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Sustainable Communities: Kathmandu to Nangi
The Earthducation team is traveling in Nepal, capturing education and sustainability narratives from a broad array of individuals in urban centers and small villages alike. In the first few days in the field, we were welcomed into two starkly different communities: the capital city of Kathmandu, and the remote village of Nangi in the mountains west of Pokhara. This full update details our travels to date, through May 1. We’ll stay one more day in Nangi before spending time in Pokhara and the surrounding area. From there, we return to Kathmandu, and then continue on to a farming community outside the capital city.
Day 1: April 29
The final leg of our journey to Kathmandu began with an early morning rise after a late night’s arrival in Bangkok. Fighting jet lag, we averaged about two hours of sleep, following 24 hours of travel from Minneapolis to Tokyo to Bangkok. We were excited that this last leg of the trip was a comparatively short 3-hour flight!
The cityscape that greeted us upon arrival in Kathmandu took us by surprise. Everest tends to dominate people’s image of Nepal, and urban landscapes here are sometimes overlooked in popular media — especially of late with the recent tragic events on the great mountain. Though overcast skies prevented us seeing much of the topography of the region as we landed, the Kathmandu cityscape presented us with muted brown buildings and a mass chaos of motorcycles, cars, buses, dust, and pedestrians. We laughed at the thought of one of us attempting to drive here, amidst such chaos. Good thing Aaron had made the decision ahead of time not to drive in Nepal!
A young man helped us through the airport to customs. We were then asked dozens of times if we needed a taxi before we finally found our driver, who we had arranged for ahead of time. We did a quick stop at our hotel, and then were off to our first interview, with Mr. Hari Krishna Nibanupudi at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). ICIMOD serves eight countries in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Their focus is on globalization and climate change and how the increasing impact of both have had a major impact on the mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people.
At ICIMOD, Mr. Nibanupudi is the Action Area Team Leader for Water and Hazards. We spent the afternoon discussing some of the major issues that ICIMOD is facing in a developing country like Nepal. These include:
- The mountain communities are outside the geographic location of the policymakers and thus, it’s difficult to get them recognized politically.
- The remoteness of smaller countries such as Nepal and Bhutan and their lack of economic growth are reflected in a weak presence in the global community. Also, Nepal has relatively recently been liberated from colonial rule (since 2008) and so are still working to build their own governmental system, and are slowly catching up with global economic trends.
- Climate change is compounding the above issues, as well as impacting the growing season, glaciers and glacial lakes, freshwater access, and more.
Mr. Nibanupudi also shared his view of the importance of education to developing sustainability.
From our meeting at ICIMOD, we headed immediately to the other side of the city to meet with Mr. Tara Prasad Gnyawali, Senior Livelihoods Expert with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Nepal. We learned quickly that WWF focuses on much more than wildlife. Habitat encroachment, community beliefs and perspectives, and politics all impact wildlife protection. Mr. Gnyawali described major factors that WWF Nepal deals with on a daily basis, ranging from poaching to animal trafficking. He also discussed the importance of sustainability for future generations and why he has been at WWF for more than 20 years.
You can listen to interview clips from our meetings at ICIMOD and the WWF in the update video attached to this post.
Day 2: April 30
Our destination for day 2 was Nangi village and Himanchal Higher Secondary School. We knew it was going to be a long day of travel from Kathmandu, but surprises lay ahead. We departed for Pokhara at 8:30 AM – a quick 25 minute flight that should have yielded a stunning view from above. Unfortunately, overcast skies prevented us seeing much from the plane, even though we were flying at no higher than 12,000 feet.
The city of Pokhara radiated a quieter and quainter feel than Kathmandu, less chaotic. We didn’t have time to explore, however, as we strapped our gear atop a taxi and were immediately off to the village of Beni to meet our guide to Nangi. The 50 mile drive to Beni took about 3 hours. Thankfully, it was much more relaxed than our experience on the roads of Kathmandu!
In Beni we met Mr. Chitra Pun, a former resident of Nangi who we were excited to have serve as our interpreter and guide for our visit there. When we asked how long the drive to Nangi would take, Chitra simply smiled and said, “It takes a long time.” We moved our bags from the small Suzuki taxi car to a Mahindra Bolero – a Jeep-like vehicle that was needed to conquer what lay ahead. A number of locals joined us for the ride up into the mountains – and what a ride it was!
The 21 miles of road to Nangi only opened in 2010. It took three years to build the road, which is unpaved. The road is littered with boulders, tire ruts, and serious terrain that only special vehicles can handle. Chitra described the ride as “Jeep walking,” and that it truly was, as the Bolero seemed to walk slowly and carefully up the side of the mountain.
Charlie’s view from his side of the Bolero was straight down the mountainside. He described it as a “living nightmare” as he absolutely hates cliffs. His hands were sweating for the full six hours it took us to climb the mountain as we switch backed and forth the entire way, with only one tea break en route. The drive brought some beautiful sites as well, though, with intricate terraced farming covering the mountainsides in all directions.
What a delight it was to finally arrive in Nangi just as dusk settled in. At 7,380 feet, the village is nestled in the southern flank of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges of the Himalayas, surrounded by terraced farming and flanked by the high Himalayas in the north, including Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, the seventh and tenth highest peaks in the world.
There are less than 500 people that live in Nangi. We were fortunate to be staying at the community lodge, part of the Himanchal Education Foundation. This foundation, spearheaded by local resident Dr. Mahabir Pun, is truly a spectacular look at how a community has worked to retain their cultural values and traditions while bringing running water, electricity, and cutting-edge technology into their village and school. In fact, even in this remote village, as we work on this update, we have access to the Internet. That’s amazing. Consider the fact that Aaron, living just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, only has access by satellite! The Himanchal Education Foundation is a network of people who have joined together to transform a village. From solar panels to water pumps, Internet, sustainable farming practices, and electricity, the local community and volunteers throughout the world have truly made this village a model of sustainability.
Day 3: May 1
To get an understanding of the Nangi school, we spent the day interviewing teachers and students. We first met with Kishan Pun, the math and computer teacher at the school. Kishan shared his perspectives on technology, education, and sustainability while also showcasing his impressive computer lab. Kishan noted that the importance of technology in the village is that it allows current and future students the opportunity to stay within the village to receive their education rather than travelling to distant communities such as Kathmandu and Pokhara. He uses technology to teach his students everything from programming to various software applications to learning about different cultures throughout the world. He shared, “Through the internet [students] can learn the cultures from different people from different countries. They can exchange their cultures with their friends.”
Village members also have the opportunity to connect with people throughout the world using technology. Kishan said, “Local people use computers only for communication right now but I hope they use computers for more information for different fields like health, agriculture, and economics.” When asked his perspective on the importance of education and sustainability, Kishan said, “education means achieving the knowledge to live” and “sustainability means maintaining the present condition of everything. So we have to inform and educate people how to maintain what we have right now, for our future. It’s our duty to inform and teach people how to maintain everything that we have.”
We also sat down with two eleventh grade students, Chhatra Pun and Indra Pun. They shared their goals for the future, becoming a social worker in the village and becoming a banker, respectively. They also shared that their favorite things about growing up in Nangi are the people and the beautiful landscape of their country. For both, they felt that education is the most vital part of their life, both formally and informally, as it provides them the opportunity to achieve their dreams and goals.
Chandra Phal is the English teacher at the school. He grew up in a village in southern Nepal before coming to Nangi to teach English. He noted that one of the best things about the area is not only the village itself and the people, but the mountainous landscape. The region he grew up in southern Nepal is, believe it or not, flat plains. Nepal ranges from a low point in the south of 194 ft (59 m) in the southern tropical Terai, to the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, at 29,035 ft (8,850 m).
In addition to his teaching, Chandra assists in the coordination of volunteers that come to the village to help with activities such as the teaching of English, teaching of sports, assisting with farming, and also the very important Nangi Paper Project. Volunteers come from throughout the world, spending anywhere from a few weeks to months at a time here.
The Nangi Paper Project employs many women in the village and brings money to the village through the sale of paper to countries such as Australia. The paper is used in products ranging from notebooks to wine holders. We were able to view the paper-making process and interview Ms. Kumari Chochanzi, who leads the project. Kumari spends her work days collecting wood, shaving imperfections off the bark, soaking and drying the bark, and ultimately crafting the bark into pulp and then into paper.
The afternoon was consumed with a hike across an idyllic valley that looked like a spread out of National Geographic — lush green landscapes covered with terraced farming. During our hike, Chitra showcased yet another example of a sustainability-focused project in Nangi — The First Year Nursery Project. In canisters lining the mountainside, varieties of trees that will take from 20 to 80 years to mature are planted. The villagers tend to the plants using local dung for fertilizer until the plants are big and strong enough to be transplanted into the forest. Wood is extremely important to the community as all cooking and building in the village uses timber. There is no propane gas or metal that is used.
As we hiked the steep mountainside and entered a forest, we came to a shrine. Chitra explained that this shrine is sacred to the people of the region. During the month of August people trek for days to reach it, in an area of forest where nothing can be removed or added — not a leaf or stone. If someone takes something from the forest here, it is said to bring bad luck to the entire family. People visit the shrine to offer requests ranging from good health, to a loving spouse, to a good growing season in the fields.
Continuing on our trek, we reached a group of villagers working by hand on the construction of a road to allow for easier travel during the rainy season. Men were bringing rocks to the location, and women were working splitting the rocks, removing the soil, and building up the road to make it more secure. Almost a hundred community members were working at the site. We interviewed the Nangi Village Leader, Laxman Garbuza. He explained the importance of bringing the road to Nangi. The road allows for easier travel by foot and Jeep, and also for produce to be transported to and sold in the communities of Beni and Pokhara, bringing greater wealth and a higher quality of living to the village. Laxman described the important of sustaining culture and life through technological advancements. The most modern technology used in the village in terms of road construction has been two tractors that are used to carry stone to the road construction location. Villagers then manually secure the stone into the ground to build up the road using tools that have been used for hundreds of years.
Our trek ended with a tremendous thunderstorm! A thunderstorm as only can be experienced in the mountains. As we hiked back to Nangi Community Lodge, thunder boomed, lightning flashed, and intense rain poured down, followed by hail. We put on raincoats and fully enjoyed the experience. After all, how many times in life do you find yourself hiking through a raging storm on a mountainside in Nepal?
Please share your perspective on the EnviroNetwork! Our goal is for people around the world to share their ideas on how education and sustainability intersect. For example, what do you believe is the importance of education and how does education, be it from a formal school or your parents and elders, impact your ability to sustain your way of life? We would like EVERYONE to participate. No matter if you are 13 or 90 years old, we want to see you on the network!