Category Archives: Jumla Journey


Extreme Nepal: Karnali Highway


An elderly Raute in a thoughtful mood

The extreme airport video of Lukla reminded me of an extreme highway in West Nepal on which I have traveled thrice. A documentary (below) on Karnali highway made by a French production company rates the highway as one of the world’s most dangerous. My first journey on the highway that lasted for 52 hours straight was the result of my unwillingness to wait indefinitely at Jumla airport (another not-so-easy-to-land-at airport) for a plane to come from Nepalgunj The weather didn’t improve thus I opted for the road. (Why and How I was in Jumla and where did I go. Plus: Rara Lake and a different Alchemist)

The second time I traveled on the highway, I started the journey from Surkhet as driver Tilak and his helper Muskan (and the Rautes) do in the film. After watching the movie, if you become curious about Tilak Nepali then Tales of a Highway Driver in Karnali is the page to go. It was such a memorable journey but at times I was so very tired too. (Super Tired. Nearly Depleted. Almost Finished) Continue reading

The Spirit of the Karnali Highway!

Super Tired. Nearly Depleted. Almost Finished.

There are some moments when you are tired and almost finished with whatever energy that you have got in your body. But the fact that there is still some work to do makes you go crazy. I was in that state when these photos were taken by David Geoffrion, a French TV cameraman inside the compound of Kalikot District Hospital in late February. We were waiting for some people at MSF, an international humanitarian medical agency that operates in Kalikot, that’s located inside the District Hospital compound. Continue reading

After a Month in Karnali, I am Back in Kathmandu

I am back in Kathmandu. I came here on the last day of February flying from Jumla to Nepalgunj and from there to Kathmandu. I was in Karnali for a month (February). I did travel the Karnali Highway (Jumla-Surkhet) twice this time. From Jumla to Surkhet and from Surkhet to Jumla. I also went to a village in Achham following young boys who were returning from India after working at a cricket stadium constructing site in Nainital.

I had traveled the highway (from Jumla to Surkhet) six months ago.

After a Night in Nepalgunj, I am in Jumla

After the first ever helicopter ride, I take a first ever walk in Jumla headquarters. There are many firsts.

04 July: By all accounts and activities that I experienced today, it was indeed a historic day. Let me be chronological because histories are recorded that way. I woke up at 06:45 even as I had slept at around 12:30 night. I am talking about this morning in Nepalgunj, in Sneha hotel. That was a nice hotel with the cooler (not AC though) switched on all night which was normal in a super hot place like Nepalgunj. The hotel apparently was occupied by quite a many khaire and khaireni as it has a neighbor called United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN- regional office). The hotel owner told me that eight rooms were occupied by UNMIN folks while a few others by activist and probably doctors of Medicine Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders). Okay, it seems I am stuck into details.

I had never stayed in Nepalgunj before and not certainly shared a room with a word wizard guy called Raj Kumar, a reporter with Nepal One TV who, like me, was in the trip to cover a parliamentary observation of the newly constructed Karnali Highway. The members of Public Account Committee were undertaking a helicopter trip to Jumla to observe the muddy, unpaved and still-under-improvement highway (Jumla-Surkhet). (Read my Highway journey here)

So this guy: Raj Kumar. He is quite a talkative guy with millions of topic to talk about. He talked like hell- I mean everything from hell to heaven to life and death to sports and dreams. The weirdest thing was a weird lump of flesh on this guy’s chest. That was a small, rectangular shaped thing, slightly overgrown from the rest of the chest. What’s that on there? Is that a locket? If that is a locket, why can’t I see the string attached? After I finally managed to ask, he explained me that the ‘locket’ grew up when he suffered some kind of a disease and that remained there ever since. “I love this thing these days,” he said. “I don’t want to remove it [through surgery] though doctors have said it could be removed. Sometime it itches but that’s it.” Continue reading

Kathmandu iPod: A Story From Nepal

The lead: There are peculiar challenges of iPoding in Kathmandu and there is also a grim irony in owning an iPod in Nepali society.

Two boys in Jumla, a remote district in Nepal, listen to folk songs iPod

With jeans tugged into their socks and eyes as red as ripe tomatoes, the boys were Jug Bahadur Bhandari, 15 (left), and Prakash Bhandari, 13. (from From Wagle’s Rara travelogue: Up to Rara Lake with Dohori Dhun All the Way

What do you do when you are eagerly waiting for something and you know it will take some time for the thing to arrive to you? Well, you eagerly wait. You prepare yourself, mentally and physically, for THE thing. And if THE thing is an iPod, you might do some research about the tiny and beautiful piece of music playing device. You might want to learn how to transfer songs from your computer, learn more about the machine itself: from ways to save battery to organizing songs in iTunes. I did all that on the first week of April (and continued doing so until I got hold of a video iPod at the end of the month). I used to give about three hours of my internet time just to do research on iPod and the iPod universe.

Not many people use iPod in Kathmandu and there was only one iPoder in our office: with a Nano. So my 80 GB video iPod instantly became the object of envy and desire and wow among my colleagues and other friends. Can I just touch it? Can I see how the songs sound like? “Well, Rs. two for touching,” I would joke. It took me no time to realize that I must cover the iPod with some cover if I want to save it from being scratched or loose some friends for not giving them to touch the thing. I opted for the first option.

As soon as I get hold of the iPod, I intensified my search for multi-gigabytes of songs. One song or hundreds, I don’t care, I would say, just give me because I have to fill this monster. So far, after using the machine for months, I have only managed to fill 30 gigs of songs. (Another 30 gigs is filled by files from my laptop.)

In the meantime, I also write an op-ed piece in Kantipur about iPod that received a lot of comments and appreciation from many young readers of the newspaper. I basically gave introduction of iPod to readers along with some information on iPod culture worldwide and shared my experience of iPoding in Kathmandu. If you think you will be able to enjoy the music of your iPod in a public vehicle in Kathmandu, think again. The gurujis (drivers) of public bus/autorickshaws have their own music system which includes blaring up folk tunes so loud that if you happen to be sitting near the speaker, you will probably be deafened. There is no way you can play your iPod with the buses’ music system on. Otherwise it will be an ideal device to keep the chattering of fellow travelers at bay.

iPod article I wrote in Kantipur:

गोजीभरि गीत : आइपोड लहर

दिनेश वाग्ले

त्यो जादूमयी ‘क्लिक ह्विल’ चलाउन अल्छी लागेपछि मैले ‘सफ्फल’ मोडलाई सक्रिय पारेर आइपोडलाई डीजे बनाइदिएको थिएँ । त्यसयता उसले त्यहाँका अनेकौं भाषा र विधाका गीत सुनाइरहेको छ । सुरुमै ‘आइएम गोइङ टु टेल अ सेक्रेट’ भन्दै, उनको भलो होस्, म्याडोना आएकी थिइन् र अघिसम्म मेट्रोको ‘करले तु भी मोहब्बत’ बजेको थियो । भर्खरै ‘गार्लिक मस्टार्ड पिकर्स’को इट्रुमेन्टल ‘इफ इभर यु वेर माइन’ सुरु भयो । यसपछि के बज्ला मलाई नसोध्नुस् । नारायणगोपालले ‘मलाई नसोध’ भन्ने हुन् या नेल्ली फुर्टाडोले ‘से इट राइट’ चिच्याउने हुन् या नोरा जोन्सको सुरिलो भाका आउने हो या राजा हिन्दुस्तानीको ‘परदेशी’, केही थाहा छैन । या जिमी हेन्डि्रक्स ? गेरी मुर ? मोहम्मद रफी या चियाबारीमा रिमिक्स । ८० जीवीको यो सेतो, अति सुन्दर र निकै मायालु भाँडोमा मुस्किलले ३० जीवी ठाउँ तीन हजारजति गीतले ओगटेका छन् । ती सबै गीत सुन्न मलाई लगातार ७० दिन लाग्नेछ, तर आइपोड भर्ने अभियान जारी छ । (continuing reading it here)

My iPod has gone through wide array of usage in various places that, I think, American (or any other for that matter) iPods rarely go through. My iPod has done white water rafting, almost did bungee jumping, has reached to some of the remotest corners of Nepal walking for as many as 10 hours a day. It has boated over the biggest and second deepest lake in Nepal. And many people- from journalists of downtown Kathmandu to shepherds in remotest corner of one of the most remote districts in Nepal- have enjoyed the music in it with equal enthusiasm. I was enthralled when two boys of Jumla, a remote district, were humming songs that they were listening to the iPod: latest Nepali folk remix that they were listening for the first time in their life though they were very good at singing local folk tunes of the region. A shepherd near Rara Lake was fascinated when he heard a song about ‘wool and sheep’ in the iPod. He was surrounded by his sheep as he was listening to the song.

To own a machine like iPod for a person like me is to fulfill an expensive hoby for sure. It cost me more than the combined figure of my two months salary and prompted my Canadian friend who brought it for me to write this line: “I though you were supposed to buy land with that much money [almost US $ 350= Rs. 24000].” When you really want something, you really don’t care about other things and don’t care about how much you are spending. To own an iPod had become a long time dream for me and I am so happy that I finally bought one.

I was embarrassed to tell the price of iPod when an enthusiast Jumlee boy, who hosted me an evening in his house turned Dhamaka Hotel for the night, asked. He had guessed that he could get the machine in the market for about Rs. 1500. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to tell him the real price and he stared at me (and then the iPod) for about 2 minutes in disbelief. Of course no one a village like that one in Jumla believes that a small machine can fetch up to 24 thousand because iPod are the machines of a different world. After that evening, I told many that I bought the machine for about Rs. 2000 in Kathmandu. The irony is you can get pirated iPod in the marked for as little as Rs. 1200. Even some colleagues in my newspaper bought some from China for the same amount. There are plenty of iPod look-alikes in the market but they can be distinctly identified: just by asking one simple question- does this need iTunes? And the answer is certainly a big NO.

Thanks to the spreading use of Internet and expanding penetration of satellite channels in the households, Nepali society has been exposed to the world like never before. As Thomas L. Friedman likes to say, the world has become flat and we in Nepal are also experiencing some aspects of the flattening process. At the same time, there is this stark reality that many people in Nepal are living under poverty and in miserable life. Millions of them don’t have access to electricity and telephone, let alone computer and Internet- two essential things to have an iPod. That’s the biggest irony.