I’m in a microbus with windows that slide open and my head is out in the cool air like a dog. The early evening sky is clear and the pictures I’m taking of the snowcapped Himalayas would look a lot better if our driver didn’t swerve so much. The road’s not paved and boulders the size of full grown cows (as well as full grown cows) often materialize in our path. I’m confident we’ll be fine: a laminated picture of Laxman, the Hindu god of good luck, covers our driver’s rear view mirror.
The mountain air tastes sweet at this speed. I no longer notice my own robust odor, or those of the other travelers. The Seti River, the churning brown water to my left, creates standing waves almost a meter tall. Phoebe comments on the rafting potential. I think of the hydroelectric potential.
We had originally planned to be in Baglung longer than eight hours, but instead we are on our way back to Pokhara after a physically demanding day with Mahesh Kaita and Purna Bishwakarma. Prakash, his head on his bag in his lap, is exhausted. His eyes open only after we go over large bumps in the road. Phoebe’s legs ache and my left knee hurts. I wouldn’t think a day hike up and down a mountain is enough to cause me discomfort, but sitting inside this micro, I can feel the joint stiffen and swell. It’s impossible to stretch or straighten the leg, unless I place my foot on the shoulder of the gentlemen sitting across from me. I’d rather not encourage his curiosity, his constant eye contact is tiring already.
I wonder if those women, who greeted us with smiles and namastes on our hike up to the Dalit settlement this afternoon have sore knees. Are they stretching their legs? They must have been fifty, maybe sixty years old. The rock staircase we met them on was too narrow for all of us and so they stepped aside as we continued up. “Ho, sure is steep,” one had offered with a smile. She was barefoot while the other two had plastic sandals. I wanted to ask if they had to climb the path often, but I knew the answer: it was the only way from the settlement to the town. If you lived at the settlement, you had to climb the path. An hour down, maybe an hour and a half up.
Mahesh had written an article about a Hindu temple where Dalits had been forbidden to enter only a few months back. In 1953, after Nepal became a democratic state and opened its doors to the world, untouchability became illegal. Perhaps within living memory for those women with the plastic sandals. But discrimination cases like the temple are common and local law enforcers rarely follow through with such cases. To bring their stories to journalists like Purna and Mahesh are often the only way Dalits can have any hope of justice.
When we made it to the top, I rested underneath a huge bodhi tree. Purna and Mahesh spoke to a few women at a drinking well a few meters away and I looked out across the rolling foothills. I am drawn to mountains for the perspectives they offer: I climbed from there, I am now here, I need to be there. Had the women heard about the temple incident? Do they know who was involved and how it happened? Have they had any problems themselves?
The micro emerges from the twisted mountain road and speeds across flatter ground towards Pokhara. I think we should be there in less than an hour.
Posted By Therkelsen
Posted Jul 13th, 2008