyfriend Tim, his mother Tini, and a Dutch girl of Nepali origin: Anu. In Syabru, Andrew, an Australian university professor was included as the sixth member. Soon, he became so friendly that he, Anu and I were leaving rest of the team from the second half of the second day. We three made it to the Kenjin Gompa in two days while others took half a day more. Continue reading
LIFE IS a Journey. I have been to the far east and the far west regions of Nepal but have not crossed more than a kilometer of its international boundaries yet. Reporting is my profession. I get some opportunities to travel on assignment.
I still remember my October 2001 Kimathanka trip that also included visit to some easily accessible parts of eastern Nepal. It took me 6 days (of walking) to reach Kimathanka from Khadbaari, the district headquarter of Sankhuwasawa. This is one of the toughest trails and remotest destinations I have ever walked and reached. Shyam Prasad Niraula, a Khadbaari-based reporter with Kantipur, and a local guy named Chandra, who helped me by carrying my baggage, accompanied me in all those ‘difficult’ 10 days.
On our way to the village that borders China, we saw amazing landscapes and hardships of Nepali rural life. We experienced local lifestyle and talked with members of a unique polyandry family. Read about that journey here along with the story of a polyandry family of Kimathanka.
Neighbors and nearby villagers have started making fun of men who share their wife.
By Dinesh WAGLE
KIMATHANKA: It was beyond their imagination. The fathers could not have imagined doing what their son did. The oldest son of two fathers and a mother married two girls. The first marriage was already fixed as per the Nawa (a Sherpa cast) tradition of Kimathanka when both prospective bride and groom were kids. After a few years bride entered the groom’s house and gave birth to a daughter.
But Dawa, son of two brothers Chhindum Nawa, 38, and Rinjin Nawa, 35, and their shared wife Rishe Chyawa, fell in love with another girl. Dawa surely didn’t want to live like his fathers by sharing his wife with his brothers. Therefore, at the age of 20, Dawa fled to Kathmandu with his beloved. It takes 6 days of walk and a-day-long bus ride to reach the capital city from Kimathanka.
According to the information provided by his shocked fathers and mother who live in Kimathanka village of Sankhuwasabha district, Dawa “now works for a trekking agency in Kathmandu.” After her husband left her, the co-wife (first wife of Dawa) left the house as well. Now she lives in her natal home in the same village with their her 3-year-old daughter, the token of her relationship with Dawa that didn’t last long. (But Dawa’s first wife is still very loved in by his parents. They said: “We love her very much but what could the poor girl possibly do when her husband abandons her for another woman?”)
The polyandry tradition in Kimathanka and Ridak, the northern remote villages bordering China, is gradually vanishing. Dawa is not the first person from the same family to go against the age old tradition. Chhiring, 50, Dawa’s uncle (eldest brother his fathers) has married two wives. Chhiring has two sons and a daughter from his first wife, and two sons and two daughters from the second. According to Chhindum and Rinjin, their brother was “separated from the family when we were around 7 years old.” The trios themselves had two fathers.
It’s not unusual in Nepali society to see a man marrying two or even three wives. The infighting between/among sautas (multiple wives of a man) is pervasive in the society. Brothers too fight while dividing their parental property during separation. But, look at Chhindum and Rinjin- the two brothers who have been sharing a wife in Rishe Chyawa. You could feel that they are not just sharing a wife but also sharing their bodies, their hearts. They even share a pipe while drink Tongwa (home made alcohol). When I was in their home to have a cup of Yak milk on October 18th, both brothers were drinking Tongwa from the same pipe as their wife sat nearby. On her lap was an infant. Other five children were around their mother. Between them was the hearth.
They were speaking the local Tibetan language. The older brother told the younger: “Brother, drink some Tongwa.” The younger replied: “I am drinking brother, you also drink.” The 41-year-old Sherpeni (wife of a Sherpa, or rather two Sherpas!) who had been getting affection from two husbands was busy feeding her kids. She was giving them Tibetan tea- mixture of salt, ghee and yak milk.
(This family’s 18-year-old second son is a 5th grader in a nearby primary school. His further education is uncertain as there is no high school nearby. The nearest one is 6-days walk away, in Khandbari, the district headquarter. Fourth child Uchhen is 6 years old, a first grader. 13-year-old daughter Chippa doesn’t go to school. “There is no one in the house to work,” told one of her fathers. The 5-year-old Yunchhuk is the 5th child and Pema, the 6th is 3 years old.)
Chhindum hardly understands Nepali language. Rinjin speaks the national language fluently. After cleaning a glass very carefully and putting fresh Yak milk on fire, Rinjin said: “We two brothers are living with the same wife.” Finally he came to the topic I was trying to talk about!
This family has 22 hybrid yaks. The environment of Kimathanka, where snow falls only 3 months a year, is not suitable for the cattles. That is why the brothers take their yaks up on the hills- in the vast terrain of high snowy hills that could be reached from their home after walking for two days. Turn by turn, these brothers take care of the yaks in the shed. It’s time of snow fall in Kimathanka. After bringing down the yaks, both brothers were relaxing by sitting together on the leather of yak and drinking Tongwa in front of their wife.
If you give attentive ear to these brothers you will know that there are certain reasons behind the polyandry tradition in this village. The farming land is precious little, and production is very much less compared to the efforts for cultivating. If all brothers marry different women that will lead to separation of the family. That, in turn, will results in the division of land. That means less food production.
While one brother goes to the hilltop to rear yaks, another lives in home with wife. By that division of labor both yaks and home are taken care of. This makes life somewhat easier also. “You can even be rich living with a shared wife,” Rinjin told as he poured the hot milk in a glass. “Property has to be divided if you live with separate wife. This makes you poor and you cant have enough food to eat.”
Among the total 48 houses of Kimathanka, 15 are polyandry families. But in at least 5 families, men have multiple wives. Kimathanka Village Development Commeete (VDC) Chairman Rijjeen Sherpas’ house could offer a glimpse into the conflicting situation. Chairman’s first son, Kin Sang, and the third, Dawa, are sharing a wife where as second Pasang is happily living with his two wives.
“This is a tradition we have followed for ages,” said Mrs. Rihse in Tibetan. How does she feel about being loved by two husbands. “Who do you love the most?” I asked her. The answer could have been different if I had asked that in the absence of both or one of her husbands. My question made her shy.
“I love both of them equally. And, they also love me very much and equally,” she said.
As she said that both her husbands who were eagerly watching her as if they were kids smiled together. I sipped the yak milk and threw another question to her. “Who do you like more?” There was a quick response from Rishe that made her husbands’ faces shine. “Both men look similar, their faces look similar to me, their habits are similar. I like both of them equally.”
The appearance could be same only if looked from Rishe’s eyes of love. What I saw is the older brother had somewhat whitish complexion, he sported a ponytail that was tied by a red thread. Younger brother looked a bit overweight, sported mustache and had dark complexion.
Thanks to the polyandry tradition the population of Kimathanka has increased by only 10 person in last 10 years. According to the 1992 National Census, the population of Kimathanka was 303. This year’s census reveals the new number as 313. On the basis of population, Kimathanka is the smallest among 4 thousand VDCs of Nepal.
Polyandry is no more a fashionable thing especially outside the village. Residents of neighboring Nepali villages like Chepuwa, Chyamtang and Hatiya laugh at the polyandry husbands. Youths who have seen the world outside Kimathanka village think its shameful to share a wife with brothers. I asked a young boy of polyandry parents about the tradition. “No, I will never do what my parents have been doing. Sharing your wife is a shameful thing.”
In the polyandry culture the older brother is the head of the family. He is also the official father of the kids even if their biological father is his brother. For example, in the citizenship, the ‘father’ of the shared wife’s children is the older brother. House and land are registered in his name. Kami Nawa, Chairman, Ward No. 6., of the VDC said: “The mother decides which children belongs to which husbands if the brothers wanted to separate.”
A question related to this made the otherwise cool Sherpeni, Rishe who was had decorated her hair with a jasmine flower, somewhat agitated. “We are living now in harmony, there is no necessity of separation,” she said curtly.
“Why do you want to know about this? Who do you think you are to ask such question?”
Probably, she was right. The milk in my glass was already finished.
This article, translated from Nepali, was first published in Nepal Magazine.
Here are photos from my Kimathanka trip