Everything is possible in Jumla!
It might snow in mid-April, the planes might get stuck, you might be asked to step down even if you have a valid air-ticket and boarding pass, you can find warm water springs in the usually cool place, meet with world class athletes in the rugged terrain, savour the rice grown at the highest altitude in the world, and so on. These are only a few possibilities, the list continues.
|An apple tree in full blosson (c) Sunil Sharma|
Reaching Jumla after a connecting flight from Nepalgunj was a much terrible experience than the previous one. It felt as if I was travelling in a truck plying on a road with huge potholes. However, as the plane flew between the mountains, all the pain was gone in seconds. The view of the mountains with pine trees and the flat pieces of land (just like plateaus) on the hill tops were astounding!
When I landed at the Jumla airport, I was tired to the bones.
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Next day, early in the morning, together with my journalist colleagues (Anand Shrestha, Niran Raj Bana, Rajesh Verma, Roshan Shedhai, Shreehari Thapa and Sunil Sharma), I snatched bites of breakfast and was off to the fields to interact with the farmers. Luckily we got a jeep to reach the meeting point. Travelling on the rugged terrain with people packed like sardines was an adventure of its own.
After the jeep journey, a beautiful stretch of natural beauty was in front of us. The landscape was simply awesome! The clean and green waters of Tila River, the white blossoms on apple trees and pink blossoms on peach trees with the juxtaposition of green willow trees and the trans-Himalayan range was an invitation to the photographers inside all of us. We were busy capturing the beauty of the place and were also busy putting ourselves in the backdrop.
We met the vegetable seed farmers and apple farmers at their vegetable seed farms and apple orchards respectively. Returning from the fields, listening to the success stories of the farmers, we were enlightened to the heart. The farmers were earning much more than people with permanent jobs in Kathmandu!
As we slept quietly, it rained all night. It was colder than the earlier day.
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We visited the apple nurseries in the western part of Jumla Bazaar. On talking with one of the nursery owners, my journalist colleagues were stunned to know that he earned one million Nepalese rupees (1 USD = 88 Nepalese rupees) a year from the nursery. It was five times more than what an average job-holder earns in Kathmandu!
|Ratan Bahadur Rawal working in his apple nursery.|
Returning from the nursery we visited a natural hot water spring (called Tatopani in local language). The water was warm and had healing effect. It smelled of sulphur, so I restrained myself from plunging in the water. However, most of the colleagues washed off their tiredness in the smelly water, splashing water to each other and making merry at the end of the journey.
As we stopped in the way to click some pictures, I could see horses grazing on the nearby hills and in the background were the snowcapped mountains. The landscape looked like that of Switzerland’s. On my request my photojournalist friend clicked a picture with just the mountain tops (that resembled the Alps) and me in the background. It was to invite envy among my Facebook friends.
|Man with melodious voice.|
As we were entering the temple, we found the man with golden voice Mahashanker Devkota. Once ignited, he went on and went on singing songs of love, devotion and patriotism. He had recorded 90 songs with the Radio Nepal which was the one and only radio station in the past. He showed us the cards issued in his honour by the Radio Nepal.
In the evening, we had a sumptuous meal of Jumli brown rice (called Marsi in the local language). We also had famous Jumli beans as lentils. Jumli brown rice is the rice variety which grows at the highest altitude in the world and it is finger licking delicious. And to add to the goodness of the place, everything that grows here is organic by default! The Government of Nepal has declared Jumla an organic district and no chemical fertilisers and pesticides are allowed in the district.
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|Local hero Hari Bahadur Rokaya.|
Hari Bahadur was training the local lads and girls on a flat ground which seemed unusual in the rugged landscape. Some were practising with javelins and shotputs while some were playing volleyball. Meanwhile Biswarupa Budha, the national record holder in 5000 metres race and winner of two gold medals at the recently held National Games, was running round the field.
The interaction with the players and the Guinness World Record Holder was an eye-opener for all of us who belonged to districts having all the sports facilities and having flat land for playing games. Clicking a group photo, we got a sudden call from our colleagues confirming our flight.
We knew that getting an air ticket to Nepalgunj was impossible. All the scheduled flights were packed in advance for three days owing to a General Assembly of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party. Thanks to our colleagues who arranged to charter a plane to Surkhet, the neighbouring district. We had our boarding passes in hand and were waiting for the plane. The sky was clear in the beginning, but started to darken with time. We were afraid whether we would be able to board the plane or not.
Then came the imminent threat – there was a request from a police officer – he wanted to fly one of his near ones instead of one of us. It was scary to know that the Chief District Officer, Police and High Court Judge could lodge one of their near ones in any of the flights.
However, the scary moment was over and all of us got to fly. We reached Surkhet in time. This time the pilot flew the plane safely and the journey was smooth. From the window pane we could see the piles of snow on mountain tops from the previous night’s snowing.
As we landed at the Surkhet airport, a pick-up van was ready to drive us to the Nepalgunj airport which is a three hours drive from Surkhet. On the way, we heard that an earthquake had occurred in Kathmandu and surroundings as we stopped for a brunch of local fish, beaten rice and puffed rice on the banks of Babai River. We were worried to reach our homes as fast as we could.
Finally, we were in time to catch a flight back to Kathmandu. It was the end to the endless possibilities in Jumla!
(Thanks to my colleagues Anand Shrestha, Bharat Bandhu thapa, Niran Raj Bana, Rajesh Verma, Roshan Shedhai, Shreehari Thapa and Sunil Sharma who made the journey memorable.)
A photo essay on Sinja Valley, Jumla by Bharat Bandhu Thapa.