Nepali Times
"Older than Nepal"


Head north out of Kathmandu, through Trisuli and take a left when you reach the end of the road. A mere 10 hours rattle and ride from the capital, western Rasuwa is a forgotten world.

To the east are the apple-pie shops and solar showers of Langtang.But in the neglected valleys outside the National Park earlier layers of regional history have not been overlain by the recent influx of outsiders. Memories of Prithbi Narayan Shah's conquests, of the Nepal-Tibet wars and of Khampa guerrillas lie jumbled on the surface, largely undisturbed by more recent developments. Neither the Maoists nor the army come here.

In the villages of Goljung and Gutlang, they dust down the tarnished cutlasses once used in battles and now re-enacted in the horse dance. Himan Singh Tamang, a teacher in Gutlang, says that the figures wheeling about the village square represent the local king's struggle against Prithbi Narayan Shah. It is easy to see that the dancers pirouetting in horse costumes, clashing their long curved blades, had fearsome ancestors. But rather than ancient violence, the dance recalls the wisdom of making peace.

The consensus is that the tradition refers to the Nepal-Tibet wars. In 1792, a joint Chinese-Tibetan army coursed through these valleys and advanced on Kathmandu. More invasions followed. It was not until Jang Bahadur Rana built the fort at Rasuwagadhi that the border stabilised and local relations with the Tibetans and Chinese returned to peaceful trading and cultural osmosis.

A dirt track to the zinc mines in Dhading passes near these villages, although it is barely used. Tiny power lines from the futuristic underground hydro plant at Chilime loop along the valley, dwarfed by the landscape. Only one or two houses have electricity. Megh Bahadur Pandey, the chief warden of the Langtang National Park, estimates that only a dozen trekking groups have come this way in the last decade heading for Ganesh Himal.

Now, UNDP, in a partnership with the Nepal Tourism Board called the Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Programme (TRPAP), is hoping to open the area up. It reckons the locals are ready to deal with tourism after a year of exposure to concepts like 'community mobilisation' and 'capacity building'.

The locals, by their own account, feel unqualified enthusiasm for the visitors they have been promised. "We will get facilities from tourists. Tourists will bring economic benefits," says Himan Tamang of Gutlang. With only 10 SLC graduates in a population of 2,000, his village has much to gain. But as excited as they are to join an economy they can barely imagine, many seem motivated by an understandable pride in their culture and surroundings. Tamang adds that he wants to "advertise this place and culture to the world. I want no change. Culture is our wealth."

Journalists, trekking agents and local officials on the promotional trip were politely asked not to litter. One reporter earned himself a slap for grabbing a local woman in the hot springs at Tatopani. There will surely be more surprises in store for both locals and visitors as trekkers add their footprints to those of the lamas, soldiers, merchants and herdsmen that shaped this place.

The path climbs steeply from the valley of the Chilime Khola. The white mountains of the Tibetan border are behind and snowy Gosainkund ahead.

Hishilintu Gompa with its crumbling wall paintings, is said to be 2,000 years old. After a further, briefly alarming, climb to the summer yak pastures at the top of the ridge, the trail reaches Nagtali Gompa. Lama Kamsung Wangdi says, "The gompa is 200 generations old-before there were kings or states, older than Nepal."
Rasuwa's plans to promote tourism and the road to Tibet suffered a serious blow with the murder by Maoists in April of DDC chairman, Bhim Lal Hirachan. He had tirelessly promoted trekking and rade as ways to lift his district out of poverty.

Now there are plans to build a road linking Kathmandu to Kyirong in Tibet, perhaps as soon as 2007. The last few kilometres before the border were a restricted zone until recently and foreigners need a permit arranged through a trekking agency.

The shops are stocked with Chinese noodles, beer and pungent rice wine. It was the Tibetan border that offered the final, fascinating glimpse of the layers of Himalayan history. Beyond the old stone frontier fort that gives the district of Rasuwa its name is a modern pedestrian footbridge into China. Local people pass freely to sell sheep and goats and buy clothing and shoes.

On the far side 18-year-old Zhang Wei from Beijing sprays people's feet for SARS and offers a cigarette to the first Western imperialist he has ever seen.

Along with four colleagues in the Chinese police, some of them Tibetan, he occupies the guardhouse that is the first building on the other side. The only other building is called a reception centre for returning refugees. To the delight and amusement of many members of our group it was a brothel, where Chinese citizens of Nepali origin do a brisk trade with the small garrisons on both sides.

Now tourism seems ready to add a fresh set of influences. Don't expect this wild mountain world to change overnight. Without any solar showers or apple pie, only the enterprising are likely to venture into this secret place.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)