Journey to Mankha – Part I

I’ve been needing to get to Mankha for a while. Our Namlo Nepal team has been having several meetings in that community to consider it for a new location for us, and have had many discussions to look at building a new school and other projects. The area has been severely affected by a landslide which took place at the beginning of August, which not only killed people, destroyed homes and left people homeless, but also cut the Arniko highway, which is the major highway leading into Tibet. Aruna Thapa was constantly trying to find out from the principal of the local high school in Mankha whether or not it was even possible to travel to Mankha from Kathmandu. If the road was still eroded before the turnoff to Mankha, it could add miles to the journey on foot.

With my time in Nepal drawing to an end, and the start of a religious holiday on Thursday, my chances of getting to Mankha seemed to be growing slim. This past Monday, Aruna finally said, “o.k., you need to go, otherwise you will be always thinking about it, and that you should have gone. But it might take you ten hours to get there on foot. Also, there have been robberies on people traveling in the area, because of the instability resulting from the landslide.”

Great, I thought. Robbers. My mind raced back to my time spent in Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and Tanzania during the civil turmoil of the early 1990s, when warlords, kidnappings, ambushes, refugees, and misery were the order of the day. Which, unfortunately, is still going on in many parts today. I left that experience with a strong desire to avoid any unnecessarily risky situations, vowing to never again put myself willingly in harms way.

I made up my mind and decided to go. We rented a 4×4, and early Tuesday, Dipendra Joshi and I lit out for Mankha. After a few hours, we made it down the Arniko highway to Kadechaur, which enabled us to cut about three hours off of our trip.

Kadechaur

Kadechaur

After, having a couple of samosas in a local restaurant, we began walking to the dirt road that takes you up to Mankha. We were joined by some high school students, called up by Dipendra to accompany us up to Mankha. Strength in numbers.

Our teenage protectors

Our teenage protectors

It was a three and a half hour hike up a steep, rocky road that was seriously eroded from the monsoon rains. Hot and humid, sweat dripped from my face, and my heart pounded. I walked from shade to shade, taking shelter from the sun for brief moments, since I had left my hat in the hotel room. We were led by a 17-year old girl with a pink umbrella who put my hiking stamina to shame.

Our 17 year-old guide

Our 17 year-old guide

She said there were tigers in the forest at night. Really? Luckily, no sign of thieves either. As we walked, I looked up longingly at the cool mist and cloud that enveloped the top of the hill where Mankha was situated. Further up the hill a beautiful waterfall, plunged noisily into the forest. I so much wanted to find it and jump in.

We finally made it to top of the small plateau of Mankha at around 1:30. We were welcomed by the family where Dipendra and I were to spend the night, and then went to another home to have a bite, after which we returned to the first home and promptly passed out on the floor of the second story, where they had two small bedrooms, as well as storage for maize and potatoes.

Our hosts

Our hosts

k The homes are nothing if not cozy, but Dipendra was always reminding me to mind my head. Designed to retain heat in the winter, the windows, doors are small, floors and walls plastered in mud. Balconies and porches enable people to sleep out in the hot summer months, but we were to sleep in the bedrooms upstairs, accessed by a steep and smoke-blackened ladder. The kitchen on the ground floor has a semi-circular hearth in the middle of the floor, where all cooking is done. The blackened joists and timbers attest to the fact that smoke fills up the kitchen, with the doorway being the sole source of ventilation. Some people have adopted improved mud stoves in their homes which greatly reduce the amount of smoke inside the home, but people like to gather around the fire in the winter, and the hearth is also a holy place of the house, regardless of the respiratory problems it may cause. Dipendra and I spent a pleasant evening shucking corn on the porch with the mother, daughter, sons and friends, all gathered and enjoying each other’s company, kernels of maize piling around our feet. Shortly after the sun went down, we went inside, climbed the ladder to our tiny rooms, and promptly fell asleep.
Evening rain in Mankha

Evening rain in Mankha