Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life

Yogic Swan

on April 14, 2013

Chitwan is a hot, dry area in the south of Nepal, running along the Indian border. In contrast to the mountainous north of the country Chitwan is mostly flat, with vast flat-floored valleys, and jungle areas criss crossed by a number of rivers.
It is probably best known for its National Park which attracts foreign tourists, who come to bask in the considerable dry heat of the jungle, and stare at the crocs, rhinos, and snooty camels who live there. (I have never crossed the path of a camel who has not given me a haughty stare, so I do not feel that this is an unduly unfair observation.)
But our friend Karma also lives in Chitwan, although she and her husband are newcomers there.
Two months ago they relocated from Kathmandu when Karma was offered the opportunity of supervising the opening and then the running of a new brick factory.
Her husband was also given a supervisory position, allowing them both to work; and to work together.
She rang us in England shortly after starting her new life in Chitwan,
“It is good here, yes, but boring,” she told us, “the villagers all go to bed at 6pm!”
“Why?” we asked,
“Because of the rhinos!” she said, and laughed.
I wasn’t sure laughter was entirely appropriate at that juncture, but hey, what do I know about rhinos – maybe THEY have a sense of humor.
“They come out of the jungle at 6pm,” Karma went on, “and eat the sugar cane.”
Right oh. I like an animal with regular eating habits.
I remembered what Karma had told us as we borded a Chitwan-bound bus in Kathmandu, and squeezed ourselves along the Nepali size aisle, and into the Nepali size seats. We were looking forward to our visit.
We did a bit of relocating ourselves a couple of hours into the journey – Tod discovered an army of small, biting red ants clambering all over him, so we settled down on the back seat of the 18 seater bus for the rest of the trip.
It was wonderful to see Karma again. The bus took us into the middle of nowhere, and right to the new, not yet working brick factory.
We discovered that 2 new one storey buildings had been constructed next to it, providing Karma and her husband with a room to live in, an office to work from, and a spare room too.
The other key workers in the new business had settled into rooms of their own.
The heat was dry and breathtaking. Karma, her husband, Tod and I sat down outside and drank lemonade.
The land was perfectly flat as far as the eye could see, and it rolled out in front of us, shimmering below a thick heat haze.
Rice and potatoes were growing all around, and a river ran sluggishly behind the compound.
Karma had started to make good use of the spare land her company had bought, and had dug a large pond and already stocked it with fish, with a view to providing some extra food for the workers.
A colony of frogs had moved in too, and demonstrated their amazing and amusing ability to run across the surface of the water. How cool is that? Frogs who can walk on water!
Goats and chickens played around, and a rather lovely large white bird that Tod and I thought was a goose, but Karma assured us was in fact a swan, stood on a grassy mound, gazing into space,
“If you watch, he’ll do yoga for you,” Karma said, grinning.
We watched, and he did.
Would you believe, the swan slowly raised one leg and stretched it out behind him, pink web neatly pointed downwards. Then he slowly stretched the wing on the same side, until it was completely extended, each feather clearly visible and neatly aligned.
He remained staring slightly upwards, towards the sky.
Oh boy! A yogic swan!
So there we have it. A very brief glimpse of a hot, remote area – a new home to a pleasant group of people and a seemingly content group of animals.
Oh yes, and a yogic swan.
But the nearby small, isolated village is home to a number of families with ‘issues’ shall we say. Just the day before we arrived a villager in her 60s had been beaten up by her own family and thrown out of the house onto the track outside, where a number of other villagers also beat her, to within an inch of her life.
Because they say she is a witch.
This is not an isolated occurance, and there are other similar examples.
Karma’s brick factory, although not yet up and running, will be fully automated. There is housing (of sorts), water and a toilet for the workers.
Karma will supervise 2 meals a day for them.
She took us across the river the next day to see round a neighbouring brick factory. It is worked entirely by hand. There is no water supply for the workers and no toilet.
The temperature was already in the 30Cs at 9am as we walked around the factory. All the work is done outside, and our horror mounted as we saw the conditions there.
Bricks were laid out everywhere as different family groups worked on them by hand in the searing heat.
Ponies pulled carts laden with bricks from one place to another.
We saw many children working there, one as young as 4 years old.
A brisk burning wind fanned brick dust over everyone, everywhere, and we covered our mouths as best we could.
The workers and children had no masks and several children had eye infections. Some of the adults seemed ill.
We wanted to give money to some of the workers who seemed most in need – actually we wanted to give money to everyone there – but Karma was very firm,
“I’m sorry,” she said, “you can’t. There are 300 workers here, and it may well cause a riot.”
Protesting did no good. She was sensibly adamant.
We walked slowly back across the river weighed down by helpless guilt.
Even the revelation that Karma was personally helping some of the families there did nothing to alleviate our guilt.
Nothing could.
Life seemed suddenly a little bit darker. As well it should.


One response to “Yogic Swan

  1. Ruben says:

    Hi! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I ‘ve read both your books. They moved me to follow your example and volunteer in a school in Nepal. Are you still in Nepal? I am teaching here and would love to meet you guys. You can drop me an email at “rubennepal AT gmail DOT com” Hope to meet you soon. All the best, Ruben

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