Visit our Kathmandu Villages

by Milosz Pierwola

At this point in my travels, Kathmandu is the most densely populated city I have ever visited. Anytime you are in the street, it seems like everyone had the same idea and the entirety of the city abandoned their homes and spilled outside in unison. And when you think the only way past this crowd is to climb over the people in front of you, you hear a honk and suddenly a group of cars and motorbikes start to press their way through.

It seems impossible that you would find anything but overcrowded streets between the wall to wall buildings in this city. But just as packed as it is in the center, it is the complete opposite just miles away. Open fields, jungle, and humble lifestyles; it is here that the Himalayan Stove Project begins its work.

The Himalayan Stove Project is dedicated to bringing clean cooking to the populations that are most at risk and have the least resources. Three such communities are just a drive from Kathmandu city center; the villages of Panauti, Lele, and Gamcha. Each of these villages offers a different personality.

After my introduction to Nepal culture, Jai Rajhbandari brought me to these locations, to meet the individuals and communities that benefited from EnviroFit Clean Cook Stoves.

Despite Kathmandu’s urban demeanor it does not take long inside a car to get to the outskirts of the city, albeit on a very bumpy ride over mostly unpaved roads. In just a short distance, the vast metropolis narrows into thick, crowded streets pumping like veins into the countryside.

On these streets there is still swarming crowds of people, vehicles, and animals, but just beyond walls of buildings bordering the road like walls of a maze, you begin to see open land. Then, even these give way and soon the dirt road winds through open fields spotted with forest, a stark contrast to the urban sprawl just minutes passed.


Panauti

Our first destination was the village of Panauti, southeast of Kathmandu. Though set on a gentle plain, this village was not spared from the 2015 Earthquake. Visible still, peppered across the landscape, are small half cylinder buildings constructed as temporary emergency shelters, designed to house the inhabitants as the community waited for resources to rebuild.

Panauti is mostly a farming community with families living in large, separated homesteads. The residents rely mostly on what they grow and, without any sign of large machinery, tend to the vast fields by hand. Like much of Kathmandu, the village does have electricity, but most of the homes do not have running water and are constructed from a mixture of clay from the ground and supplies available locally.

What makes Panauti special is its investment in education and community projects. In the past couple years, an orphanage was constructed with plans to use local resources to make it sustainable. In addition, just walking distance from this orphanage is a large school for all the area’s children. I was greeted in English by each classroom.

The chorus grew each time while the children still waiting could not contain themselves as I neared their room; “Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to our class!”


Lele

The second village we visited was Lele, a humble community tucked deep in a luscious valley south of Kathmandu. Devastated by the earthquake, this village still bears scars with many repairs waiting to get started. Most residents continue to share housing in what were originally temporary structures as they use what resources they can to slowly rebuild. However, due to the small number of skilled laborers, this process is painstakingly slow.

Lele is also a farming community, but with limited land due to its geography. Here, the villagers supplement smaller crops with animals like goats and cows. However, the jungle on the slopes seems to creep over the walls and into the gardens, and is home to the jaguar. This animal’s presence is a danger to both animals that sometimes disappear in the night, and young children that must learn to be careful and not wander too far on their own.

Out of the three villages, Lele has the most basic needs. Though some homes have electricity, it only powers a light bulb or two and mobile devices for those that can afford them. Villagers lead simple lives, drawing water from a community spring and working the land around them. The only connection they have to the outside world is a winding dirt road under reaching branches of the jungle.

Because community bonds and tradition are so important here, Lele chose to invest the funds made available by Himalayan Stove Project’s Clean Cook Stoves to build a shrine under a sacred gum tree in the village. This has now become a place for villagers to congregate, pray, perform celebrations, and an inspiration for the future.


Gamcha

Our final visit took us to steep hillsides in the north of Kathmandu, the village of Gamcha. To reach it, the road climbs up forested hills and through tight settlements built with cars as an afterthought. Near the end of the particularly bumpy, winding ride, the village reveals itself from a sharp turn.

The earthquake was particularly destructive here, causing damage not just to the buildings, but collapsing roads, downing trees, and creating devastating mudslides.

The geography in Gamcha makes it very challenging for farming, with limited crops grown on its terraced fields. Without pastures there is no grazing animals either, although chickens can be seen and heard in the bushes between the houses. As a result of these challenges, villagers have taken to producing hand made items to be sold in Kathmandu proper.

During our visit, we were lucky to have arrived during a celebration. While an elder performed a ceremony that concluded with an offering of a rooster, a group of young men showed off their musical talents. This demonstration revealed that the children have a program here that teaches them music and instruments. The young boys dressed in uniform and performed a number of catchy songs, while the villagers danced with smiles on their faces.

Before we left, we delivered a stove to Laxmi, the local coordinator, to distribute as this is a particularly needful area.

In Gamcha, as well as Lele and Panauti, the villagers were all overcome with joy and thanked us endlessly for Himalayan Stove Project’s donations. In each location, the stoves made an appreciable difference and we look forward to this upcoming year and our fifth container.

Please consider making a donation today. We have now helped over 40,000 people, and we did it all thanks to generous individuals just like you. Thank you.

Pin It on Pinterest