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Kavitha Dispatch

Return to Nepal
June 24, 2000

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Kavi and the monkeys back in Kathmandu
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I have been missing Nepal and I've dreamed of returning for so long to this beautiful country that had such a huge impact on my life when I studied here. Now for the first time in five years I've finally had the chance to come back! But I have to admit that being back hasn't been the perfect trip down memory lane I dreamed it would be. A lot has changed in five years. Five years may not make the biggest difference in a city like New York or Washington D.C., but in a developing country like Nepal, five years can be a lifetime.

Tour Kathmandu, Nepal

28.8 56.6 DSL

(Video Help)

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Email, Pepsi..I almost forgot I was in Kathmandu
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Let me explain. The family I once lived with in Kathmandu no longer lives in my old house, and none of the neighbors even know who the Regmi family is. I tried to go visit a family that my friend had lived with, and there is now a four-story Western-style department store and supermarket where their house once was. I can't find Hari or Tassat (my family friends), but at least I can now find Pop Tarts and Levis! Thamel, the area where all the hotels are located, is like one endless row of internet cafes, bakeries, bars, and restaurants. Thamel has always been a touristy area, but these days it's hard to even remember what country you are in when you walk through the streets!

Map
The biggest changes, though, can be seen in some of the villages. Beni, the village that I lived in, used to be accessible only by hiking for five hours alongside a beautiful river valley. Now there is a road carved through the valley connecting it to the highway. Beni also has electricity now. I know, I know, these are advancements that the village was probably happy to receive, and I know I am in no position to keep such things away from them. After all I live with electricity and roads! But the new "highway" is nowhere near as beautiful as the raging Kali Gandaki river that once dominated the valley leading to Beni, and the village is nowhere near as peaceful with buses and trucks blaring through.

Vocabulary

developing - having a standard of living that is rising
dominated - overshadowed
erosion - a slow destruction

With the trucks and buses come more products. Before, villagers had to hike in any goods they needed from the city. Now they can have it all brought in on a diesel-powered truck. With the new surplus of products (like cookies and sodas, soaps and detergents, radios and batteries) came packaging, which resulted in a whole new surplus of trash that the rural farmlands around Beni are not equipped to deal with.

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My friend Jeff taking in the sights and sounds of Nepal.
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New roads and electricity also bring an increase of influence from modern countries in the West. Villagers who once were happy with their homes and their land, all of a sudden start seeing images of fancy homes and fast cars on Beverly Hills 90210 or Baywatch and start realizing all the things they don't have. This especially affects the youth, and slowly young people start moving away from the villages to the cities to experience a taste of the exciting life.

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Now this looks more like the Kathmandu I remember!
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Often, unfortunately, the eventual effect of modernization is the erosion of traditional culture. This is another way in which studying or living abroad can have a positive impact. I remember how humble the family I lived with in Beni were around me. They had seen images of America in magazines and movies, and felt that their home was too simple, too poor to be suitable for me to live in. When students come from modern countries interested in learning from the villagers about their way of life, the villagers suddenly realize that they too have something to share and that their homes and their lives are not something to be embarrassed about. And they are definitely are not.

For a more detailed example of how quickly development can effect the traditions and history of a culture, read Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg Hodge, a wonderful book about the devastating effects a road and just a few years had on traditional Tibetan culture in Ladakh, North India.



Even with the trend towards modernization, the heart of Nepal still lies within its villages. And it is the beauty of these villages that draws thousands and thousands of tourists every year to this incredible nation. From the Hindu villages in the southern jungles bordering on India, to the Tibetan Buddhist villages high in the mountains in the North, Nepal is full of breathtaking scenery and sweet Nepali people. So despite the changes of the past 5 years and despite the fact that I couldn't find the families I once loved so dearly, returning to Nepal was a wonderful experience.

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Jeff and I at Swyambunath Buddhist Stupa in Kathmandu
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I got to see some of my favorite mountains again, visit familiar places again, and best of all, speak in Nepali again! Kaasto ramro chha! (That's Nepali for: How wonderful!)

Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com


 

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