Stroll about Thamel, Kathmandu’s labyrinthine tourist quarter, and you’ll be surprised by the number of Chinese shoppers and hip Nepali partygoers. Where have all the hippies gone, you may well ask. You’re unlikely to find them in the urban crush of modern-day Kathmandu, the dusty vapours of which have all but obscured the Himalayan peaks that bound it to the north.
Yet some of them never left. Within an hour of settling into our newly leased house, set apart from a tiny, off-road hill village an hour east of Kathmandu, we were sipping masala tea with our American neighbours, who run the remarkable ‘Everything Organic’ farm. Jim and Judith, long-term residents of Nepal, were kind enough to let us run riot in their thriving nursery, and we gleefully gathered bunches of salad, arugula, spinach, chard and carrots for what we imagined would be our first meal.
We were wrong. As we cut through fields to our ridge above the farm and sat in the fading winter sun admiring the crystalline spread of the Himalayas, the schoolteacher who’d leased the house to us invited us to the village. And so we found ourselves munching on popcorn and soybeans roasted in a pot over a wood fire, sipping on rich buffalo milk as the first stars began to prick the violet sky.
It was dark by the time we said our goodbyes and lurched down the hill. Chilly and windy, too. But the thick mud-and-stone walls of our two-story house granted us a coziness quite lacking in the concrete high-rises of the city. We set about a meal of pasta and salad with gusto, sketched out a list of what we needed to furnish our newly dubbed ‘Hoori Haus’ (Windy House), then bedded down in our sleeping bags.
Early to bed, early to rise was never truer. By six I was eyeing the tangerine horizon over the black silhouette of the mountains through the window; by seven we were out in the sun again, savouring fresh Nepali coffee and greeting schoolkids as they tripped down to school in boisterous clusters.
The best thing about all this is that it can be every day for as long as we want: we’ve leased the house for the equivalent of fifty dollars a month. It may work as a handy hideaway far from the madding crowd for many of our friends, but for me, Hoori Haus is much more than a holiday home. I write for a living but Kathmandu, for all its scattered beauty, is too much of a social distraction and an infrastructural disaster for sustained work. There are many places to write about, but not to write in. Arnold Bennett may have said time is the one thing no one can take from you, but traffic jams were not a feature of 19th-century England. Up here, six thousand feet above sea level with the Himalayas a constant prospect, there is little to subtract the time that has been allotted to me. With no internet or television, my time will be spent doing what, of late, I find I have only been talking about doing: writing.
I will write about the things around me – the canary-yellow mustard fields, the dawn chorus of jungle birds and village roosters, the green hills, the clusters of villages dotting the valley below, and the 25000-foot mountains to the north. The long-eared goats, the cows, the smiling, whistling herders, too. I will write of the pure air and the good earth, and I will write of things that have happened and things that will never happen. And when my words falter, I will walk through the forests to clear my head and stop by at my neighbours, Nepali and American. I will tell them what I’ve been writing of, and I will ask them what they’ve been thinking of. And I will string these days together, one by one, until I’m ready to revisit the wider world and reveal to them what I’ve discovered. Not much will have changed there, I’m certain, but they may find that I have.
About the Author: Rabi Thapa is a writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is the author of ‘Nothing to Declare’ (2011), a collection of short stories.