By Dinesh Wagle
As this reporter entered the cozy abode of the aging couple, Pema without any response, continued with her meal. But the next question was certain to bring back all her memories. “Ama, do you recognize her?” This reporter showed her a coffee table book published 25 years ago. After a constant gaze at the cover, she replied, “Of course! It’s me!”
Recently, on one of those early October afternoons, with sips of yak milk along with rice, Pema was busy having her meal on a ceramic plate with her husband. Behind her on the wooden furniture, steel utensils and the thermos containing briny tea are placed carefully.
Coverl girl Pema Bhutti with her husband
In Pema’s hands, instead of the ceramic plate, now it is the book brought out on 1981 by a team of British writers, anthropologists and photographers after researching over a month and half on the fringes of Tibet and highlands of Nepal.
Having her eyes fixed on the cover page, Pema recalls the day her snap was taken. It was 25 years ago, in the month of April, altogether a team of 34 guides, porters and foreigners visited the Nar village situated on the northern side of Pisang peak in Manang. And their experiences of the Bhotia people grazing their herds of yaks and the photographs taken by the visitors were compiled and then published by Time-Life Books of America. With exceptional photographs taken by Nik Wheeler, the book entitled “Cloud Dwellers of the Himalayas: The Bhotia” was written by Windsor Charlton. Along with the descriptions of the spectacular panorama of the place, the book also depicts the way of life of the people back then. After China attacked Tibet on 1959 and due to other domestic circumstances, Nepal had restricted foreigners to visit Nar and Phu from the northern border. However, as mentioned in the book, the team was able to visit the place because of a special permission from the late King Birendra who was familiar with the investigations and researches conducted in Nepal by a member of the visiting group __ Professor Christoph Von Furer-Haimendorf.
Oblivious to the details about the book, Pema vaguely recalls a fair guy taking numerous shots of hers in his cameras.
After getting married at the age of 17, Pema traveled as far as India with her husband. “Back then, life was quite difficult but still we had fun. Today, things have got a lot easier,” disclosed her husband, 69 years old Sangma Chesanga Gurung, after he sensed that Pema was too shy to talk about those days.
When asked about the changes they’ve witnessed in the past two decades, Pema answered, “Previously, there was no electricity and trails were very narrow. But the scenarios have changed today. Moreover, the mules also carry provisions instead of riders only. From foods to facilities, everything has gotten better.”
Situated at the height of 4,110 meters, Nar is indeed one of those villages inhabited by the high-alpine people at the soaring Himalaya.
With 71 houses, including two hotels for tourists, the dwellers of Nar uphold an exclusive culture and thereby sustain their identity. Living in a small community, they indeed know each other quite well. Thus, turning the pages of ” Cloud Dwellers” seemed like unveiling their own family album. On the eighth page of the book, we can witness the snapshot of a middle aged lady with her narrow eyes focused on the camera.
Tsering Yangjee, then and now
“Do you know her?” As this reporter asked 68 years old Tsering Yangjee, she immediately responded, “It’s me. Years back, when these visitors came to take my photos, I was mourning over the death of my daughter. Many other children of the area had also died because of smallpox.”
Looking their parents in the book.
Though illustrated in the “Cloud Dwellers” as a locale isolated from the other societies of Nepal, Nar and Phu have now become more reachable and connected to the other parts of the country. Most of the people have at least been to Pokhara or Kathmandu. Youngsters revealed their desire to work in reliable occupations such as government jobs instead of grazing yaks or farming in the fields which are subjected to fluctuations.
As for Nyima Chowang, he was three years old when the book came out. Now he has a three years old son. Flipping through the pages, he said, “It was incredible to see our old traditions and people, who have already died, in the photographs in this remarkable book.”
Sheep boy in the book is now a man showing his picture.
Entry to Phu village
A village below Phu
Trail to Phu village
Phu woman basking Koru in the sun
Phu woman harvesting
Telcom at Nar
Phu Khola (river)
Phu village kids
Yak ploughing at Nar
Nar women at field work
Yaks and Nar village
Phu kid drinking water from the tap
Let’s rock !
A trekker taking picture at Nar Phedi
Happy silver jubilee, Pema!!