A Nepali village makes the leap from the middle ages to the
This is a saligram, a holy object in Hinduism. Please pass it
around and discover its secret.
In the mid-70s I was in the Peace Corps in a village in the
middle hills of Nepal, where I taught agriculture, science, English,
in a high school.
30 years later went back with family to visit, and we were given
a warm welcome. The village was much the same, only better.
It was timeless. This is a Hindu naming ceremony for a
new baby girl, which has probably been celebrated like this for
5000 years. Note the saligrams -- they represent gods.
The way people lived had changed very little since the middle
ages – what they wore, how they worked, how they built their
All water used in the household was hauled from springs, mostly by women and girls. Girls didn’t get
to go to school because they were needed to carry water and other endless work, and because any
investment in a girl was lost when she married.
Boys were educated as a ticket to getting away from the village
and getting a job in the cash economy in Kathmandu or India or
Wood was the only fuel, which had caused deforestation, denuded
hills, landslides. Hauling the wood on human backs was terribly
hard work, and there was the constant misery of smoky cookﬁres.
Goats roamed the hillsides nipping any forest seedling in the
bud. Milk cows and water buffaloes and plow oxen were kept
penned; their manure collected to fertilize the ﬁelds.
Nobody used privies, and “fecal-oral” diseases were rife. There
was high infant mortality, miscarriage, infections – tough
survivors, but many early deaths.
Everything traveled on human backs. No pony express for mail,
human express. News by a few transistor radios, spread word
Piped water is available at or near every home. This means girls
are in school rather than hauling water; sanitation and health
The forests coming back! Look at the hillside behind the school
in 1975 and in 2007. Goats are kept penned and there are new
laws to encourage reforestation.
Biogas digesters have been built at every home we visited,
processing animal and human waste and capturing the methane
to cook on.
Still self-sufﬁcient in food but much greater diversity; also cash
crops – oranges, coffee -- greater wealth
Cellphones huge difference to be able to communicate over
miles. Narayani: the huge political changes that have taken place
in Nepal would not have been possible without cell phones.
Electricity present but unreliable -- second-tier issue. We donated a
computer to the school – here’s my daughter teaching basic
computer skills – but we know it was locked away when we left
The Nepali villagers came from a place of too little to a place of
enough. We are in a place of too much and need to pare down
Here’s the important stuff the modern world offered: PVC pipe and plumbing ﬁxtures. Tin rooﬁng.
Biogas design and component parts for methane gas digesters. Public health training, access to
modern medicine. A nearby road. Women’s rights, equality among different castes. Cellphones.
What have they retained of the old ways? Self-sufﬁciency in all the basics – water, food, shelter.
Strength from physical labor. And their ancient faith and spiritual practice is the frame and core of
their life – the saligram their touchstone.