Volunteering in Nepal has many benefits of course. Including exposing you to Nepali pop culture!
As the world gets smaller, it’s rarer and rarer today to find true explorers, those who are the first to visit and map out foreign lands and cultures.
For Nepal, that explorer was Toni Hagen. He was a Swiss geologist who first set foot in Nepal in 1950 as a member of a Swiss foreign aid mission.
These days of course, Nepal and its Himalayas are very popular on the trekking circuit for world travelers. But before Toni and other select early visitors arrived in Nepal in the 1950’s, the country was still “forbidden” to outsiders.
Toni obtained the first trekking permit ever issued to a foreigner traveling in Nepal. Think about that when you receive your own trekking permit there. Amazing.
Altogether, Toni spent over a dozen years in Nepal, walking 14,000 miles, enduring everything from icy blizzards to torrential monsoon rains, while carrying out the first geographical and geological surveys of the country for the Nepalese government and for the United Nations.
Toni plotted sites for hydropower projects like Kulekhani and the Karnali Bend, proposed a east-west electric train artery, ropeways for mountain transport, and advocated rural eco-tourism.
His most famous quote about Nepal though indicates what really impressed him the most about Nepal: “I found the people more important than the rocks.”
Toni, who died in 2003 at the age of 85, documented his work and experiences.
His 1961 book Nepal is still valuable to modern travelers.
He also filmed a documentary on Nepal between 1950 and 1958.
Toni did narrate one version in English, but that version is hard to find online.
The version I am posting below has a narrator speaking Nepali. Still, the images and scenes from Nepal in the 1950s make it well worth watching.
It is an experimental documentary about pilgrims in Nepal traveling on the Manakamana Cable Car between Cheres, Chitwan and the Manakamana Temple.
The film received positive reviews, earning a 95% “Certified Fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
Bilge Ebiri of the New York Magazine (Vulture) said that “it’s the closest I’ve seen a film come to an act of genuine hypnosis.”
A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club stated that “the film’s focus is on neither the destination nor the journey, but on the individuals planting themselves in front of the lens.”
Boyd van Hoeij from The Hollywood Reporter wrote that “the human race finally gets its feature-length close-up”.
Scott Foundras of Variety concluded that “for all its manipulations and self-imposed restrictions, Manakamana is expansive, intricate and surprisingly playful.”
The film garnered “a great deal of buzz” at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize.
For our volunteers in Nepal, being in the country during one of their festivals is a major thrill. Yesterday Nepal celebrated Tamu Lhosar, one of the major cultural festival of the Nepali Gurung community.
Gurungs came together to celebrate Tamu Losar (Gurung’s New Year) at a common place and rejoice in various cultural processions, feasting and greetings.
Losar is the time when family members of all generations get together and exchange love and greetings.
In the old days in the villages, they gathered in courtyards to celebrate Losar. In Kathmandu, Losar is celebrated in Tundikhel ground at the city center vibrant with colorful stalls. The festival marks the end of winter and start of spring that also brings warmness and charm to Tamu Losar.
Gurungs all across the world celebrate Tamu Losar by organizing rallies in traditional attires and cultural programs. They also visit Buddhist shrines on that day. Losar is a wonderful opportunity for foreigners to witness the cultural heritage of the Gurung community.
Gurungs (Tamu) are indigenous inhabitants of west-central parts of Nepal and some live east of Kathmandu. There are numerous clans of Gurungs, the members of which are all well known for their bravery and cultural wealth.
Gurungs divide time into cycles of 12 years (lohokor), to each year of which a special name is given, which is known as Barga (lho). Losar also heralds the change in ‘Lho’.
According to the oriental astrological system, there are 12 lhos–garuda, serpent, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog, deer, mouse, cow, tiger and cat. Therefore, each year is marked by a particular animal and they are arranged in a single circle (on paper), closely following the Tibetan calendar with its’ 12 animals. In early days, when there was no calendar system in Nepal, the 12 rotation system was used to calculate peoples’ ages.
The Nepali Times has a story this week about a documentary about Nepal’s earthquake.
It’s called “Bhagyale Bachekaharu” (Nepal Earthquake: Heroes, Survivors and Miracles).
The film just won the Best Documentary Award at the 2015 Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival.
Official Trailer: Miracle Survivals in Nepal Earthquake
The latest newsletter from the non-profit Next Generation Nepal (NGN) reminds us of why we no longer send volunteers to orphanages in Nepal.
NGN reconnects trafficked children in Nepal with their families. Founded in 2006 by Conor Grennan, NGN has linked nearly 500 trafficked children in its care to their home communities in Nepal through a careful process of reconnection and reunification.
As NGN’s website explains, there are over 16,000 children in orphanages in Nepal. Of those children, two out of three are not orphans.
Conor wrote a best-selling book Little Princes that describes his work with NGN.
NGN’s most recent success involved an emergency rescue of 14 children from an abusive orphanage in Kathmandu. The children were released at approximately 6:10 p.m. on March 17, 2015.
Here is the Conor’s description of the rescue:
When the Child Welfare Board (CCWB) called last week to ask if NGN could rescue children who were suffering neglect and abuse, there was no hesitation.
Within a few hours, NGN staff had carried out the urgent rescue of 14 children from a house near a dilapidated bus station on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
The children, girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 13, had been living on their own in filthy and unsafe conditions without the barest of essentials.
Surrounded on all sides by prostitution, abuse and drunkenness, the children were in imminent danger of falling victim to unspeakable crimes.
As NGN’s rescue team drove the children back to our transit home, they literally sang with joy and relief. Our house-mother had prepared them Dal Bhat (rice and lentils) and welcomed them with the ceremonial “Tika”. Safe, warm, and fed, the healing process has already begun.
Our house doctor has examined all the children and they are being treated for malnourishment, intestinal parasites, scabies and lice.
Many of the children are sick and one-third are showing symptoms of tuberculosis. With proper medication and a safe, sanitary environment these kids are sure to recover from their physical illnesses soon.
It’s the emotional trauma of being separated from their families, exploited and neglected by the people who they had been forced to rely upon, that will take the longest to heal.
The process for finding their mothers and fathers begins with building trust which will take time, but we are patient. The children, understandably, have a very real fear of strangers. Once they are able to confide in us and share their stories, the reunification process will finally begin.
When we take in 14 children overnight, we do it with the faith that we will find the resources to provide for them and to find their mothers and fathers.
We count on our supporters to be there in this time of need which is NOW.
Please help us to help these kids!
Have you heard of the Kumari in Nepal?
She is the living goddess of Nepal — the centerpiece of one of the most arcane, and fascinating, traditions to be found anywhere in the world.
Author Isabella Tree has written a book on the Kumari. It’s called The Living Goddess: A Journey into the Heart of Kathmandu and will be published on June 1, 2015.
Tree is a writer and journalist based in the UK. She is the author of three other non-fiction books and writes for publications such as Granta, National Geographic Magazine, the Sunday Times and the Observer. She has been travelling regularly to Nepal since the 1980s.
So what is the Kumari exactly?
Journalist Mick Brown explains in his article and interview with Tree:
At the age of three or four, a female child is chosen to be worshiped as the embodiment of the goddess Devi (or Durga; or Kali; or, as she is known in Nepal, Taleju – in the taxonomy of Hindu deities, the goddess takes many forms and is known by many names). She is taken from her family and installed in her own residence, where she is tended to by specially selected caretakers.
The Kumari, as she is known (the word means ‘virgin’ or ‘unmarried girl’), is dressed in the finery of the goddess. She may leave her residence – the Kumari Chen – only to attend festivals, a dozen times a year, when her feet must not touch the ground; she is carried by attendants and transported in a palanquin.
When she shows signs of reaching puberty, and before she begins menstruation, her role as the goddess is deemed complete. She is returned to her family and another child is chosen to take her place.
So what to make of the Kumari? To foreigners it is one of those cultural things that takes some getting used to. The idea of taking a four-year-old child away from their families for 10 years is appalling to the western world of course. But Nepalis, and even the former Kumaris themselves, swear by the tradition and continue to revel in it.
On my second trip to Nepal, in 2001, I happened to see the Kumari’s chariot as it processed through the streets of Kathmandu for the Indra Jatra Festival. Memories tend to get faulty after so many years, but I recall catching a glimpse of the Kumari’s face as she raced by.
Shambhu Ghimire, Director of the DOI, said that the new online service is “…currently under trial. We plan to completely switch to the online application system from January next year if everything goes as planned.”
To apply for a Nepal visa online:
- Fill out the online application form.
- Print out the visa receipt.
- Upon arrival in Nepal, present the visa receipt to the immigration officer, along with the visa fee and the required documents (passport and photo)
- The officer will issue the visa to you (by pasting the visa inside your passport)
We will all have to wait and hear from our volunteers and other travelers in the coming months whether filling out the visa form online before leaving for Nepal is worth the effort; eg makes the immigration process faster upon arrival in Nepal.
Regardless, at least Nepal is taking a step in the right direction in terms of moving the visa process to the Web.
Their principal has invited Cosmic Volunteers to send teaching volunteers to their school, in order to help the students with their spoken English and to share any teaching methodologies and experiences you have.
The details of the program:
- Minimum stay: 4 weeks
- Maximum stay: 1 year
- Start Date: Year-round
- Minimum age 25+
- Must have bachelors or teacher certification
- Subjects to teach: English, math, or science
From: Young Chang <—–@hotmail.com>
Date: Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 7:51 AM
Subject: RE: Cosmic Volunteers / Peter
Peter enjoyed so much the hiking trip to Annapurna [in Nepal]. This was totally unexpected event to me. I am very proud of him that he went through the trip. Peter says that all the volunteers are so nice that he will continue to contact them after the program. Thank you so much for letting my son join your program. I advised my son to persevere with any hardships, as he will become a bigger person.