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Posts Tagged ‘Nepal’

A thin layer of sweat sheathed my skin, keeping my body perpetually moist. It wasn’t sunny under the thick canopy of creeping vines and jungle trees, but the air was hot and thick, constipated with the monsoon rains that still haven’t come. Much of the forest floor was patched with black spots where guides had set fires so that the crumpling underbrush would burn in small controlled flames instead of one raging wildfire. Ash and spider webs clung to my arm hairs. But despite the smell of burning grass that hung on the air, much of the jungle was still green and thriving. And so were its creatures.

It was just a jungle walk- one of those ‘maybe you’ll see animals, maybe you won’t’ type of things. I was walking casually down a soft sanded Jeep path when my guide made a noise to get our attention. I turned to see him crouched down on his haunches, leaning on his walking stick, and staring between the tree trunks off of the left side of the path.

He looked up at us and whispered, “Rhino.” Then he waved for us to walk backwards quietly and peer through the trees. Tension pulled tightly on the heavy air. Sunscreened hands gripped their SLR cameras, but no one dared to take a picture. At the beginning of the walk, the guide had told us what to do just in case we encountered any aggressive wild creatures. The trick for rhinos is to climb up a tree. They can’t see up.

Rhinos! Photo taken from the safety of an elephant's back

I couldn’t see anything at first. The rhinoceros’s grey hide blended in with the brown trunks and underbrush. As soon as it moved though, it was unmistakable. It walked a few steps backward and then turned toward us. For a heartbeat I stared at the two black eyes and small horned head that crowned the Hummer-sized beast. It took a step toward us, and the guide turned, his index finger to his lips, and motioned for us to go back. The French tourists in our group ran back the way we’d come. I looked around to check the climability of the nearest trees while slowly stepping backward.

I can’t describe what it was like to see such a huge beast in its native habitat. It’s the type of thing that needs to be felt in order to be understood. During an elephant ride later that day, I saw five more rhinos and spotted deer and non-spotted deer and wild boar. Even though I grew up near the woods in Pennsylvania, I’ve never seen so much wildlife in one place before.

The rhinos here were nearly hunted to extinction, but the Nepali government stepped in and created strict rules and strong fines that now protect all of Chitwan’s wildlife. The park is pristine, especially in comparison to the Keralan backwaters- another biological treasure, but one that isn’t protected by government regulation. It would be naïve of me to say that we need to be eternally conscious of the wellbeing of wild animals and precious natural places so that people can always have the chance to enjoy them. Maybe this is a reason for preservation of our natural resources, but so often the argument gets left at that. Even people who will never trek in a jungle are connected to that jungle’s resources. We can’t even begin to imagine the vast interconnectedness of all living things (although science can certainly begin to sketch a vague picture). A single blog post can hardly serve a reasonable explanation. Appreciation of living things and wild animals is a reason to demand their protection, but don’t stop at that- keep thinking about it.

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Paragliders float towards the ground against a backdrop of a dark hill, like a descending flock of colorful, lazy birds. Kayaks and rowboats glide along a lake fringed with pollution, but good for swimming at the middle. Shaded shops stuffed with North Face gear, hiking poles, and hippie clothes line the main street along the lake. Pokhara has all of the marks of a well-visited tourist town, but the muggy pre-monsoon air reflects a truth that’s easier ignored than faced.

Although she’s a Tibetan refugee, Lhopsa has never seen Tibet. Her Tibetan mother died when she was young, and Lhopsa began to wash clothes in a hotel in Phokara. Now she comes into town everyday to sell trinkets to tourists, carrying her business in a backpack that looks like an overachieving middleschooler’s. If she sells something, then she gets to eat. Food is expensive in Pokhara.

There are so many injustices that I would hear about in the news or read about in books. Talking to Lhopsa made them real for me. Although born in Nepal, the refugees are not Nepali citizens, so they don’t have a citizens’ rights. And how can I say that they should be made citizens when there are so many refugees (aka illegal immigrants) in my own country who are only slightly better off? She can’t eat. She doesn’t own the land she lives on. She can’t afford to.

So many times I would argue about the problems of international sustainable development- first world organizations going into developing countries to help them meet their basic needs. I was always against it. The more I learned, the more I saw organizations like the World Bank wrecking people’s lives in an attempt to control their resources, all under the guise of sustainable development. But there was Lhopsa, sitting in front of me in her tourist hand-me-down Victoria’s Secret T-shirt, fully aware that she’d received a low lot in life, telling me about her impossible dreams of coming to America.

I wanted to know what she thought. I explained the idea of a self-sustaining community; that she’d be able to grow her own food and generate her own electricity and clean water, and not have to rely on money from tourists. That she and the other refugees would design the community and make all of the decisions. Her answer?

She chuckled and with a smile, said, “Me, I have no education. I know only a little English. Only a little Nepali. If you want to do that, then you come up and see it. You do that.” I don’t think she believed that it was possible.

And so, as she dreams about marriage to a westerner as a ticket to freedom, Lhopsa will continue to come into Phokara every morning to scratch by a living. Sometimes she’ll eat, sometimes she won’t. Her mother left Tibet because she had no freedom there. Lhopsa, too, is now enslaved.

But what can we do? More than anything, we can look this problem straight in the face. We can recognize that a similar problem is happening in the U.S., only we call it by a different name. Maybe, if done properly and by the right people, sustainable development is the solution. I can’t think of any other ones. And as frustrated and angry as I felt, I knew that at least I could write about this. Even though there’s nothing else I can do right now, at least I can listen to Lhopsa’s story. And share it.

 

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A quick return

So the practice of detachment was important for me and I’ve certainly learned from it. But it’s time to rejoin the infosphere. My absence from posting allowed me to appreciate the joy that I get from it. And more importantly, there’s a story that I have to tell.

But first an update. In the past two weeks I’ve made my way to the mountains of Nepal. I spent an incredible overnight journey with an Indian family in the ladies’ compartment of the Trivandrum – Chennai Express, flew up to Kathmandu and strolled its hectic, winding, colorful streets, climbed over a thousand steps to see a Gurkha palace and catch my first glimpse of the adjectives-can’t-do-them-justice Himalayas, and now I’ve found myself staying at another ashram near the Annapurna mountain range.

And now for that story.

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