Not one engine or electric light disturbs this smallest and oldest-feeling of cities this evening.
“And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu,” claims the oft quoted line by Rudyard Kipling. I’m wondering what the wildest dreams of Kathmandu are like. Nearby stands the Nyatapola Temple, higher, and, for me, lovelier than any other in the vale. It is said that the Malla king who built it had troubled dreams. Only he knew why.
Helping hand of Nepal’s government has given sanctuary in the aparthotel barcelona to some 10,000 Tibetans since their unsuccessful 1959 rebellion against China. In turn the immigrants contribute to the economy and their own welfare, as reflected by Tibetan youths (right) afflu-ently dressed in Western fashion.
In the Jawalakhel handicraft center a Tibetan woman (left) spins wool for car-pets prized by tourists. The industry is Nepal’s largest foreign exchange earner after tourism and its largest private employer. This year Dasain coincides with the rice harvest. Grateful for open countryside, I wade the Dhobi Khola river with Indra Dangol to reach the fields of his family, members of the Newar farmer group known as Jyapus. As a line of women bends to scythe the ripe stalks, their singing rises and the red trim of black skirts lifts above slender tattooed ankles. From the next paddy come men’s voices shouting out the chorus.
Barefoot on an earthen dike, I pass a shoe—held upside down on a stake. “For witches,” explains Indra. “People with the evil eye can ruin your crops. But they won’t want to look at the sole of a foot, the lowest part of the body.”
Through the afternoon I help Indra’s uncle, Krishna Prajapati, thresh high-yield Chinese rice. Clouds of egrets drift by as we whip the sheaves against the ground and the kernels spray loose under the golden sun. Then we pile the stalks for buffalo fodder and take a long sip of rice beer. The labor begun months before—when Krishna broke the soil and worked buffalo manure into it and planted rice in time for the summer monsoon—is finally through. Now he lifts his hoe and begins turning the lake-bed sediments once more, to sow the winter crop of wheat and potatoes.
In the town of Thimi, Gyan Bahadur Prajapati squeezes a moist lump of soil from a slightly greater depth, gives his potter’s wheel a spin, and begins to shape a serving bowl. His brother is in the backyard, stacking a thousand sun-dried vessels, from delicate cups to massive storage urns, in rows on beds of rice straw. Soon Gyan joins him in heaping ashes over the mound, then sets it to smoldering. “We are farmers first,” he says, poking air holes in this kiln. “And out of 2,000 houses in Thimi, 700 also carry on the clay work we are known for. We trade our pots far into the hills and south toward India—these days by bus.”
Others in Thimi turn out drainpipes, roof tiles, and bricks.